Volume 4, Chapter 28: Consolidating at Every Step1

Under the quivering dim lamplight, I found it difficult to sleep, melancholic. Xiaoshunzi pushed the door open and walked in, handing a scroll to me. “This is the intelligence relating to Gao Yan. Were it not for the young master’s certainty that he is a Northern Han assassin, we wouldn’t be able to find any anomalies.”

“Is it Zhuang Jun who has arrived?” I asked indifferently before commanding, “Have him wait for orders tomorrow. This was all by chance. Gao Yan truly exists. He likely is presently in Northern Han. For that man to impersonate Gao Yan and come, there normally would not have been any flaws to his masquerade. It’s only unfortunate that he overdid it. That ‘Welcoming a Guest from Afar’ zither was the biggest flaw. Although the zither was truly a priceless treasure of the Goryeo royal family, it was stolen many years ago from their royal palace and had ended up in Jiangnan, in the hands of the Pavilion of Heavenly Secrets. At the time, I personally appraised the zither and oversaw the engravings at the butt of the zither. Practically no one in the world knew that I had ordered this zither to be secretly auctioned off. However, regardless of who had purchased the zither, it would have been impossible for the genuine Gao Yan to have done so. The imposter, whoever he was, was trying to use this zither to conceal his actual identity. Unfortunately, this is his biggest flaw.”

Xiaoshunzi regretfully replied, “It is a pity that someone of such talents is doing something so low. However, since he has come for the young master, even if young master wants to use him, why has the young master given him the zither score? Isn’t that a waste?”

Sighing lightly, I replied, “Although I intend to use him, I gifted him the zither score sincerely. The man is high-minded and loves the zither as much as he loves living. There’s no better individual to pass that zither score onto than him. I only hope that he isn’t excessively obstinate and can be useful, and not prove unworthy of my zither score. However, although we do not know his identity, that kind of talent should not be someone ordinary. I believe that he should be able to return to Northern Han with the zither score.”

Xiaoshunzi asked, “If that is the case, then does that mean the young master isn’t going to use Ling Duan? Moreover, if Gao Yan is allowed to attempt to assassinate the young master, wouldn’t that be too risky? The young master is priceless. How can you rashly put yourself in danger?”

I smiled and answered, “Tomorrow, with you at my side and with knowledge that he will act, do you think that he will succeed? You can be reassured and act according to the plan.”

***

In the depths of the cold, snowy night, Gao Yan was bent over the desk, hard at work copying the zither score. He had already thrown thoughts about the assassination, about Great Yong and Northern Han, into the back of his mind. Only finishing his work late at night, Gao Yan carefully examined his copy from start to finish. Finding no mistakes, he carefully tucked away the copy while placing Jiang Zhe’s original in safe spot to return to tomorrow. After finishing these tasks, Gao Yan sighed softly. Tomorrow, on the road, he needed to look for an opportunity to assassinate Jiang Zhe. If he actually followed Jiang Zhe back to the Yong army encampment, even if he were successful, he would not be able to escape. He had originally thought to stake his life on infiltrating the Yong army encampment. With such a rare opportunity before him now, especially with the few bodyguards by Jiang Zhe’s side, if he could not act tomorrow then it was unlikely that he could possibly extricate himself. However, it was said that Demonic Shadow Li Shun’s martial arts were quite exceptional. How was he going to be able to conceal his intentions from that eunuch to make that strike? Moreover, even if he were successful, he would likely spend the rest of his life with regrets. Gao Yan smiled bitterly inside.

Gao Yan was not the only one who found it difficult to sleep that night. Ling Duan was also unable to sleep. When the entourage had arrived at the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, Ling Duan originally had the intent of fleeing when darkness fell. However, not long after arriving, Ling Duan had discovered that Jiang Zhe’s Stalwart Tiger Guard had completely taken control of the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery. This by itself was not a problem. Ling Duan believed that he would still be able to escape. After all, he was not all that important. However, last night, when the bodyguard who shared a room with him arrived, he had brought some injury medication. Because he had exchanged blows with Huyan Shou, Ling Duan had received some minor injuries. As a result, he did not decline. However, Ling Duan did not know if the bodyguard had done so intentionally, but the medicine included a dose of sleeping drugs, causing him to sleep the entire night without waking.

Today, Ling Duan had stealthily poured the medicine out and pretended to fall asleep. However, as the bodyguard was still in the room, Ling Duan did not dare budge for the moment, fearing that he would disturb him. However, Ling Duan had already learned that they were going to return tomorrow. If he did not think of a way to escape, then there would truly be no opportunity to do so. He did not want to meet the same fate as Li Hu, executed and silenced without cause or reason. He had already spent a considerable amount of time thinking about Li Hu’s death. The only thing he concluded was that this situation was likely related to Shi Ying. However, he could not figure out why such a nonentity like Li Hu would meet such a disaster.

Finally, in the dead of night, Ling Duan softly got up. While Ling Duan walked to the side of the bodyguard and was preparing to murder him in his sleep, he thought better of it. The bodyguard’s martial arts were superior to his own. If Ling Duan wasn’t careful and a disturbance was caused, he would likely not be able to escape. In addition, if he did so, it would likely be ungracious. Over these days, this bodyguard had taken good care of him. Thinking of this, Ling Duan could only lightly seal the bodyguard’s sleep acupoint, ensuring that he wouldn’t wake up.

Thinking it over, Ling Duan decided not to be polite, helping himself to all of the money on the bodyguard’s person. Ling Duan was not a gentleman and knew well how important money was for his escape. Putting on casual clothes and draping a cloak over his shoulders, Ling Duan slipped out of the room. Probably because he wasn’t all that important, this room was a bit remote from the rest of the monastery. As long as Ling Duan was able to pass through two defensive perimeters, there shouldn’t be any danger. Of course, when the Stalwart Tiger Guard discovered his disappearance tomorrow, they would definitely send troops to perform a search. However, based upon his familiarity with the topography of Zezhou, Ling Duan felt that he would be able to climb over the mountains to return to Qinzhou.

While Ling Duan was carefully following the path and sneaking out of the monastery using the path that he had scouted during the day, several pairs of eyes were watching his progress. Huyan Shou chuckled softly and said, “This fellow is quite clever. The path that he selected is relatively safe. Of course, this is because our defensive arrangements were primarily made to protect the daren, leaving gaps for him to exploit to escape. Daren said earlier that Ling Duan would definitely try to escape today. Everything is proceeding just as he expected.”

The bodyguard standing at this side replied, “It is the daren’s methods that are brilliant. Last night, a bowl of drugged medicine was used on this fellow, while tomorrow, we are going to return to the encampment. If this fellow didn’t try to escape tonight, he wouldn’t have another chance to do so. These days, he has suffered quite a bit. However, Old Zhao is probably out of luck. Not only was he sneak attacked, he has also been robbed of everything.”

“Tomorrow, act according to plan and transmit the order to pursue and arrest Ling Duan,” instructed Huyan Shou with a smile. “Whether he will be able to escape will depend on his skills. However, be sure to hint that the daren pities him and does not want his head. However, be sure to not leave too many traces. You understand all of these things. It is best that this man be allowed to return back north. All right. We have important matters tomorrow. Everyone, go back to sleep.”

***

With his hands behind his back, Qiu Yufei stood before the window, his expression indifferent. Today was a matter of life or death. He needed his mind and spirit to return to its original condition in order to complete his mission of assassinating Jiang Zhe and escaping from the encirclement. Maid Jin Zhi walked in with water to help him freshen up. Glancing at Jin Zhi, Qiu Yufei suddenly used Goguryeo and said, “Regardless of success today, the two of you will be sacrificed. Do you regret anything?”

Jin Zhi warily glanced out of the window before replying in Goguryeo, “My master received Lord Duan’s grace and was unable to return the favor. Jin Zhi and Senior Cui will meet our deaths willingly. Young master, please do not be concerned.”

Qiu Yufei sighed once again. From the desk, he picked up the zither score, gently caressing its yellow damask cover. His expression was filled with limitless melancholy. Seeing this, Jin Zhi asked in puzzlement, “Young master, from what I’ve seen, Jiang daren is cultured, refined, and exceptionally talented. Furthermore, he treats the young master with absolute sincerity. For the young master to be so moved, presumably you are unwilling to kill him. Why are you forcing yourself? It isn’t that Jin Zhi is afraid of death, but feels that with the loss of such an intimate and good friend, you will likely be unhappy for the rest of your life.”

Qiu Yufei gave a pained smile, as he answered, “The grace from my master and sect have been deep and extensive. I cannot act independently on this matter. Yesterday, you were not in the main hall and did not hear his words. Regardless of what kind of man he is, with his existence, my Northern Han’s officers and soldiers will find it difficult to sleep. But, I also know that it will be impossible for Northern Han to reverse the current predicament. I cannot singlehandedly reverse the situation.2 Even if the bitter battle can be avoided in the coming spring, it will be impossible for Northern Han to retain much of its vigor.”

“Since that is the case, this servant has nothing to say,” replied Jin Zhi with a sigh.

Qiu Yufei sighed again, reaching out to grasp the towel. Just then, his ears suddenly heard the faintly audible sounds of breathing. Qiu Yufei trembled. Could it be that someone was eavesdropping outside? But how had he not been able to detect it? Since that eavesdropper could hide from his hearing, why had he suddenly allowed himself to be detected? Pretending that he had not noticed the eavesdropper, Qiu Yufei draped a cloak on his shoulders and said, “Let’s first go pay our respects to Jiang daren. Go prepare the luggage with Senior Cui. We still need to travel today.”

Finished speaking, he continued to pretend that there was no one outside, pushing open the door. As expected, he caught sight of a young novice monk standing not far away with a somewhat awkward expression on his face. Seeing Qiu Yufei come out, the young novice monk breathed a sigh of relief and said, “This little monk is Jingxuan.3 On the Abbot’s orders, I have come to request a meeting with Benefactor Gao.”

Gao Yan felt his heart relax, realizing that this young monk had not uttered his request because of Jin Zhi’s presence in the room, waiting quietly outside. However, this little monk’s martial arts were quite good. Gao Yan carefully considered Jingxuan. Although this little monk was no more than eighteen or nineteen years old, his looked solemn and dignified, his bearing grave, already having the aura of a senior monk. Unwilling to be impolite, Gao Yan inquired, “I wonder what instructions the Great Master Abbot has?”

Jingxuan responded, “This morning, the Marquis of Chu flew into a terrible rage and is currently punishing the bodyguards at his side. Usually, such a matter isn’t something that a Buddhist disciple should get involved in. However, the Great Master Abbot is worried that the Marquis will shed blood in his anger. The Abbot does not want such a thing to occur and hopes that the young master shall be willing to help persuade the Marquis. The Marquis treats the young master as an intimate friend and presumably will give the young master some face.”

With this, Qiu Yufei became baffled. Why did Jiang Zhe become so furious? Could it be that something major had happened? He asked Jingxuan, “This one and the Marquis were strangers who met by chance. With the Marquis’s grace, I was treated as an intimate friend. As long as the Marquis supervises military matters, it likely involves confidential matters. It is not appropriate for me to get involved. However, if possible, this one will not stay out of it. Little master, please lead the way.”

Under Jingxuan’s guidance, Gao Yan was brought to the guest courtyard that Jiang Zhe was residing in. Qiu Yufei felt alarmed. The doors of the guest courtyard were wide open. The hundred or so Stalwart Tiger Guard stood scattered around the courtyard. Although they were all in casual dress, they were ferocious and awe-inspiring. Jiang Zhe wore a light fur coat. He stood with his hands behind his back on the steps. His expression was icy. Several guards were kneeling below him. Xiaoshunzi and Huyan Shou stood to the left and right behind Jiang Zhe. Xiaoshunzi had a detached expression, while Huyan Shou looked deeply worried. Qiu Yufei slowed his stride, seeking to take a look at the situation.

At this moment, he heard Jiang Zhe coldly state, “Zhao Weiyi, I once ordered you to diligently monitor Ling Duan. How diligent were you? You were actually restrained by a boy! Although Ling Duan does not know much, if he escapes back to Northern Han and clues are discovered by people who use their heads, then it would be harmful to our army’s great undertaking. Come, drag Zhao Weiyi out and have him severely beaten thirty times. Afterwards, banish him back to Chang’an and have the Emperor punish him.”

Hearing Jiang Zhe’s command, the guards standing to the side ruthlessly dragged one of the kneeling guards to the side, beating him right then and there. Although the guard’s flesh and blood were sent flying, he seemingly did not dare to voice his pain, gritting his teeth and enduring.

I had long known that “Gao Yan” was standing just outside the door of the courtyard. My gaze became extremely complicated, regret rising in me. It wasn’t that I was seeking to lie to myself; although Gao Yan was a prince of Goryeo, he had made too many mistakes. First, there was the existence of the “Welcoming a Guest from Afar” zither. Second, I had probed him when I gifted the zither manual yesterday. Although his performance was to perfection, his words had betrayed some evidence. A prince of Goryeo in dire straits and a simple man enraptured with the zither—if he was bound by his secret identity, why would he be so deeply concerned about the matters of the Central Plains? No matter how capable his concealment, it was impossible for them to escape the eyes of those who knew where to look. Pretending to not see “Gao Yan,” my gaze fell upon the other kneeling guards. I showed an expression of hesitation, almost as if I was considering how to punish them. Just then, Huyan Shou’s gaze conveniently fell upon “Gao Yan.” Revealing a vague look of happiness, he said, “Daren, young master Gao has arrived.”

Hearing Huyan Shou’s report, I pretended that I had just discovered his arrival. I lifted my eyes and looked over. After seeing “Gao Yan,” my expression eased. Smiling, I said, “So it is Xuzhi who has arrived. I am here punishing my guards, incurring Xuzhi’s ridicule.”

Qiu Yufei walked over and saluted. “This one has disturbed brother Jiang while you are handling military matters. I wonder what has happened to cause brother Jiang to be so enraged?”

I gestured for him to walk closer. With a somewhat annoyed look, I answered his question, “Xuzhi, there are some matters in which it is unacceptable if you indulge weakness. Doing so will make you fail to see the larger issues.4 Several days ago, His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, inflicted a crushing defeat upon General Tan Ji of Northern Han at Miaopo. General Tan’s troops were essentially utterly annihilated. There was only one survivor, a member of the Ghost Cavalry, Ling Duan. Seeing that he was still young and was a trusted subordinate of General Tan, I couldn’t bear to watch him suffer the work of forced labor. As a result, I used both carrot and stick to keep him by my side. Although that child was always lukewarm, I never took it to heart. Pitying his loyalty and bravery, I was unwilling to injure him. In a year or two, after Northern Han has been pacified, I was going set him free. Who could have thought that the youth would be unable to recognize my good intentions,5 stealing away last night from my guards’ surveillance and escaping without explicit approval. Although I was on my guard and did not allow him to learn military secrets, he did spend several days at my side. He likely knows some things that he should not know. Tell me, aren’t these guards useless, allowing a still immature child to escape in front of their eyes? On that day when we first met, that child was affected by Xuzhi’s zither music and actually sought to assassinate me. Were it not for me taking pity on his demons, I would have ordered his death long ago. Xuzhi, you probably still remember him.”

Qiu Yufei was deeply shocked, although he did not show it on his face. When he first met Jiang Zhe, he had seen Ling Duan kneeling on the ground, begging forgiveness. However, he had not paid the matter any attention. Thinking back on it at this moment, that young man’s expression was stubborn, maintaining his unyielding state of mind. Surprisingly, that young man was actually Tan Ji’s personal guard and even more surprisingly had been kept at Jiang Zhe’s side. Calming himself, Qiu Yufei replied, “This one does remember Ling Duan. However, this one feels that My Lord’s handling of the situation is a bit inappropriate. My Lord is the Army Supervisor of the Zezhou army encampment. Your identity is quite important. What status does Ling Duan have? My Lord ought not have allowed him to stay at your side. Although there is nothing wrong about reprimanding your subordinates, My Lord made the mistake first and reasonably oughtn’t, excessively blame them.”

Hearing his words, I mulled it over for a moment. He wasn’t wrong. Because of my plans that tried to take advantage of Ling Duan, this matter was mostly my fault. However, I increasingly cherished this “Gao Yan.” He was understanding, tactful, and skilled at admonishment. It was only a pity that he was an assassin from Northern Han. I could not keep him by my side. I involuntarily displayed a persuaded expression. My tone softening, I said, “Xuzhi speaks reasonably. This is actually my mistake. Fine. Although Zhao Weiyi is to blame, being beaten thirty times is sufficient punishment. There is no need to banish him back to Chang’an. Zhao Weiyi, do you accept?”

Zhao Weiyi’s lower garments were covered with fresh blood. Brought back over with the help of his comrades, he kowtowed and replied, “This subordinate’s negligence allowed that little thief to escape. It was reasonable that I was punished. With young master Gao’s plea for leniency and daren’s forgiveness, allowing this subordinate to atone for my failures, this subordinate cannot be thankful enough.”

I glanced at the bloodstains on his body. Somewhat guiltily, I said, “Just now, I was consumed with anger, causing you to suffer. Withdraw and ensure that you receive the proper medical treatment. As for the arrest warrant for Ling Duan, although important, there is no need for you to get involved. In a while, dispatch a messenger to the army encampment and have His Imperial Highness, the Prince of Qi, issue an arrest warrant for him. However, although that child was ungracious, I pity him for his loyalty. If possible, it is best to capture him alive. Xuzhi, I’ve made a mockery of myself before you. How about eating breakfast together? In a while, we’re going to be on our way.”

Bowing as a salute, Qiu Yufei replied, “I obey. I am returning the zither score. Daren, please take it back.” Finished speaking, he used both of his hands to gravely offer me the zither score. I accepted the zither score from his hands, lamenting in my mind. Starting from that moment, I knew that I needed to be on my guard against an assassination attempt. As such, when I took back the zither score, I immediately passed it on to Xiaoshunzi. Xiaoshunzi took this opportunity to approach my side, preventing “Gao Yan” from having the opportunity to assassinate me.

When Qiu Yufei handed the zither score back to Jiang Zhe, he subconsciously gripped a concealed weapon in his sleeve. However, seeing that pair of serene and cold eyes, he could not help releasing his grip. With this hesitation, Xiaoshunzi had already arrived by Jiang Zhe’s side, automatically bringing Jiang Zhe under his protection. Qiu Yufei sighed at this lost opportunity and was also somewhat secretly delighted. He hoped to be able to kill Jiang Zhe without inflicting any pain. The best would be to ensure that Jiang Zhe didn’t know that he was the assassin.

After having Xiaoshunzi take the zither score into his care, I beckoned my right hand in a polite gesture, inviting “Gao Yan” to follow me inside to eat breakfast. Seeing him gaze at me somewhat confused, my heart also stirred. At the same time that I could not bear to have him killed, it seemed like he also could not bear to act against me. As such, I smiled and asked, “Xuzhi, what are you thinking?”

Qiu Yufei returned to his senses. While he was trying to think of an excuse, the sound of galloping horses thudded from afar. Everyone looked at the entrance to the courtyard. It wasn’t long before five riders in scarlet-red armor arrived and dismounted at the entrance. A formidable looking rider hurriedly walked in. Reaching the steps, he knelt, cupping his hands and holding them above his head. On his hands was a brocade pouch with documents inside. He quickly said, “Zhuang Jun pays my respects to the daren. His Imperial Highness has orders. There is an urgent military matter that requires daren’s immediate return to the encampment to discuss.”

Huyan Shou walked over and took the brocade pouch. After opening the pouch and inspecting it, he handed the two sheets of paper within to Jiang Zhe. Qiu Yufei’s eyes flicked over, seeing the name, “Gao Yan,” upon one of the sheets. The other sheet was split into two sections. Although he had only caught a glimpse, he could tell that it was a letter from the Prince of Qi for Jiang Zhe. Jiang Zhe first opened the letter. After reading it, a faint look of happiness appeared on his face. Although it disappeared in a flash, Qiu Yufei was able to catch it. Jiang Zhe then folded the letter and handed it to Xiaoshunzi. Xiaoshunzi conveniently placed the letter into his bosom.

As for the other piece of paper, Jiang Zhe scanned over it quickly before gazing upon Qiu Yufei. Qiu Yufei knew that this sheet probably contained all of the information that the Yong intelligence network had found on Gao Yan. Although he trusted his senior apprentice brother that there wouldn’t be any faults, Qiu Yufei still felt himself grow apprehensive, although he maintained a neutral expression on his face.

Giving a carefree smile, I said, “Xuzhi, I originally wanted to bring you back to the army encampment. However, I’ve received information from them, stating that there are no problems with your identity. I’ll take responsibility and provide you with an identification document, allowing you to depart in peace. Although I want to spend some more time in your company, soldiers are ominous and war dangerous,6 so I do not want to get you involved. If you are willing, you can go to Chang’an and temporarily stay at my residence. In one or two years, I will return to the capital. When the time comes, I will want to hear how much you’ve improved in the zither arts.”

Qiu Yufei’s mind rocked enormously, looking on helplessly as Jiang Zhe walked inside. It wasn’t long before Jiang Zhe returned with a newly written document.

Smiling, I said, “With this document, the authorities of the territories that you pass by will not bother you. Once you have arrived in Chang’an, you can pay a visit unto my residence. My wife will of course help arrange a place for you to say. Chang’an is the Imperial Capital and is incomparably prosperous. Xuzhi will undoubtedly be satisfied living there.”

Although there was a delighted expression on Jiang Zhe’s face, Qiu Yufei felt as if he was in a cave of ice. It completely fell outside of his expectations that Jiang Zhe would send him away after investigating and verifying his identity. Although this meant that he was being given his freedom so easily because of Jiang Zhe’s deep, favorable impression, with this, how would he have the opportunity to assassinate Jiang Zhe? When Qiu Yufei finally reacted, the document had already been shoved into his hands and Jiang Zhe had already withdrawn.

After handing the document to “Gao Yan,” I safely retreated to Xiaoshunzi’s side. I was satisfied. It was unlikely that I would face any further dangers. However, I did not dare to reveal my thoughts. My expression regretful, I said, “Xuzhi, I need to immediately head back. If it is to be our fate, we will meet again.”

Just then, several guards walked out from inside, carrying my luggage. Xiaoshunzi accepted an azure cloak from one of them and helped drape it around my shoulders. After saluting “Gao Yan,” I said, “Xuzhi, please take care of yourself.” Finished speaking, I headed out under the protection of Xiaoshunzi and the Stalwart Tiger Guard.

Qiu Yufei knew that this was his last opportunity to act. If he did not think of a way, he would not have the opportunity to successfully assassinate Jiang Zhe. Out of desperation, he shouted, “Brother Jiang, slow down!” Finished speaking, he rushed over, blocking my path.

Genuflecting, he said, “For someone in dire straits like me to receive brother Jiang’s deep affection, gifted the zither score and treated as a blood brother, it is beyond this one’s ability to repay these mercies. Brother Jiang, please accept this bow from me. After this, we likely won’t meet for many years.” Finished speaking, he kowtowed.

I shook inside. Although I knew that he was trying to lure me in, I was still quite sorrowful. Of course, I had my ways of handling this. I only needed to turn my back and say a few hypocritical, modest words. Further, by saying a few embarrassing, empty words expressing my sorrow and bidding farewell, I would not have to help him to his feet. However, I felt overwhelming sorrow at this parting. Besides, after separating today, we were going to be enemies and would not have the opportunity to meet again to discuss the zither. Recalling our conversations from the last several days, although I revealed my true emotions, I had also been scheming against him at every turn. Although he was an assassin, I sensed that his sincerity was likely deeper than mine. Having a somewhat guilty conscience, I did not know why, but I felt myself become reckless and unable to maintain my composure. I decided to give him an opportunity to assassinate me. Then I would not owe him anything.

Reaching this conclusion, I turned and walked towards him, reaching out to raise him to his feet. I said, “Xuzhi, there is no need to be overly courteous. We are only parting temporarily today. In the future, of course we can meet each other again.”

When Jiang Zhe suddenly turned around, the minds of Xiaoshunzi and the forewarned guards all shook with surprise. However, they did not dare to stop Jiang Zhe. If “Gao Yan” were allowed to see through the deceit, the Army Supervisor daren’s plan would likely have been for nothing. None of them could bear the consequences. However, Jiang Zhe’s safety trumped all. Aside from Xiaoshunzi’s special status, quickly following and remaining by Jiang Zhe’s side, all of the guards subconsciously closed upon Jiang Zhe. Fortunately, Qiu Yufei’s mind was completely focused and did not notice the anomalies in the guards’ behavior.

Just as my right hand extended towards “Gao Yan,” he lifted his head. I could see the determination in his eyes. Afterwards, I glimpsed a dark snake-like shadow flying out from his sleeves. At such a close distance, I could see that it was a black leather whip. At this moment, the whip was filled with internal energy. Like a sharp arrow, it flew at my face. Although I already knew that he was going to try to assassinate me, I heard someone shout with grief and indignation, “Xuzhi!” I knew that it was my voice, but did not know why I had spoken.

At the moment my life hung in the balance, I felt a pain in the back of my knees. My legs weakening, I felt myself kneel on the ground. The black whip brushed past the top of my hair. Afterwards, a powerful force from behind pulled me away. Facing the sky, I fell onto my back. I felt throbbing pain in my knees as I could not help cry out in pain. Before my eyes, an azure silhouette flashed. Then someone took hold of my arms and dragged me to the side.

After I had returned to my senses, I saw that Xiaoshunzi was already exchanging blows with “Gao Yan.” The ones who had pulled me to the side were Huyan Shou and another Stalwart Tiger Guard. With this, I understood that Xiaoshunzi had used some technique to rescue me. However, he was either probably angry at me for placing myself in danger or there weren’t any other methods, thus causing me to suffer. However, based upon my understanding, the former reason was more likely. After narrowly escaping and experiencing such weakness, I secretly vowed to myself to never be so reckless and not do something so foolish.

Lightly wiping away the beads of sweat that had appeared without me noticing, I shouted, “Xiaoshunzi, capture Gao Yan alive for me! I want to ask him if he still has a conscience.” There was no need for me to act any further. From my tone and the expression on my face, everyone could tell that I was genuinely furious and incensed.

The Stalwart Tiger Guard tightly guarded the entire courtyard, filled with lingering fear at the near assassination of Jiang Zhe. They deeply detested the assassin and would definitely not allow him to escape.

Footnotes:

步步为营, bubuweiying – idiom, lit. to advance gradually and entrench at every step; fig. to consolidate at every step, make a stand at every step, on the alert
独木难支, dumunanzhi – idiom, lit. a single log cannot prop up a tottering building; fig. it is difficult for a person to do much singlehandedly
静玄, jingxuan – lit. calm mystery
妇人之仁, furenzhiren – lit. to have the kindness of a married woman; fig. soft-hearted, excessive tendency to clemency, fail to the see the big picture while indulging weakness
不知好歹, buzhihaodai – idiom, lit. unable to differentiate good from bad; fig. unable to recognize others’ good intentions
兵凶战危, bingxiongzhanwei – idiom, lit. soldiers are ominous and war dangerous; fig. the products of war are a spectacle too horrible to endure

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