After seeing the person who had appeared before them clearly, Yan Yujin and Xiao Jingrui exchanged a glance, then stepped backwards at the same time and huddled together, discussing in low voices. “Which one is it?”
“I think it’s gege…”
“But just in case…what if it’s jiejie?”
“Jiejie has only just left, how could she return so quickly? Wouldn’t she have to investigate for a while…”
“You have a point, it was so far away…”
The person who had appeared watched them from afar, smiling, and said lightly, “Xiao Jin, I’ve let you two talk while staying this far away, without the slightest sign of pouncing on you, doesn’t that already tell you who I am?”
Yan Yujin’s eyes widened, he debated a moment longer, then finally made up his mind, and a huge smile spread over his face as he bounded over joyfully and threw his arms around the person’s neck, exclaiming, “Xia Qiu gege, you’re back! Was Donghai any fun?”
A wicked grin spread across the person’s face as she slowly raised her arms and trapped Yan Yujin within her embrace.
Xiao Jingrui felt a trembling cold spread from his head to his toes, as the hairs on his back stood up, and he involuntarily backed up a few steps, shouting loudly, “Yujin, run! It’s Xia Dong jiejie!”
But his warning came too late. Yan Yujin’s whole body stiffened and he was about to struggle when his two arms were neatly pinned and twisted behind his back by one of Xia Dong’s hands, and as he gazed helplessly, she lifted her other hand with infinite slowness and rested it on his cheek, caressing gently.
“Jingrui…” Yan Yujin said in a trembling voice. “Don’t you have any ties of brotherhood, hurry and come rescue me…”
“Rescue you?” Xia Dong’s gaze swept away and she asked in a gentle voice, “Xiao Rui, are you going to come rescue him?”
Xiao Jingrui’s head shook like a rattle-drum1.
“Xiao Jin, you asked me if Donghai was any fun? Too bad I wouldn’t know, because I’ve never been there.” Xia Dong’s fingers suddenly tightened as she pinched Yan Yujin’s cheek, leaving behind a red mark. Xiao Jingrui, watching, felt his own face twinge in pain. “Do you know where I went? I went to Bin Province, such a poor and desolate place, and for such a bothersome investigation, which required so much effort on my part…. Who brought me such a troublesome task, let me see2….”
“Heeeeelp…” Yan Yujin felt his cheek flare in pain, and wailed without the slightest bit of exaggeration, “I didn’t do it on purpose…who knew His Majesty would send you….”
“What’s the use in crying for help?” Xia Dong laughed. “Xia Qiu went to Donghai, Xia Chun went to bring his daughter-in-law to Qingjiang province, I’d like to see who’s going to come to your rescue. You disobedient boy, you bring back problems for me even when you go out to play? Do you think your Xia Dong jiejie is too idle? If I really had nothing else to do, I could still train the two of you, or have you forgotten the pain of the past now that you’re all grown up?”
Hearing the word ‘train’, the two noble sons suddenly felt weak in the knees.
There is a school of thought regarding the training of dogs that says, no matter how fierce or vicious the breed, the reason a dog never dares to fight its master is because, ever since it was very young, it is struck with a wooden stick each time it fights back, and because it was so small, it could never win. As the days went by, a knowledge took root in its mind: fighting against this person is useless, because it can never win. Even after it has grown much bigger and far stronger, and grown out viciously sharp teeth, every time it sees the person who trained it, it will immediately revert to being docile and submissive.
Back in the day, Xiao Jingrui and Yan Yujin had been two of those young dogs, and Xia Dong, naturally, had been their trainer.
In the history of Da Liang, there had long been an investigations institution that answered directly to the Emperor – the Xuanjing Bureau. Its members were known as Xuanjing Officers, and its craft was passed down from master to apprentice, emphasizing an extremely high degree of loyalty to the monarch, and operating directly by imperial decree to investigate the most important, most secretive cases. The current head of the Xuanjing Bureau, Xia Jiang, had trained three apprentices: Xia Qiu and Xia Dong, who were twin siblings, and Xia Chun3, who was not related to them by blood. The three had completely different temperaments, but like the previous members of their bureau, had become very close. Originally, the responsibilities of the Xuanjing Bureau did not include ‘dog training’, but seventeen years ago, the Emperor had suddenly felt that the noble sons were pampered and spoiled, and not fit to bring prosperity to his kingdom, and so he had opened a corner of the palace called the Shuren Courtyard and ordered all male children aged five to eleven of third-rank officials or higher to be sent there for physical training by the Xuanjing officers. Xia Chun and Xia Qiu were relatively gentler, and although strict in their training, would at least consider the tolerance level of the young darlings. But the twenty-year-old Xia Dong, then newly made officer and brimming with eagerness to serve the royal family, took the training she had received from her own master and implemented it directly into the training of these tender young puppies, and every day, loud wailing and miserable shrieks were heard from Shuren Courtyard. The poor Yan Yujin had just turned five, a little pearl of a boy in his powdered make up, and though he was originally a proud, flamboyant little sapling, after a few days of training, he had been transformed into a shaking little leaf that spontaneously curled up as if struck by frost whenever he so much as caught a glimpse of Xia Dong jiejie.
“Xia…Xia Dong jiejie…” Because the period of Xiao Jingrui’s suffering had been relatively short, the scars of the past were lighter on him than on Yan Yujin, and he screwed up his courage and said, “Yujin really didn’t do it on purpose, we met the accusers on the road, and we couldn’t just stand by and do nothing….”
Xia Dong made a dismissive sound, the hand wrapped around Yan Yujin’s wrist not lessening in strength, but instead pulling him even closer. In fact, based on outward appearance alone, although Xia Dong was not born with particularly feminine features, she was nonetheless very beautiful, and, because of the rigorous training of her inner strength, appeared significantly younger than her true age. But to Yan Yujin, whose mind was filled only with painful memories, this beautiful face seemed like the mask of the devil, and, as it inched closer and closer to him, this son of the Imperial Uncle only felt his scalp growing numb, and almost let out a sharp yelp.
“Xiao Jin, don’t say anything, help me walk slowly to the road….” The soft words drifted into his ear, and suddenly the body leaning on his grew heavy, and the metallic smell of blood floated into his nose. Yan Yujin’s heart sank, but he quickly straightened his expression, inconspicuously shifting his stance to support Xia Dong, who was beginning to sway unsteadily, and continued to speak in a pleading tone, “Xia Dong jiejie, don’t be angry, once jiejie has returned to the capital and completed her task, you can punish me however you like.” As he spoke, he grasped Xia Dong’s elbow with one hand and turned, throwing Xiao Jingrui a meaningful look.
Xiao Jingrui stared back, and because he’d had some training in the jianghu world, immediately realized something was wrong, and though he kept his original position and expression, he quickly swept a gaze left and right, and then stilled his breath to sense his surroundings, and indeed felt a wave of murderous energy wafting over.
“You little rascal, you’ve always had a sweet tongue,” Xia Dong smiled, suddenly revealing a girlish charm, and continued, “You think you can summon the troops to your rescue? Don’t think you can escape from my grasp. Walk with me!”
“Alright, alright, alright, when have I ever dared to disobey Xia Dong jiejie?” Yan Yujin laughed, then asked in a low voice, “Are you alright? Can you ride?”
Xia Dong smilingly smacked him over the head, and murmured out of the corner of her mouth, “Keep walking like this. As long as I don’t fall over, they won’t dare come out into the open.”
By this time, Xiao Jingrui had also drawn close with the horses, his expression full of concern, but not daring to speak aloud.
“Don’t worry, at this distance, they won’t hear us if we’re quiet.” Xia Dong continued to speak in a low tone. “They don’t want me to enter the city, so maybe they’ll bet everything on one attack….You two be prepared too. There are people in the river, and in the forest on the far shore….”
The two readied their energies; one, still pretending to have his arm trapped, walked in front, supporting Xia Dong, and the other walked behind them with the horses, purposefully falling behind to guard their backs. As the three moved slowly towards the direction of the road, from a distance, it looked as if they were laughing and teasing, without the slightest hint of nervousness.
But Xia Dong’s breathing became more and more erratic, her steps heavier and heavier, betraying the deteriorating situation, and Xiao Jingrui, seeing the bloody footprints left by the two in front, knew in his heart that the situation was not good, and could only purposefully lead the horses over the bloody tracks in the hopes that they would not be noticed by the assassins behind them.
But the tracking abilities of trained assassins are naturally unusually high, and despite the fact that the three had not made any mistakes, a whistle suddenly sounded from the forest across the brook, and with a rustling of leaves, a number of grey silhouettes flew out from the trees. At the same time, the calm surface of the lake suddenly erupted, and about ten assassins dressed in silver water-armor flew from its depths, splitting waves before them with their hands. The two groups met and fanned out, then charged straight for the three travellers.
Without any words or speech, the vicious battle had begun. The assassins’ attacks were not elegant or pretty, but effective enough in their simplicity; charge, thrust, hack, chop – each action was neat, and only designed for the purpose of ending a life. Even though Xiao Jingrui had some experience in face-to-face battles from his travels in the jianghu world, he was overwhelmed by the sudden onset of murderous energy, and his actions became sluggish, and as for Yan Yujin, who had only ever experienced fights in competitions, his reaction was even worse. In addition, the two did not have weapons at hand, and faced with the ferocious attacks of numerous assassins empty-handed, the situation was deteriorating quickly. If their opponents had not been so clearly targeting Xia Dong, they might have quickly met their ends.
In comparison, Xia Dong had much more experience as a Xuanjing officer, and she did not give an inch, a shining dagger appearing suddenly in her hands as she met the assassins stroke for stroke, matching their simplicity and speed, making it difficult to for her attackers to draw near. But unfortunately, she had already been wounded, and as time went on, her strength began to falter, and after fending off a few fierce strokes, her legs grew weak, and she swayed before falling to the ground, and though she was still fighting fiercely, her life was clearly in jeopardy.
Fortunately, after the initial attack, Xiao Jingrui and Yan Yujin had steadied considerably. They knew that any assassin that dared to attack a Xuanjing Officer would be unlikely to consider their own noble ranks, and anyway they might not even be aware of their identities, and so as one, they had increased their concentration, and their attacks were becoming much smoother. One was a disciple of Tianquan Manor4, and the other was trained in the Qianmen Method5, and their martial arts were certainly ranked top amongst the younger generation. In addition, they were faced with a fight to the death, and aside from considering themselves, they naturally also wanted to save their friends, and so they fought with all their strength, holding nothing back. After they had gotten a firm foothold, the two stood guard in front of Xia Dong, shoulder to shoulder, fighting in synchrony, and although they couldn’t avoid receiving a few cuts and blows, they managed to slowly turn the situation around, finally even managing to obtain two daggers.
Tianquan Manor was famed in the jianghu world for its swordsmanship, the height of its abilities in this aspect almost reaching the heavens. Xiao Jingrui was wielding his dagger like a sword, and although it wasn’t very natural, his fighting power had already increased drastically. Add to that Yan Yujin’s dazzling movements and Xia Dong’s strange moves, and the situation had changed in the blink of an eye, with the two sides suddenly evenly matched.
The assassins were used to carrying out their shady missions in one quick stroke, and to have fallen into this lengthy fight was no laughing matter, not to mention that this was already the outskirts of the city, and the longer the fight went on, the greater the risk of being come across by other travellers. And so, a whistle sounded in the thick forest again, urgent and short, and the three felt the focus of the fight shift, now turning to the masters Xiao and Yan. Xia Dong seized the chance to rest briefly and backed up a few steps away from the fight, catching her breath and trying to stop the bleeding from her wounds.
Although the pressure had increased and they had lost Xia Dong’s support, Xiao Jingrui and Yan Yujin’s synchronous attacks had reached a new level, and their confidence was rising. Their daggers flashed steadily, and already a few of the assassins had retreated away staggering, but their enemies were numerous, and more immediately rushed up to take their places.
At this point, the whistle sounded again, this time with a low ending note, and five silver-robed assassins rose up in a formation designed for a suicidal attack. At the same time, the leader of the attack showed himself, feet striking against the water as he flew across the surface of the river, swiftly arriving at the scene of the fight, and led all of the remaining assassins, including those wounded on the ground, into formation surrounding the masters Xiao and Yan, and then diving around them straight for Xia Dong.
“Jiejie, look out!” Yan Yujin screamed, backing up at lightning speed with Xiao Jingrui, fighting to reach Xia Dong’s side before the enemy. After suffering such a close attack, how could they give up so easily? Their eyes widened as the grey figures flew past them, trailing icy wind, and flying cruelly straight for Xia Dong.
“Xia Dong jiejie…” Hearing the two’s desperate cries, Xia Dong, who had long-since been exhausted and weakened, suddenly lifted her head, a cold light flashing in her eyes, and turned her body in a spin, whirling like a tornado, disappearing into a blur of colour, and the first few figures to reach her were sent flying.
This sudden massive change not only left the two noble sons shocked, even the assassins looked a bit dazed. But as long as everything had not yet ended, Xia Dong’s fierce attack did not slow for a moment, but cut through the assassins like a knife, striking them aside with one blow, and, amidst the lightning-fast strikes of her attacks, she suddenly grabbed one of the assassins by the chest and triumphantly twisted his mouth, dislocating his jaw, then smoothly flipped him onto the ground and held him there with one foot.
The assassins were growing flustered, and seeing that their mission would be impossible to complete, backed up quickly and fled across the brook to the safety of the forest. The masters Xiao and Yan weren’t inclined to pursue, and only chased them to the edge of the river before stopping and turning around to stare at Xia Dong.
The beautiful lady officer of the Xuanjing Bureau turned her face to the sky and laughed loudly, then poked her captive with one foot, shook out the long hair over her shoulders, cast a fluid glance around with a flamboyant expression, and then said in a loud, clear voice, “Thank you both for showing up to help, or I wouldn’t have been able to capture this coward of a leader alive…. His martial arts aren’t much, but his dodging skills are really not bad, he wouldn’t come near me on the road at all, and made himself pretty hard to catch…. Hahaha….”
1google it. (They’re common kids’ toys in Chinese society; I had one as a kid.)
2Xia Dong went to Bin Province to investigate the land-grabbing case against the Duke of Qing, which was brought to court by a peasant couple whom Yujin, Jingrui, Xie Bi, and MCS met outside the capital, and whom Yujin kindly escorted to the palace back in Chapter 1 (hence Xia Dong’s ire directed at him lol)
3Xia Jiang = ‘summer river’; Xia Dong = ‘summer winter’; Xia Qiu = ‘summer autumn’; Xia Chun = ‘summer spring’……and now please go read the amazing Legend of Xia Xia (but you do need a bit of Chinese to be able to read it…argh maybe I should translate this too…someday)
4Tianquan Manor (translates to “Heaven Spring Manor”) is one of the Jianghu sects, with its own style of martial artistry. Xiao Jingrui learned this style of martial arts under his father from the Zhuo side, Zhuo Dingfeng, who is the current chief of Tianquan Manor, and who is ranked fourth on the Langya List of Martial Arts Experts.
5another jianghu sect, I guess; translates to ‘The Way of Heaven’s Gate’