There was someone.
Instinctively, Fu Nian pulled up his collar to cover most of his face.
Just as he was about to use his arms to flip over onto the roof, another blade came from behind. Although Fu Nian managed to dodge quickly, his lack of a prosthetic limb limited his movements, and his ear was grazed, leaving a bloody mark.
Braving the wind and rain, Fu Nian crawled onto the roof beam.
The throwing blade had come from the east.
Through observation, he hadn’t noticed any movement from the east.
The sound of rain was too loud, and it was nearly impossible to hear anything beyond the sound of raindrops. Fu Nian crouched low, hoping to discern the direction of footsteps through the conduction of the roof tiles.
After realizing this, Fu Nian quickly turned his head, evading the attack of two concealed projectiles.
“Shadow Guard? Which team do you belong to? I don’t recall assigning anyone to guard near the sleeping palace.”
Before he could steady himself, Fu Nian heard a familiar and recognizable voice not far away.
The current chief of the Shadow Guards by Chu Zhaoyi’s side.
“Answer truthfully, or die—”
Fu Nian didn’t give the person a chance to finish. He immediately pulled out the throwing blade that had just been thrown at him from the roof tile and swiftly returned it.
While throwing the blade, Fu Nian leveraged the momentum to stand up slightly. In doing so, he saw that the other person hadn’t dodged the flying blades at all. Two bloody holes appeared on his shoulder as he continued charging towards Fu Nian.
Fu Nian didn’t waste any time and used both his hands and feet to leap toward the opposite building.
This guy was really ruthless. He didn’t dodge the close-range flying blades, gambling on whether they would pierce through his tendons or even his heart.
The footsteps behind Fu Nian gradually became clearer amidst the sound of the rain.
Knowing he couldn’t outrun a two-legged chase, Fu Nian quickly scanned his surroundings, searching for a hiding spot.
Before he could make his next move, he heard a “swish” sound from above.
Clearly, this time the other person was intentionally holding back, indicating that they didn’t want to kill him.
“Who are you? Your throwing blade technique suggests that you’re a palace Shadow Guard. Given that you’re not armed and don’t seem to be attempting an assassination, I advise you to answer truthfully. It would be best if you didn’t move.”
Fu Nian heard the sound of the person loading a crossbow bolt.
Engaging in close combat unarmed with an opponent, especially a Shadow Guard who could summon nearby colleagues at any moment, was not an advantageous situation for Fu Nian. He wasn’t afraid of getting hurt; he was concerned about getting caught in a situation he couldn’t extricate himself from if he was spotted.
“Answer truthfully, and there’s still a possibility of sparing your life.” Chu Yao’s voice was cold, almost commanding, as he barked at the unexpected guest before him.
Fu Nian still didn’t move, but he turned slightly. While his collar hid his face, he used his peripheral vision to assess the terrain and plan an escape route.
He had intended to leave just like that, but unexpectedly, as he turned, he caught sight of the dagger in Chu Yao’s hand.
Upon seeing that small curved blade, Fu Nian’s motion to turn was halted.
It was the one Chu Zhaoyi had given him back then—not the sharpest and most practical, but it was the first gift Fu Nian had received from Chu Zhaoyi after pledging his loyalty. It wasn’t a reward; it was a gift. Under the edge of this small blade, countless souls of those who deserved to die had met their end during Fu Nian’s time as a Shadow Guard.
When he was under house arrest before leaving the palace, all sharp objects on Fu Nian had been confiscated, let alone knives and blades. When he left the palace, he had only taken the stipend he had earned over the years from the accountant, and nothing else.
This blade, even if it were discarded or thrown to the dogs, was still better than letting the next chief of the Shadow Guards wield it…
Looking at the blade, Fu Nian stood up resolutely. His face was obscured by his collar, but his severed limb was exposed fully before the person in front of him.
“You…” Chu Yao took a step back instinctively after seeing clearly. His gaze was filled with disbelief.
Subconsciously, Fu Nian thought he heard the person mutter “Fu Nian” softly.
In a sudden burst of motion, Fu Nian lunged toward the person holding the blade, reaching out to seize the Fuguang Blade.
Unexpectedly, Fu Nian managed to take it effortlessly. Chu Yao seemed to have turned to stone, standing frozen in place.
Seeing that the person wasn’t pursuing him, Fu Nian didn’t linger.
As he leaped off the eaves, Fu Nian suddenly remembered that “Fu Nian” had been dead for a long time.
Meeting a dead person in the middle of the night… Fu Nian thought for a moment, finding it quite eerie.
Fortunately, Chu Yao hadn’t seen his face. Even if he did mention it, he would at most say that he saw “Fu Nian” coming back to life near the sleeping palace.
Fu Nian didn’t dwell on it.
After all, who would believe the story of coming back to life?
On the way back to Wenmei Hall, Fu Nian noticed that there were many ground lamps near the palace road. They were covered by semi-closed glass shades to prevent the rain from extinguishing them while ensuring proper ventilation.
Fu Nian couldn’t help but be curious. After changing his clothes indoors and stowing away the Fuguang Blade he had taken, he asked Gao Gonggong, “Gao Gonggong, those ground lamps on the way back… They weren’t there a few nights ago.”
After asking, Fu Nian noticed that the professional smile that had been plastered on Gao Gonggong’s face had frozen.
However, he quickly forced a smile once more. “Today is… a certain very loyal nobleman’s memorial day by the Emperor’s side. Or rather, it can’t exactly be called a memorial day…” Gao Gonggong struggled with his words.
“It’s okay, I’ve asked too much. I apologize.” It was time for Fu Nian to close his mouth.
It wasn’t that he wasn’t curious.
He realized that it was likely his own memorial day, so there was no need to ask further. Otherwise, Chu Yao wouldn’t have been so terrified upon seeing the fragmented figure.
But it’s just right. You don’t have to worry about exposing your identity. Returning from the dead on the anniversary, it’s quite normal, it’s written like that in the stories, Fu Nian thought and he felt relieved.
“At your age, curiosity is a good thing,” Gao Gonggong agreed. “By the way, Ze Wang gave you some rewards earlier. Besides the medicinal herbs given by the Imperial Physicians, the rest is in a box in the side room. Here’s the key, keep it safe.”
“Thank you, Gonggong,” Fu Nian took the small key and casually tucked it away.
“By the way, that wheelchair you mentioned before, the one you said you wouldn’t need because you could stand—well, I reported it to His Majesty, and he instructed the Palace Attendants Office to have a set of prosthetic limbs made for you. They should be ready in a few days.”
Upon hearing these words, Fu Nian was momentarily lost, unsure if he should be shocked or pleased. He even forgot to blink.
Seeing that Fu Nian seemed confused, Gao Gonggong continued to explain, “They are artificial limbs that can replace hands and legs. I’ve seen a few esteemed gentlemen among the Imperial Guards using them before. They offer full mobility, just like natural limbs, and they are even more durable than regular flesh and blood. His Majesty truly cares for you, and you should be delighted.”
Fu Nian took a while to react. “Thank you to His Majesty. I am indeed happy, I just didn’t process it immediately.”
After saying that, Fu Nian forced a smile to his lips, signaling that he was attempting to smile.
There were several guards in the palace who had physical impairments, and even more among the Imperial Guards. However, due to the cost of prosthetic limbs, only those with exceptional achievements were privileged to have the Imperial Craftsmen create prosthetics for them.
“Also, Ze Wang wanted me to inquire whether, after your recovery, you intend to stay or…”
“I will remain in the palace. His Majesty has granted me prosthetic limbs. It would be ungrateful to leave abruptly. Although my hands and feet are gone, my martial skills remain intact, and I can still serve as a guard in the palace,” Fu Nian stated firmly.
Although he spoke that way, in reality, he had yet to investigate the palace and find the benefactor who had planted the gu in him. He couldn’t leave just yet.
“Very well, I’ll inform Ze Wang of your decision tomorrow.”
Fu Nian didn’t say anything further.
After the curtains on the bed were lowered, Fu Nian retrieved the Fuguang Blade from under the blanket.
Staring at the blade in his hand, Fu Nian began to reflect on why he had impulsively snatched it.
He had left the palace voluntarily. He had voluntarily left Chu Zhaoyi. Even now, he had not returned to rekindle past affections. Getting his head stuck in the crook of Chu Zhaoyi’s arm earlier was merely muscle memory—it could only be considered an accident.
The token of their past affection—it didn’t matter who wanted it now. Why did he have to make such a fuss…
“The books say that in this profession, we should not form attachments to people, but we must certainly care for our close-combat weapons as if they were our own lives.” As he thought, Fu Nian recalled a line from a book he had read in his childhood and blurted it out.
After saying that, Fu Nian felt that it made a lot of sense. He looked at the small blade in his hand and, feeling quite justified, he placed the recently reclaimed “beloved weapon” back into his embrace.
“During the initial adjustment period of the joint bearings, there might be some slight discomfort, and there will be a period of adaptation. However, rest assured, although these prosthetics appear delicate, they are undoubtedly sturdy,” the imperial physician explained while adjusting the newly crafted prosthetic limbs for Fu Nian.
Fu Nian remained still, afraid that any movement might make the physician’s work more challenging.
The new prosthetics were also made of stone.
However, the quality was clearly not as agile and lightweight as the previous set. After all, there was a significant difference between rare stones and common ones.
Fu Nian lightly touched the hard surface of his right leg; it was probably made from granite. Though heavy, it was undoubtedly durable.
“You can stand up now and try walking. The mobility of your leg limbs is quite unrestricted, but your hand limbs might experience some limitation in gripping strength. Activities like writing or using chopsticks for fine movements might be difficult, but overall, it won’t affect your daily life,” the physician continued explaining.
“Thank you,” Fu Nian said, leaning against the table and attempting to stand up, pretending to struggle with the adjustment.
Since childhood, he had never known what it felt like to have a right arm or leg. Now, with the addition of these actual limbs, he found himself needing to adapt all over again.
Once steady, Fu Nian feigned an attempt to bend his knee.
Before he could kneel, he was jerked back up.
“No need for formalities. Avoid any vigorous movements for now. It’s better not to strain yourself more than necessary.”
Fu Nian: …
In the end, Fu Nian remained standing, offering a reply, “Thank you, Physician Xu, for your care. Also, may I inquire whether His Majesty’s condition has improved in these past few days?”
“There has been some improvement; he is conscious now. However, you need not personally express your gratitude. After His Majesty regained consciousness, he explicitly stated that you needn’t come to thank him in person… citing busy state affairs.”
“Understood,” Fu Nian replied lightly.
It was normal that Chu Zhaoyi didn’t want to see him. He wasn’t exactly eager to face a sober Chu Zhaoyi either.
Someone like Ze Wang, who guessed that Chu Zhaoyi was emotionally troubled, was the unusual case.
After the physician left, Fu Nian dared to let loose and test the prosthetics on his own.
The feeling of being able to walk on two legs was truly wonderful.
After equipping the prosthetics, with the help of palace maids, Fu Nian packed up the rewards given by Ze Wang and his other personal belongings, preparing to move out of Wenmei Hall.
Gao Gonggong had returned to Chengyuan Hall to continue his duties, and Fu Nian also received a summons to report to the Chief Instructor of the Imperial Guards.
Since Lian Nian had originally been a guard in the Wang household, temporarily assigned to the palace, he would follow the training regimen of a Fourth-Rank Imperial Guard. His rest days and monthly rotations would remain the same as before.
Although the new residence was small, it was still relatively clean. Fu Nian locked his belongings away and looked at the barely accommodating room. Finally, he stashed the Fuguang Blade under the bed.
It was still somewhat hot during this midsummer afternoon. At this hour, most of the guards were on duty, and those with some leisure time were resting under the shade of trees or practicing sword forms and techniques in the courtyard.
Having finished packing, Fu Nian had just stepped out of the room. He considered that he had some time before he needed to report to the instructor and was pondering how to use this time when he heard a distant wail.
Although the cry was from a considerable distance away, it was surprisingly loud.
“Let’s go, let’s go, see what’s happening. He was bound up yesterday. They must be starting the beating now…”
“Isn’t he the Chief Shadow Guard by His Majesty’s side?”
“The newcomer doesn’t know, but he has been publicly hanged and beaten by His Majesty more than once. Each time he commits an offense, he’s lucky to escape with just a beating. Yet, he returns to serve His Majesty as usual…”
Isn’t the Chief Shadow Guard by His Majesty’s side Chu Yao?
That night, Fu Nian remembered encountering this individual during his own death anniversary…
Though it wasn’t a good thing to feel schadenfreude, Fu Nian couldn’t help but be curious.
The offenses that warranted a beating were only met with a thrashing, and it had happened more than once. Clearly, the depth of His Majesty’s affection and consideration for Chu Yao was beyond Fu Nian’s knowledge.
Following the footsteps of the curious crowd, he arrived at a small training ground.
There, Chu Yao was still dressed in the standard attire of the Imperial Guards, bound to the center of the training ground’s sparring platform. His back was already streaked with blood from the beating.
“It’s really been stolen, I saw a ghost….” Chu Yao’s voice was already weak, and he no longer cared about his dignity.
“Lord Chu, I advise you to confess sooner rather than later.”
“It really was stolen, no matter how you ask, it was stolen!” Chu Yao continued to shout.
The onlookers couldn’t contain their curiosity and began discussing fervently.
“Previously, wasn’t he just beaten a couple of times for public display? Why is he being beaten so severely this time?”
“… In the past, those were just showy gestures; this time, His Majesty is genuinely angered.”
Listening to the discussions in the crowd, Fu Nian interjected at the right moment, asking, “How did he anger His Majesty?”
Gossipy guards were always forthcoming, regardless of Fu Nian being a stranger. “He took some valuable item from a high-ranking individual, and it ended up being lost. This time, His Majesty is truly furious. While they’re flogging him, the entire palace is being searched, and a reward for his capture has been issued…”
Before Fu Nian could ask further, an eager individual piped up, “Brother, you entered the palace earliest. Which high-ranking person’s belonging is it? And how valuable is it?”
“Isn’t Chu Yao one of the Chief Shadow Guards by His Majesty’s side? Besides the command token and national seal, is there anything else he can’t touch?”
“Keep your voices down. Of course, there is. It should be from a Shadow Guard prior to Chu Yao, but I only know he is called Lord Fu. I don’t even know his name. He had a mysterious background, associated with His Majesty for many years, like a true brother. Unlike Chu Yao, he was discreet, strictly adhering to his duties, and never showing his face. Later, I heard that his remains were returned, but His Majesty still firmly believed he was alive and refused to admit otherwise… Chu Yao’s identity as a Chief Shadow Guard has been borrowed; it’s said that even his waist badge and official seal were withheld. He’s usually so showy in his actions, but there’s a reason why His Majesty has never truly regarded him as a Chief Shadow Guard… In the palace, if you speak a word against His Majesty, there’s still a chance for redemption, but dare to speak against Master Fu, and you might as well prepare your funeral arrangements…”
Fu Nian listened quietly.
So, even after he died, he received such an extraordinary honor. It seemed that in his previous life, when he was alive, everyone scorned him like a dog.
But some people said he had good professional demeanor and polite language, which made Fu Nian quite happy.
Before Fu Nian could speak, someone else continued with more questions.
“So, what exactly is that item? If we manage to find it, won’t we get a reward?”
“The notice says, ‘Fifty taels of reward for returning lost property, death penalty for thieves.’ As for the item… it seems to be described as a small dagger, less than five inches long when unfolded, and it’s called the ‘Fuguang Blade’ or something…”
Before Fu Nian could hear the rest, he quickly retreated from the crowd.
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