With this thought in mind, Fu Nian peered outward through the small gaps in the bamboo thicket.
He could vaguely see figures below the artificial mountain, their attire blending into the darkness of the night. He couldn’t discern whether they were members of the Shadow Guard or someone else.
However, if it was palace personnel investigating him, there was no need for them to trick him out in the middle of the night. They could openly interrogate him. No matter how skilled Fu Nian was, he was still human, and he wouldn’t be able to withstand iron-clad torture.
Having lurked for quite a while, Fu Nian pondered that regardless of who was on the other side, if they didn’t intend to harm him and were just testing his fighting habits, he should subtly refrain from retaliating. He couldn’t let them achieve their goal so easily.
Fu Nian glanced at the bright moon in the sky, estimating the time. He then acted calm and collected, emerging from the bamboo thicket and strolling confidently towards the pavilion at the center of the Mirror Flower Pond.
Just as he stepped onto the bridge, he heard movement to his right rear.
Don’t fight back, don’t fight back, don’t fight back, Fu Nian silently repeated to himself.
Feeling the pounding footsteps growing nearer, Fu Nian held his breath.
Suddenly, he felt a sharp blow just below the right rear of his head. He pretended to fall to the ground, adjusting his breathing to ease the pain at the back of his head.
After lying face down on the ground, he then sensed his hair being tugged. The assailant scrutinized his appearance for a moment before letting him go.
“Tsk, got too excited.”
Though he didn’t know who the attacker was, Fu Nian’s immediate response was to get up and strike them down.
Before he could decide how to attack, Fu Nian heard another pair of footsteps approaching.
“Didn’t I tell you not to hurt him?” This time, the voice that spoke was clear and husky, and the reproachful words sounded as though they were chiding. The voice was softer than the ripples forming on the surface of the lake.
“I didn’t mean to. He… he didn’t react at all and was immediately knocked down.”
“I saw that. Well, it’s fine. This confirms it. This naive demeanor is definitely not my Junior Brother… He’s always been clever and astute since childhood. If someone were to ambush him from behind, he would definitely not be unaware.”
Fu Nian: !
This male voice, addressing him as “Junior Brother”…
In Fu Nian’s mind, there was an unconscious flash of the moment when the two of them had parted ways, and his Senior Brother had thrust his sword into his chest.
Fu Nian still remembered the events from back then. It was because of his actions for Chu Zhaoyi… In any case, that sword was a deserved punishment. Even his death under his Senior Brother’s sword at the time was a deserved consequence.
After leaving Chu Zhaoyi, Fu Nian had been trying to learn about his Senior Brother’s whereabouts all this time, only to apologize and atone for his mistakes. Yet, even in death, he hadn’t been able to find him.
Was it his Senior Brother?
Fu Nian really wanted to open his eyes and take a look.
But before he could make up his mind, he heard the male voice continue, “Lift him up. Ze Wang will be here soon.”
Subsequently, Fu Nian felt himself being lifted, as if someone was attempting to pick him up.
“Just lifting is enough, no need to hold him. We’ve already confirmed it’s not him. You don’t have to be so gentle with your actions.”
Fu Nian: ?
Earlier, he had been skeptical about the newcomer’s identity. Now, Fu Nian was almost certain. It was probably his Senior Brother.
This tone… it was exactly the same as when they were young.
As he was lifted, Fu Nian tried his best not to cough, maintaining steady breathing.
When they reached the Huxin Pavilion, Fu Nian felt himself being set down.
The sensation of his face hitting the ground made Fu Nian grit his teeth.
“Apologies for the wait. To resolve your doubts, it was delayed a little on the way.”
Just as the voice fell, Fu Nian felt a kick, and he grunted as he was kicked down. “My Junior Brother isn’t this useless. Falling with just one hit, your doubts can be completely resolved. Is there anything else?”
After a moment’s pause, Ze Wang’s voice could be heard. “Why haven’t I seen the Sect Master? Just you alone? I remember the letter was entrusted to the Sect Master of the Distant Moon Sect…”
“I forgot to introduce myself. I’m now Fu Zhen, the new Sect Master of the Distant Moon Sect. As you know, the previous Sect Master—let’s call him my master for now—my master is busy with various matters every day, I believe Ze Wang has heard something…. I don’t believe in those things. After all, the dead can’t be resurrected. Since my master wanted to see Junior Brother so much, I took the liberty of sending him to meet him.” Fu Zhen finished, then let out a hearty laugh.
“Such a good disciple.”
“You flatter me, you flatter me.” As they spoke, Fu Zhen’s smile didn’t waver.
Fu Nian laid on the ground, listening, and couldn’t help but slightly furrow his brows.
It didn’t sound like something his Senior Brother would do.
Fu Nian recalled that when his Senior Brother had thrust the sword into him, it had been an expression of his pent-up resentment for Fu Nian’s betrayal.
With this thought, Fu Nian couldn’t help but crack open his eyes a little and glanced sideways.
All he could see was a youth in a moon-white robe standing there, but his view was limited, and he couldn’t see his face.
After a moment of silence, Ze Wang spoke again, “Since you’ve verified it, there won’t be any mistakes, there’s nothing else. Sorry for making you come to the palace at this late hour. However, now that you’ve become the new Sect Master, you should schedule a visit to the palace to pay your respects to His Majesty—”
“That old fox? He already knew. A few days ago, he even sent a congratulatory letter, congratulating me on successfully becoming the new Sect Master. He said I didn’t need to come to pay my respects specially.” Fu Zhen promptly interrupted without hesitation, then shifted his gaze. “By the way, can I take this person with me? It’s really surprising, but from the back, he does bear a resemblance to my Junior Brother—alright, alright, I’m just kidding, don’t look at me like that. I just want to take him back with me, nothing more.”
“You were only supposed to investigate and prove if he was your Junior Brother. Bringing him back was your responsibility in the first place,” Ze Wang’s voice, even when stern, wasn’t all that stern, “Don’t do unnecessary things in the future. I’m going to report to His Majesty.”
As the words fell, Fu Nian heard Ze Wang’s footsteps receding.
So, Chu Zhaoyi had indeed started suspecting his identity… Fu Nian was still pondering while lying on the ground when suddenly, he felt a dull pain on his back.
Fu Nian took in a sharp breath.
“Hey, how long do you plan on pretending to be unconscious?”
Fu Nian didn’t respond.
He considered the fact that he had only opened his eyes briefly, keeping still the rest of the time. Playing unconscious or dead was a skill he had been trained in since he was young… But then, he realized that this person was his Senior Brother. They had learned the same things, so naturally, he could distinguish it.
“Not going to talk?”
Then, Fu Nian heard the friction of a flint, followed by a choking smoke. After enduring it for a while, he couldn’t hold back a cough.
With a cough, the pretense couldn’t be maintained. Fu Nian simply got up from the ground, looking straight at the youth in front of him.
The last time he had seen his Senior Brother was many years ago. The memory of his appearance, voice, and character was hard to reconcile with the youth before him.
“Done pretending?” Fu Zhen flicked the metal hollow ball in his hand, which was no longer emitting smoke, and asked.
Fu Nian truthfully replied, “Couldn’t keep it up.” After answering, Fu Nian paused, then daringly asked, “I heard almost all of your conversation just now. May I ask… who does Ze Wang suspect me to be? And why did you need to knock me down in the middle of the night?”
After asking, Fu Nian clenched his fist. He didn’t expect the man in front of him to obediently answer; he was already prepared to escape.
“You don’t know?” Fu Zhen glanced at the person in front of him, “That cunning fox named Chu had a dog by his side in the past, who was also my Junior Brother back then. Just like you, missing a right hand and right foot. Although that dog has been dead for a long time, it seems that the old fox’s thieving heart hasn’t died. Seeing that you’re missing a hand and a leg too, maybe he plans to keep you locked up and use you as his former dog? I advise you to stay far away from him. Being his dog won’t lead to anything good. Toiling all your life and ending up as a carrion in the wilderness, and in the end, not even a tombstone. And even after death, you’ll have to bear the old fox’s craziness, it’s really pitiful.”
Fu Nian: …
Indeed, hiding his identity was the right choice.
Thinking of being imprisoned in Chengyuan Hall in the previous life, having his prosthetics confiscated, and not even having the qualification to crawl to freedom… he had already experienced enough of Chu Zhaoyi’s madness and didn’t want to experience it again.
“As for summoning you out… to be honest, we’ve been observing you for several days. From behind, you really resemble my former Junior Brother. The thought of him being that old fox’s dog is annoying enough. And remembering how he not only served as a dog to others but even sacrificed his life in the end, then after dying, causing trouble for our sect… and those piles of past deeds… tsk, it’s a pity he’s dead. Can’t even dig a grave to vent my anger. Seeing your resemblance, I thought I’d call you out and have a little spar to let off some steam.” Fu Zhen’s tone was matter-of-fact, showing no sign of shame.
Fu Nian: …
The tone of speech, indeed, belonged to his Senior Brother, there was no mistake about that.
The most deserving of a beating among the men in the sect was truly living up to his reputation. Fu Nian had never heard this Senior Brother say anything pleasant to anyone else, except to him… His mouth would hold a bit of kindness, and he would look after him a little more in daily life.
“It seems… you really hate this Junior Brother of yours. I apologize for asking.”
“It’s not exactly hate, but you did ask quite a lot more than a bit. However, seeing that you resemble my Junior Brother… there’s no harm in telling you a little. These words are forbidden in the palace. Even if some elders know, they wouldn’t dare tell you. But there’s one thing—” Fu Zhen paused here deliberately, “Stop trying to ingratiate yourself with Chu Zhaoyi, that old fox. As long as you do that, I can help you find out whatever you want to know.”
Fu Nian thought to himself that this time he had barely spoken in front of Chu Zhaoyi, and Chu Zhaoyi didn’t even bother to look at him properly. Where did the idea of ingratiating himself come from?
Although the request was confusing, the conditions offered were indeed tempting… Fu Nian knew that while his Senior Brother’s mouth was a bit foul, he had never broken a promise. If there was someone who could help him find out who had placed the gu on him, who the empress in the emperor’s palace was, then it would save him a lot of effort. “Alright, I promise to do that. But I’m puzzled, what does it mean to ingratiate oneself? I’ve only seen His Majesty a few times, and I’ve never even had the chance to speak…”
Hearing this, Fu Zhen’s tone became even more displeased, “You really don’t know?” Fu Zhen glanced at the person in front of him, “That old fox used another excuse, but it doesn’t prevent me from seeing the truth. As I said, I’ve been observing you for quite some time. When the Fuguang blade went missing a few days ago, it was the old fox himself who searched you, right?”
This statement wasn’t false. Fu Nian waited for his Senior Brother to continue.
“For ordinary people, being searched by His Majesty should make them nervous. Even if they are innocent, they might at most remain silent and wait for the search to be over.” Fu Zhen said, then took a deep breath, trying to suppress his anger, and continued calmly.
Fu Nian was stunned.
So… this incident had exposed his habits?
Indeed, physical contact could be more intimate than just observing appearance. Especially considering their previous close relationship, they must have memories of each other’s touch.
“Having a physiological reaction when being searched, you’re the first. Not to mention His Majesty’s suspicions, I’m suspecting if you’re really that old fox’s former dog. And you ask me what ingratiating oneself means…”
Fu Nian lowered his head, not daring to speak. For a moment, he didn’t know if he was feeling embarrassed or annoyed, so he couldn’t say anything.
While detailed observation was certainly an essential lesson in their sect, to learn it so finely… it wasn’t surprising. No wonder his Senior Brother had been able to murder their master and take his place as the sect leader.
After a moment of silence, Fu Nian still spoke as calmly as possible, “You probably mistook something, there’s no basis for your assumptions.”
“Is that so? It’s best that I made a mistake.” Fu Zhen responded casually.
“Since you promised me, can I start asking questions now?” Fu Nian pondered, thinking that while he still had the opportunity, he might as well have a conversation with his Senior Brother and make the most of it.
Fu Zhen: “You may ask.”
Fu Nian organized his words for quite a while, “Regarding an herb called ‘frost-cold ginseng’. I remember that it used to be expensive but could still be purchased. However, I recently asked various major medical halls, and they all said that frost-cold ginseng has become extinct. Today, I happened to see the attendant of Ze Wang coming to collect this herb at the Imperial Physician’s Office. I’m curious, what ailment does Ze Wang suffer from that requires frost-cold ginseng as part of the medicine?” After asking, Fu Nian lowered his head, but in truth, he stole a glance at the young man in front of him.
After waiting for quite a while, Fu Nian finally heard the other person leisurely respond, “Hmm… good question. I can find out for you. It might take a few days, and when I find out, I’ll inform you. Do you have any other questions?”
“For the time being, no.” Fu Nian thought for a moment and decided to withhold some of his doubts for now. He wanted to see if his Senior Brother’s investigation would yield reliable results before deciding how much to reveal. “I’ll take my leave for now.”
“Alright. Take care.” Fu Zhen finished speaking and waved his hand.
Fu Nian paid his respects and then left the pavilion.
On the way, Fu Nian began to sort out the current situation. If it were as his Senior Brother said, that his Senior Brother had murdered their master and taken his place as the sect leader… then the person he wanted to seek revenge on was already dead.
Moreover, his Senior Brother’s hatred towards him was the kind that could lead to grave-robbing and vengeance. It meant that his Senior Brother still remembered their past all these years, and if he were to reveal his identity now, it would undoubtedly be a suicidal move.
Lost in thought, Fu Nian suddenly heard his Senior Brother’s voice from behind.
Shouting loudly, “Fu Nian!”
Hearing someone shout his familiar yet unfamiliar name, Fu Nian instinctively paused.
Saying he wasn’t in a panic would be a lie. For a moment, the sound of his heartbeat was so loud that it hurt his eardrums.
“Sorry, I got lost in thought looking at your back and accidentally called out my Junior Brother’s name.” Immediately after, Fu Zhen’s nonchalant voice continued, “But, I called the wrong name, why did you stop?”