Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
As if it faintly came from beyond distant mountains and rivers, Xiahou Lian heard Xiahou Pei’s call in the daze of his sleep. He rubbed his eyes and sat up from the bed, muddedly opening the door. The cold wind outside surged in, making him shiver violently.
“Mother? You’re back?” he shouted.
No one answered.
When he opened Xiahou Pei’s door, the inside was the same as yesterday, and there was no trace at all that someone had come. Xiahou Lian finally panicked in his heart, and he hastily put on his coat and ran to Qiu Ye’s house.
Qiu Ye was feeding chickens, and a few chicken feathers had stuck on his felt hat. Xiahou Lian shouted through the fence, “Shifu, my mother still hasn’t come back!”
“Maybe she was delayed on the way. Xiao Lian, don’t worry.” Qiu Ye looked up at him.
“I know,” said Xiahou Lian, “that she must be delayed on the way. I just want to go and pick her up. The heavy snow has sealed the mountain, so I’m worried my mother won’t be able to recognize the way.”
Qiu Ye said softly, “Go, Xiao Lian. Remember to go to the abbot’s bowl to get medicine, no one can stop you.”
Xiahou Lian nodded heavily and turned, running off.
The collapsing mountain temple was dilapidated, and the withered stakes and girders were bare and exposed outside. It couldn’t block the howling cold winds on the mountain and could only let them sweep the temple’s main hall. A black-clothed monk was sitting with his hands and feet folded under the feet of the jet-black Buddha statue, his fingers carrying a stick to knock on the wooden fish 1 from time to time. Xiahou Lian tiptoed as he approached behind the abbot, and stretched his hands to reach for the bowl next to the round cushion 2, in which it was filled with jet-black pills.
There weren’t too many or too little pills; there were just enough for the total number of assassins. Xiahou Lian took two and quietly backed away. When he backed out of the hall, the abbot opened his eyes as if he had just woken up, and turned a page in his scripture.
Xiahou Lian stole Uncle Duan’s old horse and a jar of wine and carried a cloth bundle on his back. He passed through the boundless wind and snow, going down the mountain. No one knew how he had gotten out of the mountain. When he appeared at the foot of the mountain, his entire person was like a snowman, and the villagers at the foot of the mountain even thought that he was an immortal from the snowy mountain.
The old horse was already at its dying breath. Xiahou Lian switched horses, pressing forward during day and night, heading straight for Liuzhou.
Liuzhou wasn’t very big, as it was a distance of five hundred meters 3 from south to north. When Xiahou Lian arrived, it was early morning. He dismounted from his horse at the city gate and looked for spies using his map.
Garan had stationed five spies in Liuzhou. Each spy was in charge of a secret den, and the assassins would call the secret dens post houses, since they were places the assassins could stay in. The secret dens were hidden in the spies’ houses; some had cellars, and some had secret rooms behind a cabinet. The spies were usually common people, and some even had houses that were nothing but bare walls. However, when they pushed open the valve of the secret den, one would see that the inside was covered with a Russian carpet, and that the walls were embedded with luminous pearls that were used for lighting. Even the chamber pots were made of gold, and the secret dens in the capital even provided prostitutes with enchanting figures for company.
The abbot was so stingy that he wasn’t even willing to repair the mountain temple, yet he decorated the secret dens resplendently. It was only so the assassins could adjust to their best form and swing down that planned fatal stroke of their saber.
Xiahou Pei usually didn’t stay in secret dens. She felt that they were too cramped and stuffy, and the dishes that some secret dens made weren’t to her taste. Every year, she would go to Qiu Ye’s and rob a skin mask, and then unscrupulously stay at the best inn in the city and go to the best restaurant to eat and drink. When she was in the mood for it, she would even fight with drunkards, one against many. Xiahou Pei was an assassin who walked alone, yet she liked to stay in crowded places. When she would still take Xiahou Lian down the mountain, she would often take him to temples to listen to operas, and to brothels to listen to songs. Little Xiahou Lian had been held in the girls’ arms and teased, one by one, their round and tender breasts and pungent fragrances making him dizzy.
Xiahou Lian walked from south of the city to a cosmetics shop in the east of the city, and then walked from the cosmetics shop in the east of the city to a charity organization in the west of the city. He asked all of the spies one by one, and sure enough, they said that they hadn’t seen the Garuda at all.
Xiahou Lian found the guest room she had been staying in. The manager said that she had paid rent for three months, but she had only stayed for half of a month. The manager hadn’t kept the room and had given it to another guest.
She still hadn’t brought a sheath. Xiahou Lian angrily kicked the foot of the wall; now, he didn’t even have a single clue. She didn’t ask the higher-ups to arrange a sheath to aid her assassination, so the higher-ups wouldn’t give orders to go to the place. In addition, she didn’t stay in secret dens, so Liuzhou’s spies naturally wouldn’t know her whereabouts.
Perhaps she had already left the city and had just happened to miss him. Xiahou Lian carried his cloth bundle as he walked on the streets. It was near noon, so there were a lot more people. Peddlers and servants carried shoulder poles and loads on them as they walked back and forth, shouting so loudly they practically shook the heavens. There were also some who pushed manure carts, placing stacks of manure barrels next to the river. The openings of the manure barrels were turned upside-down, the river water babbled as it rushed in, and they were clean at once. Some led children, some pulled wives along, some were dressed in gold, some wore silver, some were barefoot… They jostled one another in the crowd.
Xiahou Lian walked to the north market. Here, they sold steamed buns in the early morning and rice noodle soup mixed with rice in the afternoon, as well as all kinds of gadgets. It was Liuzhou City’s busiest area. There was a crowd of people at the front, and he didn’t know what they were pointing at, so Xiahou Lian walked next to them and took a glance. It was a putrid corpse, with all of its flesh rotten. Yellow and white maggots crawled in and out of the rotten flesh, and flies buzzed as they flew around it.
Xiahou Lian hastily walked away, so nauseous that he didn’t even want to eat anymore.
In the afternoon, Xiahou Lian walked to the gate of Jingdao Mountain Village and took a look. Everything was normal in the mountain village. Two fierce-looking servants were guarding the gate, and no white flags had been hung up, nor were there signs of funeral arrangements. Xiahou Lian’s heart sank. He asked around everywhere whether there had been any major events recently in Jingdao Mountain Village, but everyone kept silent, as if mentioning the mountain village would kill him.
Without a doubt, Xiahou Pei had lost, but where had she gone? Perhaps she had been injured and had no way of hurrying on with her journey, so she could only hide first. Xiahou Lian became even more worried.
He passed by that corpse again. This time, Xiahou Lian had learned from experience and covered his nose as he walked around it with quick steps.
If she had been injured, why wouldn’t she go to a secret den to recuperate? If she hadn’t been injured, then she had left, and she should have just happened to miss him. At present, maybe she had already arrived at Garan and was snoring loudly in her sleep at home. Xiahou Lian went to the post house and sent a letter to Garan Village at the foot of the mountain, asking them if they had seen Xiahou Pei return to the mountain.
As the sun set in the west, the slow and heavy golden light shone on the bluestone road, and the tips of the moss glistened. Xiahou Lian had been walking for a day, and his feet were about to break. He randomly picked a step and sat down, pulling out the canteen in his cloth bundle and drinking some water. This happened to be the street corner of the north market. In the evening, everyone had already dispersed, and only a lonely shelf was left in the stalls. On the ground, there were tanghulus 4 that children had dropped, and they rolled around wildly in the wind.
There was finally no one near the corpse anymore. The lone corpse laid on the street, its clothes tattered, its hair disheveled, and its face dirty. Xiahou Lian felt that he was a little pitiful.
He had been beheaded, and his left hand was also broken. Someone had strung a rope in, and it hung on the empty neck. The head had rolled to the side. Xiahou Lian remembered that it originally hadn’t been there, so he reckoned that someone had kicked it there. At this moment, his face just happened to be facing Xiahou Lian, and his two empty eye sockets gazed in Xiahou Lian’s direction.
The golden sunset covered the entire street, and the corpse’s body was also coated with a thin layer of gold. Xiahou Lian looked at him in silence. His face suddenly felt cold, and Xiahou Lian touched his face. He had actually started crying at some point.
As if possessed by a ghost, Xiahou Lian stood up and walked toward the corpse, step by step. The head clearly wouldn’t move, but Xiahou Lian felt that those two big and hollow eye sockets had been looking at him the entire time, looking at him approach step by step, and finally stopping at his side.
Xiahou Lian brushed aside the braid that covered his face. That face was already torn and tattered, and he could tell that it had been fiercely sliced by a saber. Who had had such a deep hatred for him? Since they had dumped his corpse in the marketplace, it was probably because they wanted to humiliate him, but why would they also destroy his appearance?
There were countless saber wounds on his body, and his shoulders and back had practically been cut into pulp, the bones broken into pieces. A fat maggot crawled out of the mud-like rotten flesh, wriggling at the tips of Xiahou Lian’s fingers.
Exactly who was he?
Xiahou Lian was a little afraid, and he wanted to stand up and leave this place. However, it was as if a hand was holding his shoulder, making him unable to move.
In the next instant, his gaze somehow landed on the corners of the corpse’s tattered clothes.
It was the most ordinary coarse linen clothes, made of black material, and the corners of the clothes weren’t closed well. The stitches were very messy, and thread even flowed out. One could tell that the craft of the person who had sewn the clothes wasn’t very passable.
Xiahou Lian looked at the corners of the clothes, and his mind became empty. In that moment, he seemed to lose all five senses. He couldn’t hear any sounds, nor could he see any other things. Everything was far away from him, and he could only look at the thin corner of the clothes.
He had sewn it himself.
Xiahou Pei didn’t know how to sew clothes, so when she sewed clothes, after sewing up the old holes, new holes would appear. Forced by life, Xiahou Lian could only pick up the needle and thread, cut the cloth, and sew her clothes. Even the embroidery had been done by him. He had made this item of clothing last fall. Xiahou Pei had complained that her original old clothes were worn-out and had brazenly wanted Xiahou Lian to cut one out for her. She had even shamelessly said that she couldn’t get used to wearing ones that other people cut out, and that only the clothes her own son made were intimate.
It was a trick, right. He must have seen wrong. Why would the clothes he had made be worn on the body of a complete stranger? His mother must still be waiting someplace for him to find her, she must, she must!
Xiahou Lian covered his mouth forcibly, not letting the sounds of his sobs spill out from his throat. However, his tears flowed, unable to stop, slipping from his eyelashes and landing on his hands, each one like a burning hot brand.
He suddenly recognized her. Her appearance was incomplete, but her bones were still remnant of Xiahou Pei’s shadow. He realized that this ugly corpse belonged to his mother, Xiahou Pei.
Unspeakable grief pressed down on his shoulders, like heavy iron. Mournful sorrow wandered in his bloodstream, and he wanted to rage and he wanted to roar, but when he opened his mouth, there were only low and hoarse sobs. His hands trembled as he picked up Xiahou Pei’s corpse. She was as light as a cloud, and it seemed as if she would shatter with a light touch. She was indeed shattered, as there actually wasn’t a single complete bone under her rotten flesh.
He could practically imagine how those terrible long sabers had stabbed into her body, one swing after another, and how they had chopped her bones up, one piece after another. He could practically see that nightmarish night, and how the Garuda’s head had rolled off her neck.
His mind was a chaotic mess. For a moment, it was Xiahou Pei snatching roasted sweet potatoes in his childhood; for a moment, it was her jet-black back that was like a withered bamboo in the rainy night at Lu Manor; for another moment, it was her willful smile when she wielded her saber. In the end, her voice and laughter fell on this muddy and rotten corpse, and everything became still.
Heavy footsteps sounded from the end of the street, and the ground seemed to quake. Xiahou Lian looked up. An eagle-like man came rushing on his horse, and disciples clustered around behind him like mountains and seas. Everyone carried three-foot Qi Clan Sabers at their waists. Their left feet fell at the same time, and their right feet raised at the same time, in neat formation like an army.
He had killed his mother!
Xiahou Lian put down Xiahou Pei’s corpse, pulled his saber out of its scabbard, and roared loudly.
In that moment, he was a lone wolf in a desperate position, a wolf cub who had lost its close kin, and he bared his sharpest fangs at his enemy. He panted heavily, and his lungs were pulled open like old box bellows. His icy blade that was as bright as snow reflected his bloodshot eyes.
Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!
The frenzied thought burned in his mind like fire, and his deep and majestic anger surged wildly in his veins like a dragon snake. Xiahou Lian carried his saber, wanting to take revenge on that man.
However, just as he was about to take the first step, the moment he was preparing to rush toward his enemy, he was hit heavily on the back of his neck. The strength in his body was immediately emptied, and he went limp at once. He opened his eyes, staring firmly at that man, his graying hair and beard, and his face that seemed to have been carved by a saber.
His strength slipped away, out of his control. In the end, his eyelids were as heavy as a thousand kilograms 5, and he unwillingly closed his eyes.
In an instant, the world became dark.
- A wooden percussion instrument also known as the Chinese temple block or wooden bell.
- Specifically putuan, a round cushion best known for its use in zazen Zen meditation.
- Actually one hundred fifty zhang, a unit of measurement. One zhang is equivalent to 3.33 meters, so 150 zhang equals 500 meters.
- A traditional snack consisting of fruits covered in hard candy on skewers.
- Actually jin, a unit of measurement equal to half of a kilogram.