Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Xiahou Lian decided to assassinate alone.
This decision was unanimously opposed by Tang Shiqi and Shu Qing. Tang Shiqi insisted on Xiahou Lian seeking help from Garan spies and hiring at least a few people to cover the assassination. Shu Qing seconded it.
Liu Guizang had three thousand disciples, so one mouthful of saliva from each person was enough to drown Xiahou Lian. Although assassins snuck in the darkness, they weren’t immortals or monsters after all. They had techniques to conceal themselves and hide without a trace, but there was no guarantee that they wouldn’t reveal a clue and get discovered by someone.
Tang Shiqi earnestly persuaded him for a long time, but Xiahou Lian had an appearance of “let your spittle fly, I’ll remain steadfast.” Tang Shiqi had no way out and said, “Boss, even if you can’t pay my wages, it’s not worthwhile to escape this way! Say, did you play with women and gamble money so you’re in deep debt, and you want to run away?!”
“Fuck your playing! Do you think I’m the same as you?” Xiahou Lian was speechless.
Shu Qing asked, “Then why don’t you find spies? With the cover of spies, they’ll help you stall Liu Guizang’s lackeys, so wouldn’t it be convenient?”
Xiahou Lian was silent for a while before saying, “When my mother had just died, that old bald donkey collected Liu Guizang’s money and sent assassins to help him assassinate the grandmaster of North Sect. Seeking the spies’ help is the same as seeking that bald donkey’s help.”
Shu Qing was stunned and opened his mouth to say, “But…” However, he said “but” for a long time yet couldn’t say a reason.
“I can kill Liu Guizang by myself. I have Zhaoye and Hengbo, they’re enough.” Xiahou Lian’s gaze was grim, hiding unquestionable firmness.
Shu Qing still wanted to persuade him, but Tang Shiqi patted his shoulder, signaling for him not to say anything. He turned his head and asked Xiahou Lian, “What’s your plan?”
Xiahou Lian spread out a map of Liuzhou City on a square table for eight people. On the left side of the map, there was a red line extending along the north market toward Dongchengmen Street 1, to all the way outside the city. The map was made out of white felt, so the red and black ink soaked into it very deeply. At first glance, the red line was like a deep wound, dripping with blood.
Xiahou Lian knocked on the position of Dongchengmen Street and said, “The first and fifteenth day of every month, Liu Guizang always inspects the shops in his city. He has twenty-three shops, including three restaurants, five cosmetics shops, ten herbal medicine shops, and five medical clinics. He usually starts inspecting at one in the afternoon, and he walks from west to east of the city. When he examines a shop, he takes between several minutes to tens of minutes. At seven in the evening, he eats at Dexian 2 Building in the east of the city, and when it’s nearly nine at night, he walks out of Dongchengmen Street and back to the village.”
“This cuckold is really fucking rich.” Tang Shiqi tsked and asked, “How many people does he usually bring?”
“Less than ten.” Xiahou Lian said, “Sometimes, he even only brings two servants. Jingdao Mountain Village has too many people, so there are a lot of variables of assassinating in the village.
Qi Clan Saber is a military saber technique that is particular about fighting in coordination and looking after one another. It’s not difficult to deal with one person, but it’s not easy to deal with a group of people. In the mountain village, it’s very easy to be attacked from both front and behind by them using crowd tactics, so it’s not easy to get away. So, it’s better to assassinate outside. Zhaoye is invulnerable, and fighting one-on-ten is still a very safe bet.”
“Can this really work?” Shu Qing was very perturbed.
He knew his senior fellow disciple’s temperament.
This person Xiahou Lian always did things without thinking about the consequences. He had said that he wanted to secretly learn saber techniques from hundreds of clans and had gone by himself and without a word. Then, he had brought tens of saber scrolls back and a body full of wounds back. He had said that he wanted to build an unparalleled killing machine mechanism puppet and had caught Tang Shiqi, not eating and not drinking and with his head buried in the room. When Zhaoye had taken shape, he had already had disheveled hair, a dirty face, and an unshaven chin, as if he was a vagrant who had been wandering on the streets for twenty years.
If he was like this for learning sabers and forging Zhaoye, Shu Qing firmly believed that Xiahou Lian would risk his own life to kill Liu Guizang.
“If I don’t succeed in one blow, I’ll withdraw. I’ve already bought a shop facing the street on Dongchengmen Street, so you two can hide there and aid me.” Xiahou Lian consoled him, “Don’t worry. If Liu Guizang doesn’t die, how would I let something happen to me? I always have to stay alive to deal with him.”
I’m just afraid you and him will perish together. Shu Qing pouted and didn’t dare to say it out loud.
When Xiahou Lian left, Shu Qing tugged on Tang Shiqi’s sleeve and asked, “Shiqi-ge, are you really going to let my shige assassinate Liu Guizang just like this?”
Tang Shiqi smacked Shu Qing’s head and said, “Fool, are you just going to do what he tells you to do? We’ll secretly hire ten or twenty brothers for him and hide in the shop. If something really does happen to that Xiahou Stubborn Donkey, won’t we just have to rush out and save him?”
Xiahou Lian had already arranged everything. He had replaced Zhaoye’s saber arm with a new one, and every brick and every patch of soil in Liuzhou City had been stepped on once by him. They had planned three escape routes and imagined countermeasures for tens of emergency situations to ensure that this assassination was foolproof.
The next thing they had to do was wait. They would wait for nine at night on the first of the next month, when Liu Guizang’s carriage would drive onto Dongchengmen Street——his fated killing field that had been meticulously arranged by Xiahou Lian.
The night was like ink, and Xiahou Lian was sitting on the rooftop in the wind, a jar of wine next to his hand. He had rented this courtyard when he had been catching disciples of the Liu clan to practice his saber on at the time, and later, he had simply bought it and turned it into Xiahou Lian’s secret den. Gazing down from where Xiahou Lian was, one could see many humanoid puppets standing in the yard, their iron skins twinkling under the moonlight. Those were Zhaoye’s previous bodies. Shu Qing had very carefully put clothes on them, so they looked like a group of stiff corpses from a distance.
The hallway was filled with discarded crossbow arrows and saber molds. Sometimes, one could even see the tattered blue cover of a Tang Sect mechanism scroll. The rockeries in the courtyard had been used by Xiahou Lian to test his accuracy, so crossbow arrows had poked bumpy holes in them, as if they had leprosy. In the scene of devastation, a lilytree stood in the corner of the courtyard, as if it was a rebel army breaking through. Its plump white flowers crouched all over the branches, and if one didn’t look carefully, they would think that they were white doves that were perching on the tree.
Tang Shiqi walked out of the winding corridor, and Xiahou Lian called out to him, asking, “Where’s Scholar?”
“He’s writing a letter to his wife. It’s really fucking mushy. I peeked at a few lines, it’s all some sour poetry.” Tang Shiqi climbed up from below and sat down next to Xiahou Lian. “Scholar is still too tender. Women, as long as a man has a few loving nights with her and then sends her some hairpins, hair clasps, bracelets, and whatnot, she’ll firmly commit herself to being with you.”
Xiahou Lian didn’t say anything, as he didn’t understand these messy things. He had sworn that he wouldn’t marry a wife or have children, so feelings and love had nothing to do with him.
However, he understood to ridicule Tang Shiqi, so he said, “And then you’re reported to Jingdao Mountain Village by her and are caught to be taken to the Evil-Punishing Scaffold, nearly dying.”
“That’s called hatred caused by love, okay!” Tang Shiqi angrily looked sideways at Xiahou Lian. Under the moonlight, Xiahou Lian’s thin cheeks appeared a little pale, and brows flew obliquely like thick ink. Now, his entire person was relaxed, and he had a bit of a desolate aura.
Tang Shiqi still remembered Xiahou Lian’s appearance when he had saved him. At the time, he had been locked in a prison carriage, and practically all of the money on him had been plundered by those disciples of Jingdao Mountain Village. He had used his last silver note that he had hidden in the sole of his shoe to exchange for a drumstick and had been completely poor. Just as he had been about to eat the drumstick in despair, Xiahou Lian had walked out of the darkness, wandering through the disciples like a ghost, and in the blink of an eye, the throats of the four disciples that had been escorting them had all been cut. At that time, he had still feared Xiahou Lian, and he hadn’t even noticed that the drumstick had fallen by his feet. Only when Xiahou Lian left had he understood that this guy had only come to kill the disciples of the Liu clan.
Later, he had mixed with Xiahou Lian, helping him go to Tang Sect to steal mechanism scrolls and helping him forge Zhaoye. Xiahou Lian was indeed a good boss. He was never behind in paying wages and issued them on schedule, and they even included a big red envelope on the Spring Festival and other festivals. When he slept in Garan’s brothel, he often didn’t even need to spend money.
“Hey, boss, I’ll be sad if you kick the bucket,” said Tang Shiqi.
Xiahou Lian turned his head to look at him. This round-faced man wasn’t smiling, as he always was. Xiahou Lian smiled and said, “Shiqi, human lives aren’t kept in order to take care of basic needs. There will always be a person who can make you risk your life to protect. Even if she dies, you still have to risk your life to avenge her.”
“I have one, boss.” Tang Shiqi looked down. “Do you still remember that Tang Lan, whose grave you dug up? He’s my sixth uncle, and he’s brought me up since childhood. I don’t have a father or a mother, so mechanism skills and crossbow archery were all personally taught by him to me. I left Tang Sect in order to find him. But he died, and I don’t even know who the enemy is. My crossbow mechanism lost its accuracy, so it can only be left empty in my hands.”
“…” Xiahou Lian was stunned and said, “Apologies, uh, don’t worry, I buried him back, and I burn incense paper for him every year.”
“It’s okay, you know that people with inexpiable crimes like us don’t believe in gods and Buddha.” Tang Shiqi pulled up the corners of his mouth and smiled. “Boss, do you think that I’m very cowardly? My sixth uncle who treated me so well died, yet I still visit brothels, drink wine, and sleep at ease. I’ve always admired you a lot, boss. You’re the manliest man I’ve ever seen. You do what you say and aren’t vague at all, killing any god or Buddha you encounter.
“I also want to be this reckless. But I also can’t help but think that I fucking finally came into this world to take a look, and if I don’t live well, I’ll really be sorry that I worked so hard to climb out of my mother’s womb at the time. In this lifetime, I don’t have any other desires. I just want to die on a woman’s bed, as this is a man’s best end. Boss, do you think my sixth uncle will blame me?”
“He won’t. He won’t want you to take revenge,” said Xiahou Lian.
“Yeah, boss.” Tang Shiqi lifted his eyes and looked at Xiahou Lian. “Have you ever thought that the Garuda doesn’t actually want you to take revenge?”
Xiahou Lian laughed. He had gone in such a big circle, just to talk him over.
“I know, I’ve always known that my mother doesn’t want me to take revenge.” Xiahou Lian held the wine and gazed at the heavy night. The moon had already been covered by clouds, and there was a dense forest outside the house that was like standing ghosts. “But for some things, you can’t just not do them because you don’t want to. Every time I hold Hengbo, and every time I climb into bed and close my eyes to sleep, the past catches up like a ghost.”
Tang Shiqi didn’t say anything, and the two of them gazed at the night together. The stars were dense, as if they were teetering.
“When my mother had just left, I couldn’t fall asleep for entire nights. Every day, I would think about how to kill him.” Xiahou Lian took a sip of wine and suddenly said, “The gap between me and him is too big. He’s a grandmaster of saber skills and has three thousand disciples. I’m not afraid that I’ll kill him and be chased and killed as revenge, I’m just afraid that I won’t even be able to enter the threshold of his door. I’m sad to death and tried my best to practice the saber. But I don’t have talent, and people in Garan laugh at me, saying that I’m a good-for-nothing.”
“What the hell are you talking about, boss, if you’re a good-for-nothing then what am I!”
“It doesn’t matter, I don’t care about what they say about me. I knew that sooner or later, there would be a day on which I would go and find Liu Guizang.” Xiahou Lian said softly, “But the saddest thing isn’t you being scolded as a good-for-nothing and a coward. Instead, it’s when you understand in your heart that even if time flowed backward and you returned to the day your mother died on the street, you still couldn’t have gone out and still couldn’t have stepped past that door and killed Liu Guizang.”
Xiahou Lian looked at Tang Shiqi and enunciated each word as he said, “So I admit whatever they scold me as. Because, I am a good-for-nothing.”
Tang Shiqi looked at Xiahou Lian blankly. He saw the deep grief in Xiahou Lian’s eyes that was like heavy black iron and like dense haze. He suddenly understood that no one could stop Xiahou Lian. This assassin could destroy the heavens and the earth for that woman who had died tragically on the street, and even destroy himself.
“Boss…” Tang Shiqi still wanted to say something.
“Shiqi, in the future, don’t fool around like this anymore.” Xiahou Lian interrupted him. “You’re not from Garan, so you can’t always stay in Wanxiang Building. Properly look for a job and marry a good wife. A man’s best end isn’t to die in some random woman’s bed, it’s in a good coffin that was built with ten taels of silver, buried next to your wife. Look at how happy Scholar is to have married a wife.”
“Then what about you, boss, where’s your end?”
“As for me,” Xiahou Lian stood up, jumped onto a big tree next to the roof and slid down along the tree trunk. His back faced Tang Shiqi as he waved his hand and walked, step by step, into the shadows of the depths of the winding corridor, “my end is in the darkness.”
Dark clouds pressed on the city, like thick ink randomly rolled out by a brush on rice paper. They grouped on top of people’s heads, as if one could reach them if they stretched their hand out, making people’s hearts gloomy and uncomfortable.
Liu Guizang lifted the curtain of the carriage and took a few glances outside. Afraid that it was going to rain, the pedestrians on the streets were in a hurry to depart, rushing back home with quick steps, for fear that they would be drenched into a drowned chicken in a while. There soon were not many people on the streets, and there were only a few sporadic vendors still packing up their stalls. The carriage wheels pressed on the ground, emitting rumbling sounds. If one wasn’t listening carefully, they would think that it was thundering.
Liu Guizang had people speed up the carriage and sat back inside it, closing his eyes to rest.
The carriage rattled as it drove for a while. It suddenly stopped, and Liu Guizang heard a disciple exclaim, “Village Leader!”
Liu Guizang frowned, opened the curtain, and shouted, “What are you making such a big fuss over!”
After saying this, he himself was also stunned.
Directly in front of them, not far away, a black-clothed girl was riding on a horse. Under her jet-black long hair was a plain white face, and there were only two dark eye holes on it. Human heads dripping with blood hung all over her body and on the back of the horse. Under their broken necks, messy long hair full of knots was tied together, as if dragging out scribbled and lengthy last strokes. Accompanying the girl riding forward on the horse, the heads bumped together, emitting dull sounds, like a witch’s drum that came from before ancient times, attracting the wandering souls in the wastelands.
The disciples backed away in panic. Someone recognized the heads on the horse as disciples of Jingdao Mountain Village.
The girl was expressionless. She didn’t say anything and only rode the horse silently.
“V-Village Leader!” A disciple exclaimed, “It’s Zhaoye, Zhaoye!”
Liu Guizang lifted his hand, signaling for him to shut up.
The horse stopped, and a hoarse man’s voice came from the depths of the street, like the soft whisper of a lonely ghost.
“Xiahou Lian of Garan of Seven Leaves, sending Village Leader Liu to be reborn in the Land of Bliss.”