Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
The charcoal fire sizzled as it burned. A jar was placed on top of the kang bed-stove, warming the hot wine inside. A few men with disheveled hair and dirty faces sat around the edge of the bed-stove, drinking wine as they ate beef. They were all martial artists 1, and they had stopped in a thatched inn on a mountain to rest. The old shopkeeper was honest and had given them a jar of wine to warm themselves. Although the wine that had been brewed in the twelfth month was turbid and the wine tasted as thin as water, it was still better than nothing.
“Brother, the sequel to ‘List of Garan’s Ghosts 2’ is out, have you read it yet?” a man said.
“Of course I have. This time, not only have they added the Nameless Ghost who has risen to fame recently, they also listed twenty-seven of Garan’s famed sabers, and the first one is the Kinnara’s Qiushui,” said another fatter man.
“If you ask me, Shana 3 should be the first one.” The first person said, “Last month, he wiped out the old den of old devils on Hei Mountain 4, killing a person in one step and forming rivers of blood in ten steps. I heard that the blood flowed all the way down along with the black river water on Hei Mountain. When the people at the foot of the mountain washed their clothes and took them back to take a look, they had all been fucking dyed red!”
“Then why don’t you say Hengbo? Whether it was the Garuda from before or the Nameless Ghost now, Hengbo has been Garan’s first-class assassin. Didn’t news come yesterday that the Nameless Ghost killed another unlucky devil?”
“What can the Nameless Ghost do? If he didn’t have Zhaoye 5 by his side, could he still be so great?” The man picked his teeth disdainfully, and as he spoke, he showed a mysterious expression. “I heard that this Zhaoye is a rare beauty. I have a brother who was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of her. Ahh, that beauty was practically like an immortal descending to earth!”
“I really don’t know why Zhaoye follows the Nameless Ghost. Last time, someone said that Zhaoye was originally Tang Shiqi’s fiancé and was snatched away by the Nameless Ghost, and that he even coerced Tang Shiqi to be his lackey.”
The man tsked. “Tell me about it. If I were Tang Shiqi, I would’ve taken my saber and killed the Nameless Ghost. Who would fucking dare to shit on my neck?!”
In the corner, there was a man who was wrapped in a blanket, and he had originally been shrunk on the ground and sleeping, but he was awakened by the martial artists who were drinking wine. The martial artists were talking happily, vying with each other to declare that if they were lucky enough to have a night of grace with Zhaoye, even if they were chopped up by a stroke of the Nameless Ghost, they would still be willing.
The man said in a small voice, “Actually, Zhaoye isn’t a beauty.”
His voice wasn’t loud, but everyone heard him, and they turned their heads around in unison to look at him. Some martial artists held their cups of wine and casually sat down next to him. “What, have you seen her before?”
The man nodded.
“Impossible! My brother wouldn’t lie to me. He said that Zhaoye’s brows, eyes, and small cherry-like mouth are like a fox spirit’s, and that seeing her can make people lose their soul!” the martial artist from before craned his neck and shouted loudly.
“But…” The man started shaking and said in a trembling voice, “But Zhaoye doesn’t have eyebrows, eyes, let alone a mouth at all!”
Right after he said this, the shabby door of the thatched inn was suddenly and forcefully pushed open by something. Dazzling white light shone inside, and everyone was shined on so that they couldn’t open their eyes.
A slim girl stood against the backlight. Her face couldn’t be seen, and one could only see her graceful figure. Her hands hung at her sides, wide sleeves covering her arms.
A man’s hoarse voice sounded from behind her:
“The Nameless Ghost of Garan of Seven Leaves, sending Your Excellency to be reborn in the Land of Bliss.”
The girl suddenly moved, her arms across her chest. Everyone saw that those arms weren’t arms, they were chilling long sabers that flowed with a piercingly cold light! At the next moment, they saw the girl’s face. She didn’t have eyebrows, eyes, let alone a mouth. That was a plain porcelain mask, and it only had two dark eye holes.
The light of an arc flashed, and the girl flew in. The man who had been wrapped in a blanket before screamed, “Zhaoye!”
Everyone was stunned, hurriedly picked up their sabers, and hid in the corners of the thatched inn. The old shopkeeper protected his wife and hid in the angled counter, trembling like a quail.
The man hurriedly dodged and pulled out a long saber from the fold of his clothes, spinning and cutting Zhaoye’s shoulder. Zhaoye didn’t even dodge, and she straightened up, taking the fatal blow.
The blood he had expected didn’t splash out, yet there was only the crisp clank of iron striking together. The long saber knocked on Zhaoye’s shoulder, and a cut was actually made on the saber! The man’s pupils suddenly shrank.
Zhaoye was expressionless. Her pitch-black eye sockets faced the man, and dark light flowed on her porcelain-white face. She raised her right hand, and everyone saw the three-foot long blade that was in the position of her arm fiercely chop down. The man leaned to the side and dodged, but he was too late. One of his arms was cut off, and blood gushed out like a spring.
“Ah!!” The man rolled around on the floor in pain. His right hand fell to the ground with a clatter and moved a few times.
Zhaoye didn’t move anymore. She silently stood where she was, her head lowered.
A tall man walked into the thatched inn. He had bronze skin, and there was a thin saber scar on top of his right eye. He was a man as rough and tough as a lone wolf, and there was a fierceness and coldness in his eyes that couldn’t be washed away.
The martial artists held their breaths. A bold person poked out a bit of his head and secretly looked.
The Nameless Ghost.
“You made it easy for me to find you, Young Gentleman Gao.” Xiahou Lian picked up a folding chair and sat down, crossing his legs and holding his chin as he looked at the trembling man on the ground. “You really fucking know how to run. You ran from Hangzhou to a remote mountain area, making me chase behind your ass. My legs almost broke from running.”
“Let me go! Sir, let me go!” The man grabbed Xiahou Lian’s boots, imprinting five blood-red fingerprints. “I’m begging you! I have money, I have a lot of money, I’ll give it all to you. Let me go!”
Xiahou Lian laughed vilely. “You can give me money and tell me to kill the person who bought your life. But your head has already been bought, so there’s no reason for you to keep it.”
“Okay! Okay!” The man struggled to sit up. “I’ll give you money, and you help me, help me kill the person who bought my life!”
The man reached into the fold of his clothes with his left hand. A cold light of metal suddenly sliced past Xiahou Lian’s eyes, cutting on his eyelids like a sharp saber. Xiahou Lian was horrified, and he immediately backed away. A short black arrow brushed past his arm and pierced the doorpost behind him. Xiahou Lian glanced at the arrow and turned his head around, ruthlessness flashing past his eyes.
The man stood up, covering his severed arm, and stumbled as he ran out. Xiahou Lian soon caught up. Xiahou Lian grabbed his collar and pressed his face down on the charcoal fire on the bed-stove. The thatched inn was filled with the man’s shrill screams, and the smell of roasted flesh instantly pervaded the entire inn. The martial artists hid in the corners, trembling.
Xiahou Lian freed his right hand and opened his palm toward Zhaoye’s direction, then fiercely clenched his fist.
The martial artists with keen eyes saw, under the sunlight, the thin silk threads that were wrapped around Xiahou Lian’s fingers, and that they were connected to Zhaoye’s limbs. The silk threads were so thin they were practically invisible. They hid in the air, and they only revealed twinkling silver light when the sunlight occasionally shone on it directly.
Everyone suddenly understood that the so-called “Zhaoye” was not a person at all, but Xiahou Lian’s mechanism puppet instead.
The silk threads shook in the air, like a butterfly flapping its wings. Zhaoye raised her saber arm and chopped down! The man’s head was neatly separated from his body. There was a neat cut on his neck, like wooden stakes that had been sawed by a saw.
Xiahou Lian put the head into a snakeskin bag and hung it on Zhaoye’s neck.
“You’ve committed a sin!” The old shopkeeper crawled out from under the counter and looked at the man’s headless corpse, crying, “You’ve committed a sin. When will the mutual revenge end! Young man, why do you take people’s lives and kill innocent people indiscriminately!”
Xiahou Lian’s footsteps that were stepping out of the door threshold paused, and he turned his head slightly, his icy gaze falling on the old shopkeeper.
“Old man, you really know how to say irresponsible criticism.” Xiahou Lian gritted his teeth and said viciously, “If your wife was killed and your daughter was raped, see if you can still say the words ‘when will the mutual revenge end.’”
The old shopkeeper blankly stayed where he was and scolded Xiahou Lian in exasperation with things like “may you die without descendants,” “hacked to death by thousands of cuts,” and whatnot. Xiahou Lian turned a deaf ear, brought Zhaoye onto his horse, and swiftly left.
Mountain peaks rose and fell, and sunset clouds covered the sky, as if the entire dome of the sky was burning. The sky fire spread all the way to the world, and brilliant rhododendron flowers had bloomed on a hill not far away, burning overwhelmingly all the way down the mountain. As Xiahou Lian rode his horse through the mountains, it looked as if he was running in a boundless sea of fire from a distance.
Xiahou Lian was already twenty-one years old, and he was the same as the other assassins in Garan. He had arduously trained in mountains of sabers and seas of fire, achieving today’s Nameless Ghost. Chi Yan had been right, he indeed wasn’t made to practice the saber. He had practiced in a villa in Liuzhou for almost a year and had killed tens of Jingdao Mountain Village disciples. Liu Guizang looked for him everywhere, and Xiahou Lian’s name could stop children in Liuzhou City from crying at night. But he still hadn’t made any significant progress. Under Chi Yan’s hands, he could only make it past seven moves at most.
And yet Liu Guizang’s reputation was getting more and more prosperous. He had bought Garan assassins to assassinate the grandmaster of North Sect for him. Afterward, Jingdao Mountain Village had dominated, as if it was first in the martial arts world and superior to other martial artists. He began to widely recruit disciples, establishing side branches everywhere. He took charge of so-called justice, and when various clans and sects had grudges, they would all go to Jingdao Mountain Village for mediation. What’s more, he would catch underworld criminals of the martial arts world everywhere, escort them onto the Evil-Punishing Scaffold, and invite all alliances to observe their beheading.
All of this had been established on top of the foundation of him killing the Garuda four years ago.
Yet Xiahou Lian was still a pest in the shadows that couldn’t see the light, and he could only use a gloomy and cold gaze to peer at the superior Liu Guizang.
Xiahou Lian could only choose another way.
He recalled Tang Lan’s Qianji. Tang Lan had been born in Tang Sect, and what he had truly been good at wasn’t saber skills, it was mechanism skills. He had dug up Tang Lan’s grave and found mechanism notes, “Scroll of Nature’s Works,” in his coffin. Tang Sect’s mechanism skills had been recorded in it, and there had even been Garan’s long lost Leading Mechanism Silk.
It turned out that Tang Lan had defected from Tang Sect to Garan just because he had wanted to restore Mech Silk. Unfortunately, he hadn’t succeeded. Although, living in Garan had given him a very large benefit, as he had found the method of smelting Mech Silk, rummaged out array scrolls of arrays for thousands of silks and hundreds of nets, and he had even recorded the technique of leading silk puppets. However, he hadn’t found the most essential thing——Mech Silk’s smelting material. He had only drawn a texture map of the ore, but he hadn’t left behind the name of the ore. Without the material, there was no Mech Silk, so everything was in vain.
In order to practice mechanism skills, Xiahou Lian had saved Tang Shiqi, who had been on the way of being escorted to the Evil-Punishing Scaffold. It had been because he had been relying on several women at the same time and had been caught. Among them, three women had said that they were pregnant with his child, but he had resolutely denied it. Xiahou Lian had disguised himself as Tang Shiqi’s appearance and gone to Tang Sect, copying down Tang Sect’s mechanism atlases. Tang Shiqi and Shu Qing had coordinated with him from outside, and they had brought Tang Sect’s ancient books and records out of Tang Sect, bit by bit. Although they had been discovered in the end, their efforts fortunately hadn’t been in vain, as they had found smelting materials to replace the original ore.
However, Xiahou Lian’s Mech Silk was far inferior to the recorded Mech Silk. The real Mech Silk could cut gold and break iron, but Xiahou Lian’s Mech Silk could only cut tofu. However, although it couldn’t kill, it could complete the leading silk puppet technique and control the puppet to kill.
Thus, Xiahou Lian and Tang Shiqi had worked together to forge this unparalleled killing weapon——Zhaoye.
It had been four years, and Xiahou Lian had already been unable to contain it any longer for a long time. He thought, Perhaps it’s time for me to go to Liuzhou.
There were gradually more and more towns, so Xiahou Lian put a hood on Zhaoye.
The sun had just set behind the mountains when Xiahou Lian arrived at Wanxiang Building in Jinling. A servant recognized Xiahou Lian’s horse and rushed up to help Xiahou Lian carry Zhaoye down.
“Lian-ge’er, you’re back! Where did you send the bounty to this time? Did you save it in a bank, or did you send it back to Garan?”
“I saved it in a bank.” Xiahou Lian threw the horsewhip to him.
“Okay.” The servant bowed his waist and smiled. “Ge’er, how long are you staying for this time? It’s lively tonight, as a girl named Liu Shao’er 6 is going to sell herself. She was personally trained by Mother Xiangnu. She knows how to play various musical instruments and sing, and she’s proficient at all poems and songs. Would you like to marry her? If you want to, you just have to say the word, and her mother definitely won’t dare to neglect you.”
“No.” Xiahou Lian rejected it without even thinking. He turned around, lifted up the curtains, and entered the building. The greasy and sweet fragrance of rouge and powder came overwhelmingly. There was a bright red octagonal lantern every five steps, and the thin red luster on girls’ faces and skin gave them an intoxicating charm. Everywhere, there was the laughter of men and women, and in the main hall, they sat on top of each other and toasted each other, lips and teeth intertwining.
A girl recognized Xiahou Lian and came closer with a sweet smile. Xiahou Lian knitted his brows and leaned away, stepping aside. When he frowned, there was a lonely aura. When the girl saw it, she felt scared, and she didn’t dare to lean toward him again.
“You really don’t want to? I’ve seen this girl before. She has a very good appearance, and even Mother Xiangnu can’t compare to her when she was young. You’re older, so you should be served and tenderly loved by a woman. It’s better than being alone, isn’t it? Don’t worry, when you aren’t here, no one would dare to touch her, and she’ll serve only you. If you get bored some time, you can also buy another one.’
Xiahou Lian said impatiently, “I already said no. Where are my brother and the others?”
The servant stammered, “They’re on the second floor. They also came to see Miss Liu Shao debut tonight.”
“All right, get out.” Xiahou Lian turned and walked toward the backyard. He passed through the red gauze curtains hanging over the entire building and the men and women who were in pairs, avoided the women who wanted to get close to him, bypassed the pool water and screen walls, and then walked past through the hallway. He arrived at the backyard, found his own room, stepped in, and closed the door.
The pain in his waist and abdomen overwhelmingly assaulted him as if in hindsight, like burning fire. It was the wound he had accidentally gotten when he had been assassinating the person whose surname was Gao in Hangzhou. He hadn’t had time to deal with it properly before he had had to chase him. Xiahou Lian took his clothes off, revealing the muscles on his body that seemed to have been carved by an axe, chisel, and saber. Big and small scars covered them; sword wounds, saber wounds, stick wounds, and arrow wounds were seen everywhere, and there practically wasn’t an inch of good flesh.
There was a faint red line on his waist, like smudged ink on rice paper. Xiahou Lian gritted his teeth and tore off the fake skin. The pain from the tearing of the scar nearly made him pass out.
At the time, time had been too tight, so he had stuck fake skin on it and left, only wanting to stop the bleeding, but now, he suffered. He applied medicine and wrapped it in bandages, and his head was already covered in sweat. He randomly wiped his body, put on his clothes, and pushed the door open. The moon was in the middle of the sky. Xiahou Lian carried a jar of wine and went to the river to be blown by the cold wind. The angled railing was as exquisite as a painting, and the sounds of guqin came from a small boat in the middle of the river.
“Hey, boss, why are you here drinking alone? A prostitute is debuting in your building, aren’t you going to take a look?” Tang Shiqi grinned as he came over.
Tang Shiqi was a round-faced man, and he looked to be seventeen or eighteen years old, but he was actually around the same age as Xiahou Lian. His appearance was likable, and his mouth was sweet, so girls and women all liked to play with him. This brat had little skill, and he had snuck out of Tang Sect, spent all of his traveling expenses, and relied on women to live. Once, he had gone too far and hadn’t kept it in control, so he had fallen headfirst into Liu Guizang’s hands. Fortunately, Xiahou Lian had been passing by at the time, and he had kept his life. From then on, he had given it up and reformed himself, only mixing with entertainment venues.
“Look, my ass. Boring.” Xiahou Lian took a sip of wine. The evening breeze was chilly, chilling him all over.
“Say, you two brothers are determined to live as a monk. Forget your brother, that fool, but you don’t jerk off to Zhaoye every night, do you?”
Xiahou Lian glanced sideways at him and turned his eyes to look at the pitch-black river water.
In the distance, there was suddenly a commotion on a painted pleasure boat, and Xiahou Lian looked over. He saw over ten Garan spies emerge from the river, pouncing toward the boat like water ghosts. However, everything changed abruptly. Even more men stood up from under the side of the boat, slashing their sabers and chopping the spies back under the water.
“Who is Garan assassinating?” asked Xiahou Lian.
Tang Shiqi shrugged. “Don’t ask questions, kill without inhibition. You’re a Garan assassin and you don’t even know, let alone me.”
Xiahou Lian glanced a few more times, but it was too far and he couldn’t see clearly. He could only see the entire painted pleasure boat begin to boil.
He didn’t know if they were assassinating someone in the martial arts world or someone in the imperial court.
Xiahou Lian couldn’t help but think of Shen Jue. That brat was a lot more promising than him. He was already the governor of the Eastern Depot now, indisputable and the greatest in the eunuchs. He was just waiting for one day to drag Wei De down, and then he himself would sit in that top seat.
If he had Shen Jue’s intelligence or Chi Yan’s saber skills, he wouldn’t have been unable to kill Liu Guizang even now.
In the end, he was just a useless good-for-nothing.
“Tang Shiqi, I plan to assassinate Liu Guizang next month,” Xiahou Lian suddenly said.
Tang Shiqi was stunned.
Xiahou Lian patted Tang Shiqi’s shoulder. “When the time comes, you’ll be my sheath.”
“You’re not going to wait to restore Mech Silk before you go?”
“No, having Zhaoye is enough.”
“If you die in there, I won’t save you.”
“If you don’t save me, that’s fine.” Xiahou Lian lifted the curtain and went inside.
Tang Shiqi looked at his back. That assassin who had become famous from being ferocious and vicious was clearly walking in the brightly lit place where a lot of money was spent, yet he appeared so out of place, looking a little desolate and lonely.
In a private room on the second floor, a young man with a scholarly appearance held the railing and looked down. He was wearing a buttoned jacket made of bamboo silk and carrying a silver flute at his waist. When the young man saw Xiahou Lian, he shouted, “Shige 7!”
Xiahou Lian nodded as a reply.
Chi Yan was sitting on a stool and holding a burr puzzle 8 in his hands, fiddling with it. This guy could never get tired of playing with children’s toys. On Black-Faced Buddha, he had collected several big kites, and when he came down the mountain, if it wasn’t a cat’s cradle in his hand, it was a nine linked rings puzzle. When he held them in his hands, he could play for an entire day.
Shu Qing was Qiu-Shifu’s last disciple, and in the future, he would inherit the Qiu surname and change his name to Qiu Qing. Qiu Ye had originally wanted Xiahou Lian to change his surname, but Xiahou Lian refused resolutely, so he could only accept another disciple. After all, the Qiu family line had to be continued. Shu Qing’s temperament was gentle, very similar to Qiu Ye’s. At first glance, he didn’t look like an assassin who committed countless murders and instead looked like a scholar who was working hard to study. Tang Shiqi always called him Scholar, and he could bear this title, as he was always copying the “Classic of Poetry” by hand and reading it diligently. The ink hidden in his stomach was a lot more than Xiahou Lian and the others.
Excitement filled Shu Qing’s face. “Shige, look, isn’t Miss Liu Shao beautiful?”
Xiahou Lian casually glanced. A girl wearing a moon-white jacket and skirt was sitting in the middle of the main hall. Her brows and eyes were lowered, and her appearance was gentle and quiet. All of the men in Wanxiang Building were excited, and those who whistled whistled, and those who threw red sashes threw red sashes. Only Xiahou Lian and Chi Yan were indifferent.
“Wow, she really is fucking good-looking!” Tang Shiqi craned his neck and looked down.
“Ignorant.” Xiahou Lian was disdainful.
With just this appearance, she couldn’t even compare with one of Shen Jue’s fingers.
“Just now, she wanted people to write a poem in calligraphy on a note, and the end of each line has to rhyme with a long ‘o’ sound 9. She’ll only let people marry her if they write it well,” said Shu Qing.
“You wrote one?” asked Xiahou Lian.
Shu Qing nodded vigorously.
Kid who hadn’t seen women before. Xiahou Lian patted his shoulder, which could be considered encouragement.
Below them, the bawd began reading the words. Xiahou Lian’s mind wasn’t present, so he only heard an earful of “when will the misty rain in Jiangdong cease; green hills outside the fence, white heads under the eaves 10,” so sour it gave him goosebumps all over his body. The bawd held a note in her hands, smiling so that her face was covered in wrinkles. She faced the private room in Xiahou Lian’s direction. Tang Shiqi shook Shu Qing excitedly, and Shu Qing was holding his heart, his face covered in nervousness. The bawd coughed and shouted with a high-pitched voice, “Congratulations, Xiahou Lian, Master Xiahou! You’ve obtained her heart, so you’ll be in the bridal chamber tonight!”
Xiahou Lian almost fell headfirst from his chair.
Shu Qing said in a small voice, “Shige, I signed your name.”
“Are you sick?!” Xiahou Lian glared at him angrily.
“He’s pimping for you and you’re not happy? He picked up a girl for nothing!” Tang Shiqi laughed loudly.
Shu Qing was a little anxious, and he mumbled, “My name is too womanly.”
“And the boss’s name isn’t womanly? Lian 11, glittering red lips and a fragrant tongue, ah!”
“Fuck off!” Xiahou Lian threw a teacup at Tang Shiqi.
Tang Shiqi tilted his head and dodged it. He asked Shu Qing, “Why didn’t you use my name?”
Xiahou Lian sneered, “Your name sounds like a robbed tramp.”
Shu Qing nodded silently.
Tang Tramp: “…”
- Specifically people who wander the martial arts world, which includes martial artists, gangs, thieves, beggars, merchants, etc.
- Not literal ghosts, just a way of referring to Garan assassins.
- Chi Yan’s saber, lit. Instant.
- Lit. Black Mountain.
- Lit. Shining Night.
- Lit. Willow branch tip.
- Lit. senior brother or senior fellow disciple.
- Assembled puzzles of wood or bamboo blocks in various shapes.
- A type of format for poems.
- In Chinese, the last character of each line, 休 (xiu) and 头 (tou) are pronounced with a long “o” sound, fitting the formatting of the poem.
- Lian describes the appearance of shining and rippling water, hence glittering.