“I understand,” Fu Nian said when he saw that Chu Zhaoyi wasn’t speaking. He first bowed and exited the West Pavillion.
In the tea room, the scent of tea wafted through the air, mingling with a hint of bitter medicinal fragrance that didn’t seem out of place.
Amidst the busy palace maids, Fu Nian made his way to the tea cabinet, inspecting the various tea canisters on top.
When it came to what was edible, as long as he was the one preparing it, there had never been any flavor that was praiseworthy.
Fu Nian selected two types of tea leaves that Chu Zhaoyi had mentioned before, neither of which had a particularly pleasant taste. He also found some ginseng slices and bitter herbs that Chu Zhaoyi often used for tea. He added everything to a small kettle and began to brew it slowly.
It was certain that it wouldn’t harm the body; Fu Nian had read a fair amount of medical texts since childhood, so he had some confidence in this regard.
After simmering for a while, Fu Nian looked at the murky liquid in the kettle. The aroma was so pungent that he couldn’t help but hold his breath. Only then did he pour a small cup and drank it all in one go.
“Cough, cough, cough, cough, cough, cough…”
The taste was spicy and bitter, and the pungent flavor surged up, assaulting his senses. Fu Nian hurriedly gulped down several mouthfuls of cold water to suppress the strange taste.
The midday drowsiness was completely gone.
“You just served tea, and now you’re here again?”
As the end of the wushi approached, Chu Zhaoyi couldn’t resist and walked over to the incense burner himself, ready to burn peppermint to stay awake. However, when he reached the incense burner, he found that all the peppermint incense was gone.
Just as he sat down, the palace maid who had brought the tea before returned.
The tea in the cup was cold and barely had any aroma. Chu Zhaoyi looked suspiciously at the cup of tea in front of him.
“Your Majesty, it’s cold tea for staying awake. Just take a small sip each time.”
Chu Zhaoyi picked up the tea cup and, absentmindedly, brought it to his lips, taking a big gulp.
“Cough, cough, cough, cough, cough, cough, cough—”
In an instant, a cold sensation surged through his spine, making the top of his head tingle. Forget about drowsiness; even if he tasted this flavor lying in a coffin, he would want to sit up and curse a few times before resting in peace.
He quickly covered his mouth with his sleeve, trying not to dirty the documents on the table.
“What kind of physician… cough, cough, cough, did the Imperial Physician send this medicine tea recipe?”
The palace maid replied, “Your Majesty, it’s not from the Imperial Physician’s office. It was prepared by Imperial Guard Lian.”
Chu Zhaoyi immediately set the tea cup aside, trying to keep his facial expression as neutral as possible.
No wonder they said you could only take a small sip at a time.
After drinking a few mouthfuls of water, Chu Zhaoyi pushed the tea cup back, saying, “If he wants to enter the tea room again next time, stop him. You must not let him cross the threshold. Just say… say that I feel he’s considerate and can’t bear to see him work so hard.”
The snow had stopped today.
For the past few days, Chu Zhaoyi had continued to stay overnight in the West Pavillion of the Military Affairs Bureau.
Since Fu Nian found out that Chu Zhaoyi wasn’t staying up all night but simply sleeping a bit longer to save travel time, he didn’t bother to disturb him and returned to his own quarters.
The snow had not yet melted, and the roads on the training ground were slippery. Aside from Fu Nian, there was no one else enduring strenuous morning training in such inclement weather.
After practicing his swordsmanship, Fu Nian continued with physical training for another half hour.
Even on snowy days, Fu Nian still maintained his habit of washing away the sweat with cold water. It helped keep him alert and avoid getting too comfortable in the luxurious environment of the palace, thus staying vigilant.
Back in his room, Fu Nian opened the letter envelope and found that there was finally substantive content on the command paper today.
“At the Chen hour, at the West Palace Gate, meet with Captain Han and Fu Bie, and depart for Shuzhou immediately.” There were some additional instructions in smaller characters reminding him to stay safe and follow orders, and so on.
Fu Nian stared blankly at the command paper in his hand.
He had previously made it clear that he wanted to personally kill that old man, rather than wait in the palace for Fu Zhen’s body and the execution’s result.
Chu Zhaoyi’s attitude had always been to avoid giving a direct answer, but he absolutely forbade Fu Nian from leaving the palace or having extended private conversations with his junior brother.
Fu Nian had thought that Chu Zhaoyi would never allow him to intervene, but unexpectedly… he was willing to let him leave the palace during the operation to capture Fu Zhen.
After preparing the necessary medicines, concealed weapons, and items for hiding his whereabouts, he quickly headed toward the rendezvous point mentioned in the command paper.
There were still two quarters before the Chen hour when Fu Ni arrived at the gathering point.
“It’s perfect timing,” Captain Han said when he saw Fu Nian arrive. He also gave some instructions to the soldiers around him before pulling over Chu Qianqi, who had been counting supplies. “This child, you’re familiar with him, right? He’s Lord Chu Yao’s disciple, someone you should have met before.”
Fu Nian remembered the incident from before when he had knocked out the young shadow guard in the palace without a word.
Fu Nian: …
Chu Qianqi: …
Seeing that both of them had faces filled with happiness, Captain Han said, “Chu Qianqi, explain the plan to Imperial Guard Lian, I have other matters to attend to.”
“About what happened last time, I apologize,” Fu Nian thought for a moment and decided to apologize first.
“I didn’t realize you were sorry. After all, you apologized before you hit me,” Chu Qianqi replied.
Fu Nian didn’t argue.
Qianqi glanced up, confirmed that he wouldn’t be hit again this time, and then took out a map, motioning for Fu Nian to come closer.
“These past few days, we learned from Fu Bie that every mid-month, Fu Zhen will definitely go to the old stone chamber at the Distant Moon Sect site to feed and hunt for supplies used in alchemy.”
Fu Nian listened quietly.
Feeding referred to giving Fu Nineteen the medicine soup to prevent decomposition, and hunting… likely referred to the youths he had seen last time, who were used as bait.
“Three days ago, Fu Zhen was spotted in the northern frontier and he should be on his way back towards Distant Moon Sect now. Our goal is to steal your ‘Nineteenth Brother’s’ body before Fu Zhen returns to Distant Moon Sect, and then put Fu Bie into it,” Qianqi explained, pausing for a moment before continuing, “The idea from Master Han is to follow the tradition of that king from the Cold Food Festival story… whatever it’s called. Anyway, it involves making sure Fu Zhen is in the stone chamber and then setting fire to the mountain. We’ve already evacuated the residents in the burning area, prepared the fire lines and haystacks for easy ignition. The burning range isn’t large; the main purpose is to force Fu Zhen out so we can surround and capture him.”
Fu Nian listened quietly.
After Qianqi finished explaining, he raised a question, “In these few days, how did you become so sure that Fu Bie betrayed Fu Zhen and can safely escape from the raging fire? Why do we need to switch Fu Bie into the stone coffin?”
“To delay the time for Fu Zhen to realize it, making it convenient to start the fire outside. If he returns and finds that Fu Nineteen in the coffin is missing, do you think he will obediently stay in the mountains and wait for us to set the fire? Moreover… you should know, right? Every time that old man returns to the coffin, he does something to your senior brother inside…” Chu Qianqi paused, a slight blush of discomfort appearing on his young face. “The level of flexibility to fold and twist the body like Fu Bie mentioned, probably only you who came from the Distant Moon Sect can do it. Other soldiers and shadow guards have tried, even with painkillers, the knees can fold up to the shoulders at most, but if pushed further, they might dislocate or even break, which would be discovered immediately, and it’s impossible to delay time.”
Fu Nian: …
That day, when Fu Bie mentioned it, he only knew that the first thing that the old man did when he returned was to take the lifeless Fu Nineteen to a nearby spring pool for a medicinal bath, thoroughly “cleaning” the body from the inside out. As for the specific words and actions in between, or how he did it, Fu Bie didn’t tell him, only mentioning that he would gently coax Fu Nineteen to sleep at the end. However, judging from Fu Bie’s expression, it should be quite visually shocking.
Listening to Chu Qianqi’s description today, Fu Nian began to understand how Fu Bie had frightened himself into such a state.
Fu Zhen didn’t like having sutured incisions on the body, so he would use a bamboo tube to pour out the old preservative medicine from the throat, then flush it with tea, masking the smell of the preservative medicine with the fresh aroma of tea. This was only the method for cleaning the upper body… as for what happened below, Chu Qianqi couldn’t quite continue, so he took over Fu Bie’s statement notes and squinted his eyes while furrowing his brows.
“It took a lot of effort to get him to speak up. As for his loyalty, it doesn’t matter who he’s loyal to. Along the way, he maintained a state of deep sleep, and he will wake up at the right time. My task is to stay in the stone chamber and wait for Fu Bie to wake up. If he wants to survive, he’ll survive. This is a unique skill possessed by disciples of the Distant Moon Sect – a stable resistance to acupuncture drugs. Even with other soldiers or shadow guards who have undergone poison training or extreme training, it’s difficult for them to react to the same dose of drugs at the same time.”
“But that old man is very cunning. How can you be sure that Fu Bie can deceive him?” Fu Nian still had doubts.
“We’re not sure if he can deceive them, but we can be sure that Fu Zhen cares deeply about his disciple. Even if he sees through it on the spot, he will most likely believe Fu Bie and wake him up to explain the current situation. At the very least, he won’t leave Fu Bie, a living person, in the coffin. The goal is to delay time until the fire is set.”
Fu Nian remained silent.
Indeed, that old man, despite his questionable character, treated his disciples as his personal possessions, each one with a fanatical devotion, even to the point of madness. Even if he allowed his disciples to die, they could only die at his hands, and he would meticulously raise them and torture them to death step by step.
“That’s about it. Your junior brother is currently sleeping in that carriage over there, and someone will be watching over him.”
Fu Nian asked, “What’s my task? What am I responsible for?”
“Don’t stray from the group and act alone. Stay with me and follow my actions closely. You don’t need to do anything,” Chu Qianqi said, then added with a smirk, “Although His Majesty’s original words were for me to take care of you and protect you, and if necessary, restrict your movements…” At this point, Chu Qianqi sneered.
In reality, if they encountered any trouble, Chu Qianqi would probably be the one who needed protection. Not to mention restraining Fu Nian’s actions; the shadow of being knocked unconscious by Fu Nian last time was still haunting him. Qianqi genuinely didn’t want to get involved in this tricky situation.
“I understand,” Fu Nian nodded. “I won’t cause you any trouble.”
Even if Chu Zhaoyi hadn’t said anything, he wouldn’t wander off on his own. The smell of the gu poison and the sensation of crawling on the ground from his previous life, combined with the recent removal of his prosthetic limb, were things Fu Nian hadn’t forgotten. He tried his best to restrain himself from falling a third time in the same place.
Before long, the heavily armed troops exited the palace through the West Gate.
The road was slippery due to the snow, and they weren’t moving fast.
During the journey, Chu Qianqi thought for a moment and asked Fu Nian, “By the way, I heard from colleagues recently that the official token of the Great Shadow Guard has already been given out by His Majesty, but the chosen individual has not been publicly revealed yet. I asked my master, and he said it wasn’t him, but he wouldn’t say more. I noticed that you recently started wearing the standard attire of the Shadow Guards. Judging by the timing, you joined the Shadow Guards together with the last batch of recruits, and it seems like His Majesty values you a lot. Have you heard who received the official token?”
The official token of the Great Shadow Guards…
Fu Nian was well aware of it, but it seemed that Chu Yao hadn’t revealed his true identity. Even his disciple still referred to him as “Imperial Guard Lian,” and they could only speculate about the timing of his induction into the Shadow Guards based on his attire.
“Why do you want to know about this?” Fu Nian asked.
“Of course, I want to know. I plan to visit him and learn from him how to avoid those despicable methods you used before, which easily rendered people unconscious and unable to resist.”
While that’s true, he still asked in a low voice, “If even Chu Yao… Lord Chu doesn’t know about it, how could I possibly know?”
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