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Chapter 3: Before The Snowfall
In Changling, an official of the Bureau of Ceremonies nervously walked along a stone path lined by tall pines on either sides.
In front of him, an old imperial censor dressed in grey official robes stood at the center of the stone path.
The closer he got to the imperial censor, the more he sweated on the back.
By now, this Bureau of Ceremonies official’s thick robes were soaked at the back as he walked in front of this imperial sensor and bowed.
“No need for this.”
This Imperial Censor Li coolly glanced over at him and slowly said, “You know my duty is to convey decrees from His Majesty, to promote or demote officials. You should already know that you will be demoted since I wanted to meet you and you have performed no service worthy of promotion. The matter is finalized. You have no need to be so nervous and worried.”
Listening to these words in the cold wind, this official could not calm down. He felt the wind grow even colder and he started to tremble.
“The rewards of your previous military service have been fined. You have to be in the border army for five years. If you want yourself and your family to live a good life in Changling, accumulate more military service in these five years,” Imperial Censor Li expressionlessly continued.
The Bureau of Ceremonies official looked up, his expression ugly. “Official Li, I know that I am being demoted because I was on Bai Shanshui’s escape route that day. But I believe that there were many other officials on that very path. Why am I being severely punished?”
“You think you are the only one who is being severely punished?” Imperial Censor Li shook his head with the same impassiveness as before. “I have already met five people before you. Including you, there are seventeen Changling cultivators that may have delayed Bai Shanshui when he killed his way out of the city. Eight of them acted and were killed by Bai Shanshui’s sword. If the nine of you had acted too, the seal chariots of the Tiger-Wolf Army might have been able to set up a formation and stop Bai Shanshui. Of you nine, seven were officials in court. All seven will be demoted.”
The Bureau of Ceremonies official’s expression grew uglier but he could not speak.
However, Imperial Censor Li continued.
“You treasured your life and did not dare to fight. Has it occurred to you how embarrassing this is? Bai Shanshui was able to kill his way out. Our Qin Dynasty has so many powerful armies, so many cultivators, they were all in the capital Changling. And in a time when there are no wars on the borders and Changling is not empty, he managed to escape. As a Qin person, you might have been able to stop him and kill him. But you let him sing as he wielded his sword like he was invincible. This is more embarrassing than having him escape after killing people!”
“His Majesty had me meet you to talk in this Brave Garden to make you reflect. The face of our Qin Dynasty and our good days were bought with the lives of countless Qin people resting in this Brave Garden.”
“Have you ever thought about how many Tiger-Wolf soldiers would die because of your cowardice? How other countries would perceive us and how many soldiers and cultivators would die? How many ordinary people would meet disaster?”
“His Majesty hopes that you can change your ways of thinking. Loving ease and hating work, wanting to protect your small family and not the people are something not allowed in Changling. Personally, to me, the humiliation of demotion is worse than lying here in the Brave Garden.”
In the dark Divinity Bureau, Mo Qinggong stood with his head low before a thin man dressed in deep red brocade robes and a messy beard.
This man who looked dispirited and didn’t have any powerful presence was the head of the Divinity Bureau, Bureau Chief Chen.
“This is no accident.” Mo Qinggong said coldly. “The Changling Guards were lured to the Jiujiang Commandery Meeting Hall because of a stolen item from the imperial tomb. The person who provided the clue that tomb artifacts were being sold was a jobless man who has no wife or parents. Oddly enough, he has passed away, and even our investigation is at a standstill.”
Hearing Mo Qinggong’s report, Bureau Chief Chen’s clenched hands trembled slightly as though he had considered many things in a fleeting moment.
He looked up, the bright and dark red robes he wore and his dispirited appearance created a strong contrast. However, this contrast made him exceptionally attractive.
“You do not have to follow this dead end. A person who is able to do such a thing is one that our Divinity Bureau may not be able to find even with all our powers.”
His dark eyes were tinged red by his robes. He looked at Mo Qinggong’s dark expression and lectured in a flat tone. “Change direction, investigate the people that may know about Bai Shanshui and the Lonely Mountain Sword Hoard, investigate their confidants whereabouts these past few days. They would have entrusted matters to their closest aides.”
Mo Qinggong’s lit up. He softly acquiesced. “This subordinate understands.”
Bureau Chief Ye frowned. He thought for a moment and said, “Put some more pressure on the Warden’s Office. They are the closest to this matter. They must give an explanation. We will have a smoother time if we use some of their power.”
Seeing that Bureau Chief Chen’s thoughts were no different from his, he felt a wave of warmth and his tense body relaxed.
He bid farewell and turned to leave.
When he walked out of this building, involuntarily, his body paused slightly.
The sky had been clear just a while ago but it was now covered in black clouds. A cold wave descended from the sky and it looked as though it would snow before the winter solstice even started.
Outside Changling, on a part of the Wei River, a small black-awning boat 1 slowly floated along the waves under the black clouds.
A small fishing boat came close and then a stream of light flashed. A man dressed like a fisherman landed firmly on the bow of the black-awning boat which did not even sway.
This man dressed like a fisherman was one of the direct disciples of Cloud Water Palace, Fan Zhuo, who was disguised as a carriage diver days ago in the Jiujiang Commandery Meeting Hall.
He looked towards the distant outline of Changling with a faint sneer on his face. He spoke to the boat cabin covered in black cloth ahead of him. “You are the person who sent me a letter a few days ago? Who is your master, another important person in Changling?”
The black cloth was propped up on a thin bamboo stick on both sides.
The black robed advisor with gray hair made a gesture of invitation from where he sat in the cabin. He said, “The one who notified you to leave was General Liang.”
“The General Liang waiting to be ennobled as a marquis?”
Fan Zhuo, who still emanated a peerless rebellious aura even in the clothes of a fisherman, showed no intentions of entering the cabin. “What is with this rebellion from within the nest?” He said, mockingly.
“When a fish is trapped in a tank, and wants to jump out of the tank, it will not be able to enter the great river to swim freely and will dry out on the ground to die if it has no help.” The black robed advisor smiled unconcernedly. He pointed towards the vast outline of Changling and said, “For you, Changling is a tank. You will be in danger if you enter. So General Liang feels that you need some friends.”
Fan Zhuo smiled coldly. “We cannot become friends with Qin people.”
The black robe advisor nonchalantly said, “If we cannot become friends, at least we can use each other. You also owe us a favor now. If not for the letter that I sent you, you would have been completely ignorant that you were already a target of the Divinity Bureau. When they would close their net, you and even Bai Shanshui would have not been able to escape out of Changling.”
“While I do not know how many secrets about the Lonely Mountain Sword Hoard you have, you spent too long a time in Changling. Anyone can guess that there is something in Changling relating to the Lonely Mountain Sword Hoard. Is it the secret key? Or more clues?”
Not waiting for Fan Zhuo to speak, the black robed advisor looked into Fan Zhuo’s eyes and said, “But you left Changling in a rush. You must not have gotten what you wanted. You must want to enter Changling again, so you accepted the suggestion in my letter and met me today.”
“You are correct.”
Fan Zhuo smiled coldly and said, “I have to admit that your Divinity Bureau and nobility have some skills to find our tracks, and even guess some of our intentions. I came here because I want to see if there are any powerful nobility with whom we could mutually benefit. But General Liang … never mind. In the bloody storm before the Yuanwu Emperor’s ascension, General Liang walked over the corpses of his brothers and friends to reach his position. How can we believe him?”
“There is no eternal friendship, only mutual benefit.”
The black robed advisor’s expression did not change. His gaze grew more determined. “With General Liang’s status, working with you will concern his life. There is nothing more important than one’s life, so you do not have to worry.”
These words elicited a laugh full of disdain in Fan Zhuo.
His laughter was so loud that it spread across the river like many fish slapping the surface with their tails.
“There are many things more important than life. But to people like you and General Liang, your own survival is most important to you.”
“It doesn’t matter how you think of us, as long as we have value to each other,” the black robed advisor said and smiled.
Fan Zhuo’s smile gradually disappeared. He looked at the black robed advisor and said, “What do you want? Help you be ennobled as a marquis?”
“All we would ask is your whereabouts in Changling and guarantee that your movements will be concealed and you will be safe in Changling. We just need something that will help General Liang advance in his cultivation, regardless if it is the Lonely Mountain Sword Hoard or secret skills from the Cloud Water Palace.” The black robed advisor shook his head and said, “There is no official post more important than true strength.”
Translator Ramblings: General Liang isn’t very loyal at all.
Here is an image of the boat:
- Sword Dynasty Volume 6 Chapter 16 “Advisors”
- Sword Dynasty Volume 6 Chapter 15 “Close The Mountain”
- Sword Dynasty Volume 6 Chapter 14 “Two Sword Wounds”
- Sword Dynasty Volume 6 Chapter 13 “Insect”
- Sword Dynasty Volume 6 Chapter 12 “Disfigure”
- This kind of boat is also called the Shaoxing boat. It is made from bamboo and painted black. The boat is narrow and the awning is low so that people cannot easily stand up. ↩