The old woman stood about ten steps or so away before Song Ci.
Wrinkles decorated her aged face. Very slowly, she raised her cloudy eyes and sized up Song Ci. “You have changed a lot.”
Song Ci finally saw a trace of familiarity on that face. He frowned and tried his best to recall her. “You are …”
There was a name on the tip of his tongue, but Song Ci still found it hard to believe.
“Granny Zhoulan, what are you talking to him about?” A young boy wearing a short red upper garment and long black pants suddenly ran out from the side. His little arms and ankles were wrapped in white silk, and he was barefooted. His movements were lively.
The exquisite-looking young boy looked curiously at Song Ci, then hugged the old woman’s arm affectionately and whispered, “That super fierce jiejie has come too.”
Song Ci slowly put down the hand that had been holding Du’e and let it hang beside his leg. His expression was a little complicated, “Situ Zhoulan? Is it really you? “
She smiled and shook her head. “Liang Shuhong, even though you and I aren’t close, we grew up together in Jinling. Why did it take you so long to recognize me?”
Song Ci felt innocent. “That’s because you have changed a lot.”
“You’ve changed a lot too, but I still recognized you at a glance.” Situ Zhoulan rapped her walking stick and said with a disgruntled expression.
“No.” Song Ci, “The change in you is more extreme.”
Situ Zhoulan was one or two years younger than his younger cousin brother, Liang Yanbei. They grew up together in Jinling. Song Ci did not interact much with them, so he did not really know Situ Zhoulan very well.
The impression he had of Situ Zhoulan was that she was a gentle maiden. When she was still young, she always appeared unperturbed. She was not as lively and energetic as other maidens of the same age. It was only when she was with Liang Yanbei that she would be a little more quick-witted.
After she had grown up, Situ Zhoulan was a well-behaved, proper lady who hardly showed herself in public. Her medical skills were outstanding.
But Situ Zhoulan should be in the prime of life now; she should not look like the wizened old woman she was before Song Ci. Before Song Ci left the capital, he heard that she had dabbled her hands in witchcraft without permission and was thus expelled from the Situ sect. She must have had it rough these four years.
Song Ci said apathetically, “What have you done to the folks in the capital? ”
“Don’t worry. I’m just being asked to let them sleep.” Situ Zhoulan stroked the head of the young boy beside her. “Of course, the most important thing is to lure you to the bait.”
As soon as she said that, a white light flashed through the sky. Song Ci subconsciously looked up and saw Tu Shan Lian taking on shape from the white light. Those blue eyes of hers that resembled Rong Bai looked down at Song Ci from above.
Song Ci took a deep breath and said with loathing, “I didn’t expect it to be you.”
Similarly, Tu Shan Lian hated him too. Her feelings were all clearly on display on her face. “I can’t believe you still remember me. Song Ci, after all these years, I’ve never thought you would still be alive.”
“You want me to die that much?” Song Ci smiled smugly at her. “A pity you didn’t get your wish. I still want to send your father my regards. Is he still alive and well? If he’s still alive, tell him to wash his neck clean…”
He had yet to finish his words when a furious Tu Shan Lian flung out her whip at him. Song Ci had long been on guard, so he easily blocked her blow with Du’e without dodging or evading. With a twirl of the tip of the blade, he cut Tu Shan Lian’s whip into two.
Song Ci continued to finish the rest of his words. “Tell him to wash his neck clean and wait. Sooner or later, I’ll find him and kill him.”
“What idiotic nonsense. Do you even have the ability to?” Tu Shan Lian sneered, not frightened by Song Ci in the least. “If you hadn’t obtained the blood of my elder brother’s heart, you would still be a cowardly good-for-nothing who’s afraid of death.”
Song Ci nodded. “You are right. That’s why I’m very grateful to Rong Bai.”
“Grateful?” Situ Zhoulan chuckled. Her cloudy eyes were cold. “Liang Shuhong, you’ve been too comfortable being a demon. Have you forgotten your original identity? Your surname is Liang, not Song.”
Her words stunned Song Ci. His heart began to pound.
That did indeed seem to be the case. But at some point, he had already forgotten all about his original intention. If he persisted in remaining a demon, then what would happen to his parents?
The young boy beside Situ Zhoulan kept staring at him. For a fleeting moment, a faint pattern surfaced in those original black eyes of his. Then, he quietly tugged at Situ Zhoulan’s arm.
Situ Zhoulan said smilingly, “But you don’t have to worry about these problems. I have already resolved them for you.”
Song Ci had a sense of foreboding on hearing this. He raised his eyes to look at her and saw that the scene before him had changed from a broad street to a piece of withered grassland. Two bald trees devoid of their leaves stood behind Situ Zhoulan.
There were two people on the trees almost embedded in the trunks. Tree branches wrapped around them to secure them in position, revealing only their faces.
Song Ci took one look, and a great wave of panic and fury instantly crashed down on him, engulfing him whole.
They were both Song Ci’s parents. Their exposed heads were purplish as they hung limply with closed eyes, completely lifeless. It looked as if they had been dead for a long time.
Song Ci tightened his grip on Du’e. Blue flame ignited on the blade as he struck out at Situ Zhoulan as fast as a bolt of lightning. The young boy beside her chuckled. The blow hacked Situ Zhoulan’s body into pieces, which then turned into specks of light.
“Don’t you hate your parents? I’m helping you out here.” Situ Zhoulan’s leisurely voice continued to ring out with ease. “I bound them to the trees and sucked away their vital essence bit by bit so that they would die in great pain. You should really see the entire process where their screams turned into feeble moans. You will surely like it.”
Song Ci was on the verge of a breakdown. His eyes were red as he yelled, “Show yourself!”
“Liang Shuhong.” Her voice echoed over and over again. “Have you lived a comfortable life for so long that you have forgotten the kind of person you are? It seems like there’s a need for me to help you do a review.”
How Song Ci wished to ferret her out and hack her to pieces. He still would not believe that Situ Zhoulan had really killed his parents, but he could not think of a reason this image before him would be an illusion.
The grievous news had come so suddenly that Song Ci could not accept it at all. Rage blinded him. He was consumed with the desire to kill.
But just as Situ Zhoulan finished her words, he suddenly went weak in the knees and collapsed to the ground as if his strength had been sucked out of him. The world before his eyes blackened as he lost consciousness.
The young boy clapped his hands happily. “Granny Zhoulan, he has already entered dreamland.”
Situ Zhoulan stroked the young boy’s head lovingly and said, “Well done, Xiaochao.”
She turned her head to look at Tu Shan Lian. “How far do you want to go?”
“Until he fuses the blood completely.” Tu Shan Lian replied.
“Don’t forget your promise to me.” Situ Zhoulan said.
Tu Shan Lian glanced at her. “Let me speak out of turn and remind you that Yanbei is no ordinary person. Be careful that you don’t end up obliterated if you incur his wrath.”
Situ Zhoulan scoffed. “It doesn’t matter. There’s no meaning in living like this. But before I die, I want to make him suffer!”
Xiaochao could not understand what they were saying. He patted himself on the stomach. “Granny Zhoulan, Xiaochao is hungry.”
Situ Zhoulan lowered her head and chuckled, “Then let Granny take you for some delicious food.”
Xiaochao’s smile was innocent and harmless. “Xiaochao wants to eat a pretty jiejie today.”
Situ Zhoulan nodded. With her wizened old hand grasping a tender little palm, she leaned on her walking stick and slowly departed.
Song Ci did not sleep well. He felt as if he had a very chaotic dream. In his dream, he experienced a lot of absurd and bizarre matters. It was such a jumble of mess that it made him restless.
“Is Ci-er still asleep?” A voice suddenly entered his dream and woke Song Ci up. He sat up from the bed, exhausted.
Immediately right after, there was a knock on the door. You Wen, who was on the other side, asked, “Young Master, are you awake?”
Song Ci mumbled a sound of acknowledgement. “What’s the matter?”
This time, it was Song Ci’s father, Liang Bing, who said, “Why are you still sleeping at this hour? Get up and tidy yourself up quickly before you go pick up your Uncle Liang and your younger brother. “
Song Ci was momentarily stupefied. He suddenly recalled that today was the first time Liang Yanbei and his father, Liang Jun, came to the capital.
Liang Yanbei had grown up in Jinling since young. He came to the capital this time because Liang Jun had taken over Old Master Liang’s official post in the imperial court. So he had brought Liang Yanbei back to the capital as well.
Song Ci recalled how irritating this younger cousin brother of his was. But he was mild and obedient by nature, and so he said nothing and merely acknowledged his father’s words. He got out of bed to dress himself. While he was at it, he looked out at the sky outside. The sun was now setting, and night was drawing near.
Night came early during winter, it was blowing cold outside. Song Ci conscientiously put on layer after layer of cotton-padded clothes and called out for someone to help him tidy himself up. Before he left, he even put on a white cloak embroidered with bamboo branches. The thick fox fur wrapped around his neck kept out the flurry of wind.
New Year’s Eve was around the corner, so there was a festive mood on the bustling streets of the capital. Song Ci lifted a corner of the window of the horse carriage and saw the streets decorated with red prosperous lanterns. He thought about picking a day to take His Ninth Royal Highness out for some fun. The latter had resided in the inner palace for such a long time that he should like these kinds of bustling scenes.
The carriage left the capital and headed west for a few li.1 Sure enough, he saw the Liang Clan’s carriage heading towards him slowly. Liang Yanbei donned a red cloak that was very conspicuous under the approaching night. Even in the cold winter of the twelfth lunar month, he still looked as if he had no fear of the cold as he rode his horse.
Liang Yanbei was dashing, and he looked particularly good when he smiled. When he saw Song Ci’s carriage from a distance away, he urged the horse on forward a few steps to the side of the carriage and knocked on the window.
Song Ci lifted the window. When he saw him, he immediately had the thought to shut it again. But Liang Yanbei reached out a hand to thwart his attempt. He smiled and said, “Elder Cousin Brother. We have not met for quite some days. Did you miss me?”
This was how both of them got along in private. Song Ci was blatant in his dislike of him, despite being, in the words of others, a gentle and well-mannered young master.
Song Ci could not be bothered to exchange conventional greetings with him. “Where’s Uncle Liang?”
“In front.” Liang Yanbei used his chin to point in the direction.
Song Ci said nothing more. Liang Yanbei lifted the window fully and fixed it in place. The cold wind poured into the carriage. Song Ci could not help but glance at him. “Why did you open my window?”
“I haven’t seen you for such a long time, so I want to take a good look at you.” Liang Yanbei was unperturbed.
Song Ci had more to say, but the carriage stopped right at this moment. He placed his hands aside and rose to get off the carriage.
Opposite his carriage was the carriage on which Liang Jun had been using. Song Ci led You Wen over and took a polite bow to say his greetings. “Second Uncle, this nephew has come to receive you.”
Liang Jun was easy-going by nature. He pushed aside the curtain and stretched his head forward to look at him. He smiled amiably. “Oh, Ci-er. It has been a long time since I last saw you. You have grown taller.”
Every time he met this Second Uncle of his, these would be the first words the latter would say. Song Ci was already used to it, so he merely responded with a smile.
“Is your father at the residence?” Liang Jun asked again.
“The New Year is approaching, and the imperial court is on break. Father has been pretty free these days.” Song Ci replied.
“Then I shall call on Eldest Brother first.” Liang Jun said, “It’s cold outside. Hurry back to the carriage.”
Song Ci nodded and turned around, only to find that Liang Yanbei had already dismounted from his horse and was making his way into his carriage. He subconsciously wanted to drag him down, but because Liang Jun was present, he could only endure it and return to the carriage.
“Don’t you have your own carriage?” Song Ci asked as soon as he got on the carriage. “Don’t tell me you rode a horse all the way here?”
Liang Yanbei comfortably occupied Song Ci’s seat and took the hand-warmer2 into his bosom to hug it. He patted the seat beside him. “Ge, have a seat. Why are you standing?”
Song Ci sat down sulkily. With a lightning move of his hand, he snatched away the hand-warmer and accidentally touched Liang Yanbei’s freezing cold hands. He could not help but shiver. He said fiercely, “Go back to your own carriage.”
Liang Yanbei spread out his arms and legs to lie down like a little overlord. “I like it here.”
Song Ci could do nothing about him. He could not win him if they were to come to blows, and he could not scold him either, as it wouldn’t look good if Liang Jun were to hear him. After enduring it for a moment, he felt that he could not simply let it go. So he used the hand-warmer as a weapon and pounded it on Liang Yanbei’s head.
Only then did he feel a little better.
Liang Yanbei loves this elder cousin brother of his very much. (Bromance) ヽ(￣▽￣)?