One man, perhaps, deserved more credit than Shen Yiren, who brought down the gavel, and that was Linan's county magistrate. He was always a yes-man as far as everyone was concern, yet he managed to call in backup within a day.
Seeking Liu Shan Men's aid came as a surprise to everyone as their downfall the last two years was woefully evident, with their numbers dwindling dramatically due to members leaving for one reason or another, while Yan Shisan had vanished into thin air after being fired and placed under internal investigation, apparently. What they didn't know was that the county magistrate was neither stupid nor crazy but an erstwhile member of Liu Shan Men.
"I must report this to my superiors," decided Xie Duzhe, galloping back into the city after heading to the gate once he saw and heard the crowds cheer on Shen Yiren for her verdict.
Although Xie Duzhe hadn't been in Hangzhou for long, he had visited all of the places the wealthy and influential had visited, which was why the proprietor of an inn recognised him as he climbed the stairs leading to the backyard.
Xie Duzhe ambled, though on high alert, over to sit next to a gentleman.
"So" uttered the man, unsurprised to have a guest.
Though the man's voice was deep and low unlike the vibrant atmosphere, nobody seemed to hear him. Even though Xie Duzhe was cognisant of the fact that the man was an adept, that sort of internal strength was the haymaker of punches. His gaze triggered an irresistible urge to voluntarily genuflect. Xie Duzhe would've spent a few more seconds in admiration if he wasn't aware the man disliked waiting for he deemed it a waste of time.
"Your subject wanted to settle the matter without being conspicuous, one, to have the six clans be more subservient to Dark Robe Brotherhood and, two, to avoid drawing attention from the imperial court for that might impact your designs for Hangzhou. Unfortunately… an unpredicted variable was introduced. The girl who was invited to stand in for me was Liu Shan Men's Shen Clan's descendent…"
"Y-you know her, Sir"
"What did she do"
"You must think I have spare time on my hands."
Feeling a dire hunger for air, Xie Duzhe answered as if his life rode on his response, saying, "… Sh-she gave the order to execute the six, confiscate their clans' assets and exile their immediate family five hundred kilometres. If they resisted or dodged their penance, their clan would be beheaded and put on public display."
The man kept his gaze on Xie Duzhe, but the pressure emitted from him reduced as though it was a visual spell he could switch on and off at will. Perspiring and gasping for air, Xie Duzhe stuttered, "Th-thank you, Sir."
Once he was done deliberating, the man questioned, "What's your evaluation of Shen Yiren"
"Huh" Recalling he just had a brush with death for dithering, Xie Duzhe blurted with reckless abandon, "In your subject's opinion, she is very likely to be the next Yan Shisan. With her at the helm, Liu Shan Men can rise from the ashes."
What the heck did I say that for He hates Yan Shisan as much as Ximen Chuideng. Curse my stupid mouth! Why didn't I heed my family's advice, working as a scholar instead of joining Qilin Guards. I'm still not valued, and this looks like the end of the line for me now.
"… I… agree."
"I'm not surprised with her performance given. Yan Shisan personally mentored her. Her father was Liu Shan Men's former commander, and Emperor Yuansheng dotes on Shen Clan. He, as a matter of fact, might even like Shen Yiren more than his own daughters. She's a competent girl, evident from the ten-odd big cases she's cracked in less than a year and the order she has instilled at Liu Shan Men. No female official has ever made a name for themselves at such a young age before."
I see. Knowing how he looks down on everyone, yet happened to know Shen Yiren's name, he must've been monitoring her all this time.
"She has a sense of belonging to Liu Shan Men and treats it as her pride, so she can ever be bribed. Liu Shan Men's return to glory is only a matter of time under her leadership."
"You mean we need to deal with her as our priority"
"No, never harm her. Just because His Majesty relies on the Qilin Guards a lot, doesn't mean he holds them in high regard; he just has no choice since they're the strongest faction. He has never considered them among the three offices overwatching the martial world. Targeting Shen Yiren is tantamount to hurting a Princess. The Qilin Guards' are his blade, not the imperial court's poison."
"Does that not mean we are letting her run wild"
The man wagged his hand: "It doesn't matter. Her twin brother is almost the complete reverse of his sister. In saying that, he will be Shen Clan's successor in the end because Shen Yiren will have to marry. It's not difficult for me to advise His Majesty to set up a marriage for her when she comes of age; there are plenty of candidates in the imperial court to choose from. Therefore, it is impossible for her to revive Liu Shan Men before she must marry into another clan."
Indeed, His Majesty is always generous towards descendants of old friends and, therefore, would never leave Shen Yiren single forever. Should she refuse to marry, His Majesty will infer that she covets her brother's leadership. Though he may dote on her, His Majesty is not the type to be lenient on the ambitious. This strategy will imperceptibly eliminate Shen Yiren perfectly. Beautiful.
The man wasn't keen on continuing with the topic for he believed he already had it in the bag. Never in his wildest imagination did he expect a curve ball from her and her victory. It was then that he finally treated her as a strategist worth taking seriously. Nevertheless, that is a story for another day.
"Also… Mount Lu's forces have pulled out of Hangzhou. Ling Xuezhao, Ling Cong, Murong Song and even Wind Passing Dragon Hall were seen amongst those on the expedition."
"Hmph, Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary was just marching to their death."
"Your subject does not follow."
"I had thirty thousand Qilin Guards nearby a day's journey away to decimate that old fox."
No wonder why Ling Hanzhong never noticed the Qilin Guards' presence. That said, the Qilin Guards would never make it in time to stop Ling Hanzhong from that far away. Wait… wait… He set them a day's journey away on purpose!
"The plan was to have the Qilin Guards sneak into Hangzhou via a secret path once Ling Hanzhong's forces were exhausted, taking them out in one effortless fell swoop. With Demon Sect out of the picture, the fall of Mount Lu would spur them to call for support from Sword Immortal Grasshouse and Cold Mountain Temple, inciting a long war between the Seven Champion White Princes."
Merely thinking I was part of such an elaborate plan will give me nightmares.
"Wh-what about the dead" stuttered Xie Duzhe, uttering words only those eager for an early funeral would in that situation.
"They're pitiful. However, they would be even more pitiful if we don't do that… No world needs two orders."
The man walked off with the weight off the world on his broad shoulders. Nobody remembered his appearance or that he dropped by. Howbeit, they would remember the silver ring embellished with a white horse on his left thumb.
Xie Duzhe breathed as though he was oxygen deprived after the man left. He was trying to adjust himself when a smiling face popped into his line of sight and called, "Constable Xie."
"It is understandable for a man as busy as yourself to forget about me. It is our inn's great honour to have you here."
"How can I help you"
"As you would seldom visit, I wish to ask you for a reward."
Xie Duzhe couldn't say know to the proprietor smiling so brightly. Unfortunately, Xie Duzhe realised he forgot his wallet.
"If you could reward me with a few words, it would be my family's honour."
Not having a better suggestion, Xie Duzhe grabbed a brush and wrote, "Xie Duzhe's Reward" dead centre on a sheet of white paper.
Ling Qingshu, looking as savage as beasts in the woods, went like a bat out of hell in female clothing that was visibly too small for him and torn as a result of violence, panting and recalling the moments he wished he was rid of his three-day nightmare already. Whenever he heard a sound, he'd instinctively speed up even though nobody was on his tail.
The proprietor was so pleased with Ling Qingshu after his first night serving customers, which left him covered in clear liquid, stinking and bloody, that he had Ling Qingshu dolled up as a woman because of his appearance. Ling Qingshu didn't even get much of a rest before he had to serve the next batch of men, and that would continue over the next three days of hell, where the desire for death fostered in his mind numerous times.
What really destroyed Ling Qingshu's mind was when he heard people at the brothel mentioning Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary withdrew their forces from Hangzhou. The only thing keeping him from breaking down all together was his deeps-seated hatred for Ming Suwen.
Once Ling Qingshu could speak and move again on the third day, he discovered that he had also lost ninety percent of his martial arts skills. He could've recovered from the injuries Ming Suwen inflicted. Alas, he was busy waiting on customers, costing him prime time to recover and the rest needed to recover.
I'm going to bloody kill her for this! I was going to spare you damn creeps while I'm in my weakened state, but you had to chase me when I sneaked out. I'll be back to kill all of you, too! I'll kill every single one of you!
Starving, parched and knackered, Ling Qingshu assured, "I… I just need to make it to Hangzhou City, and I'll be fine. Dad must have already… Food… I smell food…"
Ling Qingshu followed the aroma of food to encounter a group of roughly twenty people, included a stately carriage hurrying towards their destination.
There are too many of them for me to rob. Wait. I-I've seen that old lady before. I saw her when I met with the imperial court's representative. Yes! I'm saved! The imperial court will lend a hand to me, and I will rise once again!
Ling Qingshu raced out to interrupt the group, only for two individuals in black to immediately pin him to the ground.
"Stop! Stop! I'm a friendly!" cried Ling Qingshu.
"Are you insinuating we're bandits" aggressed the old woman Ling Qingshu recognised. "You are…"
Joy flourished on Ling Qingshu's visage: "Elder, I am Ling Qingshu. We met at the sojourn palace."
The granny bobbed her head: "What happened to you Young Master Ling"
"It is a long story. This is all because of Night Fortress. May I ask the imperial court to stand up for us" requested Ling Qingshu, imploring someone sincerely for the first time in his life.
"In that case, please allow me to report to my master."
Ling Qingshu had to really focus to hear the conversation between the old lady and the individual in the carriage.
"Ling Yaoshi's request has been met. Although the Qilin Guards did not clean up as expected, it matters not to us. At this point, he does not seem to be necessary to us."
What the hell!
"What did he do during this operation He massacred a family of three running an eatery and idiotically gloated about it, drawing attention from the masses. If we look at it that way, he was only a nuisance the entire time," reported the elder.
I got involved in a huge conspiracy, playing in the palm of their hands without even realising it Even my father is just a pawn to them Curse you! Damn you! How dare you slight me! How dare you look down on me!
"Your genius is unparalleled, Your Highness."
"The only way for Ling Yaoshi to be instated as their patriarch was to force his old man to get out of his seat. Nobody in Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary wants Ling Hanzhong to continue reigning. They would have to strip him of his title even in spite of their clan rules after his entire unit was eradicated in Hangzhou. Ling Yaoshi has what it takes to consolidate his rule within a few years. As such, there is no reason to worry about him."
"Ling Qingshu's mess almost drove Ling Hanzhong to commit suicide. Had you not cleverly made use of the circumstances, forcing them to act, yet leaving an opening, Ling Hanzhong would not have believed he succeeded and hastily called an attack. Ling Yaoshi's promise to us…"
Ling Qingshu couldn't hear what the promise was because he was already out of sorts, face ashen.
"You are without equal in history and now, Your Highness. You brought Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary to its knees when you do not know any martial arts."
"Elder Rong," Ling Qingshu heard the individual inside the carriage verbalise, voice as gentle as a scholar. "You should not say that in our guest's presence."
"May your subject ask what we should do with Ling Yaoshi's brother"
Ling Qingshu responded to the scent from the maiden who brushed aside the curtain, beholding the appearance of the exalted maiden. He had lusted for the maiden who was technically his niece before; he ended up releasing his desires for her on an innocent girl that time. He thought he'd have better control over his emotions when he met her again. Instead, though, he realised she was more lethally poisonous than he gave her credit for.
Dimpling with composure and grace as always, she answered, "Off with his head."
"Reward with a few words" - In case you didn't get it, the man was basically asking Xie Duzhe to help bring him business, but Xie Duzhe was too dense and took the request literally.
"Off with his head" - There's no universal English translation for this (we also have to account for context), but if you read the original Chinese text, you will recognise it's a title of a play for Judge Bao (some of you may know him as Bao Gong/Bao Zheng) that included Chen Shimei. Judge Bao uses it to imply that justice cannot be affiliated with evil.
If you find any errors ( broken links, non-standard content, etc.. ), Please let us know so we can fix it as soon as possible.-