Chapter 144: Demon
The person next to him forcefully pulled Liu Zhongming and gave him a hard slap on the face. “What’s the use of going back now? Are you going to accompany them in burial? It’s too late!”
Liu Zhongming knew he was in a dream and knew he should remind himself that it was all not real, all fake. His family is alive and well, and the home he grew up in was not burnt to ashes.
But when he really saw it, he couldn’t help but cry uncontrollably, unable to control himself. The ones who were brutally killed and bleeding out of sight were all his family members.
Even nightmares weren’t this real, this terrifying, with every breath feeling like a knife cutting into his flesh.
“Let’s go! Hurry!” Fang Wuyang pushed him onto a horse like a madman, the horse whip cracking as the city gate slowly closed behind them.
“This is a dream…this is a dream…”
Liu Zhongming laid on the horse’s back, looking around in a daze as the ground flew by under his feet. He felt like an empty shell without a soul, trying desperately to open his eyes and force himself to wake up.
“This is not a dream!” Fang Wuyang rode parallel to him, pulling on his reins with one hand and sternly scolding him. “Sit up straight! The guilty will have to pay, and if you die here, no one will be able to avenge the Liu family!”
The word “avenge” suddenly awakened Liu Zhongming.
“He saved me!” He suddenly sat up like a madman. “He saved me!”
He finally remembered. Qu Chenzhou had said to him, “Before the day after tomorrow, wait for my message at Nianhua shop.”
If he had not been waiting in front of Nianhua shop early, perhaps his body would be burning in the thick smoke now.
Liu Zhongming went crazy, his tears still wet on his face, but he laughed out loud. “He saved me!”
He suddenly snatched the reins back, pulled the horse’s head, and was about to turn around when Fang Wuyang stopped him.
“Liu Zhongming! If you want to die, you better do it now and get lost! We risked our lives to save you, and now you want to throw it all away?”
“Fang Wuyang… but I have to go find him…”
Liu Zhongming’s entire body was trembling, and he could barely stay on the horse. “He… he’s still in the palace. I told him I’d come back for him… he must still be waiting for me to return…”
“Who do you want to go find?” Fang Wuyang roared at him. “Is there anyone more important than avenging your entire family? Think about your father, your mother, your younger brother! Do you want their deaths to be in vain?”
Liu Zhongming covered his face and wept bitterly. He couldn’t separate himself from this body, nor could he soberly escape from here.
The dream was so vivid that he felt like he had really lost all his family members, and from now on he was alone, full of pain and hatred, with no other concerns.
Tears remained in his mouth, bitter and acrid, like a taste he had licked countless times during moments of joy and love.
Suddenly, he put his palm in his mouth and bit down hard, suddenly waking up. Tears were still streaming down his face, and he was still gasping for breath, but everything around him had changed.
It was indeed a nightmare. He had woken up, and the icy coldness on his face was not tears, but the rain pouring down from the sky.
He lifted himself off the horse’s back and saw Bai Shiyan galloping towards him in the distance. He relaxed a little and was about to greet him.
“What are you doing?” Fang Wuyang still held him back. “Run! Run!”
Only then did he realize that his whole body was soaked by the rain, and Bai Shiyan, covered in mud, was approaching with a killing intent.
“Liu Zhongming!” Fang Wuyang roared beside him, “Move! Move!”
It was still the familiar nightmare, but now it was happening so vividly in front of him.
Before Liu Zhongming could scream in agony, he heard the sound of bowstrings, and three arrows were released at once.
The white stone boulder in front of him only blocked the first two arrows, and fell to the ground with the third arrow piercing through its chest.
He couldn’t hold back his hysterical screams anymore, “No…”
“Wake up,” someone gently shook him, “Second brother, wake up.”
Liu Zhongming suddenly opened his eyes, and saw the canopy above his head. His rapid breathing gradually slowed down as he felt his tear and sweat-stained face.
After a moment of hesitation, he slowly sat up, holding onto the blanket. This was not his bedroom, it was a strange room. The only familiar face in front of him was Bai Shilei.
“Shilei…” He had struggled in the endless nightmare for too long. His voice was hoarse and rough when he spoke, “I just dreamed of Bai Shiyan.”
Bai Shilei’s hand trembled as he held the teacup, spilling most of the tea onto the brocade quilt.
“What’s wrong?” Liu Zhongming’s gaze suddenly lifted.
Bai Shilei suddenly dropped the teacup, half-kneeling at the edge of the bed, burying his head in the blanket, silently sobbing.
Liu Zhongming had a bad feeling in his heart, “Shilei, what’s wrong…could it be…”
He looked at Bai Shilei’s hands, which were now those of a young man, not the hands of the boy in his memory. He couldn’t help but tremble – it was still a dream, the endless nightmare.
Or, this was actually the world of his real life, where everyone was already gone.
Bai Shilei knelt down, crying hysterically.
“I also dreamt of my brother, and my parents! I dream of them every day! Even in my dreams, I see them covered in blood, asking me why I haven’t avenged them!”
Liu Zhongming was struck by lightning, murmuring after a long silence, “Uncle and Aunt…”
There was no escaping from everything, he could no longer be an outsider.
Rather than being trapped in this nightmare, it was more like the peaceful and serene days were just his illusions.
In his illusions, he still lived in the other courtyard, and could still occasionally visit the Marquis Mansion to see that his father and brother were doing well, his second uncle would occasionally joke around, and his aunt had given birth to a younger brother.
In that illusion, he met someone who made his heart beat faster, and they came together for the future of the Bai and Liu families.
He loved and cherished that little fox so much, he wished he could carry him in his mouth every day and lick his soft and smooth fur.
Gradually, Bai Shiyan, his father, and his uncle stood behind him, and later, many things happened, even Ling He, Rong Jiuan, and Jiang Xingzhi were brought in.
His hands were stained with the blood of innocent women and children, just to take another step towards Jinxiu Ying.
Liu Zhongming looked at his empty hands and asked hoarsely, “Chen…Chenzhou…?”
This name thoroughly pierced Bai Shilei, he raised his head in astonishment, roaring with endless hatred.
“Why are you still calling his name! Why are you still mentioning him! Hasn’t he killed enough people!”
Liu Zhongming’s heart seemed to be cut into pieces, and there was nothing left in his chest to beat – it turned out that now was the reality, and he really had nothing left.
“It can’t be him…he saved me, he must have some difficult circumstances to explain. I have to go ask him,” he muttered, trying to get out of bed, but his legs were shaking so much that he couldn’t even put on his shoes.
“He needs me now…he has no one by his side, I have to go find him.” he said.
“Liu Zhongming!” Bai Shilei roared at him. “What difficulties does he have? Don’t you see how proud he is now? How high he stands? It’s all built on the pile of corpses of our two families!”
“He’s just a treacherous slave! You kindly helped him and supported him, but how did he repay you? If he hadn’t informed the emperor, could the emperor have laid a hand on the Liu family?”
“What about the Bai family? Who forced him? The people in the palace heard him say that the Bai family would rebel!”
“He’s just guilty and nervous, he won’t even spare eldest sister! How could eldest sister, who’s in the cold palace, have a child?”
“He’s supposed to be good at divination and calculation, how come he couldn’t predict the rebellion led by Huai Wang this time? He’s obviously colluding with Huai Wang! He killed Eldest Sister, and let Huai Wang take advantage of the chaos and take over the palace!”
“Don’t you see how successful he is now? How did he get to where he is now? Can’t you see it?” Bai Shilei grabbed his collar and shouted hoarsely, “Lin Xiang is dead, Rong Jiuan and Ling He both died at his hands! Can’t you see what kind of person he is? A corrupt court official causing disaster for the country! That demon was raised by your own hands!”
“He knows nothing about propriety, justice, integrity, and shame. He only knows how to climb up!”
Liu Zhongming’s mind was blank, sitting on the bed in a daze, watching despair and pain gradually engulf him.
He had indeed remembered everything, and could no longer deceive himself.
Qu Chenzhou had betrayed him.
Everyone knew that it was only by luck that he had escaped the Marquis Mansion, but only he knew that it was Qu Chenzhou’s divination that had saved his life.
But it was also Qu Sitian’s divination that caused the Liu family’s blood to flow like a river.
On one side was the inscrutable Qu Chenzhou, on the other was the lives of thousands of people in the Liu family. In his overwhelming grief, he struggled to forgive Qu Chenzhou, but the screams and cries were like a raging fire, burning him alive.
There was nowhere to vent the pain and despair.
If that was all, it would have been enough. But with the fall of the Bai family, the death of his sister, the forced abdication of the king, and the expulsion and slaughter of countless loyal ministers and generals, he had to face the reality.
He had indeed raised a demon, a demon that enjoyed manipulating people, trampling on countless corpses, and finally climbing to the pinnacle of power.
He was also the executioner holding the slaughter knife.
All those disjointed fragments that could not be put together, all the truths that Qu Chenzhou had concealed, were suddenly revealed.
It was like experiencing a sea change in an instant. The boiling magma gradually cooled down, without anger, without loss, without sadness, without despair.
Liu Zhongming didn’t know how long he had been sitting there in a daze, but finally he forced himself to remember that he should not be here. This was the illusion of his past life.
The real him is still in the battlefield. He had thought he could stay calm and composed with Qu Chenzhou, but he never expected to be nothing more than a pawn in the other’s hands.
The inscrutable look in Huai Wang’s eyes was particularly mocking, and he couldn’t remain trapped here.
He didn’t know his sister’s situation, and Bai Shiyan’s whereabouts were still unknown. He had to quickly find his friend – no matter what Qu Chenzhou had said before, he must not listen, absolutely must not listen!
He bit his palm, feeling no pain, and then pulled out his sword from the bedside. The gleaming blade reflected his indifferent eyes, slowly sinking down and pressing against his chest.
Grudges now and then.
Qu Chenzhou, let’s fight to the death!
When Liu Zhongming suddenly opened his eyes, night had fallen, and he didn’t know when he had fallen asleep on his stomach.
Before his nose was a smooth stone table, reflecting the warm red candlelight under the eaves. The imperial physician was retracting his hand and standing cautiously to the side, watching him.
“Your Highness… Did you have a nightmare?”
He fiercely bit his finger, the pain piercing to his core. Without time to catch his breath, he immediately looked at the physician.
This physician was someone from Liu Qingru’s side, and naturally familiar with him. However, it was the first time the physician had seen him with such a fierce and sharp gaze, like that of a wolf or a knife, and couldn’t help but shiver.
“Shizi, the imperial concubine has been pregnant for over a month, but she was frightened and needs to be observed for two more days to determine if the fetus is stable. The Emperor is both happy and anxious, and he said he will come to visit the concubine later.”
“Can you estimate my sister’s situation?” He had no confidence in the words of the doctor.
The doctor hesitated, but seeing the Shizi’s anxious expression, he could only say, “Your Highness, please rest assured, the concubine is healthy and there will be no problems.”
Stroking his forehead and wiping away a thin layer of sweat, Liu Zhongming looked around and saw not only the guards from the royal hunting ground but also the Dragon Cavalry.
“Is there any news from the North Bureau?”
The doctor bowed and stepped back, and someone stepped forward and led him to the side, whispering, “Your Highness, we have sent people to inquire several times, but General Bai has not returned. However…”
The man looked back and a Dragon Cavalry immediately stepped forward.
Liu Zhongming recognized him as one of Bai Shiyan’s personal guards.
“Shizi,” the guard arched his hand and stepped forward, “General Bai set out with his men around noon and has not returned yet. Most of the brothers who went with him have returned. They said that General Bai gave orders to split up at the fork in the road when they were searching the mountains.”
“You mean…Bai Shiyan went alone? Where did he go?”
Liu Zhongming saw the guard holding a sachet in his hand and his heart tightened.
In late spring this year, he and Qu Chenzhou sunned the parasol flowers together, and the embroidery room made these sachets specifically for a few people to carry.
“Where did you find that?”
The soldier quickly replied, “Your Highness was anxious, and we were also worried. We searched everywhere and someone accidentally found this thing on the table that the General had left behind. Please take a look…”
Liu Zhongming inserted his fingers into the sachet and took out a piece of paper.
Before he even unfolded the note, his heart had already sunk to the bottom.
Since this note was not written by him, there was only one other person who could have written it. If this had happened before, he would have felt at ease, but now he only felt fear.
“At the hour of Wei, come to the south of North Prospect Hill – Zhongming.”
The handwriting was clearly his own, even the word “zhi” was written exactly the same.
Author’s note: A little SPOILER after the night of the Qianghuo, Chenzhou had already sensed the crack in their trust. Therefore, before Liu Zhongming deliberately left behind the ring, Chenzhou had already made ample preparations for this fall from the horse.
This was his style of doing things, being ruthless to others and to himself, but everything was within his expectations, just like calmly going to his death at the beginning of the story.