The titles for this and last chapter make up 大厦倾塌, or “the mansion collapses”, which is from the idiom 大厦将倾, or “the mansion on the verge of collapse”. The original idiom refers to a hopeless situation, like a mansion on the brink of collapse. The words in this and the last chapter suggest that this mansion has already collapsed, or i.e., the situation is a total goner.
The sky’s overcast foreshadowed the incoming rainstorm.
Xiao Chiye took off Langli Blade by the palace entrance and stepped into the dark and long hallway. Eunuchs kneeling on either side all kept quiet with their heads lowered. Silence befell in and outside of Mingli Hall. With scuttling steps, Fuman led Xiao Chiye to the door and lifted the curtains. The bed curtains within the bedchamber were not drawn up. There was a suffocating heat inside, mixed with a hint of blood.
Fuman whispered between sobs, “Your Majesty, look. His Lordship is here!”
Li Jianheng answered from within and said, “Tell the rest to take their leave. I want to speak with the marquis before the Secretariat Elder arrives. Do not disturb us.”
Fuman quietly exited with the other servants.
“Ce’an.” Li Jianheng seemed to have shifted his body. He said, “Pull the bed curtains open.”
Xiao Chiye raised his hand and pulled the hanging curtains back. The bed was stained all over with blood. Li Jianheng looked as if he was soaking in a pool of filthy color. His chest heaved as he struggled to gasp for breath.
“Brother.” Li Jianheng’s pale face was full of tears and sweat. He wiped off the sweat with his trembling hand, but smeared his entire face with blood instead, “Where the heck have you been? The anxiety is killing me.”
Mu Ru was lying beside Li Jianheng. Dead.
Xiao Chiye suddenly felt a little lonesome. Even though he knew this meeting was a trap, he still agreed to this invitation just to live up to this word of “brother” from Li Jianheng. The brotherhood of their reckless youth was already crushed and shattered to smithereens under the unforgiving wheel of power; yet in this moment, it seemed as though it was glued back together again. He felt as if he had returned to the past. He hung up the curtains and said in a raspy voice, “It was very windy on the way here, and there were too many people on Shenwu Street, which made it inconvenient to ride a horse.”
Li Jianheng raised the hand that was covering up his wound and looked at where he was stabbed. He said, “You have been a good brother to me. You clearly knew this trip was dangerous, yet you still came. It is not in vain that I, Li Jianheng, could be buddies with you.”
Xiao Chiye pulled over a chair to sit down and looked at Li Jianheng as his Adam’s apple bobbed several times. He said, “I had already told you a long time back that she was not a good match for you.”
“But I liked her so much,” Li Jianheng blankly rubbed the blood between his fingers. “I thought she liked me too. Fuck… so this is how much it hurts to be stabbed with a knife.”
Xiao Chiye rubbed his face and propped his elbows on his knees. He said, “What did you want to tell me now that you have called me over?”
Li Jianheng turned his eyes and chuckled at Xiao Chiye through his tears before his face fell again. Choking with sobs, he said with a broken voice, “I called for you, so you came. The fuck is wrong with you, Xiao Ce’an. Do you know that it’s full of people out there… waiting for you with swords in their hands?”
Just like Xiao Chiye had done when he was resolving tough situations for him in the past, he calmly nodded and said, “I know.”
Li Jianheng forced down a sob and said, “If you didn’t come, I’d not have to apologize.”
Xiao Chiye’s eyes reddened. He said, “You are the emperor. There is no need for the emperor to apologize.”
Li Jianheng covered his wound and bawled his eyes out while shaking his head. He sobbed, “I… Brother… I really… wanted to be a good emperor. I even memorized the texts a few days ago. Tell this to the Secretariat Elder on my behalf when you head out.”
Xiao Chiye said, “You are the emperor. Tell him yourself.”
Gasping and crying in a hoarse voice, Li Jianheng said, “That won’t do. I’m the emperor; I cannot go myself. It’s too humiliating. He is a loyal subject. Tell me, why am I this, this stupid? I, really wanted to call him my second father.1 I’m scared, scared that after I die, both of you will also end up stabbed by the others.”
Xiao Chiye’s voice turned raspy as he answered, “How are you going to leave when you are such a scaredy-cat?”
Li Jianheng gestured, “Imperial Brother is waiting for me. I’m scared that he’s going to scold me again. I’ve let him down.”
Xiao Chiye snorted a laugh and said, “That’s all you’ve got?”
“I…” Li Jianheng’s breath grew rapid. He pursed his parched lips again and again, then said, “I’ve let you down too. I’ve not stuck by you enough. We are both in situations that we have control over. I really… really regret it. Ce’an, leave. When you get outside, just go. Get on your horse and go home. I have nothing to give you, but it’s also a shame not to gift you anything.”
Xiao Chiye rubbed his face again.
Li Jianheng raised a finger and pointed toward the wall. He muttered indistinctly, “That… that bow, is what you helped me obtain from Imperial Brother. But fuck, I-I can’t pull it… Take it with you. The wolf pup should stay… stay in the grasslands. That thumb ring of yours must be rusted by now.”
Xiao Chiye said heartlessly, “I don’t want it. That’s the Conqueror Bow of your clan.”
“You are the conqueror…” Li Jianheng’s voice was already very soft. He gazed at the bow. “In my next life… don’t… don’t make me the emperor again… I want to be a swallow of Dazhou… nesting under the roof of riches and glory…”
He looked quietly at the Conqueror Bow and did not move anymore.
The wind blew against the drapes in the bedchamber. Sitting, Xiao Chiye listened as that muffled thunder struck and torrential rain exploded forth.
Han Cheng finished up the last mouthful of tea and held the teacup in his hands as he walked out of the door to look at the Eight Great Training Divisions’ soldiers who were standing by in combat readiness. He flung the teacup onto the ground and boomed at the top of his voice, “The Imperial Army of Qudu only has eight thousand people. Without receiving news, the men at Mount Feng military grounds can’t come to provide reinforcement. Xiao Chiye is already a trapped beast in a cage. Today, we must take him down!”
Heavy rain rumbled. The sound of densely clustered footsteps surrounded the imperial palace like layers of walls. Sheaths of blades scraped against armors as the Eight Great Training Divisions laid a heavy siege outside the bedchamber. Fuman could no longer stand up as he listened to those sounds. The eunuchs each cowered in the corners, lest they were taken to be sacrificed to these swords.
Xiao Chiye finally stood up. Under the intersection of light and shadows, he put down the bed curtains for Li Jianheng. Then he turned around to take down the Conqueror Bow that weighed a hundred catty.2 The doors had long been opened. Xiao Chiye pushed aside layers upon layers of fluttering drapery and walked towards the heavy rain without so much a look back.
Han Cheng led the men into drawing their blades. There was nothing for him to shout, because they had already won. They wanted to change the world in this heavy bout of downpour and make Xiao Chiye kneel once more.
Xiao Chiye looked at those dark and dense masses of heads. He strode a step out and walked down along the long stairs. He had no blade. When the rainwater wiped off his indifference, he was already clashing with that group of people. He held out the Conqueror Bow horizontally to intercept the blades, then pushed back against the wall of people into a retreat with an unrelenting, indomitable aura that suppressed the roar of the torrential rain.
Shen Zechuan spurred his horse across the street, with the Imperial Bodyguards and Imperial Army behind him like a red serpent as they crashed through the palace gates under the flashes and glints of their blades and galloped their way within.
The entire palace was already surrounded by armors. Pandemonium broke loose as the sound of fighting and killing at close quarters filled the air. The influx of horses sped up the fighting. Ignoring the sea of people, Lang Tao Xue Jin charged right for Xiao Chiye. Xiao Chiye used the momentary opening to flip atop the horse and caught hold of Langli Blade, which Shen Zechuan had tossed over.
Xiao Chiye suddenly drew his blade and said, “Qudu is not the hometown in my dreams. I’m going home today. Whoever dares to stand in my way—I’ll kill him!”
With that, he clamped the horse tightly with his legs and drew blood with a brandish of his blade.
With the torrential rain pouring down on them, Xiao Chiye forcibly killed a bloody path out. The battlefield retreated from the palace interior to the streets. Seeing as the situation did not look good, Han Cheng hurriedly shouted, “Guard the city gate to the death. We mustn’t let this vile spawn who killed the sovereign and plotted a rebellion leave tonight!”
How was the Eight Great Training Divisions the Imperial Army’s match? Even if they had many men, they were still afraid to death as the master of these wolves and tigers forced them back into a retreat. The city gate had long been shut. Shen Zechuan held his blade and went up the city wall first. He kicked over the obstructions in his way and told his men to open the city gate. That tightly shut gate lifted with a rumble. Beyond that curtain of rain was the home Xiao Chiye had been longing for for six years.
Han Cheng turned back and shouted, “Hurry and bring him over!”
Xiao Chiye’s horse had already galloped out of the city. He raised a hand to motion to Ding Tao to take the men and rush towards the military grounds at Mount Feng; they had to take these 20,000 men from the Imperial Army away with them. He turned his horse around among the crowd of people and opened up his arms to Shen Zechuan, who was at the top of the city wall, and said to him in a deep, somber voice, “Lanzhou, come with me!”
But the Imperial Bodyguards stood tall and still. In the heavy rain, Shen Zechuan held on to the battlement of the wall and gazed at Xiao Chiye as if he wanted to get a full, clear look at him.
The Eight Great Training Divisions had swarmed up again and were about to pursue their way out of the city gate. That highly suspended city gate let out a muffled groan, as if it could not hold up to gravitational force. Iron chains swiftly recoiled, and the city gate went crashing down with a thunderous bang.
“Ce’an.” Shen Zechuan raised his voice and said gently to him through the heavy rain. “Go home.”
Xiao Chiye felt as though his heart had been dunked in icy water. He clenched the reins tightly, already spurring his horse back. The city gate slammed onto the ground with a “thud”, completely cutting off the path of the pursuing soldiers from the Eight Great Training Divisions, keeping them within the city, and also completely shutting Xiao Chiye out on the other side of the gate.
Xiao Chiye shouted himself hoarse, as if he was a beast that had been enraged, “Shen Lanzhou!”
Shen Zechuan did not look at Xiao Chiye again. Instead, he turned around to look at Han Cheng and that densely packed troop of soldiers.
Han Cheng turned his head and spat out a mouthful of saliva. He said in a ferocious voice, “Shen Zechuan, you’ve ruined things for me!”
“You think you are worthy to call yourself an Imperial Bodyguard?” Shen Zechuan looked down on him and said in a frosty voice, “Since Ji Wufan, the Imperial Bodyguards have always been heroes of indomitable spirits and clear consciences. You people lay a trap and conspire to murder the Son of Heaven. Han Cheng, it’s entirely justified for me to kill you!”
Han Cheng threw his head back and laughed out loud. He said, “What are you? The last evil remnant of the Shen Clan! I treated you well, having guided and supported you many times, and this is how you repay me? Here! Bring the man over and show him to Vice Commander Shen!”
A disheveled Qi Huilian was dragged out. He fell into the rainwater and cursed, “Treacherous traitor!”
Yanking at the chain, Han Cheng spurred the horse forward and dragged Qi Huilian through the streets. He pointed at Qi Huilian and said to Shen Zechuan, “Haven’t you been looking for him for a long time? He’s here! Shen Zechuan, come and get him!”
“Traitor, traitor!” Qi Huilian was boiling with fury as the dragging smeared his face with muddy water.
Han Cheng looked at Shen Zechuan’s pale face, then at the dark expression in his eyes. He said, “Your eldest brother is the Hereditary Prince of Jianxing, I remember that the Biansha Cavalry dragged him to his death alive. But there is no love lost between you both, so you weren’t hurt by it at all. Are you hurting now that it’s your teacher’s turn today?”
“Han Cheng!” Shen Zechuan spat out Han Cheng’s name through clenched teeth, “You went to such trouble to hide Teacher in your hands. What do you want?”
“He was initially of great use!” Han Cheng suddenly turned hostile, “But you let Xiao Chiye go and ruined the trap I set. As such, you’re no longer of use, and neither is he! If you still want him to live, then kowtow to me and admit your mistakes! Kneel and call me ‘father’ loudly three times, and I’ll spare him, and you as well!”
Shen Zechuan strode a big step forward and said, “Deal!”
“Bollocks!” Qi Huilian raised his head from the muddy water. He wiped off the filth and climbed to his feet. Staring at Shen Zechuan, he said, “The reason I taught you the classics was not for you to allow yourself to be humiliated by anyone! I, Qi Huilian, will not even bow down to heaven and earth. So how can you kneel to a despicable scum?!”
The metal shackles clanked and clattered.
Qi Huilian stumbled and shouted at the top of his lungs amidst the rain, “Hundreds of years have passed like a dream,3 and I still come and go as I wish! I have lived a life of wealth and glory, of fame and fortune, and I—” He laughed maniacally as he tugged at the chains around his neck. “I have laughed at all the heroic figures throughout the land, and there is not another talent who surpasses me in the world! Who is there who can be compared to me, Qi Huilian? I am the world-renowned triple-yuan4 top scholar from Yuzhou! When I conversed in His Majesty’s presence and counseled His Majesty on state affairs—oh, Han Cheng, where were you? You were just a vermin in the ditch!”
It was as if Qi Huilian was intoxicated as he soaked in the rain.
“You vermins are unworthy of even carrying my shoes! The noble clans are like the rotten boils of this land. Tell Hai Liangyi that Dazhou is already beyond cure. He and I are both too powerless to turn the situation around!” Qi Huilian arrogantly turned around amid the sound of his laughter and spat at Han Cheng. He said, “But I will not admit defeat. I will only serve as the Imperial Preceptor in this life! Lanzhou! The cage is now broken, and the world will rise in turbulent chaos. I have taught you all that I could teach you. This decaying world….”
With his back to Shen Zechuan, Qi Huilian suddenly choked with sobs. The downpour drenched his body through and through, but it could not douse his ideals and passion that had been blazing for years. In the past, he was always calling out for the crown prince, yet, at this moment, he could not bear to look back at Shen Zechuan.
“Why not overturn this decaying empire and go create a world you can call yours. Lanzhou, go. Don’t look back. Teacher shall shoulder the burden of these 40,000 souls who have died unjust death on your behalf. Don’t be afraid. Have—” His blood spattered in the rain, and he fell over on his back. Gazing at the sky, he murmured, “Have no fear.”
A sudden clap of thunder erupted. Shen Zechuan cried out involuntarily and fell to his knees. He stared blankly in a daze, giving the heavy rain free rein to land blows on him. In that endless silence, his mask was utterly torn to pieces. He finally let out the first howl of despair in six years. There was already no more sanity left in those reddened eyes of him. He clenched Yang Shen Xue and suddenly drew his blade.
He hated this empire to death. He also loathed these faces to death.
Shen Zechuan propped himself up from the ground. Yang Shen Xue slashed through the droplets of rain and flung out blood from among this heavy siege. He killed one, then killed another. He strode across those bodies, yet he seemed like a beast that had been abandoned. His blade sliced across throats, so swift that it seemed like a stream of mercury. Blood sprayed over half of Shen Zechuan’s face.
He was beside himself. The blood trickled like tears across his cheek.
Retreating again and again, Han Cheng bellowed, “Kill him!”
The raindrops in the wind suddenly burst apart. In the blink of an eye, a long arrow had reached right before Han Cheng. Xiao Chiye leaped down from atop the city wall along the iron chain, kicked down a man, and flipped his hand over to draw his blade and stab it through the other party. With the corpse falling onto him, he moved swiftly and struck away the flashes of blades. When he extracted the blade, blood had already soaked both of his palm.
Xiao Chiye dragged Shen Zechuan back with one arm and whistled. Meng spread its wings and pounced. In the chaos, it pecked Han Cheng’s right eye, injuring it. Han Cheng hastily covered his face in a panic. He heard the waves of horse hooves beyond the city; Ding Tao had already brought the men over in a swift charge forth.
“Break down the gate!” Ding Tao shouted himself hoarse.
The Imperial Army swept forth, but before they could take any action, they heard that city gate let out a dull, thunderous noise again as it was slowly hoisted up.
Dragging the iron chain, Fei Sheng gasped heavily a few times and led the Imperial Bodyguards to draw back with all their might. He cussed, “Fuck! Son of a bitch is so heavy, doggone it! Your Lordship—Get on your horse and run!”
Lang Tao Xue Jin swiftly galloped in from the opening. Sounds of killing and shouts engulfed Qudu.
Thunderous sounds of killing and shouts similarly reverberated through the Bianjun Commandery, which was also engaged in a life-and-death battle. Lu Guangbai could barely lift his spear now. As he withdrew, he shouted, “Where are the reinforcements?!”
The deputy general, who had received several stabs and slashes himself, answered, “They… didn’t come.”
The rain howled. Lu Guangbai looked back in the direction of the camp.
Xiao Chiye had already gotten on his horse. He pressed Shen Zechuan to his chest before him and broke through the heavy rain towards the city gate.
Lightning flashed, and thunder boomed. A rift seemed to have been torn open in the sky. The rain poured mercilessly down.
Lu Guangbai ripped off his tattered cloak and nailed the spear into the ground by his feet. He said over the sandstorm and rainstorm, “We can’t fight on anymore.”
The deputy general lay at the side of the sand slope and looked at him.
“Fate wants to bind me here for life, but this is not the path I choose.” Lu Guangbai took off the armor with Dazhou with Dazhou’s imprint on it. He wiped the wind and frost5 off his face, and his eyes spoke of worldly weariness as he said a little self-mockingly, “The yellow dust6 submerged my brothers deep under. I no longer have a wish to bow in submission to an illusory fate. The imperial edict can’t save my troops, and the imperial court can’t fill the stomachs of my mounts.”
Xiao Chiye had already galloped his way out of Qudu, with countless soldiers in pursuit behind him. They charged ahead, as if tearing apart the dark, rainy sky.
“I’m no longer willing to lay down my life for this purpose.”
Lu Guangbai closed both of his eyes. Watery blood trickled along his fingers and dripped onto the yellow sands. His Adam’s apple bobbed. When he finally opened his eyes, there was darkness in them.
The blood on Shen Zechuan’s cheek was washed away. Grieved sobs escaped his throat. He had already forsaken all of his past submissive obedience in this sorry escape. Like a sharp sword, they pierced through the heavy rain.
Lu Guangbai washed both of his hands clean in the rain and held up his long spear once again.
They were all prisoners pursued by fate. They were once willing to be shackled. But the rainstorm toppled over the great mansion, and its collapsed debris came assaulting towards them like a deluge of floodwater.7
“I want to surmount that mountain.”
“I am going to fight for myself!”
——First Volume End——
I’ve been reading everyone’s comment lately. Following the updates has been hard on all of you. Thank you. W
This is the end of the first volume. If you enjoy the novel, kindly support the author by purchasing the novel on JJWXC! You may refer to the “how to buy guide” here. Thank you and stay tuned for more of Cezhou to come! (人･㉨･)♡
- 亚父 yafu, a term of respect for a man that’s second only to father, i.e., like a father.
- 斤 jin or catty, 1 jin equal to 0.5 kg
- 百年(岁)光阴如梦蝶 from 《双调·夜行船·秋思》by Ma Zhiyuan (马致远), a Chinese poet and celebrated playwright from the Yuan dynasty.
- 三元 “Triple Yuan”. In the Ming Dynasty, the imperial examination system was split into three phases: the provincial exam (乡试); metropolitan exam (会试); and the palace exam (殿试). The titles for the top scholars in each exam were known as the Jieyuan (解元), Huiyuan (会元) and Zhuangyuan (状元). These three are known as the “Triple Yuan”. So a Triple Yuan Top Scholar is one who came first in all these examinations.
- 风霜 literally, wind and frost, also refers to hardships and vicissitudes of life.
- 黄沙 Yellow dust, yellow sand, yellow wind, or dust storms is a meteorological phenomenon that affects much of East Asia year round.
- As mentioned in the note at the top. The titles for this and last chapter make up 大厦倾塌, or “the mansion collapses”, which is from the idiom 大厦将倾, or “the mansion on the verge of collapse”. The original idiom refers to a hopeless situation, like a mansion on the brink of collapse. The words in this and the last chapter suggest that this mansion has already collapsed, or i.e., the situation is a total goner.