*people believe that Hao Li is the place all souls go to after death.
T/N: An emotional rollercoaster
Chang Geng: “Do not touch him!”
Gu Yun’s face remained unchanged, he calmly brought out an envelope and handed it to Chang Geng.
There was no content inside the envelope, its surface let out a sharp and chilled scent, seemingly a mixture of agarwood and something else.
The night before, the Eagle units have found three envelopes from the captured fragrant master – this was one of them. All three envelopes have a different scent, that fragrant master was quite stubborn, he did not talk no matter how hard they interrogated him. But of course, in such a short amount of time, even if he confessed, Gu Yun would not necessarily believe him.
Among the three envelopes, the only one that Gu Yun could explain the source of was this one.
According to legend, a rotten emperor from one of the previous dynasties believed in dark demonic arts, he had ordered men to create a kind of fragrance that could help him ascend to the higher realm. It was named ‘Yuhuang’ – cold and unclear, graceful and luxurious.
The former emperor once secretly saved a little for himself. He decided to use it one year on a whim, its scent truly was different from the incense commonly used in the palace.
The former emperor told him that although it smelled pleasant, this fragrance was also known as the ‘death of a country’. Secretly using a small bit in private was alright, but if the ministers found out, they would make a huge ruckus, thus this matter must be kept hidden at all cost.
After many years, Gu Yun’s impression of this ‘death of a country’ scent still remained.
Chang Geng just tensed up a bit yet Gu Yun had immediately noticed it, without waiting for him to write on his palm, he began to speculate how likely it was to be able to deceive those people by throwing this envelope out.
Gu Yun calculated for a while and thought to himself: “To pick one in three, the percentage is still quite high. If it doesn’t succeed then earth can hinder incoming flood, soldiers can hinder incoming swords.”
Fortunately, he was the only one who held this ‘success percentage’, the others were forced to calm down as they could only see an unquestionable certainty on his face.
The middle-aged man’s expression shifted. He took the envelope and sniffed it back and forth several times, his face unpredictable.
Chang Geng thought: “Do we still have to use force?”
Gu Yun patted his tensed up hand.
The middle-aged man looked up at Gu Yun. His att.i.tude had become a lot more earnest compared to before. He said: “My name is Di Song, I am the chief of these merchant ships. Might I ask where the Master is from and where your destination is?”
This is a slang, Chang Geng wrote it down clearly in Gu Yun’s palm.
Gu Yun opened his mouth for the first time and said: “Came from the ground, going to Hao Li.”
The middle-aged man named Di Song seemed to be taken aback, he hesitated for a moment, his voice weakened slightly: “Then… then I’ve troubled the master. Please, this way.”
Gu Yun stood still without moving; deaf fully and wholeheartedly. Only until Chang Geng gently tugged him that he would follow after his lead with a blank face, appearing flawlessly like a true ‘fragrant master’ who had lost all his senses.
Then using Gu Yun’s wide sleeves as a cover, Chang Geng wrote in his hand: “How did yifu know of their slang?”
This was actually the dialogue between the two crew members which the Eagle units had overheard when they were ordered to monitor the merchant ships. They had reported to him every single detail regardless of big or small. Truth was, Gu Yun did not know what those words meant, but he was still able to make use of it to fool the other party.
Just like a wolf, he lied to Chang Geng: “I know everything.”
Chang Geng: “…”
The group was able to board the Dong Ying’s merchant ship smoothly, several Dong Ying people appeared, curiously looking at the fragrant master in legends.
Dong Ying was influenced by Great Liang, Buddhist culture was also widespread. Many of them saw that a monk was following behind Gu Yun and came forward to greet.
Chang Geng quietly observed these Dong Ying people – the number of them were even more than he had imagined. Using the name of escorting merchant ships, they were equipped with long blades, some even had iron wristbands with strangely shaped darts* on their wrists and ankles. Coming closer, one could sense the faint smell of blood on them.
*j.a.panese ninja’s shuriken
Suddenly, a shout came from behind them. A masked Dong Ying man landed down behind Gu Yun – and without a word, swinging his curved dagger at Gu Yun’s back.
Chang Geng’s reaction was extremely fast, the sword was not yet unsheathed from its cover, but the opponent’s dagger had already been stopped.
The Dong Ying man let out a strange scream, his pet.i.te body twisted into a weird arc – his whole figure resembled a snake without bones, the dagger in his hand became a demonic and wicked viper, sending seven slashes towards Chang Geng in succession. Something inside his left shoulder suddenly opened up: a Dong Ying’s dart came flying straight towards Gu Yun.
No one knew whether Gu Yun had insisted that once he played this role, he must commit to it until the very end or what – he continued to stand still in one place, unconscious of everything that was happening!
In a moment of desperation, Chang Geng’s blade and its scabbard were split into two, he tossed the scabbard out with force, driving the dart out of its flying projectile when it almost grazes pa.s.s Gu Yun’s chest.
This was not the first time Chang Geng had crossed sword with someone, it was not the first time he was plunged into a dangerous confrontation either – but it was the first time someone almost injured his yifu right in front of his eyes. A layer of red suddenly surfaced on his pupils, Bone of Impurity inside his body abruptly raised up.
He shouted, his wrists suddenly pointed downward, using the same move he did to deal with the sword training puppet. The dagger in the hands of the Dong Ying man trembled fiercely, appearing almost bent from the force. Not waiting for the other to retract his weapon, Chang Geng had already kicked him in the stomach.
Legend has it; that in order to make it convenient for climbing the walls and gliding on roofs for a.s.sa.s.sination missions, the a.s.sa.s.sins’ bodies must be smaller than that of the ordinary people. This snake-like man must be the best among the best. Although they were incredibly flexible, they were still not good at enduring direct force. Chang Geng’s kick almost shattered the man’s intestines, he could not even hold on to his weapon anymore and was forced to retreat.
Chang Geng did not want to let him go, he kicked the dagger on the ground up with the tip of his foot, grabbed hold of it and nailed in front of the man, the long sword in his hand spun in a circle, about to cut the Dong Ying man into two.
This was all happening too fast, enemies and friends surrounding them, no one was able to react. As Chang Geng was quickly delivering a decisive blow intended to take his opponent’s life, three shouts of ‘stop!’ sounded out one after another.
A few Dong Ying’s long blades reached out from all four sides at the same time, blocking Chang Geng’s unparalleled sword.
The stunned monk only had time to wipe his sweat – Chang Geng’s words that threatened to kill him that night were actually genuine.
Chang Geng hissed: “Move aside!”
Di Song rushed over and hurriedly explain: “Just a misunderstanding, a misunderstanding! This is the first time Mister Uekawa here came to Great Liang, he was not aware of the customs. When he saw this brother here also carried a sword, he only wanted to play around a bit. Please be kind and pardon him.”
Chang Geng’s reddish gaze stared at the man who had withdrawn behind the others, forcing each word out: “Play around?”
Di Song tried to smile, turning towards Gu Yun standing still as if nothing was wrong.
Seeing his completely blank face, he remembered that these top cla.s.s fragrant masters could neither see nor hear, he stepped forward in an attempt to reach out to pat Gu Yun’s arm.
He has yet touched the man but a fierce gust wind had instantly come from behind him. Fortunately, as his reaction was fast, otherwise it would not be guaranteed that he could keep his hand.
Chang Geng: “Do not touch him!”
Di Song: “…”
In this group of people, one couldn’t hear, one couldn’t speak, a pair of children, and the only person who could speak on their behalf, the scabbard of the weapon in his hand had not even been picked up yet.
The atmosphere was deadlocked for a moment.
At this time, Gu Yun finally opened his mouth: “Why are we still standing here? Don’t miss the time of departure.”
The frightening clash just now, it seemed he could not feel any of it.
Di Song quickly tried to ease the situation: “Exactly, we are all family here…”
Without waiting for him to finish, Gu Yun had already reached one hand out, Chang Geng paused for a bit then used the tip of the sword to pick up the scabbard on the ground, sliding the blade into the sheath. He then stepped over to take Gu Yun’s hand and helped to lead him inside.
Liao Ran had to take care of the rest. He smiled pleasantly towards the crowd of frightened Dong Ying people. No one knew where he had taken out an old wood bead. The outside of the beads were covered with a layer of dark red paint, mimicking the look of sandalwood. After using for long time, the paint had comes off, making the beads bear the color of mottled lobular rosewood.
The monk with his clothing in the simlilar worn out state as his bead, silently recited the scriptures, praying for the crowd of people, while urging Ge Ban Xiao and Cao Niangzi to run along.
This time, the Dong Ying people were watching their backs as if they were enemies, no one had come up to greet them anymore.
Chang Geng led Gu Yun towards the quarters that they have especially prepared for the fragrant master. His nerves tensed up all the way. Upon arrival, he carefully swept his glance outside once then locked the door: “Yi…”
Gu Yun turned back, putting a finger on his lips.
With Gu Yun’s current condition, unless someone screamed at his ears, he could not hear a single word.
But judging by the rush of air around him when Chang Geng quickly turned around after closing the door to a.s.sume that the child might want to talk to him, hence he had taken the initiative to stop him beforehand.
The special medicine Gu Yun had been using was prescribed to him when he was ten years old by a highly skilled doctor among the common folk who was invited to treat him by an underling of the Old Marquis. Before that, he was forced to endure the inconvenience of his nonfunctional eyes and ears.
The old Marquis was strong-willed throughout his entire life and was extremely strict in his own self-discipline. He was tough on himself, even tougher on his son.
He did not know what the word ‘pamper’ was. No matter if Gu Yun could see or not, or how he felt inside – his skills must continue to be honed, the iron puppets themselves won’t be lenient or hesitant because of Gu Yun’s inconveniences either.
These puppets were not of the same kind that Chang Geng played with. Although the sword training puppet was terrifying, but after being specially adjusted, when crossing moves, it would stop at the right moment and would not hurt people.
When the true iron puppets started to move, they became beasts made of metal – inhumane.
He had to rely on his weak sight and hearing, combined with the surrounding flow of air to deal with them. But no matter how hard the little Gu Yun worked, he would never be able to keep up with the requirements of the Old Marquis, each time as he started to adapt to a certain level of speed and strength, they were immediately pumped up to a higher notch.
The original words of the Old Marquis were: Either you will learn to stand up, or else find a place to hang yourself, Gu family would rather have no heir than raise a worthless child.
This sentence was like a cold steel nail – nailed into the bones of Gu Yun at a very young age. It could never be pulled out for the rest of his life. When Gu Yun entered the palace after the Old Marquis pa.s.sed away, he still did not dare to relax for even a brief moment.
This kind of sense that has been honed for many years could always help him cover up on a few occasions. This was also the reason for why he did not wear thick clothing if it was not cold to the point that his mortal flesh could not bear.
Because thick fox fur and cotton coats would affect the sense of touch on his skin.
Gu Yun searched around for a moment in the air then wrote in Chang Geng’s palm: “The one who just fought with you was a Dong Ying’s ninja. Those people excel at sneaking around. Beware of eavesdropping near the walls.”
Chang Geng lowered his head, he couldn’t help but grab Gu Yun’s callused hand. Letting out a deep sigh that had been hanging in his chest, he shook his head with self-deprecation – Gu Yun would forever be calm and stable, and he would forever be frightened to death.
Gu Yun frowned, he did not know for what reason was Chang Geng heaving such long sighs, he turned his head to ‘look’ at the boy, lifting his eyebrows.
As Gu Yun was blindfolded, Chang Geng looked at him to his heart content.
Gu Yun’s hand followed along his arm, moved to his head, and patted it.
Chang Geng closed his eyes, forcing himself to hold back from almost rubbing his head against the other’s hand.
He took Gu Yun’s hand off and wrote: “Meeting this kind of situation in the first time following yifu, I was a bit anxious and scared.”
The most fearful thing was that brief second when the Dong Ying man’s dart was about to hit Gu Yun.
Gu Yun seemed to have just remembered something and suddenly smiled.
Chang Geng: “Why are you laughing?”
“I pampered you too much.” Gu Yun wrote in his palm. “Back then, If I dare to say the word ‘scared’ in front of my father, I would have definitely get beaten with a stick.”
Chang Geng silently thought: “Then why won’t you ever beat me with a stick?”
Not only did Gu Yun not beat him, but he had rarely ever gotten seriously mad at him, his anger never lasted for longer than three sentences.
The first time he faced with the sword training puppet, he was consumed with fright and unable to adapt to it, yet Gu Yun had never shown disappointment or impatience. As Chang Geng recalled it again after more than a year had pa.s.sed, he felt that Gu Yun was not at all like a rigorous elder who was teaching the younger generation, but more like an adult watching a little child playing clumsily with a smile.
Gu Yun wrote: “These Dong Ying people are very troublesome to deal with. They have many tricks up their sleeves, but not many of them can be considered to be true first-cla.s.s fighters. The man’s dart might have appeared terrifying, but in actuality, its flying track was curved. He simply wanted to test if I really am blind.
“The Dong Ying people on this ship are not of concern, what I’m worried about is their destination.”
Merchant ships left the inland from the pa.s.sage between the sea and the ca.n.a.l, aiming towards the East, sending the products back to Dong Ying.
On their way, to be able to pa.s.s by several inspection stations, there must be a fragrant expert boarding along with their ships currently carrying the scented balms, the tested samples must be handed out at each of the inspection stations. Hence, no matter what the real purpose of these merchant ships was, there must always be a fragrant expert to pull the wool over other people’s eyes.
After ten days of travel, Ge Ban Xiao sneaked into the Gu Yun’s room: “Mar… Master Zhang, big brother Chang Geng.”
After that, as he saw the blindfold on Gu Yun’s face, he muttered: “Forgot that he was supposed to be deaf right now.”
After greeting them, he started to bring out several objects, first was two compa.s.ses, then a box that continuously let out white steam. This plump little boy was quite amazing, his belly seemed to be retractable, it was able to store many things when sucked in, and even after taking things out… it did not seem to get thinner either.
Chang Geng: “What is this? Is there something burning inside?”
Ge Ban Xiao smiled and said: “Hehe, it is Ziliujin.”
Chang Geng said: “Do you not feel hot?”
Ge Ban Xiao pulled open his clothes and revealed that he had a dark board on his chest. This was used for heat protection inside the heavy armor in the area that was equipped with explosives. The boy had cut it into the shape of an undergarment*: “Iron undergarment!”
*a piece of undergarment women wear
under their clothes, covering their chests.
Gu Yun took off his blindfold, put on the Liuli gla.s.s, carefully looked at Ge Ban Xiao’s masterpiece, and he couldn’t help but admire it. He felt that although these children didn’t know anything aside from playing around, but even at such a young age, they had insisted on going with Chang Geng to the capital. Even if they’re not ones with grand ambitions, they certainly still have their own talents.
Ge Ban Xiao used the monk’s sign language: “Who said that only women can wear undergarment?”
Gu Yun gave him a thumbs up – You’re completely right.
Chang Geng: “…”
On the table, the two compa.s.ses were spinning in a frenzy. Ge Ban Xiao gestured for the two of them to look, then gently tapped the table and put up three fingers – The compa.s.ses had been messed up for at least three days.
Gu Yun often went out – he could understand it immediately at a glance.
People usually brought two compa.s.ses when traveling. If one of them would fail, the other one could be used to find out whether the first compa.s.s was broken or if there was a problem with the local area. There were certain places in the desert or on the sea where the compa.s.s could become ineffective, the general merchant and fishing ships would avoid them.
But this group of Dong Ying people, not only did they not evade, but was also deliberately going towards it. The route had no doubt deviated from the originally established destination.
‘Came from the ground, going to Hao Li,’ what exactly did this ‘Hao Li’ mean?
Ge Ban Xiao: “Fortunately, I also brought this.”
He spoke while opening the small box that had been spurting out white steam. It was a very delicate little thing, there was a fast-moving small wheel in the middle, connected with a shaft, the outer had several shining golden rings. The word ‘Ling’ was inscribed in the corner, revealing that it was a product of Ling Shu Inst.i.tute.
“This is the prototype given by Ling Shu inst.i.tute. When turning, this axis will always point in one direction,” Ge Ban Xiao pointed, “It is this one – it is more accurate than the compa.s.s, but it runs on Ziliujin. I heard that it was rejected by people above even before the final product could come out. Master Liao Ran and I had secretly made one. Before we left, I had taken one small bowl of Ziliujun from big brother’s sword training puppet.”
Gu Yun carefully reached out to pick up the little object, feeling that it was very well crafted, he feared that he could break it if he used too much force: “If Shen Yi could see this thing, it will be enough for him to use his body to repay you.”
Ge Ban Xiao pulled out a wrinkled up leather map – no one knew where he was able to obtain one, his plump and round finger danced around for a while then stopped at a certain point.
“With our current course, Master Liao Ran and I predicted that we are going to arrive at this place soon.”