Chapter 156: Passage
As soon as Liu Zhongming entered the door and bypassed the screen wall, Bai Shilei had already received the news and hurriedly came out to greet him.
“Second Brother! It’s been a long time since you last came!” He was a hundred times more enthusiastic than usual. “Come, my mother mentioned you just now. Let’s go and accompany her!”
Liu Zhongming halted his steps and ignored Bai Shilei’s pulling. “Where is Shiyan?”
Bai Shilei’s tongue seemed to be twisted. “Ah… M-My brother… he’s not doing so well…”
“Not doing well?” Liu Zhongming asked with a cold face. “Is he dead?”
“No…” Bai Shilei knew he couldn’t fool him.
“That’s good. I’ll find him,” Liu Zhongming brushed him aside. “Apologize to Auntie for me and tell her I’ll visit her another day.”
Bai Shilei stumbled back a couple of steps, glanced at Second Brother Liu’s sharp gaze, and wisely muttered a response. How could he dare to go to his mother and report anything?
Liu Zhongming had more freedom coming and going from the Bai family than from the Marquis’s residence, so naturally no one stopped him. He pushed open the door to the bedroom, and a strong medicinal scent rushed at him along with the heat from the charcoal brazier, making it difficult to breathe.
After closing the door, when he turned around, the person lying sideways on the bed had already propped himself up, seemingly unsurprised by his arrival.
“Shiyan,” he dragged a chair to the bedside and sat down, asking, “How is your recovery?”
Bai Shiyan hadn’t expected their conversation to be so calm, as if nothing had happened before. He was stunned for a moment before replying, “It’s nothing major, just frostbite, but not severe. I’ll be able to stop taking medicine in another half a month.”
Liu Zhongming nodded. “That’s good.”
Bai Shiyan felt somewhat at a loss. He knew his good friend would come to hold him accountable sooner or later, but the awkward atmosphere now was worse than a direct scolding.
He was about to say something when he heard Liu Zhongming say, “Chenzhou went to the palace this morning, escorted by Jingchen.”
“So soon!” The words slipped out of his mouth, and he immediately realized he had let something slip.
The causes and consequences of this whole affair, and even the ultimate purpose, Qu Chenzhou had told him in great detail.
And now, seeing Liu Zhongming face this outcome with such calmness, it was one thing to hide it, but his attitude made people feel a chill down their spines.
“Zhongming,” although he didn’t regret it, Bai Shiyan was still guilty in his heart. He cautiously asked, “Chenzhou… went to the palace… for what?”
Liu Zhongming kept his eyes lowered, staring blankly at his own hands, without uttering a word.
Bai Shiyan regretted even more now. He knew that Liu Zhongming was meticulous in his thinking. Since he had come to ask this question, he probably knew something. How could he possibly deceive him?
Chenzhou had also said that as long as he could keep it hidden for a while, once Liu Zhongming calmed down, he would eventually discover some loopholes.
Thinking it over, Bai Shiyan pondered that since Chenzhou had already entered the palace, even Liu Zhongming couldn’t change anything. Moreover, Qu Chenzhou had instructed him before, at this stage, it didn’t matter whether he confessed the truth or not.
No matter what memories or reactions Liu Zhongming had, he had to ask him to take care of them.
Liu Zhongming still kept his head down.
The former confident and proud Li Shiziu, who was always self-assured, seemed to have had his soul drained away, leaving behind only a hollow shell, neither happy nor sad.
“I know, he went to be the Si Tian Guan… He mentioned it to me before, and I didn’t agree… but in the end, he still went…”
Liu Zhongming’s dry lips trembled. “I also know his abilities. It would have been simple for him to persuade you. Shiyan… I don’t blame you. I just want to know what Chenzhou said to you.”
His voice was choked with uncontrollable emotions, completely different from the raging anger Bai Shiyan had imagined. It was more like a plea.
“Shiyan, tell me, what did Chenzhou say to you?”
Bai Shiyan had a splitting headache. He didn’t have a clever and astute mind, so he couldn’t understand what had happened between the two brothers.
After careful consideration for a long time, he finally spoke cautiously.
“Zhongming, don’t blame Chenzhou either. Throughout this whole ordeal, it was indeed his idea, and he begged me not to tell you, all for your sake.”
“He said that although the Emperor favored Eldest Sister because of the sin-born child, he still keeps you in a state of uncertainty by using the Jinxiu Ying. It’s because the Shizi hasn’t intervened much in the matter of the sin-born child, and the Emperor has always had the upper hand in this matter.”
“Most of the chips are still in Jinping Village. It requires a strong measure to make the Emperor rely more on you. The best way is to eliminate all those sin-born children, leaving none behind.”
Liu Zhongming supported his forehead with his hand, half-covering his eyes, his shoulders trembling slightly. But he quickly waved his hand, indicating Bai Shiyan to continue speaking.
Bai Shiyan had never seen him like this before, and it was unbearable to witness his suffering.
“Chenzhou said that the Eldest Sister is intelligent and good at seizing opportunities. If he didn’t misjudge, she should already be with child. The palace is treacherous, and if she wants to safely give birth to this child, relying solely on those outside the palace is not foolproof.”
“So… so you still need someone who can have influence closest to the Emperor. He is the best candidate.”
“But he said that everyone knows he is from the Shizi’s household. If he goes directly to the Emperor’s side, once the Emperor becomes suspicious, not only will the Liu family lose the chance to compete for the throne, but the Emperor may even develop murderous intentions.”
“So he came to ask me…”
“He said that someday, perhaps you will turn against him. When that time comes, he would ask me to save him and then use Jingchen’s help to send him up there.”
“He also said that if you resent and hate him, you can settle the score after everything settles down. The most important thing now is…”
“Resent and hate him…” Liu Zhongming finally choked out, “I resent and hate him?”
Bai Shiyan was at a loss. “Zhongming, although Chenzhou deceived you, you also caused him serious injuries. Even if it’s considered even… you owe Chenzhou. Now that things have come to this point, don’t let his heartfelt efforts go to waste…”
“Shiyan, I remember now. I remember what happened in the past.”
“Ah?” Bai Shiyan was momentarily bewildered, but quickly reacted and exclaimed in shock, “What do you remember?”
“You understand! Did Chenzhou tell you something else?” Liu Zhongming’s eyes were bloodshot, and his lips trembled. “Did he tell you something else? His past life! Did he? Those things involve me! Otherwise, why would you hide it from me too? Did he?”
At this point, Bai Shiyan couldn’t hide anymore and could only answer truthfully, “Yes…”
He dared not meet his friend’s pleading gaze and turned his gaze away.
“He said that he is actually Qu Chenzhou, in his past life as well. By a fortunate coincidence, he was sent into the palace as the Si Tian Guan by Pan He.”
“Many people humiliated and belittled him. It was you who taught him, supported him, and helped him rise from being a worthless slave. Without you, there would be no Qu Chenzhou as he is today.”
“But he said he was sorry to you. Not only did he cause the downfall of the Liu family and the Bai family, but he also felt guilty towards you.”
The words that followed were difficult for Bai Shiyan to say: “He thought… that dying by your hands would be redemption for his sins, but he never expected to return to being fourteen years old again… You know what happened afterwards…”
“Guilty towards me…” Liu Zhongming’s feeble resistance was finally completely shattered by these words. “He said he feels guilty towards me?”
Bai Shiyan was taken aback by his sudden hysteria and quickly jumped off the bed to support him. “Zhongming! Zhongming!”
Liu Zhongming could barely stand, kneeling on the ground and curling up into a ball.
“Shiyan,” he trembled like a lost young beast in the dark abyss, facing endless darkness. “I remember… everything from the past, I remember it all!”
Bai Shiyan’s face turned pale. This was the thing Qu Chenzhou least wanted to happen, but in the end, the memories that he had been vague about were finally recalled.
“Everything… I remember everything,” Liu Zhongming confirmed.
Suddenly, he felt grateful that Qu Chenzhou had left Bai Shiyan behind, allowing him a place to cry without restraint.
“Did he tell you that the Emperor asked him to divine for me, and when he refused to reveal the divination, he was subjected to the punishment of drugs? When he was on the verge of death, he was still calling out my name!”
“I was able to escape from the calamity because he left me a way to survive. He saved me at the cost of his life, but I kept hating him all along!”
“But I thought he had changed. I thought he was greedy for fame and climbed up by sacrificing others. I never thought about how he was living in the palace!”
“I never thought that he would endure humiliation and make sacrifices for me, while all I wanted was to kill him!”
“He waited for me his whole life, but I refused to listen to a word of his defense. He suffered insults for me, but what did I do?”
“I made people drag him through the streets, subjected him to months of torture in prison, and finally hung his body in the busy market.”
“What guilt does he have towards me? It has always been me who owes him! It has always been… me who owes him…”
“I never truly believed in him. If only I could have trusted him a little more, then maybe…”
Bai Shiyan’s heart pounded as he listened. In the midst of all these events, there were some things that Qu Chenzhou hadn’t told him, and he never imagined that Qu Chenzhou would die in such a tragic manner.
Recalling Qu Chenzhou’s pleas from before, he found his throat choked up, unable to utter a single word of comfort to Liu Zhongming.
Is the past truly in the past? No, it isn’t.
As long as these two people remember, it can never truly be considered the past.
Liu Zhongming knew he couldn’t raise his voice, he knew he couldn’t lose control. His world was already collapsing like sand, but he desperately tried to hold himself together.
“Shiyan, he said he would never regret dying for me! I didn’t believe him, I never believed him!”
“He waited for me and longed for me in our past lives, and now he watches over me day and night, unable to say anything, enduring my suspicions and torment!”
“I promised him twice to give him a peaceful life, but what have I given him?”
“I promised him twice to marry him grandly,” Liu Zhongming finally broke down, gripping his clothes tightly, sobbing silently. “I am worse than a beast…”
Bai Shiyan felt a sour and bitter sensation at the tip of his nose. He didn’t know what to do, so he could only crouch silently on the side and wait.
“Still alive,” he said softly. “Chenzhou said we are still alive, and that is a good thing.”
Liu Zhongming’s hands supported him on the ground as he stared at the gradually drying circle of moisture, suddenly remembering something and asking sternly, “Shiyan! Why didn’t you give him the antidote? Why didn’t you give it to him? Do you know that he almost died?”
“It was Chenzhou’s own request. He said that as long as he could endure for two more days, he would be freed from the night of Shuo ye.”
“The way he… the way he was…” Liu Zhongming knew better than anyone how those injuries came about. His eyes reddened suddenly. “He… he didn’t make it…”
“Chenzhou said,” Bai Shiyan looked at his friend, who seemed somewhat crazed, but fearing that hiding something would be an even bigger mistake, he could only speak softly, “he said that if he didn’t make it, please prepare a small coffin for him and give him a proper burial, so he won’t have to go through it all over again.”
Liu Zhongming felt as if he had been struck by lightning, losing all semblance of soul. Even the tears that welled up in his eyes gradually dried up.
“Th-thank… thank you… I understand…” He staggered to his feet, stumbling over his words. “I’ll… stay for a while longer. I can’t go out like this…”
Bai Shiyan supported him and, seeing his dazed expression, then reluctantly spoke again. “Zhongming, Chenzhou had something else he wanted me to tell you.”
At this moment, only this name could bring Liu Zhongming back to a semblance of sanity amidst the chaos.
“What… did he say? Is it a message for me?”
“Chenzhou said that no matter whether you remember the past or how much you remember, now is not the time to be downcast.”
“I went to Beiwang Slope not because of that note. Zhongming, I’m sorry… Although he wrote that note, I carried it with me and kept it specifically for you to find.”
Liu Zhongming suddenly woke up in horror, recalling the strangeness that had flashed through his anxious mind before.
Among the manpower who went to hunting grounds, there were no personnel that Qu Chenzhou could mobilize. In the midst of his urgency, he hadn’t considered who delivered the note to Bai Shiyan.
Without a moment’s hesitation, he placed all the blame on Chenzhou.
He dared not think about whether Chenzhou would rejoice at how easily he fell into the trap when they intercepted people at Shili Pavilion, or if he would bitterly smile—the trust between them was so fragile.
“Ren Rui was at Beiwang Slope at that time. I encountered him on a narrow road, and he definitely wouldn’t miss that opportunity. Chenzhou said for me to escape south and find life in death.”
“When Chenzhou came to my place, I took him to see Ren Rui. He said that if Ren Rui couldn’t find me, he would expand the search area and would inevitably encounter Jinping Village. With Ren Rui’s character, Jinping Village couldn’t escape unscathed.”
“After I returned to the capital, I heard that Ren Rui captured the heads of the former residents of Liequ. Zhongming, by now, you should also know who those people are.”
“Ren Rui handled things well. It will take some time before anyone discovers what happened at Jinping Village. This fuse is waiting for Chenzhou to ignite. Jinping Village has significant connections to the Emperor. By then, it won’t just be Ren Rui; Qi Wang will also be unable to escape.”
“With the entire army wiped out and you having people and money, not to mention being the only informed person in the court, the Emperor can rely on no one but you.”
“Now is a critical moment to move forward. You must not let emotions cloud your judgment and must seize the present.”
Tears flowed down Liu Zhongming’s face, only to be slowly wiped away.
Someone risked their life, took the lead, and fought their way out, forging a path forward. He had no right to cry and wallow in self-pity from behind.
“I… understand,” he reached into his pocket and pulled out a wooden hairpin, touched it gently, and then handed it over.
“When you see Chenzhou again, give this to him personally and tell him that I remember everything… I am the one who owes him an apology.”
“If there’s anything I can do…”
He choked for a moment, unsure of what he could do now to mend those wounds.
“Tell him… to take care.”
Bai Shiyan took a look at the simple wooden hairpin. On one side, it was carved with the character “Ming,” and on the other side, it was carved with the character “Zhou.”
When he looked up again, he only saw Liu Zhongming’s staggering figure walking away.
Author’s note: I’m breaking the fourth wall here, so no double updates. Haha!
By the way, I remember flipping back dozens of chapters, and it was clearly stated that Jiang Chen would have a bittersweet ending, but here’s some good news—Ling Rong will have a happy ending. Since there’s no reason for them to have a bittersweet ending based on the story’s development, they will follow their own path. I’ll faithfully record it as it naturally unfolds.