Book 2: The Infinite Heart
Chapter 9 – The Hero Under the Heavens
The cry was ear-piercing, as if a person had torn a bloody cloth with a “chi-la” sound, then suddenly raised their hands to fling the pieces into the air. It seemed like the whole sky and earth were filled with that sanguine color, drowning a person’s senses with piercing stimulus.
“Huo-la!” With a sound, a window covering by Meng Fuyao’s side was suddenly ripped apart. From inside darted out a pair of shriveled black hands, grabbing hold of Fuyao’s left arm with lightning speed!
At the same time, the shattered yet piercing woman’s voice that had sounded just then, rose up even nearer: “… you’ve come! You’ve come! Let us die together, perish together! HAHAHA …”
With her eyes contracting, Fuyao saw that the hands clenching her arm were so emaciated that blue veins protruded out. The insides of the sharp fingernails were filled with mud and dirt, while on the back of the hands were smudges of brown. This pair of ferocious but sickly hands, actually couldn’t even grab onto her arm steadily. They uncontrollably shook in the wind, yet the hands still desperately clung onto her flesh using pinching fingernails.
Fuyao’s finger flicked and a thread of wind shot out. That ghoul-like pair of hands instantly shrunk back, accompanied by a hoarse exclamation as an echoing collision noise traveled out from the inside of the empty room. The sound had yet to fall before Fuyao had already pushed open the door and walked in.
Inside the room was, as expected, even more dilapidated than she imagined. With a look she could see that it was a room inhabited by a lunatic – tools randomly littered the ground, and the dust layer on the floor was almost several cun thick. The woman wore rotted clothing of dubious coloring as she shrunk back into a wall corner, her visage covered by scatteredly draping hair and her body exuding a sour stench.
Meng Fuyao’s eyes fell upon the battered, mat-like bed on the ground, and saw patches of light yellow and dark yellow on the straw bedding, their odor suffocating. After walking closer she realized it was traces of excretion.
That woman stared at her in panic, her pair of eyes amidst the tangled hair crazily bewildered. Inside the eyes flickered murky indigo yet also fiery light; that gaze jumped here and there, and the places that were touched upon seemed to be lit up with devilish flame.
“Zhangsun Wuji … you demon …”
The voice, thin as gossamer, drifted through the stillness of the empty room. Deep with ghostly aura, yet also filled with hatred, each word shattered gold and splintered jade as it ground out through the gaps of her teeth. One listening could not help but believe that if Zhangsun Wuji were here, this woman would definitely lunge over to tear him apart, and then devour him bite by bite.
A hint of doubt flashed through Fuyao’s eyes. Who was this woman? Why was she imprisoned like this inside a broken-down courtyard at Prince De’s residence? And how did she have a grudge against the Infinite Empire’s most noble prince? Since this person was a dangerous character due to her insane ramblings that slandered the current crown prince, logically speaking Prince De ought to restrain her carefully. Yet why was there not even a guard assigned, was she just left here to die?
Fuyao tried to get a better look at the woman as she unconsciously stepped forward.
However, a light cough suddenly sounded behind her.
Meng Fuyao stopped in place as she squinted, staring into the widened pupils of the crazy woman. In there was reflected a tall figure, wearing pure white clothes – it was Zong Yue.
Strangely, even though Zong Yue had clearly coughed to signal at her, he was not looking at her back. From the eyes of the lady Fuyao could see that his eyes were directly staring at the crazed woman’s eyes.
Fuyao’s gaze swept behind the madwoman again. Then she laughed all of a sudden, and slowly retreated out. Before exiting through the door she even carefully closed it.
Turning around, she saw that Zong Yue was calmly looking at her. His voice was also calm, but the words that came out of his mouth made Fuyao’s temper rise up in great billows.
“Even if you are only my lowly page, you should still know the most basic of etiquettes – for example, not randomly wandering in other people’s houses.
Meng Fuyao’s vision immediately lit up like knives. Grinding her teeth, she thought that they were even sharper than those of the madwoman. Only then did she cynically say, “Even if you are only an arrogant chauvinist, you should still know that some actions are despicable and mean – for example, following a woman and spying on her.”
Zong Yue unconcernedly looked at her. “You are a woman? Oh, you are a woman. Sorry, I always forget.”
Afterwards, he actually bent at the waist to express his apologies.
Fuyao was so angry that smoke was about blow out from her nose. After a long while, she straightened her back, and without saying a word she walked past Zong Yue’s side.
As she passed him, her shoulder suddenly collided with him. At that moment Zong Yue seemed to have been distracted, and he unexpectedly staggered sideways from the impact.
Meng Fuyao immediately turned around with a sweet smile. Bathed in the sunlight, her disguised appearance was ordinary; yet her two eyes beautifully shimmered, their radiance frightening.
“Ai ya, how come you fell down with one touch? Are you sure you’re a man? Sorry, I always thought you were a man, so it turns out you actually aren’t.”
She bowed at the waist. Her pretend apology wasn’t even finished before she ran off laughing heartily, leaving Zong Yue deep in thought as he stood in the wind.
The winter gale was heavy and ominous. In the wind was still the lingering light fragrance of a maiden, seemingly there and not there at the same time. If one didn't carefully smell for it, they wouldn't be able to detect the faint trace; yet upon finding it one would feel delight and lightheartedness.
After a while, Zong Yue lightly smiled. He thought of that evil-intentioned straightening of her chest just then. Sunlight brushed past her delicate figure in a scattering of crimson and green, splashing into his eyes and causing him to falter for a second. As a result, he who usually never allowed anyone to get close, was actually struck off balance.
His smile, like the blossoming of unostentatious yet still eye-catching winter flowers, lightened up degree by degree.
"Actually, you very much are a woman…" ————
Dusk fell. Tonight, faint stars and a dim moon hung in the sky. From a restaurant at the end of the eastern corner alleyway, lantern light shone distantly over, stretching Meng Fuyao's long shadow on the ground.
With veil obscuring her face, Fuyao hugged a bundle of medicine plants that Zong Yue wanted to buy. As she returned from the market, her eyes were distant, as if she were deep in thought.
She was thinking about the stuff Yao Xun had mentioned about Zhangsun Wuji yesterday.
That night after meeting the crazy woman, someone from Prince De's came over. He spoke about some unknown thing with Zong Yue, and Zong Yue then cautioned her repeatedly to not go close to that courtyard ever again. Originally, Fuyao didn't place much importance on this matter that had nothing to do with her; now, however, her interest was piqued. She couldn't resist asking the always well-informed Yao Xun if he knew about this woman and Zhangsun Wuji's inside story. Unfortunately, Fuyao didn't expect that the moment Yao Xun heard Zhangsun Wuji, he would immediately start spouting a huge stream of words. For a whole night, she was forced to listen to the valiant heroics of the Crown Prince.
At the age of seven, he sketched a military diagram of the entire Infinite Empire, reforming both the military strength and organization of the empire. Singlehandedly expanding the originally hundred thousand strong army to seven hundred thousand, he then proceeded to clamp down on the neighboring three countries.
When he was ten, the southern territories fell into turmoil. Northern and southern tribes exploded into conflict over control of fertile lands, endangering the commoners of the surrounding provinces. Again, it was the young Zhangsun Wuji who traveled thousands of li, only bringing with him a dozen guards as he delved deep into the area of infighting. Everyone thought that the youth was embarking on a suicide mission. No one could have expected that only after three days, the grinning boy would walk out of the tent with his left hand pulling on the southern tribal chief, and his right hand pulling on the northern tribal chief. The two hulking warriors, in front of tens of thousands of soldiers, knocked their heads together – from then on, life-and-death brothers instead of sworn enemies.
At the time, the ten-year-old boy stood with his hands clasped, smiling. On the boundless grass plains his stature was the smallest; yet of the tens of thousands of tribesmen kneeling at his feet, none of them dared to stand taller than him.
When he was thirteen the Linjiang king turned rebellious, plotting to kill Zhangsun Wuji first. He held a banquet and invited the Crown Prince, and Zhangsun Wuji agreed to the invitation without fanfare. After three rounds of wine the Linjiang king offered up a cup to the prince as etiquette demanded, but in actuality he was carrying a goblet of colorless, odorless poison. Furthermore, behind the king followed the disguised shadow of a famous assassin. Zhangsun Wuji drank the entire cup of poison in one gulp, yet when he placed the wine cup back down on the tray, the hand that was setting down the wine cup suddenly pierced through the then-complacent king's chest, firmly grasping the heart of the shadow behind him.
Amidst the entire hall's shock, Zhangsun Wuji leisurely retracted his hand, then spit the mouthful of poisoned wine back onto the Linjiang king's face. Pointing at the rotting-away face of the Linjiang king's body, he chuckled and said, "Since you definitely will have no face to meet my Zhangsun imperial ancestors in the afterlife, this descendant will save you some effort."
Afterwards he took off the skin-like glove and threw it on the ground, promptly standing up and leaving. From start to finish, not even a drop of blood had managed to stain him.
From then on, among the Zhangsun royalty, none dared to have even the slightest thoughts of betrayal.
At fifteen years old Zhangsun Wuji went as an envoy to Lifting Wind. For some reason, after he traveled around Lifting Wind, the two large clans in the country suddenly started to battle. After three years of conflict the two large clans splintered into three factions, and had no more time nor strength to be able to eye the neighboring Infinite Empire.
As for after this incident, the various states almost set Zhangsun Wuji as one of their blacklisted guests - being "payed attention to" by this kind of person was an absolutely terrifying thing.
Fortunately, after the age of fifteen Zhangsun Wuji suddenly became much more reclusive, and stopped constantly performing anymore of those world-shaking feats. He actually never participated in any of the political struggles of the various states, and seemed to have no interest in expanding the Empire's territory either. Throughout everything he seemed to be content with existing underneath the Nemesis Dynasty, as the Five Regions Continent's number two state. It was fortunate that he became less conspicuous as well, or else it was quite possible that the assassin organizations of the different states would compete to be the first to score him - his placement on the assassination lists would only rise higher and higher.
It was precisely because of Zhangsun Wuji's shocking talent, and his huge contributions to the Empire, that the Infinite Emperor specifically used the dynasty name to bestow upon him the title of Zhangsun Crown Prince. In the Five Regions Continent, this was an utmost honor unsurpassed by any other possible gesture.
Finally, Yao Xun emotionally sighed a final phrase to complete his long tirade - Zhangsun Wuji, Hero Under the Heavens!
Meng Fuyao squinted as she thought back to Yao Xun's exaggerated tone, and couldn't help but laugh a little.
Her humor had not yet faded when the light in front of her eyes dimmed all of a sudden. With a peng sound, the head-lowered Fuyao walked into another person's chest.
The feel of the collision was very strange - under her forehead was both hard and soft, and a slight squeaking noise seemed to travel out.
This sound gave Fuyao an idea of who it was, and she hurriedly lifted her head while already retreating several steps.
From the front robes of the opposite side immediately tunneled out a snow white ball. It held its stomach that had been hit, while another claw mercilessly slashed out, its killing intent filling the air.
Unfortunately before the attack had traveled far, the claw was suddenly stuffed with a fruit. The certain "Master" also had quick reactions, instantly retracting its "rodent claw fist" and hugged the fruit to start nibbling on it.
With this Fuyao raised her head, and met a pair of bright, fluctuating pupils.
When that gaze floated amidst the biting winter wind, the four seasons turned to eternal spring. Besides Yuan Zhaoxu, who else could have it been?
"What were you thinking about?" That person's mouth corner curved up with his eyes. Despite him wearing a mask, just his pair of eyes was enough to intoxicate.
"Thinking … about you …" Meng Fuyao turned her eyes in thought, dragging out the syllables with a teasing tone in hopes of seeing Yuan Zhaoxu turn red.
The result, though, was that the strong-willed person didn't even blink, only looking at her with amusement while waiting for her next words.
"…r boss Zhangsun Wuji." The resentful Fuyao quickly finished speaking.
On the contrary, it was after hearing the latter part of her words that Yuan Zhaoxu seemed surprised. He tilted his head to look at her, asking, "How come you suddenly thought of the Crown Prince?"
Meng Fuyao didn't immediately respond, instead first looking left and right. Suddenly she furtively grabbed Yuan Zhaoxu's hand, pulling him to the outside of the southwestern wall corner of Prince De's mansion.
With all the thoughts running through her head, she didn't notice her own actions. Yuan Zhaoxu only chuckled while obediently allowing her to pull him along. Master Yuanbao poked his head out of Zhaoxu's robes, hatefully eyeing Fuyao's hand as if it wanted to use its glare to repel that horrible claw.
Meng Fuyao pulled Yuan Zhaoxu to climb up the wall. With an ungraceful posture she squatted on top of the wall, then reached out to grab a rock, flinging it towards the dark courtyard far below.
"Zhangsun Wuji you bastard blood descendant …"
Sure enough, the woman's shrill screaming immediately sounded up again. However, this time she only said half a sentence before seemingly having her mouth be covered by someone. At the same time, torches lit up one after the other, and the clattering of footsteps traveled over from afar - the guards of Prince De had been alerted.
Fuyao let out an astonished sound, exclaiming, "There were no guards yesterday, how come they're present today?" She turned back to look at Yuan Zhaoxu. He was standing up on the wall, hands clasped as he gazed down into the dark abandoned courtyard. From the depths of his eyes slowly emerged a strange expression.
From the distance the shouting of a guard was heard. With a pull Yuan Zhaoxu retreated with Fuyao from the outer wall, escaping all the way to a small alleyway outside the Prince's mansion. Before they had time to catch their breath, they suddenly heard the whistling of a flying arrow!