The chill crept up from the lower back, slowly rising up. Initially, it seemed to be merely psychological, but it permeated through the cracks, materializing suddenly into cold thorns, a piercing cold wind that spat the darkness of death straight out into skin and flesh, making Xia Jiang’s hair stand on end, to stake all of his energy to evade it, making him almost forget to breathe.
Sparing no effort, he leapt forward and turned his body around. A back-lit figure appeared before him. From its graceful outline and fine hands, he could make out a youth. He was well-dressed in sapphire blue colored clothes with a sapphire blue headband. Unfortunately his face could not be seen because he was masked.
Xia Jiang simply could not believe that the person who had applied such overwhelming force on him just a moment ago, was actually so young, but he was forced to believe it when the second wave offensive followed quickly in succession.
Such vicious and cunning moves, with an internal force that was mingled with a warm and sunny disposition, two completely different types of martial arts contained in one person, made one feel decidedly strange, so strange that one loses confidence when fighting against him.
But Xia Jiang was no ordinary opponent. The number of fierce battles he had experienced in his entire life was not inferior to the most dynamic Jianghu person. With such a high level of martial arts achievements and abundant battle experience, although this first generation Xuanjing Bureau leader had never been a part of the Langya martial arts masters list, he was one of the most undefeatable persons in the world.
It was said that the City Lord Wu Wan, who once ranked third on the martial arts masters list, was forced to retire from Jianghu after standing in for a friend in a fight against Xia Jiang and suffering injury at his hands. What was most formidable about Xia Jiang was his unwavering determination and endurance. No matter the battle situation, Xia Jiang had always been able to persevere in maintaining his own rhythm without being ruffled by his opponents.
If that City Lord Wu Wan were here now, he would be very shocked because Xia Jiang, whom he knew to be as steady as a mountain, had, during a hand-to-hand combat with a youth not even half his age, been unexpectedly thrown into a state of confusion before the fight had even begun.
When martial arts masters competed, their greatest risk lay in a wavering heart and mind. Xia Jiang believed the stability of his mental state would not falter in the face of any world famous martial arts master. Unfortunately, this belief would not hold with the youth he was facing.
That youth could not even understand the concept of “the mental state of hand-to-hand combat”.
He just took it seriously, his heart focused single-mindedly on the attack, to the extent that you could say that he was learning as he fought and enjoying it, as he slowly pressed his opponent into a corner.
A piercing whistle came from Xia Jiang’s mouth. At the youth’s relentless advances and sharp and incisive assaults, it wasn’t easy to whistle long and loud. Because he had expended his energy running long distance, Xia Jiang’s physical strength was not at its peak, and he was quaking after two moves. But what made him even more apprehensive was that the alarm he had sounded that was strong enough to penetrate through the thick walls of this prison did not receive any response.
He had originally believed that Prince Jing would spare no effort for the break-in, but when he had realized that the operation at Xuanjing Bureau was a feint to cover up actual operations in the Imperial Court of Justice, coupled with Marquis Yan’s words, “I can leave already”, he couldn’t help but feel that he was a step too late. In his impatience, he had dashed all the way here to the Imperial Court of Justice, intending only to get here quickly to confirm that Wei Zheng was still here. It did not occur to him at the time to arrange for men to follow after to provide support.
But the streets were currently filled with Capital Patrol soldiers. In his heart, Xia Jiang knew that if Xuanjing Bureau’s soldiers were to come out en masse, the Capital Patrol would undoubtedly find countless reasons to stop and interrogate them along the way and delay their arrival.
Xia Jiang’s whistle only served to confirm the current state of affairs in the Imperial Court of Justice. Whether there was just this one strange youth with an irregular martial arts skill who had followed him in or if the entire prison had been overtaken, it was now very clear. Nobody from the Imperial Court of Justice appeared, which meant that there were people outside. Although they had not stormed the place for the time being, it was only a matter of time, unless Prince Jing’s men were so weak that even the men from the Imperial of Justice were able to suppress them.
Although the Imperial Court of Justice was also an institution for punishment, their focus was on correction. Criminals and the accused were primarily imprisoned in the Ministry of Justice, but once in a while, when the need for an inquest arose, they would imprison them here out of convenience. This was why the dimensions and defenses of its attached prison could not compare to Sky Prison, to the extent that many people were unaware that the Imperial Court of Justice actually housed a prison. Because it was inconspicuous and easily overlooked, Xia Jiang felt it the best place to imprison Wei Zheng and secretly had him transferred over.
In truth, it wasn’t a bad decision. It certainly didn’t occur to anyone that Wei Zheng might be locked up here, until Xia Jiang himself brought them here.
At this moment, the sound of footsteps could be heard approaching the prison, light of feet but definitely belonging to more than one person.
The youth was still in high spirits, forcing Xia Jiang to have to focus all his energy on dealing with him. Maybe it was just as well, for it spared him the agony of watching others carrying Wei Zheng out.
“Time is tight. Be a good boy, and leave quickly.” The last remaining man called out though it was unclear who that statement was directed at.
“Not leaving!” The youth who was enthusiastically striking at Xia Jiang responded angrily.
“Have you forgotten who you promised? Listen to me, quickly follow me, we can’t tarry here.” That person pleaded with him.
Fortunately, the youth finally obeyed him and turned around, breaking away from the fight. He moved out of Xia Jiang’s reach and glided away like a ghost.
Xia Jiang supported himself against the moist dark prison wall, panting for breath. Staring at the faint light halo penetrating from outside, his eyes resentful like a snake, but he did not give chase.
Because he knew that with that youth around, giving chase would be futile.
Prince Jing had already won this battle. But all he had won was Wei Zheng. Even though Xia Jiang had never expected Prince Jing to be truly capable of rescuing Wei Zheng from the start, losing this counter-offensive was not the end but merely the beginning.
He would stick to the plan, but now that there was no more Wei Zheng, Xia Jiang could not continue to provoke Prince Jing over and over again as before until he succeeded. Now, owing to his own error, there was only this one window of opportunity left. If he could not make use of this to thoroughly defeat Prince Jing, then the future would become extremely dangerous.
As Xia Jiang walked out of the Imperial Court of Justice’s mouldy, smelly prison, he put his thoughts in order. He didn’t pay attention to the office guards lying around all over the garden, but just walked straight past them. He didn’t care if those men were dead or alive. At that moment, all he wanted to do was rush to the Liang Emperor with his dishevelled appearance and attempt to fan high the flames of anger of this oversuspicious Emperor.
“Mister Su, will Xia Jiang go immediately before His Majesty and make a serious issue out of this matter? How should His Highness respond?” This question was posed to Mei Changsu as soon as he entered the secret chamber after dealing with follow-up matters.
“It’s not Xia Jiang who will make a serious issue out of this matter. It has been a very serious matter from the start.” Mei Changsu glanced at Lie Zhanying, throwing this response at him. Well, Wei Zheng has been rescued, so this general can now worry wholeheartedly about his Lord, but where was the passion and drive from earlier?
“What Mister Su said is right. Using force to enter Xuanjing Bureau, trespassing into the Imperial Court of Justice to break a prisoner out of jail. These facts alone would be enough to make Father Emperor fly into a rage, let alone having Xia Jiang present them.” Compared to his well-loved general, Prince Jing himself appeared a lot more composed. “It’s not that we didn’t think of these things beforehand. Since we had already decided at the outset how things should be executed, we must naturally bear with the consequences. I have prepared myself for what comes next, so please don’t worry, Sir.”
Mei Changsu was a little exhausted today and he looked listless. Upon hearing these words, he merely half raised himself in acknowledgement.
“Actually, my main purpose of coming here today was to express my deep appreciation to Sir for devising such a brilliant strategy to rescue Wei Zheng.” Prince Jing did not take offense at Mei Changsu’s breach of etiquette and continued, “Sir, you had originally chosen to serve me in order to help me distinguish myself and strive for the throne. Unfortunately I am unable to be as coldhearted and unfeeling as Father Emperor, so if it is difficult for Sir to succeed in the future, I would like to apologize beforehand.”
“It’s still too early to apologize.” Mei Changsu’s expression flickered, but his tone held steady. “We were in a position where we were sure to lose. With the current situation, Xia Jiang does not have any conclusive proof that we rescued Wei Zheng. This is great fortune in the midst of adversity. But what comes next is still extremely critical. Your Highness must be careful at all times. Although the operation was a success, it still has many flaws, especially the coordination of the Capital Patrol all around on the outside. Xia Jiang will definitely pursue this point relentlessly. His Majesty trusts Xia Jiang. His accusation alone would be able to cause great damage. To add to that, Your Highness is now the greatest suspect.”
“I understand,” Prince Jing replied determinedly, “But I will also not allow myself to be taken advantage of. Whether or not I fall out of favour, whether or not I am suspected, this is not a dead end. Xia Jiang has no hard evidence, so even if Father Emperor believes him, he would be unlikely to immediately execute me. Furthermore, Father Emperor may not be completely convinced……”
“Your Highness must be sure to remember, you must never waver in your resolve, but persevere and keep insisting that you were not involved in this matter. The longer His Majesty takes to make his final ruling, the greater the chance of a turnaround.” Mei Changsu warned repeatedly, “I will take care of Wei Zheng and arrange for a proper place to put him up. Please do not care or ask about it, Your Highness. Just behave as if you had absolutely nothing to do with Wei Zheng, can you do that?
“I’ll let you make the arrangements, Sir.” Prince Jing nodded his head, then said to Lie Zhanying, “There are a few in my household who are party to this matter. You need to warn them repeatedly to follow Mister Su’s instructions. Everyone must act as if they do not understand or know anything about Wei Zheng.”
At this moment, Lie Zhanying was at the apex of his gratitude and admiration, and immediately replied in a loud voice, “Yes!”
Prince Jing exhaled softly and sat down on the chair, slowly easing the tension in his shoulders that he had held on to for so long, but thanks to habits formed in the military, he continued to remain as upright as before, unlike the person Mei Changsu who was seated beside him with his back plastered to the back of the chair.
“Does Your Highness lack confidence? Why do you seem to be a little at a loss? Are you unsure of how to handle what is coming?” Mei Changsu asked him after observing him.
“That’s not the case,” Prince Jing shook his head, “I merely feel like this is unreal. Till now, I still dare not believe that Sir has actually rescued him. Actually, all Xia Jiang needed to do was lock Wei Zheng up tightly deep in the dungeon and make sure that he was heavily guarded. That would have been enough. Unless his men revolted, there was basically no way of breaking into the place. Why did he insist on playing this game?”
“Because Xia Jiang didn’t intend only to hold on to Wei Zheng,” Mei Changsu smiled coldly, “His primary objective was to seduce Your Highness into taking action. If he had kept the place heavily guarded, the hopes for success would have been so slim that Your Highness would have been unable to act. Then what would have been the point of capturing Wei Zheng? For him, Wei Zheng wasn’t that important. He had merely lost a Chiyu Battalion Deputy General. It was Your Highness’s inability to just sit by and watch Wei Zheng be executed that made him important.”
Prince Jing muttered silently to himself for a while then nodded his head saying, “That’s right. Provoking me to act without really losing Wei Zheng, this was Xia Jiang’s wishful thinking.”
“Although Xia Jiang knew that Your Highness would definitely not just look on without acting, he was uncertain of how much you would actually be able to accomplish. Whether or not Your Highness would shrink back if he had taken precautions to make Xuanjing Bureau impenetrable, these are questions that Xia Jiang had to take into consideration. If all he wanted to do was hold on to Wei Zheng, I would have been at wit’s end. Because his motives were so complicated, the matter also became complicated, but no matter how shrewd and clever his game was, it could be deciphered. What I was afraid of was that he had no game plan at all.”
“Reflecting on how this affair unfolded, this is indeed how it was.” Prince Jing clenched his fingers into fists on his knees, “But Xia Jiang’s next move will definitely be even more crazy and unrestrained.”
Mei Changsu’s gaze slowly narrowed to a point and fixed on a distant space on the wall before him, silent for a long while.
“If you have anything else to say, Sir, please feel free to say it.”
“…….Your Highness is determined to deal with everything and I am relieved by your tenacity. However Concubine Jing niang niang will be implicated to some extent. I hope Your Highness will not waver then.”
Prince Jing was also silent and after a good while, he said frankly, “I have already discussed this thoroughly with Mother Concubine once. She is more resolute than I am. Please do not worry about this, Sir.”
“Ng.” Mei Changsu murmured softly, “And also……”
“What else is there?”
“…….” His advisor’s complexion was a little pale, but after a moment’s hesitation, he smiled faintly, “Forget it, it’s nothing. We’ll discuss further when the time comes.”
The rescue of Wei Zheng encompasses many different scenes. In translating, I love how Hai Yan transitions smoothly from one scene to the next. As one who writes, it’s an impressive skill and one to learn.
And that description of Xia Jiang encountering Fei Liu in the prison. Loved.
“Well, Wei Zheng has been rescued, so this general can now worry wholeheartedly about his Lord, but where was the passion and drive from earlier?” – I heart! So much bravado but now that the fat lady is going to sing……