Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Jingdao Mountain Village, Fenglai 1 Water Pavilion.
Liu Guizang sat cross-legged on the ground, a thin and long saber with a narrow blade lying across his lap. Curtains hung all around him, swaying with the wind, like hazy fog. Outside the water pavilion, verdant trees stood in shadows. Maids stood still in the distance, waiting for his summons at any time.
This was the water pavilion he took pride in, as he had personally supervised its construction. Every stone from Huang Mountain 2 had been transported from Anhui over a very long distance, and piled into an artificial snow cave mountain right before his eyes. Here, he received esteemed guests from everywhere in the world, and listening to their voices was like listening to Shi Kuang’s White Snow in Early Spring 3
“Village Leader, Raging Tide Sect of East Sea comes to offer our saber scroll!”
“Heaven’s First Saber of Taihang Mountains comes to offer our scroll!”
“Gentleman’s Saber of West Lake comes to offer our scroll!”
He opened his eyes, and, like a lion looking down upon his territory, his eyes were filled with satisfaction and content.
“Convey orders to set up a feast. Gentlemen, enjoy yourselves as much as you can before returning!”
“Thank you, Village Leader!” Everyone bowed their heads in unison and backed out of Fenglai Water Pavilion, one after another.
Outside the curtains, clear applause suddenly sounded. Liu Guizang turned his head, squinted his eyes, and saw a black figure sitting to the right of him. He was wearing a very large hood, only revealing a bit of his chin that had a beard. Because his body was hidden behind the heavy curtains, even his figure flickered along with the swaying of the curtains.
“Congratulations to Village Leader Liu for fulfilling your heart’s desires. All saber scrolls in the world belong to Jingdao Mountain Village. You’re worthy of the title of being the first in the martial arts world and a grandmaster of the world.”
“You flatter me.” Liu Guizang slowly put down the wine cup. “Compared to your abbot, I’m still very far.”
“He’s lived in seclusion outside the world for a long time and has already faded from the people’s memory. How can he be compared to you?”
“You’re wrong.” Liu Guizang said in a low voice, “It’s precisely because he disappeared and laid low. No one can challenge him anymore, so no one can surpass his reputation. Thirty years ago, he killed a person in one step, and killed ten people in ten steps. Blood fell at his feet, and it was like there was a blood lotus at his every step. For that scene, even though I wasn’t at the killing field, just hearing the narrations of old people is like seeing it with my own eyes!”
“It’s all in the past.”
“But he’s an insurmountable myth!”
The man in black let out a low laugh. “Village Leader Liu, it turns out that you want our abbot’s life?”
“As long as you’re my mole, what’s there to be afraid of?” Liu Guizang smiled. “My friend, don’t you want to become the new abbot?”
“People really are greedy!” The man in black sighed deeply. “Buddha Shi Xin is a man who stands on the mountaintop and picks stars, so how can I, who’s like an ant, dare to contend with him?”
Liu Guizang sneered, “One thousand taels could buy the Garuda’s life. I wonder if three thousand taels is enough for Shi Xin’s life?”
“Of course it’s not enough.” The man in black smiled mysteriously. “I’m very loyal to him.”
It was as if Liu Guizang had heard a joke, and he laughed loudly. “Loyal?! Who doesn’t know that Garan of Seven Leaves works for money? What, you think three thousand taels is too little? Then four thousand taels. You don’t have to make a move, you just have to tell me where he is.”
“Village Leader Liu, you know the world’s saber techniques well, yet you don’t know every small thing about Garan.” The man in black said in a low voice, “I wonder if you’ve heard of a legend before. Many years ago, when the flames of war swept across the world, the common people were impoverished, and sabersmen relied on a saber to walk around everywhere. At that time, there was hatred among the common people, so they would write the hated people onto temple bricks, begging Buddha for mercy and to solve their enmity. In order to show their respect, they would place a bit of food before Buddha’s feet. Sometimes, it would be a few steamed buns filled with sporadic minced meat, and sometimes it would be steamed buns with sugar crumbs stuck onto them. When passing sabersmen saw the name and offerings, they would eat the food inside and take their sabers to kill the enemy with that name.
Later, this group of sabersmen came together and formed Garan. Those were the first assassins. They sat under the same eaves as and ate with thieves and robbers, and they slept in the same beds with prostitutes. As long as they heard prayers in front of Buddha, they would walk into the night with their sabers and chase and kill for thousands of miles. Those were my ancestors, and they assassinated only for food and clothing.”
“Now, it’s for money, and perhaps also for houses and women.”
“Wrong, wrong.” The man in black shook his head. “Now, we’re ghosts that walk in the night, claiming lives by names. We don’t do it for anything.”
“In the end, you just don’t dare to be Shi Xin’s enemy.” Liu Guizang looked at the man in black in contempt. “You can still give me that Xiahou Lian’s life, right.”
The man in black still shook his head.
Liu Guizang was furious, and he rose, shaking his clothes. “He’s nothing but a good-for-nothing! Having him or not having him, what’s the loss for you?”
“Wrong again.” The man in black stood up, his hands overlapping in front of his abdomen, and he walked toward the depths of the forest. “He is half of the Garuda, and he is the future of Garan. Otherwise, why would I have come here from so far away to cooperate with you, insect. A true sharp blade must be cast with hatred, and it must be forged with blood. Now, he has enough hatred, but he still needs more blood.”
“What… do you mean?” Liu Guizang widened his eyes in terror.
“Your blood will pave his path toward the head of Garan.” The man in black said, “I hope that the next time we meet, you’ll still be alive. Goodbye, Village Leader Liu.”
When the curtains shook again, the man in black had already disappeared without a trace. He left like he had come, without a trace, like a ghost appearing and disappearing into thin air. Liu Guizang’s cold sweat dripped, and he trembled as he sat down.
What did he mean, had he helped him just so he could be killed by Xiahou Lian?
He was just saying frightening things to scare him! That was a good-for-nothing who didn’t dare to come out even when his mother had been eaten bit by bit by dogs. How could he possibly take his life?
Liu Guizang stroked the longer saber in his palm and felt slightly at ease.
But the next moment, he recalled when he had been on the long street of the north market and had distantly seen that boy’s gaze, and he couldn’t help but shudder.
In the dense forest, the man in black slowly moved forward. His footsteps were unreasonably light, as if he was stepping in a void, not making any sound.
Not far away, there was a brook, and women who were washing clothes had their sleeves rolled up and trouser legs tied up as they pounded on the clothes. The sunlight was vast and rippling, and it shone on their hands and feet that were like lotus roots, white and very good-looking.
“Ah, I forgot.” The man in black murmured to himself, “He still lacks a woman. This woman has to be beautiful enough and gentle enough, and it’s best if she can heal his grief from losing his mother. Boys have to be on a woman’s bed before they can become a true man.”
Eastern Depot’s Yamen.
A fast horse ran to the gate of the yamen. The Eastern Depot underling wearing black armor who was on top of the horse leapt off, and the fast horse behind him finally whined in exhaustion as it slumped to the ground. The underling was carrying a document with the words “deliver right away” printed on it. The yamen’s guards didn’t dare to delay it, so they opened the gate and let him pass. The underling held the document in his hands and hurried the entire way, turning past the screen wall, passing through a moon gate, and going straight to the back hall.
Shen Jue was drinking hot tea. He asked, “What is it?”
The underling bent his waist and stepped across the threshold. He knelt on the ground and said, “Urgent delivery from Liuzhou, bringing news. The Garuda was slain at Jingdao Mountain Village. Jingdao Mountain Village Leader Liu Guizang exposed her corpse in the marketplace and made dogs bite its flesh and bones. At present, no one from Garan has come forward.”
The hot tea fell from his hands and poured into his arms, tea flowing over his entire body. Shen Wenxing made an “ah” and hastily fetched a handkerchief to wipe it for Shen Jue.
The Garuda was dead? Shen Jue didn’t dare to believe it. The appearance of that demon-like woman’s curled lips and faint smile reflected in his mind to this day, vivid in his mind’s eye.
She was dead, so what about Xiahou Lian? Shen Jue hastily asked, “What news is there about Xiahou Lian?”
“There have been no traces of him.”
Shen Jue sat blankly for a while until Shen Wenxing asked him in a small voice, “Godfather, do you want to change into clean clothes?”
Shen Jue glanced at the tea stains on his clothes, shook his head, and asked, “Do you know why the Garuda was killed?”
The underling replied, “According to inside information, it seems that it was because the day of the Garuda’s assassination, there happened to be heavy rain in Liuzhou. Many years ago, she bore a whipping for her son, and her old wounds didn’t heal for a long time and were made more severe by rain. Thus, she lost and was killed by Liu Guizang.”
Shen Jue was shocked in his heart. What whipping, what old wounds? Could it be the whipping from five years ago for when Xiahou Lian had let him escape without permission? Shen Jue didn’t know what the feeling was in his heart. It was like a mess that couldn’t be untangled or picked out. He hadn’t expected that the old matter that had been buried under dust and smoke had led to something like this. Unwittingly, he had also played a part in the Garuda’s death! No matter what, he wouldn’t have thought that, in order to save him, Xiahou Lian’s mother had actually paid such a large price!
What would Xiahou Lian do? If he knew that saving him at the time would have this kind of consequence, would he regret it and blame himself?
Would he… not want to see him again?
Light and darkness intermingled in Shen Jue’s eyes. His fingers were pressed on the table, pressed so that the tips of his fingers were pale.
At this moment, the underling who guarded the door ran in and handed him a small sandalwood box. “Governor, just now, a mother and son sent this box at the doorway. They said that half a year ago, a woman exhorted them to send the box to the Eastern Depot if she didn’t come back to pick it up in half a year.”
Shen Jue looked down at the small box. No expression could be seen on his face, and one could only see his dense eyelashes quiver lightly upon opening the box.
The name of the house owner was Xiahou Lian.
Shen Jue stroked a corner of the title deed and asked, “Then where are the mother and son?”
The underling brought the mother and son inside, and the two of them held each other, recoiling. There were several patches on their cotton coats, but they were very clean. The child hid behind his mother, poking out a shaggy head as he looked at Shen Jue.
“Do you know who the woman who gave you the box was?”
“She’s a heroine, and she said that her surname is Xiahou.” The mother said in a small voice, “My Xiao Bao fell into the water, and it was her who saved Xiao Bao. Eunuch, we’ve never opened the box, so we don’t know what’s inside. Can… Can we go home?”
Shen Wenxing said in surprise, “You didn’t know what was inside but you just sent it like this, weren’t you afraid of something happening?”
“She’s also a woman who has a child, I could tell.” The mother said, “Someone who is a mother won’t do bad things.”
Shen Jue waved his hand, letting Shen Wenxing give them a few ingots of silver and send them out of the yamen. He waved everyone out, lifted a curtain, and turned into the back room, putting the small box together with Jingtie. Under the dim light, a glossy light flowed on the small jet-black box. Shen Jue stroked the small box and sighed deeply.
For their beloved son, parents would have such far-reaching plans.
Senior, I have heard your wish.