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Hello, there. I’m not sure what’s happened to the original translator for this, but I hope they’re doing well. (I thought Peerless finished like half a year ago, but it’s apparently only been three months if you squint, lmao. My sense of time is just goooone)
Since the extras are so short, I put them all in one post for ease of reading. No table of contents or navigation, for obvious reasons.]
EDITED 6/5 to include #7, enjoyyyy
In this long night of the imperial capital’s, wind and rain darkened the sky.
Nearly everyone felt this evening to be endless. It was unknown how many people were tossing and turning from one side to the other as they laid in bed, unable to drift off, constantly looking out their windows in idle wait for the dawn.
The inside of Daxing Palace was brightly illuminated. Candles lined its layers and layers of balconies, nearly lighting up the sky just as brightly as the buildings. The on-duty staff went in and out of the royal palace with haste, a bit more grave than they usually were.
Meanwhile, in the heart of Daxing City, not far from the Palace, the inside of Daxingshan Temple had long gone into disarray.
The Sui Emperor, supported by Zhangsun, crawled out of a well with dust and dirt all over him.
Who would have ever imagined that the dried-up well in the forest behind the Temple would actually be another opening leading to the underground labyrinth?
The well had been sealed up for many years; because it had no water, and there had been a fear that somebody could fall into it, the monks of the Temple had placed a huge rock over its mouth to stop it up. Since it did so so firmly, if Zhangsun Bodhi hadn’t been around, it would have been absolutely impossible for the Emperor to climb out and call for help by his lonesome; even if he had shouted, there was a chance that no one would have been able to hear him over the chaos inside the Temple.
Were Xiao Lu here, he would certainly lament that the Emperor’s fate was not to be cut short. What a shame it was that he himself had been bestowed natural gifts and the talents of one ambitious, able to seize experts from all sides to act as his subordinates as well as nearly form a shadow court, only to end up dead in body and dissipated in soul.
Following the deaths of Xiao Lu and Yuwen Yihuan, the power of the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai subsequently fell apart.
Yu Xiu had long died at Tian’nan Mountain, while Fan Yun was not a devoted man. As for Yuan Sansi, he had been seriously injured upon his escape last time; even if he managed to take his own fate back, it would likely be difficult for him to make any waves again.
The dust of it all had settled, but the price everyone had to pay for it had been too steep.
The inside of the Temple was a mess. Kuhezhen had poisoned the ginger soup, causing the imperial guards and major officials that had been ordered to defend the place to lose their minds and slaughter each other. By the time the Empress rushed over with her people, there had already been many deaths and injuries.
Right as the Sui Emperor’s mind was filled with a fuzzy haze, he looked up to see the Empress calling for him, having gotten there swiftly. He was startled at first, then cared nothing for propriety as he immediately came forward with quick steps, tightly hugging her while his eyes overflowed with hot tears.
The feelings between him and his wife did not only stem from them practically being inseparable after they came of age, but more so because when Yuwen Yong and his son had been suspicious of him, he had been sitting on pins and needles daily, afraid of implicating the lives of his entire family. Had Empress Dugu’s will not been extremely unyielding, nor had she supported his weak side so that he could make up his mind, there might not be a ‘Sui Emperor’ today.
Now that he had received a second chance at life, seeing his wife again felt all the more like he hadn’t done so in a lifetime.
His eyes were red around the edges. He nearly blurted out to her all of the disturbing things that had just happened to him underground, but managed to remember his status and responsibilities, swallowing the sum of the words that had come up to his mouth back down so that he could ask after proper business. “Why have you come, Empress? How are the others?”
The latter question was for Yu Qingze, who was hurrying over. Empress Dugu motioned for him to speak first.
“Rest assured, Your Majesty,” the man said. “The situation has already been stabilized. This subject and Lady Qin of the Jiejian Bureau used wormwood, sweetflag, and other such things to make a filth-dispelling medicine, and ordered everyone to take it. The majority of the poison’s effects have been eliminated, but according to what the imperial physicians said, some might still be poisoned by gu, and will need additional treatment. The number of casualties from this are still being counted up. Please return to the palace to avoid incidental harm to yourself, Your Majesty.”
The Sui Emperor nodded. Seeing that the Empress was about to speak, he raised a hand to stop her, then spoke to Zhangsun Bodhi, whose eyes were brimming with anxiety. “Is Mister Cui still below? You can go back and look for him, now. We will have Yu Qingze bring people to accompany you down.”
Zhangsun did not reject this, thanking him with cupped hands, and then turned and went down the well again with Yu Qingze and his group.
The Emperor thereafter turned to Empress Dugu, not hiding his joy. “You appear to be in good health?”
She just sighed. “I was never sick, Your Majesty, but poisoned.”
He was immensely alarmed. “What kind of poison? When were you?”
“Lihua recently entered the palace to confess to her crime. It was only then that I learned that over a decade ago, she had given birth to a pair of twin girls. The other one was called Yuwen Yihuan, and she had a congenital disorder that was mistaken for premature death, so she had been sent out of the palace for burial. Unexpectedly, the child was lucky enough to be able to escape from death, then get accepted as the sworn sister of the Master of the Thirteen Pavilions. After she grew up, she secretly returned to reveal her relation. In a moment of soft-heartedness, Lihua took a wrong step, then kept taking more.”
Cui Buqu and Feng Xiao knew of this, of course, but this was the first time the Sui Emperor was hearing about it. He couldn’t help but show an expression of astonishment.
“A while before, on Yuwen Eying’s birthday, I couldn’t withstand Lihua’s entreaty, so I went to the Princess Estate to celebrate. You certainly recall this.”
Seeing him nod, she went on. “Later on, I learned that when I returned to the palace then, a maid by my side had been replaced by Yuwen Yihuan in disguise. She had no way to infiltrate the inside of the palace, so she used this event to make me bring her right in, after which she would wait for chances to poison my food. Its accumulation over a long period of time resulted in my recent illness. Thankfully, Lihua reined in her horse at the edge of this cliff and got back onto the right path; she entered the palace not long before, explained everything to me once through, then handed me the antidote she had stolen from Yuwen Yihuan.”
During the royal reunion and report, Ming Yue had since brought a squadron to surround the Prince Estate that Kuhezhen lived in. However, this imperially-granted residence, which followed the standards of a Prince, was as silent as death right now — those within seemed to be sleeping like corpses, completely unaware of the soldiers that had arrived outside.
Ming Yue didn’t believe that at a time like this, the people inside — Kuhezhen included — could still be able to sleep.
With a raise of his hand, the imperial army behind him promptly stepped out, burst the main gate open, and charged in. Ming Yue entered afterwards.
The very next moment, they all stopped in their tracks with expressions of shock.
Upon circumventing the screen wall, in the courtyard before the main hall, there was a mess of laying corpses. There were attendants and maids that the Emperor had sent to serve here, as well Göktürks that Kuhezhen had brought with him; all laid in the same area, regardless of race and status. Some had their eyes wide open, expressions of shock and dread still on their faces, looking like they had been frightened to death.
Ming Yue’s stupor was a lot shorter than the rest’s. He reacted after only a second, dashing into the hall.
No one was there.
The side halls, verandas, and main rooms were completely unoccupied.
He was suspecting that Kuhezhen had already realized that a serious situation was at hand, cast his own people aside, and fled. Holding on to his final hope, he looked into the firewood shed, then, unexpectedly, found Kuhezhen there.
Perhaps, though, he could no longer be called a human.
He was sprawled on his back atop the firewood, face pointed upwards. His body was covered in bloodstains, face and limbs packed densely with holes, as if he was a piece of rotting wood eaten through by bugs. Even Ming Yue’s scalp went numb seeing this, and he dared not take another half-step forward.
Only by the man’s clothing and stature could he be vaguely identified.
The Seventh Prince of the Göktürks, Kuhezhen, had suffered from his gu-keeping. He ended up getting devoured by them instead, dying unwhole.
Ming Yue suddenly felt a burst of cold attack him from behind. He felt no murderous qi, but he still speedily dodged to the side on account of his martial instincts, turning his head to see the newcomer.
Tu’an Qinghe, who should have been getting in the way of Feng Xiao and the rest at Daxingshan Temple, had contrarily shown up here.
A chill went through Ming Yue’s heart. If he fought alone, there was no way he would be this guy’s match.
Tu’an Qinghe did not attack him at all, merely walking a few steps in. Ming Yue unconsciously turned to the side to allow him entry.
The other went over to Kuhezhen’s side on his own, crouched down, and then, paying no mind to the gu crawling all inside the body, reaching out to caress Kuhezhen’s face.
Ming Yue couldn’t resist wanting to call out to stop him, but was shocked to discover that those gu, rather than take the chance to burrow into the man’s body, successively squirmed away like evasive snakes.
Tu’an Qinghe did not have any expected shock and anger, never acting against Ming Yue. He simply brushed his hand over Kuhezhen’s eyelids.
What people had most lauded the Seventh Prince of the Göktürks for had been those azure eyes. When he had just arrived at the capital, his once-handsome face and pretty pair of eyes had drawn the attention of many city-goers. Even though his Göktürk bloodline had made many despise him out in the open, they had had no trouble complimenting and admiring him in private.
Now, however, those eyes, and even this face, were unrecognizable.
Seeing that Tu’an Qinghe was thinking to reach out and pick Kuhezhen up, Ming Yue quickly shouted, “Don’t!”
The former gazed at him, tranquil and without disturbance, faintly having a murderous aura.
Ming Yue knew himself to be unafraid of death, and also unworried of fighting with Tu’an Qinghe, yet he still jolted from the man’s aura — the result of experts’ moving qi colliding with each other. “His body is full of gu. Leaving aside whether any would infect you, once he’s outside, they will scatter in all directions and drag the innocent into this!” He paused. “You may be a Göktürk, but martial artists need to have the caution to not carry regrets. You surely don’t wish to dirty your hands with something that would injure divine harmony, right?”
Tu’an Qinghe gazed at the corpse in silence, saying nothing for a long time.
He was reminiscing… on how Kuhezhen loved to be clean.
Göktürks lived nomadically, where even their nobility had difficultly expending the energy to be as clean as Central Plainsmen. Yet, Kuhezhen had been different, perhaps due to the other half of his bloodline. He had loved cleanliness ever since childhood, and had always cried quietly for half the day whenever his brothers had thrown mud at him to dirty his clothes.
There had been a time where he had hid in a secluded cave and wept for a long time, drawing the impatience of the boss Tu’an Qinghe, who had been practicing in the cave’s depths. That was the first time they had met.
Later on, as he slowly grew, Kuhezhen had established himself in the upper layers. After worshipping the tribal Great Shaman as his teacher, he became more and more inscrutable in emotions, but in front of his old friend, he had still retained some straightforwardness.
Tu’an Qinghe had not endorsed his unscrupulous way of doing things to achieve his goals, but the other had already walked down his path. There had been no way for him to turn back, so he had gone all the way into the darkness, and had now come to his end.
So be it.
Since he had loved to be clean, there was no way that he would be content to watch himself get eaten into nothing by insects after his death. Thinking so, Tu’an Qinghe turned, fetched firewood from a corner of the room, and then started piling it all around Kuhezhen.
Ming Yue hadn’t expected to convince him so easily. After being startled for a moment, he hurriedly went to help.
They soon heaped up enough wood. Without another word, Tu’an Qinghe lit up kindling, then threw the flame right onto the pile.
The fire burned from a few specks into a gradual escalation, soon becoming raging sparks that spread to all the walls of the shed.
They withdrew, watching from outside.
Ming Yue cupped his hands. “Many thanks to you, Mister Tu’an, for having just principles.”
“I didn’t do this for any of you.”
“I know. Regardless of what you did it for, as long as the result does not effect innocent civilians, it’s a virtuous merit. Thank you.”
With that said, he bowed with his hands held before him in salute.
“Go fetch a case,” Tu’an Qinghe said.
Ming Yue was slightly caught off guard, but knew what he was wanting to do right after. He quickly found a case of appropriate size, cleaned it inside and out, and spread a portion of wool over it.
When the blaze couldn’t burn anymore, the fire’s intensity gradually lessened. By near noon, the walls of the shed had been burnt black both in and out, emitting bursts of nauseating odors. The two had been standing there since the faint light of dawn until now.
Only then did Tu’an Qinghe walk inside, pick up the burnt bones, and place them each into the case. Ming Yue did not aid, because he knew that the other wouldn’t want anyone else to interject.
Once the bones were fully collected, Tu’an Qinghe turned around and left, holding the box.
The imperial army wished to step forth, but Ming Yue stopped them, motioning for the crowd to make way. Even if everybody here was added up together, they still wouldn’t be able to stop him.
The man left the Seventh Prince’s Estate. His figure bounced in jumps a couple of times, speedily vanishing into the vast, blue skies. Were there no incident, he ought to be returning to the Göktürks to put the deceased to rest.
Ming Yue sighed in relief.
He knew nothing of the agreement between Tu’an Qinghe and Feng Xiao, but he wouldn’t block him from leaving. Since the chaos had only just settled, if a strong foe like him was added into the mix again, there would inevitably be an even more disastrous price to be paid, were closure even able to be obtained at all.
Zhangsun, Yu Qingze, and the rest of the group went down the well the former had just come out of.
Not far from there, a fork in the road was seen. Zhangsun elected to go the other route, as they hadn’t run into Cui Buqu following along this one.
The other path was steeper and narrower, echoing in spurts. Zhangsun and Yu Qingze were fine, but the few soldiers behind them were panicking badly. Even though they were trying all they could to tread lightly, they could still hear incessant rustling noises, which sounded like some sort of reptile slithering on their heels.
At the end of the passage, a bronze, imposing square platform emerged before their eyes.
They were all ineffably shocked, yet had no idea that the traps here had already been entirely triggered by Cui Buqu and Xiao Lu when they had passed through. If they hadn’t, then among those here, it was likely only Zhangsun Bodhi would have been able to survive.
Zhangsun caught sight of the cliff cave slanting above with a glance, then practically flew over, quickly discovering the corpses of Xiao Lu and Yuwen Yihuan.
Since these two were already dead, the probability of Cui Buqu having escaped danger increased. He had no time to think further, allowed Yu Qingze’s group to depart in advance, then went down the original road forward swiftly.
Partway through his rushing, a strong wind greeted his face. He subconsciously retaliated, only to find that the depths of the other’s internal force surpassed his own. The two’s palms collided — Zhangsun’s chest billowed with blood and qi, and he immediately took three successive steps back.
“It’s you?” The new arrival was actually the one to stop fighting first.
Feng Xiao’s face was immediately reflected into the backdrop of Zhangsun’s eyes. That shiny head was particularly eye-catching beneath the lanternlight, but what was even more attention-grabbing was the other’s sorry state. Lord Feng-Er — typically brightly clean, tidy, and without one hair out of place — had no lack of dust and dirt all over him. Even though that didn’t conceal his handsomeness, it was enough to cause one astonishment.
With just one look, Zhangsun Bodhi noticed that Cui Buqu was on his back. “Commander!”
The man was leaning askew on Feng Xiao, eyes heavily shut. It wasn’t clear whether he was dead or alive.
Zhangsun’s heart nearly burst. Right as he was about to step forward and take him, the other stopped him.
“He’s fine.” Feng Xiao’s voice was hoarse, likely from staying in this place for too long. “I just examined him. His breath is weak, but comparatively longer and more even than it was before. I’ll bring him out, we’ll talk more on it later.”
Zhangsun pursed his lips. “Thanks for your trouble, Lord Feng. Allow me to carry him.”
“No need.” Feng Xiao lifted his chin, indicating for him to lead the way. Zhangsun nodded, saying not much else, and turned to go back along the road in front.
The three’s journey went abnormally smoothly. They quickly left the underground maze that never saw the light of day.
Once the first string of sunshine shone upon him outside, Feng Xiao had never before felt the stuff to be as good as it did now.
What was even better was that Cui Buqu and he were both still alive.
Zhangsun thought that he could pretty much take over now, so he quietly reached out. However, Feng Xiao just said, “I’ll take him back to Jiejian Bureau first, and let the doctor take a look.”
Zhangsun Bodhi did not agree. “Thank you for your kindness, Lord Feng, but the Empress already dispatched an imperial doctor to Zuoyue Bureau to take orders. He’s waiting solely to treat the Commander.”
Feng Xiao nodded, then turned straight from the guest into the host. “We’ll return to Zuoyue, then.”
Not waiting for Zhangsun’s response, he told someone to lead a horse over, helped Cui Buqu up on it first, then mounted it himself to support him from behind. The two humans and one horse sped off.
Despite Cui Buqu having received the essence of the Jade of Heaven’s Lake, Xiao Lu had been poisoned at the same time he had transferred it to his internals. Fighting poison with poison was not common medical practice, but rather an action physicians would take as an alternative; especially for him, a patient that had been ravaged by illness for a long time, and was no stranger to the pain therein.
He fell into a coma for three full days and nights. During those nights, there had been several times where his breathing went faint and his pulse went into critical condition — he’d had to wholly rely on a crowd of people constantly watching over his side and imbuing him with true qi in a timely matter, thus averting calamity.
By the time he finally had clear awareness and thoroughly awakened, it was three days later.
The baldie beside his bed gave him the dim illusion that he was staying in Daxingshan Temple, but he soon realized that the guy was Feng Xiao.
Reality had certified that beauties were beauties, regardless of hairstyle. After looking at that shiny head, he also got a feeling of ascetic beauty… particularly since Lord Feng-Er had apparently gone for broke, as he was straight-up wearing white monk’s robes. They made him appear to have all the more of an air of a high monastic that was floating away from the mortal realm.
Of course, a prerequisite for that would be him not talking.
And that would be hard for him.
Once he moved a bit, Feng Xiao noticed almost immediately. He had been standing by the window, eyes turned to observe the outside flowers.
Cui Buqu opened his mouth. “How long did I sleep for?”
His voice was so husky, those didn’t sound like words.
Feng Xiao curled his lip. Forcing his heart to relax, he quietly poured him a glass of warm water, then helped him drink it.
Even the imperial doctor had been powerless towards Cui Buqu’s condition, with no medicines to prescribe him. Everyone could only take turns flushing out and comforting him whenever the poison within him acted up.
For him to be able to wake up at all was a truly great blessing within this misfortune. This demonstrated that the method everyone thought would work was effective. At the bare minimum, after he pulled through this, he might not be living a long, hundred-year life, but he wouldn’t be dead anytime soon.
Cui Buqu absently felt like half of a lifetime had passed, yet it had only been three days.
“You’ve seen me,” the other carefully prompted, “so don’t you have something you want to say?”
Cui Buqu gazed at him with a face of confusion, as if waiting for him to clarify.
Feng Xiao was suspicious. With Cui Buqu’s highly retentive memory, there was obviously no way he would ever forget things. Under the previous circumstances, however, he had nearly hovered about the netherworld’s gates, so Feng Xiao couldn’t be positive. If the other man had taken it as his imagination or a dream, he would have thoroughly forgotten it upon waking up.
“What I said to you in the cave, when I was walking with you on my back.” Lord Feng had the unyielding look of an immortal descending to the mundane world, gazing down on this mortal from up on high, and even having a charitableness to his tone. “Do you not remember even one word of it, Commander Cui?”
Cui Buqu appeared to be carefully thinking back. “I remember… you saying that you wouldn’t let me die.”
“And after that?” his counterpart asked coolly.
Cui Buqu played innocent. “Can’t recall.”
Feng Xiao sneered. “Great. Real great! Super great!”
Those three greats in a row amply conveyed Lord Feng’s emotions. “I’ll tell you this, Cui Buqu,” he said to him harshly, “even if you beg me to, I’ll never look at you again for the rest of my life!”
Following that, he saw Cui Buqu smile.
He had never seen him smile so peacefully, so sincerely, without a trace of mockery. It was similar to the joy of seeing the Peach Blossom Springs after experiencing disaster, and passing through mountains of ice and seas and fire.
Afterwards, he heard him say, “Being able to live to see you again… is great.”
Feng Xiao’s heart quickly softened.
Many felt that the fourth year since the Dynasty’s founding was one of turbulent waves. Before the first month had even passed, things kept happening in quick succession.
The incidents of the Prince of Qin’s banquet and Daxingshan Temple had already overwhelmed everyone, but then the investigation and seizure of Kuhezhen’s Estate came. Towards Princess Leping, there was a stern reprimand and an order for her to seclude herself and reflect upon her wrongs, and she could no longer make any sort of splashes.
Thankfully, in spite of the battering waves, the dust had settled at last. The dead and wounded were all properly taken care of, and Daxingshan Temple was temporarily closed for repairs.
The Empress was in very good health, and nothing much was wrong with the Crown Prince, Prince of Jin, or the rest. Cui Buqu had awoken from his coma, and his health had even bounced back; he would soon be able to walk on the ground and bask in the sunlight of his courtyard.
Everything was developing in a good direction.
The sole defect inside this prettiness was Lord Feng-Er’s hair.
There were hundreds of thousands of beauties in this world, and he was undoubtedly superior amongst them. Of course, a man’s appearance could not be described as ‘beautiful’, else that would be too feminine; his appearance was not only not feminine, but ought to be called rather handsome.
The pinnacle of handsomeness could also be considered a type of beauty, though, and for beautiful people, hairstyles did not matter. True beauties, regardless of whether they had no hair, long hair, or hair that looked like weeds, would still be beauties.
Feng-Er had also believed that this wouldn’t matter. He even wore monk clothes, masquerading as a fake Buddhist, and those that didn’t recognize him would take him as a young monk that had gone to wander outside his monastery.
Now that spring was gone and summer was coming, however, he suddenly discovered that not having hair was apparently not that convenient.
For one, his head was cold, and that always made him feel uncomfortable.
For two, the time when one’s head was ugliest was not when it was bald or had very long hair, but when its hair was just starting to grow out, neither long nor short, and as stabby as stubble. Every time he habitually touched his bald head, he would unthinkingly get pricked on his palm.
Having another look at the person in the mirror, he got a rare feeling of self-doubt.
Recently, Cui Buqu… had been a bit cold.
To be more precise, he was a bit cold towards Feng-Er. Even Zuoyue had the same feeling of being a bit indifferent and business-like towards Jiejian.
Feng Xiao knew that, despite the man not saying so, Cui Buqu had an extraordinary fondness for his face, as a matter of fact. Said fondness was infrequently revealed externally, but Feng Xiao was well aware of it, because the look in the other’s eyes never lied.
Everyone in the world loved outer appearances, to the point that even high monks that had achieved the Dao might not even be above it. Feng-Er didn’t think to bother about whether Cui Buqu liked his face or his personality; questions like that were really stupid, because those were just parts of him. He believed that, were someone with the exact same face as him to appear right in front of Cui Buqu, the latter would never be moved by them.
Because they would not have his innate soul that was peerless in the world, and only the combination of those two things would create the incomparable and unique Feng Xiao.
Yet, in this scenario, the reason why Cui Buqu suddenly went cold was not something he could understand too well.
Feng Xiao believed that going out to ask in person would make him look like he cared too much, so he had Qin Miaoyu pretend to deliver holiday gifts, and just happen to drop by on the way.
Back when he had taken her on as a subordinate, he had only cared about her skills in making and recognizing incense, never once thinking that she would be like her name of ‘clever words’, versatile in mind and particularly quick-witted.
The thing between him and Cui Buqu was something the whole Jiejian Bureau knew about, Ming Yue and her included. Ming Yue behaved honestly, slow in speech and poor at gossip, so he couldn’t be counted upon, but Qin Miaoyu was adept in weighing words and observing expressions. She was no small amount of help.
Feng Xiao knew that she wanted to stay in the capital, and thus had pushed the boat along with the current to keep her around. In any case, she had exerted herself a lot during the incident at the Lantern Festival.
This time, however, she had returned in defeat. Her expression was a bit shrewd as she watched Feng Xiao, wanting to say something but stopping herself.
He got impatient. “Spit it out!”
“This subordinate didn’t get to meet Commander Cui. Zuoyue appears to have taken a new case transferred over from the Ministry of Justice. He didn’t have the time to see me.”
Feng Xiao wore a face that said ‘you’re really useless’.
“But I did get a piece of information,” she said, feeling wronged, “and figured you would want to know, so I came back ahead of time. I heard that Commander Cui had entered the palace two days ago. Empress Dugu wants to sanction a marriage between you and Princess Lanling, and she asked him to inquire after your feelings on that.”
Since ancient times, sanctioned marriages from the Son of Heaven were the greatest honor, especially in the opinions of officials. In addition to the status of their descendants getting elevated by a large chunk, they themselves could advance a further step, regardless of what their current rank was.
Yet, the Empress was aware that the pull of being mixed into higher families might not work, when it came to either Feng Xiao or Cui Buqu. Those two were not men willing to grovel for the sake of money and power, so if marriage sanctions were imposed upon them, the probable aftermath would be them being forced to go elsewhere.
She appreciated Feng Xiao, but ‘appreciation’ and ‘wanting him to be her son-in-law’ were two different things. As a sensible person, she knew that with his temper, he likely would not be reconciled to submission, nor happy after taking a Princess as a wife. Still, she had been unable to withstand her daughter’s pleading, so she had no choice but to pass this plan down and have Cui Buqu help her try to promote it to Feng Xiao.
These past few days, Cui Buqu not only hadn’t gone to see Feng Xiao, but he hadn’t even stepped foot out of Zuoyue Bureau’s main gates.
Feng Xiao felt that with how Cui Buqu was acting, he was definitely jealous, but due to his cold-on-the-outside introversion, it was difficult for him to say so directly. The former believed that he ought to humble himself and go pay a visit in order to avoid Commander Cui sulking himself into ruination, which would cause his just-barely-recovered health to become ailed again.
Thinking like so, Lord Feng straightened out his clothes, felt at his slightly cold, slightly prickly scalp, and strutted over to the Zuoyue Bureau.
At this very moment, the Bureau had an unexpected visit from a perfumed visitor.
Cui Buqu had never had the patience for social niceties, but this time, he was seated properly and in a good mood. His tone towards the visitor was soft, and he spoke patiently, like delicate water flowing long. The pretty visitor had her head slightly lowered, appearing to be a bit bashful. She would say a few words and then pause for a bit, yet he never rushed her.
When Feng Xiao arrived, this was the scene he was greeted with. He, too, was quite familiar with this lady visitor.
Her two-character surname was Yuwen, and her maiden name was Eying; she was the granddaughter of the Son of Heaven, as Princess Leping’s daughter. Yuwen Yihuan had been able to conceal her identity and cause such a huge mess with no lack of secret aid from Princess Leping, but if the latter hadn’t suddenly repented in the nick of time, Empress Dugu would likely still now be bedridden in the palace.
The hearts of mothers and daughters were linked, so the Empress couldn’t bear to keep the Princess imprisoned. Purportedly, a few days back, Yuwen Eying had received the Empress’s approval to enter the palace and pay her respects. The grandmother and granddaughter had held each other and wept bitterly, that former resentment entirely dashed, and the house arrest on the Princess Estate lifted.
Feng Xiao knew about all that, but he wasn’t sure why Yuwen Eying would show up here, nor why she would appear to be speaking quite happily with Cui Buqu. Seeing that neither of them were looking up, he coughed a couple of times to announce his own presence.
Only then did they turn to him, a surprised expression showing on Cui Buqu’s face. “Lord Feng, why did you not have someone inform us that you were going to honor us with your presence? I do hope you can forgive me for not coming out to greet you in person.”
Feng Xiao: “…”
With how big of a person he was, and with how long he had been standing in the doorway, he didn’t believe at all that Cui Buqu hadn’t noticed him.
Lord Feng beamed. “You’re being such a stranger, Commander Cui. I’ve been coming by almost every day, yet I’ve never seen you step out of your door to welcome me from even far off. Should I move back to the outside of the gates so you can greet me one more time?”
Cui Buqu held a fake smile, extending a hand to beckon him in. “If you please.”
Yuwen Eying was watching them, simply feeling that there was something unspeakably odd about them. Were it to be said that their relationship was good, they were equally barbed towards each other. Were it to be said that their relationship was bad, then they didn’t resemble mortal enemies, either. “Commander Cui?” she cut in.
Cui Buqu and Feng Xiao set their sights upon her at the same time.
She was a bit timid. “Can I… rest at Zuoyue Bureau tonight?”
The men had spoken simultaneously, then glanced at their counterpart.
Yuwen Eying looked confused.
Feng Xiao raised his brows.
“You may stay here by all means, Xianzhu Yuwen,” Cui Buqu said to her gently. “Someone will be sent to inform the Princess. You may stay here for more than a few days before you leave; it does not matter.”
She had no polite refusals, immediately agreeing to this. “Then I’ll thank you, Commander Cui!” she said, grateful.
He had someone lead her away to settle in, then smiled disingenuously at Feng Xiao with a stink eye. “What noble errand have you come here for, Lord Feng?”
Feng Xiao was not going to say ‘I was afraid that you ran off with a seductress,’ of course. He sat down primly. “I just came to see if you died, Commander Cui. If you did, it would be best for me to come offer condolences, collect the corpse, and gift funeral money or whatnot.”
“So, Lord Feng has been hoping for my early demise. Back when I was half-awake, those words said at my bedside must have not been sincere, hm?”
The other coldly huffed. “What words? This nobleman’s forgotten them!”
Cui Buqu nodded. “As they say, there’s three great joys in a person’s life: promotion, wealth, and the old wife’s death. Looks like you’re about to have two happy events at the same time. I will give my congratulations ahead of time, then — I pray that you climb at a steady rise, and that you have a hundred years of happiness together.”
Feng Xiao sneered. “Quit saying weird things to me! I’m asking you—“
He stopped abruptly, as if he had choked on a walnut in the middle of his speech. He stared wide-eyed at Cui Buqu for a bit. “What did you just say?”
“Climb at a steady rise, have a hundred years of happiness together.”
“No, before that!”
“Taking Princess Lanling as a wife would progress you a step further. Is that not two joyous things in one?”
Feng Xiao’s gaze was burning. He was nearly stretching his entire upper body over, like a predatory bird keeping an eye on his prey. “I’m talking about the first sentence! Promotion, wealth, the old wife’s death!”
Cui Buqu feigned surprise. “Are you cursing Princess Lanling, Lord Feng?”
“Stop playing dumb!” Feng Xiao chided, teeth itching in anger. He knew that he simply could not let his guard down around this guy, and that it was rare to hear one heartfelt word out of him — how could he tolerate him acting ignorant?
Actions were more powerful than words. He grabbed the other’s chin, snatched him back when he was about to escape, and kissed him deep to seal up his mouth.
Right when Cui Buqu was nearly under the impression that he was going to swallow him whole, Feng Xiao fiercely let him go. “I’ll give you one more chance to say that sentence again properly.”
If Cui Buqu could be weakened by threats, then he wouldn’t be Cui Buqu. “Which sentence? That the Empress wants to sanction you a marriage to Princess Lanling?”
Feng Xiao laughed in mockery. “You’re jealous, so just say so. Why ask around in such a roundabout way?”
Cui Buqu raised a brow. “Do you dare to claim that you didn’t care when you saw Xianzhu Yuwen and I just now?”
The other wasn’t happy. “Can’t you just tell the truth?”
Cui Buqu smiled. “The remnants of the Thirteen Pavilions are still scuttling about outside. Owing to Xiao Lu and Yuwen Yihuan’s deaths, some people are venting their anger on Princess Leping, and particularly on Yuwen Eying. There was a poisoning incident in the Princess Estate earlier, and Leping has now been moved into the palace for temporary residence. Xianzhu Yuwen will be staying in Zuoyue Bureau in the meanwhile, incidentally providing clarity to the investigation. Does this satisfy you?”
Feng Xiao, reckless, consequently said a bunch of things while his heart meant otherwise. “What do you mean, ‘does this satisfy you’? This noble has never cared! I was just having a bit of fun with you! I have no intention of marrying Princess Lanling, and was intending to go into the palace tomorrow to make that clear to the Empress. How could I have known that you would burn with so much anxiety, you would say that you don’t care on the surface, yet have been gnashing your teeth in rage behind my back? I simply had to come over and appease you a little, because otherwise, your proper business would be ruined because of personal reasons, and wouldn’t that affect the situation at large if you refuse to collaborate with the Jiejian Bureau?”
His distortion of the truth was practically unprecedented. Smiling in anger, and without another word, Cui Buqu simply gathered in close and stopped up his mouth.
Growth Record One
Shaving off hair was simple, but wanting to grow it back afterwards was not so easy.
Feng Xiao felt at the shaggy hair atop his head. Without saying anything, he started to secretly seek out folk remedies for hair growth, hating that he couldn’t coil up his hair into a bun overnight anymore. When he took a look at his own reflection, Feng-Er, ever extremely confident in his own looks, had his first instance of doubt in regards to his head of kind-of-long hair.
He began to take note of hair-nourishing prescriptions, which needed to be kept from Cui Buqu, else the man would certainly come up with some idea to pit him with.
Qin Miaoyu was also vexed, recently. She had taken on an assignment; Lord Feng had ordered her to find supplements for hair growth, as he needed to make his hair grow to half a cun from his shoulders within a month.
That was because, in one month, Jiejian Bureau would be having a mission heading for Jiangnan, which he intended to embark on himself. One could not be too disgraceful-looking when going abroad, naturally.
But… how could that be achieved? Even gods couldn’t do it.
Still, since her superior had requested as much, she could only do everything in her power to fulfill it.
Three days later, Feng Xiao — in the face of a complete mess of prescriptions of medicinal baths, acupunctures, moxibustion, ointments, and even blessed water plus divine charms — sunk into contemplation.
Everybody in the capital knew that Princess Lanling admired Feng Xiao, but due to her reserved personality, she had never gotten the courage to be brazen. The Empress pitied her daughter and brought the topic of marriage up to him over and over again, but he declined it over and over again as ever. Helpless, she could only look for another candidate for the Princess.
However, Feng Xiao always got the sense that Cui Buqu’s reaction to all this had really been too indifferent; so indifferent, it made one think that he didn’t care about him at all.
The following evening, when Cui Buqu dropped by the Jiejian Bureau in person to seek discussion of proper business, he was met with empty air. Pei Jingzhe informed him that Feng-Er was not in the Bureau, but had gone out to Fullbright.
What kind of place was Fullbright? An alley of smoke, flowers, and willows, was what.
It was not an ordinary one, however; the building converged musicians and dancers from every cardinal direction, and various countries from the Western Regions. It was a favorite hangout area of the capital’s high ranks.
Every fifteenth of the first month, when the curtain of night descended, Fullbright would be fully bright, the sound of music coming off of it in spirals, just like the notes of Heaven. With Feng-Er going there, would he still be able to investigate this case, on top of his enjoyment of song and dance and pleasure-seeking?
Cui Buqu wasn’t fond of the place. He preferred to use this period of free time to stay inside Zuoyue Bureau and not one cun out of it. Now was an urgent matter, though, so he sent someone to communicate that he was likely going to be held up, forced to take a trip himself.
Feng Xiao was sitting in a circle with three others. A dancer gracefully swayed before him, her body of jade unexpectedly alluring, stylish, and enchanting. Upon seeing Commander Cui enter, he couldn’t help but raise his brows a bit.
The man did not go over to greet him at all, however, instead going to take an empty seat. From beginning to end, he acted like he was completely unfamiliar to him.
Following the dance number gradually entering its climax, the interest of all the guests was also aroused, some leaving their seats to dance along with the woman. Feng Xiao, meanwhile, was noticing that Cui Buqu’s gaze had never once crossed his own; his counterpart’s line of sight fell entirely upon the dancer, eyes steady and concentration firm, as if he had spotted a goddess that had come down to the mortal plane and was unable to tear himself away.
Feng Xiao slightly creased his brow. He would never admit to himself that he was a slight bit unhappy.
Only a slight bit. Nothing more.
Once the song was over, the dancer leisurely gave a bow, then retired.
Lord Feng found an excuse to walk over to Cui Buqu, sitting down next to him. “To see Mister Cui here is a rare thing. How truly fortuitous. Wouldn’t it be better to come have a drink with me?”
Cui Buqu glanced at him. Not making a peep, he looked towards the dancer again.
Feng Xiao could not control his own slip of the hand, and did something he regretted afterwards; he reached out of his own accord, took the other’s chin, and forced his gaze to break and come back to him.
Before there was time to say anything, swordwind attacked him from the back!
The nearby guests were all dumbstruck, none able to react. Feng Xiao quickly grabbed Cui Buqu, rolling them away to one side together.
It was only then that a thought made itself known in his head: Cui Buqu hadn’t been watching the dancer, but the musician behind the dancer.
Said musician had drawn a sword out of his qin and darted for Feng Xiao with all the momentum of lightning whose thunder hadn’t yet reached the ears, itching to put him six chi under.
What a shame it was that Feng Xiao’s martial arts, ever since his fight with Xiao Lu at the pub, had broken only to re-establish, and he now had a grandmaster’s cultivation base. Typical experts, by making just a bit of wind that stirred the grass, would not be able to hide from him. The second the two were compared, their relative superiority became immediately apparent.
The assassin was quickly subdued, and his history was taken straight out of his mouth. Even though Xiao Lu had died, there were still many meandering dregs of the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai — this guy was one of them, and had been devoted to Xiao Lu. Him abandoning his life to get revenge for him was only natural. Even if he could only injure Feng Xiao, it wouldn’t have been a loss.
But, that was all stuff to be spoken of later. At the present moment, Feng Xiao saw Cui Buqu give him a cold sneer, looking to be mocking him for his excessive reaction. He even spat a single word out of his mouth—
Growth Record Two
On the day he went down to Jiangnan, Feng Xiao finally had a head full of hair that was long enough to put into a bun.
That was owed to Cui Buqu having gifted him a wig.
Lord Feng had flaunted himself all his life as having a peerless elegance; never had he expected that there would come a day that he would actually have to spend time in one of these. The wig was partially white with no black, as grayed as waning autumn — he had no idea where Cui Buqu had gotten it from.
He had accepted it with a face full of disgust. It would not be until ten years later that Cui Buqu would accidentally discover that he had surprisingly stored this very wig away inside a certain box; neatly, properly, and like brand new.
During last year’s lantern festival, Feng Xiao had said that he would give Cui Buqu a pleasant surprise.
In the middle of the night, Cui Buqu, who had been lazing around in his blankets and unwilling to stick his head out of them, was picked up, then escorted out of the city in a carriage, blindfolded and in the dark. After he suffered this torment for a very long time, then finally got brought off the carriage and led a dozen steps out by Feng Xiao, he declared that he was impatient and straight-up pulled the blindfold off.
Following which he saw the object in front of him.
“Well, Ah-Cui? This gift is to your liking, yes?” Lord Feng’s self-proud voice sounded out beside his ear. ”You can put it in Zuoyue Bureau’s courtyard so that it’ll be the first thing you see when you go out every day.”
What was it that he was seeing?
A patterned lantern as tall as a person.
It was bound into a human bust with long hair coiled into a bun, sprightly and lifelike. It was also very clearly a magnified version of Feng Xiao.
The only thought that Cui Buqu had was that the craftsmanship was pretty good.
After this, the lantern was placed in Zuoyue Bureau’s courtyard. Cui Buqu had someone stick a yellow paper on lantern-Feng Xiao’s forehead that said ‘I am Feng Xiao, gate god of Zuoyue’. All who passed it would snicker.
This year, before Feng Xiao could say anything, Cui Buqu said that he had a gift for him.
Feng Xiao laughed. “Ah, Ququ, you’ve taken the initiative at last! Is the sun rising from the West?”
Cui Buqu smiled fakely. “It all stems from my deep-rooted affections for you, Lord Feng. I’m just doing a gift exchange to express my kind regards.”
Feng Xiao caressed the other’s cheek, coquettish. “So, children can be taught.”
At night, he was blindfolded, then brought to the capital outskirts.
They were in that same spot, under that same tree.
He took off his blindfold to see a human-shaped lantern.
“You’re lacking in originality. Referencing a housecat to draw a tiger is inelegant.”
“Please take a closer look, Lord Feng.”
He did so.
The lantern was not Cui Buqu, but him, Feng Xiao.
Although… it was a Feng Xiao with disheveled clothes, messy hair, two hands covering his chest, and a flustered look on his face.
“The work of that craftsman is quite divine, isn’t it?” Cui Buqu asked coldly.
As he watched Bian Yanmei packing up his stuff, Yu Shengyan wondered, “The new year will come soon, yet you’re going to leave?”
“I’m going to go with Master to Xuandu for new year’s dinner this year. If you don’t go, though, who’s going to cook for you? All of the cooks have gone back to their hometowns.”
“Master’s been eating at Mount Xuandu every single new year’s for years,” Yu Shengyan mumbled. “He’s about to become a part of his husband’s family, soon.”
“A part of what?” Yan Wushi’s voice said from behind him.
“I pray that Master and Sect Leader Shen will have peace wherever they go and have everything they do go off without a hitch and have all their wants come true and have great advancements in martial arts and unify jianghu for a thousand autumns!” Yu Shengyan blurted out.
Bian Yanmei silently sighed. You’re such a windbag.
There was a custom of Mount Xuandu; on the last day of the year, a brand new jar of wine would be sealed up and placed in the basement, and on the next coming year, the fermented wine with the heaviest aroma would be given to the disciples to drink.
Shi Wu smelled the wine and couldn’t resist having a few more cups. Before dinner had even started at night, he was already a drunken mess, and everyone helped him onto a bed, where he proceeded to sleep until the dawn of the next day.
After he woke up, the more he thought, the more wronged and uncomfortable he felt. He had to pull the blanket up to cover his head and squirm in the bedding for long time, until he yelped and tore it off of himself.
Inside the blanket was a big red envelope that had gotten there at some unknown time. He opened it up — inside it was a talisman and a paper slip handwritten by Shen Qiao himself.
The paper read: I hope that Shi Wu will be safe, and grow up healthy.
No ‘have huge successes in martial arts’, no ‘be unusually bright’, no ‘become famous’. Shen Qiao’s wish for his disciple was simple; just peace, and health.
These few simple words, Shi Wu read three times over. Elated, he folded it up, put it in the envelope, and held it in his arms, having not a bit of tiredness.
On the fifth day of the new year, Yan Wushi insisted upon washing his hands and making soup himself.
Shen Qiao felt exasperated. “Don’t make that ‘country-unifying’ soup or whatnot again.”
That ‘soup’ had had wontons, tangyuan, and lamb boiled together… who’d be able to stomach it?
Yan Wushi had an uncountable amount of new ideas that he would not only cook, but force Shen Qiao to eat. The latter could only hope that the table would be served with a pot of slightly more normal fare this time around.
As it was, he had hoped for too much. He stared at the bowl of dark stuff in front of him, unable to even imagine what was in it.
“This time is… ‘all the things within the great unity’ soup?”
“Those famed skills of yours are pretty so-so, Ah-Qiao. This is called the ‘soup of three plants and five creatures’. Those that drink it will strengthen their bodies and double their power.”
“…And the five creatures?”
“Centipede, viper, scorpion, gecko, and toad.”
Shen Qiao went quiet for a moment. “I’ve suddenly remembered that I have some urgent matters to attend to. I’ll be leaving.”
How could Yan Wushi tolerate him just walking out because he said he would? He moved faster than Shen Qiao’s voice could fall, already tapping his acupoints. “Why do you not give me any face, Ah-Qiao? Are you afraid that I’ll poison you?”
I’m not afraid of getting poisoned, Shen Qiao thought to himself, I’m afraid that after eating this, I’ll spurt blood out of my nose and be unable to get out of bed for three days.
Cui Buqu’s health was poor. On the first day of the year, his old ailment recurred, and he had to spend time in bed.
Smelling the medicinal aroma that filled the room, he bluntly frowned at the dark liquid in front of him.
“Where’s the candy?” He reached out in demand.
“In my mouth. After you finish drinking, I’ll feed it to you.”
Upon a survey of the room, all the candy had been hidden away by Feng Xiao, leaving the great one in his mouth all alone.
Once he had expressionlessly taken his medicine, Cui Buqu slapped Lord Feng in the face with the bowl, residue and all.
On the seventh day of the new year, Feng Xiao took Cui Buqu to pay a visit to Mount Xuandu. In the middle of the journey, he stopped beside a river for the fifth time to fix his hair in its reflection.
Cui Buqu was impatient. “Are we going, or what? You may as well embed mirrors in your skin so that you can look at yourself whenever you raise your hand.”
Feng Xiao was unbothered. “Only the waters of Heaven’s Lake can truly reflect my glorious looks.”
“Is there anyone in this world than can surpass your grace?” Cui Buqu mocked.
“I can’t give Yan Wushi the chance to.”
Martial feats paled to humanity. He could console himself with his own youth; were his appearance and poise to land downwind, there would be no way he could justify himself.
After the rain, dirt muddied, dew pearled, and fresh vegetation scented.
At noon, an official road, a teashack, two people, two horses.
The shack had only one worker. He diligently came over, called out in greeting, helped the two dismount and hitch their horses, then fetched fodder plus water.
“This place of yours is tiny, but it does have all the bells and whistles. Is business good here?” Pei Jingzhe wondered.
The worker — who held the simultaneous jobs of shopkeep, waiter, and cook — smiled. “You may find it laughable, but I’m a two li round trip from that village next to the official road. This place once was plowed in the spring, yet had no fall yield, so I set up a shack here. It’s easy for passersby to get to.”
His words were being said to Pei Jingzhe, but his eyes were aimed the man beside the man.
Feng Xiao seemed to sense this, lifting his head to look at him. The worker was somewhat embarrassed. “You’re rather good-looking, young gentleman. I’ve never seen someone with your elegance before, so I couldn’t help but look at you a bit more. Please forgive my rudeness.”
“I can tell that you’re not bad-looking, either, so there’s nothing that needs forgiving.”
The worker scratched his head bashfully. “My mother has said since I was little that I’m the best-looking one in the village.”
Feng Xiao smiled. “Then has she ever said to you before that you resemble a woman dressed as a man?”
The worker burst out laughing from the surprise. “You jest, gent. I’m obviously an actual man.”
Feng Xiao was watching him. “Tell me. In that village, nine out of every ten men were lost due to the chaos of war. Of those left behind, if they’re not white-haired elders, they’re babies that can’t talk. All of the young and healthy are women. You’re young, healthy, and not a woman in disguise. Care to explain?”
Pei Jingzhe had just brought the tea to his lips. Once he heard this much, he immediately felt that the tea cup was way too scalding, itching to fling it far away.
The worker noticed his action, and couldn’t help but laugh.
“What are you laughing at?” Pei Jingzhe asked.
The worker bared his teeth. “I’m laughing at how the man next to Lord Feng doesn’t appear to be too talented. Looking at you alone, how the Jiejian Bureau managed to defeat those many experts of the Thirteen Pavilions is rather beyond one’s imagination.”
Pei Jingzhe stood up with a bang, glaring at him. Had Feng Xiao not started speaking from right next to him, he would have already started a fight.
“You aren’t his match,” Feng Xiao pointed out.
The worker smiled. “So, Lord Feng knows the score.”
“Who are you?!” Pei Jingzhe barked.
“Who he is isn’t the least bit important,” Feng Xiao said. “You should be asking: why has he come here?”
The worker nodded. “Tell me, Lord Feng. Why have I come here?”
“You called out my name, so that illustrates that you were specifically waiting here for me. What I don’t know is what I have on me that’s deserving of you intentionally setting up a shack in wait for it.”
“I want the sect leader seal that you have.”
His looks weren’t amazing, his skin a bit tanned, and when he said that, he was dull, no deterring might hitting one in the face. Even so, Pei Jingzhe narrowly couldn’t stand anymore, unable to keep from pressing his palms against the table to prevent himself from losing face. On the inside, he was swearing.
This arrival was not benevolent, and no one benevolent was coming. Pei Jingzhe worried at heart about not being this man’s opponent. If the real ‘gentleman’ was here, that’d be great, but instead…
What was feared was what would come. Seeming to latch onto his thoughts, the worker suddenly narrowed his eyes, stared at Feng Xiao, and said something shocking.
“You aren’t Feng Xiao.”
Feng Xiao waved his fan, not even the slightest bit flustered. “How do you figure?”
The worker glanced at Pei Jingzhe. “The look in his eyes just changed a lot. Clearly, he fears me attacking. If the real Feng Xiao was here, he would have long exposed my identity.”
‘Feng Xiao’ smiled. “Miao Wenxin, I am indeed not your match, but if you harm me, you’ll be even less likely to get the thing you want — the sect leader seal of Fajing.”
Having had his identity pierced through, the worker huffed coldly. “You know me? Who are you?”
Miao Wenxin had never been one to restrain his temper, else the position of the Fajing Sect Leader wouldn’t have landed in the hands of Guang Lingsan, instead.
After those questions, the Feng Xiao impostor still refused to answer him, which made his desire for murder rise — he directly shot a palm out!
These past years, Miao Wenxin had wandered jianghu, his murderous name spreading around as he easily obliterated entire groups. Not one who heard of him wouldn’t be terrified. At times, he would scamper all around the South, other times to Goguryeo, and (obviously) this time to the not-yet-unified realm. Even if the realm was a Great Unity, people with such high martial arts were not easy to catch.
Pei Jingzhe had knowledge of Miao Wenxin’s name. Upon hearing ‘Feng Xiao’ reveal it, a feeling of doom vaguely bloomed within him. That palm of Miao Wenxin’s had surging, overbearing momentum, like a gale bearing frost pouncing at the face. Its murderous aura arrived before the palm wind did, going straight for ‘Feng Xiao’’s forehead. Pei Jingzhe had no choice but to hastily face the attack, his long sword thrusting towards Miao Wenxin’s face.
Unexpectedly, partway through its journey, the other’s palm suddenly gave up on ‘Feng Xiao’, going for Pei Jingzhe!
Greatly alarmed, the latter quickly retreated. The two immediately fought out onto the official road beside the teashack.
Ever since the thing with the Thirteen Pavilions, Pei Jingzhe had become deeply aware that his own martial arts knowledge was not enough, and he was liable to drag down the Jiejian Bureau’s back leg. Following that period of trembling in fear, he had planned to go back to school, but on the path of martial arts, innate talent had to be considered firstly, hard work secondly, and experience thirdly. Of course, for him, regardless of how hardworking he was, his talent wouldn’t be any sort of spectacular, and his experience was lacking. How could he have learned anything in this short amount of time? Now, the more he fought, the more alarmed he grew — in not even ten moves, his major acupoints had been struck, and a palm hit him in the chest, sending him flying and heavily crashing down upon the ground!
“Trash!” Miao Wenxin curled his lip, sneering at them. “You dare pretend to be people of Fajing without backup?”
He walked step-by-step over to ‘Feng Xiao’.
The other, however, just sighed. “Are you not baffled, Miao Wenxin? Even though I’m not the real Feng Xiao, I know both you and the Sect quite well. I even know what you came here for.”
The false Feng Xiao was, of course, not Miao Wenxin’s match.
Because he was Cui Buqu.
The Zuoyue Bureau’s lead envoy had not a smidgen of martial arts. No need to speak of Miao Wenxin striking him once, as even half a strike would likely injure him badly, post-haste.
However, Envoy Cui’s strength was precisely this; one phrase of his could cause Miao Wenxin deep apprehension, making him stop in his tracks.
“Hand the sect leader seal over, and you won’t die.”
Cui Buqu smiled faintly. “The seal isn’t on me, but I know where it is.”
Miao Wenxin’s fingers were like the wind, tapping him on his acupoints, after which he grabbed the other’s shoulder.
“Lead me there.”
What was Lord Feng doing at this moment?
Handling a case.
To be more precise, he had Cui Buqu’s appearance on as he played a game of qi against a woman from Silla. She wasn’t an average commoner, but the Silla King’s daughter, Princess Baoqing.
Dense incense softly seeped into the heart. Beautiful women talked and tittered. No matter how this scene was viewed, it looked like a fun foray, not the investigation of a case.
Standing nearby was Qiao Xian, who observed as Feng Xiao’s hand bumped against Princess Baoqing’s piece, especially glaring as Cui Buqu’s face showed a ‘lecherous’ smile. The corner of her eye twitched, mouth twisting up.
Baoqing’s voice was soft. “Why does your bodyguard have such a grotesque expression? Is he reminding you that you need to do something?”
“Don’t take offense. He was born sick, and sometimes spasms out. He’s still considerably loyal, hence why I let him come, but if you don’t want to see this, I can have him leave.”
You’re the sick one! Qiao Xian thought to herself, rapidly getting her own features in order, eyes not going askance.
Her purpose in disguising herself in men’s clothes and following Feng Xiao out was a very long story.
Silla was one of the Three Kingdoms of the Northern Peninsula; it, Baekje, and Goguryeo had long constituted the three. Goguryeo was always of the mind to invade the Central Plains, having both overtly and covertly tried to several times. It was to the point that its royal clan members had established the Fuyu Sect, which had become a subsidiary of the Thirteen Pavilions of Yunhai, aiming to deal with the Central Plains’ Dynasty.
Following Xiao Lu’s death, the Pavilions had fallen apart, but the powers related to it had been secretly attempting to rise from the ashes.
Although Goguryeo and Silla were mortal enemies, Baoqing here, and Goguryeo’s since-destroyed Fuyu Sect, were inextricably linked.
Feng Xiao had heard from the way Cui Buqu spoke that Baoqing had a romantic personality, and was most fond of beautiful people. Last year, due to a chance opportunity, she had received a martial arts volume from the Harmony Sect that had leaked out. Inside it was the ‘Plucking Supplements’ technique, which was like water to the fish that she was. Since she also had the Silla King’s favor, she allegedly ran amok in Silla itself.
However, being a rampant tyrant was only one aspect of her. In the intel the Zuoyue Bureau had received, she had had no lack of correspondence via secret channels with the Thirteen Pavilions and Göktürks. She had even ordered for an ‘observatory’ to be built in Silla, and kept many young, handsome men. On the surface, this had been for the sake of pleasure, but the truth was that she was training killers. In order to eliminate dissidents of Silla’s Crown Prince, she had gone down the road of the Pavilions, secretly adding to the Central Plains’ suffocation.
Feng Xiao’s Fajing Sect had once had someone in its early years named Miao Wenxin, who had been martial brothers with its Sect Leader, Guang Lingsan. Later on, they had had a falling out and turned into foes, so he had been ousted from the Sect. From then on, his voice had been faint. Allegedly, he had gone to Silla and incidentally had secret contact with Baoqing, to the point that he had become her heavily-used aide.
Recently, Cui Buqu had ordered for an investigation into several instances of murder cases, among which Court officials were involved. Following a few searches, the prime suspect pointed to Miao Wenxin.
At that point, the case had to drag in both the Zuoyue and Jiejian Bureaus, and Feng Xiao’s sect, too. The Feng-Cui pair naturally needed to step in. As for why the two had swapped each other’s appearances, one reason was that even though Princess Baoqing was fond of men, her fondness was not for Feng Xiao’s sort that eclipsed her own brilliance. Cui Buqu’s sort, on the other hand, was of a pale-faced scholar, handsome Daoist, and other such auras, and the colder those got, the more they were to her tastes. He was, undoubtedly, a much better candidate.
The second reason was that Baoqing had many martial experts beside her, and her own arts weren’t bad, sly and unpredictable, her thoughts elusive. Cui Buqu was intelligent, but his martial arts were rather poor, and he was liable to get plotted against; how could Feng Xiao ever feel at ease enough to let him take this task?
The third reason was that a message was being delivered on Miao Wenxin’s end, and Cui Buqu would be leading him elsewhere, leaving Feng Xiao alone. He could only elect to confront Baoqing, hence why he’d had to come, despite not wanting to.
The Princess, a wine-lover, was not interested in it. With another move of a qi piece, she began to shift towards Feng Xiao. “Mister Zhou, you said that you are Miao Wenxin’s enemy. Why have I never heard him mention you before?”
Her fingertips lightly caressed him, yet seemed to be prying open his lapels, lingering seductively: warm, ambiguous, and enticing. She could make any old hand at romance be unable to resist her.
Sure enough, Feng Xiao eyes looked slightly moved, showing an infatuation of his heart’s banner waving. A short moment afterwards, he collected himself, barely managing to hold up as he watched her with inward self-satisfaction.
She liked men, but what she was most fond wasn’t actually the times she sought pleasure with them. Instead, she was much more fond of watching men of all sorts worship her at her feet. The more aloof and self-controlled, the more she felt the urge of challenge.
Feng Xiao was, without a doubt, the most outstanding figure she had encountered in recent years.
“It’s natural that he wouldn’t mention me. Years before, he was expelled from the sect and stole its mental cultivation method. Why would he ever dare to bring up his former sect siblings? However, I received his grace while he was there, so we have something of a friendship. This time, I’ve heard that traces of him have appeared in the Central Plains. The sect even sent an order down to eliminate him on sight. I know you to have a connection with him, Princess, which is why I specifically came to inform you of this.”
“Oh?” She left out a faint little huff that could make the bones of almost all the men in the world go limp. “So, the reason you came over here wasn’t me.” A forefinger, polished with basalm juice, poked Feng Xiao between the brows. “Scoundrel!”
“But, I after I saw you…” he sighed lightly.
Baoqing lifted her pretty eyes up to look at him.
“…I feel it’s somewhat unfortunate.”
“With that… respectable countenance of his, and your outstanding grace, how could it not be unfortunate to see?”
He intentionally imitated Cui Buqu’s cold mannerisms of being able to anger someone to death via talking. As expected, after a brief interim of being stunned, the Princess laughed coyly.
“How wrong of Miao Wenxin to never speak of you. Simply put, compared to you, he’s a spark to a white moon, the difference between divine and rotten!” She threw her qi piece away. “I don’t want to play qi. Let’s do something a little more interesting.”
Her hand slowly rubbed up along his arm, partitioned by clothes, while her gaze near about stripped him bare and ate him all up.
She glanced at Qiao Xian, snickering. “Your bodyguard has good looks, and seems insistent upon staying here. Wouldn’t it be better to let him stay here and have fun together with us?”
Feng Xiao lifted up her chin. “Have fun doing what?”
“Whatever you can think of, I’ll do it with you. I’ll say beforehand, though, that you need to bring the real owner of that face over here. I don’t want the counterfeit goods of an impostor.”
Those words were alarming — before Qian Xian had time to react, two wooden-doll-esque maidservants dashed out from behind the Princess with movements like the wind, trying to grab her from either side!
Qiao Xian’s sword had been handed over when they came in, leaving her bare-fisted, one fist per foe. There was no way she wasn’t going to fall downwind.
Baoqing wasn’t interested in watching them brawl, her eyes staring only at Feng Xiao. “Every act, every motion, every frown, and every smile of yours, those uglies wouldn’t be able to imitate. I’m assuming your original face isn’t that bad. Let me see your true appearance, first, and then we’ll talk more about your fake sectmate. You’ve plotted so thoroughly to get close to me; what intentions do you have?”
He chuckled. “I’ve long heard of your reputation of beauty. Everyone’s curious about it…”
“Now that you’ve seen me, then, what do you think?”
“You’re just so-so.”
Her smile turned cold. “Say that again.”
“I said, your looks are ordinary, you’re a has-been, your laughs sound just like an old hag’s crowing, I don’t want to hear a single bit of information about the remnant rebels coming out of your mouth, and this Lord would never squander my appeal by wasting time with you. Since you know now, I’ll spare you. Let’s go. The Jiejian Bureau, or the Zuoyue Bureau — your pick.”
Baoqing sneered. “What a rude man. You come into my place, then dare to speak to me like that? Try it out for yourself, then. As of right now, aside from your mouth, not a single bit of you can move, can it?”
“What did you do to me?”
“The qi pieces,” she said smugly. “Starting from the moment you touched them, you were infected with a secret drug of Silla. If not cured, it will be impossible to move. Your bones and muscles will gradually stiffen until you finally turn into a mannequin and die. After death, you’ll be another piece in my collection. Is that not something to look forward to?”
With that, she stroked his face, feeling along the edge of his jaw. “Where does your disguise come off at? Why can’t I find the opening? The handiwork of the one that did this for you must be great.”
Feng Xiao laughed. “The one that did it is now in the middle of wrangling with your subordinates. Also, with how ugly you are, now that you’ve touched me, I need to go take several baths when I get back.”
Before he finished saying that, Baoqing felt a sharp pain in her chest, her ability to hold herself up flying out with it, and she heavily collapsed onto the floor.
The two maidservants went pale from fright upon seeing this. They wanted to turn around and save their master, but Feng Xiao had already zipped over in front of them.
The twos’ martial arts were decent — at the very least, they had been able to contend equally with Qiao Xian — but facing Feng Xiao, they were nothing, going down in one hit.
Baoqing covered her chest as she lay on the ground, vomiting blood, expression one of utter disbelief. “How did you…”
He shook his head. “There’s no way you ever caught Xiao Lu’s eye or got a seat in the Thirteen Pavilions, if you’re this stupid. You can use poison, but I couldn’t possibly?”
She spat blood out of anger, eyes bulging out of their sockets.
“Your Lord has supported you for a thousand days,” he said to Qiao Xian, “but you haven’t been useful for one second. What if it wasn’t me here today, but him? Wouldn’t you two have been sucker punched by this woman?”
Qiao Xian mentally rolled her eyes, thinking, How do you know that all of this wasn’t his deliberate plan? He knows you’re an expert in dealing with women like this, so he made you make yourself useful.
Feng Xiao knew nothing of her silent criticism, patting his clothes off, heading out, and not forgetting to order her around while he walked. “Call for some people to clean up the aftermath. Baoqing brought a lot of experts to follow her, so don’t capsize the boat into the gutter.”
“What about you, then?” she called out him.
Lord Feng didn’t look back, walking leisurely.
“Me? I’m the hero going to save the beauty, of course.”
Feng-er hadn’t expected that when he wouldy scurry after the signal Cui Buq had left behind, he would not only not save the ‘beauty’, but instead see Miao Wenxin tied up on a tree and swearing his mouth off, all sorts of filthy words coming out in a continuous stream. Even Feng Xiao couldn’t help but frown at them.
‘Beauty’ Cui was, in contrast, sitting in the tree’s shade and reading a book. It was like Miao Wenxin didn’t even exist.
With Miao Wenxin’s martial arts, Cui Buqu and Pei Jingzhe together wouldn’t be his match, to say nothing of Cui Buqu by himself. Feng Xiao hadn’t thought that he would deal with Miao Wenxin this quickly; the two had acted separately, respective unforeseen incidents having been manufactured on both ends. Just like how he hadn’t expected this, Baoqing had imagined that she would ever be called ugly even less…
Okay, no more of that.
Feng-er stared. What bound Miao Wenxin was not a rope, but a qin string that dug into the skin.
“Who’s been here? Guang Lingsan?” he suspected. “You secretly colluded with him ahead of time?”
Cui Buqu looked up. “Why are you calling it a secret collusion? Are there no ivory teeth to spit out of your dog mouth?”
Feng-er huffed out a laugh, casually picked up a stone, and shot it straight out to hit Miao Wenxin’s mute acupoint. All that dog barking came to a full stop.
“He meets with you, but he’s too afraid to come out and see me?”
“I’m guessing that he doesn’t want to see how a peacock looks strutting around—”
Cui Buqu didn’t get to the end of his sentence, as he began to cough. It started as just some light sounds, but the more he coughed, the worse they got, until he couldn’t help but free a hand from his book and press it against his chest.
Feng Xiao had a face full of contempt, yet still walked over to him, took him into his arms, and passed his internal force through to regulate his breathing. “Why didn’t he take Mao Wenxin away with him?”
“He knows that leaving him with Zuoyue Bureau has its use. We can extract some information about the Pavilions’ dregs and Fuyu Sect out of him, so he let him slip the net.” Cui Buqu coughed a couple more times. “Guang Lingsan has always been chasing after Miao Wenxin’s whereabouts. The first thing he did was seek me out for collaboration, providing a trail.”
“But you didn’t tell me,” Feng Xiao said, dissatisfaction hidden inside his voice.
Cui Buqu showed a slight smile. “That was by his request. I was impartial, and it wouldn’t be backfiring on me. He doesn’t want to see you, so he naturally has a reason for not seeing you.”
The other sneered. “He’s just afraid that I’ll throw Fajing back to him.”
Cui Buqu’s coughing suddenly got louder.
Feng Xiao said nothing else, transferring internal force into him even more generously.
Cui Buqu’s health had improved from absorbing the Jade of Heaven’s Lake, but his inborn illness tacked on acquired torment, dooming him to never resume being a healthy human. Sometimes, his ailment would flare up for some trouble.
After a long while, the coughing gradually calmed.
Miao Wenxin was stifled to the point of discomfort.
For half of his life, he had been a tyrant, the other half, wandering homeless. After being ousted from Fajing, there had been nothing but the wide open world, yet he hadn’t expected that these years of cooperating with the Fuyu Sect and colluding with Princess Baoqing would turn around and fail to make a name for him. In the three demonic sects, Fajing was currently low-key, its reputation the most inconspicuous, but hadn’t he put himself out there for years? Now that he had fallen onto even harder times than before, how could he not be at least the slightest bit indignant?
Chest full of fury, he held the urgent desire to vent it, but not only was he not able to say half a word after Guang Lingsan caught him, but the guy had bound him right to a tree before floating away, and then these two in front of him…
He watched as the Feng-Cui pair whispered sweet nothings and practically nuzzled each other to the point that they straight-up ignored him, taking him as lump of stone — it was practically infuriating!
The anger in his chest roiling, Miao Wenxin itched to throw his head back to the sky, let out a long scream, and spray them to death with his spit.
But, until he genuinely got so angry that he spewed blood, they would never turn their heads to look at him.
He hated them!
He thought to himself that if the Heavens could grant him one chance, and allow him to return to that year when he had been in Fajing—
Thoughts cut off, blackness came before his eyes, and he lost consciousness.
“This guy stares too much! He’s really ruining the full enjoyment of this!” Feng Xiao said angrily, hugging Cui Buqu across the waist. “Have Pei Jingzhe get over here and clean up this mess!”
Cui Buqu rolled his eyes.
Pei Jingzhe, who was in the middle of feeding some mosquitoes, had a full-body shudder of unclear origin.