I wrinkled my brows as I set down a black stone while picking up a bowl of medicine, its fragrance assailing my sense of smell. I drank the medicine in one gulp. Setting the bowl down, I smiled at the Fengyi Sect Master and stated, “If Sect Master doesn’t mind, this one is somewhat learned in the art of healing and is willing to diagnose and treat Sect Master.”
Fan Huiyao’s pair of clear, limpid eyes above her veil displayed a shred of disdain. She impassively declined, “This seat dares not trouble you. It is a mere seven days. This seat will be able to persevere.” As she spoke, she sat down a white stone.
I smiled helplessly. It could be assumed that the Fengyi Sect Master did not trust me, worried that I would poison her medicine. Under normal circumstances, when the Fengyi Sect Master was uninjured, trifling poison would naturally not harm her. However, with the current state of her conditions, it was difficult to say. The Fengyi Sect Master was seriously cautious and careful.
Taking a look at the weiqi board, the formation of my pieces was broken and in disorder. What an embarrassment! If I didn’t have ulterior motives, what was the point for me to involve the Fengyi Sect Master and play weiqi? However, the Fengyi Sect Master probably also didn’t want us worrying that she would just depart, thus agreeing to my request. As a result, we began to play weiqi in the reception hall. Otherwise, regardless of whether she recuperated or cultivated, it would all be better than accompanying me, someone who had caused her great ambitions to fail.
Glancing again at the board, I tossed the black stone aside and admitted defeat. Picking up a brush at the side, I considered for a moment before writing a prescription. Handing it to Dong Que, I said, “I’ve added two ingredients to the prescription. Deliver it in four hours. In addition, go take a look and see if Xiaoshunzi has come out of secluded cultivation. If he has come out of seclusion, have him come over.”
Xiaoshunzi would be a better opponent for the Fengyi Sect Master in weiqi than me. Ever since the Prince of Qi had shut himself gloomily in his room on a daily basis, who could help? Otherwise, would there be a need for me to accompany the Fengyi Sect Master while ill?
Accepting the modified prescription, Dong Que respectfully withdrew. The Fengyi Sect Master gazed out past the beaded curtains, having no interest in collecting the stones. Within the courtyard, the leaves of the parasol tree had yellowed. With the cold western wind, this autumn was truly bleak and desolate. After a while, the Fengyi Sect Master furrowed her long, shapely eyebrows. She could hear someone walk gently over. That person’s light and slow pace carried a peculiar cadence, almost as if the person was in harmony with the surrounding environment, noiselessly walking through the dead leaves and leaving no wake passing through water. The person’s martial arts had already reached the Natural State. Fan Huiyao sighed lightly. When she had reached such a state, she was thirty-five years old.
Shortly after, Xiaoshunzi pushed aside the curtains and walked in. Having not seen him in three days, I noticed that his aura had transformed again. In the past, he was like a sheathed sword or a covered lamp. Although veiled and obscure during normal times, when crucial moments arrived, such as when he stood before the Fengyi Sect Master, he would be unable to cover his overwhelming vigor and sharpness. But right now, his aura was as refined and elegant as a piece of jade, gaining mellowness and gentleness. Even before the Fengyi Sect Master, he remained calm and elegant. Although I did not understand the mysterious profoundness behind the improvement of his cultivation, I could guess that Xiaoshunzi had already reached a higher state under the pressure and painstaking cultivation of these last several days. Pouring a cup of wine for myself, I picked it up, offering it to him. I stated, “Xiaoshunzi, congratulations on gaining a higher level of cultivation.”
Xiaoshunzi came over and accepted the cup, replying, “Many thanks to the young master. This servant’s improvement is all due to Sect Master Fan.” Finished speaking, he unhurriedly saluted the Fengyi Sect Master.
A look of regret flashed across Fan Huiyao’s eyes as she stated, “Little brother Li’s rapid improvements to his martial arts leaves this seat filled with admiration. Pitifully, Brother Li is willing to serve as a servant even with such ability. Truly a pity. Isn’t Jiang daren treating little brother Li too poorly?”
Both Xiaoshunzi and I smiled faintly. We exchanged looks. How could an outsider understand our relationship? How could our relationship be simply described as one between a master and servant? Further, Xiaoshunzi willingly served as a servant to better completely reject others’ efforts at recruitment. In addition, others could not treat him as a simple servant, while his status as a servant enabled him to not have any qualms while acting, allowing him to ignore status and morality. This was the most important reason why we were master and servant.
Opening his eyes, Li Xian could feel a headache rush to his skull from the hangover. He had drunk himself asleep these past few days, waking up the next day with a splitting headache. After he rose from bed, he saw on the table beside the bed a bowl of sobering medicine. He drank it in one gulp; his brows could not help but furrow from its bitter taste. These last several days, while he had served as the Fengyi Sect Master’s hostage, he didn’t need to do anything, merely staying within the Autumn’s Return Abode. As a result, he ended up using alcohol to numb himself. Although some of this was the result of the psychological shock from the death of Qin Zheng, Li Xian understood that this wasn’t the real reason. In any event, Li Xian had long been prepared for Qin Zheng’s death. Once the coup d’état failed, the imperial clan would absolutely not tolerate a treasonous, rebel consort. Although Qin Zheng’s death was a result of the choices she had made, even if she had been able to escape this time, she would be living the life of a renegade. What caused Li Xian such suffering was the current challenging situation that he found himself in. Although the Prince of Yong had yet to state how he would be punished afterwards, Li Xian understood that the best case scenario was to lose his military command, allowing him to become an idle imperial clansman. If he were unable to return to the battlefield, Li Xian did not know how he would be able to spend the rest of his life.
After bathing and changing, a transformed beyond recognition Li Xian walked out of his room. Since this was his destiny, he needed to ensure that he did not become a joke in other people’s eyes. Arriving in the courtyard, Li Xian could hear the sound of stones being placed upon a chessboard. His heart leaping, he walked towards the reception hall. Parting the beaded curtains, he walked in. With one glance, he caught sight of Jiang Zhe playing weiqi with the Fengyi Sect Master by the western window. However, although the expression on Jiang Zhe’s face was leisurely, the expression on Xiaoshunzi’s face was solemn and grave. In addition, seeing the stone in Xiaoshunzi’s hands, he immediately realized that the one actually playing against the Fengyi Sect Master was this eunuch. After Li Xian had walked in, neither the Fengyi Sect Master nor Xiaoshunzi raised their heads to take a look. It was only Jiang Zhe who turned his head to look and smile slightly. Afterwards, Jiang Zhe rose to his feet, letting Xiaoshunzi take his seat, walking over.
Saluting Li Xian, I asked, “Your Imperial Highness, is your state of mind better?”
“Is there a need for you to ask such a question when you know the answer?” answered Li Xian rhetorically with a sigh. “Oh, that’s right … these last few days, I have ignored what has been going on outside. Has Imperial Father issued any edicts?”
Seeing Li Xian’s wan and sallow features, I replied, “From what this subject knows, His Imperial Majesty has already issued an edict deposing His Imperial Highness, the Crown Prince, from the position as heir apparent. The Crown Prince’s treasonous rebellion will be adjudicated by the Imperial Secretariat, Ministry of Justice, and Imperial Censorate. According to this subject’s speculations, he will either be imprisoned for the rest of his life or ordered to commit suicide. The Crown Prince’s subordinate Eastern Palace officials will all be handed over to the Ministry of Justice to be charged. At best, they will be dismissed from their positions, never to be employed by the state again. Concubine Xiao’s name has been expunged from the Imperial Clan Records. The children she bore have all been demoted to commoners. The Crown Princess has been demoted to the Duchess of Han, while the Crown Prince’s heir has been demoted to become the Prince of Anguo of the second rank and sent to his fiefdom. Without an imperial edict, he is not permitted to leave his fief. As for the children bore by the other concubines, they will all be handed to the Duchess of Han to raise. Although their names will remain in the Imperial Clan Records, they have all been stripped of their titles and rewards.
“As for Your Imperial Highness’s punishment, it will have to wait until His Imperial Majesty returns to the capital to be determined. However, although the Princess of Qi has committed suicide, the criminal charges remain. His Imperial Majesty has already expunged her name from the Imperial Clan Records. Your Imperial Highness’s heir bore by the Princess of Qi will not be implicated. However, he will not be permitted to inherit Your Imperial Highness’s principality.”
Li Xian sighed and said, “Second brother is benevolent and magnanimous, and was lenient. Please tell him that I am willing to relinquish my military authority.”
“Your Imperial Highness, there is no harm in having a good discussion with His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong,” I comforted. “It is possible that Your Imperial Highness may acquire an unexpected gain.”
Li Xian ruefully replied, “Suiyun, there is no need to console me. I will not be reluctant and hold onto my military authority. Presumably, as long as I am cautious in my conduct, second brother will not excessively make things difficult for me. Oh, that’s right. How was Lu Jingzhong punished? Second brother probably detests him bitterly.”
I smiled faintly and responded, “His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, has already dispatched Xiahou Yuanfeng to order Lu Jingzhong to commit suicide. He should die today. Things have been too hectic these past few days. His Imperial Highness had his hands full.”
At this moment, I heard the Fengyi Sect Master state, “To the victor go the spoils. Li Xian, there is no use for you to ask all these questions. If you wish to live a few more years, you had best pledge your loyalty to the Prince of Yong.”
Li Xian did not reply, hints of scorn appearing on his face. It would be impossible for a proud and arrogant prince to compromise, kneeling on the floor, begging for forgiveness.
In a side hall in the Jade Qilin Palace Hall, Lu Jingzhong stood before the window, calmly gazing out. Having recognized that his natural endowments were poor, he had thus never spent much time practicing martial arts. As a result, after he had been placed under house arrest by the Fengyi Sect, although he was resentful, he did not resist. In any case, if the Fengyi Sect desired to exercise control over the court, it would be impossible without him. Aside from him, no one could organize and command the crown prince’s faction. Therefore, he ignored the complacent and rash actions taken by Li Hanyou and company. In any case, a coup d’état demanded military force. There was no need for him to be involved. However, there were some things that could not be performed by these egotistical and overconfident women. For example, in order to force the Prince of Qi to mobilize his troops, the Fengyi Sect had no choice but to release him from his house arrest. Although Lu Jingzhong was still prohibited from taking a step out of the Jade Qilin Palace Hall, he knew that when the time came to negotiate with the Yong emperor, they would need his help. These matters could not be handled by Li Hanyou and company. Even Wei Ying, who possessed surpassing talent, was his inferior when it came to the subtleties of negotiating court politics.
However, the Prince of Yong had successfully reversed the desperate crisis. Hearing the sounds of battle in the Hunting Palace, Lu Jingzhong’s heart sank, becoming as cold as ice. He understood well. No matter how capable an adviser and strategist, they were useless when they were to personally face weapons. The crown prince’s defeat signified his own defeat. When a nest was overturned, how could the eggs remain intact?1 These last few days, while he had remained under house arrest in the Jade Qilin Palace Hall, he had contemplated his chances for survival. Unfortunately, although he wasn’t willing to die together with the crown prince, Lu Jingzhong had no intention of pledging allegiance to the Prince of Yong. The Prince of Yong had many capable individuals by his side—Shi Yu, with talent to become prime minister; the three distinguished heroes were skilled civil officials; in the military, he had Zhangsun Ji, Jing Chi, and other generals; and a master of strategy in Jiang Zhe. How would he be able to find shelter in the Prince of Yong’s service? In addition, he had been the crown prince’s prime adviser, repeatedly pushing the Prince of Yong into dangerous and hazardous positions. The Prince of Yong would absolutely not attempt to recruit him. Lu Jingzhong had likely remained under house arrest without being punished either because the Prince of Yong was too busy to worry about him, or was unwilling to allow him to die so easily.
At this moment, the sound of footsteps could be heard tramping from outside. They were orderly and vigorous, presumably from an elite unit of troops. After the soldiers reached the door, they separated and stood on either side the entrance. Then one of them pushed the door to the room open and walked in. Lu Jingzhong turned to look, catching sight of Xiahou Yuanfeng in a set of azure robes. In Xiahou Yuanfeng’s hands was a tray. On top of the tray was a small, green jade bottle. After Xiahou Yuanfeng entered the room, the soldiers outside closed the door behind him. Xiahou Yuanfeng set the tray with the jade bottle down on the table at the center of the room. In a callous voice, he stated, “Lu daren, this lowly official has been sent to see daren off.”
Lu Jingzhong trembled inside. An indescribable exhaustion seeped through into his mind. Walking to the table, he picked up the jade bottle. Playing with it in his hand, he remarked, “Xiahou Yuanfeng, it is common for the disciples of my Freezing Moon branch to slaughter one another. However, I do not understand why you betrayed the Crown Prince. You must know that if you hadn’t transmitted that secret edict ordering Qin Yong to rescue the Emperor, the Prince of Yong would definitely have been killed. When the time comes, your position will be far higher than your current one. Since we are martial uncle and nephew, please let me understand.”
After remaining silent for some time, Xiahou Yuanfeng replied, “Doesn’t Martial Uncle already know? I was poisoned by Major Jiang and was forced to surrender.”
“Do not conceal anything from me,” mentioned Lu Jingzhong with a smile. “I understand your character. You would rather use torture to acquire the antidote than reject what is near to seek what is far.”
Startled, Xiahou Yuanfeng smiled. “Martial Uncle truly understands Yuanfeng. Since that is the case, then little nephew won’t conceal anything from Martial Uncle. First, Major Jiang was seriously ill at the time. If I had used torture on him, he would likely have died before I could get any information out of him. Moreover, that man may seem weak, but he possesses a will of steel. If it was a trifling matter, I could maybe force him. But with a matter of such importance, even if I threatened him with death, it would be useless.”
The expression on Lu Jingzhong’s face did not change. He knew that this wasn’t the real objective behind Xiahou Yuanfeng’s surrender. As expected, Xiahou Yuanfeng continued, “There is another reason … this nephew has never considered myself as a member of the Freezing Moon branch. The Freezing Moon branch’s objective is to support a virtuous ruler in times of chaos and reunify the world. Even though of the same sect, its members slaughter one another in order to acquire the position of Sovereign for the sole purpose of being able to take a peek at the Hidden Talisman Classic. However, I, Xiahou Yuanfeng, am not so ambitious. In my eyes, the Hidden Talisman Classic is completely worthless. Others will be responsible for fighting to unify the Middle Kingdom. I only desire power and authority, being able to enjoy the pleasures of life. I have no desire of becoming the Sovereign of the Freezing Moon branch. As a result, pledging my allegiance to a virtuous ruler is a shortcut for me. His Imperial Highness, the Crown Prince, is muddleheaded and incompetent. If he were to become Emperor, not only would Great Yong’s future be in doubt, even those women from the Fengyi Sect would be better able to control the Crown Prince than us. It would be impossible for me, Xiahou Yuanfeng, to become a sycophant even if I wanted to.
“His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, is different. Although His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, is sagacious and experienced, he is a lot more difficult to wait upon, preventing me from serving him halfheartedly, impossible to escape the Prince of Yong’s eyes if I do not display my true skills and work to the best of my abilities. But based upon my abilities, what do I have to be afraid of? Although His Imperial Highness has a galaxy of talents in his service, most of them are gentlemen, individuals of noble character. There are few vile characters. Regardless of a virtuous ruler or a sage, they all require a vile character such as me. There are some things that a virtuous ruler and his worthy ministers cannot handle on their own that I can take care of. As long as I am loyal to the Prince of Yong, I will surely achieve meteoric success. Compared to the illusory reward, the Hidden Talisman Classic, doesn’t Martial Uncle feel that this nephew’s choice is more realistic? It is only that I needed to pick the proper moment to pledge my allegiance. This time, I contributed significantly to rescuing both the Prince of Yong and the Imperial Presence. In the future, I will surely be placed in an important position by the Prince of Yong. What other opportunity would have been more suitable?”
In the beginning, Lu Jingzhong had an indignant expression on his face. Then, it was gradually replaced by despair, before soon turning into serenity. Forcing a smile, he could be heard to mutter, “So that is the case … It was I who failed to see through your intentions. Fine … fine … this is your choice. Does your father know?”
Xiahou Yuanfeng casually answered, “Nobody understands a son better than his father.2 What’s more, father was never involved in this rebellion. As a result, there is no need to worry for martial uncle to worry about him.”
Lu Jingzhong opened the cork of the jade bottle. Suddenly thinking of something, he suggested, “Since worthy nephew has already decided to follow the Prince of Yong, I must remind you of something. By nature, Jiang Zhe is deceitful. His schemes are profound and far-reaching. If that man makes up his mind to harm you, you will definitely lose. You should seize this opportunity, before the Prince of Yong has ascended the throne and while Jiang Zhe is still seriously ill, to kill him. Otherwise, you will always be worth less than and be below Jiang Zhe. In addition, uncle has long suspected that the Prince of Yong has a force operating in secret. That secret force is most likely in Jiang Zhe’s hands. Demonic Shadow Li Shun is an outstanding elite. He is most likely the leader of that secret force, as it is extremely difficult to explain his martial arts and abilities otherwise, and yet his willingingness to serve as another’s servant.”
Xiahou Yuanfeng’s expression gradually grew ruthless, as he replied, “Martial uncle is truly vicious. You seek to harm me even at death’s door. Although Yuanfeng is a fool, I do understand that Jiang Zhe can only be a friend and cannot be made an enemy. What’s more, although the man’s schemes are profound, his personality dislikes demanding hard work. Otherwise, he would not have been so uninvolved with the affairs of the Prince of Yong’s household while he served as its Major. In addition, as soon as Shi Yu returned to Chang’an, he was able to immediately take control over the affairs of the Prince of Yong’s household. If Jiang Zhe were someone interested in authority and power, how would his conduct be so? Furthermore, if that man were truly reluctant to part with power and authority, during the time he spent in Southern Chu, he could have been a high-ranking subordinate of the Prince of De. Based upon his abilities, he should not have distanced himself from the court. Aside from this, if he clings to power and authority, the Prince of Yong will be unable to tolerate him sooner rather than later. For what reason do I need to make things difficult for him?”
Lu Jinzhong showed a slight, wry smile. “You refuse to listen to sincere advice. In the future, it will be too late for regrets. Fine … fine …” His words were filled with regret and a barely discernible hint of loathing. With a composed expression, Lu Jingzhong drank the poison in the jade bottle in one gulp.
Gazing at Lu Jingzhong’s corpse, Xiahou Yuanfeng bent over and closed his eyes, distantly asking, “Martial uncle, what was the point of trying to sow discord before dying to the extent that you died unable to close your eyes?”
Seven days passed by quickly. On the morning of the seventh day, Fan Huiyao circulated her internal energy through her body. Sensing that her internal energy had recovered by seventy percent, she could not help but feel overjoyed. That day, she had agreed to stay behind with the purpose of recuperating from her injuries and then using her martial arts to charge out of the Hunting Palace. At present, although she did not have the appropriate medication to convalesce, having recovered seventy percent of her internal energy was sufficient for her needs. Pushing open the door of her room, Fan Huiyao took a deep breath of the fresh air of fall. Before she checked her surroundings, she resolved to kill Jiang Zhe as her first target. Then, she would kill the Prince of Qi. Afterwards, if she were able, she would go see if she could kill the Prince of Yong. As for Princess Changle, who had ruined her plans, she did not have any intentions to murder her. A woman doing such things only filled Fan Huiyao with admiration and respect. As a result, Fan Huiyao was unwilling to harm her. Although it was said that Crown Prince Li An was still alive, it would be too exhausting to bring him along. If she could rush back to Chang’an in a timely manner, she could take control of the imperial grandson that Xiao Lan had bore. When the time came, it would not be impossible for her to attempt a comeback3 and seize control of Great Yong.
However, when she checked her surroundings, Fan Huiyao’s heart sank. Neither Jiang Zhe nor the Prince of Qi were within the Autumn’s Return Abode. Frowning, Fan Huiyao focused, discovering that in a radius of several li, there were only two individuals present. Fan Huiyao could identity these two individuals from their measured steps. She cruelly stated, “Great Master True Compassion, Demonic Shadow Li Shun, there is no need to wait any further. This seat is already here waiting. It seems like Jiang Zhe is truly intelligent, understanding that this seat was using delaying tactics. But don’t tell me that just the two of you can keep this seat here.”
The door to the courtyard opened and an elderly monk in gray robes walked in, his hands placed together in prayer. Between his brows was a red dot glistening beautifully. At his side was Li Shun, dressed in azure robes. Li Shun had a slight smile on his face. Fan Huiyao laughed pitilessly, her hand grasping the handle of her sword. She said, “Relying upon you, True Compassion, this seat’s defeated opponent. Have you already recovered from the injuries suffered a few days ago? Demonic Shadow, although you have reached the Natural State, you would be able to take a hundred moves from this seat if fighting fairly. But if in a duel determining life and death, based upon this seat’s swordsmanship and experience, you will definitely die.”
Xiaoshunzi laughed humorlessly. “Sect Master, before we begin, I must pass along my young master’s message.”
Fan Huiyao’s heart was stirred as she taunted, “This seat is willing to listen to his clever scheming.”
Ignoring Fan Huiyao’s mocking voice, Xiaoshunzi stated, “My young master has said that, although Sect Master had prevailed earlier, one will suffer grievous injuries in order to win. Great Master True Compassion and Sect Master are both listed among the three grandmasters of this era. Since that is the case, Sect Master must also have suffered terrible injuries. If Great Master True Compassion had died or suffered injuries to the point that he could not come, then Sect Master would surely have fought to the death seven days ago. The Emperor, three Princes, a Princess, and several ranking generals and officials were all within that audience chamber. If the losses suffered were too great, it likely would be difficult for Great Yong to survive the coming wars. This was not a result that the young master was willing to accept. As a result, young master used Sect Master’s unwillingness for mutual destruction to compromise and come to an agreement with Sect Master. Young master was able to predict that Sect Master would adhere to the seven days as agreed to stall for time. However, Sect Master has forgotten something. Regardless of Great Master True Compassion’s life or death, he will definitely not permit Sect Master to continue to bring calamity upon the world. As expected, five days ago, the Shaolin Temple’s Eighteen Arhats all arrived at the Hunting Palace. As for Great Master True Compassion, he arrived two days ago. It is only that young master had long ago predicted this and had His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Yong, dispatch men to welcome them far away from the Hunting Palace. As a result, they only arrived at the Autumn’s Return Abode today.”
Contempt flickered across Fan Huiyao’s eyes. She mocked, “Although the numbers are many, a pack of wolves is no match for a fierce tiger. They are useless even if they are many.”
Xiaoshunzi smiled faintly and replied, “My young master understands this point, stating that a thousand elite soldiers can defeat a mob of ten thousand. As a result, he had an ulterior motive for making this agreement. May I ask Sect Master: is the medicine Sect Master took the Nine Revolutions Heart Protection Pill?”
Fan Huiyao proudly replied, “That’s correct. It was personally concocted by the Medical Sage, himself. Without this pill, this seat would likely have been unable to rush for several hundred li to arrive here at the Hunting Palace. If your young master had also not taken this medicine, he likely would have died within the Dawn’s Frost Palace Hall.”
A murderous intention flashed in Xiaoshunzi’s eyes, as he explained, “That was the Nine Revolutions Heart Protection Pill. However, Sect Master seems to have forgotten something. Sir Sang should surely have informed you that this pill can only be taken at a moment of life and death. In addition, one must rest properly to recover for several days after taking the pill.”
Fan Huiyao was startled, anxiety growing within her. At the time, Sang Chen had indeed spoken these words. However, she had never thought that she would need to take this medicine. Beyond that, she trusted in the profound and mystical qualities of her internal energy. As long as she was able to survive, she could self-treat her internal injuries. As a result, she had not taken Sang Chen’s warning to heart.
Smiling derisively, Xiaoshunzi continued, “As expected, Sect Master did not take Sir Sang’s warnings seriously. That day, when Sir Sang entrusted this medicine to me, he warned me that the Nine Revolutions Heart Protection Pill is concocted using the treasures of our world and all kinds of rare and precious medicinal ingredients. It can arouse the human body’s hidden potential, preserving one’s life. If someone with heavy internal injuries, with their heart on the brink of failure took this pill at that moment of death, the pill would completely arouse the blood in one’s body. However, all things that have benefits also have drawbacks. With the arousal of one’s potential, which can result in an unexpected recovery,4 it, however, consumes its user’s life force. Therefore, after one’s life has been preserved, one must take all kinds of supplements to make up for the deficiencies. Sir Sang left this medicine behind because of the heavy injuries to my young master’s heart and the inefficacy of other methods. It was prepared for any contingency, and using this pill to arouse young master’s potential, allowed him to remain alive to this day. Although this method is extremely dangerous young master would have no need to worry about dying at any moment if it were successful, though he would be unable to completely recover his health. A few days earlier, didn’t Sect Master see my young master consume medicine as food on a daily basis? This was to seize this golden opportunity to treat the side effects of the pill. At the time, young master once suggested helping treat Sect Master as well. Unfortunately, Sect Master, as expected, refused young master’s offer.”
Her voice somewhat husky, Fan Huiyao returned, “How would this seat dare to consume Major Jiang’s medicine? The poisoning techniques of a personal disciple of the Medical Sage are incomparable in this world. This seat does not dare to have a taste of his abilities.”
“Your fear was within my young master’s calculations,” responded Xiaoshunzi proudly. “That day, young master explained how he poisoned your sect’s disciples for the sole purpose of arousing Sect Master’s wariness. As a result, Sect Master would not casually consume medication. Otherwise, regardless of whether Sect Master adhered to Sir Sang’s warnings, Sect Master would rather believe in the warning than ignore it. Sect Master would surely invite capable doctors to help treat your internal injuries. My young master negotiated this seven-day agreement to ensure that Sect Master did not have any opportunity to take any medication and heal your injuries. Of course, if Sect Master truly dared to take the medicine that my young master prepared, my young master stated that he could only take the risks and poison Sect Master.”
Sweat flowing freely from Fan Huiyao’s forehead. She had never anticipated that Jiang Zhe’s scheming would actually reach such a state. Her delaying tactics had actually gratuitously given him the advantage.
Xiaoshunzi continued, “My young master took the risks and stayed behind in the Autumn’s Return Abode for seven days. Every day, he invited Sect Master to play weiqi and sip tea. In order to confuse my young master and lead him to believe that Sect Master would adhere to agreement and commit suicide, Sect Master would inevitably not reject my young master’s invitations. As a result, Sect Master was too busy to take note of your own changes. Moreover, with the recovery of Sect Master’s internal energy, Sect Master would simultaneously redouble the consumption of your life force, as Sect Master would remain under the misconception that everything is within your hands and would not pay any attention to the exhaustion of your vitality.”
Subconsciously, Fan Huiyao glanced at her two hands. Her pair of beautiful hands had indeed lost its luster. She had believed that this was all because of her injuries and did not expect that it was an indicator of her impending death.
At this moment, Xiaoshunzi struck another psychological blow as he added, “Young master stated that Sect Master was always conceited, always on guard against others’ plots, not expecting that time would actually be young master’s greatest advantage. Right now, Great Master True Compassion’s internal energy has recovered to fifty percent. In his case, there is absolutely no future of hidden harm upon his cultivation and life. This one is also willing to use all my strength. As for Sect Master, your internal energy is in actuality your remaining life. As such, young master believes that the two of us will be able to ensure Sect Master is unable to escape from here. Originally, if Great Master True Compassion had not come, young master could only mobilize the remaining experts to contend with Sect Master. Now that Great Master True Compassion and the senior monks from the Shaolin Temple have come, they have ensured that young master’s force is even more abundant. However, young master also stated that as he does not know martial arts, he will not remain in the Autumn’s Return Abode to await death. Right now, all the important personages within the Hunting Palace have already gone into hiding. No matter how formidable Sect Master is, you will be unable to find them straightaway. Young master said that as Sect Master travels afar to the underworld, he will not personally see you off.”
Fan Huiyao suddenly laughed heartily. It was a good while before she was able to cease her laughter and state, “Good, good … This seat has spent my entire life fighting throughout the world. At the end, falling into the hands of a weak and feeble scholar. Good … Let this seat see if I can take a few more lives with me as I die!”
Great Master True Compassion and Xiaoshunzi simultaneously took a step forward. The atmosphere between the three seemed to congeal. A gust of autumn wind blew past, and yellow leaves, as far as the eye could see, fluttered through the world, whirling around the three. However, the leaves did not touch the three’s bodies, pushed away by the qi emitted.
At this moment, atop a distant tower with a view of the Autumn’s Return Abode, I stood beside the Prince of Yong, looking out the window, gazing in the direction of the Autumn’s Return Abode. Then, a deafening sound came from the Autumn’s Return Abode. At the beginning, it was the thunderous sound of qi colliding. Afterwards, it was the sound of sword qi ripping apart the vast sky. Next, it was the sound of buildings crumbling, flying sand, and rolling pebbles. Ultimately, the sound was increasingly piercing. Although we were far away, both of us wore suffering on our faces. When those sounds reached our ears, it was like rolling thunder, practically puncturing our eardrums. Fortunately, I had made preparations beforehand, cotton stuffed into my ears. Li Zhi also followed my example.
After a while, eighteen gray figures entered the ruined Autumn’s Return Abode. Within a hundred paces, smoke and dust roiled through the air. We could see how the fight was going. However, as we were standing aloft, we could still see the dazzling, silver rainbow of the sword. Eventually, from within the smoke and dust, a lengthy laugh could be heard. The laugh was originally sweet-sounding and moving. However, at present, it was filled with wrath and reluctance. Soon after, with a bang, a dazzling and violent blaze burned from within the smoke and dust. When this raging inferno erupted, its speed was as swift as lightning. The area it covered was over a zhang5 in diameter. The flame was cylindrical. At its center, the flame was azure colored. On the outside, when the white colored flame reached the exterior, it became a dazzling crimson color.
I could finally relax. The laugh came from a woman, filled with the sorrow of a heroine meeting her end and the resentment of her lofty aspirations turning to dust. It could be assumed that my plan was already successful. My mind relaxing, I collapsed into a chair, feeling my limbs grow weak. Successfully forcing the Fengyi Sect Master to commit suicide was probably the biggest risk that I had taken in my life.
覆巢之下，焉有完卵, fuchaozhixia, yanyouwanluan – idiom, lit. when the nest is overturned, how can the eggs remain intact; during the Three Kingdoms period, a minister named Kong Rong was executed. When news spread to his sons, they used this to remark that it would be impossible for them to escape, and sure enough, they were quickly arrested and executed.
知子莫若父, zhizimoruofu – idiom, lit. nobody understands a son better than his father; fig. a man’s father knows him best
重整旗鼓, chongzhengqigu – idiom, lit. to reorganize flags and drums; fig. to regroup after a setback, to attempt a comeback
起死回生, qisihuisheng – idiom, lit. to rise from the dead; fig. an unexpected recovery
Roughly 2.4 meters