Chapter 99: Who Are You?
Outside the restroom, a group of maids had gathered in a circle. The lead maid looked worried as she said, “Young Master Cheng, are you okay? Should we come in to help?”
The response from inside the restroom was an exasperated voice of a young man, “No! Don’t come in! Stay outside!”
The maids exchanged glances with each other. They understood that this young master from the capital usually carried himself with elegance and grace. Now that he had fallen into a pit toilet, he must be in a terribly embarrassing state and didn’t want anyone to witness it. However, they couldn’t just leave him in this situation without help, could they?
The maids were getting increasingly anxious.
He Yan stood in a side room and sighed silently.
To be honest, the Sun family’s restroom was already quite clean, considering the luxurious decorations. However, she had only gone through this whole ordeal to address the issue of the scented ball that Ding Yi had replaced around her waist.
Young Master Cheng, who had fallen into the pit toilet, would undoubtedly need to thoroughly clean himself from head to toe. Even the scented ball, which was meant for perfumed clothing, would have to be discarded after this experience. If someone were to ask why he changed it, it would be perfectly reasonable. After all, who would want to keep a dirty scented ball on their person after emerging from a pit toilet? That would be absurd.
However… as He Yan looked down at the stains on her own clothes through the cloth covering her eyes, she couldn’t help but feel that her sacrifice was far too great. She had assumed that Cheng Lisu was a bit slow-witted, but it turned out he was the one who was truly clever. Now, she found herself doing all this dirty and tiring work on his behalf.
What a situation.
As she contemplated this, she suddenly heard someone call out, “Young Master Cheng, please come out. Commander Xiao has arrived!”
Xiao Jue had arrived? He Yan had expected Fei Nu to come and assist her, but instead, it was Xiao Jue who had returned early today. Why had he come back so soon? She hadn’t figured that out when she heard Xiao Jue’s voice from outside saying, “Cheng Lisu, come out.”
He Yan: “…”
Why did she always end up in such a disheveled state whenever she encountered Xiao Jue? He Yan took a deep breath and, using a bamboo pole for support, unsteadily walked out.
The people outside held their breath.
The young man’s clothes were splattered with dirt, his hair was somewhat disheveled, and his eyes were covered with a black cloth, so his expression couldn’t be seen. His mouth, however, was pouting in a slightly aggrieved manner. As soon as he appeared, he started complaining haphazardly in one direction, “Uncle, you’ve finally arrived! If it weren’t for my good luck, you’d have an orphaned nephew who died in the restroom!”
Xiao Jue: “…”
He Yan took a step forward, and Xiao Jue stepped aside. This man was known for his cleanliness, and coming here to personally receive He Yan was likely the greatest concession he could make.
“Fei Nu, take him back and clean him up,” Xiao Jue said, seemingly unable to bear the odor coming from He Yan, and then turned and walked away.
He Yan cursed silently. Look, was this something a person should do? Whose sake did she fall into the pit toilet for? Xiao Jue was truly heartless.
Fei Nu approached to assist He Yan. He usually stayed close to her as her personal attendant, but now, even in her moment of need, he kept a distance and used a cloth to cover his nose and mouth, leaving He Yan speechless.
Once they were outside the room they stayed in, without any reminders from He Yan this time, Fei Nu ordered someone to bring hot water and a wooden bath tray. He Yan was surprised when he handed them to her, saying, “You should go clean yourself up.”
“Aren’t you going to help me bathe?” she tested.
“You have a fiancée; it wouldn’t be appropriate,” he replied.
He Yan couldn’t help but click her tongue in response. People’s true colors showed in moments like these. She couldn’t be bothered to argue with him and shakily closed the door, then climbed into the bathing tub.
She couldn’t help feeling resentful. She was once the Flying Phoenix General, and now she had to jump into a pit toilet to avoid trouble. If her former subordinates and colleagues from back then saw this, they’d probably mock her mercilessly.
But when you thought about it, Yuan Baozhen probably didn’t expect that the scented ball he had prepared for himself would be rendered useless before he even encountered Xiao Jue. After all, accidents happen, and no one can control them.
Outside the room, Fei Nu crouched down and used a stick to prod at the pile of dirty clothes He Yan had thrown on the ground. He rolled a round scented ball out of the clothes and held it up with the stick, saying, “This should be it.”
Xiao Jue glanced at the scented ball on the ground but remained silent.
“Young Master, was this intentional or accidental on his part?” Fei Nu was also puzzled. If He Yan’s actions were accidental, causing the scented ball to become unusable due to her fall into the pit toilet, it was a remarkable coincidence. But if it was intentional, and assuming he and Yuan Baozhen were working together, what was the point of this ruse? Even if it was a feigned accident, it seemed too genuine.
“Intentional. However,” Xiao Jue replied. He smiled faintly and his gaze carried a complex mix of disdain and surprise as he continued, “To come up with this method, it’s quite inventive, not bothered by the details at all.”
Indeed, who could have imagined that He Yan would fall into a pit toilet? Probably not even Yuan Baozhen himself. He Yan’s actions were truly unexpected. Most people with dignity would never think of such a method.
“If he did it intentionally,” Fei Nu looked at Xiao Jue in astonishment, “are you saying that He Yan can see?”
Xiao Jue raised an eyebrow, “Most likely, around eighty ninety percent.”
“Then why has he been pretending not to see all this time?” Fei Nu was puzzled. “Is it to deceive us, or to deceive Yuan Baozhen?”
“Both,” Xiao Jue said leisurely. “He may not be allied with anyone.”
Just as Xiao Jue was cautious of He Yan while coldly observing Yuan Baozhen’s performance, He Yan was likely keeping herself out of the situation. She probably regarded their conflict with a detached perspective, deceiving both Yuan Baozhen and Xiao Jue. As for her true intentions, that remained unclear.
“Young Master, could He Yan interfere with our plans?”
“No,” Xiao Jue replied. “It’s almost over.”
Fei Nu fell silent for a moment before saying, “The reply from Shuo Jing should arrive tonight.”
After tonight, they would know who He Yan really was and what she wanted. As for Yuan Baozhen, his good days were coming to an end.
In the room, Yuan Baozhen could hardly believe his ears. He asked the servant who had come to report, “What did you say?”
The Sun family servant was startled by his expression but managed to stammer, “Just now, Young Master Cheng fell into the restroom, and Commander Xiao took him away.”
Ding Yi’s expression changed dramatically, and Yuan Baozhen rubbed his temples and waved his hand, saying, “You may go.”
The servant left.
Yuan Baozhen slammed his hand on the table. “Idiot!”
Without delving into the details, he knew that the scented ball he had given to He Yan earlier today had been wasted. If it had fallen into the pit toilet, it would undoubtedly be contaminated with filth, and it would need to be thoroughly cleaned inside and out. How could the scented ball escape Xiao Jue’s notice?
“This is bad,” Yuan Baozhen stood up, feeling uneasy. “What if Xiao Jue discovers the scented ball?”
“Xiao Jue is a clean freak, so he probably won’t deliberately tamper with it. However,” Ding Yi looked mysterious, “He Yan might.”
“Do you mean he did it intentionally?”
“Don’t you think it’s too coincidental? He received the scented ball just before falling into the pit toilet. Earlier, during the night banquet, the incident with the bug in the wine was only his word against ours. More importantly, why would Xiao Jue leave his nephew alone in the Sun residence? There’s something not right about this person. I can’t help but feel that Cheng Lisu isn’t as simple as he seems.”
“If he’s a problem, won’t he have already learned our plans? Could this be a trap set by Xiao Jue?” Yuan Baozhen asked.
He harbored a deep fear of Xiao Jue, perhaps because he knew that this Commander of the Right Army would kill without considering one’s status.
“I suggest we make our move tonight,” Ding Yi finally spoke after a while.
“What?” Yuan Baozhen was anxious. “Xiao Jue is sober now; you can’t beat him.”
Precisely because of that, they dared not directly confront Xiao Jue. Unfortunately, after their failed attempt during the night banquet, finding another opportunity would be difficult. They had initially planned to target Cheng Lisu, but this young man was even more enigmatic and slippery. To this day, they hadn’t figured out what was going on.
Ding Yi’s words seemed to annoy Yuan Baozhen. He swept a dark look over him and said in a cold tone, “I never intended to go after him. His peculiar nephew is my target.”
He Yan cleaned herself thoroughly, and to dispel any lingering odors, she used Cheng Lisu’s scented ointment all over her body before changing into clean clothes. Only then did she dare to meet Xiao Jue.
Xiao Jue sat at the table and stopped her from coming closer. “Stay one zhang away from me.”
He Yan rolled her eyes inwardly but smiled. “Uncle, I’m all cleaned up. If you don’t believe me, you can smell—”
She tried to move closer, but a sword sheath blocked her path, lightly touching her nose. Through the gap in the black cloth, she could see Xiao Jue covering his nose with his sleeve, looking displeased. His furrowed brow made him appear as if he were facing a rebel attack.
He Yan raised her hands in surrender. “Alright, alright, I won’t come any closer.”
Xiao Jue was certainly meticulous, but it remained to be seen whether his attention to detail would save his life. If she hadn’t jumped into the pit toilet herself, she wondered how long Xiao Jue would have lasted under the poison of the scented ball. He Yan couldn’t help but feel regretful. If she had known, she would have thrown the scented ball right in front of Xiao Jue to see if he dared to be so picky under these circumstances.
She leaned on her bamboo cane and found a chair to sit on. After a moment of thought, she asked, “Uncle, how much longer do we have to stay in this mansion?”
Xiao Jue responded, “Why? Do you want to go back?”
“It’s not that, but I just feel that something’s off about staying here,” He Yan replied. She still wanted to dig up more information about He Rufei from Yuan Baozhen and Ding Yi. Of course, she couldn’t return so soon. But staying here wasn’t the right choice either. While she didn’t know exactly what Xiao Jue was up to, his actions had already drawn Yuan Baozhen’s attention to her, and he kept coming to her for questioning. If things continued like this, He Rufei’s secret might not be unearthed before Yuan Baozhen discovered her true intentions.
“What’s off about it?” Xiao Jue asked nonchalantly, as if he wasn’t taking her words seriously.
“Well, Imperial Censor Yuan keeps coming to talk to me every few days,” He Yan decided to be direct. “I feel like he’s trying to fish for information. Uncle, aren’t you worried that leaving me alone here might reveal some secrets to him?”
Xiao Jue glanced at her with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “What secrets do you have to reveal?”
He Yan: “…”
Xiao Jue and Fei Nu had been doing something secretly, never sharing any information with He Yan. They had made it clear that they didn’t consider her one of their own. Even if Yuan Baozhen wanted to inquire about information, He Yan truly had no secrets to reveal. She was just an outsider on the periphery, completely ignorant of their activities.
She continued, “But isn’t it strange for Uncle to leave his nephew alone in such a dangerous place? Wouldn’t that raise suspicion?”
He Yan couldn’t help but wonder if Yuan Baozhen would attempt to switch out another sachet without her noticing. She couldn’t keep falling into the pit toilet repeatedly; it wasn’t just her eyes at risk but her sanity as well.
“Raise suspicion?” Xiao Jue lowered his gaze and said in a leisurely tone, “From what I’ve observed these days, he doesn’t seem suspicious.”
In her mind, He Yan was screaming because she had been helping with the cover-up all along. This was such a poorly constructed lie that anyone would have suspicions. However, He Yan also realized that Xiao Jue was doing it deliberately. He was clearly creating diversions and leading the trouble away. This man’s heart was truly dark, and he didn’t seem to feel guilty about such actions.
She asked, “So, Uncle, you’ve been running around outside all the time. Have you found the mastermind?”
Her tone contained a faint hint of sarcasm when she said this. Though her eyes were covered with a cloth, she could imagine the look of Xiao Jue rolling his eyes. Xiao Jue responded calmly, “Yes, I’ve found them.”
He Yan was momentarily stunned. “Found them… found who?”
“You’ll know soon enough.”
What did he mean by “soon enough”? She already knew. The murderer was clearly Yuan Baozhen’s servant, Ding Yi. He Yan felt an urge to take Xiao Jue to confront Yuan Baozhen right away, pointing at Ding Yi and saying, “It’s him! This guy! Arrest him!”
But for now, she had to play dumb and asked, “Aren’t you going to arrest him now, Uncle?”
“It’s not the right time yet,” Xiao Jue answered calmly, a small smile playing on his lips.
“When do we have to wait until?”
“When the liar makes a move.”
She didn’t quite understand Xiao Jue’s meaning and was about to ask further questions, but before she could, Fei Nu came over. Fei Nu pulled her away, changed their direction, and said, “It’s late now. You should rest.”
With a loud “thud,” he closed the door, showing no mercy.
He Yan stared at the closed door, and in her heart, a little person scolded them for their heartlessness. Leaving aside their past friendship, they had even faced assassins together in this life, making them half-brothers in arms. Xiao Jue’s attitude left her perplexed. Despite that attitude, it seemed like many girls in Da Wei admired him. It was quite puzzling!
She climbed onto her bed, pulled the covers up, and buried her entire head underneath.
Never mind, she would rest. After all, it wasn’t her that Yuan Baozhen wanted to kill. Let him do as he pleased.
After the autumn equinox, the nights grew colder.
He Yan was roused from her sleep by the cold.
The Sun family’s silk blankets were both soft and warm, with intricate embroidery. Though they were thin, they provided excellent insulation. She had been staying at the Sun residence for several days, and when it came to bedding, it was impeccable. However, tonight was the first time she had felt this cold.
The blindfold was right beside her, and she had removed it before going to sleep. Now, He Yan slowly sat up, considering whether it would be too bothersome to call someone to bring her an extra blanket in the middle of the night. As she turned her head, she noticed that the nearby window had been opened, allowing the cold wind to rush in.
No wonder it was so cold; with that gust of cold air, even three layers of blankets wouldn’t help. He Yan wanted to get up to close the window when she suddenly remembered something. She turned her head, and indeed, the other side of the bed where Fei Nu slept was empty.
He was nowhere to be seen. If Fei Nu wasn’t there, it was safe to assume that Xiao Jue was definitely not around either. These two master and servant were probably up to some clandestine activity without her. He Yan didn’t find this surprising. She got out of bed, put on her shoes, and planned to go close the window to continue sleeping.
The wind was extremely chilly, making the nearby tree branches sway and causing dewdrops to fall. He Yan reached out to close the window, but suddenly, she saw a dark figure pass by not far away. To someone who didn’t possess any martial arts skills, it would probably seem like an illusion.
On this late night, even the dogs were asleep. Why would someone be wandering around at this hour? He Yan’s thoughts raced, and she quickly grabbed some clothes and followed after the figure.
This dark-clothed person had decent skills, but they didn’t account for the fact that He Yan was following. She trailed them discreetly, moving carefully. She had experience from her past life with nighttime raids and covert movements, so she was well-prepared for such activities.
This person wasn’t Xiao Jue or Fei Nu; both were tall, while this figure was not. They were completely covered in dark clothing, making it impossible to discern their identity. They seemed to be familiar with the Sun residence, avoiding areas where guards might be stationed and heading directly to a neglected courtyard.
In this vast Sun residence, there happened to be such an abandoned courtyard quite far from the main hall. He Yan had learned about it while eavesdropping on the servants’ gossip during her days of blindness. This courtyard was once inhabited by a favorite concubine of Sun Ling. She had been a lovely girl from a small rice shop in Liangzhou. Unfortunately, she had caught Sun Ling’s eye, and he had forcibly taken her away.
The girl had been engaged to a scholar from outside the city who lived with his widowed mother. The scholar, unwilling to accept the loss of his wife-to-be, had intended to report the situation to the authorities. However, despite his attempts, the powerful Sun family had shielded itself from any legal consequences. The scholar and his mother had been imprisoned and eventually died in jail.
The rice shop girl, upon hearing this unfortunate news, cried day after day without cease. Sun Ling was originally a person who quickly grew tired of the old, and after a short while, he lost interest in this girl. Seeing her cry every day annoyed him and he felt it brought bad luck, so he raised his hand and rewarded the girl to one of his subordinates.
A young girl who had once had a promising future had been broken and destroyed by the cruelty of the Sun family.
It wasn’t long before rumors began to circulate about strange occurrences in this courtyard. People claimed to hear the girl crying in the middle of the night. Sun Ling had grown superstitious and sealed off the area. Since then, no one dared to enter, and this courtyard became a desolate place.
He Yan felt a burning anger toward Sun Ling for his heartless actions. There were always evil people in the world, committing countless atrocities. What was ridiculous was that even such people could fear karma and consequences, and they could become suspicious due to their own guilty conscience, afraid to enter certain places.
The black-clad figure chose this location, but it was only an abandoned courtyard. Even the maids and servants had left many years ago. What could they possibly be doing here?
The place was overgrown with weeds, and some trees had withered due to lack of care. Others were still alive but grew in strange and eerie shapes. The shadows cast on the ground added to the eerie atmosphere. Apart from the howling wind, there was only deathly silence, as if it were a graveyard.
The black-clad person had reached the house where the girl had once lived and swiftly entered.
Hesitating for a moment, instead of entering through the front door, He Yan jumped in through the window.
Perhaps Sun Ling had a guilty conscience, as there were numerous Daoist symbols pasted on the doors and windows of the house. It seemed he was wary of the restless spirit of the deceased girl seeking revenge.
He Yan slipped inside through the window. Strangely, despite the place being deserted, the room was illuminated by a burning lamp. As she gazed around and took in the scene, she couldn’t help but be surprised.
The room was filled with numerous Buddha statues, from the table to the floor. The lamp was an oil lamp lit atop a Buddhist altar, which seemed to be regularly maintained, with the scent of incense wafting through the air. However, instead of bringing a sense of inner peace, it sent shivers down one’s spine.
Outside the house were Daoist symbols, while inside, Buddha statues were arranged meticulously. The Sun family, father and son, seemed far from composed as their house was a fusion of Buddhism and Daoism, not as harmonious as it appeared on the surface.
Sleeping on a bed tainted with blood, they likely had nightmares every day. He Yan couldn’t help but mock them inwardly, wondering why they engaged in so many evil deeds if they were so afraid. It was a testament to the evil that resided deep within their hearts.
At that moment, a flower throwing knife came flying at an angle, swift and fierce. He Yan swiftly dodged it, using a dagger from her sleeve to deflect it. The throwing knife made a loud clank as it struck, knocking over a statue of a furious-looking guardian.
“You indeed haven’t gone blind,” someone emerged from behind the Buddhist altar.
After being pursued for so long, this person finally revealed his true face. He still had that plain and unremarkable face, but his expression had changed. No longer flat and emotionless, his eyes now gleamed with excitement, as if he had caught an interesting prey.
“It took you this long to figure out I’m not blind,” He Yan remarked.
Ding Yi smiled, and his smile had an eerie quality to it. He said, “You’re quite daring, trailing me all the way on your own.”
“You intentionally opened the window, intentionally flashed by outside the window, and intentionally walked slowly so I could catch up. Wasn’t it all to make me follow you? I’m a very easygoing person,” He Yan also smiled, “I dislike it when people’s efforts go to waste.”
She had noticed it from the beginning but chose not to hide her awareness. Since someone had already set a trap, her disguise had been exposed. There was no need to pretend anymore. Besides, true masters were not afraid of traps.
It was only those with insufficient strength who hesitated.
Ding Yi had been figured out, and his expression changed slightly. After a moment, he laughed and asked, “Did you learn to be this stubborn from Xiao Jue?”
“It comes naturally.”
“You’re not Cheng Lisu,” Ding Yi stared into He Yan’s eyes. “Who are you?”
He had suspicions about He Yan even earlier than Yuan Baozhen. It was because of that one glance from the night of the banquet, even before Xiao Jue had started drinking. The teenager had turned his gaze toward them by chance.
In that gaze, there had been a mix of surprise, anger, resentment, unwillingness, and doubt, a myriad of emotions that seemed to pierce through him. Although He Yan had quickly averted her gaze, Ding Yi had noticed it at that moment.
He had never seen this teenager before, but it was clear that this teenager had seen him.
“Who are you?” He asked again.
He Yan smiled.
The countless Buddhas and gods silently observed, the Daoist symbols outside the room were meant to clear the mind and expel evil, and it felt as if distant chants echoed in the room. The teenager slowly raised his head, appearing as if he recognized him, his gaze sharp as lightning, sending a shiver down her spine.
“I am a ghost that you killed,” she whispered, “I’ve crawled out of the underworld and have come to claim your life.”