Because of last night’s turmoil in the eastern marketplace, the entirety of Chang’an was put under martial law. Although Ye Tianxiu was fortunate enough to escape with his life, because he had no energy to move any further, he had decided to randomly select a home to hide in even if he had to use force to control its owner. As long as he was able to rest for one night and take care of his injuries, then he would be able to make all efforts to run away tomorrow. However, the matters of this world were truly that coincidental. This home was the residence where Xia Jinyi was staying.
Xia Jinyi heard Ye Tianxiu as soon as he entered the courtyard. However, Xia Jinyi knew that it was inconvenient for him to handle this interloper and went to wake Chiji. When Chiji went to take a look, Ye Tianxiu had already fallen unconscious. After Chiji had bound and treated Ye Tianxiu’s injuries and after Ye Tianxiu regained consciousness, he asked Chiji to request for help from the Prince of Yong’s household. Ye Tianxiu understood that there was no way for him to escape from Chang’an with the current state of his injuries and the only way that he could preserve his life was to get help from the Prince of Yong. Because of the Prince of Yong’s enmity towards both the crown prince and the Fengyi Sect, and considering the Prince of Qing’s face, it was possible that His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, would save him.
If Ye Tianxiu had mentioned any other place, it was likely that Chiji would have been placed in an awkward position. However, when this man mentioned the Prince of Yong’s residence, Chiji relaxed a bit. When he delivered the news to the Prince of Yong’s residence, Xiaoshunzi hearing it also was left dumbfounded. Xiaoshunzi was one of those who knew that the guards of the Prince of Qing’s secret base in Chang’an had been slaughtered. Surprisingly, Ye Tianxiu would be so fortunate and survive. But Ye Tianxiu appearing at Xia Jinyi’s hideout was not something that Xiaoshunzi could handle without permission.
I muttered to myself for some time. As an enemy of the Fengyi Sect, that made the Prince of Qing our ally. Moreover, it was better to have a friend than to have another enemy. Naturally, we would have to save Ye Tianxiu. However, Xia Jinyi could no longer remain in that residence. With the current state of affairs, it wouldn’t be a good thing if Xia Jinyi’s whereabouts were discovered. After Ye Tianxiu had been moved, it was likely that people would come to investigate that residence. Therefore, Xia Jinyi must also be moved. However, where could he go? Starting today, the city of Chang’an would panic at the slightest thing.1 It would be difficult to hide him. After thinking it over, I stated, “Go take a trip personally. Have Xia Jinyi think of a way to change his appearance and have him leave Chang’an for a period of time. With the current state of affairs, even I am powerless. He should be able to understand this.”
“Young master, allowing this man to remain alive will be a future calamity,” replied Xiaoshunzi callously. “Why don’t we kill him and silence him forever?”
Shaking my head, I explained, “That won’t do. I have never performed anything that would give me a guilty conscience. This man has helped me considerably, risking his life. If I were to kill him, it would cause all those who know to sneer at me. Go, persuade him. In any case, since he is of no use remaining in Chang’an, it would be better if he left.”
“Then I will personally make the trip,” Xiaoshunzi obeyed, nodding his head. “I presume that Chiji will not allow Ye Tianxiu to see anything that he isn’t meant to see.”
Bringing along a carriage belonging to the Prince of Yong’s household, Xiaoshunzi traveled to that secret hideout. At present, Chang’an was completely devoid of people. Imperial guards were on the street everywhere. However, the pendant of the Prince of Yong’s household was quite useful and no one dared to block Xiaoshunzi’s passage. Within the carriage, Xiaoshunzi was resolved to kill Xia Jinyi if he refused to leave regardless of the rebuke and censure from the young master.
It wasn’t long before the carriage arrived at this house located in a remote alley. After Xiaoshunzi had ordered the accompanying servants to remain outside and wait, he entered the courtyard alone. After he had walked in, Xiaoshunzi’s gaze suddenly began to exude an icy light. Because of his murderous aura, his pupils had shrunk somewhat. This was all because he saw a familiar, and yet unfamiliar youth. The youth’s appearance was elegant; his skin was pale to the point of transparency. What was unique was that this youth carried a kind of aloof bearing. Although he was standing there, admiring the lotus flowers in the courtyard’s pond, Xiaoshunzi could not see a hint of joy or even sorrow in his eyes, almost as if he did not have any emotions. Xiaoshunzi racked his brains trying to figure out where he had felt this familiar feeling before. Carefully sizing up this youth, understanding and surprise suddenly hit Xiaoshunzi. This man was actually Xia Jinyi. What was going on? Why hadn’t Chiji informed him that Xia Jinyi had undergone such a transformation? Thinking of this, he shot a glare at Chiji who had appeared from a room to welcome him.
Actually, Chiji was also unable to make heads or tails of things. Although Xia Jinyi had changed greatly these last several days, Chiji had been in close proximity to him on a daily basis and had not noticed. Regarding the transformation of Xia Jinyi’s temperament, Chiji marked it down as a result of Xia Jinyi’s sorrow and as a result had not reported this to Xiaoshunzi. Although he found things odd, Chiji did not dare to ask too many questions. Advancing, he stated, “This Lord Night is an official in the Prince of Yong’s household. Young master Ye is waiting in the room for you.”
“Withdraw for now,” Xiaoshunzi ordered, uncaring. “I have some words that I need to speak to young master Xia.”
Chiji had an uneasy expression on his face as he silently withdrew. Xia Jinyi seemed like he was just seeing Xiaoshunzi, warmly stepping forward. Smiling, he asked, “So you have come personally. Has daren been well recently?”
Xiaoshunzi silently gazed at Xia Jinyi. He could sense that this man was truly happy to see him. However, what was strange was that Xiaoshunzi could also feel that this man’s emotions did not fluctuate in the slightest. Suddenly, Xiaoshunzi shot a palm strike at Xia Jinyi. Although Xia Jinyi’s expression seemed to be somewhat panicked, he still very quickly raised a hand to meet Xiaoshunzi’s attack. Xiaoshunzi could sense that Xia Jinyi’s internal energy was yin-focused, and yet also yang-focused as well. After a loud collision, Xiaoshunzi did not move in the slightest, while Xia Jinyi was forced to take two steps back, a flustered look appearing on his fair and pretty face.
Xiaoshunzi did not continue to attack, while Xia Jinyi did not seem frightened, respectfully standing at attention with a slight smile on his face.
Xiaoshunzi casually asked, “What has happened to you?”
Light twinkled in the eyes of Xia Jinyi. Smiling, he answered, “It isn’t much, only that it feels like I’ve completely become a different person and am no longer weighed down by the past.”
“The young master ordered me to inform you,” relayed Xiaoshunzi icily. “At present, Chang’an is extremely dangerous. If you are willing, you can temporarily leave the city to hide. If you are willing, I can act on behalf of the young master and allow you to freely depart.”
Killing desire flashed across Xia Jinyi’s eyes and he replied, “No, I will absolutely not leave if I cannot personally witness Li Hanyou be punished.”
Xiaoshunzi frowned and responded, “The matter relating to the Fengyi Sect is not easily resolved. It is inconvenient for you to remain in the capital.”
Xia Jinyi fell silent. After a while, he spoke, “Haven’t you also noticed that I have changed greatly? Do you think it is likely that they will recognize me right now?”
Thinking it over, Xiaoshunzi responded, “At first glance, probably not. However, you stayed for quite some time in the Crown Prince’s household. Many within that household will be able to recognize you.”
With a respectful expression, Xia Jinyi replied, “Would Lord Li please transmit my intentions to the young master. I am willing to serve daren. It isn’t difficult for my features to be changed. I believe that I won’t be easily recognized.”
Xiaoshunzi’s heart was touched. He did not know what had happened to Xia Jinyi for his martial arts to advance by leaps and bounds. This man was clever and quick-witted. It wouldn’t be a bad thing if he were allowed to stay by the young master’s side. Although disguises couldn’t completely change a person’s features, with the sweeping changes to Xia Jinyi’s temperament, it was possible for his identity to be hidden from others as long as he led a secluded life. Moreover, if he were to make trouble and were unwilling to depart, Xiaoshunzi knew that if he wished to kill him, it wouldn’t be that easy. It would be a problem if Ye Tianxiu were to hear of this matter. It would be better to bring Xia Jinyi back to the Prince of Yong’s residence. If young master were willing to retain him, then he could stay at the Cold Courtyard. If unwilling, then he could kill Xia Jinyi easily. Thinking of this, Xiaoshunzi’s relaxed and he stated, “Follow me to the Prince of Yong’s residence to meet young master.”
It wasn’t that Xia Jinyi did not understand Xiaoshunzi’s thought process, however he believed that he would be able to see his long-cherished wish come to fruition. Thus he respectfully acknowledged, “This commoner obeys the lord’s order.”
Xiaoshunzi laughed helplessly, walking towards the room where Ye Tianxiu was recuperating. On the bed, Ye Tianxiu’s face was deathly pale. Most of his body was covered with bandages. Seeing Xiaoshunzi, he sat up with difficulty. Smiling wryly, Ye Tianxiu said, “So it is Brother Li who has come personally. Tianxiu cannot thank you enough.”
“Brother Ye was ambushed last night,” replied Xiaoshunzi solemnly. “Both His Imperial Highness and my young master were extremely worried. Who would have thought that Brother Ye would turn misfortune into a blessing? To escape from certain death means that you will have fortune in the future. Does Brother Ye know who it was that attacked you last night?”
Smiling wryly, Ye Tianxiu answered, “The intruder’s face was covered, his swordsmanship superb. I am ashamed to admit that I was inferior. I do not know that person’s identity.”
Xiaoshunzi’s eyes narrowed and he continued to ask, “Do you know if the intruder was male or female? What swordfighting style did he use?”
Ye Tianxiu had repeatedly thought over what had happened. At this moment, he spoke without the slightest bit of hesitation, “That individual was a man. Although his facial features were exquisite, after having fought bitterly with him for some time, I can be certain that that individual was not a woman. If that wasn’t the case, there would be no need for me to guess as to his identity. His swordsmanship was exceptional, profoundly exquisite. It seemed quite similar to the Jade Maiden Sword Art.”
Xiaoshunzi’s brows twitched and he asked, “Are you suspecting Xiahou Yuanfeng? Doesn’t he train in the Jade Maiden Sword Art?”
Shaking his head, Ye Tianxiu replied, “I also suspected him. However, I once witnessed Xiahou daren’s sword art. His sword was not as swift and fierce as the intruder. Moreover, although the Jade Maiden Sword Art is deep and profound, it is used by many factions and sects in jianghu. I cannot confirm that the intruder was Xiahou daren just from this single factor.”
Xiaoshunzi did not think further. This matter would surely come to light one day in the future. There was no need for him to be anxious and impatient. Thus, he smiled and said, “Imperial Bodyguard Ye, it would be better if you first came to the Prince of Yong’s residence. Your injuries need to be treated again. We will discuss this matter further in the future.”
Ye Tianxiu cheerfully nodded in agreement.
Over these days, the state of affairs in Chang’an gradually pacified. However, hidden waves surged violently in the dark. At first light, Li Hanyou had entered the palace to pay a formal visit to the Noble Consort Ji. Within Noble Consort Ji’s chambers, the two sipped tea. Li Hanyou’s state of mind was not fixed, while Noble Consort Ji’s expression was tranquil and calm. After the two had chatted vacuously for quite some time, Li Hanyou could not help but ask, “Martial Aunt, it originally was understandable for Master to come assume control. However, Hanyou did not know a single thing about what was going to happen in Chang’an last night. Martial Aunt, please tell me … is Master dissatisfied with Hanyou?”
Noble Consort Ji smiled faintly and replied, “You’re overthinking matters. These years, you have done well. If the Sect Master truly felt that you have done wrong, she would absolutely not have let you off easily. It is only that it is inappropriate for you to get involved in this matter. Although you are a disciple of the Internal Hall, you are now married to Qin Qing. With this, you have nominally become an External Hall disciple. As a result, it isn’t appropriate for you to get involved. To the Fengyi Sect, it is far more important for you to preserve your current honored position than any action that you may do.”
Sighing, Li Hanyou expressed, “That day when the Sect Master arranged for me to be wed to Qin Qing, to speak the truth, I was unwilling. Martial Aunt, I truly wish to become the successor of Master’s legacy. But …”
Although Li Hanyou did not speak any further, Noble Consort Ji was very clear as to the meaning behind her words. The authority of the Fengyi Sect Master could not be resisted. Moreover, under the pressure of riches and honor, glory and splendor, how many could resist such allure? While gently fanning the circular fan in her hand, Noble Consort Ji gracefully soothed, “In reality, there is no need for you to become too worried. Although there is no chance for you to become the next Sect Master, the Sect Master’s intentions are quite clear. The decisions of the Fengyi Sect of tomorrow will not be made by the future Sect Master alone. Ziyan’s martial arts cultivation is the highest and she is the most loyal to Senior Apprentice Sister. In addition, the majority of the military force developed by the Fengyi Sect rests in her hands. But because of her cruel and savage reputation, thus there is no hope of her becoming the Sect Master. Your Second Apprentice Sister Xiao Lan and Fifth Apprentice Sister Qin Zheng are both married and have lost the qualifications to become Sect Master. Although your Third Apprentice Sister Feng Fei is somewhat renowned in jianghu, there is no way for her to dominate the outstanding heroes of the lands and can only serve in a supporting role. Your Fourth Apprentice Sister Liang Wan’s mind has been damaged. Your Seventh Apprentice Sister is too cavalier and reckless, and cannot be granted heavy responsibilities. There is only your Sixth Apprentice Sister Ling Yu and Eighth Apprentice Sister Yan Wushuang, one elegant and exquisite, the other a beauty surpassing all. Their martial arts are also superb. They conform the most to the Sect Master’s criteria. However, there is no need for you to worry. According to the present circumstances, Ziyan will take a supervisory role. We disciples in the court will naturally become a faction. Feifei, Yu’er, Xiaotong, Wushuang will become a faction. No one will be able to take arbitrary action.2 Only you have sufficient ability to have Lan’er and Zheng’er listen to you. Why are you afraid that you won’t be able to compete against those Internal Hall disciples?”
The more she listened, the greater the joy that Li Hanyou felt. She replied, “Many thanks to Martial Aunt for your advice. I hope that Martial Aunt will continue to advise me.”
Noble Consort Ji smiled. “You are exceptionally intelligent. What are you confused about? As long as you do not reveal a hint of dissatisfaction, Senior Apprentice Sister will not abandon you. The turmoil this time was not our doing. As a result, we would naturally be able to speak justly and forcefully.”3
Somewhat hesitantly, Li Hanyou inquired, “But this disciple has heard that Eldest Apprentice Sister planned the assassination of Zheng Xia? What can we do if this information were to spread?”
“What are you afraid of?” asked Noble Consort Ji with an icy smile before she continued, “Not only were you not involved, even if you were the assassin, there would be no need to worry. Wasn’t the reason the Sect Master agreed to allow the Freezing Moon branch’s people to slaughter the Prince of Qing’s subordinates was to use them to cover up our assassination attempt on Zheng Xia? If all of the Prince of Qing’s subordinates die, it is likely that everyone will suspect our involvement. However, suspicion is not enough. Who doesn’t know about the mutual animosity between the Prince of Qing and us? As long as we do not directly go to kill the Prince of Qing, the Emperor will not blame us. Besides, there is no evidence pointing to our involvement. Who will suspect that our real target was Zheng Xia?”
“It is truly difficult to know Sect Master’s thoughts,” replied Li Hanyou with a sigh, “At present, this disciple does not understand why we attempted to assassinate Zheng Xia.”
“Alas, Senior Apprentice Sister had no alternative,” answered Noble Consort Ji with a sigh. “Zheng Xia’s personality is stern and unyielding. This time, the Emperor is of mind to let the Crown Prince off after he returns. Like last time, Zheng Xia will inevitably and bluntly criticize the Crown Prince’s misconducts. Against reason, the Emperor greatly respects that Zheng Xia. If he is permitted to remonstrate before the Emperor, it is likely that the Crown Prince’s position as heir apparent will be unable to be preserved. For our ultimate objective, we can only sacrifice Zheng daren. It is only a pity that we did not succeed. However, he will not have the opportunity to shake the Crown Prince’s position this time.”
Smiling, Li Hanyou declared, “It is the Freezing Moon branch that was the most foolish, becoming our shield.”
“It isn’t clear who is being foolish,” stated Lu Jingzhong evenly, as he gently rocked the open folding fan.
Sitting across from him was the Minister of Rites, Xiahou Lan. He replied, “Junior Apprentice Brother, you should not underestimate the enemy. You know full well how difficult the methods of the Fengyi Sect Master are to deal with. In the past, many members of our Scorching Sun and Freezing Moon branches died at her hands.”
Lu Jingzhong’s expression became solemn. “Senior Apprentice Brother, I know full well how formidable this woman is. However, it is impossible for her to eradicate us. Although His Imperial Highness, the Crown Prince, cannot be considered as shrewd, he knows enough to safeguard against the Fengyi Sect. What’s more, the animosity between him and the Fengyi Sect is already quite deep. I am fully confident that we are able to make claims as an equal before the Fengyi Sect Master.”
“Junior Apprentice Brother, after the conference twenty years ago, the number of talented individuals within our Freezing Moon branch have dwindled away,” replied Xiahou Lan with a sigh. “There is no way for us to withstand any further losses.”
Lu Jingzhong icily retorted, “Senior Apprentice Brother is an Elder of the Freezing Moon branch and naturally cherishes one’s own plumage. However, I, Lu Jingzhong, received my master’s teachings thirty years ago. Although I do not know my master’s current position within the branch, the present situation is of my own making. I would absolutely not permit anyone to snatch it away.”
Smiling wryly, Xiahou Lan returned, “I am also unclear about this matter. But from what my deceased master told me, our Freezing Moon branch has been passed down for seventeen generations. There were several instances when the inheritance was lost, but in general, the succession has been continuous. My deceased master once claimed that the Devil Sect inevitably has another branch charged with the task of ensuring the continuation of its legacy. My deceased master even suspected that this responsibility was given to the long-heard of, but never seen, disciples of the Concealed Star branch. My deceased master’s inheritance was somehow luckily able to survive through the ages without interruption. Although there were some things that he did not understand, there were some things that my deceased master was very clear about. Every single generation of Freezing Moon branch disciples, adept at schemes and plots, have not met with a good end. That is why I have prevented Yuanfeng from becoming involved in the Devil Sect’s affairs at all costs. However, you have always been unwilling to let him off. This time, you even sent him to kill the Prince of Qing’s subordinates. Do you truly wish to oppose me till the very end?” As he asked the last question, the urge to kill flashed across Xiahou Lan’s eyes.
“Senior Apprentice Brother, you can conceal yourself in the court,” replied Lu Jingzhong calmly. “However nephew is still young. Possessing such character, ability, and wisdom, how can you allow him to be mediocre and complacent, and do nothing? Besides, since ancient times, how many of those possessing wisdom and bravery have been willing to live comfortably without purpose? Since he has such talent, then he must have his own position in this world. If not for ambitions and arrogance, how could the Freezing Moon branch’s inheritance been passed down for so long without interruption? Everyone knows that after each conference, there will be a bloody slaughter for twenty to thirty years, and only one or two individuals have the qualifications to obtain riches, honor, and power. And yet, no one has ever renounced this opportunity. Who does not wish to support a wise liege to unify the world and have one’s portraits be honored for the rest of time?4 Moreover, that individual has the ability to become the Sovereign of the Freezing Moon branch. With the Sovereign’s pendant, one will be able to acquire the help of the Concealed Star branch and have the opportunity to take a look at the original Hidden Talisman Classic.5 Alas, over these last thousand years, only the Thirteenth Generation Ancestor became Sovereign.”
Fascinated, Xiahou Lan stated, “Moreover, that Sovereign reappeared half a year after he mysteriously disappeared, dying perfectly satisfied with a smile on his face. Unfortunately, he did reveal a word about what he had witnessed.”
“I am willing to die for the opportunity to take a peek at the Hidden Talisman Classic in this life,” proclaimed Lu Jingzhong, a look of fanaticism flashing across his eyes.
Xiahou Lan peacefully said, “That’s right. I once had the same thoughts. The Ancestor’s knowledge was as deep as the ocean, only passing along seven-tenths of what he had learned and was already able to allow the Freezing Moon branch to survive to this day. I was once willing to pay any price, to make any sacrifice, in order to take a look at the Ancestor’s works. However, at present, I am completely discouraged and only wish to spend the rest of my life in peace. Therefore, it is best if you do not involve Yuanfeng.”
“Does Senior Apprentice Brother think that this was my idea?” asked Lu Jingzhong, a hint of ridicule flashing across his eyes before he continued, “Nephew’s intelligence is outstanding and you have even passed along all of our teachings to him. At present, he is filled with the impetuousness of youth. How is he willing to bend his head to another? Senior Apprentice Brother, it would have been fine if you had not educated him and taught him the sword. It is too late now.”
Xiahou Lan’s expression changed. It was some time before he replied, “What you say is true. It is truly too late.”
风声鹤唳, fengshengheli – idiom, lit. wind sighing and crane calling; fig. to panic at the slightest move, to be jittery
独断专行, duduanzhuanxing – idiom, lit. to decide and act alone; fig. to take arbitrary action, a law unto oneself
理直气壮, lizhiqizhuang – idiom, lit. in the right and self-confident; bold and confident with justice on one’s side; to have the courage of one’s convictions; just and forceful
画影凌烟, huayinglingyan – idiom, lit. to have one’s portraits hung in the Lingyan Pavilion (凌烟阁); fig. to be honored through the histories; this is a bit of an anachronism as the Lingyan Pavilion was a pavilion where Tang Taizong, Li Shimin, hung the commemorative portraits that he commissioned to honor the twenty-four officials for their service and contributions to the Tang Dynasty
The Hidden Talisman Classic (陰符經, Yinfujing) is the name of a Daoist scripture associated with Chinese astrology and internal alchemy, and is also the name of a Chinese feng shui text and a military strategy manual.