Extra Story 3 – Savior, Part 1
When Fengbo was six, he realized that he was interested in the boys he often saw in the wuguan, especially the better looking ones. He liked hanging out with them and playing with them, and he especially liked bumping into them.
His first crush came when he was seven: Xuan Shanfu, a cute, tan, and somewhat clumsy farm boy who had been taken in by the Xuan family. Shanfu had lost his father to illness, so his mother had brought him all the way from the south to the Yue, having been best friends with the personal maid of Fengbo’s mother.
Fengbo enjoyed watching Shanfu practice; red-faced, panting, sweating and all. Although he could not understand why moves that came easily to him were so difficult for his distant kin, he liked watching Shanfu work hard. What was more, he often had the urge to kiss his cute shidi and do what he had seen the grown-ups do when they thought he wasn’t looking.
Though befriending commoners was not encouraged, Fengbo had wanted to get to know Shanfu too much to care. At first, he had been happy with just talking and staying close to Shanfu, but eventually he invited Shanfu to his room for sleepovers, which raised many eyebrows.
Unfortunately, Shanfu was somewhat of a bore even in private—the difference between them was so great that they basically had nothing in common. Not to mention, since Fengbo’s class was much higher than Shanfu’s, and since it was his family that had taken in Shanfu, the boy was too obedient and never voiced his opinion on anything. So, Fengbo, in his desperation to find something to do, suddenly remembered that it felt good touching himself, and wondered if Shanfu would feel the same. Eventually, after talking about it to a very embarrassed Shanfu, he asked if he could touch the boy to see for himself. He even tried to kiss the boy, though that ended sloppily.
And so, that was his first sexual experience with another boy. It was incredible, having another person touch him—a lot better than touching himself.
However, Fengbo eventually lost interest in Shanfu—the boy was too dull and uninteresting.
He found his second crush at the age of nine. It was another noble, Jiang Hanjun, who was a year older than him; Fengbo often saw the boy in school. Unlike Shanfu, Hanjun was a little more feminine and pale, and he did not practice martial arts. Since Hanjun was Qiyuan’s cousin and friend, Fengbo asked his cousin to introduce them to each other.
Unlike Shanfu, Hanjun seemed to be interested in Fengbo as well. Better yet, they had more things in common and Fengbo did not have to repeat himself when they talked. They soon got into a more intimate relationship, kissing and touching each other. However, one night, Hanjun asked if he could suck Fengbo’s member—they ended up sucking each other after that, exploring ways to make the other feel better. When Fengbo was eleven, he got curious about whether or not it would feel good penetrating Hanjun’s behind, since he had accidentally run into his elder brother doing that to a girl. Fengbo had no idea how he ended up with his member in Hanjun’s behind, though he remembered that he had to use oil to make it easier.
However, by the time Fengbo was fourteen, Hanjun had started to sleep with too many other guys, so Fengbo stopped seeing the boy, ignoring the cries and pleas for forgiveness. After that, Fengbo only had very short-lived relationships, mostly physical and nothing too emotional—he knew they only cared about his status and wealth.
Eventually, Fengbo left school to gain military experience, though he tried to keep himself educated. Unlike his brother, Xuan Zhankun, Fengbo believed that knowledge and intellect were more valuable than brute strength. Though, he could still beat his brother at martial arts by that time. As a result of being too hot-blooded, Zhankun lost his life when Fengbo was fifteen.
Not long after Fengbo turned sixteen, his father ordered him to observe his imperial cousin, Bai Lingyun. Honestly, Fengbo did not have a very good impression of the boy—he was arrogant, not as smart as people had claimed he was, spoiled and, all in all, unpleasant.
In the first place, the emperor and Empress spoiled the fourth huangzi too much—when he had still been in the palace, he’d had more privilege and power than Bai Yiming, the eldest huangzi and the current taizi. Everyone had to obey him and no one dared to speak against him, fearing he’d tell on them.
Not to mention, the fourth huangzi had been very mean to Fengbo’s best friend, Sima Lü.
What was there to observe? A tyrant such as Bai Lingyun should never even be let close to the throne—let him wander the Jianghu, as far away from Fengbo’s city as possible.
Unfortunately, his father was too impressed by the spoiled, arrogant boy’s essays, and wanted Fengbo’s opinion. Consequently, Fengbo had to leave the city to go freeze his ass off all the way at Mount Snow Prison. And what luck, it was hailing snow and three masked, shady people were in his sight. Beneath their feet were seven bodies, presumably Snow Prison pugilists.
Fengbo was no fool—he didn’t think he’d be able to take all three Blood Flames assassins on in this temperature. However, before he could sneak away, they’d already noticed him.
Drawing his dao, he quickly fended off a slash aimed to cut his shoulder off, swirled around to avoid getting a vital acupressure point pierced by a jian, and counterattacked. He switched back and forth between single-grip and double-grip to pace his speed and alter his strength, but he was still forced back by their deadly formation and stabbings, and one assassin managed to pierce his shoulder, narrowly missing a vital acupressure point.
Yet, even though Fengbo was outnumbered and outmatched, he was still standing. Most likely, it was because the three assassins had sustained injury from their fight with the seven dead pugilists prior to their battle with Fengbo.
Seeing an opening at last, Fengbo quickly cut off an assassin’s arm and leg, whirling around to parry the assassin behind and flipping around to attack the one to his side. After a teacup’s worth of time, he was starting to feel weak from his shoulder injury, and one assassin used the opportunity to make a deep gash on Fengbo’s hip. He hissed with pain, staggering back, yet he was unable to avoid one of four poisonous throwing knives.
Regulating his qi to keep himself up, Fengbo felt his wounds burn, but thanks to having trained against poison, he didn’t feel the effects, which was enough to buy him enough surprise to kill another assassin. Now he was one on one with the last, yet he was also severely wounded. He didn’t know how long he would last, but the need to survive and live was pounding so violently in his veins that he felt a rush of unknown strength.
He could barely remember how he had killed the last assassin, but he got back onto his horse and rode up the mountain. In his last conscious moments, he forced himself to swallow a Xuan-made all-purpose antidote.
When he woke up again, he was warm—body heat? A pair of hands was on his back. “Why do I have to do this,” muttered a clear voice, as smooth and pleasant as the neili transferring to him. Too weak to see the face of that person, Fengbo drifted back into oblivion.
The next time he woke up, he found someone sleeping next to him—probably the most attractive boy he had ever seen before. Yet, it was as though there was a thin veil of ice covering the boy’s pale face—were all Snow Prison pugilists like that? Fengbo couldn’t resist the urge to brush the boy’s hair, wondering if this was his savior. Before he could touch the boy, however, clear, black eyes snapped open. Immediately, the thin veil of ice turned into a rather thick layer of frost. The boy got off the bed quickly and stood stiffly.
“Oh, good. You’re not dead,” said the boy with a remarkably accurate pronunciation. He sounded more like a well-educated scholar, not a martial artist.
“Did you save my life?” Fengbo inquired—it still hurt somewhat to talk. He realized he must’ve been pierced at the torso at one point, though he did not remember when or how.
The boy narrowed his eyes, though it did not detract from his good looks. “Master Zhou saved your life,” he replied coldly. Yet, he looked very tired, his eyelids seemed heavy. Not to mention, Fengbo remembered body heat, and the boy was sleeping next to him.
“You saved my life,” Fengbo observed, making sure his appreciation showed in his voice and expression.
Growling, the boy shot Fengbo a sharp glare. “You moron—I said that Master Zhou saved your life, so Master Zhou saved—”
The door opened, and an old, wizened man came in.
“Master Zhou,” breathed the boy, lowering his head.
Master Zhou smiled and nodded. When his eyes met Fengbo’s, his smile widened. He looked back at the boy. “I see you did not fail my expectations, Lingyun.”
Fengbo’s jaws almost dropped. Lingyun?
Extra Story – Savior, Part 2
Fengbo should have expected the boy to be Bai Lingyun; now with a closer look at him, he was obviously Bai Zhitian’s sibling—not to mention, that impeccable pronunciation was enough to give away his identity. Yet, Fengbo could not believe that someone with only three years of training had been able save him. He had been severely wounded—no normal fourteen-year-old should have been able to save him, especially one with so little experience!
However, no matter what, Fengbo was indebted to the fourth huangzi for saving his life. As such, he owed the teen a more thorough assessment of his personality and abilities to see if he was suitable for the throne.
“I’m going to attend the morning practices now, Master Zhou,” pronounced the fourth huangzi, not even bothering to look Fengbo’s way. “Please excuse me.” After receiving a nod from the leader of Snow Prison Sect, he left the room.
“Thank you for the hospitality, Zhou-daren,” Fengbo finally said. “I would have frozen to death, if I hadn’t already died from my injuries.”
Zhou Yanhao smiled. “It is only natural for Snow Prison Sect to provide shelter for anyone who arrives at our door, regardless of their past.” Stroking his beard, Yanhao examined Fengbo, the folds of his eye wrinkles gathering. “Though, I am assuming you are Xuan Fengbo, correct? A month ago, your father sent me a message about your mission.”
“Yes,” answered Fengbo. He paused just long enough to continue, “Did you specifically order the fourth huangzi to help me?”
“I will not say that it did not influence my choice,” Yanhao replied truthfully. “Though, I had full confidence in his ability to help you—he is the brightest disciple I’ve come across in all my life, and his talent for the arts is astounding.” He then turned around to stare at the poem hanging off the stone wall. “So, what do you think of the boy?”
Fengbo lowered his gaze. “It is still too early for me to judge him.”
Nodding, Yanhao turned back to look at Fengbo. “May I inquire as to the cause of your injury?”
Briefly, Fengbo explained what had happened the previous night.
With a low hum, Yanhao stroked his beard as he listened. “I’ll send people to look for their bodies,” he said after Fengbo finished talking. Sorrow shadowed his wizened visage. “If my guess is correct, the seven deceased pugilists you saw are the Seven Brothers of Snow Prison Sect….”
Fengbo froze, eyes widening with disbelief. The Seven Brothers of Snow Prison were one of the most prestigious bands of bodyguards in the lands—to think, they were killed by only three Blood Flames assassins….
“Considering their profession, it is not surprising for them to have made deadly enemies out of Blood Flames Sect,” Yanhao continued solemnly. “The three men you fought were probably extremely difficult, so the Seven Brothers tried to return to the headquarters to wait for the storm to blow over.”
“I’m sorry I did not arrive sooner,” Fengbo said, even though he doubted his presence would have made a difference—he had only won because the three assassins had been weakened.
“Don’t be,” assured the Master, a gentle smile curving his lips. “I’m sorry you had to get mixed up in the affairs of my disciples—the three assassins probably mistook you for a Snow Prison pugilist and feared you’d bring help, and, as a result, you almost lost your life.” After a short pause, he continued, “At any rate, would you like me to assign you to study under Lingyun’s master?”
Snow Prison was true to its name—the entire place was caged in by snow and the hallways were actually ice tunnels, barely lit by small lanterns.
Zhou Yanhao had gone out of his way to appoint Lingyun to be his guide, but Fengbo was beginning to regret his initial goal to know the fourth huangzi on a personal level—Bai Lingyun was as unpleasant as Sima Lü had described; what a waste of that face. It had only been two ke since the start of his tour, but Fengbo was already growing tired of the hostility. The fourth huangzi had made it quite clear that Fengbo had only survived because Lingyun had been ordered to save him.
Sudden inspiration struck Fengbo—he decided that he must be bored. Not to mention, any normal human with no prior training should be getting tired by now. Slipping on purpose, he fell on his ass and hissed from the splitting pain he caused himself.
The fourth huangzi sighed with exasperation. “What the hell are you doing?” he demanded, pulling Fengbo up to stand straight.
“It’s hard to walk with these shoes…,” Fengbo whined as he massaged his buttocks.
“Are you a man or not?” Lingyun snapped. “Snow Prison’s qinggong style is built on getting used to walking on ice with these shoes—you better get used to this.” Yet, strangely, Lingyun grabbed Fengbo’s wrist and continued to walk.
Hm, interesting development—Fengbo hadn’t expected this. “I’m cold, Shixiong,” he complained, doing his best not to sound too playful.
Immediately, the fourth huangzi threw him a sharp glare. “Snow Prison’s basic neili technique is built on being able to fight the cold, you wimp.” He looked back ahead. “I don’t want to hear you whine anymore, so don’t think I’m doing this out of kindness,” he said as he transferred his neili to keep Fengbo warm.
They soon reached the end of the corridor, where a large stone was placed against the wall. With ease, Lingyun pulled the rock aside, and Fengbo instantly felt cold air seep from the dark hole. Grabbing Fengbo’s wrist again, Lingyun leapt down the dark hole, never forgetting to keep a steady flow of inner energy passing through his hand. Before they landed, Lingyun drew his jian with his spare hand and pierced it through the ice wall, stopping just in time for Fengbo’s feet to touch the ground.
It was dark, save for the dim light from the entrance. Fengbo’s eyes immediately adjusted to the darkness, and he couldn’t help but stare at the beautiful sight before him. It was a large cave of ice, with a lake in the center. Water dripped from icicles, and one landed on Fengbo’s neck. He yelped on purpose. “W-what was that? I can’t see a thing, Shixiong,” Fengbo lied.
With a growl, Lingyun let go of Fengbo and pulled his blade from the wall, sheathing it. He searched his robes for something. “I can’t believe this…,” Fengbo heard him mutter. Swiftly, with a tap of his foot, he reached the edge of the lake.
“Sh-shixiong!” Man, Fengbo was getting dangerously addicted to annoying Lingyun. “Where are you?” he gasped in his best attempt to sound scared.
“Can you shut up for once?” Lingyun snarled from afar. He then lit the stone lantern, and proceeded to light three more, just enough for the whole cave to become visible. He then returned to Fengbo’s side. “This is the training area for advanced pugilists,” he proceeded to explain in monotone. “Snow Prison Sect started out at this cave, so this place is very special—it is an honor to be able to train and fight here. Unlike the stone arena I showed you just earlier, only masters are going to be present to judge the tournaments in this cave.” His voice reeked of barely contained impatience.
“Bai-shixiong, is something wrong?” Fengbo asked on purpose.
Lingyun narrowed his eyes. “Moving on,” he growled, his fingers circling around Fengbo’s wrist again. Gracefully, he ran up the ice walls and reached the exit with just a few steps; even though his grasp on Fengbo was anything but gentle, the flight did not affect Fengbo’s wounds at all. Even though Fengbo only needed three days to heal—it had been five days already.
Just how hard had the fourth huangzi trained during these three years?
At any rate, Fengbo was beginning to doubt his initial assumption that the fourth huangzi would really have left him to die if not for Zhou Yanhao’s orders. After all, Bai Lingyun was not as bad as Fengbo had expected him to be. In fact, he was rather amusing.
The dining hall was located in a large chamber with stone flooring. Lingyun was nowhere to be found. As he waited in line for his food, Fengbo felt someone reach for his shoulder and suppressed his urge to grab that hand and flip the person behind over.
“What are you doing here, Xuan-gongzi?” Whispered.
Fengbo looked back to find Cui Ge, a teen who came from a family with a history of several impressive Imperial Guards.
“I’m on a mission,” Fengbo explained in a low voice. “I’m pretending to only have basic training in martial arts, so don’t ruin my cover.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t,” Cui Ge assured. Then, with a louder voice, he said, “You’re new here, right? Want to sit with me and my friends?”
Smiling, Fengbo replied, “Sure, I’d love to.” He searched the chamber for the fourth huangzi again, to no avail. “By the way, have you seen Bai-shixiong?”
Cui Ge’s grin disappeared. “Him?” He gave Fengbo an inquisitive look. “He’s probably off training alone, like he’s possessed or something. He usually won’t get here until the last minute. Though, around that time, there will be some pretty girls who’ll try to catch his attention, and therefore there will be some more guys who’ll stay for the girls.”
“What do those girls see in that arrogant brat anyway?” interrupted the pugilist standing in front of Fengbo. “He’s the nastiest person I’ll ever come across in my life.”
“You wouldn’t understand, Lee Hong!” protested the girl serving them food. “Lingyun is smart, talented, and—”
“Rich,” Hong finished for her. He looked over his shoulder, his eyes meeting Fengbo’s. “With girls, it’s all about money, I’m telling you. Apparently, Bai Lingyun comes from a pretty prestigious family. Well, seeing that he has the same surname as the Imperial Family of Yue, it’s not surprising.”
Fengbo agreed that money probably had some influence, though he merely shrugged and smiled in return.
The girl frowned. “No, it’s not about the money—”
“Well, then it’s because of his looks,” Hong concluded. “And don’t you say it isn’t.”
“What the—you men are the ones who only care about looks!” protested the girl.
“You people are clogging up the line!” complained a person far in the back.
After Fengbo had settled down, Hong was still ranting about Lingyun. “Man, I feel sorry for you,” he was saying. “Master Zhou’s probably getting desperate, since the brat is his favorite pupil, and said favorite pupil has no friends. He must’ve thought that making the brat save you was the best way for you to feel friendly towards Lingyun. Don’t let that influence you—Lingyun would have definitely left you to die if the Grand Master hadn’t ordered him save you.” He patted Fengbo’s shoulder sympathetically. “Unfortunately, Master Zhou probably expects you to be the brat’s friend, so I suppose you’ll still have to pretend that you’re friends to make him happy.”
“Indeed,” rang a clear voice behind them. It was none other than the fourth huangzi; he had a bored expression. “However, don’t worry. Master Zhou won’t really care if we don’t become friends, since I don’t need any and he’ll eventually come to accept that,” he said coldly. Slamming a book in front of Fengbo, Lingyun continued, “Anyhow, Master Liu ordered me to bring this to you. You’re expected to memorize the first five pages by tomorrow. I was asked to help you if you had any more problems, but don’t bother, because I won’t.”
“What the hell are you doing here?” demanded the fourth huangzi, glaring daggers at Fengbo.
“Asking for help?” Fengbo answered innocently. These days he was bored and he didn’t have much to do. Not to mention, even though he was training under the same Master Lingyun had, he was on the beginner level and thus rarely saw Lingyun, who was an upper-intermediate pugilist. If things continued, his whole purpose in coming to Mount Snow Prison would be rendered meaningless.
“Why the hell are you in my room?” Lingyun rephrased with a snarl.
“I rarely see you, Shixiong, so I asked around and decided that it would probably be easier for me to find you when you’re in your room,” Fengbo confessed with a grin. He knew he shouldn’t find annoying Lingyun as fun as he did, but he couldn’t help it.
Scoffing, Lingyun turned his back to Fengbo and stalked to his desk, pretending that Fengbo didn’t exist as he picked up a book.
“Bai-shixiong…,” Fengbo whined. “I can’t understand Master Liu at all—you have to help me!”
Lingyun continued to ignore Fengbo.
“I don’t know why Master Zhou thought I should be on the upper-beginner level; I only know a few basics….”
Since Lingyun seemed intent on ignoring Fengbo, he approached the fourth huangzi. “Please?” he implored while he eyed the book Lingyun was reading. It was the previous dynasty’s history book. “Shi—”
“Didn’t I say I’m not going to help you, eight days ago?” Lingyun interrupted.
“But you’re my last hope,” Fengbo insisted. “I’ve asked everyone I know, but I still can’t understand. I don’t want to bother Master Zhou.”
The fourth huangzi impatiently flipped to the next page. “Well, then a moron as dimwitted as you are should just give up and leave Snow Prison!”
Fengbo tried to squeeze out some tears, but it proved a little too challenging. “B-but it’s hailing snow day-and-night, I can’t possibly leave!”
Lingyun narrowed his eyes. “Then how the hell did you get up here in the first place?”
“How did I—” Fengbo gulped, looking up and crossing his arms. It was rather difficult to refrain from laughing. He hummed and looked at the floor, observing Lingyun from the corners of his eyes. “Hm…how did I get here? I don’t remember….” Brows furrowing, Fengbo pulled on a confused expression.
A loud slam; the book was back on the desk. Lingyun groaned with despair, burying his face in his hands. “Why…why?” he lamented.
“Please, Bai-shixiong!” Fengbo implored with renewed vigor, gazing at Lingyun with puppy-dog eyes. “I don’t want to disappoint Master Zhou!”
“Fine,” replied the fourth huangzi at last, turning around. “What the hell is your problem?”
“Shixiong!” Fengbo exclaimed, smiling triumphantly as he threw his arms around Lingyun—though that only earned him a punch in the face.
“Don’t get all touchy-feely with me, you moron,” Lingyun growled. “Hurry up. I don’t want to waste too much time embarking on a hopeless endeavor.”
“I don’t get the logic behind ‘Hanfeng Cigu’,” Fengbo confessed.
Narrowing his eyes, Lingyun reached for his jian and then threw it to Fengbo, and Fengbo pretended to almost drop the jian onto the floor; as he thought, Lingyun rolled his eyes with irritation. “First, show me the move,” said the fourth huangzi.
Fengbo did his best to butcher the move, watching Lingyun’s reactions from the corners of his eyes. At the beginning, Lingyun’s expression became darker and darker, but by the time Fengbo finished, he just looked tired. “Shixiong?” Fengbo inquired with a squeak.
Lingyun massaged his temples. “You…do you even know what the hell you’re doing?” he implored wearily.
The jian was in Lingyun’s possession again. He proceeded to demonstrate the moves from ‘Hanfeng Cigu’—Fengbo could only gape stupidly. Even if Fengbo were serious, he would not come close to Lingyun’s execution of the move. True to the name of its move, the blade was so deadly that Fengbo could feel the wind whipped up by it; the wind was so cold and piercing that it stung.
“This is what ‘Hanfeng Cigu’ should be like.” Lingyun’s voice was surprisingly calm. He then recited the first stanza from the Ice Song as he demonstrated the corresponding moves in slow motion, and the accuracy of the broken down moves truly showed his comprehension of ‘Hanfeng Cigu’. Lingyun proceeded to explain the logic of the first stanza of the Ice Song.
“I don’t get it!” Fengbo protested, pretending to be in a panic.
“What don’t you get?” Lingyun asked, surprising Fengbo.
“Everything?” Fengbo ventured to say while he smiled stupidly.
With a sigh, Lingyun proceeded to explain in detail, using simple vocabulary that he normally did not use and making similes to strengthen his point. Even young children could understand him by the time Fengbo decided to stop asking questions.
“Now you try it,” Lingyun said, sheathing the jian and throwing it to Fengbo.
Fengbo furrowed his brows and made small mistakes on purpose.
Shaking his head, Lingyun picked out Fengbo’s problems and told him how to fix them. With three more tries, Fengbo repeated the move, this time without holding back.
Expressionless, Lingyun nodded. “You’re getting the hang of it. However….” He was still able to distinguish flaws and find ways to fix them.
Almost a shichen passed by the time Fengbo finished adjusting his moves. Wondering if Lingyun was at his limit, Fengbo decided to test the fourth huangzi’s patience again by showing trouble comprehending the last stanza.
Maybe Lingyun was in despair, because he was so calm it was funny.
Afterwards, Fengbo made a habit out of visiting and irritating the fourth huangzi. Even though Lingyun always told Fengbo to leave him alone, he always ended up helping Fengbo out.
Who would have known that what had merely been a playful game to Fengbo would turn into something that bound him to Lingyun for a long, long time.
Extra Story 3, End
~Surging Waves, Chaotic Clouds~
When their army returned to the capital, it was already the end of autumn.
Six years, eh?
Fengbo couldn’t believe how fast time had passed.
Leaves of the trees lining the street had all turned fiery red and were now falling to the ground. As their troops marched through the middle of the capital, they were greeted by the city’s citizens, all whom kowtowed in respect to the emperor of Yue, Lingyun.
The celebration that waited for them was, as expected, overwhelming. Food, drink, dancing, singing, laughing, and general madness. Everyone was glad to be home and welcomed the festivity.
“You sneaky guy, you!” laughed some nobles who had previously thought Fengbo was out of the emperor’s favor. They all forced Fengbo to have a drink with each of them while they clapped his back. “I can’t believe you fooled us for so long!”
“I, however, knew that you were on His Imperial Majesty’s side, all along!” Dong Changsong, a plump and somewhat obnoxious noble, claimed. “I just didn’t know what your intention was, so I pretended that I thought you were out of the His Imperial Majesty’s favor!”
If only they knew the truth of his relationship with Lingyun…
Yet what could Fengbo do, but smile and return their toast? He let the warm wine temporarily push the worry from his mind, though he knew better than to get drunk and lose control.
It continued throughout the whole night, genuinely honest praises and congratulations. All the while, Lingyun remained expressionless, as usual. It was only around the beginning of the Time of Hai* when Lingyun excused himself, saying that his presence was a pressure that prevented people from fully enjoying the celebration, so he gave permission for the celebration to continue in his absence. Despite the protests of everyone, Lingyun left. Chunmei stayed in his place, though some courageous nobles encouraged her to keep her husband company.
Since most people were already half-drunk by that time, they remained fairly reserved for two only ke before crazy merriment took over in a wave. Yue was the most powerful empire now—not many had expected this to happen, and it was indeed worthy of unrestrained celebration.
“Fengbo, you’re His Imperial Majesty’s most trusted man!” Marquis Zhao suddenly said, voice slurred, in the midst of their conversation. “Why don’t you go and see what His Imperial Majesty is doing? I heard he told his eunuchs and maids to leave him alone again—you’re the only man who can see him without getting punished.”
Fengbo was about to humbly decline when Li Qiankun chimed in, “Yes, I’m worried about His Imperial Majesty as well. Fengbo, why don’t you take a look?”
“You overestimate me,” Fengbo could only say, forcing a smile.
A snort. “We’ve been underestimating you all the time, Fengbo! Just go! I know you want to!”
Of course Fengbo wanted to, but that didn’t meant he could. Swallowing a sigh, his eyes met Cheng’en’s. Heavy guilt weighed him down when Cheng’en quickly averted his gaze, and he was forced to remember what he had done. All he seemed capable of was to harm. He picked up his wine cup and took a large gulp, letting the rush of alcohol temporarily clear his mind.
“I also think you should go,” Sima Lü remarked. He leaned closer and said in a low voice, “His Imperial Majesty didn’t look too well when he left; I’m sure you noticed as well.”
Remembering that Lingyun had thrown up blood during the war, Fengbo got up. “Well then, please excuse me.”
Outside, it was chilly. His servant provided him a jacket and he got on his horse, heading for the Qiuyue Palace. The guards saluted him and, not even asking him why he was there, opened the gates for him. “His Imperial Majesty is acting strange,” explained Song Pei, who, unfortunately, was on duty on this joyful day. “He ordered Xinnan to bring him a large flagon of wine and then told all the eunuchs to leave. I guess he wants to celebrate alone? But still, we’re all pretty worried and we’re glad you’re here, supreme general.”
Their confidence in him was ironic, since they didn’t know that Fengbo was a mere subordinate to Lingyun now. What could Fengbo do? He didn’t even know, but he couldn’t help visiting his emperor to check up on how Lingyun was doing.
When he entered the building, he frowned at how cold it was. The incense burners were burning weakly, and there were barely enough lit candles. He froze when he saw Lingyun, unable to breathe through the pain in his chest.
Lingyun was sleeping at his desk, his arms supporting his head and his loose hair dangling from his shoulders. Lingyun wore only a thin layer of silk and shivered a little from the cold. He looked so lonely that Fengbo couldn’t bear to look at his emperor, knowing that he was the one who made Lingyun so miserable.
Sighing, Fengbo walked towards his emperor and took off his jacket to cover Lingyun’s back with. He turned around and was just about to fix the incense burners when he heard Lingyun mutter, “Fengbo….”
His heart could have stopped, right there.
A tear fell from Lingyun’s closed eyes, trailing down his pale cheek.
Overwhelmed by tormenting desire, Fengbo circled his arms around Lingyun’s waist and pressed his lips to Lingyun’s neck, kissing the skin he had wanted to taste again for so long. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, his eyes were getting watery as well, and the constriction in his chest was tormenting. “I’m so sorry, Lingyun….” He couldn’t help but tighten his hold on Lingyun and take in the scent of Lingyun’s newly washed hair. “I’m sorry for everything I did.”
For a while, he just stayed there with his arms around Lingyun, savoring the last time he’d be able to do this. If only time could stop for eternity…
Then, Lingyun moved a little; Fengbo felt as though he had been jolted by lightning and quickly let go of Lingyun. He was about to turn away and to relight the incense burners when something caught a hold of his sleeve.
Lingyun’s hand. “Fengbo?”
Heavens, just hearing his name roll off Lingyun’s tongue again was unbearable. “I was….” His voice came out too high and he had to clear his throat. “Forgive my insolence, Majesty. You did not look well when you left, so this lowly official came to see how you were doing without your permission.”
Lingyun remained quiet for a long time, but he didn’t let go of Fengbo’s sleeve. “I hate it,” he said quietly. He was clearly drunk—his voice didn’t sound right and he wasn’t using the proper personal pronoun for an emperor. “I hate it when you call me that.”
“Stop calling me that!” snapped Lingyun, his tug on Fengbo’s sleeve strengthening.
Utterly confused, Fengbo just stood there, his mind in too much of a mess to think about Lingyun’s strange behavior.
“Why can’t I get rid of this discomfort?” Lingyun asked, voice quivering. “I’ve tried so hard, so hard to forget it. But the more I leave it alone, the worse it gets.”
“If you’re not feeling well, of course you shouldn’t leave it alone, Majesty,” Fengbo managed to say.
“You moron!” Fengbo felt as though something struck through his chest. “How many times do I have to tell you not to call me that?”
“Lingyun?” Fengbo blurted before he could stop himself.
Lingyun bit his lip, a tear falling from his eye. He lowered his head, shoulders trembling. “Fengbo…did you ever love me?” Almost in a whisper, but louder than thunder in Fengbo’s ears.
He opened his mouth, but no voice came from his closed throat. It took him a while to regain his voice. “Of course I do,” he breathed. “I have always loved you, and I still do. I love you more than anyone else in the world.”
Lingyun grip on Fengbo’s sleeve tightened; his expression was mixed with anger and sorrow. In a hoarse voice, he demanded, “Then why were you fucking Bai Cheng’en?”
“I…,” Fengbo attempted to start, but found himself speechless. How the hell could he explain this?
More importantly, he didn’t even know what to think of this situation—was he hallucinating? Had he missed the old Lingyun so much that he had gone mad?
“I tried to move on,” he confessed at last. “Please don’t hold Cheng’en responsible.”
Lingyun let go of Fengbo’s sleeve. “Liar,” he whispered. “You fucking liar…! You never cared about me—you only said what you thought would make me feel better while you carry on your relationship with Bai Cheng’en. All I am to you is a tool!”
“Well, now that the Yue is the most powerful empire in these lands, are you happy?” Lingyun stood abruptly, glaring into Fengbo’s eyes. It was only then that Fengbo noticed how loosely dressed Lingyun was; he had to force himself not to let his eyes wander. “Now that I’m the most authoritative person in these lands, are you happy?”
No voice came out of Fengbo’s throat. The horrifying truth was that he wasn’t happy. He was proud of Lingyun, but he wasn’t happy.
He wasn’t happy at all, even though he should have been.
“It wouldn’t have been this bad if you didn’t…if you didn’t…!” Lingyun’s voice broke off and he looked away again, biting his lip. In a barely audible voice, he muttered, “I hate you.”
If only Lingyun knew how his words were tearing Fengbo into pieces. “I know.” Even though Fengbo knew he should probably leave, his feet were planted to the floor, too heavy to move. “I’m sorry,” he finally managed to say. He turned around, ready to remove himself from Lingyun’s sight.
A pair of arms wrapped around him; he held his breath.
He could feel Lingyun’s body warmth, feel Lingyun’s head lean on his shoulder.
They remained wordless, motionless. Just standing, with thousands of emotions threatening to explode any moment.
Fengbo raised his hand, but it stopped before touching Lingyun’s. There was no way to describe how he felt—it was so hard to breathe. Joy was overwhelmed by sadness, hope overwhelmed by despair. “Lingyun,” he whispered in a voice only he could hear, trying not to let his emotions overtake him, but no matter what, he could not control the tears that fell down. He wanted this to last, but he knew he couldn’t let it.
“You’re…drunk, Majesty,” he forced himself to say as calmly as he could. “You’re acting strange, this lowly official doesn’t think it’s a good idea for him to stay, in order not to violate your greatness.”
Lingyun didn’t let go; instead, his embrace became more powerful and he buried his face into Fengbo’s back.
Even though Fengbo felt a rush of inexplicable happiness, he also felt as though thousands of blades were scraping his heart. There were too many things he wanted to say, too many things he wanted to do. But Lingyun was his emperor now—he could not disrespect that. He had to keep his logic; Lingyun was clearly drunk, he couldn’t take advantage of his emperor. “Don’t do this to me, Lingyun,” Fengbo choked, lowering his head. He placed his hand over Lingyun’s and grabbed them tightly, yet he was unable to muster the energy to make them release him. “Don’t test my loyalty…,”
There was barely anything left to control his impulses. He didn’t know how long he could keep a leash on himself—after all, he wanted to fuck Lingyun, wanted to pound into Lingyun’s ass so much that he was scaring himself. This desire has been repressed for almost ten years now; there was no way Fengbo could keep up with his self-control long enough.
After a long stretch of suffocating silence, Lingyun finally let go.
Immediately, Fengbo felt cold, so cold it was unbearable.
Desperately trying to compose himself, he started to walk, every step like it carried unaccountable weight.
This was for the best. This had to be for the best.
He reached the doors and placed his numb hand against the cold wood.
Then, before he knew what he was doing, he was already running back, flying through the large building. He didn’t really need to think where Lingyun was—he knew where Lingyun was. He barged into room he had once carried Lingyun to.
Lingyun looked back; Fengbo pulled him into an embrace, capturing the cold lips and sucking hard on his lower lip. His hands slid down to untie Lingyun’s sash and he tore open Lingyun’s silk robes, feeling that deliciously smooth and pale skin under his finger tips, tracing the lines of firm muscles. As their tongues brushed, he pushed Lingyun onto the large, opulent bed. Pinning one of Lingyun’s wrists to the side, his other hand teased Lingyun’s nipples; Lingyun shuddered and moaned into his mouth, writhing a little, which only made Fengbo want to tease him some more.
He couldn’t believe he was touching Lingyun again, but to hell with logic and duty. This was probably just a dream anyway.
He separated Lingyun’s legs with his knee and ground his thigh against Lingyun’s erection, enjoying the way this affected Lingyun. He wanted to tie Lingyun up and take his time exploring that body, wanted to have Lingyun all to himself and never let go.
When Lingyun’s free hand tugged Fengbo’s sash loose, it was unbelievable—Lingyun, undressing him!
“Lingyun,” he murmured when he broke away from their kiss. He nibbled Lingyun’s ear and Lingyun shivered. “You have no idea how much I want you….” He felt Lingyun’s erection harden; his own was killing him.
“Stop saying embarrassing things…!” The protest held no strength and sounded more like a whimper. Heavens, how Fengbo missed this Lingyun.
“With your cock this hard, Shixiong,” he teased, blowing air into Lingyun’s ear, “do you expect me to believe you don’t like hearing such ‘embarrassing’ things?”
Oh yes, he could feel Lingyun’s erection through his clothes all right. Lingyun liked this, even though he would never admit it.
Lingyun turned his head to the side. “Shut up, you idiot! Take off your clothes already—why am I the only one naked?”
Chuckling, Fengbo pecked Lingyun’s lips. “Because I like seeing you naked.” He then proceeded to take off his robes, which took a while and he really wanted to rip the expensive silk.
“Idiot Fengbo!” Lingyun muttered; it was too dark to tell if he was blushing or not.
The cool air felt good against his sweaty skin and Fengbo flexed his muscles, noticing how Lingyun was trying not to stare too obviously. He smirked and crawled back on top of Lingyun. “Like what you see?”
“Hmph, in the end, you’re still just all muscle and no—” Lingyun’s voice cut off abruptly when their cocks brushed each other, an interesting expression taking over his face.
Even though this wasn’t the first time Fengbo had done this, it felt like his first time—the feeling, the connection, and the satisfaction was on a whole different level, overwhelming his senses. “Lingyun…,” he murmured before ravaging Lingyun’s lips; he brushed his thumb across hardened nipples and caressed the side of Lingyun’s waist, grinding his cock against Lingyun’s. He tried very hard not to reach for Lingyun’s entrance, knowing that he could never fuck an emperor.
As they ground against each other, Lingyun rubbed Fengbo’s back from the neck to his lower back; Fengbo had never felt a back massage that good. Just the fact that it was Lingyun’s hand sliding across his skin was enough to outclass any fuck he’d had prior to this.
There wasn’t enough friction between their cocks, so Fengbo reached down and rubbed the heads of their cocks together, groaning into Lingyun’s mouth as bliss overtook him. Lingyun’s fingers dug into his back and he unconsciously jerked into Fengbo’s hands and gasped softly from the sensation of cock against cock.
Breaking away from their kiss, Fengbo observed Lingyun’s face as he jerked quicker; the sight of Lingyun at his mercy made his stomach tighten further, it was almost impossible to hold back the rising pleasure from peaking. He wanted to come with Lingyun, wanted to share that moment of ecstasy.
When he heard Lingyun moan his name, his entire body tensed—the orgasm was so powerful that he groaned loudly, his mind blank with bliss alone. Lingyun also came with a gasp, his cum mingling with Fengbo’s.
They remained still for a while, catching their breaths. Then, Fengbo took out a piece of cloth and wiped the cum off his hand.
“Fengbo…,” Lingyun said amidst the silence.
“Hm?” Fengbo placed the cloth aside and caressed Lingyun’s smooth thigh.
It took a while for Lingyun to continue, “You want it, don’t you?”
Lingyun wasn’t looking at him, but his expression was so cute it was making Fengbo hard again. “You want to fuck me,” he whispered.
Blood immediately rushed back down to Fengbo’s cock, his hand froze and his tongue was dry. Only Lingyun could make him this hard within such a short time, and he was already painfully erect. Voiceless, he found himself unable to answer.
“I guess…I guess it’s all right,” Lingyun struggled to say. “You have my permission….”
Fengbo couldn’t believe what he had just heard; his cock, on the other hand, did. “Lingyun…?”
Making a frustrated noise, Lingyun turned on his side. “Don’t make me repeat myself, you moron! If you didn’t hear what I said, forget it!”
Even though Fengbo knew he shouldn’t, he couldn’t help but lean down and kiss Lingyun’s shoulder while sliding his hand down Lingyun’s back. “Of course I heard you,” he breathed, reaching for his clothes and taking out a vial of lubricant. “I just wanted to hear you say it again.” As he spoke, he poured some liquid into his hand and stroked his throbbing erection, coating his burning member with cool slickness.
“Idiot.” Just observing Lingyun’s irritated and embarrassed expression made Fengbo harder. “Go away; your idiotic presence is starting to annoy me!” Lingyun tried to push Fengbo off him, but how could such a half-assed attempt push Fengbo away, when all his self-control had already been lost to the deep abyss of lust?
Instead of doing as he had been told, Fengbo pinned Lingyun’s hand to the side so he could enjoy teasing Lingyun’s nipple; Lingyun gasped softly when he bit down and used his tongue to play with the delicate bud. Fengbo reached down to wrap his fingers around Lingyun’s hardness, stroking it slowly as he savored the taste of Lingyun’s nipples. The sounds of Lingyun’s soft moans and heavy breathing were making Fengbo’s erection painfully hard.
“Lingyun,” he murmured, feeling the name vibrate nicely from his throat as he raised Lingyun’s leg, rubbing his cock against Lingyun’s hole. “I love you,” he said, slowly sliding the tip of his cock in and groaning from the sheer bliss of having that tightness surround the head of his erection.
A muffled moan; Fengbo pressed his lips to Lingyun’s throat, his spare hand stroking Lingyun’s cock as he took his time to bury himself all the way into Lingyun. He gasped from the tight, warm sensation, unable to believe he was actually inside Lingyun now, unable believe that this was happening.
“Tell me if you want me to stop,” he said as he nibbled Lingyun’s ear, thrusting slowly into that tight entrance.
Lingyun nodded, a moan escaping his throat when Fengbo thrust deeper. At first, Fengbo held back his urges and fucked in slow motion, making sure Lingyun would get used to the activity as he explored what angle of penetration Lingyun liked the most. That in itself was fun; Fengbo liked the way Lingyun writhed and moaned under his control.
By the time Fengbo was groaning and pounding intensely into Lingyun, on the verge of coming, Lingyun was already screaming with pleasure, shooting his load without even needing to touch himself. His entire body trembled as Fengbo came inside him with deep, hard thrusts.
Panting loudly, they both tried to regulate their breathing as they stared into each other’s eyes. Sweat ran down Fengbo’s back; he had never bothered to fuck anyone this long before coming, and the resulting orgasm was so powerful that it was still tapering off.
Yet, it wasn’t enough. He didn’t want it to end, not yet. He kissed Lingyun, sucking and tasting him like he would die if he didn’t. “Ten years worth of fucking, Shixiong,” he whispered between their breaths, “I hope you’re ready to make that up.”
When Lingyun woke up, he had a light headache and felt somewhat disoriented; his ass sort of hurt and his penis was more sensitive than usual. Then, he noticed that a pair of powerful arms was locked around his waist, and something hard pressed against his ass. Felt warm breath against his neck, felt body heat from the skin of his back.
He froze, trying his best to remember what had happened the night before.
All the numb calmness disappeared from his heart and panic as well as something else spread through his body like a refreshing, cool flood—he felt awake, fully awake from a long, long slumber.
What the hell had he done? He was the emperor, and he had let his subordinate fuck him. He’d had sex with the one subordinate he could not have sex with, with the one man whose reputation meant as much as his own.
…Even if the person was….
He glanced at the water clock; it was already the Time of Si*, just a shichen away from noon. He remembered telling his eunuchs and maids to take a day off as a form of celebration, but who knew if they had listened? What if they had heard him last night or what if they had seen this—would they be wise enough to keep their mouths shut?
However, despite being fully alarmed, Lingyun found himself without the strength to struggle free, not even the strength to wake the other. The tingly, warm sensation in his chest—he wanted it to last a little longer, even knowing that he shouldn’t.
Hells, he even had a hard-on, even though last night should have exhausted him.
He thought about reaching for his erection and jerking himself off, but movement would definitely wake Fengbo, and Lingyun did not want Fengbo to know that he wanted to jerk off with those arms around him. He merely stayed still, finding his breathing in rhythm with Fengbo’s.
A sudden jolt; the arms around him were gone. Immediately, Lingyun felt cold, even though he wasn’t afraid of low temperatures. He bit his lips and listened to Fengbo dress, his fingers drawing in the silk bed sheets. This was for the best, he thought. They couldn’t have a relationship—the scandal would destroy both of their reputations and, at the worst, destabilize the empire he had painstakingly empowered.
The door slid open.
“Wait!” Lingyun was already sitting up, his body moving on its own.
Fengbo stopped, his back even straighter than before and his shoulders stiff.
“Xuan Fengbo,” Lingyun said, trying to maintain his usual emperor-tone, “I give you permission to use my bathing pond.” He got off the bed, almost falling over from last night’s…activities…but he managed to keep his balance well. He grabbed the robe from a shelf and pulled it on, walking toward the door. “This way.”
As Lingyun walked down the large halls, Fengbo trailed behind. The silence was suffocating. His eunuchs and maids were scurrying around, cleaning the halls and changing the half-transparent curtains.
“Stay here,” Lingyun commanded Fengbo. He then walked forth to greet the eunuchs and maids. They all kowtowed and greeted him. “You are all dismissed once your duties are done. Also, prepare extra clothes and teeth cleaning equipment for General Xuan.”
When Lingyun finished maintaining his morning hygiene, he waited for the maids and eunuchs to leave before he ordered Fengbo to follow him to the bathing pond.
Humid, warm air greeted them when they entered the chamber, a rush of strong herbal fragrance instantly blocking out all other smells. Lingyun slid out of his robes and walked into the pond, taking a deep breath of the nourishing aroma. Fengbo merely gaped, a strange expression on his face.
“I said you have permission to use my bathing pond,” Lingyun reminded, almost with a growl.
Fengbo gulped. “Thank you for your benevolence, Majesty, but—”
“Do you intend to make me repeat myself a third time?” drawled Lingyun, voice louder this time.
“As you command,” Fengbo croaked. Lingyun tore his eyes away as Fengbo undressed, and noticed that his body was covered with a considerable number of red marks.
Feeling his cheeks heat up against his will, Lingyun sank lower into the hot, milky water and found his gaze turned to Fengbo, his eyes tracing the lines of firm, developed muscles that symbolized years of hard training. He licked his lips, getting the urge to bite that taut skin for no reason at all.
What the hell?
He was hard again, and he felt further humiliated. He focused on scrubbing his body with a sack of cleansing beans instead, trying to bring logic and calmness back into his mind.
Yet, when Fengbo entered the bathing pond, he felt as though all the muscles in his body had tensed up. Thankfully, the water was milky so Fengbo wouldn’t see his erection. “Scrub my back,” he ordered, utterly confused by his own motivations for making increasingly outrageous decisions. Impulse was robbing him of control.
To date, Lingyun had never experienced something so awkward and tense before. He couldn’t believe how hard he was, and he had to clasp his hands together tightly in order to prevent them from stroking his erection.
Furthermore, Lingyun had let many concubines scrub his back before, but for some reason, none of those experiences could match this one. Fengbo probably knew nothing about scrubbing backs.
Finally unable to stand the silence, Lingyun began, “Fengbo….”
Fengbo’s hands froze.
Truthfully, Lingyun knew there was no point in asking.
“I suppose we just…return to the way we were before last night,” Fengbo said, as expected. “I am deeply sorry for my insolence, Majesty—there is no excuse for what I have done.” Falling silent, he continued to scrub Lingyun’s back.
The more Lingyun thought about it, the more annoyed he became, but what else could they do? Reputation, regulation, rules—everything reminded him of how many taboos he and Fengbo had broken in one simple night.
Though, Lingyun didn’t quite regret what he had done. He didn’t regret it at all, so Fengbo’s apology was grating.
However, he knew that this could not continue either.
“I can still order you visit this Palace for various reasons,” he said without thinking. What the hell?
Fengbo stopped again, holding his breath. Lingyun was glad that he wasn’t facing Fengbo—hell knew how red his face was.
“People can just take us to be really close friends—no one would really doubt it, since we both cooperated very closely during the past three years.” His mouth was not obeying his mind!
Yet, just thinking about Fengbo acting like an impassive, obedient subordinate made him irritated and unhappy.
“You can’t always order all your maids and eunuchs to leave when you summon me. Too many times, and people are bound to start talking, just like the way they talked about me and….” Fengbo paused halfway.
“Well, to hell with them all!” Lingyun growled, his annoyance increasing exponentially for some reason. “If I keep my composure like I always have and you do the same, who will say a thing?”
“Majesty, you aren’t really aware of how other men—”
Standing up abruptly, Lingyun stalked to the other side of the bathing pond and sank down, washing the foam from his body. He then got up again and started to dry himself.
“Your Majesty,” the idiotic bastard whined.
“Shut up. I’m getting sick of talking to the biggest moron in the world—your stupidity is starting to infect me,” Lingyun snapped without turning back. He then proceeded to ignore the bastard and he pulled on a clean black silk robe, tying it on messily before stomping out the bathing room. “Oh yes,” he said, gripping the doors, “stop seeing Bai Cheng’en; you’re married to my half-sister. Surely the great, lawful and professional supreme general knows better.”
Lingyun slammed the doors shut.
When he got to the dining place, the eunuchs had just started to arrange the table for lunch. Apparently, they had prepared that bastard’s share as well. “Just put the food down quickly,” he ordered in a cold voice. “You all have the day off, don’t make me repeat myself or I’ll reconsider my good intentions.”
“Yes, Majesty.” The eunuchs hurried to finish their work and left promptly.
The wooden smell of newly replaced incense took away some of Lingyun’s irritation, but not all. He sat down with a loud thud and glared at the food, wanting to kick the desk over even though he was starving. Pouring a cup of warm wine, Lingyun finished it with one gulp, letting the liquid burn his throat. He then picked up his chopsticks and started to eat, pacing himself so he’d get rid of the annoyance jammed into his chest.
By the time that bastard arrived, Lingyun had already calmed down. “Take a seat, supreme general,” he said icily as he picked up some vegetable leaves with his chopstick and placed it on top of the rice in his jade bowl.
The bastard paused, and he dared show a sad and conflicted expression. He sighed and knelt down very formally, picking up his bowl of rice and pair of chopsticks. “Thank you for the meal, Majesty.”
“Oh, no, don’t thank me,” Lingyun said after he swallowed his food. “Thank the morons who thought they should prepare your share.” Fuck, he thought he had calmed down, but that bastard’s presence was irritating the hell out of him. “I simply don’t want to waste perfectly good food—taxpayers’ blood and sweat shouldn’t be wasted simply because of my hatred for a certain moronic bastard.” He chomped down on a piece of chicken and chewed so hard that his jaws were getting sore.
Wordless, the bastard merely gaped stupidly, his chopsticks in mid-air.
Receiving no response, Lingyun continued eating while pretending that the bastard wasn’t there. When he finished, he got up and headed to change his clothes. Something caught his wrist; he didn’t bother to look back. “Let go of me,” he ordered coldly. The bastard refused to let go, so he attempted to shake his wrist away, but the bastard had him in an iron grip. A surge of fiery anger threatened to erupt from his chest and he snapped his head back. “I said—”
A violent tug pulled him off balance and before he knew it, that bastard had pinned him on the floor. “Lingyun, I don’t know what you’re thinking,” Fengbo breathed, lips so close they could touch Lingyun’s. His pulse quickened and he was unable to understand why he was getting aroused when he was supposed to be furious. “But you have no fucking idea how much I want to be with you, how much I want you.” Fengbo’s fingers trailed down Lingyun’s body, which only made Lingyun harder. “If you keep acting like this, I’ll really lose control of reason. Don’t tempt me, Lingyun…,” He was about to get off before Lingyun caught his arm.
“Don’t forget who was it that sneaked into my room, seven years ago,” he hissed. “Don’t forget who was it that played with my body that night…If it weren’t for you…I.…” His fingers dug into the flesh of Fengbo’s arm. Fuck, he was so furious that he wanted to kill the bastard. “How could you…when….” He bit his lips, looking away. He hated how this bastard always made him so fucking weak and disgraceful. “In the end, I still hate you!”
Fengbo lowered his head, shoulders dropping a little. “My deepest ap—”
“Over three years of hard work,” Lingyun growled, no longer thinking anymore, “trying to forget about you—all rendered useless by running into you fucking Bai Cheng’en!”
Face paled, Fengbo’s mouth hung slightly open, the muscles in his arm as tense as coiled steel.
“How dare you fuck someone in my presence?!” Lingyun demanded, digging his fingers even deeper.
“I….” Fengbo’s voice got caught; he never finished making his excuse.
The silence was beginning to chew on Lingyun’s patience. “I wish I had never seen it,” he whispered, no longer able to see clearly, though he refused to disgrace himself. Yet, for some reason, he just couldn’t let go of Fengbo’s arm. “You bastard…how could you?”
He hated it. Hated Fengbo treating him with disgusting respect. Hated this silence, hated this stillness. Hated the fact that the bastard was doing nothing but stare.
In the past, the moron would not have been this expressionless and quiet. He would have begged Lingyun to forgive him, pestered Lingyun, followed Lingyun around and annoyed him until he forgave the idiot.
The Fengbo he knew would not have given up without even trying, but this bastard before him was doing just that. Lingyun wasn’t Fengbo’s priority anymore. Fengbo didn’t look at him anymore. Fengbo was merely a loyal and patriotic subordinate, and nothing more—not his shidi, not the moron who had always followed him around. It was so fucking painful, so painful that he had to kill himself to get rid of that agony.
He would have succeeded, if he hadn’t seen Fengbo fucking his cousin.
“I’m not seeing Cheng’en anymore,” Fengbo quietly explained at last, unaffected by the pain Lingyun’s grasp should be causing him. “It didn’t work out between us. It never—”
“That’s because I saw you two!” Lingyun hissed.
“From now on, I forbid you to see anyone else!” Lingyun was practically shouting and he didn’t give a shit anymore. “From now on, you are to stay at this Palace overnight as my Imperial Doctor!”
Fengbo was gaping stupidly again, which was annoying as hell.
“I’m the emperor now, thanks to you,” Lingyun continued with a growl, glaring into Fengbo’s eyes, “you have to obey my orders!”
Letting go of the moron’s arm at last, Lingyun got up, about to make his way back to his room.
“Lingyun…,” said the moron; Lingyun just kept walking. “You want to be with me…that much?”
“I—” Lingyun froze. What the hell?
He could feel body heat from his back, arms circling around his waist, fingers stroking his stomach. Warm breath against his neck. “Lingyun, I never asked you before…but how do you feel about me?”
Lingyun felt his cheeks warm and was thankful that the bastard was behind him. “Don’t change the subject, you idiot!” Why was it so difficult for him to struggle free? He wasn’t much weaker than that moron, he was sure of it.
Yet, it was as though the arms around him were sapping him of his strength.
“Shixiong, answer me.” Fengbo’s fingers were sliding beneath Lingyun’s robes, rubbing his nipples and sending electrical bliss burning throughout Lingyun’s body. “Do you like me?” Through his thin silks, he could feel Fengbo’s erection pressing against his ass, and it was only making him harder. Soft nibbles at his ear; a husky whisper: “Do you like having my cock all the way up your ass?”
Lingyun moaned at the thought and immediately wanted to kick himself. What the hell? This wasn’t the time to get aroused—he was supposed to be angry! However, the wonderful sensation from his nipples weren’t helping him think clearly. A pinch; instant flare of pleasure. “B-bastard,” he gasped, struggling in vain. “Stop playing around!”
Fengbo was already untying Lingyun’s sash. “Is that an order, Majesty?” Why was it that, whenever that bastard used that tone, Lingyun would get unreasonably hard? “If so, this lowly official will happily oblige to Majesty’s wish….” Clothes were sliding off Lingyun, and Fengbo’s teeth nipped his shoulder.
How could Lingyun say stop, when his erection was screaming yes? He bit back a moan when Fengbo’s fingers wrapped around the base of his cock.
“Lingyun, you’re hard…,” breathed Fengbo. “I guess this means you like what I did to your body last night…?”
“Shu—” Lingyun gasped, sinking back when Fengbo pumped his length with firm, slow strokes. The hardness poking his ass was a constant reminder of the intense pleasure he had experienced the night before.
“Say it,” Fengbo purred, still stroking Lingyun in that torturous, slow motion. “I want to hear you say it: Do you want me to fuck you?”
Not in a million—
“Yes,” Lingyun found himself whisper.
What the fuck?
Fengbo squeezed the hilt of his cock and he gasped. “I can’t hear you, Majesty…”
Yet, this blissful torture was driving him crazy. He wanted it, wanted Fengbo too much to let go. Fengbo belonged to him! Fengbo was his. Fengbo could only see him, and no one else.
“I want you…,” Lingyun forced through his closed throat; it came out like a whimper.
A soft chuckle. Fengbo lowered Lingyun to the floor, staring into Lingyun’s eyes as he ran his fingers down Lingyun’s chest. “You want this lowly official to what?” he teased; Lingyun wanted to tear that infuriating smirk off his face. He turned his head to the side and refused to acknowledge the idiot’s existence.
“Majesty, how is this lowly official to know what you want without clear orders?” the bastard inquired, his burning gaze still fixated on Lingyun’s face. When he received no response, he let out a mock-sigh and said, “I suppose I should stop…You clearly don’t want this lowly official for anything….”
“Fuck me…,” Lingyun whispered—he wanted to die from shame.
“Hm?” The bastard’s smirk widened. “Did you say something, Majesty?”
Lingyun wanted to kill Fengbo, he really did. Yet, for some preposterous reason, he was so fucking hard it was unbelievable. “I said,” he repeated, still avoiding that bastard’s smoldering gaze, “Fuck me.”
Fengbo leaned close and captured his lips, tongue sliding in and brushing Lingyun’s, sucking the air out of him. “Your wish is my command, Majesty….”
Even though Fengbo had repeated the same words years ago, the effect it had on Lingyun was completely different. He found himself so hard he could have screamed in frustration.
“Then hurry up and undress, you moron!” Anything to make him feel less humiliated.
However, Fengbo took his time on purpose, and Lingyun could only grind his teeth together; like hell he was going to say anything more humiliating than what he just had!
When their eyes met, Lingyun quickly looked away, annoyed by how this moron was always able to make him feel strangely happy.
“Lingyun, if you don’t want to look at me, there’s always a solution,” Fengbo said in a low, dangerously magnetic voice.
Even though Lingyun knew that moron was up to no good, he still couldn’t help but ask, “What?” Then, he quickly added, “Any solution you propose is going to be stupid.”
Fengbo stroked his waist, fingers trailing all the way to Lingyun’s thigh; he couldn’t help but shiver at how good it felt. “Why don’t you let me try it out, and then decide whether it’s stupid or not?” he asked with an evil smirk that made Lingyun’s heart skip a beat. “Unless you’re too scared to let me try.”
“Who’s scared? Go ahead and try!” Lingyun challenged before he could come up with a better response.
“All right, Majesty, don’t forget what you said to this lowly official….” Fengbo jabbed the points that temporarily paralyzed Lingyun, sending a numbing buzz throughout his weakened limbs. He then took Lingyun’s sash and blindfolded him.
Before Lingyun could say anything, Fengbo had already tied his wrists to the leg of a large incense burner. “What’s the meaning of this?” Lingyun demanded. Fengbo’s fingers closed around his erection and he gasped. For some reason, he was even more sensitive. The restraint on him felt like a release, which was strange, yet it was undeniable that he felt as though he had been relieved from all the power and responsibility that he shouldered.
“Just in case you have second thoughts.” Fengbo’s voice buzzed beside Lingyun’s ear, which only made Lingyun’s erection throb painfully. Fengbo’s kisses trailed down Lingyun’s throat, collarbones, stomach, and then…
Lingyun moaned when Fengbo’s mouth took in the tip of his erection. When Fengbo’s finger slid in him, the pleasure intensified and he shuddered, writhing even though his wrists were bound. He couldn’t see, but he still felt Fengbo’s penetrating eyes on him, observing his face; just the thought made him even harder. It was blissful torture, lacking the friction needed for him to orgasm and yet pleasurable enough to have him trembling for more.
When Fengbo’s mouth left his cock, Lingyun’s muscles tensed; he had an idea of what would happen, but he couldn’t see for sure. Fengbo spread his legs, the tip of his member nudging Lingyun’s ass. A flare of mixed pleasure and pain; Lingyun struggled in vain, moaning helplessly as Fengbo’s cock entered all the way up to the hilt, brushing the spot that sent a wave of inexplicable pleasure throughout Lingyun’s nerves.
As Fengbo fucked him, he was reminded of how long Fengbo could last—it was unbelievable. Before Lingyun actually came, he felt like he had already experienced multiple orgasms, and when he did ejaculate, it was too intense for him to care about humiliating himself. He choked on his cries as Fengbo pounded into him with quickened thrusts.
It took them a while to regain their strength. “So, how was it?” the bastard dared ask.
Scoffing, Lingyun turned his head to the side, even though the experience had been more pleasurable than anything he could have imagined.
With a chuckle, Fengbo released Lingyun’s wrists and took off his blindfold. “I’m going to assume that silence means that you liked it, Shixiong,” he said.
“You…!” Yet, Lingyun was unable to come up with something more intelligent to say. “I need another bath.”
Agreeing, Fengbo followed him; they ended up fucking again before they actually cleaned themselves.
Lingyun never wanted to feel dead anymore.
Ke Xianyao was unable to comprehend the meaning behind the emperor’s decision. “Majesty, forgive my insolence, but is there a reason for this decision?”
“General Xuan is very skilled with medicine; he is also reliable in terms of martial arts ability,” explained the emperor. Something was different. Although the emperor remained expressionless and calm, it was like life had been breathed back into his eyes; his voice held a tone that was vaguely familiar. “Since you all have insisted that I increase the security of my Palace, I decided that General Xuan alone can suffice.”
Xianyao glanced at Fengbo, but what the hell had he been expecting? The supreme general was unreadable as always; it was hard to determine whether or not he approved of the emperor’s decision.
No protests dissuaded the emperor’s resolution, so eventually they gave up on trying.
“I see,” Chunmei sighed, staring at the embroidery on the hat she was sewing for her son.
Her brother had spent the night at Lingyun’s palace, and Lingyun had ordered a large flagon of wine before Fengbo had arrived. It didn’t take much for Chunmei to realize what that would result in—yet, despite having accepted the truth almost three years ago, her heart still sank.
Her husband was sleeping with her brother.
Her husband was sleeping with her brother…!
Heavens, what sort of blasphemous scandal would this become?
It wasn’t just their reputations at risk; Chunmei didn’t even want to imagine what sort of things gossiping nobles would say about her, and worse, her children.
Now, Fengbo was Lingyun’s Imperial Doctor during the night—and Chunmei knew why. And knowing why, it became increasingly difficult for her to sleep.
She just prayed that no one would be stupid enough to gossip about this.
Three days had passed since Lingyun had forcibly made Fengbo his bodyguard and Imperial Doctor, and Fengbo had already been pressured into to holding an emergency family meeting to address the issue. He hadn’t thought Lingyun had actually meant to keep him close—and he couldn’t deny how elated he was, even though worry tugged at the bottom of his heart.
“Why didn’t you refuse?” asked his uncle, Xuan Wenchong, arms crossed and brows furrowed. “What is going on in His Imperial Majesty’s mind?” Muttered, more to himself this time.
“More importantly, why would he humiliate you?” growled Fengbo’s wife, Bai Qinxin.
Humiliate? Fengbo tried not to let his disbelief show on his face. They didn’t understand, and there was no nice way to make them understand, particularly his wife. He couldn’t tell them he was fucking the emperor, especially since he was the one penetrating. That mere idea was treason against the emperor, despite Lingyun’s personal opinion.
“What can he accomplish by suddenly messing up regulation?” Qinxin continued snappily. “You don’t even have a license—is he going to just give you one out of the blue? I can’t believe His Imperial Majesty is doing this!” Her fists were trembling, her pale cheeks flushed with fury. Her anger used to remind him of Lingyun, but now that the old Lingyun was miraculously revived again, Fengbo realized how different they were.
“True, a responsible emperor would never bend regulations to fit his needs,” Fengbo argued as dispassionately as he could, “but no emperor in history has done so before. Ultimately, the emperor is the law, and as his subject, I have no complaints.”
“No complaints?” Qinxin inquired with a shaky voice. “No complaints?” Loud and shrilling.
Fengbo blinked. He had not anticipated her losing her composure in a family conference. As he held his wife’s glare, he searched his mind for the cause for her anger.
It was clear to him that his reserved reaction was making Qinxin even angrier. “I was barely able to tolerate the fact that you only came back every three or so months, but now that peace has finally been established, I thought we’d finally be able to spend more time together and plan your son’s future, but no, you had to let His Imperial Majesty walk all over you!”
Unbeknownst to his wife, Fengbo had no problems with Lingyun walking all over him; it had always been that way in the past. Yet, he was now reminded that he no longer had the luxury of listening to Lingyun’s every beck and call. “His Imperial Majesty’s my friend, he only wants to catch up now that we finally don’t have to pretend to hate each other,” Fengbo lied. He was about to continue his excuse, but Qinxin interrupted:
“Maybe that’s what he wants you to think, but from my perspective, he just wants to beat you down, since you’re too much of a threat to his position. He can treat you like a slave and your loyalty blinds you into thinking that he trusts you!”
Before Fengbo could chastise his wife, Ruixiang growled, “I don’t care if you’re His Imperial Majesty’s sister or not, Qinxin, but how dare you disrespect His Imperial Majesty? I don’t know why he made the decision either, but it is not my place to question his decisions.”
Fengbo nodded in approval; Ruixiang narrowed his eyes.
“Nevertheless, Qinxin has a point,” Wenchong mused. “His Imperial Majesty is not making a good choice by ignoring the regulations. Tomorrow, I will bring it up in the conference; the Xuan cannot stay silent about this matter.” He stroked his beard. “However, I do not believe His Imperial Majesty intends to deride us or weaken us. Thus, his intentions are very strange—he has never disregarded rules like this.”
“Asides from slipping out the Palace every now and then, you mean,” Sima Lü coolly reminded. “And ignoring the harem regulations.”
Angrily, Ruixiang retorted, “If His Imperial Majesty hadn’t slipped out the Palace, he wouldn’t have met all his currently most trusted advisors.” Fengbo had known that his half-brother was deeply loyal to Lingyun, but he hadn’t expected Ruixiang, who was normally impassive, to get so emotional.
Unfortunately, no matter how much Fengbo wanted to defend his emperor as well, he couldn’t do so. Lingyun’s decision was impossible to defend without creating more questions. “Relax, all of you,” he began. “As I said, His Imperial Majesty only wants to catch up with our friendship. With our recent acquirement of Ning’s lands, things are going to be too busy for him during the day, which is why he wanted to let me have an excuse to visit him at night, when he has spare time.” He spoke smoothly without pause, having practiced reciting this excuse. “He’ll relieve me of the title eventually, when things have settled down.”
Fengbo did not look forward to that day.
It had taken four days for Lingyun to respond to Juntao’s request for an audience. “Master, what is the meaning of this?” he demanded as soon as he entered the building. Quietly, the eunuchs left the hall.
With his usual calmness, Lingyun stamped the paper in front of him and placed it atop the stack to his left. “The meaning of what?”
At first, Juntao thought his ears had been playing tricks on him; after all, his Master’s voice was as icy as usual. Yet, the way Lingyun had said those words—it was as though there was life in his voice again. Restless suspicion churned Juntao’s gut, but he refused to accept the cause of it. “You know what I’m talking about! Why did you make Xuan Fengbo your Imperial Doctor? If there are still problems you need to take care of, I’d like to help you.”
Lingyun’s brows twitched—no, Juntao must’ve been hallucinating. Lingyun set his seal aside and tidied the stack of papers in front of him. “Nothing is wrong.”
Stepping closer, Juntao asked, “Then, why?”
Their eyes met, and Juntao found himself unable to breathe. Nostalgia gripped him with full force, taking his away his ability to think properly. Even though Lingyun never answered and merely continued to read his documents, Juntao had a good idea of the motivation behind his Master’s absurd decision.
Disbelief petrified him; Juntao could do nothing but stare at his Master. The usual harmonizing scent from the golden incense burners did nothing to soothe the turmoil he felt—why? It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair at all—the man he hated the most did not deserve this. Even though Juntao had already given up all hope and could never feel the same way anymore, bitterness still plagued him when he had learned of the news.
Lingyun placed another sheet of paper to his side and stood up. He circled around his desk and picked up one of the swords from the rack on a shelf. He threw the jian; Juntao caught it with one hand. “Juntao, it’s been a while since we’ve crossed blades,” he said in a drawl that Juntao missed very much. “You better be able to learn Snow Prison’s arts without trouble this time.”
Flabbergasted, Juntao looked up to search Lingyun’s eyes for confirmation, but Lingyun had already drawn his jian and slashed down; Juntao raised his sheathed blade and blocked the attack. Lingyun immediately twisted his blade, aiming for Juntao’s arm, and Juntao turned his weapon to block again, only to be attacked with a fast punch; he couldn’t avoid it in time, though he managed to shift his position at the vital moment to protect an acupressure point.
Clank, clank, clank; the scabbard of Lingyun’s sword rattled emptily in the large hall. “Hmph, it seems that you haven’t forgotten all of Snow Prison’s arts,” Lingyun mused, a thin smirk forming on his lips. “Even though you still have shitty execution of the moves.”
Eyes widening, Juntao stared at his Master, unable to believe what was happening. Lingyun was back—the old Lingyun was back. “Master!” he exclaimed, feeling mixed emotions of relief and bitterness. “You’re alive again!”
“Indeed. So shut up and focus.” Lingyun stepped back and unleashed a flurry of attacks while Juntao unsheathed his blade quickly and parried Lingyun’s jian in five quick moves.
This time, it was the scabbard Juntao had thrown that clattered hollowly on the wooden floor.
“Don’t just defend, show me if you remember any Snow Prison Style attacks!” Lingyun ordered with a growl, twirling his jian and then piercing five times, four of which Juntao managed to block; the tip of Lingyun’s blade wavered and paused for a bit to note Juntao’s loss before he moved his blade again.
Shame prickled Juntao—he hadn’t been able to gain the upper hand even after their blades had clashed thirty times. Although his Master had not been training as vigorously as Juntao had been, Lingyun still knew how to plan his moves ahead even though he wasn’t as strong as Juntao, consequently preventing Juntao from finding any openings he could exploit.
Fingers tightening on the grip of his jian, Juntao decided to whip and pierce his blade in light, quick moves, transforming between fancy feints and deadly attacks—it was a Snow Prison sword play, ‘Pushuang Yongxue’: Like spreading frost and increasing snow, every pierce and slash was more powerful than the previous.
“Openings everywhere!” Lingyun roared, parrying the sword out of Juntao’s hand before he was able to execute the fourth stage of that move. “You useless idiot!” he fumed. “Have you ever taken me as your Master for real, or is this whole thing just a game to you? Over five years, and your execution of ‘Pushuang Yongxue’ has not improved, but just the opposite!”
How Juntao missed these strict lectures—it brought back so many memories. “I’m sorry, Master.”
“Obviously you never practiced anything you learned from me,” Lingyun growled.
“That’s not true, Master!” Juntao explained hurriedly, his hands clasping tightly together. “I do practice, especially to remember you.” Just not in the past year, since it had been too painful for him to poke at his old wounds.
Lingyun’s shoulders stiffened; he averted his gaze, brows creased. However, it all happened very quickly; he relaxed his shoulders and looked back again. “You idiotic disciple—you’re supposed to practice to perfect your techniques!” His grip on his jian remained very tight, as his knuckles were white.
“Master, are you sleeping with him?” Juntao blurted before he could stop himself.
Lingyun’s mouth was dry, and he was unable to relax his stiff shoulders. He could feel his cheeks warm from humiliation, and he looked away to avoid Juntao’s demanding gaze. He had wanted to avoid this subject, had wished Juntao would not care anymore, had tried to distract his stubborn disciple—but who was he joking? “That’s none of your business,” he managed to say, though the tone was slightly higher than usual.
“You are sleeping with him,” Juntao observed before Lingyun could change the subject. He was uncharacteristically calm, which Lingyun hadn’t expected, but was relieved to find. Until he heard the next words: “You know you can’t be with him.”
Lingyun gritted his teeth, fist tightening. Juntao, too. Everyone. It had only been four days since his admittedly rash decision, and everyone was already on his case. It wasn’t like he didn’t know what the consequences of his decision were—who did they think he was?
But of course, he didn’t have any right to decide shit; he was the goddamn emperor. They could worship him all they wanted, respect him all they wanted, but in the end, they controlled his personal life with iron strings. If he struggled too hard for freedom, the strings would cut his flesh and rip him apart.
He knew that. Of course he knew that he had no freedom. Of course he knew that his decision was making the Xuan look bad. Of course he knew that there would eventually be people who would reach the same conclusion as Juntao had. He knew that he was putting his hard-earned reputation at risk, he knew he no longer had the ability to do whatever he wanted, if he was to retain the loyalty of his subordinates.
But did they have to constantly remind him that he was a marionette, performing tirelessly to satisfy their image of what a perfect emperor should be?
Annoyance began to replace embarrassment. Lingyun walked back to his desk, sat down, and slammed his jian beside him. “Whom I sleep with is none of your business,” he repeated with a growl, the blush gone from his cheeks. “I have control over the situation. This is just a temporary arrangement.”
In silence, Juntao proceeded to pick up the jian Lingyun had parried out of his hand and picked up its scabbard. “Temporary, eh?” He sheathed the blade and placed it back on the display rack. “Master, what do you mean by temporary? Are you going to let go of him, once and for all, or are you going to call him back with strange excuses?” He looked up, locking eyes with Lingyun. “Master, don’t get me wrong. I know that you will never open up to me the way you open up to that man, and I won’t force you to anymore. You let me do you so I’d realize that, didn’t you? Xuan Fengbo only needed you drunk and one night to get you back,” he reasoned bitterly.
Speechless, all Lingyun could do was hold the gaze pathetically, a feeble attempt not to lose to the unease that grasped his gut with its cold fingers. No matter how much he tried to forget, he couldn’t forget the first time he had been penetrated, couldn’t forget how Juntao had touched him, how Juntao had fucked him. The awkwardness he had so desperately tried to ignore was now paralyzing him with full force.
It finally occurred to Lingyun how much ‘the brat’ had grown, and how much things had changed between them. Lingyun had tried to fulfill Juntao’s wish by attempting to act as his Master again, but after this, he knew it was not going to work. Juntao must’ve also known it was never going to be the same again, so why did he still want Lingyun to be his Master?
“Even after all these years…you never let go,” Juntao continued, his voice cracked despite his stoic expression. “So, I have doubts as to how’temporary’ your ‘temporary’ means. You’re still going to cling to him, aren’t you? Even though he made you suffer, even though he deceived you. You always believed him, didn’t you? You don’t have to admit it, because I know you won’t.”
“I….” Lingyun hated feeling like this, hated feeling helpless. Hated hearing people analyze him as though they knew everything.
Unfortunately, he had nothing to say for himself.
“Master, what would you have done if Xuan Fengbo hadn’t returned your feelings?” Juntao inquired. “Did you ever consider the possibility before you clung to him and suffered for so long?”
“That’s not possible,” Lingyun replied as calmly as possible; it was hard to talk through his closed throat. “Why do I need to consider something that’s not possible?”
After all, it was exactly because that moron had always treated him with that suffocating affection that he couldn’t let go. Just the subtle touches, the burning gaze when he wasn’t looking, stupid little things that gave the moron’s true nature away—invisible chains that bound him to Fengbo. He had always tried to ignore them while contradicting himself with the idea that everything was fine because that moron still cared—until he had realized how naïve he had been.
Juntao smiled dryly. “Master, I never expected you to be so naïve. But then again, you were always naïve, in some ways.”
“Who are you calling naïve?” Lingyun snapped before he could stop himself.
Juntao merely continued to wear that wry smile. “Even though I can’t hope to ever be with you, you’re still important to me, Master. I don’t want to see you hurt again. Watching you suffer is painful for me as well, you know?”
What was it with people and embarrassing, intimate words? How the hell did they expect Lingyun to respond to their perturbing confessions?
Both that moron and this idiot….
“Lingyun…,” Juntao whispered, brushing Lingyun’s cheek with his fingers. When the hell had he gotten so close? Their lips were almost brushing, and yet Lingyun couldn’t back away. “If something goes wrong, don’t expect me to help. I won’t say a thing, but I won’t help, either. You’ll understand, right?”
“Of course,” Lingyun said, desperately trying to maintain the mask that had once been so easy to wear. “Why the hell would I ask for help anyway? This is my problem.”
And why the hell did he need to explain himself to his disciple?
Juntao chuckled and got off the desk. “As expected from Master. You’re really back. Well, I’ve got other business to attend to. Lately we’ve been recruiting new members into the former Blood Flames Sect, you see.”
“Very well,” Lingyun said. “You may be excused.”
And so, Juntao left.
The musical could not distract Yulan from her deepening worries. Finally, she touched Lingyun’s arm gently.
“Yes, Mother?” From the looks of Lingyun’s expression, he probably had an idea of what Yulan wanted to say.
“I just wanted to say how proud I am of you,” Yulan said with a smile.
“I couldn’t have done this without your help and everyone’s help.” Lingyun paused, lowering his eyes. “I just…I feel like I’ve failed you, actually,” he said quietly.
“Lingyun, you know I never blamed you for the loss of Yiming and Zhitian. They brought this upon themselves, and you merely used their treacherous conspiracies to your advantage.” She tightened her grasp on Lingyun’s arm, but it proved to be a little difficult—age and stress finally taking their toll on her health. “But, I do hope that you can take good care of Qingyan,” she continued. “Even though he’s older than you, he spent most of his life sick in bed so he does not understand as many things as you do. I hope you can forgive him for his immaturity.”
Lingyun nodded. Yulan swallowed a sigh, knowing this was a hard request, especially with the worry that was plaguing her.
“Also, son, you know I want you to be happy. Yet, at the same time, I think what you are attempting is a little dangerous.”
Lingyun nodded again. He knew that Yulan wanted him to break off the current relationship she suspected him to have with Fengbo. Yulan had made sure to make clear her concern of what Qingyan might do. Would her third son resist the temptation of bringing down the Xuan and damaging Lingyun’s reputation? Even though Qingyan should know that conspiring against Lingyun was never going to end well, the nature of this matter was different; personal. And this time, the morality upheld by society was on Qingyan’s side, not Lingyun’s.
Yulan could not bear the pain of losing another son, even if it meant that she was leaving Lingyun alone.
Snow was beginning to fall, marking the start of xiaoxue. It had already been a month since they had returned to the capital, yet Cheng’en still could not believe it. Here he was, celebrating the birth of Shiwei’s second son without a single worry; peace was established firmly, thanks to the emperor and supreme general. Even though Cheng’en’s chest still hurt whenever he thought about Fengbo, things were still better than anything he could ask for. At this point, nothing could go wrong for Yue…or so Cheng’en was convinced.
“Odd,” Bai Shiwei said, not long after Xuan Zhe excused himself from the party.
Cheng’en jolted out of his daze and looked up. “Huh?”
“I said, don’t you think it’s odd?” Shiwei repeated with a slur. He chugged down some more wine and burped.
“Oh, yes, certainly,” Yang Antai agreed with sloppy articulation. “My wife was the one who brought this to my attention, and the more I thought of it, the stranger things seemed.”
“What are you two talking about?” Cheng’en asked at last.
Shiwei suddenly lit up and grabbed Cheng’en’s shoulders. “Ah, yes, why haven’t I thought of this earlier?” He shook Cheng’en with enthusiasm. “Say, what kind of man was the supreme general? Did he ever try anything on you?”
Fully awake now, Cheng’en stared wide-eyed at Shiwei, fear churning his stomach. What the hell? Had they found out that he liked getting fucked by men? “I have no idea what you are referring to,” he managed to reply without panicking.
“Are you sure? I heard somewhere that Xuan Fengbo had a preference for men.”
Where the hell had Shiwei heard that? “I never noticed,” Cheng’en defended, doing his best to sound detached and confused. “And I’m one of his closest subordinates.”
“I was saying that,” Antai interrupted, “no matter how famous the Xuan are for their medical prowess, General Xuan is far from being a professional doctor—Xuan Jie is the one with the official training. If His Imperial Majesty wants to dote on the Xuan Family, shouldn’t he be increasing the shifts for Xuan Jie instead of appointing the supreme general? What induced that arrangement?” He shifted and leaned to his other side. “Fear for life?” he mused softly. “Yet, that shouldn’t be it. His Imperial Majesty has plenty of reasons to fear Xuan Fengbo more, if he’s really that paranoid. Fengbo has too much power—especially since he accomplished so much in these years. No matter how close the two are as friends, the arrangement didn’t make much sense.”
Now that they mentioned it…the arrangement had indeed been somewhat unusual. Cheng’en had thought it was for security reasons.
“Antai, you overanalyze!” laughed Shiwei, setting his jug of wine down. He then leaned forward. “Just think of it as this: Xuan Fengbo basically had no sex life during that time.” His breath reeked with alcohol. “Why the hell did His Imperial Majesty propose such a punishing arrangement anyway, when he knew that he shouldn’t offend Xuan Fengbo? Not to mention, Fengbo had the ability to reject the insane request from His Imperial Majesty, but he didn’t. What sort of man in his right mind, especially one with Xuan Fengbo’s qualities, would give up his sex life? Unless….” He snickered, a strange light shining in his eyes.
Queasy fear gnawed Cheng’en’s gut. He didn’t even want to think of what he knew Shiwei wanted to say—they could be killed for voicing such an outrageous idea. Besides, Fengbo was not the type to…
He gulped. No way, right? Fengbo still had someone important, so important to him that Cheng’en had never stood a chance. “You both are thinking too much into this. Didn’t His Imperial Majesty take the decision back?”
“Yes, after fifteen days,” Shiwei snickered. “What’s next? I won’t be surprised if His Imperial Majesty starts to summon Fengbo for meals, for weiqi, for practicing martial arts, for watching performances—oh, the list could go on. I wonder who’s behind this…Fengbo, or His Imperial Majesty?” His grin widened. “I put my money on Fengbo, actually—he has power, prestige, and His Imperial Majesty has to reward him for his loyalty, doesn’t he? Lucky Fengbo.”
“Shiwei, I have not heard what you have just said,” Antai gasped, horrified. “Don’t drag us into this. You could get us both killed for your blasphemous, preposterous fantasies…slandering the supreme general and worse, the emperor, in such a despicable manner…!”
“Not everyone is as perverted as you are, Shiwei,” Cheng’en chimed in with disgust. He could not believe his cousin—he didn’t want anything to do with Shiwei anymore.
“No, you’re the one who’s different, Cheng’en,” Shiwei retorted with a slur. “Why the hell aren’t you interested in women? Workaholic. Tell us the truth, you like men, don’t you? It’s all right, I have a friend who manages a Hive—I can ask him to give you a discount. No one will say anything, especially when…,” Shiwei laughed so hard that it was difficult to hear him finish, “the Gay Wind will sweep through this era!”
Cheng’en dared not respond to his cousin’s absurd reasoning.
However, somewhere deep inside him, he couldn’t help but suspect the same thing. What if the emperor was Fengbo’s ‘most important person’? That would explain a lot of things…
No, Cheng’en didn’t believe it. Even though Cheng’en did not believe that being penetrated made him less of a man, the emperor was a different story, and doubtless Fengbo knew that as well. Fengbo would never disrespect the emperor…
Dong! The metallic chime reverberated clearly throughout the large hall.
Expressionless as usual, the emperor got up and left the hall. Row by row, the officials filed out, returning to their buildings to continue business as usual.
Xu Guangdao followed behind Xuan Fengbo, immersed in his own thoughts. He had been observing both Fengbo and the emperor for over three years now, every year cementing his initial assumption. As a man who would have been predominately homosexual if not for his marriage, Guangdao could tell that the emperor and supreme general shared no ordinary relationship. As a result, their interaction and decisions had always made sense to Guangdao, though fellow officials did not share that understanding.
“Guangdao!” called someone from behind—Ke Xianyao’s voice.
Guangdao paused and looked back, meeting Xianyao’s eyes. “Yes?”
Hurrying down the stairs to walk beside Guangdao, Xianyao cut straight to the point, “I need your help.” He had not changed at all.
After a few steps down the stairs, Guangdao mused, “I thought you’d want to talk to His Imperial Majesty soon. It’s about the rumors, is it not?” He sighed. “Yet, I’m afraid this is not an easy subject to bring up, especially not the particular rumor you have in mind. I suppose it has not reached His Imperial Majesty or Xuan Fengbo’s ears yet, no one dares to speak of it aloud, but those who have not forgotten the Winter Conference four years ago have odd theories.”
“His Imperial Majesty should execute the disrespectful scum for coming up with such despicable stories about him and the supreme general,” Xianyao growled under his breath, rubbing his arms to warm himself. “That rumor alone should not exist. I do not believe the other rumors either, but this one needs to be stopped.” His paused and sought Guangdao’s eyes. “However, I am a coward who cannot speak to His Imperial Majesty about this by myself—especially since I was the most opposed to the appointment of Fengbo as an Imperial Doctor. I fear His Imperial Majesty still does not understand that I only wished the best for him, since Fengbo is not trained to diagnose or treat illness.” He placed a hand on Guangdao’s shoulder. “Guangdao, you are the man His Imperial Majesty trusts the most after Xuan Fengbo, maybe he’ll listen to you.”
For a few more steps, Guangdao did not respond. After all, he knew that Xianyao wanted to advise the emperor not to summon Fengbo too often and to refute their relationship, but Guangdao wanted to find another way to solve this issue, a solution that would protect the emperor’s interests. After all, the Empire was stable and the emperor had always treated Guangdao well—he wanted to find a way to repay his lord. “I do not know, Xianyao. I have to think about this a little more.”
Leaning back against the beautifully carved couch, Bai Qinxin blew her newly painted nails, waiting for them to dry as the maid painted the nails on her other hand. On her lap was a copper hand-held censer that kept her warm, though she was already dressed in layers of fine silk. “As I was saying, Majesty.” Catching Chunmei’s eyes. “This new little ‘friendship’ is going overboard, don’t you think?”
Even though Qinxin felt stupid for having previously suspected that her half-brother had wanted to beat the Xuan down, she still disliked the way things were going. The Xuan’s status was as strong as ever, but she took no warmth from the glory.
“How so?” Chunmei tried to sound confused, but Qinxin knew it was an act. There was no way her sister-in-law would not notice, especially when all Qinxin’s friends were discussing this behind her back. How could Lingyun ignore them and let her—his sister and an Imperial Princess—be humiliated like this?
In the first place, Lingyun was the reason she was suffering this humiliation.
“His Imperial Majesty summons your brother far too many times!” Qinxin growled, though careful not to move her hand. “In the past two months, after he finally had the sense to cancel his absurd idea of making my husband his Imperial Doctor, he already called Fengbo to his Palace fourteen times, in the name of ‘friendship’! And Fengbo only returns at the crack of dawn—five times, he didn’t even bother!”
Chunmei broke their eye contact and blew her nails dry. “You probably didn’t know, but His Imperial Majesty and Fengbo were friends before His Imperial Majesty ascended the throne. I don’t find anything strange with them catching up.” She held out a hand again so her maid could paint patterns over the first layer. “Also, this year’s winter is exceptionally cold, so I suppose that’s why His Imperial Majesty made Fengbo stay.”
Not even bothering to hide her disbelief, Qinxin stared at the Empress. “Forgive me for the disrespect, but are you defending Fengbo, or are you just in denial, Majesty? Surely you have heard the rumors by now.”
“If the rumors were true, do you think His Imperial Majesty would let them spread like fire?” Chunmei retorted stiffly, her spare hand fiddling her earring. “He doesn’t care, because they aren’t true. I know what type of person he is, anyway, so I don’t think they’re true.” She paused a little, shifting to a more comfortable position. “Besides, I’m in charge of the Harem, and many eunuchs are under my wing. Do you think I wouldn’t know if His Imperial Majesty were letting Fengbo use his concubines?” She gave Qinxin a pointed look. “Moreover, I’m surprised you actually think Fengbo is that kind of person.”
“Majesty, you know that His Imperial Majesty is trying to shower affection on Fengbo,” Qinxin protested. “Is it all that strange for him to use such a despicable way to show his favoritism? Moreover….” She gritted her teeth, fuming before she could compose herself again. “Fengbo isn’t sleeping with me as much anymore. Don’t you think that is a loud, blatant signal that he’s cheating on me? I thought I told him that I won’t allow any concubines or mistresses!”
Chunmei sighed and ordered another maid to bring in more water for her to make tea.
“How foolish I was in my youth, to admire Fengbo like a hero who had morals,” Qinxin continued, tears welling up in her eyes. “In the end, Fengbo’s just like any other man—a selfish, perverted, philandering bastard. First it was with my cousin, Cheng’en, who’s male and I don’t even know what attracted Fengbo to that man, and now it’s the Imperial Concubines! The scum knows no bounds!” She set her hand-warmer down, got up, and proceeded to kneel before Chunmei’s wooden couch. The maid quickly moved aside and Qinxin grabbed pale, delicate hands.
“My dear sister!” she exclaimed, feeling her tears run down her cheeks. “I need evidence!”
Gently, Chunmei removed one hand to wipe Qinxin’s tears away with her sleeve. “There, there…Please don’t get too emotional, it’s bad for your baby….”
“I need evidence to stop Fengbo, to threaten him against ever visiting the Palace at night again,” Qinxin wept, sniffing. “I know you are pregnant and should not exert your body, but need your help, my good sister.”
Chunmei made a strange humming sound from her throat and retracted her other hand. “Qinxin, I told you already that none of the eunuchs have reported anything of that sort to me. I would know…but if you really are concerned, I’ll have my subordinates check the rooms of every concubine, especially the more beautiful ones.”
“Thank you for the kind offer, Majesty.”
Afterwards, they talked of more light-hearted subjects such as their children, beauty care, healthy food, music, poems and the like. Before Qinxin left, however, Chunmei sighed, “Qinxin, if you care about your children, the Xuan, and this Empire, I suggest you don’t investigate too far into the matter you’re concerned with….” Her voice trembled. “We women of class just don’t have the luxury of being married to faithful husbands, or even marrying someone we love. In the end, we’re just tools that men use for either personal or political gain. You’ll only hurt yourself, my dear sister.”
Qinxin slammed her hand against a column; the sharp pain burning the flesh of her palm was nothing compared to the pain in her heart. She was one of the most powerful princesses, and she had made sure that no one treated her unequally just because she was a woman—and yet, here the Empress was, spouting such nonsensical shit! The Empress! A woman to whom men had to lower their heads in respect!
“Your Majesty,” she hissed, disappointment and anger making it difficult for her to see, “are you saying that we should just sit back and let ourselves be abused? So what if we’re women? Don’t we have pride? Can’t we have dignity? Is it wrong to desire dignity?” Her throat hurt from shouting so hard. “How dangerous could it be to want my husband to remain faithful? You don’t understand how I feel because His Imperial Majesty isn’t interested in woman or anyone; you never had to experience the fear of having your pride and position jeopardized!” She was crying too, her voice cracking. “How could you even believe in such disgusting, weak values?”
Chunmei grabbed a cup from a tray and threw it to the floor, shattering it into pieces. For the first time, Qinxin saw rage color the Empress’s otherwise pale face. “How dare you speak to me in such a disrespectful manner, Qinxin?” Chunmei demanded angrily. “Know your place!”
Immediately, Qinxin got on her knees. “My deepest apologies, Your Majesty,” she breathed, eyes lowered to stare at the foot of the Empress’s dress.
“Don’t speak as if you know everything I’ve had to go through!” Chunmei continued shrilly, tears falling down her cheeks. “Don’t assume that I don’t understand your pain!” She held her forehead in her hand, closed her eyes and dropped on the couch, her face paler than normal.
“Your Majesty!” a maid gasped in unison with Qinxin. The maid hurried to support the Empress by her shoulders. “Please take care of your body!”
After a while, Chunmei spoke again, gently this time: “Qinxin, sit with me.” She patted the spot beside her.
Gulping, Qinxin did as she had been ordered to do.
Chunmei took Qinxin’s hands with her own cold ones. “In the past, I was also often distressed and angry. It hurts, I know. But I had a lot of time to think, and I realized that things aren’t so one-sided, and that women aren’t the only ones suffering, even though men are indeed more privileged. Let me ask you, Qinxin, did my brother have a say in who to marry? Had he ever mistreated you? Had he ever disrespected you?”
Despite wanting to say ‘yes’ to having been disrespected, since Fengbo was disrespecting her by cheating on her, Qinxin found herself unable to.
Chunmei squeezed her hands. “You know how powerful and influential my brother is. If he really wanted a concubine, do you think you could stop him? He is favored by the emperor, and you, on the other hand, do not even know His Imperial Majesty. Your rank as a princess is meaningless to Fengbo.” She sighed, eyes lowered. “Not everything is black and white, Qinxin. No one is truly wrong in this—let this go, don’t torment yourself any longer.”
When Qinxin returned back to the Xuan Manor, she thought long and hard about the discussion, trying to figure out why she felt so uneasy.
Dark suspicion began to poison her veins—the less gossiped rumor slithering its way into her heart. She thought of the offspring in Chunmei’s bosom, and she almost threw up with disgust.
The incestuous Empress wasn’t going to help, she was sure of it.
Qinxin was all alone.
Night fell quickly, and Fengbo returned from work. They ate dinner like usual, joined by some family members, and discussed politics and business. After they had defeated the Ning, Fengbo was made Chancellor again, though he seldom interfered unless he thought it was necessary.
Normally, Qinxin would participate in the conversations, but her mind was too preoccupied with disgust and anger. What was worse, Fengbo didn’t even notice.
Infuriated, Qinxin excused herself and returned to her room. She wrote a letter to a eunuch under her care, asking him to tell her the truth about Chunmei, and that she’d take responsibility for the information.
Three days later, she received the response during the night, stating that there were records of the emperor sleeping with Chunmei, and that she had never left the Harem at night. Just as she started to suspect whether the eunuch was telling the truth, she heard that Fengbo was coming and quickly hid the letter away. A small glimmer of hope made her heart beat quicker. After all, he had finally slept with her the previous night.
“His Imperial Majesty wants to eat dinner with me tomorrow,” Fengbo said, to her dismay, as he got onto the bed. “I probably won’t return until midnight, so you don’t have to wait for me.”
“Oh,” Qinxin responded dully as her long nails dug into the flesh of her palms.
She needed evidence. Even though she could not prevent it, she needed confirmation, needed someone to help her catch Fengbo’s disgusting deeds. However, who could she turn to, when it was the emperor who protected Fengbo, and when she was trying to reveal a dark secret that probably involved the greatest scandal in history? Who could she trust, when everyone else who was interested in the secret was the Xuan’s enemy?
Then, she had an idea—Ruixiang could probably help, even though she did not get along with him. After all, her brother-in-law did not seem to be happy about the new intimacy between his half-brother and the emperor.
Sometimes, Fengbo still could not believe that the old Lingyun was back, that he could hold Lingyun. Yet, despite being the second-most powerful individual in the Empire, Fengbo often felt distance between him and Lingyun. The distance had to be absolute—the emperor was the Son of the Heavens, the Sky of the People. To maintain the solidity of Lingyun’s position, Fengbo’s obedience and subordination had to be just as absolute as Lingyun’s authority and dominance. They had never been equal to begin with, though it had not mattered much before. Now, however, everything mattered.
Was it possible to completely separate personal proximity and professional distance?
They were so close, yet so far away.
Every day, Fengbo found himself thinking about their relationship. He thought of whether or not it was right to be fucking the emperor behind everyone’s back. He thought of his son, his wife and the child she was pregnant with, his family and friends, his subordinates, his country.
As the emperor’s vassal, he knew he should end their relationship. Yet, as Xuan Fengbo, he wanted nothing more than to be able to stay beside Lingyun. Meeting privately only once every ten or so days was torturous.
Sighing to himself, Fengbo entered through the doors of Lingyun’s Palace, instantly greeted by the aroma of high-quality agarwood. Eunuchs helped him out of his coat and boots. After the basic preparations, he followed another eunuch to the dining hall, which was filled with various scents of delicious food. Lingyun, dressed in his casual golden silks, was already sitting at the table, wearing his usual bored and indifferent expression. Their eyes met, and Fengbo just wanted to pull Lingyun into his arms. Only when they were alone was he reminded that Lingyun was still human, and the knot in his chest instantly loosened, all worries brushed to the back of his mind.
However, instead of acting on his desire, Fengbo got onto his knees and greeted Lingyun formally. Though most of them already knew the relationship between Fengbo and Lingyun, social rules were social rules. Nothing would change the fact that Lingyun was his superior, and he would never dare disrespect that difference in front of anyone.
“You may rise,” drawled Lingyun, flicking his pale finger at his wine cup lazily. His voice was cold, but his eyes burned.
Thanking Lingyun, Fengbo got back up and walked to sit at his table.
As soon as the eunuchs left, Lingyun threw his arms around Fengbo, burying his face into Fengbo’s chest. “You moron! How many times do I have to tell you to stop acting that way when we’re alone? It’s annoying as hell!”
Chucking, Fengbo breathed in the scent of Lingyun’s hair as he circled his arms around Lingyun, rubbing his back.
Yes. It was hard to believe that they were together.
For the first time in years, Qingyan felt as though health had been restored to him, however briefly. After all the time he had been competing with that insufferable brother of his, he had finally gained the upper hand. This time, his mother was finally protecting him instead of Lingyun. Not even the emperor could go against the grand empress dowager, after all.
“And your point is?” Lingyun’s voice that was like thread stretched thin—obviously, he was still trying to keep up his façade as a calm emperor. “I personally came here to give your eldest son my blessing for his twelfth birthday, not to listen to you talk about some mundane garbage—you have some nerve to waste your emperor’s time.”
Oh, this was priceless—truly priceless. Qingyan liked it when his younger brother was angry, he always had. “As I said, I know what you are doing with Xuan Fengbo. I wonder how long will it take for people to dance to your manipulative tune and demand the death of Supreme General Xuan?”
Now, Lingyun looked genuinely surprised, and Qingyan enjoyed watching his brother’s expression. Come to think of it, this was probably his first time catching his cautious little brother off guard. “Watch your mouth, Qingyan,” Lingyun hissed, showing his true colors at last. “I will not tolerate such dangerous thoughts.”
“Is that a threat, dear brother?” Qingyan countered gracefully. He took a sip of warm tea and continued, “I’m sure the historians would know the truth—that you are a tyrant who killed all his siblings for power. I hear that Mother weeps every night, mourning the loss of our elder brothers, neither of whose lives did you spare.”
Lingyun’s lips drew thin, his eyes darkening.
Since his brother was silent, Qingyan gladly went on, “I should have believed in Yiming when he told me that he suspected you have always planned for the throne. No one will believe your claims of never wanting power after you have showed us just what a calculating person you are for these past four years. In truth, you desire power more than anyone, don’t you?”
“Believe whatever you want about me as your brother, Qingyan, but you know it is a crime to speak of your emperor this way,” Lingyun growled in a dark voice.
There was no way Qingyan could shut up now—he knew Lingyun could not touch him, even though he was powerless. Besides, there was a deeper reason why he had braved confronting his nemesis. “I admit I was a fool to have underestimated you, but now I see your plans clear as the day. You plan to get rid of the one man impeding your path to ultimate power—Xuan Fengbo.”
By now, Lingyun was fuming with cold anger—anger which no doubt stemmed from the fact that Yulan would not allow him to kill Qingyan. “Enlighten me, then,” he said quietly. “What you think my so-called plan is. What do you think I’m doing with the general?”
“Why would I tell you?” Qingyan inquired innocently. He felt a sudden urge to cough and quickly gulped some more tea to soothe his itching throat. He coughed and continued in a raw voice, “There is a point in telling you that I know what you are planning, but there is no point in telling you everything I know.”
Lingyun narrowed his eyes and glared coldly at Qingyan for a while, searching for clues. He would find none. Yet, he smirked. “You know nothing. This whole talk is pointless. Your son is the only reason I’m going to pretend like I never heard a thing, since his birthday is today. I suppose shameless imbeciles also have some low-level intelligence: They know how to use their sons as shields.”
Inexplicable anger immediately flared to life within Qingyan, but then he realized that Lingyun was merely goading him for information. Lingyun was afraid. Even the smallest comment could plant the idea of rebellion in Xuan Fengbo’s mind.
Qingyan took a deep breath, his cheeks cooling. “Your overconfidence will backfire one day, and I am warning you as your elder brother,” he forced himself to say with a smile. He cleared his throat. “Well, it’s not that I oppose the idea of bringing the Xuan down, but have you forgotten how treacherous Xuan Fengbo is? Yiming and Zhitian have both died because of that man’s lies. In the end, I’m also of the Bai family—don’t forget who your true allies are, dear brother.” Finally, Qingyan was getting to the true reason he had asked to speak to Lingyun in private.
To gain more privileges, he had to establish an alliance with the emperor, even if he despised said emperor.
Silently, he observed Lingyun, who had fallen back into his fabricated emperor image. “True allies,” Lingyun repeated slowly through his teeth, his tone very light and amused. “How amusing you can be, Qingyan. I knew you were shameless, but I never knew you were this shameless. I’m leaving.” He signaled his servants and prepared to head out. “Do not ever attempt to interfere in my affairs again.”
Quickly, Qingyan added, “I’m sure you are well aware that although you are eroding that man’s reputation, you also put the Bai family in danger by giving that man too much power—and Xuan Fengbo can easily use that power against you. Not to mention, you know that you are also putting your own reputation in peril.”
Lingyun paused, shoulders stiffening. “If you haven’t noticed, which I suspect you have not, considering how out of touch with politics you are,” Lingyun drawled as he turned to Qingyan again, his piercing eyes sending a cold shock down Qingyan’s spine, “I haven’t given Fengbo as much power as you think I have, and Fengbo has rarely interfered in politics.”
“Are you sure?” Qingyan inquired, raising a brow. However, his heart was starting to beat faster, his breaths less easy. “I am aware that an emperor should never admit his weakness, but it cannot truly stop rumors. Many think that Fengbo is manipulating you behind the doors of your Palace.”
“Insolence!” Lingyun roared immediately, his cheeks flushed red and his fists shook. Qingyan realized that this had to be the first time he had seen his brother show true anger. “My patience with you is wearing thin, Qingyan,” Lingyun hissed. “Even if you are my elder brother, I am your emperor—how dare you challenge the integrity of you emperor?”
“Then forgive my brashness, but, as your elder brother and a concerned member of the Imperial family, I am compelled to address this issue, since no one else has. I will not inquire as to the real reason you summon Fengbo to your Palace, but you do know that there are only two possible explanations, don’t you? And both explanations damage your reputation as much as, if not more than, they damage Xuan Fengbo’s. Either he is using your harem, or….” Qingyan took a deep breath. Lingyun’s glare was increasingly vicious, and Qingyan was starting to doubt whether Yulan would really protect him from harm. “Or,” he continued, his heart now thundering with fear, “you are sleeping with him.”
Silence. That was all there was.
Truthfully, Qingyan could not believe he had just said that. He knew his brother, so he could not imagine his brother sleeping with Fengbo. However, more and more rumors of Fengbo’s sexual preference were surfacing, not to mention…
He gulped, feeling as though confidence had been sapped from his veins. “I’m not the one who came up with that explanation,” he continued before what he had just uttered could fully register in his brother’s mind, “but that is really the only reason any emperor would make one of his officials stay overnight, as indicated in history. I haven’t forgotten everything my tutor taught me.”
Lingyun merely stared blankly.
“Though it is entirely possible that you…er…you know…it is also possible that he is….” Qingyan’s cheeks were burning—again, he could not believe he was saying this. Maybe it would be easier for Yiming or Zhitian to talk of sex, but Qingyan was not as perverted as his elder brothers. “The point is that, Fengbo has too much power—and he is very cunning. You could be playing into his schemes, instead of the other way around.”
After a long pause, Lingyun left, wordless.
In the past, Lingyun had lived in the confines of his own little world, and he had been extremely satisfied with solitude. Isolation was tranquil, safe. He had liked living that way, living for himself alone.
Until he had met Fengbo, that was. After the moron had barged into his life, Lingyun had realized how insipid his life had been.
How long had it been since Lingyun unknowingly attached himself to that moron? When had it gotten to the point that Fengbo became the defining aspect of Lingyun’s world?
Lingyun could not remember.
Now, spending time with Fengbo was the only way Lingyun could truly relax. Even though that moron had forced him into this life, even though the scar of that betrayal would never be erased—Fengbo was the only reason Lingyun had pulled through.
Exactly how blind had Lingyun been in the thrall of his emotions? Stupid. Utterly stupid.
In the end, it had all been a mistake. A mistake to trust. A mistake to want. A mistake to persist.
A mistake to love.
However, despite knowing he was making a grave mistake by continuing his relationship with Fengbo, Lingyun could not find the strength to put an end to it, at least not yet. He knew there was no future to their relationship, no eternity to what they had—but instead of getting discouraged from pursuing this hopelessness any further, he found himself doing the exact opposite.
Desperately, he desperately tried to savor whatever limited time he had with Fengbo, but the more desperate he became, the more he could not let go.
Letting out a soft sigh, Lingyun held onto his mask of calmness, even though it was hard for him to breathe. “I appreciate your concern, Mingwu, but no, Fengbo is not giving me trouble,” he said stiffly. “I do not think there is a need to fortify the military.”
“I must insist, Your Majesty,” Duan Mingwu said, his deep voice rough and firm. “He is not to be trusted. I understand that you see him as a friend, but he is a sly actor who fooled even Zhitian for a while—and I know Zhitian was paranoid. Moreover, there cannot be a threat to your position—surely you are displeased with the fact that Fengbo’s words can repel your own if he so wishes.”
“Nothing is wrong with another perspective,” Lingyun replied. “Only incompetent emperors dislike opposition.”
“Please, Your Majesty—I can help you!” Mingwu implored, his eyes watery. “I would never forgive myself if I failed to do so!”
Lingyun sighed. He felt as though all the energy had been sucked out of him—every day, he had to deal with politics, deal with the economy, deal with the disputes between other nobles, and now, he found himself constantly dealing with this. “Mingwu, I told you before that I knew Fengbo before I became the emperor. He is my friend—I know he is not interested in usurping the throne. If he were interested, he would have done it a long time ago, without bringing me back.”
“Not to question your opinion, Majesty, but why exactly has Fengbo decided to stay in Mount Snow Prison? He would not risk his influence at the Palace for no reason—I have known him longer than you have, and I daresay I still do not know what he is thinking.”
“People change all the time.” It was getting increasingly difficult for Lingyun to maintain his patience.
“Forgive my sudden intrusion, Majesty, but it is hard to say,” another voice sounded. The voice belonged to He Shaojing, one of the advisors under Yulan’s influence. “Many times, people don’t change.”
Great. Though Shaojing was here to talk about one of the policies the Chancellery had cooked up, he just had to remind Lingyun of his mother’s stance. Also, since Shaojing was an old man and had also been one of his father’s advisors, even Lingyun had to respect Shaojing’s advice.
“An emperor cannot trust others with too much power, Majesty,” the old man continued, “I trust you know that. In history, how many emperors did not get rid of their greatest generals? How many who have not gotten rid of their greatest generals have not suffered dire consequences?” His old, slow way of talking made Lingyun feel old for listening. “Surely Fengbo knows this as well. He has also proven to be loyal only to the Xuan, and not to the Imperial Family—that has not changed at all.”
Fine. If that was the way things were, Lingyun would have to say uncomfortable things. “History also suggests that rebellions start when emperors try to get rid of powerful nobility. Many rebellions do not stem from the need for power, but from paranoia and the need for self-preservation. The consequences of civil war would often lead to the end of a dynasty—I do not want to have to deal with war again, if possible.” And that was ultimately Lingyun’s answer to Mingwu, even though he knew it would probably translate into a different message in Mingwu’s ears.
“Yet, I am not so naïve to think that our military should be deteriorated by peace, so I will see to it that your men will have improved equipment to train with, Mingwu.”
Thanking Lingyun, Mingwu excused himself and left, probably somewhere between satisfaction and disappointment. Lingyun did not really feel the need to spend too much money investing in the military, but he had to do this to appease the Duan. After all, even if Mingwu might really care for Lingyun’s wellbeing, that was only one small cause which instigated the whole conversation. The real reason Mingwu brought the subject up had to be the Duan’s dissatisfaction—they had helped Lingyun get rid of Zhitian, but the Xuan had completely stolen their light after the war that unified most lands, even though the Duan had also contributed much in the war.
Trying to ignore his exhaustion, Lingyun turned his attention to Shaojing and listen to a long speech against a policy he was in support of.
As the emperor’s closest eunuch, Gao Xinnan could easily tell when his lord was in a bad mood. The emperor was indeed a very cautious man, but no matter how dutiful a man he strived to be, there was a weakness in his façade: Xuan Fengbo. It had always been that way, even when the weakness had not been as apparent as it was now.
Initially, Xinnan had taken action to support the emperor’s secret relationship out of sympathy and loyalty, but alas, such sweet power he received as a result! Being the only person to support the emperor’s personal desire, it was only natural that Xinnan would grow closer to the emperor, and therefore, have more influence over the emperor’s opinions.
However, lately the emperor was starting to distance himself again, for no reason other than the lectures from those meddlesome outer-palace officials who thought they knew everything—who did they think they were? But of course, they were just jealous of the influence Xinnan now had with the emperor. They feared eunuchs for being closer to the emperor—and they looked down on Xinnan because he was a eunuch, because he was not a complete man.
Well, Xinnan was not about to give up his hard-earned trust. He liked this power, liked feeling important. Those stupid officials would never understand that the eunuchs deserved power for what they had given up. Since they spent the most time with the emperor, eunuchs could serve the emperor better than any of the outer-palace officials—and serving the emperor meant serving the Empire. Thus, eunuchs should have more power, though the emperor had yet to grant them official positions within the actual administration. With a bit more effort, however, Xinnan was sure he’d be able to secure a better position.
And to do so, he had to work fast, before the emperor closed himself off again.
“Your Majesty, I have taken the liberty of arranging for Xuan Fengbo’s visit tonight,” he reported meekly when the emperor returned from the morning conference.
The emperor paused halfway down the hall. “How many times do I have to tell you not to do that again?” he said icily, though his eyes told a different story.
Xinnan smiled a little to emphasize his goodwill, though not too widely or it would convey a different message. “But Your Majesty, you seem tired—won’t relaxing a little help you work more efficiently? Being an emperor does not mean you cannot enjoy life, Majesty.”
The emperor snorted. “You say this as though there were no consequences.” He proceeded to his desk and sat down, picking up the stack of papers in front of him and letting them fall back to the desk, measuring the amount. Xinnan waited a bit longer, but there was no further response from the emperor.
“General Xuan has agreed to dinner at the Time of Mao. Anything you need to add, Majesty?”
Xinnan bowed triumphantly. “Then this lowly official shall inform the Imperial Chefs to begin preparations.” Before he could leave, however, the emperor spoke up:
“Do not do this again, Xinnan. I mean it this time—I don’t want to punish you for disobeying my orders.”
Xinnan turned back to face the emperor, his mind racing. “Your Majesty, it is my duty to serve you—we eunuchs exist for the sole purpose of your wellbeing, and that includes your happiness. After all you’ve done for this Empire, Majesty, I think you deserve happiness, even if some particular advisors do not agree with this thought.” He gulped, licking his dry lips and smiling. “However, who are they to oppose you? You are the emperor, you can love whomever you want to love, protect whomever you want to protect.”
The emperor sighed. “Don’t say that, Xinnan. My advisors just want the best for the Empire. Establishing an Empire is easy, but maintaining it is hard exactly because emperors become lazy. I disliked those failures when I was learning history, because they ultimately brought the demise of their own empires and made innocents suffer. I don’t want to become like the people I despise.”
“History is history, Your Majesty!” Xinnan protested. “With your abilities, I’m certain you can maintain the Empire better than any emperor in history and enjoy life.”
“I swore not to show unjustified favoritism, and yet I fear that is what I am doing with Fengbo—I suspect my decision is reflecting on the court,” replied the emperor, staring blankly at his desk. He was absorbed in his own thoughts, and clearly not talking to Xinnan. His shoulders dropped a little, but he kept his composure. “People are changing and trying to destroy each other because I’m being selfish. They see what they want to see, firmly believing that they are correct—and yet, the real motivation is the thirst for power and influence.” He gave Xinnan a cold, steady gaze. “It is time I pulled myself together.”
“But you’re different from those emperors, Majesty. You don’t waste any resources at all, you still work hard every day—what is wrong with having an affair with someone you love?” Xinnan cleared his throat to use a more persuasive tone. “I probably have little right to say this, but I don’t think love can be wrong. Know that the eunuchs support you, Majesty, even if no one else, not even the grand empress dowager, does.”
“And for good reason, I suppose,” the emperor continued, expressionless. “Aside from the obvious consequences to my reputation, power changes people. Who is to say that it hasn’t changed Xuan Fengbo? I’ve been blind for so long, making the same mistake as my subordinates—seeing what I want to see. What’s worse is that I’ve made the same exact mistake before.”
Shit—now Xinnan had to think fast, really fast. “Your Majesty, does this mean that you suspect General Xuan plots against you as well? After all, there’s always truth to rumors…He did trick many people. If you want, I could help investigate the matter….”
“No.” For some reason, the emperor’s voice was colder than usual, even though he had confessed something that should indicate his growing trust in Xinnan. “You are excused. Just don’t make arrangements without my permission anymore.”
“Again? And here I thought he had finally gotten sick of this game—can’t you say ‘no’?” Qiyuan asked his cousin after he had made sure they were safe to talk freely again. “Fengbo, I never asked, but don’t you think this ‘friendship’ is going overboard? Not to mention, you’re attracting too much attention from rivals—they aren’t happy about the fact that you are the person His Imperial Majesty appears to trust more than anyone, especially since some still don’t buy the story that we were on His Imperial Majesty’s side since he took the throne. Moreover, if His Imperial Majesty truly cares about you, he wouldn’t do this to you, knowing that it is you that he puts in risk.”
Fengbo caught Qiyuan’s eyes. “What are you implying?”
Qiyuan gulped. “What if…what if His Imperial Majesty plans to get rid of you?”
“Nonsense,” Fengbo refuted immediately. “How can you even say such things?”
“People change, Fengbo. It’s not like you don’t know how many people are slandering you in front of His Imperial Majesty, and he does not even attempt to defend you, not even once!”
“He doesn’t listen to them either,” Fengbo replied. “I trust him, and he trusts me. That’s all that’s necessary.”
“Does he trust you, really?” Qiyuan inquired, brows furrowed. “How many emperors have kept supreme generals as influential and powerful as you are alive, Fengbo? Not to mention, you betrayed him once. Has he really forgiven you, or is he just putting on an act?”
“I can’t believe I’m hearing this,” Fengbo said coldly.
“Face the reality, Fengbo,” Qiyuan implored desperately. He was sick of worrying and still not receiving any clarification from Fengbo. Surely his cousin knew of the risks? “If you don’t do something about our rivals, if you don’t do something about these outrageous rumors…the Xuan will not survive. What about your son? What about your subordinates?”
“I—” Fengbo’s voice died, and his hands drew into fists. His shoulders became stiff, and he straightened his back. “You don’t understand, Qiyuan…I love him. I should have told you earlier….”
“I love him too, Fengbo, we all do. But—”
“No, Qiyuan,” interrupted his cousin, somewhat stiffly. “I mean…there is some truth in the rumors. He is more than just my emperor to me.”
Pure silence. Qiyuan prayed that his cousin was just joking like the old times, but from the look on Fengbo’s face, he realized it was something serious. He had always known Fengbo to have a taste for men, but he had never thought it possible for Fengbo to have an interest in the emperor. No, it had been entirely possible, but Qiyuan just did not want to believe it to be so, since he had thought Fengbo would know better.
Fengbo sighed. “I can’t say no to him, Qiyuan. I don’t want to hurt him again; I’d rather be executed.”
After another long stretch of wordless tension, Qiyuan finally found his voice: “What of the Xuan? Can you seriously forsake your duties to the Xuan just for a selfish emperor, just for yourself? The Xuan Fengbo I knew would never do that.”
Fengbo pressed his hands to his forehead. “What the hell do you propose I do, then?” Qiyuan had never heard Fengbo make such an expression before—worry was not compatible with Fengbo’s face. “Get rid of all those who speak against me, even though they are competent men, just trying to serve this Empire? Or tell His Imperial Majesty that he’s less important to me than my duties? Oh, I’ve done that to him before, and to this day, I regret it!”
Now this was getting annoying. “Again? How many times do I have to tell you that there’s no point on dwelling on the past, Fengbo?” Qiyuan shouted back. “The past is the past, and it is really apparent that you did what was best for this Empire; a small sacrifice for the greater good!”
“It doesn’t change the fact that I put him on the throne, and he has worked hard to fulfill the duties I forced him to take up—should I deny him all the happiness I took away from him? Or should I take him down just because he might get rid of me now?” Fengbo continued, ignoring Qiyuan’s pleas. “I can’t do that, Qiyuan. No matter what happens, I am no longer capable of standing against him. It hurt too much, it just hurt too much. I’m sorry for failing in my duties and failing the Xuan…I think a new leader should be—”
“Are you running away?” Qiyuan interrupted, unable to believe that the Fengbo he admired was spouting such preposterous rubbish.
“Yes.” There wasn’t even an attempt to deny the accusation.
“Fengbo, what the hell has he done to you?” Qiyuan’s knuckles were going to pop from the pressure as his neck and ears burned hotly. “He was the one who ran away in the first place. He was the one who forsook his duties in the first place—you only rectified that, by the orders of the previous emperor! Why should you be punished for it? Why should you feel guilty over it?”
“You say that because you have no idea what drastic measures I took to ensure that his Majesty would face his responsibility,” Fengbo replied quietly, “only to find that I didn’t need to do anything at all. Even though I wanted to believe in him, I didn’t. I didn’t trust him, and that was what hurt him the most. I don’t want to hurt him again.”
“Are you joking me? You were probably the only person who believed in him, and even if you didn’t, you had good reasons not to, since he proved to be very intent on running away!” Qiyuan growled.
“If I didn’t trust him, then why did I force him to return?” Fengbo asked darkly. “I don’t believe that forcing someone who keeps running away from the throne to succeed would do this Empire any good, no matter how smart or competent he is.”
It pained Qiyuan to see what guilt had done to his cousin. “Have you forgotten? His Imperial Majesty was the best choice amongst Yiming, Zhitian, and Qingyan. This Empire needs the Xuan, and since His Imperial Majesty—”
“Alas, it wasn’t just duty. It wasn’t just Father, and it wasn’t just the Xuan.” Fengbo’s hands were clutched tightly. “It wasn’t for power, either. I forced him to return for me, Qiyuan.”
“Now that’s just—”
Fengbo smirked. “Crazy? Maybe. For him, I could do anything. I wanted to keep him close. I knew if I didn’t force him back, I’d probably never see him again, and I feared that.”
“That isn’t the reason, and you know it,” Qiyuan protested, aghast. “Actually, I’m beginning to suspect that he just put on an act. This whole chain of events, the Duan’s support, the alliance with Ning and the eventual conquering of Ning…isn’t it all too convenient, all too smooth? And where did he get all that money to sponsor the informants he never told us about? There are no relevant records in the Imperial Treasury, which means he had an external means of generating income. He planned this. He planned all of this. He kept us in the dark and then lashed out so suddenly, so prepared, it’s hard for me to believe that he never wanted the throne. Maybe he used you—used us—and not the other way around, as so many people believe.”
Fengbo snorted. “Why deny it? We supported him mostly because he was the best candidate for the Xuan’s survival and continual prestige, since he owed my father, and thus the Xuan, his life, many times over. It just so happened that we also preferred a competent emperor, which he seemed to have the potential to be at the time. Later on, he exceeded our expectations by a little too much. Isn’t that why we’re having this conversation in the first place? Because he exceeded our expectations?”
“Fengbo, you place too much faith in His Imperial Majesty,” Qiyuan retorted. “He fooled us all. He fooled you. What makes you think this wasn’t part of his plan? In the first place, I find it unbelievable that he never realized who you were before you ‘betrayed’ him—no matter how good you are at deception, someone as sharp as he is could not have missed anything that would have revealed your real identity. You didn’t even use a fake name! He probably knew who you were, but he didn’t show it, just to keep your guard down, just to manipulate you, just to exploit your guilt later on. Hell, maybe he was friendly to you and only you on purpose, because he knew why you were there!”
Fengbo blinked, but his eyes soon narrowed into a vicious glare. “I think you’re just being paranoid, Qiyuan.” His voice had a sharp edge.
“Not paranoid, cautious,” Qiyuan corrected. He locked eyes with his cousin. “Fengbo, don’t let your guilt and emotions blind you. No matter what you think, we still need you. Everyone in the Xuan looks up to you—please don’t let us down. Please don’t let everything we’ve worked so hard for crumble into pieces. You’re our leader.”
Despite saying all that, Qiyuan was preying on Fengbo’s guilt as well—overriding guilt with greater guilt, but it seemed like the only way to make his cousin return to reality.
To strengthen his point, Qiyuan added, “Think about this in another way: His Imperial Majesty’s reputation is also at risk. Are you going to let him destroy himself? Are you going to let him hurt himself—is that really better than you ‘hurting’ him? Think about it. This relationship is not going to end well, and you know it: You two just aren’t meant to be. If he can’t end it, you have to. For his sake, and for ours. Leave the past behind you, Fengbo. It is not too late to start again, you can still find love.”
“I will consider what you have said,” replied Fengbo tonelessly. He then got up and left for the palace without taking another glance at Qiyuan.
Lingyun stared at the reflection on his polished blade.
So, this was it, eh? The decision had been made.
“I’m surprised you were able to find me.” Running his fingers through his loosened hair, the man didn’t seem the least bit embarrassed, even though Duan Mingwu had run into him having a threesome with another man and a woman.
Yet, this was probably the only place Duan Mingwu could find this elusive person. “Chi Guijue, correct?” he inquired, trying not to look at the naked woman.
The man smirked. “Co-rrect,” he sang as he fixed his attire; the prostitutes accompanying him left the room. “And you’re Duan Mingwu. Sure it’s all right for someone with such a status to be in here? Rumors, you know. Nobles sure have nothing better to do than pass around rumors, hoping the ones that might benefit them will reach Master’s ears.” He sat up straight now, eyes connecting with Mingwu’s. “Is that what you’re here for?” he sneered playfully. “You’ve been looking for me for three months, after all.”
Mingwu tightened his fists. “So you knew.”
Guijue laughed. “Of course I’d know. Isn’t that why you wanted to find me? For information? But sorry, you know I only work for Master.”
“What if I told you His Imperial Majesty wants you to assassinate Xuan Fengbo? You used to be a Blood Flames assassin, right?”
Guijue suddenly lost his smile, his eyes darkening dangerously. “Don’t fuck with me. I could destroy you for lying in your emperor’s name, you know.”
“Why do you say that?” Mingwu asked, not in the least bit intimidated. “This is for His Imperial Majesty’s good. I know he wants Xuan Fengbo gone.”
Sticking his pinky into his ear, Guijue raised a brow and tilted his head. “You know, eh?” His mocking voice was full of confidence. “If Master really wanted Fengbo dead, he would have contacted me directly.”
“But, lately he’s trying to distance himself from Fengbo,” Mingwu argued. “Is that not proof enough?”
The ex-assassin took out his pinky finger and blew its tip. He then rolled his shoulders, cracking his neck as he did so. “Duan Mingwu, you have no idea how tempting this job is to me…but Master directly threatened me before not to kill Fengbo or I’d regret it.”
“When was that? A year ago? Two? The situation has changed, you know. It’s no longer a danger to take the Xuan down—most nobles and regional lords support this sentiment. Do you think they can defeat His Imperial Majesty, who’s a tactical genius?”
“You aren’t very bright, are you?” Guijue asked, smirking. “No wonder Master insisted on letting Xuan Fengbo lead the army instead of you.”
Before Mingwu came to his senses, he had already drawn his dao, its tip poking Guijue’s throat. “What did you say?”
“Get your facts right before you assume you know Master,” Guijue answered without skipping a beat. “I can’t talk about what I know, but I can say that he won’t appreciate you getting rid of Xuan Fengbo without his permission. Maybe he does want Xuan Fengbo gone, but that means that he already has plans. Acting independently would only mess his plans up, wouldn’t it?”
Blinking sheepishly, Mingwu withdrew his weapon, feeling ashamed of himself. “I suppose that’s true,” he said in a small voice. “Has he told you about any plans?”
“I told you before,” Guijue said, smiling darkly. “I work for Master only. I can’t talk.”
Something was different. Lingyun was being more cooperative than usual.
Or rather, he was being very honest—to the point of aggression.
And he wasn’t drunk.
Yet, instead of being pleasantly surprised, Fengbo found himself suspicious.
He must’ve been the worst sort of animal, to be able to fuck Lingyun even with disgusting doubt poisoning his mind. How could he? Even if what Qiyuan had said made logical sense, Fengbo should know that Lingyun was not the type of person who’d manipulate others for power. However, what if Lingyun had really believed in the officials who had been slandering Fengbo?
Was it even a possibility?
“Fengbo…I want to try it once,” Lingyun said as his hand slid down Fengbo’s back, fingers probing his ass.
“L-Lingyun?” Fengbo gasped, still not knowing how to react to all this; Lingyun had always given him control, and had never seemed interested in taking control. Until this night, that was.
Even though it was only natural that Lingyun would get curious, Fengbo couldn’t shake the growing fear twisting inside his chest. He desperately wanted to ask Lingyun what was wrong, but he couldn’t find the opportunity.
“If you don’t want to let me, it’s all right,” Lingyun said, surprisingly calm.
“Of course you can,” Fengbo said, though he could hear his own doubt. He tried to chuckle in order to relax, but it was somewhat stiff. “Though, you should know I have no experience in that area.”
“I just want to try once,” Lingyun repeated.
“Who knows, maybe we’ll both like it and do it more often,” Fengbo replied with a smile.
Lingyun coated his erection with lubricant. “Maybe…,” he mused, “it’ll be better if you…turn around?”
“What, you don’t want to see my face?” Fengbo teased.
“M-moron!” Lingyun shot back, his cheeks a little red. “I’m suggesting this for your own good!”
Ah, yes. Fengbo finally knew what was wrong—this entire night, Lingyun had been too nice. This was more like Lingyun.
“I have high tolerance,” Fengbo reminded, finally relaxing a bit. “You just need to stick it in. Besides….” He smirked evilly. “I want to see your face.”
Lingyun narrowed his eyes and pouted. “I don’t care, turn around!”
“Yes, yes, Majesty,” Fengbo said as he did as he had been told. He waited, but Lingyun didn’t do anything.
“Just for this night,” Lingyun whispered, “can you not call me that?”
All the tension returned, though Fengbo tried his best to relax again. “Can I ask why later?” he asked in return.
At first, it hurt a bit, but the pain was nothing compared to all the wounds Fengbo had received in the past. It was uncomfortable, but bearable. Lingyun probably knew how to do this better than Fengbo did, since he had always bottomed.
“Oh,” Fengbo said when Lingyun’s cock finally hit something that sent nice feelings sizzling through his body. “So that’s how it feels,” he mused. Although he was sure that he still preferred topping, he wouldn’t mind doing this again if it was Lingyun.
However, there wasn’t enough stimulation. Reaching for his cock, Fengbo jerked himself as Lingyun fucked him. How the hell was Lingyun able to resist the temptation to touch himself when Fengbo fucked him? But then again, Lingyun could stay hard without touching himself anyway.
After a while, Lingyun suddenly asked, “How do you feel?”
“Very good,” Fengbo groaned, trying to concentrate.
“Really? You’re not lying are you?”
Fengbo chuckled, easily imagining Lingyun’s expression. “Don’t worry, Lingyun, I feel good.”
“W-I’m not worrying!” Lingyun insisted.
“You’re worrying,” Fengbo teased. “I think it’s cute, the way you go about it.”
“Shut up!” Lingyun shot back impatiently. “And how many times do I have to remind you not to call me cute?”
“I can’t help it…Lingyun’s the cutest person in the world,” Fengbo sang.
Lingyun pulled out abruptly. “That’s it. I’ve lost the mood. Go away, you moron!”
Rolling onto his back, Fengbo pulled Lingyun closer. “Don’t say that. We’re just getting started.…” He kissed Lingyun and ran his hands down Lingyuns hips, enjoying the feel of Lingyun’s skin.
“I love you, Lingyun,” Fengbo said as he slid his cock inside Lingyun.
A tear fell from Lingyun’s eye.
“Lingyun?” Fengbo asked, alarmed.
Quickly, Lingyun wiped the tear away. “There was just dust in my eyes, that’s all.” As Fengbo fucked Lingyun, he leaned closer, lips touching Fengbo’s ears. “I love you, too,” he whispered.
All the doubt that had mustered in Fengbo was instantly erased from existence. Lingyun had never said that before.
“Lingyun!” If Fengbo had a tail, he’d be wagging it so furiously that it would break off.
What they shared was beyond lust. It was something spiritual, as though they made each other whole. What Fengbo felt was real, because what Lingyun felt was real as well. As long as Lingyun was there with him, Fengbo could endure any sort of hardship. He didn’t care if the world would end because of what he felt, he didn’t care anymore. All he needed, all he wanted was Lingyun—and he would do anything to stay with Lingyun, even if it meant betraying his responsibilities.
Never again would he let Lingyun suffer alone.
By the time they were done, they were both drained of energy, sweating, and gasping desperately for air. What time was it? Fengbo glanced at the direction of the water clock, but didn’t bother to read what time it was. He wrapped his arm around Lingyun’s waist and fell asleep.
When Fengbo woke, Lingyun was already at the morning conference. Since this was Fengbo’s day off, he decided to stay in Lingyun’s Palace. He still had to ask why Lingyun was acting strange, after all.
To pass the time waiting for Lingyun, Fengbo practiced his blade work in the wuguan.
“General Xuan, it is almost time,” reminded a eunuch when it was around the time when the morning conference would end. After changing clothes, Fengbo headed to the main hall.
“The emperor has returned!”
Regal and impassive, it was hard to imagine that the person who stepped through the doors was the same person as last night. “Long live the emperor,” Fengbo breathed as he got on his knees with the rest of the eunuchs.
“You may rise,” the emperor said in his usual icy voice.
“Thank you, Majesty.” All said in unison.
“Fengbo, meet me at the wuguan,” Lingyun ordered as he walked by without looking at Fengbo.
Fengbo bowed. “Yes, Majesty.”
When Lingyun arrived at the practicing area, he had changed into more casual clothes. He met Fengbo’s eyes. “I suppose you want to ask about yesterday…,” he said as he averted his gaze.
“If you’re comfortable talking about it,” Fengbo replied.
Lingyun bit his lip, his hands balling into fists. “I…I’m sorry I didn’t realize how much trouble I was putting you in by always summoning you….”
Why was it that Fengbo had a bad feeling about this? “You’re not—”
“Liar,” Lingyun interrupted, but his voice lacked energy. “I always thought those rumors were harmless as long as I was able to protect you, but…I….”
“We’ll figure something out,” Fengbo assured as he stepped closer to Lingyun.
“You know that you’re the most important person in the world to me, right?” Lingyun continued in a small voice. “I don’t know what I would do if I lost you.” His head was lowered so Fengbo couldn’t see his expression.
Fengbo gulped, his blood turning cold even though the words were supposed to give him warmth.
“However, I’m the emperor, in the end. I can’t keep running away from reality. I can’t be an emperor and a human at the same time—it’s too painful for me….” Lingyun’s shoulders trembled. “That’s why…I think we should end this—no,” he corrected, voice choked, “I’m ending this. It is clear to me now that many nobles are trying to frame you for something I cannot ignore as the emperor, something I cannot prevent due to my own actions. It is also clear to me that my poor judgment is reflecting on the court and making the Xuan restless with paranoia.” He took a deep breath before continuing, “Therefore, to rectify the problems I have created, I cannot let my judgments be swayed by emotions anymore. Expect me to make choices that will displease you and the Xuan, but I promise you now that the choices I make are only temporary and not personal at all, and they are necessary to get you out of the mess I have caused. It will be impossible for my choices to have any effect at all unless we end this. I am sorry.”
It was like time had stopped for Fengbo. What the hell?
What the hell had he just heard? He thought he was just hallucinating until Lingyun threw him a dao. He caught it just before it hit his face.
“Let’s fight, Fengbo,” Lingyun said, his voice was back to normal, rich with his usual confidence. “If I win, you will find someone else to love and there is no room for reconsideration. If you win…you can bring this subject up after ten years, but you are free to move on—I won’t blame you.” He circled his jian a few times to warm his wrist up and met Fengbo’s eyes. “I don’t intend to lose. To fight seriously or not to fight seriously is entirely up to you, though I don’t want to have a boring fight.”
It took great effort for Fengbo not to explode with anger and disbelief. Instead, he gave Lingyun a long, hard stare, only to find that Lingyun’s determination was more solid than a rock. Fengbo sighed, unsheathing and checking his dao. “Before we start, can I ask some questions?”
“Yes, you may.”
“What if we tie?”
“Then it counts as my win,” Lingyun replied as though it were obvious.
“Can’t we work something out together?”
“No.” Without hesitation.
“That’s not fair, you know?” Fengbo forced a smile, even though he felt like he had been kicked in the gut. “What if I don’t like either outcome? Can’t I even choose the terms for my own victory? I’m just as involved in this as you are!”
“Know your place, Fengbo,” Lingyun scolded firmly, but Fengbo could hear the pain in his voice. He gritted his teeth and tried his best not to interrupt. “Things were never fair to begin with. This is my decision as Lingyun just as much as my decision as the emperor of Yue. I don’t want to tie up any more of your time, I don’t want you suffering over me.”
Fengbo’s muscles tensed, and his knuckles started to hurt. He caught the eyes he knew so well. “What about you? What will you do after this?”
“Do you even need to ask?” Lingyun broke from their eye contact. “emperors never find love.”
Fengbo gripped his dao with both hands. “Then, my mind is made up. If you are facing me as the emperor, I apologize beforehand.” He stepped into his attacking stance, raising his weapon. “I’m not going to let you win. You can’t be a god, Lingyun, no matter how hard you try to be one. It’s only going to destroy you, and I’m not letting that happen.”
“Enough talk. Words will not sway me.”
Immediately, Lingyun lunged forward in lightning speed, the tip of his jian aimed to stab Fengbo’s shoulder. Bringing his dao up, Fengbo slammed Lingyun’s lighter blade aside; Lingyun stepped in the direction that would lessen the burden of the impact and slashed forth again. Fengbo wielded his dao with one hand to catch up with Lingyun’s speedier jian; there was no room for Fengbo to retaliate, and he didn’t recognize the attack, even though it was clearly of Snow Prison style. Probably, that was the top secret techniques that only a few pugilists in Snow Prison knew, combined with the Dragon God manual’s neili techniques.
Sharp pain. Fengbo blocked the next move just in time to avoid a deadly slash that would have lopped his head off; cold sweat immediately broke down his back. Lingyun was serious. No underestimations, no emotional distractions—just pure concentration.
Yes, that was the Lingyun who had reached the top place in Snow Prison Sect.
Sucking in a deep breath, Fengbo defended himself by executing the most prized and deadliest 108 plays from the Xuan Family’s daofa, seeking to attack all 108 pressure points of Lingyun’s body. Lingyun took a flip back quickly, even though Fengbo knew his blade should have grazed Lingyun’s skin. Even so, Lingyun tried to counterattack, even managing to guard all his pressure points at the same time.
Fengbo didn’t know how many times his blade had been deflected, didn’t have time to pay attention to his own increasing wounds—he needed to win. Losing was not an option.
With that thought, Fengbo sped up his pace, regulating his neili to its prime condition and quickening the recovery rate of his heavier attacks; instead of slashing, Fengbo had gotten to the stage of stabbing—every move aimed for Lingyun’s pressure points, and his heavier weapon put more strain on Lingyun’s defense.
“Hmph, Ruixiang never used that move before,” Lingyun huffed, seemingly impressed despite of his tone. He dodged the last stab with perfect timing, stepping around to attack Fengbo in the split second between Fengbo’s attacks; Fengbo’s other hand flew up to block Lingyun’s arm, bringing his dao back to slash Lingyun. Flipping away elegantly, Lingyun counterattacked at the same time, which Fengbo avoided with footwork. They both remained where they were, catching their breaths and staring into each other’s eyes as sweat soaked their clothes.
Lingyun was probably the only person who had lasted this long against Fengbo, but in terms of stamina and experience, Fengbo had the absolute upper-hand, and Lingyun knew this as well. Lingyun was most likely at his limits, having survived 77 out of the Xuan Family’s 108 moves. His normally pale face was all red, and he was panting a lot harder than Fengbo was.
The next attack would probably be the last from Lingyun. He would be putting everything he had into that move, and Fengbo knew he could be defeated with just the slightest loss in concentration.
Muscles tensing, Fengbo changed his stance into a defensive one, pulling his blade back in preparation.
He blinked away some sweat, and Lingyun was before him; Fengbo quickly raised his dao to block the proceeding flurry of impossibly fast attacks, light but deadly with chilling precision. Lingyun was suffering—Fengbo could feel it from every clash of their weapons. The more determined Lingyun was to win, the more he…
Just realizing what he was doing to Lingyun made it hard for Fengbo to breathe, and he didn’t make it in time to block the next slash, even though he desperately wanted to prevent Lingyun from winning.
The edge of Lingyun’s blade was now poking at the side of his neck.
This wasn’t real, right?
This cold, icy sensation cutting lightly at his neck…it wasn’t real.
Tears trailed down pink cheeks. “It’s over,” Lingyun whispered, lips trembling.
“Dust again?” Fengbo asked weakly; his mind was too blank to accept what had just happened. The blade at his neck was shaking.
“No,” Lingyun replied softly, not bothering to wipe his tears away. “I’m crying.”
Lingyun withdrew his jian, his arm dropping to hang limp at his side. “Thank you for everything, Fengbo,” he said as he slowly backed away. “The time we spent together…will always be the happiest time of my life…but….”
“I can’t accept this,” Fengbo interrupted. His heart was pounding so hard that it hurt to breathe. “How can you expect me to accept this? How can you expect me to find happiness when you’ll never be happy?” He stabbed his blade through the wooden floor, falling on his knees, unable to stop his tears from falling. “Why are you thanking me, when I’m the one who ruined your life?”
“That’s not true; you didn’t ruin my life, Fengbo. You don’t have to blame yourself for bringing me back.” Lingyun’s voice was…just too gentle to be real, which only made Fengbo feel worse. “I think…I forgave you a long time ago…so, it’s time for you to forgive yourself. Please…for me?”
“I can’t, Lingyun,” Fengbo choked. “I can’t, especially not because I..,.” He couldn’t continue anymore, it was too painful to talk.
Lingyun’s grip on his weapon tightened, but then he dropped it, and its clatter rang hollowly in the spacious room. He moved closer to Fengbo, kneeled and paused a bit before he wrapped his arms around Fengbo, planting a soft kiss on Fengbo’s lips. “I never knew what it was like to be happy until I met you, Fengbo,” he whispered. “Even if you hadn’t betrayed me, I’d have probably looked for you and ended up here anyway.”
“Not as the emperor, not without freedom,” Fengbo croaked, circling an arm around Lingyun and locking him closer. Closer, closer, if only he could keep Lingyun beside him forever with this arm… “We could have had a future if I hadn’t betrayed you.”
“Zhitian would have found a way to kill me anyway. You would have been killed by him sooner or later. If not, the Ning would have destroyed us all during a civil war. Is there any point in speculating in what could have been?” Lingyun buried his head into Fengbo’s shoulder, shivering. “Just knowing how you felt about me…was enough. But fantasy will never defeat reality…That’s why…That’s why, at the very least, I want you to find happiness again…for my sake.”
“You’re not being fair, Lingyun. You’re not being fair at all. Why can’t we find another way to work this out? Why do you have to shoulder everything yourself?”
“Because I’m your emperor,” Lingyun said. “A proper emperor has to take care of his own responsibilities and protect his loyal subjects.”
“Don’t bring this in as an excuse!” Fengbo protested angrily. “I’m perfectly capable of helping you out!”
Lingyun sighed. “I know the Xuan don’t trust me anymore, so any cooperation is impossible. You can still help me by calming them down as I take measures to calm the other nobles down.”
“Why can’t I wait for you?” Fengbo asked in a small voice.
The arms around him tightened. “Because waiting hurts. Because I don’t want you to miss any opportunities to find happiness while you’re waiting. Even if you waited, the chance of us having a future is still slim at best.”
“But I want to wait for you, Lingyun,” Fengbo insisted, “I don’t care how many years it will take—ten, twenty, thirty—I’ll take that chance, however tiny it is!”
Lingyun let go of Fengbo and stood up straight again. “You can’t, because I won.” His voice was now authoritative and cold. “Time will change your opinion, and I’m sure you’ll be able to find new love. I….” His voice cracked, which made him pause. He took a few steps away before he continued, “I won’t forgive you if you go against our deal.”
“If that’s how it is,” Fengbo said, finally pulling himself together, “then I’ll never love again, even if I don’t wait for you.”
“Don’t threaten me, Fengbo,” Lingyun warned darkly.
“I’m not. I’m just telling you beforehand that it will be impossible for me to completely comply with the terms of my defeat,” Fengbo calmly replied. “I don’t think I’ll ever come across someone I’ll love as much as I—”
“Stop!” Lingyun screamed loudly, covering his ears with his hands. “Stop talking about this! Please, just…stop talking to me!” He squatted as though trying to protect himself from harm. “It’s over! It’s over between us! Please, please move on, Fengbo…Don’t make this any more painful for me…! Please…I can’t stand seeing you like this! Just leave this place, leave this place right now!”
Fengbo’s fingers curled into fists. He proceeded toward the exit, but stopped by Lingyun’s side. “And you think I’ll be able to stand seeing you suffer loneliness for the rest of your life?” he asked quietly. “Even if I move on, I’ll always be here for you, Lingyun, no matter what you say, no matter what you do. As long as I live, I am yours.” With that said, Fengbo left. He felt like the world would end if he stepped through those doors, but even so, no matter how excruciating it was, he forced himself to walk out of the room.
Lingyun didn’t know how long he drowned in his own tears and despair, curled up alone on the cold floor of the empty wuguan, hiccuping and trying to overcome the pain that was tearing him apart. Even though he had prepared himself for this, even though he had already made his decision no matter whether or not he won, it hurt. It hurt so much.
It was over.
It was over…!
He kept telling himself that, again and again. He had ended it with his own hands, winning a joyless victory. He had defiled the martial arts he loved so much by using it to sever everything he had.
“Fengbo,” he whispered softly. Come back…Come back!
He kept repeating Fengbo’s name, as though he could bring Fengbo back simply by doing so. He didn’t want Fengbo to leave. In truth, he didn’t want Fengbo to leave at all, but he knew he had to make Fengbo leave.
He had to make Fengbo leave, before he changed his mind. Before he threw himself at Fengbo and never let go again.
“I’ll miss you…I’ll miss you so very much, Fengbo.”
The first and last person he’d ever love.
Lingyun didn’t know how long he had holed himself up in the wuguan, not letting anyone in, not eating anything, not attending any morning conferences, not looking over any papers. His days went by blankly, aimlessly. During that time, he would sometimes be consumed by black hate. He hated the power-hungry nobles, hated the jealous officials who wouldn’t let him be. Hated the society, hated power, hated being the center of everyone’s world; hated everything.
Most of the time, however, he would reminisce about all the moments he had spent together with Fengbo: When they first met, when Fengbo pestered him, when Fengbo touched him, when Fengbo betrayed him, the look in Fengbo’s eyes afterwards, the gentle way Fengbo always treated him even though they were supposed to have severed their ties, when they finally got together, when they had sex—everything, Lingyun just kept remembering the times they had spent together. And, even though he tried not to, he would still occasionally break down into a sobbing mess, falling asleep before his tears dried.
How long had it been? Six, seven days? More?
Then, one day, he woke with dried tears and a cold heart. What was left of him was empty, hollow numbness. The only things in his mind were the goal to set things right for political stability, and the dull determination to rule his Empire well.
After getting up and changing out of his clothes, Lingyun walked out of the wuguan as the emperor of Yue, leaving the human Lingyun behind forever. The room was sealed, kept the way it was with Fengbo’s weapon stuck through the wooden tiles, and his own blade lying abandoned on the floor. No one was allowed to enter the room, and Lingyun never practiced martial arts after that day. Everything Fengbo had given Lingyun as a gift was locked away, never to see the light again.
Even so, Fengbo’s last words to him always stayed in his heart, becoming the only thing that gave Lingyun strength to continue on.
I will always be here for you, too, Fengbo.
~Deceiving Clouds, Cunning Waves~
Thanks to all readers for reading this story till the very end! Initially, I intended to write a scenario where Ruixiang walks in on Lingyun and Fengbo…after all, Ruixiang does have the qualities that would significantly worsened the situation. I even planned to throw in some chaos for the Xuan and the Imperial Court. However, I spent literally weeks trying to figure out how to make it happen…to no avail. Lingyun is still the emperor and most powerful person in the empire, after all-there was no logical way for that scenario to play out. Thus, I ended this story somewhat prematurely-had this ending in mind for a quite a while now.