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Chapter 873: Trust
Translator: Henyee Translations Editor: Henyee Translations
Shangguan Hong couldn’t bear to keep pretending any longer. His cheeks flushed scarlet, anger and excitement glinting in his eyes. He believed that there must be some kind of conspiracy behind the Dragon King’s a.s.signing him this important duty for no reason. “Did someone slander me again? Just tell me the truth, Dragon King.”
What surprised Shangguan Hong yet again was that the Dragon King nodded instead of denying it. “Someone said that you’re the murderer who’s been killing innocent people in Jade City.”
“Ha!” Shangguan Hong let out a dramatic, sneering laugh. “That’s ridiculous. The a.s.sa.s.sinations in Jade City have gone on for more than a month, but I arrived here only a couple of days ago. Shouldn’t that person find a better excuse before trying to frame me?”
Gu Shenwei took a step forward and severely said, “Shangguan Hong, n.o.body can fool me, and you’re no exception!”
Shangguan Hong took two steps back in fear and seemed to have lost his momentum. He raised his head and looked at the Dragon King, a unconvinced look on his face. “Believe it or not, but I’m not the murderer.”
“Is that so? How long have you been in Jade City exactly?”
Shangguan Hong’s heart lurched, his mind spinning very fast. “Five days… approximately… Yes, I arrived here over a month ago.” Shangguan Hong drew his hands back into sleeves and his face was full of vigilance, like a wild dog which had just encountered a stranger. “But I have the queen’s orders.”
“What did the queen order you to do?” Gu Shenwei’s voice became even more severe.
Shangguan Hong suddenly straightened himself up and also stretched his hands out of his sleeves. He was still not confident enough to fight the Dragon King, “If the Dragon King wants to kill me, just do it. I won’t betray the queen.”
Gu Shenwei turned around and walked to the bedside with his back to the angry guest, seeming totally defenseless. Shangguan Hong curled up and flexed his fingers three times but didn’t dare to make a move.
“Why would I kill you? I just told you that I’m sending you to protect Madam Luo and keep an eye on Prince Xiao,” Gu Shenwei said in a gentler tone, as if the tense conversation that had happened just now had merely been a game.
Exhausted, Shangguan Hong felt like his whole body was sticky. He was very depressed that he had recklessly mentioned those a.s.sa.s.sinations. Meanwhile, he became even more confused about the Dragon King’s thoughts. “The Dragon King won’t punish me for lying to you?”
“You’re an attendant of the queen. You lied to protect her. How can that be deemed a crime? I’m counting on you to switch this loyalty to me some day.”
Shangguan Hong hoped that he could be tougher, but he still knelt down. During the process of kneeling, he hesitated and switched from kneeling on both of his knees to kneeling on one knee, to save a part of his dignity. “I’m willing to serve Dragon King, as long as… as long as… ”
“As long as you don’t have do anything that goes against the queen’s interest.”
“Get up, then. Now that you’ve pledged allegiance to me, I’d like to ask you a few more questions.”
Shangguan Hong stood up and raised his head before saying, “I know what the Dragon King wants to ask, so let me be straight. I was indeed the one responsible for a couple of those a.s.sa.s.sinations in Jade City – less than ten of them. Besides, I killed only one target at a time, and I haven’t killed anyone since the Dragon King arrived in Jade City. Thus, I have nothing to do with the a.s.sa.s.sinations in those sabersmen villages.”
“Good,. Gu Shenwei briefly nodded, as if he completely believed Shangguan Hong. “And your kung fu? Who taught you?”
“The Dragon King might not believe this, but I had the Daoless Divine Power Manual all along. I stole it from Madam Meng and I’ve been practicing it secretly. It was not until a few days ago that I made a breakthrough, so I found some people… and tried it out on them. It was twice as strong as the kung fu skills I’ve previously learned.”
This was an answer that Shangguan Hong had prepared in advance, so when he said these words, they came out very fluently. Even the timing of that brief pause was rather good.
Gu Shenwei nodded again. “Was it you who tried to a.s.sa.s.sinate Zhang Ji?”
“That old b.a.s.t.a.r.d,” Shangguan Hong muttered as he clenched his teeth. “After using me for so many years, he ditched me and even sent me on a suicidal mission to Xiaoyao Lake. It was a pity I was too hasty and failed to kill him that night.”
“And you even tried to kill Shangguan Fei?”
Shangguan Fei’s face instantly flushed red. That half-brother of his was the person he hated the most, and he didn’t have to explain it at all. “And Madam Meng, who treated me like a plaything, something cheaper than the cheapest slave. And the Unique King. I’m his natural son, but he…”
Shangguan Hong was unable to continue. The Unique King didn’t even shown mercy to the twins who used to be his favorite children, not to mention Shangguan Hong, who was merely a b.a.s.t.a.r.d son.
“And Shangguan Ru,” Gu Shenwei finished his sentence for him. “She never pleaded for you, and she didn’t even blame Shangguan Fei for what he did. Furthermore, she’s someone who the queen doesn’t like.”
Shangguan Hong didn’t say anything, suggesting that the Dragon King’s words had trespa.s.sed on the queen’s interests.
“And me,” Gu Shenwei didn’t force Shangguan Hong to speak. “I never pleaded for you, and neither did I ever punish Shangguan Fei afterwards.”
Shangguan Hong sighed. “If I say that I don’t hate the Dragon King, then I’d be lying. But compared to my hatred towards those former ones, my hatred towards the Dragon King is nothing. It’s… discontentment at the worst. The Dragon King didn’t punish Shangguan Fei, but you didn’t kill me either, and you sent me to the queen. I’ve always regarded this as tolerance and trust, and I hold more grat.i.tude than grudges against the Dragon King.”
Shangguan Hong returned to normal, his back bent, head down, and hands drooping. Once again, he met the Dragon King’s eyes with a look that he had practiced many times in advance.
“I’m glad you see things this way. As the commander-in-chief of an army, I have to be sn.o.bbish on many occasions. Back when we were in Xiaoyao Lake, Shangguan Fei was useful to me, but you were not. It was as simple as that. But now, things have changed.”
Shangguan Hong had been surprised again and again today, but he still hadn’t got used to it. He blurted out, “Shangguan Fei betrayed the Dragon King?”
“Not yet. Or maybe I should say that I haven’t found any specific proof yet. But he lied to me, which is the most intolerable deed.”
Shangguan Hong was wavering between lowering his head and continuing to look at the Dragon King in the face. Eventually, he decided to lower his head. “Lies are the beginning of betrayal.” It was not until he finished the last word that he recalled that this was an aphorism he had heard from Zhang Ji.
“Um. That’s right. Shangguan Fei sent someone to stalk you. It was him who claimed with great a.s.surance that you’re the murderer, and that it is you who is responsible for those a.s.sa.s.sinations last night.”
“That’s a vicious slander. Last night, I was supervising a couple of craftsmen making robes all night. A lot of people can stand as my witnesses. Shangguan Fei may not know it, but City View Alley is not just a filthy alley full of dirty things and crimes. The best tailors in Jade City also live there.”
“I believe you,” Gu Shenwei said flatly, “because I also had someone spy on Shangguan Fei. He said that he was in the army camp all night long and he used his timidity as an excuse. However, I know that he sneaked into the city last night. His destination was those sabersmen villages and then someone picked him up and sent him back with a fast horse.”
For the first time, Shangguan Hong became interested in and also started to trust the Dragon King’s previous promise. “Shangguan Fei… Do you want me to do anything, Dragon King?”
Gu Shenwei shook his head. “Shangguan Fei will be your reward. Don’t do anything to him before you make a contribution.”
“Yes.” There was more certainty and confidence in Shangguan Hong’s voice now.
After Shangguan Hong left, Gu Shenwei felt a little tired. Although he had every reason to cooperate with Prince Xiao instead of wage a war between the Norland and the Central Plains, he still sometimes wondered whether the latter option was simpler and more preferable.
Once he raised his arm and gave the order, hundreds of thousands of troops would rush into the battleground and fight his enemies to the death, and they would be heroes no matter if they won or lost. In any case, this was an appealing scene.
However, Gu Shenwei had stepped into a maze of intrigue once again. Like a spider waiting at the center of a giant web with only the slight quiver of its spider silk as its sole means of detecting its prey, it had to stay awake both day and night.
He tapped the surface of the table twice. Tie Linglong walked out of a corner, a confused look on her face. “Was it really Shangguan Fei? But he’s just a coward.”
“I don’t know.” Gu Shenwei had allowed Tie Linglong to listen on the side, so he had to be honest with her. “I just know that Shangguan Fei snuck out of the camp last night. His horse ran too fast, and the one spying on him wasn’t able to follow him, so I don’t know where he went at all. Maybe he just went to meet with Madam Meng.”
Tie Linglong was even more confused now. “I believe that many of Shangguan Hong’s remarks were lies. Why do you believe him instead of Shangguan Fei?”
Tie Linglong was an innocent girl. She was so innocent that Gu Shenwei somewhat envied her. “It is Madam Meng who I don’t believe. Shangguan Fei is timid and won’t resist unless pushed. But with his mother motivating him, there’s nothing Shangguan Fei won’t do. Thus, I have to take some precautions.”
Tie Linglong began to understand. “Oh. So the Dragon King incited Shangguan Hong to handle Madam Meng and Shangguan Fei, but you also forbid Shangguan Hong to take action-”
“Shangguan Hong won’t listen to me, and that’s for the better.”
Tie Linglong didn’t fully understand. She was still young, and she didn’t know the difference between doing something of one’s own account and doing it under an order. The Dragon King was offering Madam Meng and her son a true enemy instead of an obedient puppet.
Tie Linglong was too embarra.s.sed to ask any further questions, so she said, “Shangguan Hong must have been lying when he said that he was secretly practicing the Daoless Divine Power. Judging by his prior manner, there were several occasions when he wanted to attack Dragon King. Where does his confidence come from? Even if he started practicing it a year ago, the total amount of time of his practice is still several years less than the Dragon King’s. He must have learned some kind of evil cultivation method.”
Gu Shenwei nodded approvingly. “My guess is that Shangguan Hong learned his evil cultivation method from Waning Moon Hall. Did you notice his voice?”
Tie Linglong was somewhat bemused. “I didn’t pay any special attention to it. Anyway, I know that Shangguan Hong is not a good liar.”
“Shangguan Hong’s voice sounds like that of a man again.”
Tie Linglong was even more bewildered. “But he is a man, isn’t he?”
“He used to be, but Shangguan Fei turned him into an eunuch.”
Gu Shenwei thoughtfully said this in a casual tone, but Tie Linglong still blushed slightly. She only had a vague concept of these things, but she had decided to become a killer free of taboos, so she nodded solemnly. “You suspect that… even Waning Moon Hall doesn’t have this kind of kung fu, right?”
“I don’t know much about Waning Moon Hall, but if this kind of evil cultivation method does exist, then it has to be one of Waning Moon Hall’s secret arts.”
“We can ask Han Wuxian. She seems to be very honest and also terribly afraid of Lotus. She doesn’t even dare leave the army camp.”
“Old Man Mu is a better alternative.”
“That’s true. Old Man Mu once helped the Waning Moon Hall improve their kung fu skills, and he’s probably more familiar with those secret arts than Han Wuxian. He’s also more obedient.”
Actually, it was another issue that had occurred to Gu Shenwei. There were some cultivation methods which were so evil that even disciples of the Waning Moon Hall refused to practice them, and Old Man Mu was the only one who had ever tried practicing them. “The last remark of yours was wrong. Old Man Mu is not as obedient as he seems to be. He’s just as untrustworthy as Han Wuxian.”
Tie Linglong widened her eyes. “This one’s untrustworthy, and that one’s untrustworthy too – you barely have any trustworthy men at your command, Dragon King.”
On this occasion, Gu Shenwei could just name Tie Linglong’s name and then she would surely become more loyal to him. But instead, he said, “This is the reason why I have allowed you to listen to my conversation with him and freely ask questions afterwards – to let you know about my true thoughts. I don’t trust anyone, including you.”
These words were like a basin of cold water poured over Tie Linglong’s head, perplexing her.