Book One, Chapter 54: Onslaught

The accompanying censor’s name was Yu Xiaozai. He was of no high station, simply an Investigative Censor of the upper seventh grade. His position, like the Chief Supervising Secretaries of the Six Offices of Scrutiny, was one of low rank, but very high authority, as it gave him the power to regulate and supervise. Therefore, no one was in a better position to mediate between these two men.

Though it was midwinter, Yu Xiaozai was sweating profusely. None of his usual fieldwork or inspections in the back country had ever put him in such a tight spot. He couldn’t afford to peeve off either of them now, could he! But the good thing is, since he’d raised his voice, both of the bickering men had turned to look at him.

Yu Xiaozai continued earnestly, “It’s early still, I’ll get the warrant out for the Gov’nor-General in just a minute. I’ve got the thing right here on me, see?”

As he spoke, he fished the document from the front of his robes, and gave it over to Xiao Chi’ye.

Xiao Chi’ye flipped through it briefly, then looked at Chen Yang, who said immediately, “This way please, Master Adjudicator.”

Yu Xiaozai put his palms together again and said, “Ay, that’s the way now, let’s do it by the book. We’re all workin’ in His Majesty’s service, eh? No need t’ get all in a fluster.”

“It’s cold outside. Gu Jin, invite this…” Xiao Chi’ye paused, uncertain.

Yu Xiaozai took the hint and cleared his throat, putting his official accent back on. “My name is Yu, Yu Xiaozai, courtesy name of Youjing. Thanking the Governor-General for his kindness, but I will decline tea. Still on the job, after all, got to keep up with the Master Adjudicator.”

Xiao Chi’ye accepted this, and gave a slight nod. Gu Jin came up, bowed to Yu Xiaozai, and led him into the courtyard.


When Shen Zechuan came to the top of a flight of stone steps, Xiao Chi’ye’s study stood open for him, flanked by servants on either side, their heads uniformly bowed.

Chen Yang said, “This is the Governor-General’s study. Please make yourself at home, Master Adjudicator.”

Shen Zechuan lifted his hand, and Ge Qingqing turned to nod at the Brocade Guards behind them. At this signal, they spread themselves out, and began to flip through the books on the open shelves.

Chen Yang indicated for Ding Tao to remain with them, and led Shen Zechuan onwards. They followed the corridor around a corner, and came to Xiao Chi’ye’s bedroom.

Chen Yang said, “This is the Governor-General’s bedroom, which holds many gifts from His Majesty himself. Please inspect them personally, Master Adjudicator.”

Shen Zechuan voiced his thanks, and stepped inside.

Xiao Chi’ye’s rooms were spacious, but unexpectedly sparse. A long desk with curved legs stood behind a folding screen, bearing a few military books. There were no ornaments on display, nor any antiques or paintings, save a map of Dazhou spanning one of the walls.

Shen Zechuan picked up the military books and opened them. The pages within were pristine, as though unread.

A few moments passed. Then, the doors swung shut.

Shen Zechuan did not lift his eyes from the book, and said, “When Censor Yu finishes with the study, he’ll be heading right over.”

As he unfastened his greatcoat, Xiao Chi’ye said, “The study alone will keep them busy till the afternoon. I’ve got to give it to Fu Linye. He’s so keen to avoid me that he’s shunted you here instead.”

Flipping through pages lightly, Shen Zechuan said, “All he wants is to ruffle no feathers, finish the investigation, and close the case as quickly as possible.”

Xiao Chi’ye tipped his head to one side, watching the outline of Shen Zechuan’s form through the folding screen. He asked, “Why’re you hiding back there?”

Shen Zechuan said, “I’m performing an audit.”

Xiao Chi’ye said, “The stuff you’re looking to audit isn’t back there.”

Shen Zechuan closed the book, placed it back on the desk, and said, “I’ll have to finish looking before I decide that.”

Xiao Chi’ye tapped the screen with a finger. He said, “Why does it sound like you’re looking for something else?”

“Subversive texts, records of bribery, military correspondence,” Shen Zechuan told the folding screen, “I’m looking for all of it.”

“Aren’t you missing something?” Xiao Chi’ye said. “Lewd songs, obscene poetry, pornographic illustrations, can I interest you in those?”

“I’m here on official business,” Shen Zechuan said softly. “And it’s broad daylight. I wouldn’t venture to be improper”

The partition was semi-opaque, and the outlines of both men were just visible through its panel. Xiao Chi’ye’s finger slid along the shadow until it arrived at the place where Shen Zechuan’s neck would be. Though he had not touched him, a little of the heat of a caress flickered through Shen Zechuan nonetheless.

“Xi Hongxuan took you out drinking,” Xiao Chi’ye stated.

“Mm,” Shen Zechuan replied absently.

The pad of Xiao Chi’ye’s finger slid to the opening of Shen Zechuan’s collar. “Was it nice, drinking with the girls?”

Shen Zechuan languidly replied, “It was.”

Xiao Chi’ye said, “Did it warm you up?”

Shen Zechuan said, “It did.”

Xiao Chi’ye had grown warm as well. With three fingers, he skimmed downwards, as though stripping that collar aside, all along the line of Shen Zechuan’s neck, and further down still. Shen Zechuan did not flinch, but pressed forward instead. Across the ink-wash panel, fine as a fog, he allowed Xiao Chi’ye’s fingertips to glide, untouching, along his chest.

“Do you wear earrings?” Xiao Chi’ye asked suddenly.

“No,” Shen Zechuan turned his head a little, revealing an ear. “Would you like me to?”

Er-gongzi will make you a little jasper earring to try,” Xiao Chi’ye said.

“Just one?”

“One,” Xiao Chi’ye’s eyes tracked the indistinct line of his neck and the shell of his ear. He said, “For your left ear.”

Xiao Chi’ye habitually scooped him up with his right arm, and when he turned him over, had only to dip his head a little, and he would have his earlobe in his mouth. Jasper green would offset lustrous white, as sweat-damp hair is brushed from his ear. The dazed and satiated look on his face then would be delicious to behold.

Shen Zechuan did not answer, only returning a mysterious smile from across the screen. Xiao Chi’ye could not see his eyes clearly, but he had a good view of the corner of his lips. Once again, he was radiating that specific, subconscious invitation.

“Come hold me.”

“Come touch me.”

Xiao Chi’ye shut his eyes. He felt as though Shen Zechuan left untouched space between them every time, and every time, these silent words would goad his thundering desire on, so that it surged and broke ever more fiercely against that untouched ground. He swore, he did not use to be someone so easily provoked. All of his desires once belonged only to the grass plains and the open sky.

“The wine was good at Ouhua Lodge, and it was good at Xianghui House,” Shen Zechuan said, oblivious to the undercurrents of his silence. “But even a perpetual squatter at Xianghui House like you didn’t expect that the girls there could fall into someone else’s arms, did you?”

“There’s got to be some difference between an old flame and the new beau,” Xiao Chi’ye said. “Since I’m all wrapped up with you at the moment, it’s only reasonable for them to get jealous.”

“I didn’t know about Xi Hongxuan’s hold over Xianghui House, either,” Shen Zechuan said. “Now they’re all dead set on claiming you were bribed, what are you going to do? Will you soften these old flames with your tender affection, and change their testimony?”

Xiao Chi’ye took his hand back, and said, “Xi Hongxuan doesn’t own Xianghui House, or at least, not while I was frequenting the place. Xianghui House’s Madam Xianghui is a woman of many talents, well acknowledged even amongst the ministers and Academy scholars. What little learning Xi Hongxuan keeps in that belly of his wouldn’t stand a chance against her.”

“Then you think…?”

“For Xianghui to give false testimony, there’re only two possibilities. One, love has dawned for her in the person of a certain young master, so she’s willingly involved herself to take a shot at me for his sake. Or two, she was strong-armed into this, and she gave false evidence because she had no other choice,” Xiao Chi’ye said. “If it’s the latter, then we’ll have to take a good look into it.”

“So the old flame bears some significance, after all,” Shen Zechuan laughed.

Xiao Chi’ye said, “Every time the Censorate makes a move in the city, Xianghui has been the one to leak that information ahead of time. For her to defect all of a sudden… I shouldn’t like to see her suffer.”

“What a thoughtful man,” Shen Zechuan said. “The period just after New Year’s will be critical. Whether you can make a comeback in spring will depend on how well you take your beating now. Take care that you don’t lose your head over a pretty face.”

“As I’m housebound and unemployed at present, you’ll have to look into it for me,” Xiao Chi’ye said. “When you go, tell Xianghui from me that Er-gongzi still thinks of her, and looks forward to picking up where we left off.”

Shen Zechuan gently pushed the folding screen aside, and said, “I’m afraid I’ve got too much on my hands these days to spare the time. Why don’t you ask Ding Tao or Gu Jin to pay her a visit on your behalf?”

At last, Xiao Chi’ye had a clear view of him. He asked, “What’s wrong, don’t you happen to live on Donglong Avenue?”

Just as Shen Zechuan was about to respond, he heard footsteps outside. Before he could move, Xiao Chi’ye had swooped down, hauled him onto his shoulder, leapt over the long table in a few steps, and brought him into the inner bedchamber.

Yu Xiaozai lifted his robes and stepped up. Knocking on the doors, he called, “Master Adjudicator?”

The Master Adjudicator was pinned behind a clothes rack, pressed to the wall and unable to respond. Engulfed in clothing, Shen Zechuan reached back to put a hand up against Xiao Chi’ye’s chest, turning his head to answer— but Xiao Chi’ye suddenly hoisted him even higher. Shen Zechuan bumped against the rack, and as it tipped towards the ground, he caught it with an outstretched leg. Seizing this opening, Xiao Chi’ye hauled his other leg up around his own waist, trapping Shen Zechuan in the space before him.

“He has the authority to submit directly to the Emperor,” Xiao Chi’ye said lazily, “If he sees you with me, it’ll be very interesting to explain.”

Yu Xiaozai knocked again, and called, “Are you there, Master Adjudicator?”

Shen Zechuan grabbed Xiao Chi’ye’s hand, murmuring, “It isn’t very gentlemanly to take advantage.”

“Am I taking advantage?” Xiao Chi’ye’s hands were cradling his hips, the tip of his nose threatening close. He chuckled, “That’s right, I’m taking advantage.”

Shen Zechuan locked eyes with him, his chest rising and falling faintly.

Having received no reply for a good while, Yu Xiaozai pushed the doors open. With the warrant papers clamped under an arm, he stepped in and began to look around the room, in preparation for the search.

Shen Zechuan’s long leg pulled back slowly, trying to draw the clothes rack back into place. As his leg stretched, his waist and hips made minute movements to accommodate. Caught in Xiao Chi’ye’s hands, he had come out in a faint sheen of sweat by the time the rack finally steadied.

When the clothes rack stood still again, Xiao Chi’ye leant close to his ear, and said very quietly, “Actually, it wouldn’t have fallen.”

Shen Zechuan looked sideways at him and mouthed, smilingly, “You’re— an— asshole.”

Xiao Chi’ye accepted this cheerfully, and spoke again against his ear, “Wear an earring, Lanzhou.”

Muttering something to himself, Yu Xiaozai finished his survey of the front room, and began making his way to the inner chamber.

Shen Zechuan tried to move, but Xiao Chi’ye pressed down insistently, giving the distinct impression that he was not budging if Shen Zechuan would not say yes.

“Wear it,” Xiao Chi’ye’s breath dampened Shen Zechuan’s ear, the warm huff of air within the cup of his ear so wet that Shen Zechuan’s spine tingled as Xiao Chi’ye murmured, smiling,”Wear it for me.”

Wear it for me.

What an impudent request. Xiao Chi’ye no longer danced around his ravenous appetite, but gathered all of his urgent, fervid desires and thrust them towards Shen Zechuan, so that Shen Zechuan would feel the roiling heat of this offering.

That night, when they had tumbled into the abyss together, it had been a conjoining of desperation, two flayed bodies pressed chest to chest, belly to belly, all of their frailties exposed before the other person’s eyes. Xiao Chi’ye did not intend again to sit alone at daybreak with only its aftertaste in his mouth. Holding tight to Shen Zechuan’s ankle, he was going to drag him inch by inch back to himself, and imprison him within the turbulent seas of desire where only the two of them existed.

Yu Xiaozai had approached the hanging curtains. Shen Zechuan’s hand tightened in the fabric against Xiao Chi’ye’s chest, and in that dire moment looked into his eyes, only inches apart.

Yu Xiaozai lifted the curtain, and saw that no one was in the bedchamber. Everyday clothes lay heaped untidily upon a clothes rack in a corner. It would be inappropriate for him to go rifling through them, so he could only look about with his eyes.

Underneath the bed, Shen Zechuan struggled to breathe. There was absolutely no room for two under this bed, and Xiao Chi’ye’s torso weighed down on him so that he could only open his mouth to catch his breath. That well-built body was much too heavy.

Xiao Chi’ye tipped his head down to stare at him.

Shen Zechuan immediately sensed trouble. He mouthed silently, “No, you can’t, don’t— “

Xiao Chi’ye kissed him, robbing him of the chance to gasp for air. Shen Zechuan’s fingers clutched tighter and tighter, so that Xiao Chi’ye’s back throbbed faintly under the death grip, but it made no difference as Xiao Chi’ye bore him inexorably to the point of asphyxiation. That sensation of hovering on the edge of unconsciousness left Shen Zechuan powerless against Xiao Chi’ye’s onslaught.

It was the feeling of drowning in deep water, and Xiao Chi’ye was the only piece of driftwood that might save Shen Zechuan. But the driftwood he clung to was making a forceful incursion of its own, seizing territories and bringing cities to the ground, like the thundering crash of a colossal tide. It would carve itself into Shen Zechuan’s bones and etch itself into his heart, so that Shen Zechuan would always remember his savage desperation in this moment, and the fear as, little by little, he is overrun and overwhelmed.

5 thoughts on “Book One, Chapter 54: Onslaught

  1. “Underneath the bed, Shen Zechuan struggled to breath” i think you meant struggled for breath or maybe struggled to breathe? either way i thought i’d point it out! thank you so much for yet another fast update!!!!


  2. Just now realizing I had a death grip on my computer as I read this because WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’m screaming, I just can’t get enough of how bewitched XCY is, it’s so funny to me but also I love how this author writes their tension AAAAAAAAAAAA thank you, you had me at the edge of my seat!! Also, now I finally see where the earring in the art comes from lol oh SZC… you have no idea what you’re in for…


  3. xiao chiye really isn’t even attempting to hide his desires from lanzhou lmao he’s going keep pushing until lanzhou feels the exact way he does, and can’t run away or pretend he isn’t as affected. this man doesn’t care that he’s kissing lanzhou in the middle of an investigation, touching and kissing lanzhou is actually more important.


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