Si Tian Guan Chapter 135

Chapter 135: Choice

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Qu Chenzhou signaled with his eyes for Liu Zhongming to go back to the bedroom first before inviting Jiang Xingzhi to sit outside the hanging flower gate.

The lotus flowers were in full bloom in the pond, and the dark water below could not be seen, only the sound of startled frogs splashing into the water could be heard.

The two sat opposite each other in the pavilion in the middle of the pond, without the need for any tea or alcohol.

“I always thought you were incredibly smart, but I never expected that you would need me,” Jiang Xingzhi sneered softly.

“You overexaggerate. Putting someone like Jiang Sichen on the bench is my dereliction of duty. If it weren’t for you, we would still be going around in circles,” Qu Chenzhou replied.

“You’re telling me such a secret insider story, aren’t you afraid that I’ll take it out and expose all of you?” Jiang Xingzhi teased.

“We’re all on the same boat. If we set fire to it, Jiang Sichen would cook a lot faster than us,” Qu Chenzhou shrugged off his intimidation and stopped beating around the bush. “What I want?”

Jiang Xingzhi dug into his embrace and threw a booklet onto the stone table.

Qu Chenzhou flipped through it page by page under the lantern hanging on the eaves, and Jiang Xingzhi followed suit, leaning on the side nonchalantly. “At the end of this month, Ren Rui and Liao Guangming will be dismantling their camp and heading to Luo City. If you want Ren Rui to catch up with this year’s autumn hunt, you need to move fast and not delay too long in Luo City.”

“I can’t transfer Ren Rui from my end,” Qu Chenzhou replied without looking up. “You need to urge him. Ren Rui must go to the autumn hunt.”

“What do you want to do?” Jiang Xingzhi couldn’t help but ask. He had never been led by others like this. Even though the other party promised to help him achieve his goal, this feeling of uncertainty was not good.

“Each takes what they need. If you want to achieve your goal, you can’t do it without Ren Rui,” Qu Chenzhou replied.

Jiang Xingzhi’s heart stirred, and he glanced in the direction of the inner courtyard, then looked at the page that Qu Chenzhou had turned to.

“As for Mu Jingde’s side, I’ll keep an eye on it. Ren Rui’s troops are limited this time, so we need to give Liao Guangming more chances of winning. And what about Ning Wang’s side?”

If they wanted a quick and decisive battle for the suppression of bandits in Luo City, it would be best to have Ning Wang step in.

But after Ning Wang was lured into a gambling game, Tang Shizhong immediately got the news.

The Emperor did not say anything, and Tang Shizhong and the Empress couldn’t take Ning Wang to apologize. But privately, Ning Wang was scolded and dared not make any more trouble. He had been under house arrest for a while now and hadn’t come to the other courtyard for a while.

Qu Chenzhou’s gaze scanned the paper, trying to remember the current layout of the Qi Wang’s available manpower, while answering Jiang Xingzhi’s question.

“That useless Ning Wang only causes trouble when he comes out. Tang Shizhong knows what to do.”

“The Jinxiu Ying is a juicy piece of meat. He has had conflicts with Liao Guangming for years in order to fight for a piece of territory in the military. You should also give some guidance to Mu Jingde, so that Ren Rui doesn’t need to compete for this place and can be useful during the autumn hunt.”

Jiang Xingzhi silently took note of it.

Qu Chenzhou read through the book again from start to finish. Jiang Xingzhi didn’t want to disturb him, but couldn’t resist asking, “Qu Chenzhou, who are you really?”

He had been focusing on his own affairs and didn’t want to dig into other people’s backgrounds, but the person in front of him was really strange, and he knew too much about the affairs of the court.

It was impossible for him to be a member of Liu Zhongming’s party, and even Shizi himself probably didn’t know as much as he did.

He couldn’t figure it out. What kind of monster had Liu Zhongming raised?

Qu Chenzhou raised an eyebrow and smiled at him. “I remember, there is no obligation for me to answer you in our agreement.”

“Then our agreement…” Jiang Xingzhi knew that there would be no answer, but he didn’t care. He stuffed the book back into his pocket and didn’t leave immediately. “Does Shizi know?”

He was deliberately asking.

If Liu Zhongming knew, Qu Chenzhou wouldn’t need to come to him privately.

Qu Chenzhou looked at him calmly. “Jiang Xingzhi, don’t forget that I am the one who can help you.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t tell Shizi. You are useful to me and I am useful to you. I don’t need to offend you for the sake of Shizi.”

Jiang Xingzhi glanced in the direction of the Hanging Flower Gate. The candlelight in the bedroom had not been extinguished yet, and there was a faint light at the Hanging Flower Gate.

“I’m just curious. Shizi trusts and protects you, but you secretly do these things. What is it for?”

Qu Chenzhou smiled and asked in return, “Mu Jingde trusts and protects you, but you still come to us secretly. What is it for?”

The two didn’t see eye to eye and stopped talking.

Jiang Xingzhi bowed and left.

Qu Chenzhou escorted him to the corner gate and suddenly stopped him, whispering, “Jiang Xingzhi, you always come to me to ask about the fate of Mu Jingde, but why haven’t you asked about your own fate?”

Jiang Xingzhi paused at the door and turned around with a smile. “Me? At worst, I’ll just die. As long as you help me get the result, what does life and death matter?”

“Why don’t you care?” Qu Chenzhou asked. “What about Jingchen? Don’t you want to live for him?”

Jiang Xingzhi suddenly laughed. “Qu Chenzhou, you really surprised me. I thought you were such a cold and heartless person, who wouldn’t bother with people’s life and death.”

Qu Chenzhou also smiled. “Occasionally, I do.”

Perhaps no one had ever asked this question before, and no one had ever wanted to know the answer. After laughing for a while, Jiang Xingzhi gradually calmed down and answered the question seriously.

“Jingchen… he’s my benefactor. Without him, I wouldn’t have had the strength to survive until now.”

“But, he is the bright moon, and I am for the dust. Perhaps, that’s all there is between us.”

“Qu Chenzhou, if you were given two choices — one is to give up hatred for love, the other is to give up love for hatred — which one would you choose?”

“So you chose the latter, didn’t you?” Qu Chenzhou asked.

Jiang Xingzhi’s gaze fell on the shadow swaying at his feet. He didn’t deny it, he only said, “We are of the same kind. If it were you, you would choose the same.”

“If it were before, I would indeed,” Qu Chenzhou opened the corner door and sent him off, “but now, I wouldn’t.”

Jiang Xingzhi was a little surprised. Based on their interactions over the past few days, he didn’t think Qu Chenzhou was someone who would choose the former option.

“Why not?”

“Because I have someone to protect, so… I can give up both love and hatred.”

Jiang Xingzhi didn’t expect him to give such an answer. After pondering for a while, he bowed to him.

“I couldn’t do that.”

Jiang Xingzhi had already gone far away, and Qu Chenzhou stood at the door for a long time before slowly walking back.

Liu Zhongming had been waiting outside the bedroom in the corridor, shaking out a cloak to greet him on the stairs.

“Is the matter with Qi Wang very troublesome? You talked for so long.”

Qu Chenzhou was carried back to the room wrapped up and sat down at the bedside, letting out a soft groan.

Seeing that he seemed thoughtful and troubled, Liu Zhongming took the initiative to help him take off his coat and tuck him into bed.

“Is there anything difficult that I can help with?” Liu Zhongming asked.

Qu Chenzhou shook his head.

“If you need someone, just take your waist token and make the arrangements. Anything else, just tell me.”

“What if we need Shizi?” Qu Chenzhou looked up and asked.

Liu Zhongming laughed, “That’s easy. We don’t even need the waist token, just speak up. It’s late, get some rest.”

But Qu Chenzhou tugged at his clothes and didn’t let him go.

“I can’t sleep.”

Liu Zhongming lifted the blanket and climbed in as well – he couldn’t sleep either, but at least being together made it less lonely.

The two of them looked out the window and watched as the moon moved westward. After a while, Qu Chenzhou took the initiative to speak.

“Has Shizi asked about any news from Qi Wang’s side?”

“Isn’t it up to you to handle it all on your own, without me asking?” Liu Zhongming turned his head, stroking his head. “You told me to focus on keeping an eye on Pan He and building relationships with the Jinxiu Ying. And I have to take care of things with the Emperor too. I’m so busy – is something troubling you?”

“There’s no trouble. Everything is going smoothly on Jiang Xingzhi’s end. Qi Wang has gotten used to relying on him, ” Qu Chenzhou tilted his head and leaned over. “It’s just on Shizi’s end, have you figured out what to do if the worst-case scenario happens?”

The worst case scenario is that the two people Pan He hid have really been lost.

It has been a year since the last straw dummy ceremony, and two are missing.

In order to present himself before the Emperor in the most elegant manner and take a step forward, Liu Zhongming has only one option.

Or perhaps, ever since Yu Dexi mentioned the phrase “Bing Dilian,” a chasm has opened up in front of Liu Zhongming.

In the past, if Liao Guangming had held onto Pan He, Liu Zhongming could have pretended to be ignorant and at most would have taken more time and detours to get around it.

But now that Pan He is already in his hands, if Liu Zhongming tries to back out, there is only one possibility in the Emperor’s eyes – that Liu Zhongming already knows the Emperor’s most unmentionable secret.

Either he will use innocent blood and flesh to pave the way forward.

Or he will fall into the abyss.

At that time, Liu Zhongming will probably suffer a more miserable fate than Pan He does now.

At that time, even if the Liu family sacrifices Liu Zhongming’s life, it may not be enough to calm this storm.

This is the only path left.

“As the saying goes, the general who wins a battle loses many soldiers…” Liu Zhongming opened his palm on the silk quilt, staring at his hand as it slowly closed, and whispered, “Chenzhou, I don’t know what others will say about me in the future, but I have decided to do it.”

Even if he becomes a wicked person, he will raise his butcher knife against defenseless women and children.

Qu Chenzhou turned his hand over and held Liu Zhongming’s hand tightly, his voice strained.

“Zhongming, I’m sorry… If I had known that things would develop to this point…”

He had never been on a battlefield and did not know the feeling of killing, but he understood better than anyone else the taste of slaughter, where living people are wrapped in sticky blood and turned into a pile of dead flesh.

Fear and nausea make people tremble in madness. 

He witnessed the people in front of the Hall of Central Harmony being torn apart by the rain of arrows, falling ill and unable to eat without vomiting. 

And this time, Liu Zhongming took on this burden. 

“Don’t talk nonsense.” 

Liu Zhongming still spoke gently, as if the suffering and turmoil of those days and nights had never existed and would never show up in front of people. “You have already done your best. The rest should be mine.” 

Liu Zhongming counted Qu Chenzhou’s fingers one by one, feeling that as long as he felt this warmth, he could keep moving forward on this unclear path and would not look around in confusion. 

“Chenzhou, I have thought about it many times. Why did Gonggong suddenly mention the Bing Dilian to me at that crucial moment?” 

Qu Chenzhou thought back for a moment about the “crucial moment” when Pan He had already committed the offense and that day when Zhongming went into the palace and reported to the emperor about the silver money that Pan He had kept in the fleet. 

He had never thought about this detail before. 

Now that Liu Zhongming reminded him, he grasped the extremely subtle reason. 

“The accounts…” 

“Yes, the accounts. Since I submitted the accounts to the emperor, he knew that I had embezzled Pan He’s money,” Liu Zhongming stared out the window, at the darkest time before dawn. 

“Pan He shouldn’t have had so much money even if he was greedy. That money was originally allocated by the emperor to support his children born of sin.” 

“Not only that,” Qu Chenzhou added, “but also the annual search for people.” 

Liu Zhongming nodded, smiling slightly. 

“The Liu family has always been what the emperor hopes to control. Now that there is finally a greedy Liu Zhongming, the emperor must be very happy. Is this the price of greed? Chenzhou, if I become a person who is extremely wicked in the future…” 

“No!” Qu Chenzhou suddenly raised his head and kissed his lips. “As long as I am here, I won’t let you…” 

“It’s good that you are here,” Liu Zhongming leaned down and pressed him onto the pillow. “As long as you are here, I am not afraid of anything.” 

Author’s note: umm, yesterday’s statement about actively taking off the mask wasn’t quite accurate. It should be said that Zhongming wanted to take it off, and he couldn’t avoid it, so he might as well take it off. So of course, Zhongming recalls it!

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