The winter mountain wind was particularly biting. When they reached the familiar mountain gate, Fu Nian couldn’t help but grip the reins tightly.
After a moment of distraction, he quickly caught up with Chu Qianqi, who was leading the way in front of the main force.
On this journey, Fu Nian behaved obediently and didn’t attempt to break away or act alone.
Shortly after noon, the main force set up camp on the plain.
Fu Nian was helping the soldiers sort out herbs when he saw Captain Han approaching him. “I heard that you want to join the detachment going to the Distant Moon Sect’s stone chamber?”
“Yes,” Fu Nian quickly looked up. “The territory and roads of the Distant Moon Sect are winding, and I’m familiar with them. Even though Fu Bie assisted you in creating a detailed map when he was clear-headed, the actual road conditions differ significantly from what’s on the map. Please make sure to let me join the mission.”
Fu Nian understood that his presence on this mission was solely due to Chu Zhaoyi’s indulgence in him witnessing Fu Zhen’s misfortune and his wish to see Fu Nineteen in person. He wasn’t needed to do anything else.
However, to be honest, Fu Nian didn’t have complete confidence in Chu Qianqi and his team’s ability to carry out this mission, especially when it came to the crucial task of dragging out Fu Nineteen’s “corpse.” He had a nagging feeling that things weren’t as simple as they appeared.
“I don’t know where your confidence comes from, thinking you can navigate better than a map,” Captain Han said without confirming or denying his request. He glanced at Fu Nian’s confident demeanor. “However, I can’t agree. His Majesty specifically instructed before departure that, apart from not allowing you to break away from the group, we should avoid involving you in combat unless absolutely necessary… Although I’m not sure why His Majesty believes you need protection with your martial skills, I have to follow his orders.”
It seemed that Chu Zhaoyi hadn’t disclosed his true identity, and he didn’t press the issue. Instead, he continued sorting the herbs.
Around the end of noon, Fu Nian saw Chu Qianqi’s detachment carrying Fu Bie into the mountains and sighed.
In the small camp, only he and a few accompanying military doctors remained, along with Captain Han and a few of his subordinates who were looking at a map and discussing something in hushed tones.
Captain Han would occasionally emerge from his tent to check if he was still there.
Fu Nian, feeling helpless, continued to sort the herbs.
If he were to leave the camp without permission, soldiers would undoubtedly be sent to find him, causing trouble for the main force, and Captain Han would likely face consequences as well.
As he continued sorting the herbs, Fu Nian wiped the sweat from his forehead. Suddenly, the signal smoke from the mountain valley caught his attention. At the same time, Captain Han and the other soldiers emerged from their tents.
“They’ve lost their way!” Captain Han exclaimed.
“But didn’t we provide them with maps and markers?” someone asked.
“While Chu Qianqi is from the Shadow Guards, his experience is limited… We can’t expect him to match Lord Chu or Lord Fu, who served His Majesty previously. But getting lost, such a basic mistake…” another soldier mumbled.
Fu Nian pretended to be engrossed in inspecting the herbs.
After listening to their discussion for a moment and finding an opportunity to speak, Fu Nian said, “Captain Han, I know the approximate location where they might have gotten lost. I’m very familiar with the territory of the Distant Moon Sect. Please let me go into the mountains.” He didn’t ask for permission; instead, he informed them one-sidedly. “His Majesty only said that I shouldn’t participate unless it’s absolutely necessary, but there’s no time to spare for them on the road. As for my martial skills, as Captain Han said…. There’s no need for anyone else to protect me.”
Finishing his statement, Fu Nian looked at Captain Han, who seemed hesitant.
“I promise to come back unharmed. If His Majesty asks, you can take credit, and I’ll take the blame for leaving the camp without permission,” Fu Nian added, starting to pack commonly used herbs into his pouch and filling his water flask.
“In that case, be careful,” Captain Han replied.
Hearing those words, Fu Nian turned and ran without looking back.
At the first boundary of the Distant Moon Sect, Fu Nian noticed the traces of Chu Qianqi and his group.
The first boundary had many forks in the road, and they all looked quite similar, making it easy for outsiders to get lost.
He quickly caught up to them and found Chu Qianqi and the others in a corner of the mountain cave. There were also dead beasts nearby, their blood still fresh.
“Why are you here?” Fu Nian asked.
“The map indicated it was here—”
“Follow me,” Fu Nian cut him off, grabbing the unconscious Fu Bie and carrying him on his back before running in the opposite direction. “There’s no time to waste here; hurry.”
“But wait, how did you get here?”
“Captain Han agreed. Don’t ask too many questions. Just follow me,” Fu Nian calmly replied.
“I know the way better than the map,” Fu Nian said impatiently.
After that, he didn’t explain further and ran along the path he had taken last time.
Carrying Fu Bie on his back, it didn’t take long for Fu Nian to start panting.
Apart from the weight of Fu Bie, he felt as if there was another weight pressing down on him below his waist. It wasn’t a strong force, but it was a sensation that couldn’t be ignored.
Carrying someone as big as Chu Zhaoyi on his back in the past, he hadn’t felt this tired.
As the sky gradually darkened, Fu Nian dared not slow down and could only gasp for breath while trying to alleviate the discomfort in his lower body.
“The map marked it as this way!” Chu Qianqi’s voice came from behind.
Fu Nian, growing impatient, shouted back, “You’ve already been misled by the map once! Why haven’t you learned your lesson? Fu Bie is playing you!”
“Why would he deceive us?”
After taking a couple of breaths, he shouted, “Because it was Fu Zhen who raised him, not you, and not me. A complete betrayal is impossible in the short term! Stop talking or else you take your turn carrying him!”
Sure enough, after shouting these words, Chu Qianqi didn’t say anything more.
The evening mist thickened, and finally, Fu Nian found the old site of the Distant Moon Sect in the pale night.
There was still unmelted snow on the roof, adding a touch of softness to the desolation.
Fu Nian stopped for a moment in the familiar courtyard. As he caught his breath, he once again lifted Fu Bie onto his back and ran towards the hidden passage behind the study.
“Qianqi, leave someone outside to signal with smoke. We’ll light it again two quarters of an hour later. I’ll take Fu Nineteen out through another hidden door. When you’re on guard, pay attention to the smoke, and I’ll tell you the water escape route later,” Fu Nian commanded before entering.
Once Chu Qianqi had assigned the remaining Imperial Guards, Fu Nian headed underground.
The stone chamber was very dark, and the dimly lit lanterns on both sides emitted a faint glow, making the heavy air feel even more oppressive.
Thinking of the horrifying scene from last time… Fu Nian decided it was better not to see, as the saying goes, “out of sight, out of mind.”
Finally, after much difficulty, Fu Nian slowed down his pace.
“Imperial Guard Lian, why is there still dripping from above?” Chu Qianqi held a dimly lit torch in his hand, barely keeping up with Fu Nian’s footsteps. He had noticed droplets falling on his head. “And it stinks…”
Fu Nian considered mentioning that the liquid dripping from above was probably not mountain spring water, but he decided against it. Instead, he offered a more subtle reminder. “Hmm, there’s moisture in the mountain rocks. Just don’t look up and you’re fine.”
Chu Qianqi hadn’t intended to look up, but after Fu Nian’s remark, he cautiously raised the torch over his head and looked.
He saw a half-submerged youth hanging upside down, with vacant eyes and a wide-open mouth. His teeth had already rotted and turned black and yellow, and an unknown liquid was continuously dripping from his mouth.
Fu Nian realized that Chu Qianqi behind him wanted to exclaim and quickly turned around, covering his mouth.
“I told you not to look around carelessly; it wastes time.”
“Wuwuwuwu—” Chu Qianqi’s expression was filled with fear. He didn’t dare to make a sound, protested twice, and then finally quieted down.
Only then did Fu Nian release his hand and took the torch from Chu Qianqi. He began searching for the exact location where Fu Nineteen’s stone coffin was stored.
“It’s here.” Sensing the bright jade coffin, Fu Nian quickened his pace.
Inside the stone coffin laid a young man in a moon-white robe, his features as bright as the stars, and his face resembled a pale moon. He held a long sword in his hand, and next to him was the prosthetic limb prepared for him initially. He was peacefully sleeping.
However, compared to the last time, there were obvious signs that he had been moved.
Fu Nian carefully placed the unconscious Fu Bie inside and arranged the fake longsword and prosthetic limb. Then he dragged Fu Nineteen out of the stone coffin.
Although he couldn’t feel Fu Nineteen’s breath, his body was soft, and his hand could still tightly grip the prosthetic limb of the longsword. Even in death, he refused to let go, and there was almost no stiffness in his body.
…Did he also lie in the palace like this when he died? Wouldn’t rot, and his body remained soft. It was difficult to imagine that he was dead… Fu Nian couldn’t help but think.
After securing Fu Nineteen to his back, Fu Nian turned to Chu Qianqi. “After I leave, I’ll seal the secret passage and set fire to the oil-soaked haystack outside. There’s a spring in the southeast corner, and the passage isn’t too turbulent. It leads to the outside. When the fire reaches there, you can use the water escape technique to get out. If Fu Bie wakes up and wants to survive, it will be more convenient for you to leave from there. As for Fu Zhen, if he tries to escape, the Imperial Guards outside will naturally capture him. You don’t need to worry.”
“Alright. But Imperial Guard Lian.. why does it feel like you’re the one delaying our mission?” Qianqi arranged Fu Bie in the coffin according to the diagram while talking.
Fu Nian smirked without much expression and twitched his mouth. “Just take care of yourself. I’ll go first.”
Just as he finished speaking and had not taken a few steps, Fu Nian suddenly felt that the temperature around him had risen significantly compared to when he entered.
It was just that the vicinity of the stone coffin was cold, and he hadn’t noticed it right away.
“Qianqi, earlier, did you order the soldiers outside to signal with flares? Why does it feel… like the fire was ignited ahead of schedule?”
“Yes, I ordered them to light the signal two quarters of an hour later…” Chu Qianqi hadn’t finished speaking when he saw the anxious look on Fu Nian’s face. He quickly stopped talking and used his hand to test the external temperature. “What’s wrong? The temperature hasn’t changed.”
Fu Nian reacted quickly and urgently commanded, “Carry Fu Bie on your back. Let’s go together now. Don’t worry about whether this fire can force Fu Zhen out. We’ll have plenty of opportunities to capture him later.”
After saying this, Fu Nian didn’t give Chu Qianqi a chance to argue back. He picked up a hemp rope from the ground, preparing to forcefully make him carry Fu Bie.
Chu Qianqi shook off Fu Nian’s hand, refusing to carry Fu Bie and escape now.
“What are you doing? His Majesty ordered us to capture Fu Zhen! If you want to leave, fine, but don’t drag me away now—”
“Listen to me!” Fu Nian didn’t expect him to be disobedient at this critical moment. He hurriedly shouted.
“This mission was given to me by Captain Han. Originally, I shouldn’t have brought you along. Why should I listen to you? If I leave now, my mission won’t be completed. Do you think everyone is as quick to resort to violence against their colleagues as you are—”
Before Chu Qianqi could finish his sentence, Fu Nian raised his hand, but he didn’t strike. He just wanted to scare him.
He could understand that last time, knocking out Chu Qianqi had left him with many psychological scars. But he understood the situation in the Distant Moon Sect better than all the other Imperial Guards, and he had to leave now.
He regretted not leaving the team earlier and acting alone.
During the standoff, the temperature inside the stone chamber rose a few degrees again.
Seeing that persuasion wasn’t working, Fu Nian decided not to care about Chu Qianqi’s life or death and adjusted Fu Nineteen on his back.
However, just as he was about to take a step, all the lanterns in the stone chamber suddenly lit up. In an instant, several hanging figures appeared on the ground.
Fu Nian quickened his pace, and he could hear the whistle of flying blades behind him.
The moves were precise and fast, and Fu Nian quickly dodged, avoiding any harm to Fu Nineteen behind him.
“It’s no surprise that you’re my disciple, so sensitive to changes in temperature. However, there’s one thing you haven’t learned well. I’ve told you since you were a child, don’t be friends with fools, and don’t have any pity for the deaths of fools. They deserve to die.” A voice came from the darkness, lazy and slightly mocking.
Although Fu Nian couldn’t see the figure, he had already guessed who it was.
He quickly turned around and saw that Chu Qianqi’s right shoulder had been pierced by a long blade, and blood was gushing out.
Fu Nian didn’t have time to worry about it. He continued to carry Fu Nineteen on his back and rushed towards the secret door.
Before he could get there, the voice behind him spoke again.
“Don’t run. The two secret passages you mentioned have already been sealed, and those soldiers outside are just causing trouble. They even lit the signal flares before dying…”
Fu Nian ignored the voice behind him.
He pushed the locking ring according to his memory, and indeed, the stone door didn’t budge; it had been completely sealed.
The sound of footsteps was getting closer.
Fu Nian hurriedly attempted to pick the lock with the Fuguang Blade in his hand. He tried several times but failed, then rushed towards the spring.
He could hear the footsteps behind him following him at a leisurely pace.
Fu Nian didn’t look back; he continued carrying Fu Nineteen and plunged into the spring.
The surging spring water he remembered had turned into a stagnant pool. The passage that used to allow passage was blocked by huge rocks.
Fu Nian held his breath and tried to push the large stone.
The massive stone didn’t budge.
Fu Nian refused to give up and continued pushing until he was almost out of breath. Then, he dragged his heavy limbs upward to try and get some air.
But he was still carrying an adult man on his back, and the harder he tried to swim upstream, the more his body sank.
Suddenly, he felt someone pulling him.
For a moment, he thought Fu Nineteen had awakened.
But when he surfaced, he saw the man in front of him. Fu Nian swallowed back his cough as he was pulled up by the back of his neck, like a small animal just pulled out of the water, still gripping the blade in his hand stubbornly. Fu Nineteen on his back had already slumped to the ground, and the rope had come loose.
“Ah Nian, your master knew you would come back,” Fu Zhen said indifferently, looking at the Fuguang Blade in Fu Nian’s hand. His previously calm expression suddenly tightened, and his voice became more hostile. “It seems that old fox has managed to change your mind?”