Bordertown Wanderer - Chapter 25
Chapter 25 - One Sword Shakes All Four Directions
It was never supposed to be this hot after a long rain.
Beads of sweat trickled down everyone's necks and onto their shirts making them look transparent. A large chameleon crawled about the rocky gravel as if it was looking for shade. The fields of grass that had just been drenched in the rain looked as if they were being dried up by the sun.
Even the wind was hot. The winds that blew in from the grasslands felt like demons from Hell breathing on them.
It was only slightly more bearable indoors.
A counter three feet wide was stacked with bolts and bolts of brightly colored silk and satin, and sets and sets of fully tailored garments. Ye Kai sat on a bench to the side with outstretched legs and watched lazily as Ding LingLin perused through the shop.
There were two attendants in the shop. One was relatively older and stood with hands at his side. The other was much younger and had already slipped to the front of the store to see what was going on outside.
The two of them had been in this business for quite a while. They knew that women shouldn't be bothered with opinions and suggestions when they were browsing through clothes.
Ding LingLin picked out a light green dress, put it against her body, then put it back down. She let out a sigh and remarked, "Who would've thought that they have so much in stock here."
"People usually complain about there being little variety, you're complaining about there being too much?" Ye Kai said.
Ding LingLin nodded her head and replied, "The more choices there are, the harder it is for me to make up my mind. If there were only a few for sale, I could just buy them all."
"Isn't that the truth." Ye Kai sighed.
"Because the Madame and Young Misses from the 'Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses' frequently patronize our store, we have no choice but to keep a large selection in stock. We truly regret this very much." the young attendant explained.
Ding LingLin couldn't help but laugh, "Why should you regret this, it's not your fault."
"The patron is always right. If you think that we have too much in stock, then it is our fault." the elder attendant chimed in.
"You guys really know how to run a business, looks like I have no other choice but to buy something." Ding LingLin replied.
The younger attendant at the entrance let out a sigh and said, "I would've never thought, I really would've never thought ..."
"You would've never thought what?" Ding LingLin asked.
He looked slightly startled as he turned to her and said, "Sorry, I wouldn't dare question such things."
"Question what things?" Ding LingLin asked.
"I just never would've imagined that Miss Ma would actually be scrubbing someone else's back." the youngster replied.
"The beloved daughter of the Third Boss of the 'Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses'"
"The one dressed all in red?"
"The Third Boss only has one such daughter."
"Whose back is she scrubbing?"
"It's ... it's that gentleman who was bathing in the middle of the street."
Ding LingLin's eyes lit up and suddenly turned to look at Ye Kai. His eyes were closed and he seemed to have dozed off.
"Hey, did you hear what he just said?" Ding LingLin asked him.
"Mmm." Ye Kai replied.
"Your good friend is scrubbing someone else's back, don't you want to go take a look?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Ye Kai let out a yawn and replied, "If it was a man scrubbing a woman's back, before you even told me I would've gone to take a look. But a woman scrubbing a man's back is perfectly normal, what's there to look at?"
Ding LingLin stared at him and finally couldn't help but smile.
The young attendant sighed and said, "I think I know why Miss Ma would degrade herself like this."
"Miss Ma is doing all of this for the Third Boss."
"The cripple is the Third Boss' mortal enemy. She is afraid that the Third Boss has gotten old in his years and won't be a match for him."
"So she willingly degrades herself in hopes that Lu XiaoJia will kill the cripple for her?"
"She really is a filial daughter." the attendant sighed.
Ding LingLin smiled coldly and remarked, "Maybe she just enjoys scrubbing men's backs."
The younger attendant was shocked and looked like he wanted to say something. But the elder attendant shot him a look and he lowered his head.
Just then, the sound of horse hooves filled the air. It was obvious from the rumbling that it was more than just one person.
Ding LingLin's eyes darted around as she said, "Go outside and take a look and tell me who has come to town."
Although the younger attendant seemed very displeased with her, he still obliged and went outside.
"They are old masters from the 'Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses'."
"At least forty or fifty."
Ding LingLin fell silent and glanced at Ye Kai from the corner of her eyes. "Do you think they've come to help? Or just to watch the show?"
Ye Kai let out another sigh and replied, "That depends on whether they're idiots or smart men."
"So if they came to help, then they would be idiots?" Ding LingLin said.
"Complete idiots." Ye Kai replied. "Only complete idiots would pass up on such a good show."
Ding LingLin let out a laugh and said, "So you're really interested in seeing whether Fu HongXue's sabre is faster or Lu XiaoJia's sword is faster, eh?"
"Even if I had to wait for three days, it'd be worth it." Ye Kai replied.
"That's why you're not an idiot."
By now the streets had gradually filled with all sorts of noises, coughing, and muttering, but the majority of the people were sighing with pity or gasping in surprise. Many people were astounded and shocked at watching Miss Ma scrub another person's back. But not a single person dared to interfere.
There really were very few idiots in this world.
Suddenly, all the clamoring came to a complete halt. Even the wind seemed to have stopped.
The two attendants in the shop suddenly felt an inexplicable pressure pushing up against them and felt as if they were suffocating.
Ding LingLin's eyes lit up, "He has arrived, he has finally arrived ..."
No one moved. No one made a sound.
Everyone felt that overwhelming sense of pressure choking them such that they could barely breathe.
"He has arrived, he has finally arrived ..."
Blistering sun. Blazing heat.
The wind blew in from the grasslands. This person came from the grasslands as well.
The dirt on the street was parched and cracked. He slowly walked up, his left foot took a small step forward, then his right foot dragged along from behind. Every single person was staring right at him. The sun was shining right on his face.
His face was completely pale white, like the snow and ice atop a faraway peak. But his eyes were filled with fire, his eyes were staring right at Ma FangLing.
Ma FangLing's hand stopped. The towel was still dripping wet with water. Her heart was dripping with blood.
One drop, two drops ... sorrow, anger, humiliation, hatred.
"Why haven't you left yet? Why are you still here?"
"I can't leave, because I want to watch him die, in front of my very eyes!"
Her heart was struggling and fighting, but there wasn't a single trace of emotion on her face.
Fu HongXue's eyes had shifted to Lu XiaoJia. Lu XiaoJia didn't even cast him a glance. Instead, he waved towards Ding LaoSi and Shopkeeper Hu. They could only oblige.
"The person that you want me to kill, he is the one?"
Ding LaoSi hesistated and looked towards Shopkeeper Hu. They then both nodded their heads.
"He's really the one you want me to kill?"
"Certainly." Ding LaoSi replied.
Lu XiaoJia let out a laugh and said, "Fine, then I will certainly kill him for you."
He reached out and picked up his sword. Fu HongXue immediately clenched the hand that held onto his sabre.
Lu XiaoJia still hadn't looked at him as he glanced over his sword and said, "I always carry out what I promise."
"Certainly." Ding LaoSi said.
"So you're confident?" Lu XiaoJia asked.
"Of course." Ding LaoSi replied.
Lu XiaoJia sighed lightly and said, "Since the two of you are confident, then the two of you can die now."
"What did you say?"
"I said, the two of you can die now."
He suddenly waved his sword around. It swung out very slowly, and didn't seem like it was thrusting at anyone at all. As Ding LaoSi slowly followed the sword with his eyes, his face suddenly fell stiff. Then, his entire body fell stiff.
Everyone stared in shock at his face, no one knew what had just happened. Then, Ding LaoSi's body fell over. As he fell to the floor, a stream of blood shot out from his stomach.
Then, everyone realized that there was another sword inside the tub, and it was dripping with blood. As Ding LaoSi was watching the sword in Lu XiaoJia's right hand, the sword in Lu XiaoJia's left hand struck from the tub and pierced into his stomach.
Just then, Shopkeeper Hu fell over as well. A stream of blood gushed out from his throat.
The sword in Lu XiaoJia's right hand was dripping with blood as well now. When Shopkeeper Hu finally realized there was another sword in Lu XiaoJia's left hand, the wandering sword in his right hand suddenly changed directions and shot out like lightning. Before he could even realize what had happened, the sword had already entered his throat.
No one moved. No one made a sound. No one even dared to breathe.
Blood was still dripping from the point of his swords. As he watched the drops of blood hit the floor, Lu XiaoJia sighed and said, "In my line of work, even when I'm bathing, I would leave an extra sword around. At least now the two of you will understand this."
"But I don't understand." Ma FangLing suddenly asked.
"You don't understand why I killed them?" Lu XiaoJia said.
Of course Ma FangLing didn't understand, "They're not the ones you're supposed to kill!"
Lu XiaoJia let out a laugh and turned his head. He finally laid his eyes on Fu HongXue.
"Do you understand?"
Of course Fu HongXue didn't understand either. No one understood.
"They didn't really invite me here to kill you. They merely wanted to ambush you while we exchanged blows with each other." Lu XiaoJia explained.
Fu HongXue still didn't understand very clearly.
"Their plan was good. No one would able to evade a barrage of hidden weapons if they're engaged in a duel with me. Especially if they were shot out from inside this tub."
"Inside the tub?" Fu HongXue asked.
Suddenly, there was a loud *PENG* that came from inside the tub. Then, the tub completely shattered and burst open. Water splashed in every direction, under the reflection of the sun it looked like a silvery gleam of light.
Just then, another figure actually ran out from the tub. This person was extremely quick, but Lu XiaoJia's sword was even quicker. His sword flashed and what followed was a wretched shriek.
Another stream of blood filled the streets. Another person fell to the floor. It was actually the 'Golden-Backed Dragon'!"
No one dared to make a sound. No one dared to take a breath. His wretched shriek was carried away by the scorching winds that blew in from the grasslands.
After who knows how long, Ding LingLin finally let out a deep sigh and remarked, "What an extremely fast sword!"
Ye Kai nodded his head. He apparently agreed.
No one could deny it. Pieces of metal forged into swords, upon entering Lu XiaoJia's hands, were no longer just swords. They became striking vipers, bolts of lightning that emanated from the depths of hell.
"Even I somewhat admire him now." Ding LingLin sighed.
"Oh?" Ye Kai said.
"He might not be a smart man, or a good man, but he is definitely a formidable swordsman." Ding LingLin said.
The last drop of blood had finally dripped to the floor. Lu XiaoJia's gaze shifted from the blade of his sword upwards towards Fu HongXue.
"Now do you understand?"
Fu HongXue nodded his head. Of course he understood now, everyone understood.
There was an empty compartment under the tub, perfectly suited to fit this person inside of it. After the tub was filled with water, no one could tell how deep it was. Lu XiaoJia wasn't standing up straight as well, so no one would've guessed that there was another compartment under the tub. So if the 'Golden-Backed Dragon' had unleashed his hidden weapons from there, Fu HongXue would've never expected it, even in his dreams.
"So now you should know that I bathe not because I loathe being dirty, but because someone paid me five thousand taels of silver." Lu XiaoJia let out a laugh and continued, "Even Ye Kai would be willing to take a bath for five thousand taels."
Ye Kai let out a smile.
Fu HongXue's expression was still pale and cold as ice. Under the blazing sun, there still wasn't a single drop of sweat on his head.
"Even I thought that their plan was pretty good. But they misjudged one thing."
Fu HongXue couldn't help but ask, "What?"
"Me." Lu XiaoJia replied.
"I've killed before, and I will always kill. I'm fond of money as well. For five thousand taels of silver I'd be willing to take a bath anytime and anywhere." Lu XiaoJia laughed as he continued, "But I detest being used by others. And I detest anyone who thinks they can use me as their tool."
Fu HongXue let out a long sigh. The ice in his eyes slowly started to melt.
"If I were to kill someone, I will do the killing myself." Lu XiaoJia said.
"That is a good habit." Fu HongXue replied.
"I have a lot of other good habits."
"Another habit I have is that I never swallow my own words."
"So I've heard."
"So I still have to kill you."
"But I don't want to kill you."
"Because I never enjoyed killing your type."
"And what type of person am I?"
"The comical type."
Lu XiaoJia looked startled, "I'm comical?"
He's been labeled many different nasty things, but never has anyone called him comical!
"I've always felt that people who bathe with their pants on are even more comical than people who pull down their pants to fart." Fu HongXue said.
Ye Kai couldn't hold in his laughter. Neither could Ding LingLin.
A grown man wearing nothing but a pair of wet trousers was indeed a comical sight. At the very least, this wasn't the kind of person you would expect that could kill.
Lu XiaoJia suddenly smiled and said, "Amusing, very amusing! Who would've thought that you would be this amusing. I've always been fond of people like you."
Then, he suddenly dropped his voice and proclaimed, "But it's a pity that I still have to take your life!"
"At this very moment?"
"At this very moment!"
"In those wet trousers?"
"Even if I wasn't wearing trousers at all."
"Very good." Fu HongXue exclaimed.
"Very good?" Lu XiaoJia asked.
"I felt that it would be a pity to let this opportunity slip as well." Fu HongXue replied.
"The opportunity to kill me."
"I only have the opportunity to kill you right now?" Lu XiaoJia asked.
"Because right now you know that I don't want to kill you!" Fu HongXue replied.
"What do you mean by that?" Lu XiaoJia asked as the expression on his face changed.
"I just want to let you know that I never swallow my words either." Fu HongXue said.
Lu XiaoJia stared at him, a strange expression came over his face.
Fu HongXue's face was completely emotionless.
Then, Lu XiaoJia began to laugh.
There was a leather pouch underneath his pile of clothes. He pried it open with his sword and fetched two bank notes from within. One was worth ten thousand taels of silver, the other was worth five thousand taels of silver.
"Although I haven't killed the person, I have taken the bath. So I'll be keeping these five thousand taels. But as for these ten thousand taels, I'll be returning it to you."
Lu XiaoJia tossed the bank note onto Ding LaoSi's body and said, "I'm deeply sorry, it's difficult for anyone not to break their word once in awhile. I'm sure you all will not blame me."
Of course they wouldn't blame him. Dead people couldn't open their mouths.
Lu XiaoJia picked up his pouch with the tip of his sword and went on his way without another word. He didn't even cast another glance at Fu HongXue or Ma FangLing. Everyone could only watch in amazement as he strolled off.
But as he passed by Ye Kai, his feet immediately stopped. Ye Kai was still smiling.
Lu XiaoJia looked him up and down and let out a laugh, "Do you know why I kept these five thousand taels?"
"No I don't." Ye Kai replied.
Lu XiaoJia passed the note towards him and said, "To give to you."
"To give to me? What for?"
"Because I want to beg something of you."
"I'm begging you to take a bath. If you don't bathe for much longer, I think your stench will suffocate me to death."
He didn't let Ye Kai reply as he turned and walked away. Ye Kai stared at the bank note in his hands and didn't know whether to be angry or happy.
Ding LingLin couldn't help but laugh, "Whatever the case, taking a bath for five thousand taels will always be a deal worth doing."
Ye Kai frowned playfully and replied, "You really admire him don't you?"
Ding LingLin winked and said, "But the person I admire most isn't him."
"Is it yourself?" Ye Kai asked.
"No, it's you." Ding LingLin replied.
"So you admire me as well?"
Ding LingLin nodded her head and said, "Because there is actually a man in this world willing to pay five thousand taels of silver for you to take a bath."
Ye Kai wanted to burst out in laughter, but he held it in. Because just then, the sounds of crying filled his ears.
They were the sounds of Ma FangLing's tears. She had been trying to hold it in for quite a while, she was using all the strength in her body to control herself. But she had reached her limit and couldn't help but cry out at the top of her lungs. She was overflowing with sadness and anger, because it seemed like she was always the one being insulted and hurt.
As she was crying, Fu HongXue walked right past her. But he didn't turn his head, he didn't even cast her a single glance. It was as if he was walking past the 'Golden-Backed Dragon's' corpse.
All the horse masters from the 'Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses' were standing to the side. Some had their heads down, others were looking away at other things. They were all tough and rugged men, but upon seeing the Hall Master's daughter being completely disgraced, they all pretended as if nothing had happened.
Ma FangLing suddenly rushed over to them and pointed at Fu HongXue as he was walking away and hissed, "Do you all know who he is? He is the mortal enemy of the Hall Master. He is the murderer who took the lives of your beloved comrades."
Still, no one said a word. Still, no one laid a single eye on her. All of their eyes were on the weathered face of a middle-aged man. They all called him Old Jiao, because he was the eldest of the middle-aged horse masters. He seemed to have spent his entire life serving the 'Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses'. The best years of his life were spent on the back of a horse. His legs were crooked and his back was arched. His two eyes which used to be so full of life were seeped in red veins from a lifetime of alcohol. Every night when he slept on his cold and hard bed, he always wished he could run off and pursue other things. But he really had no other place to go, all he had known for his entire life was the 'Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses'.
The first time that Ma FangLing mounted a horse, he was the one who helped her up. Now, she stared at him and screamed, "Old Jiao, you've been with my father longer than anyone, how come you still haven't said anything yet?"
Old Jiao's eyes looked full of resentment and grief as well, but he managed to hold it all in. After quite a while, he let out a sigh and replied, "I have nothing left to say."
"Why?" Ma FangLing asked.
Old Jiao clenched his fists and gritted his teeth as he responded, "I am no longer part of the 'Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses'."
"Who said?" Ma FangLing questioned.
"The Third Boss." Old Jiao said.
Ma FangLing was startled.
"He gave us each a fine steed and three hundred taels of silver, then told us all to leave." Old Jiao explained.
Ma FangLing stared at him blankly as her feet started to retreat several steps. She had nothing left to say as well.
Ye Kai was listening attentively the whole time, he finally uttered, "Not good."
"What's wrong?" Ding LingLin asked.
Ye Kai shook his head left and right without saying a word. Suddenly, he caught sight of a thick cloude of smoke billowing towards the sky. It came from where the grand flag of the 'Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses' stood!
Dense smoke. Raging flames.
By the time Ye Kai and everyone else had raced over, the 'Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses' had already been engulfed in a sea of flames. The air was quite dry, once the blaze ignited, it was uncontainable. Adding to the flames was the presence of oil - the kind that existed only in the barren wilderness, the kind that was so easily combustible.
The fire must have started simultaneously in twenty or thirty places. Once it caught blaze, the whole area was immediately inundated in flames. The horses were all in a panic and neighed desperately as they tried to find a way out of the raging inferno. Some were lucky enough to rush out in time but the majority of them suffocated to death.
The stench of burnt flesh emanated from the unrelenting blaze.
The 'Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses' was destroyed, completely destroyed.
"The person who destroyed it was also the person who created it."
Ye Kai could imagine Ma KongQun standing in the flames with a cold smile mocking, "This is my empire, I will never let anyone snatch it out of my hands!"
Now, he really had delivered on his promise. Now, the 'Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses' would forever belong to him.
The fire was still blazing, but the palms of Ye Kai's hands were filled with cold sweat.
Who could understand what he felt at the moment, who could comprehend what was on his mind?
Ding LingLin let out a sigh and said, "Since he can't have it, he destroyed it so that no one else can. Maybe his actions aren't completely unreasonable."
Her pale white complexion shined red from the reflection of the flames. Suddenly, something caught her eye as she exclaimed, "Strange, why is there a little kid here?"
The blaze painted the entire sky red like a transparent slab of amber. The blood red sun hung motionlessly in the middle of the amber. Suddenly, the winds kicked up. Wherever there was fire, there always happened to be wind. Patches of grass that hadn't caught fire waved back and forth in the distance. Yellow columns of sand blew in from the distance and vanished in the flames. The vomit inducing neighs of horses dying could still be heard.
Under the blood red sun, in a patch of long grass, there really was a young child standing in the middle. He watched as the merciless flames completely wiped out his home. His tears looked as if they evaporated from the heat. He looked completely numb.
The child was Ma KongQun's young son.
Ye Kai rushed over to him and asked, "You ... what are you doing here?"
XiaoHu Zi turned his head to look at Ye Kai. He softly replied, "I was waiting for you."
"My father told me to wait for you here. He knew that you would come."
"Where is he now?" Ye Kai couldn't help but ask.
"He left ... he already left ..." XiaoHu Zi said.
Traces of sadness and grief started to appear on this young child's face. He looked like he was on the verge of tears, but managed to hold it all in.
Ye Kai tried to console him by taking his hand. "When did he leave?"
"He left long ago."
"He went alone?"
XiaoHu Zi shook his head.
"Who was with him?"
"Third Madame Shen?"
XiaoHu Zi nodded his head as his lips started to quiver. "He brought Thid Aunt with him, but he left me here. He ... he ..."
Before the child could finish his words, he erupted into tears. His cries were filled with sadness, helplessness and anger. There was also an unmistakable hint of fear and dread in his eyes. After all, he was still just a child.
Ye Kai couldn't help but feel pained as he watched him cry. Ding LingLin had started to help wipe away XiaoHu Zi's tears as they streamed down his cheeks.
The child suddenly leapt into Ye Kai's chest and wailed, "My father told me to wait for you, he told me you had promised him that you would take good care of me. And my sister too ... right? Right?"
How could Ye Kai say no?
Ding LingLin pulled him aside and said softly, "Don't worry, I promise that he will definitely take care of you."
XiaoHu Zi looked at her, then lowered his head and asked, "What about my sister? Will he take care of my sister too?"
Ding LingLin had no way of answering, all she could do was smile weakly.
Ye Kai just realized that Ma FangLing was nowhere in sight.
Fu HongXue as well.
The sun had started to sink to the west.
Although the fire was still burning, it had finally started to weaken.
The winds hissed from the west. The evening sky slowly crept overhead.
The once prominent 'GuanDong Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses' was now nothing but a memory. When the flames subsided, all that would be left would be a couple of graves and a vast expanse of scorched earth.
And the founder of this once magnificent establishment was nowhere to be found.
What had caused all this?
Sometimes, not even love could match the power of hatred.
Fu HongXue's heart was filled with hatred. He hated himself the same way -- perhaps the person he hated most was himself.
The long street was empty. At least, he couldn't see another living soul on the street. Everyone had rushed off to the scene of the fire. They were all scared that the fire would spread to the village. They all feared that their village would end up like the 'Golden-Backed Dragon's' corpse - dry and shriveled up.
Fu HongXue walked along the street alone. His left foot took a step forward, and his right foot dragged along from behind. Although he walked rather slowly, nothing could make him stop.
"Maybe I should look for a horse."
Just as that thought crossed his mind, he caught sight of a person walking out slowly from the small alley. A delicate yet beautiful woman carrying a large bag in her hands.
A sharp pain filled Fu HongXue's heart, because he had already decided to forget about her. Ever since he found out about her line of work in Xiao BieLi's hall, he decided that he would totally forget about her. But she was still the only woman in his life.
It looked as if she was waiting for him. She slowly lowered her head and asked, "You're leaving?"
Fu HongXue nodded.
"To look for Ma KongQun?"
He nodded again. How could he not pursue Ma KongQun?
"Were you going to leave me here all alone?"
Another wave of pain entered his heart. He was determined to never see her again, but now he couldn't help but cast a glance at her. That one glance was enough.
The blood red sun shined onto her pale white face, her beautiful yet pallid face. Her eyes were filled with helplessness, as if they were trying to tell him, "If you don't take me with you then I won't keep asking. But I want you to know that I will always be yours."
Sweet yearning in the darkness, passionate embraces, soft, fragrant lips, all these thoughts swelled up in Fu HongXue's mind at once. His palms started to sweat.
The sun shined down on top of his head. The blazing hot sun.
Cui Nong lowered her head further, her streaking black hair flowed down like water in a river.
Fu HongXue couldn't help as his hand slowly reached out and stroked her hair.
Her hair was almost as black as his sabre.