Warnings: gore/body horror
And so, Gu Mang unknowingly became the stakes in the battle between the two lords to solve the case.
“…” Murong Lian didn’t answer immediately. He first rolled his eyes leisurely, then looked at the empty floor in front of him and laughed, without turning his head, “Xihe-Jun may very well expect to fall out with this lord, then.”
His way of addressing himself had changed, obviously invoking his royal blood to pull rank1[Murong Lian’s just using his status as a royal relative to oppress Mo Xi; when it comes to actual rank in the military, Mo Xi outranks him.] over Mo Xi.
Mo Xi waited for his chance to gain the upper hand, his expression frosty, his aura frightening. It was silent for a while in the hall, with nobody saying anything, before Mo Xi spoke.
“Remember this. Gu Mang carries countless secrets and endless blood debt on him, but because of your selfish desires, he was involved in a disaster while in your care.”
Mo Xi paused, his gaze darkening, like ice shattering. “I will not let you take this person. If Wangshu-Jun has anything to enlighten me on, I look forward to it.”
Between the two of them, one of them was a royal relative, and the other was the general of the military; at the moment their gazes met, it was almost as if sparks flew from the friction between them2[t/n: ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)].
Murong Lian’s face was so pale that it was almost translucent, the motion of his teeth grinding particularly startling against his skin. He ground his teeth for a long time, and suddenly laughed loudly, “Sure!”
“You still dare to say that you won’t protect him? You still dare to say that you hate him?” The light in Murong Lian’s eyes was glinting like poisonfeather wine. His smile tightened all of a sudden. “Mo Xi, did you realise? What you’ve said to this lord today, is exactly like what Gu Mang had said standing in front of you, protecting you, back when you were in dire straits!”
Mo Xi observed him calmly, a thin layer of inscrutable expression on his face.
“You can’t bring yourself to hate Gu Mang at all. If I hand him to you today, something catastrophic will happen to Chonghua in the future!”
All of a sudden, Mo Xi laughed too.
His handsome smile was splendid, almost extravagantly so, but his expression was very cold. “Has Gu Mang ever protected me? …I only know that he left a scar that will never fade on my chest. I only remember that he wanted me dead.”
“I hate him.” Mo Xi said eventually, calm. It was as if a pure, cold snow had fallen in his eyes. “You say that he protected me, but I apologise, Wangshu-Jun, those occasions are long past. This general can’t remember them.”
He turned and half-knelt to the throne, eyelashes lowered slightly.
“Your Majesty, in Chonghua, no one understands Gu Mang’s spells and techniques better than I do. Additionally, it was a lapse in Wangshu-Jun’s surveillance that resulted in today’s disaster. I beseech Your Majesty to grant me permission to detain him in my manor, and tighten supervision over him.”
Whipping his head around, Murong Lian said sharply, “Mo Xi, why have you expended all your effort into protecting him upon your return! What are your intentions!”
Mo Xi ignored Murong Lian.
The Emperor considered the matter briefly, but just as he was about to speak, a captain of the Imperial Guard rushed up to the door from outside. After he spoke briefly but urgently with the attendant envoy, the attendant’s expression warped abruptly, and the attendant walked with haste to the front of the hall. “Your Majesty, urgent news from within the city!”
The Emperor nearly punted his low table. “This is the second incident tonight, what is it?”
Pale-faced, the attendant said, “A homicide has occurred at the Hongyan Brothel in the north of the city. Almost all the courtesans and the guests in the brothel are dead, even, even Elder Yu of the Chengtian Terrace…”
Hearing this, the crowd of officials were uniformly shocked.
Even the Emperor stood from the throne abruptly, eyes wide. “Whose doing is this!!”
“It, it is unknown…by the time the Imperial Guard noticed something amiss, the criminal had already fled, and even left, left some words on the wall–”
The attendant’s residual shock had still not subsided, and he stammered his reply, “Lone, lonesome this humble one is, earnestly collecting wives and concubines.”
“Lonesome this humble one is, earnestly collecting wives and concubines?” The Emperor repeated this twice, and said, frustrated, “What is this drivel–which depraved single old man wrote this, then killed a whole bunch of people afterwards? What does he want–to murder, or the women?” He paused, then grew even more irate. “Are there any other clues?!”
“Not, not at the moment.”
The Emperor shouted his catchphrase, “Useless trash!!”
Leaning back against the throne to cool off for a moment, his eyelashes quivered as he caught sight of Mo Xi and Murong Lian. There was a sudden flicker in the Emperor’s heart as a plan came to him.
“Put Gu Mang’s case on temporary hold,” said the Emperor, slowly rightening himself.
While the Hongyan case came at a bad time, it could indeed be used. After all, between the two fighting over Gu Mang in front of the court, one was a royal relative, and the other an important official; rejecting either was not a good solution, and this scenario at hand allowed him to delegate the problem elsewhere.
“It is extremely unacceptable that such a serious murder case can happen in the capital. I order the both of you to investigate this case immediately. Whoever catches the true culprit first can approach me for Gu Mang.”
Murong Lian said, “Listening to what Your Majesty intends, does Your Majesty mean to use Gu Mang as the stakes?”
The Emperor looked at him. “Just to seek revenge, the two of you are already squabbling like this. Why, is he not qualified enough to be the stakes?”
Murong Lian smiled. “He is. But I am doing this for vengeance, while it is unknown what Xihe-Jun is doing this for.”
Mo Xi: “…”
“That’s enough, Murong Lian. Xihe-Jun has always had the conduct of a gentleman. Quit throwing around baseless accusations just to get vengeance for a personal grudge.” Impatient, the Emperor waved his hand and interrupted him. He pointed to Gu Mang, deep in sleep at the centre of the Shennong Terrace’s protective formation, and said, “Xihe-Jun, I would also like to find out who is more capable, between you and Murong Lian. If you have no objections, we shall settle it in this way.”
Mo Xi agreed.
“Begin, then.” The Emperor clicked the beads in his hand. “Whoever wins shall take Gu Mang with him.”
And so, Gu Mang unknowingly became the stakes in the battle between the two lords to solve the case.
But Murong Lian wished for him to suffer.
While Mo Xi wished for him to…
Forget it, he couldn’t guess what would happen afterwards either, if he were to really bring Gu Mang back to his manor. This was not something he should be preoccupied with at this moment.
Within the Hongyan Brothel, Mo Xi stood in the black clothes of the Commander of the Imperial Guard, arms crossed, and silently gazed at the cursive script scribbled in blood on the wall.
By the Emperor’s order, the healers from Shennong Terrace were handling the bodies, grotesque in death, inside the brothel. While he and Murong Lian were assigned to uncover the truth and arrest the culprit.
“Forty-one courtesans, thirty-seven customers, and seven service personnel dead,” a healer reported to Mo Xi. “Additionally, after checking with the records, there are also five courtesans missing.”
Murong Lian was also listening off to the side. Upon hearing this, he frowned. “Missing?”
“After killing a whole brothel of people, where not even Elder Yu was spared…those five prostitutes surely did not escape on their own, and were most likely taken away by the killer,” Murong Lian mused. “Why did the killer take only these five women away with him? Did he really kidnap them to be his wives and concubines?”
Meanwhile, Mo Xi drew close to the side of the bloodstained steps, where a few healers were handling Elder Yu’s corpse. Seeing him, they bowed. “Xihe-Jun.”
“Mn. How are the traces of magic on Elder Yu’s body?”
“Answering Xihe-Jun, they seem to be demonic spells from the Liao kingdom, but aren’t entirely identical. Please take a look at this.”
As he spoke, the healer raised a corner of the sheet covering the corpse for Mo Xi to take a look.
“Both of Elder Yu’s eyes were taken, and his heart was also dug out. The flesh of his wounds decayed extremely quickly, it does not seem to resemble that of wounds inflicted by ordinary weapons, but more like…”
Mo Xi continued, frowning, “A spectre devouring flesh.”
“Yes. It is indeed similar to the marks left by a spectre devouring flesh.”
Mo Xi’s gaze travelled across Elder Yu’s gruesome appearance. The two holes of his eyes had started to ooze a blackish liquid, and so had the cavity in his chest. However, a spectre was usually out of their mind when they killed; writing “Lonesome this humble one is, earnestly collecting wives and concubines” was unlike the doing of a spectre.
As he pondered, his gaze inched downwards and stopped on Elder Yu’s bloody chest. “Are the other bodies like this as well?”
The healer flipped through his case notes and shook his head. “No, only seventeen people had their eyes and hearts dug out.”
“Show me the list of names.”
The first name who died in such a manner was Elder Yu. Mo Xi was not entirely familiar with the names that followed, although the four or five that he recognised were indeed the names of those young masters from major clans.
“Were all those whose hearts were dug out cultivators?”
“We cannot ascertain that at the moment, but based on the current situation, they should be.”
The spiritual core resided in a cultivator’s heart, and the eyeballs were the most spiritually-abundant right after the heart. To spectres and anything supernatural, consuming these two parts would indeed greatly benefit their cultivation.
Head lowered, Mo Xi murmured to himself under his breath.
Right at this moment, a soldier of the Imperial Guard pushed the door open and entered. He had been running in urgency, his forehead beaded with sweat even on a winter’s day. “Xihe-Jun! Wang, Wang, Wang—”
Murong Lian’s half-lidded eyes cast a glance at him, and he jeered in some interest, “Why are you barking? Are you insulting our Xihe-Jun by calling him a dog3[editor’s note: the Chinese sound for dogs barking is “wang” btw]?”
That guardsman swallowed his mouthful of spit. “Wangshu-Jun!”
“…” Murong Lian’s smile vanished in an instant as he raged, “Catch your fucking breath before you speak!”
That guardsman answered hastily, “Yes, sir! There has been new information: after Gu Mang’s rampage, the noise-emitting security boundary of the Luomei Garden Villa was destroyed. Just now, while the housekeeper was verifying the number of people in the villa, it was dis-discovered that there is one person less!”
Shocked, Murong Lian stepped forward to grab the guardsman by the lapels of his robes. “What’s going on? Wasn’t it already verified three times previously, and confirmed that not a single person had used the chaos to escape? Why is there one person less now?!”
Before the guardsman could answer, a squad of riders came galloping on their horses through the snowy night. It was his men, delivering Madam Qin, who was in charge of the Luomei Garden Villa. Upon dismounting, she fell on her knees with a thud, quaking as she planted herself face-first onto the ground. “Wangshu-Jun, this servant deserves death! This servant deserves death!!”
Murong Lian almost fainted from anger. “If you wish to die, die after you’ve explained things clearly! Are you blind or are you stupid? No one was reported missing during the previous three checks, so why is there one person fewer all of a sudden? Hurry up and speak!”
“May Wangshu-Jun forgive me—sob sob, this servant only took note of the rentboys and songstresses in the villa at first, compiling their numbers a few times over with great attention to detail, and verified that all of them were certainly still there, but, but this servant cannot believe that she forgot…”
“What did you forget!?!”
The madam wailed, “This servant forgot that there was still a bedridden cook in the waitstaff’s rooms!”
“The cook?” Murong Lian was taken aback.
The madam cried, “Yes, about a month ago, you confined Gu Mang so he could reflect upon his misbehaviour, and docked his meals as punishment. When he could not bear the hunger any longer, he snuck into the small kitchen to steal food. That cook bumped into him then, hit and scolded him, eventually triggering the sword array, and was gashed all over.”
“The doctor said that these wounds needed at least two to three months of bed confinement to heal, so, so at the beginning, I did not think that he would do anything suspicious, yet who knew that he would take advantage of Gu Mang shattering the boundaries to sneak, sneak…”
Livid, Murong Lian kicked her in the chest, pointing at her as she fell onto the thick snow on the ground, and raged, “Do you know what serious trouble you’ve caused?!”
All the servants and prostitutes in the Luomei Garden Villa were captives of war who bore deep hatred against Chonghua. Even though their spiritual cores had been destroyed before entering the Villa, each country’s magic had their own unique ingenuity: rumour has it that there used to be a dark cultivator from the Liao kingdom who could reassemble his shattered spiritual core. Therefore, various boundary spells had been set, layer after layer, outside the Luomei Garden Villa.
Yet, during this rampage, Gu Mang had in fact destroyed all the boundary spells. Even if they overlooked this destruction, there was still a “bedridden” cook able to move and run all of a sudden who took the chance to slip away, and this was discovered by the one in-charge only now! Even more damning was the fact that not long after this cook had escaped, a serious homicide in which nearly a hundred had been murdered occurred in the capital—
If the Emperor demanded accountability for this, whose oversight was it?
Wasn’t it still Murong Lian’s!
Considering this, a patch of red surfaced involuntarily on Murong Lian’s pale face, and his vision swam before his eyes.
“Gu Mang…Gu Mang…” He seethed. “What a fantastic thing you have done this time!!”
He snapped his head around. “What are you waiting for, go check through the files on that cook!! His background! How old he is this year, all that has happened in his life, even how many women he’s slept with in this lifetime, I want to know all of it, go quickly!!”
“Yes! Yes!” The madam scrambled to her feet and onto her horse, and left in a hurry.
Murong Lian snapped his sleeve with a flourish and marched back into the Hongyan Brothel, agitated and furious. Lifting his head, he huffily glared at the line “Lonesome this humble one is, earnestly collecting wives and concubines” written on the wall.
The attendant accompanying him couldn’t help but volunteer, “My lord…”
Murong Lian said, unpleasantly, “What?!”
“Something’s not right about this.”
Disoriented from being thrown off guard, Murong Lian froze. “What’s not right?”
“Gu Mang injured the cook a month ago. A month afterwards, the cook took advantage of Gu Mang’s rampage to escape…” The attendant’s voice trailed off, and peeked cautiously at Murong Lian. “Does my lord not think that this is too much of a coincidence?”
Murong Lian was silent for a while, then narrowed his eyes. “Are you saying that the cook had planned in advance to exploit Gu Mang?”
“Or perhaps…Gu Mang was not exploited? Since something like this has happened, my lord might as well make the worst conjecture. Do you think that Gu Mang might have discussed it with the cook in advance?”
Murong Lian’s heart clenched.
“Which country is that injured cook a hostage from?”
The attendant was troubled precisely because of this. Lowering his head, he answered, “The Liao kingdom.”
He was also a traitor scum from the Liao kingdom?!
Murong Lian’s back was soaked through with cold sweat, as he recalled that Gu Mang…at this moment, Gu Mang was still in the palace!
Of all possible scenarios, he was troubled over this one: if Gu Mang truly had some underhanded secret ploy with that cook, the two of them working together, with one drawing everyone’s attention away with a distraction…
Murong Lian’s expression warped instantly. He froze, then strode towards the wind and snow outside. “Summon my Gilded-Wing Squall Horse! I have to return to the palace immediately to meet the Emperor!!”
The author has something to say:
《OT4[Off-tank: In Chinese gaming terms, this means that the enemies perceive your threat value exceeding that of the main tank in your party (you pose a bigger threat) and attack you instead.] Is Impossible》
The Emperor: I sacked Gu Mang!
Comment section: Kill Murong Lian!!!
The Emperor: I’ve left Gu Mang with nowhere to turn!
Comment section: Dice Murong Lian into cubes!
The Emperor: I sunk the Ximang ship!
Comment section: Beat Murong Lian to death!!!
The Emperor: …What’s going on? I’ve already tried so hard to be hated, come and hate me quickly!!!
A-Lian: Your Majesty, how could you surpass me in threat value…I graduated in pretending to be the most OP tank5[大橙武的稳t: You would not believe the hoops I jumped through trying to figure out what 稳t was.
大橙武: Originates from an online game called JX3, in which it is the most powerful and unique-looking sword (aka a top-tier weapon that everyone desires)
稳t: The steadiest, most reliable meat shield/tank that takes hits to protect the party.] …
note from seal & liyou: today (jan 13th) was mo xi’s birthday! happy?? birthday???