Book 13: Chapter 10
Even though it was his personal room – for now – Dugu only had all the usual furniture in his room and very few personal belongings despite having plenty of room. He was paid a decent salary for sure; however, he didn’t own any land or real estate. In his capacity as a secret agent of the imperial family, he had to keep his assets a secret similar to his whereabouts.
In the eyes of civil servants, Emperor’s Entourage were essentially phantoms – always out of sight but always monitoring their every move. This was the only way the agents would have any value. The agents weren’t bestowed special titles thanks to their ancestors. Most of them didn’t have children. Only those who had no attachments could devote their entire being to the imperial family. One of their unwritten rules was to not own real estate so that His Majesty would trust them. Hence, despite his injuries and unconscious state, Dugu Ye had to loan out one of Grand Commander Ye’s places.
When the faint light came, the plants had a silvery sheen. Unfortunately, there were few nascent rays this morning.
There was a belief that the fragrance of orchids was nicer indoors than outdoors when a breeze blew. They also said that they bloomed early in spring and shone during autumn as well as summer. Now that the temperature was trending upwards, the pot of orchids that Shen Yiren placed by the window could help calm one’s mind.
While Shen Yiren wasn’t a fan of flowers, Shen Kuang was a big fan of them. Knowing his sister struggled with insomnia, he planted more orchids around her courtyard. Although it didn’t treat the root of her insomnia issue, it was still a nice gesture. This pot she brought along with her for the person she visited was one of the pots that Shen Kuang planted.
Though Shen Yiren’s hands were arranging the orchids, her gaze was elsewhere, as was her mind. “Thank you,” she expressed. She stopped arranging the flowers to give a respectful smile. “I didn’t think you’d come to so soon, so I didn’t bring anything else.”
Never did Dugu think the first person he’d see upon waking was Liu Shan Men’s vice-captain. He reciprocated the smile and gazed toward the flowers.
“Haha, it’s my brother’s work. He gives me a few every few days. I’m no expert on flowers, so I usually offer them to Buddha.”
“Had you let this one think for a moment longer, he would have presumed something else.”
“I am honoured to know you would consider me a potential partner at all.” Shen Yiren helped Dugu sit up. The current culture paradigm would see people shun men and women who weren’t family or romantic partners making physical contact. Shen Yiren, however, didn’t care about such norms, surprising Dugu to an extent.
Dugu could no longer remember when he first met Shen Yiren. For as long as he could remember, she was a constant topic in Emperor’s Entourage. One reason was because she was the successor of Liu Shan Men. The other reason, which was the most obvious one, was how much she stood out.
Dugu looked at Shen Yiren’s garments, her sword hanging from her sash, her boots and then remarked, “You are alone again.”
“I’m not.” Understanding what Dugu meant, Shen Yiren smiled. “Xiao Han and Yan Ling have leads to follow, so they have split off. As for Feizhen, I am searching for him and will find him.”
Hearing Shen Yiren’s signature determined tone but with the poignant tone in the past, Dugu smiled. “That is good to hear.”
“I dropped by since it was on the way to my destination, but I couldn’t ask for anything more than for you to wake up. I was hoping I could hear your account.”
Dugu bobbed his head, expecting as much. Despite having just regained conscious and being pummelled with questions, his expertise in intelligence analysis made it possible for him to provide a detailed recount.
“That is the whole story. I actually told my commander what I could when I woke for a short moment. This account is pretty much the same as what I told him.”
Shen Yiren analysed the information in her mind. The bronze-masked killer’s whereabouts and motivations were unknown; there was no predictability in his attacks. Yet, he fled when he encountered Dugu and then caught him off guard. While it was admirable for him to beat Dugu, his strategy against Dugu made him “human”. The killer wouldn’t have ran away the way he did if he didn’t need to fulfil some condition or conditions. In the same vein, he wouldn’t have needed to catch Dugu by surprise and yet still failed to kill Dugu.
The worst sort of enemy was one without desire and was unpredictable. Once the enemy was classified as just another “human being” who needed to be taken down using “strategy”, then there was a box to think within.
“Do you remember how he delivered the blow that defeated you?”
“Why did you laugh?”
“Nothing. I just feel you are growing into bigger boots. My commander asked the exact same question after a long and hard think.”
“You speak in jest, Brother Dugu. I can’t hold a candle to Grand Commander Ye. It is understandable for you not to know since he caught you from behind. In saying that, it’s inevitable for there to be signs before someone strikes. Did you notice anything deserving of extra attention before you were attacked? This is all I want to know.”
“… Miss Shen, please edify me on a martial arts discipline.”
“My skills come from my teacher, and I don’t know much about other disciplines. Shen Clan has served as martial officials for generations, so you may recognise his broadsword techniques.”
That was an extremely modest thing for Dugu to say. It was true, however, that Shen Yiren might’ve had a perspective he didn’t have.
“Broadsword? He wields a broadsword?”
“… I am sure of it. He just tries to refrain from using it. I wish to hear your take on his broadswordplay.” Dugu proceeded to convey his opinions.
“So… he suddenly vanished from in front of your eyes and tagged you from behind? That is movement. What does it have to do with broadswordplay?”
“That was my initial thought. Subsequent to reflecting, though, I can swear I saw him hundreds of steps away from me. After he chopped me, he moved away even faster. At most, he was only a few dozens of steps away when he disengaged. How could he have moved hundreds of steps? I suspect this difference is attributed to broadswordplay, not movement!”