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Evening came as bright lights illuminated the main hall.
All the handsome men had gathered together, some speaking in low voices. First was wiping clean his jade xiao while his gaze came to rest on Fourth with a derisive smile. As it turned out, the young Fourth Prince Mole was currently filing his nails. On the side, Fifth held a sallow yellow book, staring intently as the light illuminated the scar on his face in savage focus.
“What do you think of my nails?” Fourth asked as he held them up to the lamp light, eyes squinting.
Fifth picked up his book and scooted away when Fourth spoke, keeping some distance between them. There was a fragrant scent in the air that mixed with the flicker of lampwicks and the sound of turning pages. I took a break and cleared my papers, taking a sip of tea before I spoke. “Little Sixth, come to my room today.”
As soon as my words finished, their eyes all turned to me with hot gazes. Little Sixth seemed stupefied. I swallowed my saliva and changed my words. “Or I could go to yours instead.”
One line was enough to cause one thousand waves. The young Poison Prince prepared to rise from the table, but was forced down by First. I stared at everyone. “What’s wrong with you guys?”
Each one of them had complex expressions in their eyes, some shocked, some gleeful, some resentful or uncertain or expectant…
Che, they all had problems.
I grabbed the badly shaken Sixth’s hand, squeezing past the crowd towards my private rooms. There was no time to study their expressions as they burst into a spell of discomfited whispers.
The door shut.
I rubbed my hands as I paced back and forth, finally perching by the window to look outside. After verifying the courtyard was empty, I released a breath and tightly shut the windows. Little Sixth looked cramped as he stood on one side, unsure of what he’d done wrong.
“Sit.” He prepared to sit in a chair, but I hurriedly stopped him and pulled him towards the bed. “Don’t, you’ll catch a cold there.”
His face was completely red, and his pale pink robes set off the skin more prettily than brightly-colored peach blossoms. I sat next to him and leaned close, turning his hands in mine as I smiled. “You’ve been here for a long time, right?”
I smiled, touching his shoulders and smoothing out his hair. His hair just was like him, tough but velvety smooth to the touch like something that could be be hated and loved at the same time.
“Sixth…” My grinning face looked at him. “Let me see the ?Carefree Recollection?you copied for me again, okay?”
He widened his bright, beautiful eyes as if he didn’t dare to believe me.
“Look, I’ve already cultivated to the seventh level and my internal energy’s returned to the beginning tiers. As long as I can persist until the ninth, I’ll reach a miraculous breakthrough in my skills.”
His eyebrows knitted. I tugged on his shoulders but he turned away, shaking harder than ever.
“Are you afraid that technique is too strange and I’ll have an accident while learning it?” I smiled, ridiculing him. “Or…are you afraid I’ll forget everything in the end if I keep practicing, including you? Hey, you’re not allowed to cry. If you don’t hand it over, I’m going to do a full body search.”
I smirked with my head on his shoulders, my hands preparing to frisk him. With his eyes red, he actually bit his lip and grabbed my hands, his face completely white. Though he couldn’t talk, a dull, hoarse sound rose from his throat.
I knew that he really was frightened…
Frightened that I’d do exactly what he didn’t want.
Although he wasn’t very strong, he gripped my sleeves tightly, his face trying desperately to convey his feelings. He had long lost his ability of speech and couldn’t express things very well, but I understood him completely…
The Carefree Recollection was like a legend. Few people had cultivated it successfully until the end, but many more had been mentally damaged and lost their lives. When I first started cultivating, it was to halt my days of taking medication to forget my sorrows, but now my motives were wholly different. I embraced him gently, patting his back as I spoke in a comforting whisper. “I know my limits, so just let me take a peek.”
He not only refused to smile, but had a strained, serious expression.
Sighing, I stroked his hair. “Ah, when did you turn so stubborn? It’s fine if it’s just that, but you’re now stingy as well.”
His body shook as I held him tight, as if he was extremely uneasy. I wanted to say something, but stopped as my heart softened into knots.
Perhaps his worries were well-founded. Recently my memory was a lot worse than before, and my internal energy had diminished greatly without cause or reason. There wasn’t much time left, though. I had to restore my body to its former state before Han Zichuan found me, or else I’d be at his mercy. The situation now was urgent, even though I had no guarantee of pushing through the eighth level and finishing the ninth.
All I had was a gamble. Risking everything was better than helplessly waiting for Han Zichuan’s forces…
I smiled bitterly as I looked down. Sixth seemed to have calmed down from his explosive feelings before, and I stroked his hair again. “Sixth…before I learned about your past, I only happened to see you on the streets and liked you a lot. Coincidentally, you wanted to follow me as well. I never expected that your father was an admirable general. Though I don’t have much skills, I can at least keep the imperial court from harassing you.” My hand reached out to pat him again, and my voice softened. “If you don’t want me to practice it, I won’t force the issue.”
In a very short time, he had begun to smile.
“You’ve always been the most clever of the Princes, so don’t tell the rest what happened today, all right?” His hand clutched the front of his robes as he drew closer to give me a careful look, before resting his head on my shoulder. It was just a nod, but afraid that I didn’t see, he nodded again a few more times. I smiled and held his face in my hands.
“I only regret not finding your sooner or else I might have saved your voice and had a chance to hear you speak…”
His eyes curved into a smile as he pulled on my clothes, eyelashes quivering as if trying to say he didn’t mind.
“Sixth…I’ve run into some trouble, and I’m afraid you’re the only one who can help me.” I quietly gathered him into my arms, hands lightly running past his shoulders and neck to brush aside his clothes, digging my hands inside. He seemed to shiver slightly.
“Is it alright?”
He was very quiet as he lay by my chest, hands shaking minutely as he grasped my robes. I could feel his restlessness. I grinned and gave a forceful tug, loosening all his clothes so that they settled around his waist. Sucking in a deep breath, I quickly got off the bed to grab the candlestick holder by the table. Carefully, I sat down with its light in my hands.
Sixth seemed a little lost as he stared uncertainly my way, but I just pushed him down again. His clothes were spread messily across the bed and the contours of his figure were lovely. The light shone across his glossy, jade-like skin and revealed numerous things written across its surface. My fingers trembled as I held on…so it really was here.
“Curses, you really have secret martial arts manuals on your body? What’s this thing on your right side, a map?”
His mood seemed to darken. Turning his head, he looked at me, his hands groping for the bedcovers to hide himself.
“Aiya, you’re a guy, what’re you afraid of? I’m not going to strip you…or did you want to go back on your word to help me?”
He blinked, as if unsure how to react. A face stared at me in a mixture of anger and impatience, and his gaze seemed almost ashamed…
Could it be…he thought I wanted to do this and that tonight with him? Seeing that he looked ready to flee, I stuck out two fingers and sealed his internal passageways, effectively freezing him in place. Then I gave a cough.
“Maybe I didn’t explain myself clearly. My deadly foe’s on his way here, so the only solution is to memorize the eighth and ninth levels of the Carefree Recollection and see if I’m lucky enough to break through and complete my cultivation. Don’t worry…I won’t look at the other manuals copied on your back.”
He remained curled up, not moving an inch.
“If you want to take offense, now’s the time. Anyways, I said I won’t look.”
He was absolutely still, still half bent over. His difficulties seemed hard to express in words. Of course, who could with their whole body immobile like that? They’d have to be an Immortal.
The night slowly wore on. There was a crescent moon in the skies. Many people were probably awake with this kind of chilly night.
Within a lady’s chambers, a certain beautiful, charming male was half-bent in a rather ambiguous position. Next to him was a woman dressed as a man, holding a lamp as she bent over to stare at his exposed back. She seemed to be mumbling something under her breath as she gesticulated with her hands. A sleeve carefully shielded the lamplight to prevent wax from dripping on the man’s body.
The secret treasure map drawn on his right side, the coveted gem of the entire imperial court and all the martial arts circles, was neatly covered up a washcloth, courtesy of the woman.
Moonlight brightened as the night drew on…
The sun shone high in the skies.
Even wrapped in quilts, I could hear the dim sound of someone fiddling at the door and lock. The slight, subtle noise reached my ears as a continuous stream of sound. I groggily turned over and cracked my eyes open with effort.
Warm, bright sunlight shone on the bed. A purple gauze trailed to the ground as it covered a person’s body, tracing out lovely contours in his shoulders and back. There was even the hint of fine, fair-skinned legs. His head was pillowed on his hands, and he seemed to be sleeping very soundly.
I suddenly widened my eyes. Why was Sixth in my room, and why was he lying here after being stripped so thoroughly? I rose up with a few yawns before seeing my clothes all intact, and calmed down. Nabbing a pillow, I raised my foot to kick him off the bed. A few kicks later, I realized something wasn’t right…
When I convinced myself he was actually human and not a block of wood, shock ran through me. Curiosity finally won over, and I scooted closer to poke him with a finger.
My eyebrows rose. He looked pretty comfortable sleeping there, but why was his body so tense? I touched a few places, hands wavering over his creamy skin. His muscles were as stiff as a rock, and his skin was extremely pale as if something had stopped his bloodflow.
Someone sealed his passageways?!
Wait…let me think. This guy was right next to me, yet someone managed to seal him. What exactly happened last night?!
I squinted, hugging my pillow to my chest as I rolled around to ponder. Listless and half-awake, I could only feel my dantian swirling outwards to gather energy towards my head, making me limp and numb. This feeling typically only came after I finished practicing the Carefree Recollection, a cultivation method that worsened the memory the more I cultivated…could it be that again, I had…?
Hold on, now I remember. Last night I forced Little Sixth to take off his clothes and paralyzed him so I could study the techniques…and then…and then what?
Did I forget to un-paralyze him?!
Was he huddled up in the gauze like this all night?
This child…it’s not like I paralyzed his voice, why didn’t he remind me before I fell asleep…yah. I clutched my head as I remembered again, he couldn’t speak…
Look at this memory of mine.
I hastily turned over and clapped him on the back before unsealing his passageways. When I saw him knit his eyebrows in response, I relaxed and wrapped him in the covers. He was as cold as ice, last night must have been hard on him.
Suddenly, there was a cough before someone opened the doors from outside. Light footsteps wandered in, surprising me as I tried to get up, only to hit my head against the railings of the bed.
“Master, why are you…”
I yawned, tears gathering in my eyes as I spotted figures by the head of my bed.
“We’ve interrupted Master’s joyous occasion,” said a harsh and sarcastic voice.
I grew wooden.
They looked at the sleeping Little Sixth on the bed, then at me, embracing him in my arms with the covers overturned. Graceful smiles that had been as brilliant as jade flowers immediately turned serious one by one.
“I told you we shouldn’t have picked the lock right now, just look…Master hasn’t gotten out of bed yet.” Little Second stared at me with clear eyes, as if trying to guess how naked I was beneath my covers.
“How long do you plan to lie on him like that?! Is he that great?!” When I heard the explosive tone, I knew it was the young Poison Prince. If it wasn’t for Fourth Prince Mole holding him back, he might have fed Little Sixth his Thousand Year Venomous Insect whole.
Sixth seemed oblivious to the threat as he clutched the covers tightly and turned over, still sleeping.
“Don’t disturb Little Sixth, he must be exhausted,” Fifth said in a depressed tone, in obvious low spirits.
At this point, a few uniform pair of eyes drifted to stared at me, who was still pretending to be asleep. I could feel the heat in their gazes move from my torso to my head…it was more uncomfortable than being made into a living pincushion.
First didn’t say a word from beginning to end, but his face was like a board as he stalked over, hand gripping his jade xiao. I squeezed my eyes shut, preparing to brace myself in case he hit me. But the expected pain didn’t come…
Instead, First lifted up my covers and glanced inside, before slowly calming down. Fortunately, I hadn’t taken off any of my clothes yet. I quietly let out a breath.
In an instant, the Sixth lying on the pillow seemed to have awakened. He rubbed his eyes and sat up, looking at the figures gathered around us with no reaction. Wrapping the purple gauze of his inner robes about him, he prepared to get off the bed, but trembled as his foot lost feeling and he crashed to the ground, stunned.
This time he was fully awake, and turned back to give me a resentful glare. Then he grit his teeth, supported himself with the wall, and walked out. This early in the day, he probably wanted to go to the restroom. Seeing his back and legs shake as if he’d pulled some muscles…I think I probably paralyzed him for too long. Now his entire body was numb.
But the other Princes thought differently.
“Very good…he gained some ability.” First tossed his sleeves and spoke icily. With that simple movement, the door that had closed behind them became riddled with cracks and burst into pieces on the ground.
He led the crowd of handsome men to storm out the door.
It was only the Fourth Prince Mole that kept looking back as he walked, repeatedly mouthing words as if to say, if you work too hard, it’s easy to injure your body.
I had no reply for that.
I grabbed the robes draped over the folding screen and draped them over myself. Then I picked up a sword and went to the courtyard like an autumn wind sweeping aside fallen leaves. A black shadow was conveniently hiding behind the bamboo to wait for me, his violet and green robes impossible to ignore. He was outwardly cold but inwardly passionate, and the colors he wore were hideous, as if he picked them on purpose to catch my eye…
In this world, there was only one person who would sacrifice himself to tarnish the vision of others, and that was the young Poison Prince.
What did he mean by turning back to find me now?
I stared in silent grief at the big mess of eye-catching colors as he walked towards me.
Pretending I didn’t notice, I turned aside and thought of the mnemonics I’d read last night, lifting my sword and the qi in my feet to rise and dance amongst the bamboo. Five years had passed, and day by day throughout those years I’d soaked in medicinal baths to enhance my internal energy. My martial arts skills naturally ranked amongst the very best in the jianghu.
But after learning the Carefree Recollection, my body grew worse by the day and my internal energy had significantly diminished. In the past it was a piece of cake to leap on roofs and over walls, but now it consumed seventy percent of my strength. I didn’t want to give up completely but had no idea when I could train past the seventh level.
To remember without sorrow, the Carefree Recollection.
This technique was extremely ruthless. My memory was far worse than before, but I couldn’t forget the things I dearly wanted to forget. The events of the past seemed to have carved themselves into my bones and dissolved into my very blood. The qi in my chest tossed and turned before the sensation filled up my whole body. With my identity as the Carefree Idler, and my eloquence in lies and poisons, I feared no one. Not to mention, I had so many capable, interesting Princes at my side.
It was just that…
Nongyu’s words would appear in my mind as soon as I grew distracted. Because if what he said was true, then…I cleared my mind, and lifted more qi from my dantian as I floated towards the bamboo. Han Zichuan was taking such great pains to look for me, but for what? So many years had passed but he still hadn’t given up? Did he insist on making me see how close and intimate he was with Fang Hua…?
“Master, be careful!”
I gave a start, the voice like a cool spring flowing through my ears to banish the blankness in my mind. Reacting quickly, I withdrew my sword in a sweeping arc, the metal sending out a peal that sent leaves scattering across the entire bamboo grove. With one leg kneeling on the ground, I propped myself up and forcefully suppressed the true qi circulating wildly inside my body.
Someone hurriedly rushed towards me through the bamboo, wearing a pair of yellow shoes with purple and green robes. The different colors were enough to make me nauseous, and I turned away, unwilling to look at him. He didn’t notice, but focused on helping me up, his usual quarrelsome mood gone. “Master, what happened to you? Why won’t you look at me?”
He grew impatient and cupped my face, trying to meet my eyes.
I hastily lowered my head.
He forcefully used a multilayered, multicolored sleeve to wipe away my sweat. I stared at a fixed point and backed away. Before I could take more than a few steps, my endurance reached its limit. I trembled and lurched forwards, spitting up a mouthful of blood.
“I told you not to wear yellow, but you don’t need to ruin yourself. Dressing up like this to see me…how can I take it?!”
“I think I look pretty good in this.”
Again, I couldn’t hold back. Seeing his steps draw closer, I ruthlessly held him by the neck as I sprayed the front of his robes with another mouthful of vile qi and blood. My inner organs felt a lot better afterwards. He paid no attention to my body, but dully lifted the edge of his clothes and lamented, “My robes.” His face looked as if it was hard to bear, but then his voice grew much softer. “Master, did you go astray in your cultivation?
“Nothing so serious,” I waved my hand, pulling myself up with the bamboo. Good thing his voice had called me out back then, or else I really might’ve lost my way and been ruined. But looking at his horrendous getup now, I was too lazy to explain these details.
Right now, my body was in complete turmoil and felt extremely uncomfortable. I took a deep breath and focused on suppressing my chaotic qi, casting him a glance. His face was white and miserable as he searched for something within his robes.
I caught his hand and said smoothly, “Forget it, you can stop looking. There’s nothing good on you besides poisons, so don’t even think of digging up some tonics. Call everyone to the main hall, I need to tell you guys something.”
He seemed stunned.
“Go already…” I raised my volume, voice shaking slightly.
But he only looked at me worriedly, his expression exceptionally…
“If you’re not going, then I’ll do it myself.” I suddenly leapt up, dusting off my robes before vigorously marching off without a hint of my injuries. He could only stomp after me hatefully. Truthfully, I was in really bad shape…it’d be better if there were less people to worry about me.
The main hall was very quiet.
After the disturbance I’d caused him before, the young Poison Prince looked to be full of indignation. Everyone else kept calm in the face of the unexpected. I forced a smile and sat down stiffly, pouring myself some tea. Even since Nongyu had broken his news to me, I’d been considering the matter. Though taking the first step was always difficult, this was something I had to say…
I raised my eyes to look at each and every one of their carefree, relaxed faces. Still, I couldn’t figure out how to speak, but neither could I drag this on. I’m afraid if I didn’t say it now, I’d forget.
Thinking back to the accident in the bamboo grove, I carefully lifted my cup and moved my hand, experimentally circulating the qi inside my body. I didn’t anticipate that my whole body would turn listless as soon as I brushed against my qi reserves, making me weak. This body really couldn’t compare to before. I leaned against my chair, the hand holding the cup shaking imperceptibly. Still, no traces showed on my face as I took a deep, steadying breath.
Refusing the pastry that Little Second handed my way, I rubbed my hands and surveyed the crowd, saying in a spiritless voice, “…why don’t we all go our own ways.”
“You gathered everyone just to tell us to leave? Are you making fun of us? I was in the middle of a chess game, just a few moves short of winning.” The young Prince Mole rapped the table, but Little Sixth carefully tugged at him before he reconsidered and raised his voice. “Go our own ways? Master, what do you mean?”
“… …” I had no words, sipping from the cup in my hands.
“Are you staring at some silver on the ground? Raise your head to speak,” First said coldly.
I quivered, frightened as I blurted out, “My mortal enemy’s coming this way, so everyone should just pack up and leave this place.”
“Sheesh, was that it? Fine, that’s easy. I’ll go tidy things up and hire a carriage,” Little Second found it too much as he nodded his head, preparing to leave the room. But First held him back, raising his head to speak softly.
“What do you mean by those words? Do you want us all to leave you behind?”
Multiple people stood up, their eyes sharp enough to bore holes in me. I held my cup and wanted to speak, but suddenly didn’t know what to say…
Should I admit that I wanted to train last night and break through before Han Zichuan found me? That I vainly attempted recovering all my internal energy in one shot, but ended up in a far worse state? That after I woke up this morning, I almost forgot who Little Sixth was, even though he was lying right next to me?
Could I say those things? It’d only add to their worries.
In truth, the world’s most formidable foes didn’t come from the jianghu, but the royal court. No matter how much power or influence you had, no matter how great your skills, there was no way to escape from imperial clutches. Not to mention, the Han Zichuan I knew was the sovereign of this country. I refused to implicate my followers with me.
This accursed body of mine would be a burden sooner or later. Right now, I could barely muster the third tier’s worth of internal energy reserves. I lowered my head and comforted myself by grasping the glossy cup. Unconsciously, my hand began to use qi against it.
The sudden action made my body feel wrong. Hot qi rushed into my head and turned it numb. Memories began to scatter like strands of silk before I quickly recovered my senses, afraid to use any more. My smile turned into self-ridicule as I settled back in my seat, paralyzed. In the future, it seemed that not only would I be a person who couldn’t use her internal energy, but one whose memory loss would be inevitable. If they continued following me, they’d have no future prospects. Thus, I drew in another breath and tried to persuade them again.
“I’ll stay by myself while the rest of you leave. This was a decision I came to after lots of thought and it’s for your good. I’ll just say this much, so think it over carefully.”
A hand forcefully rested on my sleeve, and First spoke slowly by my side. “We said we’d serve you back then. Wherever you go, that’s where we’ll follow.”
Shocked, I blinked a few times, unable to process his words. “The person searching for me is a very difficult opponent. You’re all no match for him.”
“I’d like to see just what kind of person has the Carefree Idler at her wit’s end,” the young Prince Mole shouted out cheerfully.
Gradually, my lips drew up in a smile as well.
They didn’t realize, but there were plenty of people I couldn’t stand up against in this world. Just in this very room, I could count one, three, four…six others.
 jade xiao (??) ?yuxiao, a vertical end-blown flute usually made from bamboo.  seal his internal passageways (?????) ?dianle tade wei, used in wuxia and xianxia novels by skilled practitioners to seal off various energy channels in the body, thus paralyzing their victims. With this, you can stop the flow of Qi, blood, magic, air, etc., as the story requires.  dantian (??) ?area around the abdomen used by cultivators to refine their Qi and techniques.  sarcastic (????) ?lengchao refeng, literally “with freezing irony and burning satire,” or with “biting sarcasm.”
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