Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Xiahou Lian was ladling water to drink in the kitchen, and Tang Shiqi was holding onto the door panel. Several holes had been made in the door panel by bugs, and Tang Shiqi scratched those small holes as he said, “Boss, Chi Yan went missing in the North.”
Xiahou Lian’s back was facing him. He didn’t say anything, but his movements of ladling the water stopped. It was silent all around, and small flying insects buzzed as they flew over. The curtain of night was pitch-black, sporadic stars shone slightly, and the air had the smell of mud, flowers, and plants.
Tang Shiqi felt perturbed, so he changed the topic and said, “Ah, right, boss, don’t go out these days no matter what. Your Garan has been very unlucky, and a lot of people have been caught during this period. Some people say that Shen Jue catches so quickly and so accurately because he has spies in Garan. You’re also on the list, have you seen the portraits of you on city walls? A few months ago, I was careless for a moment and was discovered by the Eastern Depot. I even got hit by an arrow and nearly kicked the bucket, but luckily, I narrowly escaped.” Tang Shiqi pulled open his collar, wanting Xiahou Lian to look at his arrow wound. “You’re quite important, the Eastern Depot is hunting down Garan assassins, and you’re at the top of their orders of arrests!”
Xiahou Lian turned his head back to glance at Tang Shiqi’s wound. The wound had already scabbed, yet he could still see the danger of when he had been hit by the arrow. He already knew about the matter of the Eastern Depot catching him, he wasn’t blind. The entire way from Tian Mountain back to the Central Plains, orders for his arrest were posted on big and small cities along the way. There were also orders for arrests of other assassins’, and all of Garan’s Eight Legions were on the list. The other assassins’ true faces had never been exposed, so there were only portraits of him, and it was also his that were the most conspicuous.
He had gone to Tian Mountain without telling Garan, so he had never stayed in Garan’s courier houses along the way. This was also fortunate, as when he had been crossing a river, he had passed by a courier house and saw Eastern Depot underlings surrounding the house and pulling out the people inside one by one, pressing them underneath the sun. More and more people gathered to watch, but the underlings formed a human barricade and didn’t allow them to get close. The underlings pinched the faces of everyone on the ground, probably to check for skin masks. The leading eunuch-in-charge prowled in a circle and said, “The governor has orders not to leave a single Garan rebel!”
They dragged the Garan spies and implicated people of the underworld toward the riverside, and threw them into the river water one by one. The waves were turbulent, and the people entered like dumplings. A black head occasionally emerged, but they were soon swallowed by the surging river water.
The eunuch-in-charge rode a horse past him, and he asked, “Sir, may I ask if it was also the chief officer who gave orders to hunt down the Nameless Ghost?”
The eunuch-in-charge looked sideways at him and threw an order of arrest onto his face. “The governor personally wrote instructions on the edict, would it be fake?”
He grabbed the order of arrest from his face. On the portrait that had been outlined in ink brush, the word “kill” had been written using a red-inked brush as if it had been smeared with blood, vicious and ferocious.
At this moment, he looked at the scar on Tang Shiqi’s body and finally believed it. It turned out that not leaving a single Garan rebel also included him.
Did Shen Jue want to find him? It wasn’t that he hadn’t thought of this possibility. But it also wasn’t that Shen Jue didn’t know that he would die without Mid-July, so he couldn’t leave Garan.
Time was long, and hearts were mutable. The Uncle Duan who had watched him grow up could kill his mother, and his former old friend could also become his enemy.
He silently turned back and put the water ladle onto the table. He moved his hand and accidentally knocked down the bowl in the tray, which clattered as it shattered all over the ground. He squatted down and picked up the shattered porcelain shards, putting them back into the tray. The porcelain shards were sharp, and they sliced a cut on his hand. It was as if he didn’t feel it and continued picking them up.
Tang Shiqi hastily went over to stop him, yet he heard him say hoarsely, “There’s something you don’t know. Shen Jue and I were brothers who lived and died together.”
Tang Shiqi was first stunned, and then fiercely slapped the table, saying, “Talk about this Shen Jue! Although he’s a lackey of the imperial court and you’re a rebel of the martial arts world, at least you lived and died together, so how could he treat you like this! Ah, you really encountered a bad person! Don’t be like this, boss, let’s not associate ourselves with that wicked eunuch who flatters his masters to seek glory! Maybe in the next life, we’ll be conferred with a heroic title of resisting powerful eunuchs!”
Xiahou Lian still didn’t say anything. He got bandages and sat on the threshold to wrap them around his hand. Tang Shiqi didn’t dare to speak. It was as if there was a heavy weight pressing down on Xiahou Lian, and when he sat under the dome of the sky, the entire curtain of night seemed to be pressing on his shoulders. The wind blew in gusts, leaves rustled, and the entire world’s shadows swayed wildly. Tang Shiqi pulled a plantain plant next to his legs, plucked off the leaves, and tore them into pieces.
“The Eastern Depot and Garan have been irreconcilable for a very long time. For many years, Garan has killed a lot of people from the Eastern Depot, and the Eastern Depot has also killed a lot of people from Garan. I’m Garan’s most known assassin, and he’s the Eastern Depot’s governor, so it’s not strange that he wants to kill me.” Xiahou Lian looked down and said, “Before, Shifu said that I still have a chance of survival.” He smiled. “What chance of survival, assassins have never had a chance.”
Tang Shiqi didn’t know how to console him, so he stammered, “Ah, boss, don’t think this way!”
Xiahou Lian continued, “When I go back to Garan this time, I might not ever come out. My secret nests in Liuzhou, Suzhou, and Hangzhou and my silver in exchange shops are all yours. Take the silver out as early as possible, otherwise you won’t be able to get them when I kill Shi Xin.”
“Hey, boss, how embarrassing is this…”
“If you have time, when Garan disbands, go onto the mountain and see if you can find my corpse. Cut my head off and give it to the Eastern Depot,” Xiahou Lian said slowly. When he said this, his tone was flat and calm and his expression didn’t have any changes, as if he was discussing how to cut a chicken.
“Boss, you’re crazy!” cried Tang Shiqi.
Xiahou Lian clenched his left hand. The bandages weren’t wrapped very comfortably, so when he clenched his fist, there was a very light pain. His heart ached and hurt a little, but his heart seemed to have become numb after being tormented for so long, and the aching and pain couldn’t spread to his entire heart. It was as if someone was using their fingertips to tightly twist a corner, and it was only a small area, but it was also so real.
“When Shen Jue had just entered the palace, I wholeheartedly wanted to save him and get him out so he could continue studying, take the imperial examination, and be a powerful official in the imperial court. When I first met Chi Yan, I also wanted to bring him down from the top of Black-Faced Buddha to let him understand human feelings and know the ways of the world, and not become a saber. But now, I know that I can’t fucking do anything.” Xiahou Lian smiled. His smile was very weak, like a faint trace of a sorrowful wind brushing past withered branches. “The person Shen Jue has to deal with is very strong and is too difficult, so I can’t help him much, but helping a little is a little.”
“Boss, I don’t even know how to scold you. Money, worldly possessions, and sending you can’t be helped, but how come I even have to send your head? You don’t want an intact corpse?” Tang Shiqi sighed.
“It doesn’t matter either way for people with great sins.” Xiahou Lian braced his knees and stood up, turned his back to him, and waved. “I’m sleeping.”
Tang Shiqi opened his mouth and wanted to say something else, but in the end, he didn’t say anything.
For people like them who didn’t care for their lives like there was a today but no tomorrow, they actually mostly didn’t believe in gods or Buddhas. But after walking in the dark for a long time, they couldn’t help but have a bit of fear. Some people would string together star-moon Bodhis 1 and wear them, and some people would go to temples and donate some silver, at least praying that they wouldn’t go to hell and be punished by getting their eyes dug out and their noses cut off.
Someone who killed their father had committed one of the five grave offenses 2 and would fall into interminable hell 3. Tang Shiqi knew that it wasn’t that Xiahou Lian didn’t believe or wasn’t afraid; he just firmly believed that his fate was for his bones to be laid across the wilderness and his soul to chase grass without roots.
He had forsaken this life, and he had forsaken his next life.
The mountain temple had gotten even more dilapidated. The tiles were half-lifted, and the decayed rafters were bare and exposed, like the bones of a rotten corpse. The wall was originally yellow, and the word Buddha was written in red ink on it. Now, the paint was falling, and it was mottled like an old woman’s face that was coated with thick rouge and powder. On it, there were also many big and small, high and low black footprints, and half of them were Xiahou Lian’s masterpieces in his childhood. A row of weeds had grown along the wall, and a bit of red and yellow wildflowers embellished them.
Under the wide eaves, there was a short, red-painted table and two small stools. A lot of the paint on the table had fallen off, and one of its legs was a little shorter, so a few bricks had been put underneath it, barely keeping balance without shaking. On the table, there was a small purple clay teapot 4 and two blue and white porcelain bowls with gaps in them. Those were the abbot’s most valuable things, and Xiahou Lian rarely saw him take them out to use. People who were used to being poor were like this; when they had good things, they would hide and conceal them as treasures, for fear that if they were gone, then they would be even poorer.
Shi Xin was still wearing his black kasaya robes, and he was sitting on a small stool with his hands in his sleeves, looking like he had been waiting for a very long time. Xiahou Lian sat down opposite of him. The abbot held the teapot and poured tea into Xiahou Lian’s tea bowl, foam rolling up and down in the steaming boiling water.
“Do you know what I’m here for? Were you waiting for me?” Xiahou Lian asked in a low voice.
“Drink tea.” Shi Xin didn’t answer and simply picked up a copper pipe on the ground. The pipe was also very old, but one could tell that it had been preserved very well, and its stem that was even a little longer than an arm was still glossy and shiny. He filled the pipe bowl with tobacco leaves, smacked his lips on the mouthpiece, and spit out a strand of white mist.
Xiahou Lian was a little surprised, as he had never known that the abbot smoked.
Xiahou Lian drank a cup of tea. He didn’t understand tasting tea, so he drank it like water. The bitter liquid flowed along his thorax into his chest, and his entire heart beat in the boiling hot tea water. It had started raining, the fine rain like needles as thin as ox hair. In autumn, the mountain always liked to rain like this. This was the first time he and the abbot sat face-to-face like this, drinking tea and smoking pipes. The smell of the smoke was pleasantly sweet and not choking. Seeing such a scene, people who didn’t know would think that they were a father and son with deep and affectionate feelings, not enemies whose hatred were as deep as the sea.
He looked at the man across from him. Shi Xin had deep features, and when he lowered his eyes, the outlines of his eyebrows casted shadows on his eyes. His beard was completely white and his wrinkles were very deep, the result of contemplation over a long time. His heart was unexpectedly calm, as if he had only come today to drink tea with Shi Xin and chat about something like when it rained in the mountain and when it was dry.
“The one you originally chose is me, so why did you make Chi Yan go?”
Shi Xin looked up at the hazy drizzle filling the mountain and said, “You have to remember that someone else will carry the burdens you put down for you. Before, it was your mother. You let go a young master of the Xie clan, so she bore the whipping for you. Now, it’s your brother. You don’t want to go to the North, so he rushed to the killing field for you. That silly child, in order to fulfill your wish, he didn’t hesitate to lie to me.” Shi Xin spat out a smoke ring, not knowing whether it was relief or disappointment in his speech. “He actually knows how to lie.”
His heart ached numbly as he recalled that day when Chi Yan had asked him if he wanted to be the abbot and recalled Chi Yan sitting on the top of Black-Faced Buddha, playing the xun. He remembered the sad expression in Chi Yan’s eyes and how the wind had burrowed into the sleeves of that lonely assassin’s robes, like a pale moth.
How hadn’t he seen it? Chi Yan, that guy whose brain lacked a fiber, had been saying goodbye to him.
“How did you know that I’m going to kill you?” Xiahou Lian asked with a hoarse voice.
“You’re still too young and you do things carelessly, you have to remember to change this in the future. The files in the document storehouse haven’t been flipped through for a long time so they’re covered in dust, yet only the Garuda’s file was clean. Besides you, no one would go to flip through the Garuda’s file.” Shi Xin said, “I understand you, Xiao Lian, I knew that you were sure to come and find me. As for Chi Yan, he wanted to go, so I let him go.”
“I see.” Xiahou Lian lowered his head and smiled. “From the moment I saw the file, you knew that I was sure to kill you, so you’ve been waiting for me the entire time. Old bald donkey, you’re too conceited. Perhaps I couldn’t beat you before, but now, who wins and who loses is still unknown.”
“I don’t look forward to you dying in my hands. You are my child, after all.” Shi Xin sighed. “I only hope that you can become strong and do what you need to do. Garan has a lot of secrets, Xiao Lian, if you kill me today, it proves that you’re already strong enough, and Garan’s secrets will be opened to you.”
Fury surged in his chest, and Xiahou Lian suppressed the resentment in his heart as he said, “Secrets? Isn’t it just your enemy in the North? That’s your debt, it has nothing to do with me! It was your cowardice that harmed your ancestors, so why are you making Chi Yan and I repay the debt for you! Because we’re your sons? Ridiculous! Old bald donkey, I, Xiahou Lian, don’t have a father, I only have a mother. Her name is Xiahou Pei, and she’s the master of Hengbo, the world’s best saber. Xiahou Lian, my surname is Xiahou!”
Xiahou Lian stood up, and Hengbo swiftly flowed out of its jet-black scabbard like mercury. He raised the saber, and the hazy drizzle outside the eaves landed on the blade, fine and dense, with spots of glistening light. “There’s no point in saying these things. Everyone has their debts, and today, I come to collect debt from you! Draw your Bushenglian, Shi Xin!”
“No need. I am old, and old men should drink tea and smoke. I’ll just use this pipe, it and I are old friends. Let it see exactly what extent your saber skills have gotten to.”
Shi Xin suddenly lifted his eyes, and the muscles on his forehead bulged. He abruptly slapped the short table. His strength was too large, so the short table instantly broke into pieces. Among the flying bits of wood, the purple clay teapot and two small cups flew into the air. Xiahou Lian swung a solitary and fierce stroke, and the blade entered the belly of the teapot and the body of the cups at the same time. The tea set was neatly cut into two pieces, and the sharp point of the saber sliced past in front of Shi Xin.
Shi Xin swiftly backed away and stood in the rain. His black kasaya robes were dampened by the wind, and it wrapped around his thin body, like a solitary withered bamboo. He sighed, seemingly feeling sorry for his precious purple clay teapot.
Xiahou Lian stepped into the rain, gripping Hengbo in both hands, and his black linen clothes shook as he walked.
He slowly adjusted his breathing, exhaling one step and inhaling one step. His footsteps became faster and faster, and his breathing also sped up along with them. In the pattering sounds of rain, he could hear his own heavy panting. When he got to the fifth step, he had adjusted his breathing to the most perfect state. In an instant, he suddenly started moving. He rushed past the bleak curtains of rain and pounced toward the black-clothed monk, his two sleeves stretching and fluttering backward, like trembling black and dark butterflies in the rain.
“Clang——”, the clear and crisp sound of metal striking together. Shi Xin had only lifted the old and shabby copper pipe, yet he had actually stopped Hengbo’s ruthless blow. Shi Xin shook his head lightly, and at the same time the pipe pressed down Hengbo’s blade, it slid past Xiahou Lian’s right wrist and hit the acupoint on Xiahou Lian’s shoulder. It was as if his shoulder had been stung by a venomous bee, and numb pain started spreading from that point to his entire arm; he nearly couldn’t hold Hengbo!
He did his utmost to grip Hengbo, yet he didn’t have time to swing the next stroke. Shi Xin held the pipe in a reverse grip and hit his face with a punch. The sky and earth spun, and fell down onto the ground, tasting the tang of blood and dirt.
Icy raindrops hit his face, and his body was cold from the inside out.
He actually hadn’t gotten past one move under Shi Xin’s hands! But he was only using a shabby pipe!
Shi Xin still stood where he was and looked at Xiahou Lian pityingly. “Xiao Lian, do you see, this is the difference. You forgot that Chi Yan’s saber skills were taught by me. You forgot that even your mother couldn’t win against my Bushenglian. Although my right hand is injured, it’s still more than enough to deal with you. Because your saber skills are really too poor!”
“Shut up!” Xiahou Lian got up and wiped clean the blood and water on his face.
He charged again, and rainwater splashed out underneath his feet, spots of mud dampening his shoes and socks. His eyes flashed with a ferocious cruelty, relying on a chestful of tenacity of fighting alone and living toward death to slash at Shi Xin.
Hengbo turned continuously in his hands, and the light of the saber practically enveloped their entire bodies. Clanging sounds sounded continuously, like vigorous strings being plucked continuously. Not only were two powerful forces colliding ferociously, all of Xiahou Lian’s blows were sealed by Shi Xin! Rain that filled the sky accompanied the falling leaves that filled the sky, and they clashed fiercely in the numerous leaves and rain. Xiahou Lian used swift and continuous blows to slash at Shi Xin, and Shi Xin backed away while he parried. They soon went in an entire circle around the courtyard. But Xiahou Lian hadn’t even touched the corner of Shi Xin’s clothes!
He reacted and realized that this kind of swift and continuous blows was already practically using all of his strength, yet Shi Xin was unhurried as if strolling in a quiet courtyard.
At the beginning of the second circle, when a withered and yellow falling leaf swept between the two of them, Xiahou Lian’s blade cut the falling leaf. At the same time, the sound of slicing through wind came toward him, and he saw the pipe bowl pass through the gap between the two halves of the leaf. However, his head was hit heavily, like a large bell being struck in his mind.
His vision blurred, and his head was dizzy. Bells rang continuously in his ears, heavy and slow, and he felt that his heartbeat also seemed to slow down. He kneeled onto the ground and fell forward, icy fallen leaves sticking to his cheeks. Cold, bone-chillingly cold.
“Your saber skills have always been very bad.” Shi Xin sighed. “Xiahou Pei indulged you too much. At the age when other people practiced sabers, you climbed trees, dug out bird nests, and burned my mountain temple. I racked my brain and even killed Xiahou Pei because I wanted you to become stronger. You indeed became stronger, but it’s still far from enough.”
Xiahou Lian coughed out a mouthful of blood, braced himself against the ground, and got up again. His forehead was bleeding, and dark gray soil was stuck to his face, like a dog without a home with a filthy head and dusty face.
“Fuck you!” He spat out a mouthful of blood phlegm and roared, “Again!”
The third charge! Xiahou Lian pounced toward Shi Xin with his entire body, and their two figures stuck together. They were the same black color and the same thinness, like two ink marks mixed together. Xiahou Lian did his best to swing his saber: Swallow Slant, Moon-Cutting, and Snake Step. The piercingly cold light of his saber enveloped their entire bodies, weaving into a dense net. However, it was as if Shi Xin’s pipe bowl descended from the sky. It suddenly appeared obliquely like a ghost, fiercely hitting Xiahou Lian’s acupoints. First, it was his thighs and knees, and then his chest, elbow joints, wrists, back, and all over his body, not sparing any.
It hurt! It was as if stones were pressing on his chest, suffocating and uncomfortable. Xiahou Lian spat out a mouthful of blood and roared as he vertically chopped down. Shi Xin’s pipe bowl sliced past Hengbo’s blade, emitting a sound that made one’s teeth ache, and then hit Xiahou Lian’s arm.
Hengbo slipped out of his hands and Xiahou Lian fell to the ground, panting rapidly.
“You can’t beat me, do you still want to continue?” Shi Xin looked down at him.
Xiahou Lian didn’t have the strength to speak, and he made an effort to stretch his fingers, hooking onto the hilt of Hengbo. It was already unclear whether it was mud or blood on his hands, sticky and greasy. He braced himself against the ground and struggled to get up, and pain spread up both of his legs. He suppressed it, and didn’t even groan. He couldn’t get up the first time, so he got up a second time. On his third try, he finally stood up, leaning on Hengbo.
“Again!” Xiahou Lian roared loudly.
Thus, he charged again and again, and was knocked over again and again. He was like an obstinate child, a stubborn calf; he didn’t know to adapt, didn’t know to surrender, and didn’t know to yield. He was beaten up, but he would bite back even if he had to use his teeth. He was knocked down to the ground for the twenty-sixth time, and he ate a mouthful of dirty fallen leaves for the twenty-sixth time, a salty and tangy taste filling his entire mind. The acupoints on his hands and feet had been hit by Shi Xin’s pipe, and they were weak and numb, as if countless small bugs were burrowing in his bloodstream.
Stand up, stand up! He gritted his teeth, tears in his eyes, and stood up for the twenty-sixth time, dragging Hengbo as he stumbled toward Shi Xin.
Garan Saber • Moon-Cutting!
The light of his saber was as turbulent as a tide, surging as if it could topple mountains and overturn seas. Shi Xin’s expression didn’t change, and only until when the momentum of that saber that was as heavy as a mountain and as lonely as the moon was close before his eyes did he draw out the pipe, hitting Xiahou Lian’s elbow. Hengbo fell to the ground with a clatter, and Shi Xin swung his fist, and Xiahou Lian was punched in the face. Blood from his nose splattered, and his entire body leaned back, falling in the rain.
The pain was like his entire body had broken, and it seemed that as long as he turned over, his bones would creak.
“You are too weak, Xiahou Lian.” There was very deep disappointment in Shi Xin’s eyes. “I originally thought that you were Garan’s hope, but I didn’t expect that you’re only a fragile child. Give it up. Forget it, I overestimated you.”
Xiahou Lian puffed as he panted heavily. His right eye was swollen, half of his cheeks were filled with blood, and his entire face was blue and black, like a pig’s head. He teetered as he stood up and effortfully lifted his head, looking at Shi Xin viciously.
“Old bald donkey, my saber skills are indeed not good. Perhaps when my mother gave birth to me and Chi Yan, she gave all of her saber talents to Chi Yan, and I only got her abilities to indulge in eating, drinking, and merrymaking.” Xiahou Lian wiped the blood at the corner of his mouth as he said, “But, the heavens always leave a door open. Open your old and dim-sighted eyes wide and look clearly, what’s this?”
Xiahou Lian lifted his right hand. At some point, he had put a silver glove on his hand, and it glimmered in the rain.
Shi Xin’s pupils shrank slightly.
Following the flexing and stretching of Xiahou Lian’s fingers, the fallen leaves covering the ground were flipped up, and a net rose up from the ground. It soundlessly unfolded around Shi Xin like a huge spider web. The net practically couldn’t be seen clearly by the naked eye, and if it weren’t for the fine raindrops hanging on it, flowing along the silk net, Shi Xin practically thought that the air was empty. Countless fallen leaves spun and tumbled as they fell, yet they were cut in the middle in midair without warning. They broke into two pieces, or three, or even more.
“Leading Mechanism Silk.” Shi Xin sighed. “You actually restored the long-lost Leading Mechanism Silk.”
It turned out that Xiahou Lian had been running around the entire courtyard to arrange this inescapable net. In front of and behind him was this great huge net, and Shi Xin already had no way to retreat.
Xiahou Lian looked at him and said softly, “Shi Xin, do you have anything else you want to say?”
Shi Xin used his finger to touch a silk thread, and a thin wound was instantly added onto his finger, a bright red streak of blood seeping out from inside it. A smile hooked up at his lips, and he gazed at the distant blue dome of the sky, sighing, “I have finally forged this unparalleled famed saber.”
He looked at Xiahou Lian, and his gaze had a desolation that Xiahou Lian couldn’t understand. “Xiao Lian, I have opened the door for you. You have to go on the following path yourself. We will… not meet again.”
Xiahou Lian was stunned, and his fingers froze. At that moment, he had no way of acting. But he thought of his mother and thought of Chi Yan, and the hatred in his heart surged up again. He gritted his teeth and abruptly clenched all of his fingers.
The silk threads were pulled tight, and countless silk threads moved extremely quickly. The large net that filled the sky shrunk toward its center, and raindrops flowed rapidly on the transparent thin silk. Shi Xin saw countless rays of light flash sharply before his eyes, and there were dull pains everywhere on his body. Something penetrated his head, and his vision spun dizzily. He saw himself get further and further away from his body, and that body wearing black kasaya robes was also breaking into pieces, shattering into countless blocks. Blood splashed like collapsing building blocks, crashing to the ground.
At last, he saw the boy wearing black linen clothes in the distance looking at him blankly, tears sliding down from the corners of his eyes. In that instant, he seemed to see many years ago, when a child with the same eyes had been clattering worn-out straw sandals and ran to the door of the temple for the first time. He had only been a little taller than the threshold, and he sucked his finger as he looked at him blankly.
Hesitating for a while, he took down the malt sugar from the altar and asked, “Do you want to eat?”
There was clear yearning in the boy’s eyes, but he still did his best to show a proud expression. “I don’t want it!”
A “thump” sounded in his ears, and he knew that his head had fallen onto the ground. The distant boy was still shedding tears silently. He opened his mouth and wanted to say, Do not cry, Xiao Lian. Boys who have grown up cannot cry.
But in the end, he didn’t say it out loud, as he didn’t have a throat and had no way of making a sound. Thus, everything became far away from him, submerging into a silent darkness as if sinking into water.
His life was finally over.
Xiahou Lian sat on the threshold and stared blankly at the long steps.
He had killed those he should kill, and he had taken the revenge he should take, so his business was already over. The forest was dense, and morning glories had climbed onto the steps, blooming gorgeously. His hand touched a sticky liquid, and only when he looked down did he realize that he was still bleeding. He covered his wound, picked up Hengbo, and went to Black-Faced Buddha to set it on fire. Then, he went back with alternating heavy and light steps, crawling back to his bamboo house.
Behind him, a man wearing a black cloak walked out of the darkness. Duan Jiu looked at his gradually receding back and turned his head back, looking at the Leading Mechanism Silk that densely covered the courtyard like a spider web.
“What a stunning killing weapon.” Duan Jiu laughed lightly, turned around, and stepped into the darkness.
The bamboo house stood lonesomely in the forest, concealed and set off by the bamboo trees everywhere, and small unknown wildflowers had bloomed in a patch around it. He pushed open the door and went back to his room. It was silent all around, and when he stepped on the ground, it creaked.
He was tired, and he wanted to have a good rest. He didn’t bandage his wound. The blood would take away his life, as his business was already over.
He sat on the bed-stove, and the corner of a letter poked out from under his pillow. He frowned in confusion, pulled out the letter, and opened it.
Begin. I am going to the North, I am not sure of my date of return. When I was living in Jinling, I bought crab roe buns on credit with three maces of silver from the granny in Fuzimiao, so I hope you will pay it off for me. A raccoon dwells under a hole at the west gate of Wanxiang Building. I promised it pastries and food, but I did not give them to it, so I hope you can give them for me.
The North is far, but you do not need to worry. I am not afraid of the difficulties of life and death, I am only afraid that my little brother will worry. I have lived on the mountain for a long time, and have not fully viewed the world. I have heard that the autumn frost in Fengqiao, the evening bells in Hanshan Temple, and the folk songs of Wujiang are known all over the world. I am very happy about them, and I often hope to go together with you, shoulder-to-shoulder, but I have not yet had time. You and I have the same sounds and the same appearance, and I hope to borrow your feet and borrow your eyes to travel and view the world for me, so that I will have no regrets.
May you have peace and joy, and be worry-free through the years.
Your elder brother, Chi Yan
Chi Yan’s handwriting was very delicate and pretty, like his person, tranquil and clean. Xiahou Lian caressed his writing, his tears falling down drop by drop and smearing the ink. Xiahou Lian coughed a few mouthfuls of blood and put the letter into the fold of his clothes. He brought Hengbo, went out the door, and stumbled toward the saber graveyard. He bled the entire way, stepping a bloody imprint with every step. Sometimes, he held a bamboo to rest, imprinting a bloody handprint on the bamboo. He walked several meters, his legs weakened, and he fell to the ground. He rolled down along the hill, rolling all the way to the bottom.
He didn’t plan on leaving. He laid in the bamboo forest and gazed at the sky. It had just rained, and the breeze was light and the clouds were faint. Sunlight filtered through the gaps of the bamboo leaves and dropped down spots of light, which swayed next to him. He lifted his head and touched the brilliant sunlight.
In his life, his mother had died, and his master had died. His old childhood friend viewed him as his enemy. He did not know the whereabouts of his elder brother and his junior fellow disciple. His loved ones were long gone, his old friends far away. Only the light of day, shadows of clouds, and soughing sea of bamboo had sent him to the end of his final journey. It was not bad; after all, his hands were covered in blood and his crimes were inexpiable, his sins unforgivable.
If you create a karma of killing, you will be killed in retribution.
His retribution had come, just in time.
(End of Volume One)
- A religious item often worn on the wrist. It consists of seeds that, when polished and made into beads, have a hole in the middle that looks like the moon and black dots around it that look like stars.
- Known in Buddhism as anantarika-karma. They consist of murdering one’s father, murdering one’s father, killing an Arhat (fully enlightened being), shedding the blood of a Buddha, and creating a heresy within a Buddhist community.
- In Buddhism, the lowest level of the hell realm with the most suffering.
- A teapot made out of Yixing clay.