"Forget it, just ignore him. The mute's temper is very weird."
Editor(s): Jelly, opal
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Zhang Mu had never been good at words. The moment he heard those words coming out of Li Qingcheng's mouth, only a buzz filled his mind; it was as if a heavy hammer struck him right in the head. The sky and the earth seemingly spun around in front of his eyes, and he didn't know how to respond at all. The end result that he feared the most, the one he had long buried deep inside his heart, all came to light alongside those few sentences from Li Qingcheng.
Zhang Mu only fixed his gaze at Li Qingcheng, his breathing out of order.
"Are... are you all right, mute?" That gaze actually scared Li Qingcheng somewhat. He wanted to jolt him, but also dared not touch him. As he had previously seen inside Qihuang Hall, this mute could blow up and flatten the earthen wall once he raised his hands. It was very likely that Zhang Mu's every movement contained a power weighing a thousand jun, and if he was unable to restrain himself, then Li Qingcheng would be done for.
"Mute?" Li Qingcheng asked, voice trembling. "Anyone there? Someone, come!"
Fang Qingyu hurried into the cave and asked, "What's the matter?"
Fang Qingyu, hair wet and messy, was wearing iron armor. He undid his battle hairpin, letting his long and damp hair loose as he frowned at Li Qingcheng.
For three seconds, Li Qingcheng just stared at Fang Qingyu in the face. Then suddenly, in a burst of anger, he shouted, "Fang Qingyu——!"
Fang Qingyu's whole body quivered. Li Qingcheng added, "Catch him! Catch this traitor!"
A smile full of disbelief appeared on Fang Qingyu's handsome face as he asked, "You... you remembered everything?"
Li Qingcheng, moving his hand to pull out the Wuming Sabre on Zhang Mu's back, stumbled to get up before fiercely swinging the sabre at Fang Qingyu. While the Wuming Sabre was only a blunt sabre and Li Qingcheng didn't have Zhang Mu's kind of unsophisticated raw strength, that slash still managed to force Fang Qingyu to stagger back until he was thrown out of the cave.
Fang Qingyu was extremely thrilled. "Qingcheng?!"
Li Qingcheng's action of pulling the long sabre out had already alarmed the surrounding soldiers, but he himself still didn't realize that something was amiss and just ordered, "Grab Fang Qingyu, don't let him get away! He's a renegade!"
A big uproar immediately followed suit. The moment Fang Qingyu stood up, however, he laughed so hard he collapsed to the muddy ground, his body covered in mud. Li Qingcheng roared, "What are you laughing at?! Beat him up for me!"
After grabbing him, the soldiers held Fang Qingyu down. Li Qingcheng reiterated, "Go beat him up!"
Fang Qingyu, having his armor taken off, was punched and kicked by the soldiers. He collapsed on the ground, crawled up, then collapsed again. His inner garment and pants turned all muddy, and his eyes, punched, turned bluish-black at once. He begged for mercy with his swollen-red eyelids drooping down, "Qingcheng, listen to what I have to say. Don't beat me up!"
Li Qingcheng, short of breath, shouted angrily, "Beat him to death!"
"Qingcheng... I'm your Qing... your Qing-ge ah... How could you have the heart..." Although Fang Qingyu was beaten up to a sorry state, his voice, tinged with laughter, could still be heard coming intermittently from his mouth.
Li Qingcheng looked at Fang Qingyu's sorry figure and suddenly realized a problem.
"This is wrong," Li Qingcheng said doubtfully. "What is this place? Who are you people? Stop, stop, stop, stop hitting him first."
A moment later, inside the cave.
Fang Qingyu, his left eye swollen-red while the right one bluish-black, was beaten to the point he looked like a pig head, yet he was still smiling as he knelt on the ground. "I'll make a statement, while Zhang Mu will supplement it. If what I say is not wrong, Zhang Mu, you say 'Yes,' but if I say even a half-word of deception, you say 'No.' Qing-ge swears by the name of heaven and earth, if Qing-ge tells even a single lie, he will be forever punished and not allowed to be reincarnated."
After staying silent for a long time, Zhang Mu finally nodded his head a little bit.
Li Qingcheng only felt a splitting headache. He said wearily, "Go on."
Fang Qingyu: "You had a serious illness in Jia City that caused you to totally forget about the matters of the past. Zhang Mu took you to Feng Pass, and we bumped into each other again at Hejian City. Zhang Mu, is that right or not?"
Zhang Mu just silently nodded his head, not saying even a word.
Fang Qingyu's line of thought was clear, and his narrative was well-organized. From the details of the battle of Feng Pass, what came next, and up to the moment they left Ting City, almost nothing was left out, no matter big or small. Li Qingcheng was just shaken to the core when he heard all these.
"These things, every... everything was my doing?" Li Qingcheng said in disbelief.
"Yes," Zhang Mu finally opened his mouth.
Fang Qingyu talked about the march to Mt. Mei after they had left Ting City and then said, "I know not about the rest of the matter. The one who accompanied you the most was the mute. If there's something you wish to uncover, you should ask him."
Li Qingcheng then asked Zhang Mu, "Is there anything else of particular importance, be it a big or small matter, that he didn't mention?"
Zhang Mu's eyes were filled with sorrow, and only after staying quiet for a very long, long time did he finally reply, "Nothing."
Li Qingheng stopped asking questions and said to Fang Qingyu, "Then, why did you run away that night?"
Fang Qingyu: "That night, I didn't know whether His Majesty had truly passed away. I was afraid it was merely fake information spread by my aunt. Zhang Mu treated me as an enemy; I couldn't come up with a convincing explanation then, so I had no choice but to run away."
"You are lying!" Li Qingcheng shouted. "Why did you bring me out of the palace during the Mid-Autumn Festival? You must've known something!"
Fang Qingyu said, "I don't even seek my own safety or that of my family, much less my own reputation. You still don't trust me?"
Li Qingcheng: "What do you know about that night?"
Fang Qingyu explained, "Your father emperor wanted to kill some important ministers. My aunt knew about it, so she let me take you out of the palace. But I truly had not the slightest idea that she had been planning to usurp the throne. From the very beginning, she had guarded herself against me, merely inquiring about the matter regarding you. She never made me do anything!"
Li Qingcheng sneered. "But she's your aunt."
Fang Qingyu forced a smile. "My father and mother both died early, and my aunt has never liked me. She disliked me for idling about; the me who practiced martial arts but didn't listen to the Fang family's instructions..."
"You're still lying," Li Qingcheng easily said. "Qing-ge, I can tell when you're telling lies."
In the end, Fang Qingyu took a deep breath before faintly saying, "She knows I like you, that you're my dearest."
Li Qingcheng was quiet.
Fang Qingyu: "The good-for-nothing Fang Qingyu was only ten years old when he left Canghai Pavilion, leaving footprints all over the four seas with zero ambition to do better. The wastrel son of the prestigious family was not only despised by his fellow Wulin people but also a disgrace to the Fang family.
"Later on, I went to the eastern border and lived under my paternal uncle's charity for several years. I became a subject to the ever-increasing cold eyes and often sighed thinking about life. It was only starting from that year when I entered the palace as your bodyguard did I begin to know that there was a person on this earth that would treat me wholeheartedly and even fondly attach himself to me, a person who would ask me everything and look up to me as an elder brother, all because of that fraction of warmth.
"Qingcheng, if you don't believe me, just kill me with a sword ba." Fang Qingyu bowed down and offered up the long sword with both hands.
"Get out ba," Li Qingcheng said. "Let me calm down for now."
Fang Qingyu raised his head. "Has the fever gone down?"
Li Qingcheng nodded, although reluctantly. Putting away his sword, Fang Qingyu left the cave and put his armor back on.
Li Qingcheng asked, "Mute, is what he said all true?"
Zhang Mu, who was still kneeling on one knee with a cold and detached look on his face, stood up without waiting for Li Qingcheng's command; he went to one side of the cave and just stood quietly there.
This mute had always refused to obey his commands, so Li Qingcheng thought it would be better just to forget about it.
Another thing he noticed was that Zhang Mu's fingers, which were hanging on his side, twitched a little, seemingly trembling.
Li Qingcheng recalled the past events when he had to flee the capital. After he had managed to piece out the fragmented memories, although he felt as if the matter of that Mid-Autumn Festival night had only happened yesterday, according to Fang Qingyu's account, he had actually walked out step by step of the most perilous situation and even completed nearly half of the progress of the great cause of country restoration. He couldn't help but feel suddenly enlightened, his mood indescribably relaxed.
Li Qingcheng said, "This is Mt. Mei, isn't it? It's close to my little maternal uncle's place. It has been several years since I last saw him, and I also don't know how he fares these days.
"We're still being hunted. Are they people sent by Mother Empress?" Li Qingcheng frowned as he rummaged through the bundle of cloth he was carrying. He took out what looked like a bead and fiddled with it in front of his eyes, full of doubt. When he discovered that it was actually a human eye, he instantly cried out in shock.
"What's the matter?" Fang Qingyu strode inside.
"Nothing," Li Qingcheng said. "You get out."
"Mute, how can there be a person's eye here?" Li Qingcheng put the eyeball away. "Who gave it to me?"
Zhang Mu stayed silent. Li Qingcheng continued, "Who sent these people? It can't be my uncle, so could it be... some of his men have been bribed by Empress Fang? My little uncle, that man acts pleasantly toward anyone... En, it's not so strange his subordinates have been bribed. We need to take this eyeball and carefully look one by one, hopefully, that person is still not dead yet."
Li Qingcheng continued to rummage through, this time pulling out a bamboo whistle. After bafflingly looking at it for a long, long while, he put it on his mouth and blew it.
A still scene, appearing in black and white color of an ink wash painting, flashed in front of him the moment he did that:
The fragrance of the Western Plains' plums permeated everywhere in the courtyard. Zhang Mu fixed his gaze at Li Qingcheng, and with eyes full of tenderness, he guided Li Qingcheng's fingers to his own lips and softly blew into them.
A whistling sound was produced.
The memory drifted away. The arctic gyr, summoned by the whistle, flapped its wings as it landed on the ground.
When Li Qingcheng came back to his senses, he reached out to touch the gyr's head. The arctic gyr, not understanding the reason, merely raised its beak and pecked him.
"Mute, this is the falcon you tamed for me, isn't it?" Li Qingcheng saw Zhang Mu fixing his eyes at him, watching him play with the arctic gyr.
Zhang Mu still didn't reply. Li Qingcheng said again, "Many thanks for these days, mute."
Zhang Mu trembled once again, his looks resembling that of a ferocious male falcon that was aggressively spreading his feathers.
Li Qingcheng mumbled to himself for a while. After some time thinking, he called out, "Qing-ge!"
When Fang Qingyu came in, Zhang Mu turned around and bolted out of the cave. After chasing after him for a bit, Li Qingcheng saw him amidst the drizzle, soaked as he exerted all of his strength hitting a big rock without rhyme or reason before finally raising his arm one last time and fiercely broke it apart. He then pressed his head down in front of the rock as he madly gasped for breath in a manner similar to a tired beast.
After looking for a while, Li Qingcheng said, "Forget it, just ignore him. The mute's temper is very weird."
He then put on his leather armor while asking on the side, "Qing-ge, what do we do now?"
Fang Qingyu replied, "I don't know what we should do either, I'm too accustomed to following you. You're very perceptive each time you're issuing out commands. Just give the order ba, Qing-ge will do whatever you say."
Li Qingcheng, not knowing whether to laugh or cry, put on his war boots while saying, "What is there to be perceptive about, I'm already so thankful I haven't messed things up. Is there anything to eat? Bring me some first."
Fang Qingyu went out of the cave and ordered the soldiers to fetch him some rations. When he saw Zhang Mu wearily kneeling facing the rock, he shouted from a distance, "Zhang-xiong, now is not the time to feel sentimental. Hurry up and get to work ba. Don't hand over your life in this place, for the future is still long ne! Every dog has its day; you had also never seen me being that wronged before."
Clenching his fists, Zhang Mu entered the cave with a gloomy, sinister face.
"What nonsense were you spouting about?" Li Qingcheng asked as he ate some food.
Fang Qingyu smiled. "Nothing. Eat some more, you must be very hungry ba."
Li Qingcheng pushed him away. "Shoo, shoo! Don't get your face close!"
Fang Qingyu smiled as he said, "Isn't it you who beat me up." After that, he spread out the map and tapped on a spot. "This is where we are. Early in the morning, the mute had dispatched an eagle to scout. The ambush is on here."
"This is very troublesome, we can't get through." Li Qingcheng rested his chin on his hand as he said monotonously.
"Yes ah..." Fang Qingyu looked at Li Qingcheng with a smile. "What should we do then?"
Li Qingcheng licked his lips to clean the leftover crumbs, sighing as he said, "Since we're no match for them, just run ba."
Fang Qingyu asked, "Really going to run? This can still be settled."
Li Qingcheng: "If our forces are ten to one compared to the enemy, surround them. If they are five to one, attack them. If we're lacking in numbers, escape from them... However, it's also not impossible to defeat the many using a fewer number. What I'm thinking of is either you lead a team of soldiers to lay an ambush at one place, or prepare to launch a surprise attack at them, though I'm a little unsure about this."
Fang Qingyu said, "The mute can also lead the troops. He can fight against all of the people ahead ne."
Li Qingcheng glanced at Zhang Mu who was standing like a wooden stake.
"If we don't want to run, we can only do this. Only, I also don't know whether this will actually work. Don't blame me if any misfortune happens." Li Qingcheng explained for a good while, and Fang Qingyu smiled. "Fortunately, you haven't lost your outstanding ability."
Li Qingcheng was at a loss. "What outstanding ability?"
Fang Qingyu: "Where did you learn this move?"
Li Qingcheng replied, "My own thoughts. Are you up for it or not? Give me an answer. If not, let's just run away ba."
Fang Qingyu touched Li Qingcheng's face and asked back, "Do you want to escape?"
Li Qingcheng answered, "I'm in no rush. We also can choose to run faster; we'll be safe once we reach my uncle's place."
Fang Qinyu smiled as he looked at Li Qingcheng. "Fight ba."
"Mute, come over. I'll give you a team of soldiers, stage a surprise attack against those people from the rear. Qing-ge will lie in ambush on the right side of the bridge. Wait for them to be chased off there, and we'll launch another surprise attack, together this time."
Zhang Mu said, "I don't want soldiers, I'll go by myself."
Li Qingcheng frowned. "If you die, don't blame me for not reminding you beforehand."
Zhang Mu slowly shook his head, but Li Qingcheng insisted, "Take 50 men with you. Qing-ge will bring 300 men to lay in ambush, while I'll take 50."
Fang Qingyu and Zhang Mu were both stumped simultaneously. Fang Qingyu asked, "What do you want to do? Didn't you say we were going to fight?"
Li Qingcheng said, "Of course I also have to do something. I'll try my best.... to go act as a decoy ba? To fight shoulder to shoulder with you all."
After scouting the enemy's position one last time, the arctic gyr swooped down.
Fang Qingyu asked, "They're still there?"
Zhang Mu nodded.
Li Qingcheng got on his horse. "Prepare to head out ba."
Zhang Mu placed the gyrfalcon on Li Qingcheng's shoulder guard, but Li Qingcheng, grabbing the gyr's wings, handed it back to Zhang Mu. "It's safer if you bring it."
Zhang Mu, however, grabbed the bird and put it on the same place once more; Li Qingcheng too repeated his action of grabbing and handing it back to him. The arctic gyr just chirped and whimpered, not understanding what had just happened. Finally, Li Qingcheng held up the bird by the neck as if grabbing a chicken and pushed it over to Zhang Mu. When Zhang Mu once again wanted to return it, the gyr finally had enough; it got angry and pecked hard on Zhang Mu's fingers until they drew out blood.
"What are you doing?!" Li Qingcheng angrily said. "You can't recognize good intentions when you see it!"
Turning his horse's direction, Zhang Mu just left the 50 soldiers who had been assigned to him and rushed into the mountain alone.
Li Qingcheng watched Zhang Mu's back, mind filled with pent-up anger as he thought:
What an arrogant ass.
WE ALL CRY CRY CRY CRY CRY CRY MU-GE’S HEART SHATTERED JUST LIKE THAT
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Elestrea.