Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
When Xiahou Lian woke up, he was blank for a while.
He seemed to have had a very scary nightmare. In the dream, his mother had died. She had been beheaded, her appearance had been beyond recognition, and her body had been dumped in the marketplace. Only after a long while passed did he react extremely slowly and extremely painfully: that hadn’t been a dream.
She was still lying there, and he was going to find her!
Right when he opened the door, he was pushed back into the room by Uncle Duan. Qiu Ye followed behind him and walked in.
“Uncle, what are you doing! My mother…”
“I know!” Uncle Duan interrupted him. “Quickly, pack your things and come back to Garan with us in a bit.”
“What about my mother! I’m going to find my mother!” Xiahou Lian held back tears as he shouted.
“Bastard! Right now, the streets are filled with Liu Guizang’s disciples. They’re going door to door to search for you! If you go out to find the Garuda now, you’ll be caught before you even get next to the edge of her clothes. What kind of death are you seeking! Don’t give me more trouble, pack your things as early as possible and go back to the mountain!”
Xiahou Lian stood silently, his fists clenched tightly and his fingernails practically embedded in his flesh.
Qiu Ye sighed, and there was desolation of the dry wind sweeping away fallen leaves in his eyes. He stood by the window and looked through the thin window screen at the disciples whose hands were pressed on their sabers and who came and went on the street. Xiahou Pei’s corpse wasn’t leaning to the side and was lying in the center of the street, her empty eye sockets gazing at the starless dome of the sky.
“I’m not leaving,” said Xiahou Lian.
“I’m not leaving.” Xiahou Lian raised his blood-red eyes. “I’m going to bury my mother’s body, and I’m going to kill Liu Guizang!”
Uncle Duan laughed in anger. “Do you know who Liu Guizang is, even your mother couldn’t beat him. Can you?! What are you going to use to kill his three thousand disciples, and what are you going to use to withstand his Qi Clan Saber? When the time comes, you’re going to be like your mother, dead on the street for people to laugh at! Just right, one of you and your mother will be in the north market, and the other will be in the south alley, making everyone happy when they see it!”
Qiu Ye frowned and berated, “Duan Jiu!”
“But I can’t let her lie there, never!” Xiahou Lian wiped his tears. He couldn’t drive Xiahou Pei’s rotten appearance out of his mind. She was such a proud person, so how could she bear being exposed to the sun and wind and the bites of insects and rats? How much pain would she be in?
“Xiao Lian,” said Qiu Ye, “why do you think Xiahou Pei’s appearance is beyond recognition?”
Xiahou Lian looked at Qiu Ye with red eyes.
“It’s because she didn’t want you to recognize her, and she didn’t want you to take revenge. The Garuda is Garan’s best saber. She’s never been afraid of sabers and swords, nor has she ever feared life or death. She’s acted recklessly and unscrupulously for her entire life, doing whatever she wants without a tie in the world. Only you, Xiao Lian, you’re her only fetter in this world.”
“She didn’t want me to recognize her, nor did she want me to save her and take revenge. But how can I… how can I…” Xiahou Lian choked with sobs. “Do you want me to watch helplessly as she’s trampled by people yet be completely indifferent!”
“No, Xiao Lian, what she wanted wasn’t for you to seek your death. She wanted you to live on, to do your best to live on.”
His grief was like dust, airtight layers upon layers sealing Xiahou Lian’s heart. What was so good about living, and what was so bad about dying? Could it be that in order to live, he could let his mother’s corpse be dumped into the marketplace and eat and drink himself, and everything would be the same as before?
Xiahou Lian didn’t say anything. He still picked up his saber and pushed open the door, going out.
Downstairs, there was a table of spies and a table of assassins. It turned out that not only Qiu Ye and Duan Jiu had come; the rest of Garan’s Eight Legions had arrived here.
Right when Xiahou Lian came out of the door, eleven pairs of eyes looked at him in unison. Everyone was silent, like expressionless statues.
Xiahou Lian pursed his lips tightly and walked down the stairs. Suddenly, an arrow sliced past the side of his waist, and blood instantly gushed in torrents. Xiahou Lian looked back, and Duan Jiu asked in uncontrollable fury, “Xiahou Lian, are you going to fight Liu Guizang with a wound?”
Xiahou Lian didn’t speak and still walked down.
Another arrow hit the back of his knee, and Xiahou Lian instantly knelt down. He held the handle for support as he stood up, the veins on the back of his hands bulging. He dragged his injured leg and limped down. All of the assassins’ gazes followed him, and no one could clearly say the meaning inside them. It was probably them grieving for their fellow being, and it was probably sorrowful grief.
Duan Jiu shot another arrow, and Xiahou Lian completely knelt down. He tumbled from the top of the stairs to the bottom, bumping his head so that it was broken and bleeding, and his nose bruised and his face swollen. He already couldn’t stand up anymore, and both of his legs trembled. However, he still tried hard to climb up, dragging out two glaring streaks of blood.
He was going to seek his death. Everyone knew this.
However, for some things, even if you knew without a doubt that you would die, it was also your duty to proceed without hesitation.
“Xiao Lian, do you still not understand?” Qiu Ye, who had been silent the entire time, suddenly spoke. “You’re only an ant.”
Qiu Ye walked down from the top of the stairs and picked up Xiahou Lian’s collar with one hand. He was originally a frail man, like a scholar who couldn’t do manual labor. However, at this moment, he picked up the seventeen-year-old Xiahou Lian and firmly pressed his face by the window, sticking to the rectangular window lattices and creamy white window screen, and made him look at the disciples that came and went outside.
“Look, the Qi Clan Saber is the best in the world. These disciples get up everyday at five in the morning and rest at nine. Their Quick-Draw Saber Technique can cut open your belly in one stroke, making your intestines flow out like water. Their Skyward Saber Technique can chop up your head, making your left eye see your right eye.” The gentle man spoke continuously and pleasantly, using the mildest tone to say the cruelest things.
Xiahou Lian silently shed tears.
“You think that dying for your mother will fulfill your filial piety and that going down to the underworld will be worthy of your mother? You’re wrong. Once you die, the whole world will know that Liu Guizang killed the Garuda and her son. Only then will he be worthy of being the world’s best saber and then command heroes, a hundred responding to his one call. He’ll sit in and own the martial arts world with unparalleled pleasure. And you, you and your mother, will only be his stepping stones, the thickest and most colorful stroke in his record of merits, two sewer rats that died under the saber of the village leader of Jingdao Mountain Village.” Qiu Ye’s voice unhurriedly echoed in his ears. “Are you satisfied with this? Xiao Lian?”
Xiahou Lian seemed to have lost his soul, and he blankly let Qiu Ye hold his neck. Tears blurred his eyes, and everything didn’t look real anymore.
Shame, hatred, and sorrow rushed left and dashed right in his heart, colliding so that blood dripped. However, what caused him even more pain was the confusion and helplessness. Besides hiding like a turtle in its shell, he actually couldn’t do anything else.
Outside, Liu Guizang came, riding on his horse. The horse’s hooves tapped, turning two circles around Xiahou Pei’s corpse.
Qiu Ye’s hand that held Xiahou Lian tightened, and he looked intently out the window. The assassins also crowded up, cautiously poking out small holes on the window paper and peeping at the street.
“Your name is Xiahou Lian, right! I know that you’re the Garuda’s son,” Liu Guizang shouted loudly.
Xiahou Lian shook practically imperceptibly. Qiu Ye held him down, not letting him move in the slightest.
“Good-for-nothing,” Liu Guizang looked down at Xiahou Pei’s corpse and chuckled in ridicule, “your own mother is lying here, yet you hide like a turtle in its shell and won’t come out. What, is the Garuda’s son actually a coward who doesn’t even dare to face me?”
The night was like ink, gloomy, as if it was about to drip down. The two sides of the street were residences, and under the dim night, countless pairs of terrified eyes looked through the thin window papers, spying on Liu Guizang, who was riding on a tall and big horse. Liu Guizang looked around in a circle and still didn’t see the figure of the person he wanted to see.
He waved his hand. When the right-hand disciple received the order, he blew a whistle.
At the street corner, the wild barking of vicious dogs sounded. In the dark night that was so deep it couldn’t be dissolved, one tall and two short shadows appeared. A disciple led two wolfdogs and walked over, and the wolfdogs sniffed around as they walked. Their entire bodies were covered in glossy fur, their eyes shot out a hungry, green light, and muddy saliva leaked from the gaps in their fangs.
Xiahou Lian shivered.
“You sewage bedbugs. Sure enough, you disown everyone you’re close to.” Liu Guizang said, “Xiahou Lian, if I let the dogs eat up your mother without even leaving a speck, would you still not come out?”
As if a clap of thunder had struck the top of his head, Xiahou Lian’s entire body was shocked. Instantly, fury engulfed his chest and he moved, wanting to rush out. Qiu Ye held him tightly, and the assassins also crowded up. Some held his legs, some pressed his hands down, and they didn’t even forget to cover his mouth up. Xiahou Lian’s veins bulged, and he gnashed his teeth so that they rattled. Fury and humiliation were like thunderbolts as they rolled past inside his body, practically about to burn him into ashes.
But he couldn’t do anything. He could only watch helplessly, and he watched those two dogs snort as they sniffed his mother’s corpse. The disciple raised a whip and fiercely lashed it on the wolfdogs. The wolfdogs barked a few times in fear, and then began to bite and tear Xiahou Pei’s mangled corpse.
The rotten flesh was bitten open, piece by piece, and swallowed into their bellies, soon revealing a white skeleton.
Xiahou Lian’s tears gushed. The assassins turned their heads away, and someone let out a low sigh.
“Xiahou Lian, don’t be impulsive anymore.” The assassin pressing his hands down spoke gloomily. Xiahou Lian recognized him; he was the newly appointed Mahoraga. “Don’t you understand why Xiahou Pei died?”
Xiahou Lian was stunned.
“It’s because of you.” An assassin under him said, “At the time, if you hadn’t let that young master go, Xiahou Pei wouldn’t have had to bear the whipping for you, and she wouldn’t have had wounds on top of wounds so that her former chronic wounds wouldn’t heal for many years.”
“Her wounds were made more severe by rain, and Liuzhou is rainy in the winter. The heavens wanted to take her, and there was nothing we could do.”
It was because of him, it was all because of him. This sentence was like a curse, repeating nonstop in Xiahou Lian’s ears.
It was him who had been willful and reckless, and it was him who had deserted and rebelled, leading to the horrible sight of Xiahou Pei today. It was all because of him.
Liu Guizang waited for a long time, but he still didn’t see anyone. He swung down from his horse and stepped onto Xiahou Pei’s head. “Xiahou Lian, do you want your mother’s chopped-off head to also be buried in the dogs’ bellies? I’ll count to ten. After ten counts, your mother’s head will become the dogs’ rations.”
Uncle Duan said angrily, “Pull Xiao Lian back, don’t let him watch anymore!”
The assassins pulled Xiahou Lian by the table and pressed him to make him sit down. Xiahou Lian was like a lifeless puppet, blankly sitting on the stool. Those eyes were completely impassive and without light. He was silent, as if a dark cloud was shrouding his entire body. However, even though he kept silent, all of the assassins could perceive the suffocating sorrow on his body.
“Ten, nine, eight, seven…”
Xiahou Lian was unmoving, and it was as if he couldn’t hear Liu Guizang’s countdown, like an unconscious puppet.
“Three, two, one!” Liu Guizang said loudly, “Xiahou Lian, you good-for-nothing!”
He let his feet go, and the two dogs scrambled to bite and tear the rotten flesh on Xiahou Pei’s face. Soon, there was already nothing left of half of her face.
Xiahou Lian stood up, and the assassins surrounded him.
“I’m going to sleep.” His voice was hoarse like coarse sand, astringent and inaudible.
He turned and climbed up the stairs, his entire body trembling. His leg had been injured, so he teetered with every step. No one went up to help him. An assassin’s path must be walked on by the assassin themself, whether it was a thicket of thorns or the path of an Asura.
Behind him, behind the door of the inn, the two wolfdogs chomped on Xiahou Pei’s head. Even her bones shattered between the sharp teeth, and the sounds of swallowing and spitting passed through the slit of the door and passed through the windowsill, going straight into Xiahou Lian’s ears.
Xiahou Lian didn’t look back. Step by step, like a dog without a home, he crawled back to his room.
The night was silent and still. There weren’t even any dog barks, and it was as if the entire city was dead.
Xiahou Lian hugged his knees as he leaned against the side of the bed. His tears had already dried. He was a boy, and he originally shouldn’t cry. When he was younger, Xiahou Pei would be annoyed when he cried, saying that he was a sissy and crybaby. Xiahou Lian naturally didn’t like hearing these words, so every time he wanted to cry, he would forcibly hold it back. If he couldn’t hold it back, he would bite his fist, not making a sound even if he died.
Now, no one cared whether he cried or not anymore. He could cry from night until dawn, and no one would ever scold him again that he was a crybaby, like a girl.
The door suddenly opened, and Uncle Duan walked in.
He handed Xiahou Lian a saber, and Xiahou Lian took it. It turned out to be Hengbo.
As he held the icy scabbard in his hands, Xiahou Lian’s heart was fiercely stabbed. He didn’t say anything and only hugged Hengbo in his arms.
“I picked this up from the forest outside the city. Fortunately, I could still find Hengbo so you can keep a memento.” Uncle Duan said, “Speaking of it, I’ve known Xiahou for twenty years. She was an innate sabersmen. When others are assassins, they’d have to suffer a little no matter what, undergoing arduous training, and can only slowly have a bit of a title. But losing is inevitable no matter what, and our thoughts are very simple. If we can do it then we do, but keeping our lives is our top priority.
“But your mother was different. She was a natural, and since her debut, she had never lost and had never been defeated. In the Central Plains, people call her the Garuda, and in the Western Regions, she’s known as the ‘Avolu.’ ‘Avolu’ means the devil.”
Xiahou Lian was still silent, and his eyes were like a dried-up well. Uncle Duan didn’t know if he had heard what he had said or not. He sighed and spoke again. “Xiao Lian, you have to remember that your father is Garan’s abbot. Thirty years ago, he swept the Central Plains, and no one dared to resist Buddha Shi Xin. Your mother was Garan’s Garuda, the Western Regions’ Avolu, and the world’s sharpest weapon. The blood of assassins flows in your body, so you are a natural-born assassin.
“Your brother, Chi Yan, inherited Shi Xin’s saber skills. Find him, Xiao Lian. Learn the world’s strongest saber techniques from him.”
Xiahou Lian lifted his eyes, his pitch-black and lightless eyes reflected Uncle Duan’s face. He hoarsely repeated the name of his brother that he had never met. “Chi Yan.”
“Right, he lives at the top of Black-Faced Buddha. Besides the abbot, no one knows the path to the top of Black-Faced Buddha, so you can only rely on yourself and climb up. Use rope, use daggers, and no matter what you use, find him. Xiao Lian, you have to replace your mother and become the strongest assassin. Only when you become the strongest will you be able to defeat Liu Guizang.”
The grieving youth’s body was hidden in the darkness. Uncle Duan couldn’t see his eyes and could only see his lean hands holding Hengbo. With that kind of usage of all of his strength, it was as if his fingers were about to break. Uncle Duan suddenly had a feeling that what he was holding wasn’t a saber, but instead his life.
The assassins began planning their withdrawal from Liuzhou. They planned to retreat in groups, and Xiahou Lian was in the first group.
They chose a sunny day. Qiu Ye, Duan Jiu, and Xiahou Lian rode on horses as they left the city. The open country was boundless, and what entered their eyes were withered trees and crows, slab bridges and stone roads. Faint clouds floated along the horizon, like a freehand painting using extremely light ink. The colors underneath them were a little darker, outlining the endless mountains.
A mile out of the city, Xiahou Lian suddenly stopped his horse.
Qiu Ye and Duan Jiu turned their heads in surprise to look at him.
These few days, he had been silent for a long time, and practically hadn’t said anything. Qiu Ye had had people take turns to watch him, afraid that he would do something foolish. However, he hadn’t done anything at all. He ate when it was time to eat, he slept when it was time to sleep, and he hadn’t even stepped near the threshold of the front door. He was still a child, and no one could expect a child to swiftly walk out of the pain of losing their mother. However, he had even stopped shedding tears, and he was frighteningly well-behaved.
“What are you doing?” asked Uncle Duan.
Xiahou Lian dismounted his horse and didn’t answer. He directly knelt beside the road and kowtowed three times in the direction of Liuzhou.
“Unfilial son Xiahou Lian, saying goodbye to my mother here! I cannot live under the same sky as the enemy who killed my mother. From now on, Xiahou Lian and Jingdao Mountain Village, and Liu Guizang, will not stop until death!”
Qiu Ye walked to his side. “Xiao Lian, do you know that if you create a karma of killing, you will be killed in retribution? Our hands are covered in blood, and our crimes are inexpiable. Today was to be expected, so why do you refuse to realize your error? Listen to me and don’t brood on this, you should live your own life. When will the mutual revenge end, if you kill Liu Guizang, Liu Guizang’s descendants and disciples will also come to kill you, so why bother?”
“Shifu,” Xiahou Lian didn’t look back, and his back as he knelt was chilly and desolate. “In this life and in this world, I, Xiahou Lian, will not marry a wife, will not have children, will not accept disciples, and will not make friends. All evil debts will end with me. When I am killed, everything will cease.”
In the winter, the open country’s vegetation was decayed, and the wind soughed.
Xiahou Lian’s words were an oath, and also a punishment.
Qiu Ye watched as Xiahou Lian stood up and left from beside him.
The piercingly cold wind unscrupulously pulled his hair, and his tattered black robes swished from being blown. This child who had been lawless since childhood had been forced to grow up by grief and hatred, just like this. When he lifted his eyes, Qiu Ye’s heart throbbed fiercely.
Those eyes belonged to a wounded lone wolf.
Qiu Ye knew that the moment it healed, it would bring sharp claws and fangs as it returned from afar, taking revenge on everyone who had trampled that assassin.