Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
“This time didn’t count, again!”
“Ahem! Fuck, I don’t believe I can’t beat you!”
Hengbo was sent flying for the ninety-eighth time. Xiahou Lian knelt on the ground, his hands trembling. Blood dripped from between his thumb and index finger and exuded from other cracked wounds on his palms, falling on the snow like bright plum blossoms.
In seventeen years, this was his first time practicing the saber until the part between his thumb and index finger had split, but he still wasn’t a match for even one of Chi Yan’s moves.
Chi Yan carried out bandages from the room and wrapped them in circles around Xiahou Lian’s hands. Blood soon dyed the white strips of cloth, blending out spots that were like red ink. Xiahou Lian clenched his fists, and warm pain burned his palms, every finger clamoring in exhaustion.
“Chi Yan, is there wine?”
Chi Yan shook his head.
This brat lived like an immortal, as he didn’t drink wine and didn’t eat meat. Xiahou Lian was practically about to suspect that he didn’t defecate.
Xiahou Lian sighed again and sat shoulder-to-shoulder with Chi Yan under the wide eaves, gazing afar at the distant mountains and setting sun.
“Am I very useless? I did my best, but I could only do it to this extent.” Xiahou Lian looked at his own palms.
“You are not useless, you are just a little stupid.”
“…” Xiahou Lian turned his head to look at Chi Yan, and Chi Yan also looked at him. Chi Yan’s pupils were very big, jet-black and shiny, and they clearly reflected Xiahou Lian’s face.
This guy wasn’t mocking him, he was earnestly consoling him.
Xiahou Lian was a little speechless. He sighed and said, “When will I be able to kill Liu Guizang like this?”
“Is he very formidable?”
“He’s a grandmaster, and some people say that facing his saber is like being struck by lightning. You can’t dodge and you can’t escape, you can only let him split you in half.”
Chi Yan was silent for a while, and he seemed to be thinking seriously.
“Perhaps you can compete with him in who lives longer.”
“Or perhaps you can find another way.”
Xiahou Lian lifted his eyes and asked, “What other way?”
Chi Yan shook his head and said, “I do not know. I have just met someone before. The first time I saw him, he was making dough figurines, and his business was very slow. He told me that it had been his seventh day setting up his stall, and that I was the first to buy his dough figurines. Later when I went there again, he had already changed jobs, and a lot of people praised him. He said that he earns a lot of money from his new job.”
“What job did he change to?”
“…” Xiahou Lian covered his face. “Chi Yan, if you weren’t my brother, I’d have already beaten you up now.”
Chi Yan blankly pulled out his saber. “Do you want to fight?”
Xiahou Lian still practiced with him day after day. Chi Yan didn’t mind taking the trouble to practice with him, but Xiahou Lian was always defeated at the first move. This was like an endless loop. His saber was sent flying, he picked up his saber, it was sent flying again, he picked it up again… Chi Yan was like a natural barrier that he could never step across. He held his saber and stood in the snow, indifferently repelling Xiahou Lian, who wishfully wanted to knock him down.
They practiced until the beginning of spring, and Xiahou Lian went down the mountain, bringing back spring clothes and a few books.
He put the books onto the kang table. At the very top was “Standards for Being a Good Pupil and Child,” and at the very bottom was “Pleasure in the Imperial Bedchamber.” Xiahou Lian practiced the saber outside, and Chi Yan sat in the room, reading the books. The two of them were separated by a window, so they could see each other if they lifted their eyes.
When the sun set in the west and Xiahou Lian stopped, Chi Yan was already sitting under the eaves. Xiahou Lian sat down next to him and drank some water, asking casually, “How is it, have you understood anything important? I’ve arranged it for you. First, ‘Standards for Being a Good Pupil and Child’ to teach you to be a proper child. Then, the ‘Analects’ to teach you to be a person. Afterward, ‘The Plum in the Golden Vase’ and ‘Pleasure in the Imperial Bedchamber’ to teach you to be a worthy man.”
Chi Yan had no expression, so Xiahou Lian wasn’t sure exactly what he was thinking. Maybe his heart had surged forward, but his face was still calm.
“Have you looked at ‘Pleasure in the Imperial Bedchamber’? That one teaches you how to work with your wife, so you have to look at it well. I found it at my mother’s. She had it as padding for the foot of the bed, so I spent a lot of effort to find it.” Xiahou Lian was sleeping on the ground with his head in his arms. “I can’t leave descendants, so you at least have to father some babies for our family and continue the family line.”
“Wife?” Chi Yan frowned.
No wonder this brat hadn’t had any reaction, he didn’t even know what a wife was. Xiahou Lian sat up suddenly and had a headache as he looked at Chi Yan.
Although Chi Yan had extremely strong saber skills, for how to be a person, he still had to learn from Xiahou Lian.
Xiahou Lian felt that the task on his shoulders was very important. He chose his words carefully as he said, “A wife is the person who will accompany you for the rest of your life, serve you to eat and sleep, and give you tiny babies. Understand? As men, we have to protect our wife and children well, and even if we risk our lives, we can’t let them be bullied.”
“Then what kind of person can be a wife?”
“Someone you like.” Xiahou Lian thought about it and said, “But they also have to be a bit virtuous, and have to at least know how to cook and do needlework!”
Under the dark golden sunlight, Chi Yan turned his head and asked, “I like you, can you be my wife? You can cook and you can also do needlework, so it is very suitable.”
Xiahou Lian was stunned. Chi Yan looked at him quietly, his jet-black pupils like an ancient mirror.
Sadness surged up in Xiahou Lian’s heart. It was over, there was no saving this brat’s brain.
Repeatedly sighing, Xiahou Lian put an arm around Chi Yan’s shoulders. He looked somewhat frail, but there were actually thin muscles under his shirt, full of strength, and the moment of bursting was enough to kill gods and Buddha. The extremely strong assassin was well-behaved as he sat and quietly listened to Xiahou Lian speak.
“Chi Yan, remember this well, your wife must meet the following conditions. First, they’re a person; second, she’s a woman; third, she’s younger than you. Okay, it’s no matter if she’s two or three years older than you. I won’t talk about being clever and sensible and keeping the house. When the time comes, you’ll figure it out. Do you understand?”
Chi Yan was blank for a while before he reacted and realized that Xiahou Lian had rejected him. He nodded, a little disappointed, and seemed to be very reluctant.
Xiahou Lian’s progress was very slow, or there was even no progress. Under Chi Yan’s hands, he had fought desperately yet had only made it through one move. That time had been because Xiahou Lian had made glutinous rice balls, and Chi Yan had been stuffed and in a hurry to go to the lavatory.
Xiahou Lian was at a complete loss. Perhaps he wasn’t made to practice the saber at all.
Every day, besides sitting under the eaves and staring blankly, Chi Yan would sit by the cliff and stare blankly. He didn’t practice the saber at all, but as usual, he could knock Xiahou Lian down in one move. Everything stressed talent, and when Xiahou Pei had given birth to them, she had given her talent to Chi Yan and given the indulgence in eating, drinking, and merrymaking and jesting to Xiahou Lian. Besides playing on swings and catching frogs in the forest, Xiahou Lian didn’t know how to do anything.
He started to become very irritable, and Xiahou Pei’s rotten corpse and her rotten flesh being chomped on by dogs tossed and turned in his dreams every night. But he still remained stagnant, and in his hands, it was as if Hengbo was rusted. When he swung it in his hands, it was as slow as an ordinary weapon that had been burned in the furnace. Sometimes, he could even hear Hengbo laughing at him, struggling to get out of his grasp.
When he looked at Chi Yan idling away and sitting by the cliff, playing the xun, he always couldn’t help but think, If only it had been Chi Yan who was raised by our mother’s side. As long as Chi Yan wanted to kill Liu Guizang, that Liu Guizang definitely wouldn’t live past tomorrow morning.
But Xiahou Pei had raised Xiahou Lian, and he was a useless good-for-nothing.
The mountain wind tore at Xiahou Lian’s hair. Xiahou Lian carried Hengbo and sat on the roof of a thatched cottage. The setting sun was like blood, a glaring red.
“Xiao Lian.” Chi Yan’s voice sounded from behind him.
Xiahou Lian responded in a low voice and didn’t look back.
“I can catch disciples from Jingdao Mountain Village for you to test your saber,” Chi Yan suddenly said.
Xiahou Lian was abruptly shocked, and he looked up. Chi Yan didn’t have any expression, as if he had said something couldn’t be more ordinary.
Xiahou Lian’s heart beated violently, and he recalled that this had been how Chi Yan had practiced. Chi Yan could, so perhaps he also could.
He bit his lip and hesitated.
A dove fluttered up to them and landed on the top of Chi Yan’s head. Chi Yan grabbed it and took out a note from the dove’s claws.
“What is that?” asked Xiahou Lian.
“A letter from the abbot,” said Chi Yan. “He says that Liu Guizang bought the life of the grandmaster of North Sect, and he asks whether I will accept this transaction or not.”
“What!” Xiahou Lian stood up abruptly. “Is he crazy? Liu Guizang just killed my mother, and he’s still going to help him kill someone?!”
Chi Yan looked at him blankly.
The two of them were silent. The air seemed to stagnate, and not even the wind moved. Xiahou Lian suddenly understood. This was Garan of Seven Leaves! As long as they were given money, what transaction wouldn’t they do?
Liu Guizang had assassinated the Garuda, but only the Garuda could be blamed for going beyond her abilities, so no one would accuse Liu Guizang. Assassins were moths in the dark, advancing one after another and darting toward the faint candlelight. They couldn’t control their own life, and they couldn’t control their own body. Who would care about what an ugly moth thought? An assassin filled with inexpiable crimes had been buried in the bellies of dogs, and there were no bones left. Liu Guizang wouldn’t hurt, the people in the world wouldn’t hurt, and Garan wouldn’t hurt. The only one who hurt was Xiahou Lian.
From start to finish, it had only been him.
“Are you going?” Xiahou Lian hoarsely asked Chi Yan.
“No, someone else will go.”
Xiahou Lian suppressed the churning fire in his heart and sat down. The sky gradually darkened, and his heart seemed to sink into an abyss.
“Just now, you said that you would help me catch people from Jingdao Mountain Village to test my saber on. Is that true?”
“Then help me catch them.” Xiahou Lian heard his own slow and clear voice say, “The more the better.”
The two of them sneaked down the mountain and rushed all the way to Liuzhou. Xiahou Lian tried going to the mass graves to find Xiahou Pei’s remaining bones, but he didn’t find anything. Liuzhou’s charity organization had tidied up the mass graves very well, so every nameless skeleton was wrapped in a straw mat and laid quietly in the dirt. No one was missing arms or legs.
Even these nameless dead people had intact corpses, but Xiahou Pei who had once dominated the martial arts world, had no bones left.
Her bones had probably been grinded and the powder scattered. Xiahou Lian thought numbly, How could Liu Guizang, that man who seeks grievances for the smallest matters, keep Xiahou Pei’s bones that had been left from the dogs’ biting?
They rented a courtyard in the city outskirts. A group of human traffickers had used to live there, so in order to prevent children from sneaking away, they had specially built high walls, and every door had three locks. Chi Yan began helping Xiahou Lian catch people. Xiahou Lian was just starting, so Chi Yan only captured five disciples and put them into an iron cage.
“How are their saber skills?” asked Xiahou Lian.
“Then let out three people first.”
Chi Yan nodded and pulled open the iron door, dragging three people out and giving each one a saber.
The disciples’ thighs trembled in fright. They remembered that they had been drinking tea in the city just fine when Chi Yan had appeared behind them like a ghost, knocked them out, and brought them here without anyone knowing.
Out of these two men who looked exactly the same, one’s expression was grim, and there was a shallow saber scar on top of his eye, adding a bit of a fierce aura to his face. The other was impassive, his face indifferent and calm. When he looked down at them, he was like a Buddha statue in a temple that had no sorrow and no joy.
Two lunatics, they definitely wanted them to kill each other!
“The Garuda… You’re the Garuda…” Someone widened his eyes and pointed at Xiahou Lian with a trembling finger.
The two siblings looked very similar to Xiahou Pei. Xiahou Lian’s eyes had ruthlessness, which was especially similar to Xiahou Pei. Xiahou Lian ignored that person and pulled Hengbo out of its scabbard, wanting them to stand up and fight him. He had already thought about it, and through exchanging blows with them, he would remember the saber techniques of the Qi Clan Saber. Then, he could study the moves to restrain the Qi Clan Saber, so this way, he would get twice the results with half the effort.
When the person saw Hengbo, he said in terror, “The ghost of the Garuda is back! You’re… You’re the Garuda! Sorry! I didn’t do it on purpose, it was all instigated by the village leader! Those two, they cut you several times. That one with a mole on his face even said that if only your head hadn’t been cut off, you could’ve made him feel good…”
Xiahou Lian’s movement as he pulled out his saber paused.
“What nonsense are you talking!” The disciple with a mole on his face said loudly, “You also cut her! You even used your feet to kick, and the Garuda’s leg bone was broken by you! And you!” He pointed at the other disciple. “You’re the one who made a suggestion to the village leader and said that he could use wolfdogs to lure out her son!”
“Stop talking, I don’t want to die! It was all said by the village leader that whoever cuts the Garuda once gets an ingot of silver! I… I cut thirteen times, but she’s an assassin, and assassins deserve worse than death, right!”
It was as if a string had snapped in his head, and Xiahou Lian’s heart throbbed fiercely.
He suddenly felt that he was very ridiculous. Since his hands had already been covered in blood long ago, why not add one more?!
Not to mention that these people all deserved to die.
Xiahou Lian looked up, and there was a dark cruelty in his eyes.
“Stand up and fight me!”
“You… You don’t want us to kill each other?” the disciple with a mole on his face asked blankly.
“Kill each other?” Xiahou Lian smiled indifferently. “That’s letting you off too lightly. Stand up and fight me!”
“You want three of us to fight one of you?” The three of them looked at each other and laughed out loud. “You’re a bastard who doesn’t know your own abilities. Brothers, slaughter this guy who plays tricks! We could kill you once, and we can kill you a second time!”
The three of them ran over in unison. Xiahou Lian licked his teeth and gripped Hengbo tightly.
The air suddenly became thick, and all sounds became very slow. He heard the clanging sounds of blades being drawn from their scabbards, he heard the sounds of their belts in the wind, and he heard the thick bottoms of their black riding boots trampling the ground. The leftmost one ran the fastest, and his sharp blade could already touch his hair. The rightmost one was the slowest. That person was waiting, waiting for when Xiahou Lian would be attacked on two sides to send out the fatal strike.
In an instant, Xiahou Lian made a decision. Hengbo dodged the oncoming sharp blade and lifted up, slicing out a trace of blood that was as thin as silk and so deep it could enter bone on the face of the comer.
Garan Saber • Swallow Slant.
Then, he swiftly turned toward the right, and the momentum of his saber instantly changed directions from upward to downward, slicing out an arc that was like the full moon and fiercely cutting the second person’s shoulder. His arm was cut off, and blood gushed out. Xiahou Lian crossed the spring of blood and stepped forward. The point of Hengbo took a winding route and stabbed into the third person’s abdomen. Xiahou Lian twisted his blade, stirring Hengbo in his abdomen, and blood flowed out along its blood groove. The person clutched Hengbo tightly and knelt down on the ground.
Something was different. As his hand held Hengbo, they were like two pieces of iron that had been welded together. The sounds of blood and flesh separating and bones breaking made his blood boil inside him. Xiahou Lian looked at the expanding circle of blood underneath his feet and suddenly came back to his senses, looking around blankly.
The three people were lying on the ground, dead. The remaining two people in the iron cage looked at Xiahou Lian in fear, as if they were looking at a bloodthirsty monster.
Chi Yan pulled open the door again, picked up the sabers from the pool of blood, and threw it to them.
Someone held their saber and shouted as they moved forward. Xiahou Lian didn’t have time to think, so he swung his saber swiftly. Blood splattered on his face, and he subconsciously closed his eyes.
The last person was sobbing as they knelt down, begging Xiahou Lian to spare his life.
“I’m new, I entered the sect only last month. The winter was hard, and there was no food at home, so my parents were forced to send me to Jingdao Mountain Village. Everyone knows that it’s very miserable to practice the saber at Jingdao Mountain Village, and my parents only sent me in because they had no other way! What Garuda, I don’t even know! I’m begging you, let me go!”
Xiahou Lian’s saber stopped. However, just in that instant, an extremely bright light sliced past Xiahou Lian’s eyes. An assassin’s instinct told him that that was the reflected light of a saber. Sure enough, a short saber that was like a willow leaf slid from the person’s sleeve to his palm, and he directly stabbed it toward Xiahou Lian’s heart.
Xiahou Lian’s pupils shrank.
His right hand was held by someone. Hengbo knocked the short blade down and cut the person’s throat, like breaking a fragile willow branch. His head tumbled to the ground, bringing out blood that was like splashed ink.
Xiahou Lian turned his head and saw that Chi Yan was standing by his side, his right hand holding his own.
“Do not stop, Xiao Lian. When you stop, evil spirits will climb up from under the ground and grab your ankles.” Chi Yan lowered his eyes and looked at the person, the indifferent look in his eyes like that of a chilling stone statue on a tall pedestal. “So, do not stop.”