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In the scant hours of the morning, the final confrontation came.
Jeshe Urme had already gotten to this step — if he retreated, what justification could he give to his clansmen? And what justification could he give to himself? He simply hadn’t foreseen that the Great Qing’s people could manage to obtain a white wolf, or… that they had someone with this extent of miscellaneous knowledge, to have directly poked at their clan’s spot of greatest taboo.
It was beyond despicable, but really allowed him to show off.
Before Jeshe attacked the city, he issued an order, allocating a small squadron of his most elite cavalrymen to go up along Fullmoon River. They would surely find the deceiver.
Mud covered the skin of human bodies while the Heavens wept bitter tears.
A cavalry sabre chopping down at her head, Jing’an laid horizontally on her horse’s back while unyieldingly using her iron spear to hold the cutting edge back, the sabre at her waist having long been dropped to the ground. Her arms were naturally not as solid as a man’s, and she was getting pressured down by the power of her opponent’s hacking strength. The blood on his sabre got washed down by the rain to flow onto her chin. She grit her teeth firmly, the hands clutching her weapon trembling until they were pale and discolored.
All of a sudden, someone seemed to drop down from the sky. Wielding her saber that had been lost to parts unknown, they swung across to chop the one gripping the cavalry sabre in half, and the pressure from above relaxed all at once. Jing’an sighed in relief, angled the spear, then flipped up the calvary sabre that had been disarmed. It was just in time to hack at a Vakurah doctor’s watermelon-like skull, which split open with a crunch, sending him to the Western Paradise.
She crudely spat out a mouthful of blood. That Princess air that the caretakers deep in the palace had carefully trained her to have for so many years had been completely tossed in the span of a couple of days. Lifting her head, she gave a nod to the thick-browed, big-eyed young man that was talented enough to save her life.
Liang Jiuxiao laughed crisply. “Your Highness, we’re all watching how you act. Even if you’re fighting like your life depends on it, you still need to take care of yourself.”
Jing’an didn’t talk very loudly, and even if she was in the middle of a multitudinous army, she always inherently used that soft and hushed voice, disregarding whether others could hear her or not, because someone was going to pass word on anyway. Hearing him, she stated mildly, “The Emperor ordered that if the main general dies, the deputy general takes the lead. If the deputy also dies, then it’s the colonel, then the lieutenant, and if worst comes to worst, the centurion… if there’s only one left behind, then it’s even better, and they can take charge. Kill one, and it’s no loss. Kill two, and it’s a profit of… one.”
She had paused twice in the middle of her speech, because her spear moved like it was alive, successively rushing right through the stomachs of two Vakurah without even blinking. Liang Jiuxiao just grinned. “If you return to the palace after all this facing off with enemies outside the city, would any man dare to take you as a wife?”
Jing’an smiled softly, and the two traveled side-by-side, having quite some overtone of even ten thousand men being unable to stop them. “If I die here, you can go back and tell that pretty little pale-face Jing Beiyuan that this Princess still doesn’t fancy him.”
Liang Jiuxiao paused minutely, then bust out laughing. “You don’t know him. The Prince is no pale-face… Your Highness, if I die here, too, I’ll trouble you to bring a message to my sect-brother. Just say… just say that Jiuxiao was worthy in this life.”
She swept him an extremely fleeting look, somewhat confused.
“That day at the Prince’s place, I dreamed about mountains full of peach blossoms,” he went on, “and he said he would take me to roam jianghu together, so I feel that even if I died, I’d be satisfied. Even if it was only a dream… also, if I die here, then I will not have let Sir Jiang down, and won’t be afraid of not having the face to see Xiao Xue down in the Yellow Springs.”
“Sect-brother?” Jing’an lightly frowned, yanking the spear forcefully out of the dead man and shaking the blood off it. “Even when you’re about to die, you keep harping on. You’re not pale, but you’re innately a little pale-face, too.”
He laughed soundlessly.
Helian Yi worried over Jing Qi for the whole night, then after the war began, his heart finally settled. His relief was not due to the confirmation that Jing Qi was now safe, but rather that he was going to be the same as him — situating himself within infinite peril.
He wiped the rain and mud off his face. Zhou Zishu was beside him, wielding an extremely thin and flexible sword as he cleared away flying arrows one-by-one in a three-chi radius around Helian Yi. This was the first time he had flashed his weapon in the presence of people; against expectations, someone that made people think him both terrifying and wanton had such an efficient blade.
“Zishu, are you still worried about your junior?” Helian Yi suddenly asked.
“We’re going all out, so there’s no point in worrying about anyone. If this is what fate must be, dying together would be fine.”
Helian Yi was quiet for a short time, then shook his head. “Die? We may die, but the capital must not. The Great Qing must not.” He promptly raised his volume. “Left and right flanks, do an oblique pierce into the enemy army! Central army, disperse! Archers, get at the ready, with stone-rollers behind them! Once the barbarians enter deep enough, make them into flesh pulp!”
Zhou Zishu frowned. “With the central army dispersed, Your Majesty, return to the city for the sake of your safety—“
“We said before that the gates were to be shut at the outset of the war,” Helian Yi interrupted, “and anyone equipped is not allowed to pull back.”
Helian Yi chuckled. “If we weren’t here, for what reason would the enemy be enticed to come so deep in?”
He was being made to put those on-paper military tactics that he had learned at the inappropriate time of his childhood into practice. Maybe he was a natural commander, or he had silently endured things for too long, and needed an opportunity like so to unburden himself.
Zhou Zishu quickly quit frowning. “Then, this subordinate is immensely honored to have such an opportunity, being at your side in loyalty to this country until the very end.”
The rain had stopped at some point, leaving behind only an occasional couple sounds of muffled thunder. The sky was not yet bright, as overcast as before with no sun to be seen. In the cold weather of late autumn, the vicious battle had already gone on for half a night, and it would continue to be fought, as if it was endless… as if, without everyone in the opposite forces dead, there would be no resignment.
Arrows shot clean, the rolling stones then came, encircling and swallowing up no less than twenty to thirty thousand Vakurah elite. Helian Yi bellowed loudly, no longer the prudent and carefully-spoken Crown Prince of the Court. “Make the barbarians run back home!”
It was unknown where the agreeing echo came from, as bodies were piled high, making the margin for command smaller and smaller. The outside of the entire capital had transformed into the free-fighting and massacre of an Asuran battlefield.
All of a sudden, an uproar came from the distance. The smile on Helian Yi’s face froze. Roughly wiping the rain off of his forehead, he narrowed his eyes to look. It seemed like something had shown up behind the Vakurah, and their whole cavalry went into disarray all on its own. After resting for a small bit, his slightly numb brain speedily came to.
A Pane made his way through the dense army and threw himself right below Helian Yi’s horse. “Your… Your Majesty, there’s reinforcements!”
Helian Yi was shocked, unable to react for a moment. “What did you say?”
“It’s the Nanjiang border army, Your Majesty. I heard that there’s also troops personally led by the Nanjiang Great Shaman, and they’ve covered the Vakurah barbarians’ escape route!”
In that instant, he knew that the capital’s adversity had been solved.
However, he had no sense of ecstasy in his heart, just some incredulity, getting the overall feeling that something about this wasn’t real. He had been holding on to the notion that he would die, only to be told that he didn’t need to — he found that kind of fortune unbelievable. Stunned, the corner of his mouth picked up, and he mumbled to himself, “We didn’t expect… that they would get here so fast.”
Following ages of bitter war, both sides had long since gotten unbearably fatigued. The arrival of reinforcements became a shot of adrenaline in the hearts of the Great Qing’s defenders, though, and the Vakurah eventually could no longer contain their own decline.
Helian Yi observed that black warhorse, and the somewhat familiar, yet unfamiliar man on top of it. He abruptly realized that he didn’t recognize him anymore.
When Wu Xi slipped his horse by him, Helian Yi blurted out, “Upcurrent of Fullmoon.”
The former immediately understood, steering his horse to dash off like mad and not looking back.
A slash wound on Jing Qi’s chest slanted down from his shoulder, and his ribs were faintly visible, the flesh turning inside out. His pitch-black clothes hung tattered off of his blood-covered body. As if not feeling any pain, he leaned against the back of a dying tree, and the bow he held was already loaded. Only his cautiously-moving target in the woods appeared to be in his sights.
He slowly adjusted the arrow’s tip, then released it. It shot out at an extremely tricky angle, and a man silently lurched forwards. The Vakurah promptly started shouting in an unintelligible language. Jing Qi knew that he had to switch hiding spots, so he waved at the surroundings.
Several similarly sorry-looking silhouettes nimbly followed after him in retreat. There were only a few accompanying Panes left, one more tragic than the others, but they were still well-trained.
Jing Qi wasn’t sure how much blood he had lost. The cut was getting washed by the rain, making it hard for it to scab, and there was blood trickling out with every movement. He felt like he was quickly running out of it. Lips turning pale and blue and vision darkening, he grit his teeth, ordering in a hushed voice, “Draw back, change places.”
In this tiny, densely-wooded mountain area, another brawl was underway — it was more cruel, but more quiet as well, the goal of both sides being to eradicate everyone on the opposite side. The Panes were connoisseurs of assassination, but the Vakurah cavalry, which had been on the grasslands struggling with all of nature year-round, was more keen, and more numerous.
On this evening, each person knew that they held more than a dozen lives in their hands, as well as that if they wanted to live, they had to keep going.
Jing Qi swayed a bit, suddenly getting a feeling — it was something no one else could sense, the characteristic chill of someone whose lamp was nearly out of oil. A Pane reached out to support him. “Prince.”
Jing Qi leaned on his arm, only pushing it away once he had found a bit of strength inside himself. Standing steady, he straightened out his gaze, staring carefully for a minute until he could clearly see the one before him. He bit his lip hard, yet the pain was already numbed, and this could no longer stimulate his psyche.
“Prince, don’t overdo it,” the Pane that was helping him said. “If you can’t walk, then you can’t, and we brothers also can’t. We can break even, and take them all down with us here!”
…He only had one arm left.
Jing Qi shut his eyes, and gently smiled. “Right… you’re right. We can break even.”
What was so awful about death? He had been ‘dead’ for three hundred years, and had long since considered the Bridge of Helplessness to be his own separate courtyard. For that, he grinned. “When we get to the Bridge of Helplessness, I’ll bring you all to see what the Three-Life Rock looks like. Meng Po and I are nodding friends. Maybe she’ll still give me some face, and treat you all to a drink that’ll warm your bodies…”
The Panes thought he was joking, but they all smiled in accordance.
The sound of Vakurahs cursing and hooves beating drew near. Jing Qi drew out his final arrow and strung it. His hand shook so badly, it nearly slipped out of it, and he thought, death isn’t anything terrible, but I’ll never see that little toxin again in this life… so how could I ever pay him back?
He appeared to be thoughtless, lingering amongst bunches of flowers, but in truth, he wasn’t too used to expressing his own feelings in any way. Back when he liked Helian Yi, he quietly did countless things and shouldered a lot of blame on his behalf, but on the surface, he was as moderate as ever, and it instead seemed like Helian Yi did a lot more to maintain their relationship. At the very most, it was no more than ‘having you in my heart’ when he was alive, and ‘waiting for you at the Bridge’ after he died.
Perhaps Wu Xi thought that he had been keeping his distance. If he had, though, why did he never go to that brothel again because of what he had said? If he had, why would he make up his mind to send him out of the city when the time came? Why would he not spare to submit himself to him, calculating a bit of leeway for turning his relationship around with him in the future?
Only, that bit of leeway he left was apparently unnecessary… Jing Qi smiled bitterly on the inside. If he had known earlier, he would have just taken him ruthlessly that day, so he wouldn’t have any regrets when he went down Yellow Spring Road alone.
The footsteps of the Vakurah were getting closer and closer. He thought, in any case, I’ve long been a frequent visitor of the Bridge. Waiting for someone else this time around is still waiting, huh? It won’t be any longer than sixty or seventy years…
He raised his hand, eyes honing in on one spot, and the last arrow was released. The Vakurah that bore the attack was caught off guard and toppled face-up off his steed. The warhorse kept violently charging ahead, while he didn’t even have the strength to dodge a step to the side.
A spell of noise came into his ears, but when he heard it, the sound seemed far away. Even the words of the Pane beside him were indistinct and fuzzy. The longbow he held fell to the ground, and he revealed a tiny smile…
In the span of a spark, a hand reached out and lifted up his entire body. The moment he staggered, a sabre chopped down. The sprinting warhorse continued madly rushing for a few steps forwards, and then it collapsed to the ground with a bang, its decapitated head flung off to the side. Jing Qi thought that he was hallucinating, but the heat that his own shaking palm held was so real.
He squeezed an arm in front of Wu Xi’s chest, strenuously lifted a finger, and happened to bump into his chin, smiling. His lips vaguely moved, no sound coming out, though he felt himself to say something like, “Ah, it’s you…”
Soon after, his field of view went completely dark, and the unrest of the mortal world gradually went far away from him.
The final battle of defense was fully concluded due to the arrival of the Nanjiang reinforcements, the Vakurah defeated at last. Jeshe Urme got shot in the chest by a random-flying arrow, his status unknown, though that was no longer important in the opinions of the majority of people. How peace would be negotiated, and how treaties would be set, were both for civil officials in the city and the Emperor to figure out piece by piece later. Everyone else was busy with handling corpses and the wounds of those alive, following which, within a numb joy, there would be emptiness inside their heads.
Not caring about fixing his own dismal state or wounds, Zhou Zishu asked for a horse, then headed straight for Black Tortoise Gate. With his heart jumping faster and faster and faster, he almost burst headlong into Princess Jing’an’s tent. Fortunately, he eventually stopped in his tracks, forcefully restrained his emotions, then spoke from outside it, “Your Highness the Princess, this subordinate Zhou Zishu—“
Before he could finish, a pleasant-sounding female voice softly came from within. “You can enter.”
He hesitated for a bit, then walked in. Princess Jing’an, Feng Xiaoshu, had already taken off her armor. Even though the clothes she wore were tidy, bandages were exposed at her neckline, her complexion was somewhat wan, and her hair fell loose. Several women that looked like palace maids were in the middle of wiping her clean with handkerchiefs, bit by bit. With her original face revealed, no matter how one looked at her, she was simply a tender, beautiful young woman.
She looked up at him. “Did you come looking for a little brother named Liang Jiuxiao? You’re his sect-brother, yes?”
“Yes,” he answered quickly, “please, Your Highness, tell me—“
“You don’t need to look for him,” she cut him off with. “He had me bring you a few words. He said that on that day in the Prince Estate, he had dreamed of a mountain filled with peach blossoms, and you saying that you would take him to roam jianghu together, so he felt that he’d be satisfied even in death. Now that he has perished on the battlefield, he hasn’t let down Sir Jiang, and believes that he has the face to meet Xiao Xue under the Yellow Springs, making it all worth it.”
He stared mutely at her. In that instant, as she viewed this man — the human skin mask on him was soaked by the rain in a couple of areas, making him seem both horrifying and ridiculous, so she looked only at his eyes knowing that the face was fake — she thought that he had truly died.
Despite the indifference on her face, she couldn’t help but lower her eyes, no longer willing to look at him.
Jiuxiao… Liang Jiuxiao…
Helian Yi got forcibly urged back into the palace by somebody, then was surrounded by a pile of imperial doctors. After a mess of getting medicated and bandaged up, he was still fidgety, and ended up annoying himself. Driving everybody out, he gave only one order; if someone from the Nanjiang Great Shaman’s side came over, report to him at once.
Waiting from afternoon until nightfall, the one awaited didn’t come. Helian Yi now refused to go to sleep no matter how Yu Kui tried to persuade him, standing watch the whole night. By the time dawn broke, he was completely unable to keep himself up, and laid on his side, half-conscious, on a bed. For a long time, he had nothing but chaotic dreams, then was scared awake by something unknown, his heart palpitating.
All he saw was Yu Kui walk in speedily, making three steps into two. “Your Majesty, the Great Shaman returned!”
“Invite him over, quick!”
Helian Yi automatically stood up when Wu Xi came in, eyes looking straight at him. Wu Xi paused. With no words, he slowly reached into his own lapels. Helian Yi’s gaze landed on his hand, and his breathing stopped for a moment.
The other took out a small piece of blood-splattered cloth and placed it before him.
Helian Yi was dazed for a full incense stick’s time, and only after it did his soul float back to him. Slowly, he reached out and took the cloth, holding it in his palm. “Where is he?” he asked, hoarse.
Wu Xi mutely shook his head.
“We… want to see him if he’s alive, his corpse if he’s dead! Someone! Come here!”
Feeling that there was nothing more he could say to him, Wu Xi turned and left amidst the chaos of the imperial doctors and attendants.
Then, three months later, negotiations between Nanjiang and the Great Qing ended. The former had formally been disattributed from its status as the latter’s vassal. Wu Xi led his warriors out of the capital; when he came, he rode a horse, but when he left, he took a carriage.
That carriage had been freshly purchased from the capital. Its interior was exceedingly gorgeous, with soft cushions on all four walls, and spacious. In the middle of it was a small table with everything on it, like a censer and fruit tea.
Yet, the cabin held two people.
Wu Xi held a book, utterly silent. If it wasn’t for him turning a page once in a while, he would practically resemble a statue. The other person’s complexion didn’t look too great, and all he could do the majority of the time was lie on his back. Right now, he could barely manage to sit up, so he was feeling quite bored. After messing about from top to bottom, he was still bored; hence, he thought up a thousand different ways to tease Wu Xi with words.
“Where did you find a corpse able to trick the Emperor into believing it was mine?”
Wu Xi’s eyelids didn’t raise, entirely taking his words as empty air.
Yet again, trying to start a conversation failed; Jing Qi was a bit defeated. He knew that the little toxin was harboring a grudge, but he didn’t want him to harbor it like this. It was three months — a full three months — where he had healed him and taken care of his everyday needs, but never once said a word to him.
He thus wanted to get up. The motion pulled at his wound, the pain making him frown. It hadn’t been a big deal at the start, but his eyes suddenly rolled back, he covered his chest dramatically, and his shoulders hunched, looking like he was in extreme pain.
This time, Wu Xi actually did give a bit of a reaction. Pulling his hand away, he examined the area of his wound, and, finding nothing wrong, went to go sit back down. Jing Qi swiftly nabbed his wrist. “I say, little toxin, are you finished, or what? How about you tell me what I can do to make you cool off? You have to clear a path for me to go down.”
Wu Xi patiently pried his fingers off one by one, then quietly sat back down without even glancing at him.
The gambit of injuring oneself to trick the enemy… lost completely.
Jing Qi laid back down with a plop, rolled his eyes still, and racked his brains for a new scheme.
In a place he couldn’t see, the corner of Wu Xi’s mouth slightly picked up — it had only been three months. Why so anxious?
Prince, you have a debt to pay. Your words are precious, and you still have a lifetime to say them.
The translator says: Well… two people got a happy ending. That’s about it, though.
I don’t consider this alone the full ending, so let’s wait until the end of the extras to say goodbyes. There’s one in particular that I think is absolutely integral to the story.
On that same subject, there’s actually three extras, not two. The reason why I label it otherwise is something I’ll get to later.
(Reminder that there’s a PDF/epub version on the way after the fact. Patience!)