Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
It was already snowing on the mountain. Xiahou Lian was wrapped in a coat and hugging his knees as he sat under the eaves, looking at the flying snow that was like pear blossoms and filled the entire courtyard. Usually at this time, his mother would already be back. That guy couldn’t handle the cold, and she wasn’t willing to hurry on with her journey in winter and only wanted to lie down in her bed covers all day long. However, the snow was already getting heavier and heavier on the mountain now, and he still hadn’t seen the figure of his mother returning.
She should have brought a sheath, right? Before she had left, all of the leaves on the mountain had been red. When she held a jar of wine, carried her saber on her back, and swaggered toward the depths of the red leaves, it had been like she was walking into boundless fire. Xiahou Lian had shouted to her to remember to bring a sheath. The “sheath” was the person that Garan dispatched to aid an assassin. When the assassin succeeded or fled in failure, their sheath would appear and cover the assassin’s escape. After all, qualified assassins were too rare, especially such an unparalleled and famed saber like Xiahou Pei. If something happened to an assassin, it wasn’t a small loss for an impoverished organization like Garan. Xiahou Pei hadn’t looked back. She had only waved her hand and sincerely promised that she would definitely bring a sheath this time.
Now, three years had already passed since Xiahou Lian’s first independent assassination. It was only three years ago that he had known that the time he had let Shen Jue go, his mother had taken fifty-one whips for him, and that because of this, lingering effects had been left. That had been the very first time he had seen with his own eyes the mighty and unmatched Xiahou Pei fall before him. Only then had he known that Xiahou Pei wasn’t invincible. She was a myth in his heart, but she was more so an ordinary mortal. In one night, he seemed to have become sensible at once, and he obediently went to make transactions, not complaining anymore.
In three years, he had broken three sabers. The assassins outside of Garan’s Eight Legions didn’t have names, so people in the martial arts world were used to calling them by the inscriptions on their sabers. However, Xiahou Lian changed sabers every year, so no one knew exactly who that assassin who didn’t have a name was. Thus, some people secretly called him the Nameless Ghost.
Xiahou Lian gazed at the empty courtyard in a daze, and he was confused and upset for no reason. He got up and went into Xiahou Pei’s room, rummaging through her documents. Books were messily piled at the head of the bed, and most of them were storybooks she had collected from somewhere. Xiahou Lian spent a while before finding the document for her assassination this time.
The tiny text was densely packed. Xiahou Lian lit a lamp and sat before the desk.
The person Xiahou Pei was going to kill was the village leader of Jingdao Mountain Village 1 in Liuzhou, Liu Guizang. Xiahou Lian had heard of this name before. He was a universally acknowledged grandmaster of saber skills in the martial arts world, and he was the disciple of a descendant of the Qi Clan Saber. Thirteen years ago, he had challenged sixteen sects on three mountains by himself and won every time, and he had even forced a sect to seal their mountain and stop receiving disciples. From then on, he had instantly become famous and known by everyone, and no one dared to face his blade.
However, when Xiahou Lian had heard this name, those people hadn’t been praising this person’s great achievements. After all, if a rumor in the streets of marketplaces didn’t have a bit of a covering of illicit love that made people’s imaginations run wild, it usually couldn’t spread.
Liu Guizang had originally worked hard for most of his life outside, but he had fallen headfirst in his own backyard. He had many wives and concubines, and compared to the old emperor’s, there were still even more and they weren’t inferior. He also treated women well, and he couldn’t be in two places at once, so he would frequently have leaders of opera troupes sing songs in the village to relieve his wives’ and concubines’ boredom.
However, one day, a concubine who wasn’t favored had listened to the “Romance of the West Chamber 2,” and she had actually resolutely eloped with a disciple in the village. Liu Guizang had instantly flown into a rage and pursued them for thousands of miles, chasing them all the way from Liuzhou to the North. At the last moment when they were about to leave the border, he had caught these two people. He had taken the man to the top of Tai Mountain and grinded his bones, scattering the powder, and sank the woman’s bones in the East Sea, making it so that they wouldn’t be able to see each other, even after death.
This matter had spread around the streets of marketplaces for a long time. Some tsked and said that Liu Guizang was cruel and ruthless, and some sympathized with the tragic end of the man and women. This went on until Noble Consort Li in the palace gave birth to the second prince, and the emperor had been overjoyed and proclaimed a general amnesty. All of the common people’s attention had shifted, and only then was this matter considered over.
Xiahou Lian felt that Liu Guizang only wanted to save his face. That concubine hadn’t been favored in the courtyard, yet she had been ruthlessly hunted down like this. Ultimately, it was because she had given Liu Guizang the reputation of being a cuckold.
He just didn’t know how the saber skills of the grandmaster of saber skills compared to Xiahou Pei? The abbot had once said that his mother had no hatred, no filth and no feeling, and had all images of life and death. Although Xiahou Lian was used to being ignorant and incompetent so he hadn’t understood what the abbot had said at all, the meaning of this should be praising that his mother was very powerful.
The snow fell more and more quickly. The rustling sound was overwhelming, and Xiahou Lian stepped on the backs of his shoes as he pushed open the window. The mountaintop was already white where he looked.
Liuzhou, night, pelting rain.
In the dense forest, tree shadows danced, and the tall beeches were like ghosts standing erect. The assassin passed through the forest, panting, every step pressing a bloody footprint down damp rotten branches and withered leaves.
Behind her, tens of mountain village disciples pursued her relentlessly, the cold lights of the long sabers in their hands like snow.
Where was her sheath? Where was the person to aid her?
She had been running for a long time, but the expected person who should have appeared was late in showing up. For the first time, there was consternation in her eyes.
The pain in her shoulders and back was like a burning fire. The wounds on the side of her waist, her arm, and her thigh were like holes one after another, and all of the little blood and strength she had left poured out from them. It was as if the disciples of Jingdao Mountain Village could foretell things. On every path of her escape, they had planted people who were lying in wait. It was impossible for her to retreat, and impossible for her to dodge.
She finally stopped. Thousands of rain arrows poured down from the endless blue dome of the sky, and each one fiercely stabbed her overburdened shoulders and back.
It hurt, pain that was engraved in her bones and inscribed in her heart.
The disciples surrounded her from all directions, the icy tips of their sabers pointing toward the assassin who was at a dead end.
“You already have no path to go, Garuda, surrender yourself!”
How many years had it been; it had already been a very long time since she had heard such words. The last time she had heard them had been fifteen years ago, when more than thirty people had surrounded her way to go. Using her one Hengbo, she had cut off the heads of fifteen people, pierced the hearts of seven people, and chopped off the hands and feet of eight people. She had left with her entire body covered in blood, like an Asura from hell.
Achieving fame from the victory of one battle. Since then, the Garuda had been synonymous with the chilling Yama, and as long as someone in the world saw Hengbo, they would know that death was approaching.
She laughed evilly, the same as usual, wildly arrogant and extremely unbridled. “No path to go? The paths of life and death are paths all the same. Am I scared of you?”
Hengbo Saber was horizontally in front of her chest, like an arc of moonlight. The assassin was ready to go, and every stroke of her saber was sure to cut off a head.
“Hold on!” A low voice suddenly sounded.
The disciples all backed away toward two sides, clearing out a narrow road. In the heavy rain, a tall man was holding a saber as he slowly approached.
“Your enemy is me, Garuda.” Liu Guizang stopped, standing outside of three feet away from Xiahou Pei. This was the safest distance that would also allow him to attack the fastest. Their sabers were only three feet, so a saber had no way of reaching this distance. However, they weren’t far from being three feet away, and they only had to take one step forward. They were on the verge of a battle.
“I’ve waited for you for a very long time, and I knew you would come sooner or later. I’m the world’s best saber, so I’d naturally be assassinated by you, the world’s best assassin.” Liu Guizang was a burly, middle-aged man. His hair was graying, and the wrinkles on his face were like ravines after ravines. His gaze was somber yet sharp, and when he looked at others, it always made them associate him with an eagle.
“Apologies.” Xiahou Pei raised her mouth into a provocative smile. “The world’s best assassin is me, and the world’s best saber is also me.”
“Sure enough, you’re arrogant.” Liu Guizang laughed extremely lightly. His smile was very stiff, as if he was forcibly pulling the corners of his mouth up. “Any title is given by the common people. It’s not important whether you’re the world’s best or not, the crux is how those idiots view it. I’m very curious about your saber techniques, but I won’t be defeated by you. You’re destined to die here. Then, the world will know that I, Liu Guizang, killed you, the Garuda.”
Xiahou Pei smirked, and an infuriating ridicule was written all over the corners of her eyes and the tips of her eyebrows. “Hey, ugly thing, do you know why there’s no way you can become the world’s best saber?”
Liu Guizang didn’t mind what Xiahou Pei had called him and asked, “Why?”
“To become the world’s best saber, of course you have to first become a saber. You have so many devious thoughts, so just accept your fate and be a person!” Xiahou Pei lowered herself slightly and pounced forward, as abruptly as a leopard. Hengbo struck Liu Guizang’s blade, the swift and fierce light of the saber flying out.
Liu Guizang leaned back and met another blow from Xiahou Pei. “What an assassin with a mind as calm as still water. Don’t you want to know why you’re going to die here?”
Xiahou Pei was dismissive. “I don’t have time to talk nonsense with you, I still have a fool at home waiting for me to eat. I’m in a fucking hurry!”
In an instant, the light of her saber overwhelmingly enveloped Liu Guizang. It was as if the heavy rain that filled the sky feared the continuous momentum of Xiahou Pei’s saber that could topple mountains and overturn seas, and it all avoided that sharp blade. Liu Guizang’s eyes practically couldn’t keep up with Xiahou Pei’s saber, and he could only rely on his keen sense of danger that had accumulated over the years to dodge those chops that were like thunderbolts.
This was impossible, impossible! Xiahou Pei had already been covered with cuts and bruises, so how could she still be so agile?
In the dark night, the woman’s eyes were like the pupils of a demon, and his every movement and even his next movement could be seen through by them. However, after all, she wasn’t a demon. Liu Guizang calmly felt her breaths and the momentum of her saber. She was a person, so she would be tired, and even more so exhausted.
Sure enough, it was finally difficult for Xiahou Pei to continue. The momentum of her saber was interrupted, and a blunder appeared in her dense saber techniques. The ferociousness from just then had been nothing more than the ephemeral blooming of a flower, the last glow of the setting sun. Liu Guizang seized the opportunity and sent out a stab of his saber toward Xiahou Pei’s heart.
Xiahou Pei gritted her teeth and blocked that fatal stab at the cost of her shoulder. Then, she raised her left hand and shot out an arrow from inside her sleeve. The short arrow sliced through the dark night, piercing Liu Guizang’s right eye.
He had forgotten that she was a sabersman, but more so an assassin.
Liu Guizang yelled out in pain, and the disciples all held up his body that was about to fall. Xiahou Pei leaned against a tree trunk and panted as she laughed. “This is great, you’ve turned into a one-eyed ugly thing.”
“Disciples, kill this woman!” Liu Guizang used his remaining eye to stare at Xiahou Pei. He roared sinisterly, “Behead her, separate her limbs, and dump her corpse into the marketplace to be exposed to the sun and wind and laughed at by thousands of people. Let everyone know the Garuda’s end!”
The disciples rushed forward, like raptors pouncing toward their prey. Xiahou Pei roared loudly, like a lone wolf that lived toward death, an Asura that lived bathed in blood. She swung her saber, cutting through the dark night.
In the dark dome of the sky, there wasn’t a single star. There were only the countless ferocious raindrops hitting her face.
She recalled several years ago, when she had been standing on the top of Black-Faced Buddha, and a black-clothed monk had come behind her.
“You should give me Xiahou Lian, too.”
“Hey, damned bald donkey, don’t tell me you’re going to go back on your word.”
“You’re invincible because you have no cares. When you wield Hengbo, it’s like you’re wielding your own arms. Now, Hengbo has a hindrance, and it’ll become heavier. There will be a day when you won’t be able to wield it anymore.”
The top of Black-Faced Buddha overlooked the entire big mountain. Xiahou Pei raised her eyes, looking far into the distance. The soughing of the wind in the pines surged like sea tides, ebbing and flowing, rising one after another. She exhausted her eyesight and seemed to see the afterimage of a dirty child leaping in the big trees. In her eyes, there were suddenly ripples from a breeze sweeping across waves, and in every ripple mark, there was hidden an indescribable gentleness. It was an expression she had never had before.
“What are you afraid of?” She remembered saying at the time, “There will be a day when he becomes a true man of indomitable spirit. Then, I won’t need to wield Hengbo anymore.”
Blood and rain mixed together as they splashed on her face, and the sound of flesh and bone tearing was so close. She saw that on the disciples’ faces, some had fear, some had ferociousness, and some had frenzy. They engaged in a fierce battle in the heavy rain, clashing with each other, only stopping at death.
This was the last time she would swing her saber. For an instant, she seemed to see that child who had stars in his eyes.
Promise me, do not be afraid. From now on, you will be alone, fighting all night long. But even when the wind and rain sweep across the dim sky and it is as dark as iron, your enemies and thorns will still be crushed into mud by your feet.
May your saber and sword be indestructible, may you not be invaded by wind and rain, and, in the deepest parts of the endless dark night, may you finally see the dawn.
Five sabers cut into her left arm, and three sabers hit her calves. She knelt on the ground at once, and behind her back, countless sharp blades stabbed her body. She fell to the ground, her head broken and bleeding. Hengbo landed underneath the disciples’ feet, and it was stepped into the mud. Xiahou Pei used her last bit of strength to draw a dagger from her waist and cut her own face, one slice after another. The sabers at her back stopped cutting, and the disciples changed to using their feet to trample, kick, and step. This way, more people could join in on the attacks against the Garuda. All of the bones in her body were already broken, and her mangled left hand hung disorderly on her body. When the disciples flipped her over, she had already stopped breathing for a long time.
Liu Guizang ordered the disciples to pull her up. Two disciples each pulled one of the Garuda’s hands, standing her up. However, her left hand suddenly broke, and the Garuda’s body crookedly went down again. The disciples held her waist, lifting her up again.
Liu Guizang picked up Hengbo that had been on the ground, and cut off the Garuda’s head with a single stroke of the saber.