Translated literally as The Turn of Events in Life
It all went wrong.
He could feel it, feel that his meridians weren’t healing, feel the refined qi from his zhiji leaking from him rather than filling, healing him. He could even feel Wen Kexing’s desperation.
Then something changed, shifted. The intent changed. He tried to assist as best he could, lending his zhiji focus and channeling his own qi with Wen Kexing’s.
He blinked his eyes open, clearing blurry vision, to find his Lao Wen with his head bent, his hair cascading silver about his shoulders. Wen Kexing’s hands slipped from his own and Zhou Zishu lurched forward to capture them, pain erupting in his chest. He fought to hold on as he felt himself fading.
As his vision failed, he slipped to the side, Wen Kexing slumping with him.
His heart ceased beating, his breath slowed then stopped.
Black. Or rather, nothingness.
No Naihe Bridge. No Three Life Stone. Just...nothing. No sound, no scent, nothing to be felt, absolutely nothing.
Zhou Zishu came to awareness, slow, syrupy, sitting at what appeared to be his desk in his Tian Chuang office in the Imperial Palace in Jin.
No Lao Wen. No pain.
He gazed around, trying to orient himself. Definitely his office. The only truly personal item was the brush and ink stone of his master, Qin Huaizhang, sitting as it always had right in the centre of his desk. He reached out to touch it, tentative. It felt real. Then his eyes drifted to the side, to the incongruous box he kept on a stand in the corner.
He patted over his chest, then pulled open his robes, Tian Chuang robes, to find his chest clear of any scars.
“What the fuck is going on?” Was he dreaming? He pinched the skin of his chest, frowning at the spark of pain. Not a dream.
He’s wearing Tian Chuang robes, sitting in his Tian Chuang office, he has no nails in his chest, nor even the marks of them, he’s most certainly not in the Armory. He’s not with Wen Kexing. He doesn’t feel dead.
If it wasn’t a dream, then how was he back here? Had he and Lao Wen somehow sent him here, and did that mean Wen Kexing was…where? Ghost Valley? Maybe, possibly. It stands to reason, if such a thing even counts in this situation, that Lao Wen has somehow been transported somewhere. Considering how his body was free of the scars from the nails, did that mean he had gone back?
How far back? When?
He started frantically rifling through the paperwork on his desk, scanning reports. One of them made him pause. It detailed a mission to obtain information where several of their members had been killed. Two had been from Siji Manor. It sparked a memory of when . He abandoned his search through the reports and wrenched open a small drawer in the desk, shaking hands now holding the list of men he’d brought with him from his sect. Beside a lot of names was a small red blossom. But there were still a number that had nothing to indicate death. Including Jiuxiao.
He slumped in his chair, robes still in disarray.
Jiuxiao was still alive, his shidi wasn’t gone.
Now he had an indication of when he was. A few weeks, or maybe a month or two before the catalyst for him inserting the first nail. Certainly not too much more than that. The time when he had begun to suspect his sect was being sacrificed. He should have seen it sooner, but Duan Pengju and Helian Yi had been clever, making sure that Siji Manor disciples weren’t the only ones to die. Muddying the waters enough that it had taken Zhou Zishu far too long to put the pieces together.
His eyes widened.
He could save some of them this time.
So many that he could save, that they could save. Jiuxiao was still alive, as was his lover, the princess. Luo Hao, Jiang Xiaoxue, Bi Changfeng, a dozen others from Siji Manor were still alive. Han Ying, Bi Xingming, Cheng Zichen and the others that Han Ying had recruited. Zhang Yusen and his whole family, not just Chengling, could be saved. Gu Xiang. Oh, he had to save her. The Four Sages of Anji, Long Que, Gao Chong. Fan Huai Kong. Cao Weining. Luo FuMeng and Liu Qianqiao.
He decided that Duan Pengju should still die. Helian Yi would be sorely weakened with Tian Chuang’s second in command gone. The next in line would have been Han Ying, but he would not be there to replace the man. Zhou Zishu was determined that Han Ying would have his most fervent wish granted. The next in line was nowhere near the expert in the craft of spy nor assassin that Han Ying was, so he felt safer knowing it would restrict Helian Yi from tracking him down.
Once he had everything lined up, they would all leave Siji Manor, find somewhere to stay, let Helian Yi think he hadn’t gone home. Once his position was secure, everyone safe, Zhao Jing and Helian Yi dealt with, only then would they permanently return to his home.
He glanced at the box he kept the nails in, thinking carefully about how to proceed. He still had to make Helian Yi think he had taken them, but he wouldn’t this time. He would need his full strength. He could fake it. Take something to mimic a weakening of his meridians, cut himself open and place the heads of the nails there to show the Prince. Yes. That would be what he would do. Helian Yi would never let him go, he’d known it then and he knew it even more now.
He may have to take one nail in fully to convince the man, but that was far easier to remedy than seven. Wu Xi could surely help him recover from that. And it wouldn’t restrict him. Not enough to matter at any rate. Wen Kexing surely would understand why he had still taken one.
He considered which meridian to put it into, discarding the one over his lower dantain immediately with a blush. When he saw his Lao Wen again, he wanted to be functioning in certain ways. He decided on placing the true nail over one of his ribs, it would put a burden on his breathing when he exerted himself, but not completely as the other would be fine.
Setting down the list of the remaining members from Siji Mountain Pavilion, he took up his brush and parchment.
There were three letters he needed to write before he went any further.
The first was to Jing Beiyuan and Wu Xi. He apologised for not going to see them, and for not having a long awaited drink with Beiyuan, remembering how the former prince had teased him. He explained what he needed and the extent of Long Que’s condition, that he was hoping to have him extracted from his imprisonment. He asked them to meet him at Siji Manor, thinking it would be safe enough there for a while. If not, he could repair the defensive array to give them time to escape through the secret room.
I will need medical assistance also. In order to complete my ruse and leave I will be injuring one of my meridians. To leave Tian Chuang, one must take in seven nails, placed over one’s meridians. They expand and block qi. My body will display the scars of the other six, but I will not take them, only the heads to convince him I have taken them all. It will convince him I am going to die. I know I am asking a great favor, but I hope that you don’t mind doing this for me.
Beiyuan, he’s been eradicating all the members of my sect. Jiuxiao is still alive, but he is in danger, so I am going to send him away with several others and a number who are loyal to me. I wish to keep them safe until I can fully resurrect my home.
I will explain everything when I can, but please, for the history we share, trust me. I will send this through Ping An, to ensure it reaches you, and will give him instructions on how to find me. I hope to be at home, but if it becomes dangerous I will prevail upon your hospitality and use one of your properties. Don’t ask how I know of them, as I said, I will explain when I can.
I will need a few months to put my plans into action, but then I will leave, so it will give you both some time to plan yourselves.
As an afterthought, he quickly sketched one of the nails, taking one out of the box and holding it so he could get it right. Then he sketched it again as it would look expanded to show Wu Xi what he was dealing with, and sealed the letter.
The next missive was to Ye Baiyi. He was thoroughly honest in the letter, detailing precisely what had been happening, what had happened to him, what had happened to Wen Kexing and his parents, and that he hoped to change the course of the future (or past depending on the view point). He desperately needed Ye Baiyi’s assistance, so he needed to convince the Immortal. That was only possible if he told him all he knew. He begged him to find a way to get Long Que out from under his son’s thumb, to take him to Siji Manor and wait for Beiyuan and Wu Xi. He felt no compunction in mentioning their names, knowing Ye Baiyi knew who they were already, rather than make him a frog in a well this time.
He used the same arguments he’d made to him before, asking if he was right to judge Wen Kexing when he had been fighting for survival.
I hope this time to show him another way before he causes chaos in the Jianghu. He repented, he felt remorse for what happened to Zhang Chengling’s family. I will warn them, just in case he does not remember, however, he was not the cause of their deaths the first time, that was a faction within the Ghosts that were already working for Zhao Jing. Wen Kexing deserves his revenge, and I will assist him with that, but I intend to limit the damage to just the man himself. I will speak to Gao Chong if I must, to convince him as well.
We can save so many lives this way, including Wen Kexing himself. I have no token to offer you in exchange, so I can only beg. Please, I beg you, Ye qianbei, please help me, help Long Que. We can lay Rong Xuan to rest properly, clear his name. We can right many wrongs by doing this.
The third letter was the most difficult to write.
A-Xu sends love to his Lao Wen.
He put down his brush for a moment, staring at what he’d written, hoping Lao Wen would remember, but he had to word the letter in such a way that it wouldn’t be disregarded if he didn’t. Picking up his brush, he dipped it in the ink and very carefully set it to paper.
I hope you know what that means, Lao Wen, I truly do. However, if you don’t, I will explain when we meet, because we do need to meet. I have information about the death of your parents, I know exactly who was to blame and I can help you. I will do what I can to prove my sincerity should you be without your memories of me.
Please be wary of Kai Xin Gui, Ji Se Gui and most of all, Wu Chang Gui. They are easily led astray. I do not know how deep their betrayal goes, but I do know that Luo FuMeng and Liu Qianqiao are loyal to you. Gu Xiang, is of course, beyond betrayal to her brother.
As for who I am, if you don’t remember me, I am your Shixiong. I will not use your real name, I know it causes you pain, but I do know it. I know the name you have taken is a splitting of the character that makes up the name your parents gave you. Your days with us were short, but they were bright, Lao Wen. My Shifu accepted you as his disciple, second only to me, and that remained true for the rest of his life. It remains true for me as well.
If you remember, I will be leaving for my home, our home, soon, with as many as I can safely take. If I am not there, it is because it became dangerous due to who I am, and who I left behind. I will leave instructions at the Ping An Bank in Yue as to my whereabouts. He can be trusted, implicitly. The man who I am sending this letter with, he will assist you. Han Ying can be trusted absolutely, let him serve you in my place.
If you do not remember, I will meet you in Yue when the time comes. With Swift Moving Steps, I will come to you.
He signed the letter A-Xu and set it aside. If Wen Kexing’s memories aren’t intact, he hopes it will be enough. They are alike after all. If Zhou Zishu received a letter like that one, he would at least want to know what was behind it. He’s peppered it with enough insinuations and full truths that Wen Kexing will be intrigued and if he doesn’t understand where to meet Zhou Zishu, well, he will simply waltz up to the door of Ghost Valley and ask for an audience. Failing that, he will inform Han Ying of the where and when and have him convince Wen Kexing to meet with him.
He will not lose his zhiji.
Now, it was time to start enacting his plan to leave the Imperial City and Tian Chuang. He stood, shuffling the letters in his hands, then tucked them into his robes for the moment. The one to Beiyuan he will take to the nearest Ping An bank himself, he’s leery of even letting his trusted subordinate handle it, lest Helian Yi catch wind of the place it’s going to. He may just sniff out the who and that would be a disaster. The other two he will entrust to Han Ying while he does his bidding on the other matters. Under the guise of Tian Chuang business. If the third letter finds its recipient in the state Zhou Zishu hopes, Han Ying will be out of Helian Yi’s clutches. If not, Zhou Zishu will have to handle things there a little differently.
Duan Pengju, he will deal with almost immediately. He can’t have him sniffing around and disrupting his plans. He smiled as he thought of the perfect way to dispatch him, something nasty to suit the man’s nature, vile and messy. It was going to be a risk, perhaps, but Duan Pengju deserved nothing less than a truly painful death.
Zhou Zishu pushed the door to his office open, asking the guard stationed there to find Han Ying for him. When the guard didn’t even blink at the command, Zhou Zishu's stomach settled. Han Ying was alive. He wanted to laugh, he’d been crafting all his plans without even truly checking that he was when he thought he was.
Lao Wen’s influence. Jumping in without thinking.