Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Black-Faced Buddha was actually a cliff, towering into the clouds, and with overlapping and jagged rocks. The entirety of the mountain rocks were jet-black, and it was overrun with weeds. Looking at it distantly from a certain angle, one could faintly see the form of a big Buddha that sat cross-legged. Standing at its feet, it was as if one could hear the Buddhist chanting from ancient times until the present that was solemn and harmonious, making one have an impulse to kneel and kowtow.
On snowy winter days, heavy snow filled the entire mountain, including Black-Faced Buddha. Its neck and head were submerged on top of the misty white clouds, and thick white snow fell on its body as if it were wearing white kasaya robes 1, holy and solemn.
Xiahou Lian climbed up against the cold wind. The luggage he had brought were very little; they were just a few cold steamed buns as well as Hengbo, and a few pieces of flint and a rope. Thin snow had accumulated on his eyelashes like white crow feathers. Xiahou Lian had walked so much that he couldn’t feel his feet, and he blankly moved forward, like a puppet that didn’t know coldness nor warmth.
He had gone home before. That had originally been a desolate bamboo house, so with one person missing, it became more and more like ruins.
Sometimes, he would forget that his mother was already gone. In the morning when he woke up, he would habitually knock on her room’s door, wanting to call her to get up. When he cooked, he would make two people’s portions, and he would place two bowls. Originally, he had been very used to living in the bamboo house alone, but now he was at a loss for what to do.
He would sit under the eaves and stare blankly for entire nights. Nights in the mountain were tranquil and silent, as if the world was empty and he was the only one left. He felt that he was like a wolf that had just learned how to hunt, and that it was his first time stepping into the rugged forest alone. He had been bitten and torn by enemies so that he was covered with cuts and bruises, and he originally thought that he could still go home and be comforted by his mother wolf, yet he had discovered that his den was already gone. No matter how miserable and painful his wounds were, he would never receive the consolation he wanted again.
Everyone had told him that all people must die, especially them, whose fates hung at the points of their sabers and whose heads were fastened to belts. There were countless assassins who hadn’t died good deaths, and there wasn’t a single one of the stacked corpses underneath the saber graveyard that had died a natural death.
But they had forgotten that those assassins hadn’t had children. They lived alone, and they died alone. Even if there suddenly wasn’t this person in the world anymore, no one would miss them.
Yet, Xiahou Pei had had children, and this was proof that she had lived. In this world, besides Xiahou Lian, no one would be sad for her in the quiet of night, and no one would hold her saber and walk alone in a snowy night. So there was only Xiahou Lian, and only he could avenge her.
Xiahou Lian looked at his own palms and thought silently, Yes, there is only me.
It took him a day just to climb to Black-Faced Buddha’s shoulder. The curtain of night had already fallen, so he didn’t plan on climbing up anymore. He made a fire in the hole of Black-Faced Buddha’s ear and decided to make do here for the night.
The night was a vast blackness, black to the end where there was a slight blue. White snow covered the entire mountain, and when looking out from Black-Faced Buddha’s shoulder, it was like mist, and it was also like smoke with no cause, permeating the depths of the mountain. Occasionally, a few lights lit up dimly, scattered everywhere around the mountain, like lonely fireflies, and like stars that had fallen from the sky.
He soon found the direction of his bamboo house. It was sunk in a heavy darkness and a deathly silence. There, he had erected a clothes grave 2 for Xiahou Pei, and if her soul could find her way back, she would discover that he had placed her favorite shaodaozi wine 3 in front of it.
Xiahou Lian stroked Hengbo in his arms and slowly closed his eyes.
Suddenly, there was a long sound of a xun flute 4, and Xiahou Lian shivered. In a place like this where there was no one all around, suddenly hearing the sound of a xun was indeed a little frightening. He walked out of the cave and lifted his head, looking up. On top, it was a pitch-black expanse, and he couldn’t see anything. The sound of the xun wasn’t close to him, and it tossed about as it came with the mournful sound of the wind, like the whispers of ghosts wandering on plains in ancient times.
Is it him who’s playing the xun? Xiahou Lian sat next to his fire and thought blankly. Is it him? That person, my blood brother.
It was as if the sounds of this xun had an unknown power, quietly flowing along the rocks on top of Black-Faced Buddha and spreading far, far away. He suddenly had a feeling that in the vast, cold night, it turned out that there was another person the same as him who was gazing afar over the pitch-black snowy mountain. He was also a lonely child, and he had already lived on this snowcap for seventeen years.
He had never met Chi Yan before. Even though they were blood brothers and even twins who had fallen from their mother’s womb at practically the same time in no particular order, they were still strangers. He didn’t know what Chi Yan usually did, what he liked, or what he hated. His mother had said that Chi Yan was a fool. Uncle Duan had said that he was a natural at saber skills.
But now he knew.
Chi Yan was his big brother, and he was the person who gazed afar over the snowy mountain in the vast, dark night.
He rested his head on the long sound of the xun as he fell asleep. In a daze, he seemed to see that young man on the snowcap. He had the same face as him, and his distant gaze cut through the vast wind and snow, landing on his body.
The next day, Xiahou Lian wrapped his overcoat around himself, letting the hood cover his face firmly, and started up the mountain again. Today, the snow was a lot lighter, so climbing wasn’t that strenuous for Xiahou Lian. After climbing for about an hour, Xiahou Lian finally reached the top of Black-Faced Buddha.
The place was indeed not big, and one could see the cliff after walking just a few steps. In the tiny clearing, a few thatched cottages had been erected, enclosing a lonely and small courtyard. Outside was a circle of fences that seemed that they could fall with one push, and a few flower pots had been placed next to the wall, though the flowers inside had died of frost.
Xiahou Lian shouted, “Is anyone there?”
No one answered.
Could it be that he wasn’t on the mountain? Impossible, he had even heard that brat playing the xun last night.
Xiahou Lian shouted a few more times, but there was still no answer. Xiahou Lian simply flipped over the fence and poked through the window paper to peep in. The furnishings of the main house were very simple. There was a kang bed-stove and a square kang table 5. Clothes and long coats were piled at the head of the bed, and they were washed very clean. A few pairs of boots and cloth shoes were placed by the wall, and there was even a big kite that had a tiger with bared fangs and brandished claws hanging on the wall.
There was just no person.
His mother had said that he was only a fool who practiced the saber. This fool wasn’t so scared of strangers that when he saw someone, he would run, right?
Xiahou Lian circled the house a few times, looking left and right. Suddenly, he discovered that there was a cave by the cliff. The cave’s entrance had been covered by withered ivy, so it was no wonder he hadn’t seen it just then.
Xiahou Lian entered the cave and walked several tens of steps along the path that had twists and turns, when it suddenly became spacious and bright before him. Here, it was as big as a martial arts training ground, and on the other side, there was a stone bed. There was a man in white on top of the bed.
The back of the man in white was facing Xiahou Lian, as if he was facing the wall in meditation. He wore very thin clothes, and it seemed that he was only wearing a thin, long coat, practically seeming like he and Xiahou Lian were in two different seasons.
“Um… Uh, Chi Yan?” Xiahou Lian spoke hesitantly.
The man in black slowly turned around, and Xiahou Lian finally saw his face. Sure enough, that was a face that was the exact same as Xiahou Lian’s, and besides the extra saber scar on top of Xiahou Lian’s eye, there were practically no mistakes.
But there would definitely be no one who couldn’t mistake the two of them, because of those completely different eyes.
Chi Yan stood up and looked at Xiahou Lian. His pupils were big and black, as clear and bright as smooth obsidian, as if they could reflect the constantly changing light of day and shadows of clouds.
“Who,” he asked.
“My name is Xiahou Lian.” Xiahou Lian stammered a little from nervousness. “Um, I don’t know whether the abbot has told you before, but you have a…”
Before he could even finish speaking, Xiahou Lian’s pupils suddenly shrank, and his eyes reflected a rapidly approaching cold blade!
What the hell!
Xiahou Lian frantically dodged, narrowly avoiding the sharp blade that brushed past his face and pierced into the stone wall. Yet, Chi Yan’s wrist turned, and his next move instantly cut through the air!
Unreasonably fast. Xiahou Lian’s mind only had these words.
Chi Yan was like a mysterious and unpredictable ghost, and the long saber in his hand seemed like it was a part of his body. Xiahou Lian didn’t even see how he was making moves, and he could only quietly rely on his instincts to dodge. There were already several cuts of different depths on him, and if he hadn’t been wearing thick clothes, blood would already have splattered on the spot!
“Those who have reached the peak without the abbot’s orders, kill.” Chi Yan was impassive.
“I’m your little brother!” shouted Xiahou Lian.
Chi Yan didn’t care at all, and he only made moves nonstop. Xiahou Lian swiftly calmed down and unsheathed Hengbo, barely catching Chi Yan’s swing that fell on his head. He used his left hand to pull off the hood on his face and roared at him, “Look clearly, I’m your little brother!”
Chi Yan was clearly stunned, and he looked blankly at Xiahou Lian’s face.
Xiahou Lian angrily looked at his own coat that had been sliced by Chi Yan to be tattered. Cotton leaked out of the cuts, flowing out as he walked, making him grimace in distress. He had only brought this one coat, so how would he keep out the cold after all of the cotton fell out?
“Little brother?” There was confusion in Chi Yan’s eyes.
It looked like the abbot, that old bald donkey, hadn’t mentioned it to Chi Yan before. Xiahou Lian sighed.
Just as he was pondering how to explain it clearly to Chi Yan, Chi Yan put a finger up and poked Xiahou Lian’s face. He asked, “Is little brother someone who looks the same as me? Are you another me?”
Xiahou Lian widened his eyes.
This really… is a fucking fool.
It took a lot of effort for Xiahou Lian to make it clear to Chi Yan that he wasn’t another Chi Yan. Chi Yan made an “oh” and lowered his head. In his eyes, Xiahou Lian saw an imperceptible disappointment.
Chi Yan was a very special person. He was already seventeen years old and the same height as Xiahou Lian, yet he was still like a big child. Since childhood, he had been raised on the top of Black-Faced Buddha and rarely went down the mountain. When he went down the mountain, it was basically just to kill someone, so he had no sense of the ways of people at all. He didn’t even know the concept of a “little brother.”
Xiahou Lian communicated with him, and he first had to explain what a “big brother” was and what a “little brother” was before he could understand.
Xiahou Lian stayed on the top of Black-Faced Buddha. He cleared out the kitchen, and at night, he heated up the stove for warmth and slept next to the stove so he didn’t feel cold. Chi Yan had very few words, and he practically didn’t speak. Most of the time every day, he would stare blankly, and no one knew what he was thinking in his head. He liked to sit on the tree branch of an old tree by the cliff edge and gaze afar into the distance the most, and he would sometimes play the xun that Xiahou Lian had heard last time. Xiahou Lian had asked him whether he wanted to go down to take a look, but Chi Yan had shook his head and said that the world wasn’t as beautiful as it was on the mountain.
Sometimes, Xiahou Lian felt that Chi Yan was a lone wolf who gazed at the sky. When he overlooked the mountain, the expression in his eyes was always lonely and empty.
But his saber skills were indeed very good. His saber was named “Shana 6, and the speed of his moves were the same as the name of his saber.
When fighting against Chi Yan, the outcome was determined in an instant, because no one’s saber could be faster than his.
Chi Yan was very open to persuasion, and he would do anything he was told to do. Xiahou Lian wanted him to teach him saber skills, and he agreed without any hesitation. The two of them stood in the clearing inside the cave, and there were lush weeds everywhere. They held their sabers and stood opposite to each other.
Xiahou Lian shouted loudly and unsheathed Hengbo, seemingly like sparkling water. Chi Yan stood where he was and looked at him silently. When he got close, his left hand moved, and he stepped forward. Xiahou Lian didn’t see how he had taken out his saber, nor how he had put it away. He only felt a coldness at the side of his waist, and he lowered his head to look. Blood covered his waist.
“Chi Yan, are you sick! You actually attacked for real!” Xiahou Lian collapsed as he covered his waist, and he found the medicine chest to wrap bandages around himself. Fortunately, it was cold on the snowcap, so blood didn’t flow quickly.
“No more practicing?” Chi Yan looked at him in confusion.
Xiahou Lian looked up and saw his muddled look. He asked, “You didn’t want to kill me just now, did you?”
Chi Yan sat on the ground. “What else?”
Xiahou Lian suddenly understood something, and he asked with difficulty, “Before, how did you practice with other people?”
“The abbot would find people to fight with me. The first time, he found Achaco from Curved Saber of the Western Regions. His saber was very beautiful, and it was inlaid with gold and would shine under the moonlight.” Chi Yan showed an expression of recollection. “But he was not fast enough, so I killed him in one move. The second time was the Double Eagles from the snowlands, and they were a husband and wife. I used three moves to kill the man, and the woman took her own life. The third time was a Japanese person. His saber was very long, six feet, and this time, I used six moves. The fourth time, the abbot found ten people to fight with me, but they didn’t report their names. They seemed to have come from different places, and their saber techniques were also very different. That time was very hard, and I used twenty moves to kill them.”
Xiahou Lian was somewhat sad. He realized that perhaps Chi Yan was only a saber forged by the abbot. This saber had no thoughts, and was therefore ignorant and fearless. Whoever the abbot wanted to kill, he could do it.
He didn’t understand why the abbot was so cruel. Perhaps the people in this world were all like this. When they held power and strength, all living beings were ants. Sorrow and joy were up to him, love and hatred were up to him, and life and death were up to him. So what if it was his own son, he was no different from the other ants and insects. When Liu Guizang had trampled his mother, had he also thought like this; the world’s strongest assassin had died under his saber, and his dogs had gnawed her bones and eaten her flesh. In his heart, had he been extremely pleased, like he was sitting high in the clouds?
How ridiculous. A person had to use gurgling blood and pure white bones as stepping stones to reach the peak and to look down upon the world.
Xiahou Lian clenched his fists tightly, and a fierceness rushed to the top of his head. “Since they can, why can’t I? Why can’t life and death be determined only by my thought, and I do what I desire and willfully run wild! If this saber drinks all blood and creates a karma of killing, so what?”
A basin of cold water was poured onto his head, completely soaking Xiahou Lian from head to foot. Xiahou Lian roared angrily, “What are you doing!”
“You are behaving like you have been possessed.” Chi Yan slowly put down the water basin.
Xiahou Lian wiped the water from his face and turned his head away.
“This world is full of misfortune, and not everything can be as you wish,” said Chi Yan.
Xiahou Lian was a little surprised that this fool Chi Yan could actually say such a thing. He turned his head to look at Chi Yan. Chi Yan’s expression was indifferent as usual, and his pupils that were like obsidians were as calm as water.
Xiahou Lian suddenly realized that perhaps Chi Yan wasn’t completely ignorant. Perhaps he knew everything, but the sorrows, joys, grief, and anger of this world just couldn’t enter his eyes.
Chi Yan paused and continued, “Your mother died, but can you not recognize another one?”
All of Xiahou Lian’s words were stuck in his stomach after this sentence. He looked at Chi Yan’s appearance of “did I say something wrong” and said weakly, “Never mind, what am I fussing with you for?” He patted this guy whose brain lacked a fiber. “Next time, I’ll bring you a copy of ‘Standards for Being a Good Pupil and Child 7,’ ‘The Plum in the Golden Vase 8,’ and whatnot. Take a good look at them and don’t be like a fool every day. Later when you go down the mountain, what would you do if you were tricked?”
Chi Yan nodded obediently.
- The robes of fully ordained Buddhist monks and nuns.
- A grave in which the deceased’s clothes are placed instead of a body.
- Lit. Burning Saber. Also known as baijiu or shaojiu, it’s a colorless liquor that has high alcohol contents.
- An egg-shaped vessel flute, one of China’s oldest musical instruments.
- A type of chinese furniture that serves as both a low table and daybed.
- Lit. Instant.
- A book that emphasized the basic requisites for being a good person and guidelines for living in harmony with others.
- A novel of manners with explicit depiction of sexuality.