Chapter 100: A Female Identity
This was an unfamiliar face that Ding Yi had never seen before, and there were no traces of disguise.
Before coming to the Sun Mansion, Yuan Baozhen had also mentioned that the young man who came with Xiao Jue was his nephew, the young master of the Right Division’s residence, known as the “useless young master” in Shuo Jing. However, he only mentioned it casually and didn’t go into detail. After all, at that time, neither of them expected that this seemingly harmless young master would disrupt the entire situation.
He can’t be the real Cheng Lisu. A young master from a wealthy family in Shuo Jing wouldn’t have such a fierce look in his eyes.
Who is he? One of Xiao Jue’s men? But why would Xiao Jue’s men look at him with such intense hostility, as if they had a deep-seated grudge?
Looking at the young man in front of him, Ding Yi asked, “Are you trying to play tricks here?”
He Yan chuckled, “Are you scared?”
Ding Yi’s smile faded slightly, “You have a sharp tongue that’s not very likable.” With that, he pulled a concealed dagger from his sleeve, and it suddenly extended several inches, stabbing towards He Yan.
He Yan spun and flew up into the air.
The two figures wrestled together, and their silhouettes on the window looked particularly eerie. If any of the servants of the Sun’s Mansion passed by at this moment, it would probably confirm the rumours of haunting.
He Yan was slightly surprised.
When she had been blinded by He Rufei’s plot, the poisoned medicine she had consumed had been delivered by this person. It was this soup that had caused her blindness. She had always thought that Ding Yi was just a servant working for He Rufei, and later, when she saw Yuan Baozhen, she realized that this person had good martial arts skills. However, she had only realized how formidable Ding Yi was when they fought. His martial skills were even better than she had thought.
His skills far surpassed that of the assassin Yingyue from that day. Not only did he possess remarkable skills, but he was also extremely cautious and conservative, only striking when he had a near-perfect opportunity. Thus, even during the assassination attempt at the banquet, he acted as the final piece of the puzzle and wouldn’t have taken action unless it was absolutely necessary. Similarly, with the scented ball, he had to wait until Xiao Jue was weakened and incapacitated to ensure a lethal strike.
Today, Ding Yi had set a trap for He Yan, waiting for her to fall into it. However, he still believed that no matter how remarkable He Yan was, a sixteen-year-old young man would not be extraordinarily formidable.
This person was both self-confident and careful. His self-confidence stemmed from his skills and abilities, while his carefulness laid in ensuring that he pursued foolproof plans.
He was not to be underestimated.
Ding Yi was also deeply impressed.
He had never encountered an opponent like this before.
He had heard that Xiao Jue, the Commander of the Right Army, was exceptional both in civil and military matters, rarely facing any rivals. He had wanted to challenge Xiao Jue himself, but He Rufei had repeatedly reminded him not to confront Xiao Jue directly. Therefore, he had no choice but to act in secret, waiting for the right moment to strike. A person like him could never openly challenge others, like a mouse hiding in a ditch, only able to lurk in the shadows. Despite his martial skills, he was like a caged tiger with nowhere to unleash his power.
Ding Yi felt a sense of regret deep within him.
This young man’s background was mysterious, and he was eager to test his abilities. He wanted to defeat him in an open and fair fight and then use him to plot against Xiao Jue. Only then could he truly showcase his abilities. However, after this brief encounter, he realized that he had underestimated him.
This young man’s martial skills were not weak at all.
The dagger brushed past He Yan’s head as Ding Yi evaded her attack. He then slapped her on the left shoulder, causing her to stagger back a few steps and knock over a Buddha statue.
“You’re not showing respect to the Buddha statues,” He Yan said with a playful tone. “Aren’t you afraid that the Buddha statues will come to haunt you at night?”
Ding Yi looked at her with displeasure. How could this young man still talk so casually after receiving two of his strikes? He coldly remarked, “Do you know that each Buddha statue here represents a deceased person? Soon, you’ll join them.”
He Yan touched her shoulder and made a frightened expression. “Why are you telling ghost stories in the middle of the night?” She said this while her mouth spoke, but the dagger in her hand didn’t hesitate to stab towards Ding Yi again.
Ding Yi evaded it, and the dagger only knocked his hat off, which fell to the ground.
He Yan couldn’t help but sigh in her heart. She had left without any weapons, and the dagger in her hand was the same one she had used to cut venison on her first day at the Sun residence during the banquet. At that time, when Xiao Jue was attacked, she had rushed in to help in a moment of desperation. This dagger, originally meant for cutting meat, now seemed overly ornate and impractical.
While she was lost in her thoughts, Ding Yi moved closer again. He Yan managed to evade his blade but was struck on the back by his palm, causing a sudden sensation of nausea in her throat.
Ding Yi, despite using a dagger, seemed to prefer facing his opponent barehanded. He was incredibly confident in his skills, which explained his approach.
“Taking two strikes from me and still standing,” Ding Yi remarked with a subtle change in his gaze. “You’re the first.”
He Yan swallowed the blood in her throat and flashed a smile. “You managed to strike me twice and still alive; you’re also the first.”
“Quick-witted,” Ding Yi commented before lunging at her once more.
He Yan turned and tried to escape through the window.
Lady He’s body was ultimately too frail. Perhaps this was just how fate worked – there was no absolute fairness in the world. Women’s thoughts were more intricate than men’s, and this meant their bodies were destined to be weaker. Despite her courage and combat skills in her previous life, He Yan was now just a sixteen-year-old girl. Until the spring of this year, she hadn’t possessed even a shred of martial prowess.
Her inner strength was no match for Ding Yi’s.
“You think you can escape so easily?” Ding Yi laughed heartily, reaching out to grab He Yan’s clothing and yanking her backward. She was thrown into a Buddhist shrine, and a cloud of incense ash filled the air.
Incense ash scattered in the air.
“No one will come here at night,” Ding Yi chuckled. “No one dares to come, so you’ll have to wait to die here.”
He Yan stood up and kicked a Buddha statue in front of her. She smiled and said, “I’m already a dead person.”
Her movements seemed casual, but they struck Ding Yi as strangely familiar, and he even froze for a moment.
Ding Yi was one of He Rufei’s subordinates and had been with him for many years. They had been living in seclusion in another courtyard far from Shuo Jing. In those years, He Rufei had trained Ding Yi to be like a death soldier. Ding Yi had excellent martial skills, knew how to make poisons, could disguise himself, and had a meticulous mind. Even though he worked as a subordinate, he was exceptionally skilled.
With such abilities, it was only natural that he would have opportunities to use them. However, when they returned to Shuo Jing, Ding Yi’s first assignment was to concoct a potion that would blind someone and deliver it to Madam Xu, He Rufei’s cousin.
At that time, Ding Yi was quite dissatisfied with the task and couldn’t understand why He Rufei had ordered the death of his own cousin. The conflicts between women in the inner courtyard were usually not a concern for men. It seemed like a waste of his skills, and Ding Yi felt insulted.
However, He Rufei had warned him, “Don’t underestimate her. Be careful in your actions, and don’t let any clues be discovered.”
Ding Yi found it strange. How could a woman be so formidable? Why did he need to be cautious around her?
Out of curiosity and a hint of disdain, Ding Yi entered the Xu family’s residence and stayed there for three days.
It was during those three days that he discovered that Madam Xu was indeed not an ordinary woman. She was extraordinarily sensitive, and sometimes when Ding Yi tried to observe her from the shadows, she immediately sensed something was amiss. There were several close calls where Ding Yi almost exposed himself.
In the end, he had no choice but to hide in the Xu family’s residence under the identity of a servant of the He family. Although Madam Xu was cautious and alert, she trusted the He family members and gave him an opportunity to blend in. Ding Yi still remembered when he delivered the potion to Madam Xu. Upon hearing that it was a tonic sent by the He family, she didn’t hesitate to drink it. At that moment, Ding Yi felt a strange sensation. This woman, with her skills and abilities, would require a significant effort to take her life in an open and fair fight. But as long as someone close to her acted, even with just a single dose of the potion, there was no need to exert much effort to achieve their goal.
It was no wonder people always said that those closest to you were the ones who could truly deceive and harm you.
During those three days, Ding Yi also noticed some of Madam Xu’s habits. For example, sometimes when there was something in front of her, like a fallen branch, she would always kick it away. Her kicking action seemed casual but was quite forceful, which was considered impolite for women in prominent households. Madam Xu was aware of this and would often realize her mistake if there were witnesses around. She would then leave with an embarrassed smile and stick out her tongue to apologize.
When she did this, her otherwise placid face would suddenly show signs of life, as if that was the real her. Even though Ding Yi couldn’t recall Madam Xu’s appearance after such a long time, he still remembered her kicking motion.
And just now, the young man in front of him kicked a Buddha statue in a similar manner, and the motion and expression suddenly overlapped with Ding Yi’s memory of Madam Xu.
But how could he be Madam Xu?
She had drunk the potion and become blind, and Ding Yi thought the matter would end there. However, in the spring of this year, while he was at the He family, he heard that Madam Xu had accidentally fallen into a pond and drowned.
Ding Yi didn’t believe that she had truly accidentally drowned. After all, when He Rufei and the He family members heard about it, only the second wife showed any surprise. It seemed like they had known about it in advance.
What could drive the entire He family to treat their married daughter with such ruthlessness, making her blind and even taking her life? As Ding Yi recalled the situation, he gradually pieced together some clues.
He Rufei had lived in seclusion in another courtyard for many years, but upon returning to Shuo Jing, he had transformed into the Flying Phoenix General. Ding Yi initially thought that He Rufei had found a substitute to replace him, and now that He Rufei had returned, the substitute had to die. But what if this substitute was a woman?
It sounded unbelievable, but it was not impossible. Especially when Ding Yi thought about Madam Xu’s alertness and skills, she was no ordinary woman. Furthermore, after hearing that Madam Xu had become blind, she did not become despondent. Instead, she attempted to use her other senses, and perhaps that’s what made the He family uneasy.
What they needed was a submissive blind person. If this blind person could still walk, move, and speak, it would not be reassuring.
When Ding Yi recalled how he had blinded Madam Xu back then, she might have been the famous Flying Phoenix General. Whenever he thought of that incident, Ding Yi felt both proud and regretful. He was proud of subduing the West Qiang Rebellion, defeating the Flying Phoenix General, a renowned figure who had left countless people in awe. However, he regretted that despite his successful strategy, it was all done covertly, only involving a bowl of medicine.
The dimly lit room cast shadowy figures, making the young man’s appearance blurry. He Yan quipped, “Getting lost in thought during a fight isn’t a good habit.” Her words were followed by swift actions, moving nimbly like a ghost. In the blink of an eye, she was right in front of Ding Yi.
With a “pfft” sound, her dagger cut across his sleeve, leaving a bloodstain as He Yan injured his arm.
“Is this all you’re capable of?” Ding Yi’s eyes flashed with excitement and a hint of disdain. This young man was definitely not Flying Phoenix General, who possessed far greater abilities.
With a dismissive flick, he tore off the torn part of his sleeve and grinned at He Yan. “Whether you’re a person or a ghost, your end has come today!”
He charged toward He Yan with incredible speed.
The room, originally spacious, felt cramped and narrow due to the numerous Buddha statues placed all around. Ding Yi had trained in martial arts since childhood, possessed profound internal energy, and employed cunning and dangerous techniques. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have become He Rufei’s trusted confidant. In their brief exchange of moves, He Yan sustained multiple injuries, with the worst being a slash on her back from Ding Yi’s blade.
Despite the window being right in front of her, escape was difficult. Ding Yi had her in his grasp, threw her to the ground, and grabbed her head, looking at her with confusion. “Who are you?”
“What do you think?” The young man’s lips were tainted with blood, but he appeared completely nonchalant, seemingly impervious to pain. His smile remained unchanged.
In a moment of distraction, Ding Yi’s thoughts turned to Madam Xu again. This association bothered him, and while holding He Yan’s neck tightly, he questioned, “If you don’t tell me who you are, I’ll kill you and bury you here, surrounded by deities and talismans. You’ll never find salvation. So, tell me, who are you?”
The young man’s skills were already impressive, and he felt a strange familiarity with him. Ding Yi didn’t want to miss out on the truth.
However, He Yan just smiled. Her laughter was tinged with blood, and she replied, “You know what? I’ve already told you. I climbed out of the underworld, so I don’t care about salvation. Besides, I can come and go freely. These talismans and Buddha statues are just mud and paper. You’re so easily deceived, does your master, He Rufei, know?”
Ding Yi was taken aback to hear He Rufei’s name mentioned. His expression changed abruptly. “What else do you know?” He instinctively reached behind him but found nothing there.
The young man’s face remained before him, with a playful smile. Ding Yi sensed something was wrong. He thrust his dagger forward, but the young man seemed to awaken suddenly, effortlessly evading his restraint.
He Yan held a small plum blossom dart in her hand, playing with it by the Buddha shrine, and said, “Is this your ace in the hole? You kept it hidden, and if it weren’t for all those beatings, I wouldn’t have found it.”
Ding Yi’s face darkened. “You’re playing games with me?”
“Not at all,” the young man chuckled. “I just couldn’t afford to make the same mistake twice on the same person, so I came prepared. It’s not your fault; you hid it quite well.”
He Yan had been careful to observe this man. He had fingers that were discolored, as if soaked in a concoction for a long time, and his skin was cracked. These were the hands of a poison user. Moreover, she believed that the group of assassins earlier had a certain intention in their attack. This man had hidden poisoned weapons on him. The dagger was just a diversion; his real deadly weapon was the poisoned plum blossom dart.
Fighting him up close was not difficult, but the challenge laid in not pushing him too far. If she provoked him into using his deadly weapon, it could result in severe injuries or even death. He Yan was not willing to risk her life.
She observed that this man was quite self-assured. Despite having a dagger, he was used to fighting unarmed, indicating confidence in his martial skills. So, He Yan deliberately revealed a weakness, pretending to be exhausted. She acted like an average youth with some skill but slightly inferior to him in combat. As expected, within moments, Ding Yi started underestimating her.
He Yan smoothly stole Ding Yi’s “ace.”
Ding Yi gritted his teeth and said, “I’m going to kill you.”
“Do you think you still have that chance?” He Yan snapped her fingers. “Now it’s your turn to get beaten.”
The two figures clashed together. The young man, who had appeared weaker in inner strength, had indeed been deceiving him. He Yan was faster and more ferocious. In no time, she kicked the dagger out of Ding Yi’s hand, ducked under his large palm, and stabbed backward, hitting Ding Yi’s waist with the dagger.
“You…” He couldn’t believe it, staring wide-eyed.
He Yan kicked his knee, and Ding Yi knelt down in pain. She grabbed his hair and said, “Now it’s my turn to ask questions.”
“Why did He Rufei want to kill Xiao Jue? Are you working for Xu Xiang? What benefits did Xu Xiang promise you, and what is He Rufei planning?”
She spoke quickly and urgently, and Ding Yi hesitated for a moment before smiling.
“I won’t tell you,” he said. “If I do, you’ll kill me immediately. Why don’t you try to find a way to make me talk, to make me open my mouth.”
His smile even had a touch of insolence.
This expression on his face was something He Yan had seen many times before and was not unfamiliar with. When she was in the Fuyue Army, whenever they captured enemy soldiers, some prisoners would quickly surrender and betray their comrades, while others were staunch and would rather die than talk. No matter how they were interrogated, they would remain silent, and in the end, it would only frustrate the interrogator.
Ding Yi’s expression was that of someone who wouldn’t break easily, even though he didn’t completely shut the door on speaking. It appeared that he left a way out, but he was actually toying with He Yan. If it were an ordinary person, they might have been fooled, and theywould have spared him for a chance of future rescue by his associates.
But He Yan was not an ordinary person, and she wouldn’t fall for this act.
She looked at Ding Yi and suddenly asked, “You kept asking me who I am. Did you remember someone?”
Ding Yi’s face suddenly changed, and he stared at her without speaking.
“Don’t you find it strange?” He Yan asked. “We’ve only met a few times, how did I know you had poisoned hidden weapons and took precautions in advance? The wine at the banquet, I also reminded them about it. How could I have known?”
Ding Yi sneered, “Stop pretending. If you have the guts, go ahead and kill me.”
“If I had no grudge against you, I wouldn’t kill you, but what use is keeping you alive? I’m alive solely for revenge.”
“I swear by all the gods and Buddhas, I haven’t lied.” He Yan chuckled, as if to fit the eerie atmosphere. In the autumn night, a sudden thunderclap rang out, illuminating the room with lightning. The benevolent Buddha statues stared at them, as if witnessing the karmic cycle of events that had unfolded many years ago.
“You once fed a bowl of poison to a woman, and she went blind,” the young man spoke softly.
“Guess if I’m that woman,” she smiled.
Ding Yi struggled to speak, “You are…”
Mid-sentence, his eyes widened suddenly, a trace of blood appeared at the corner of his lips, and the light in his eyes quickly faded.
The plum blossom dart had pierced his throat deeply, and within moments, he had breathed his last.
He Yan stood up and looked at the body at her feet. Ding Yi’s corpse lay amidst the glittering Buddha statues, a cruel irony. She whispered, “If it were you left to die here, let’s see if you can still be reborn.”
She turned and walked out.
Ding Yi couldn’t be spared. She didn’t even know where to hide his body. If Xiao Jue found out and questioned why she was investigating the He family’s affairs, He Yan couldn’t explain. He was a loyal death soldier who wouldn’t reveal secrets, and keeping him alive would be meaningless. Furthermore, this man had committed many evil deeds and didn’t deserve sympathy.
Dying here might have been the best outcome for him. Considering the haunted rumors surrounding this courtyard, it was likely that his body would have remained undiscovered for several days.
Outside, thunder rumbled, and autumn rain began to pour. He Yan stumbled her way back toward the house.
Although she had used herself as bait to lull Ding Yi into relaxing his guard, she had actually suffered quite a few injuries. Her body was not as resilient as in her previous life, and Ding Yi was no ordinary opponent. She might have underestimated He Rufei’s strength. The rain washed away the blood from her wounds, and He Yan felt her strength fading away.
This was probably the most miserable she had been since her rebirth. Luckily, when she left the house, Xiao Jue and Fei Nu were not around. In just a short while, she had to return, change her clothes quickly, and act as if nothing had happened.
The house was right in front of her. He Yan jumped in through the window and found the room pitch-black and empty. She breathed a sigh of relief.
She muttered to herself in a low voice, “Thank goodness I wasn’t discovered.”
But as soon as she finished speaking, a voice came from somewhere.
“Aren’t you celebrating a bit too early?”
With a “snap,” the room suddenly lit up brightly, and He Yan froze in place.
Seated at a small table was a man who was playing with a matchstick. The lamp on the table flickered, and the man had a handsome appearance, neat clothing, and glanced at her with a faint smile. “You’re back?”
It was Xiao Jue.
He Yan’s heart trembled for a moment, and she quickly composed herself, speaking rapidly, “Uncle! This is a misunderstanding. I only just realized that I could see things. I encountered assassins outside…”
Before she could finish her sentence, the young man seated at the table was already in front of her, drawing his sword and aiming it at her chest. He Yan hurriedly reached out to block, but the tip of the sword was not meant to take her life. It deftly sliced through her clothes.
Her bloodstained clothes were instantly reduced to tatters, revealing the delicate and vulnerable figure beneath, covered only by a layer of white fabric, resembling a bud waiting to bloom.
He Yan’s face turned bright red in an instant.
Xiao Jue circled behind her, his scabbard pressed against her neck, their breaths mingling, the tension palpable.
“The liar is making a move now.”
He smirked as if he were the carefree young man under the tree from years ago. His voice carried a hint of mockery as he nonchalantly asked, “Should I call you He Yan or Miss He?”