Bordertown Wanderer - Chapter 42
Chapter 42: The Road to Ruin, the Severing Blade
The mountain trail was very narrow and very precipitous. Jagged stones lined the hills like awls.
But at least there was a road still.
A patch of dense shade blocked out the vile rays of autumn’s noonday sun. Ma Kongqun took off his large straw hat and sat on the floor. Leaning against the tree, he panted for breath.
He wanted to use the hat to fan himself, but his arms had suddenly turned indescribably numb. He didn’t even have the strength to raise them.
In the past, he wasn’t like this.
In the past, no matter how many people he killed, he wouldn’t feel tired at all. Sometimes, the more he killed, the more energetic he became.
In the past, he would even believe himself to be a superman, a marvel who was half-god, half-beast. He always felt that his strength was inexhaustible.
Now, he finally realized that he was nothing more than a man, an old man whose entire body was sore and whose heart was filled with worry.
“Why is it that I’ve become so old, just like other people?”
Becoming old has always been a source of sadness for people, but his heart was filled with anger and resentment.
Right now, he seemed to be filled with anger and resentment towards everything.
He felt that the world really was too unfair to him.
He had bitterly toiled and labored all his life, and had shed ten times the amount of blood and sweat that others had.
But now, he was like a wild animal that was being pursued by a huntsman. He had to incessantly dodge, incessantly flee…once, he possessed the largest expanse of land in the world, but now, he didn’t even have a place to rest.
Once, he also possessed the finest herd of horses in the world, but now, he had to run on his own two legs, and his feet were bleeding from being pierced by rocks. Of course he was angry. Of course he was resentful. Because he had never imagined any of this.
Who caused all of this?
Perhaps he didn’t even dare to think that question.
Third Madame Shen was right in front of him, seated on a very large bundle. She was panting for breath as well.
She’d always been a woman who was excellent at making up and dressing up, but right now, her entire body was covered with bloodstains, dust, and silt. The shoes on her feet were almost totally worn through, and the bottoms of her own feet were bleeding as well.
She seemed to be very weak, because she had thrown up just moments ago. She had found half a jaw stuck in her hair.
When the wind blew by, her body suddenly felt a chill.
It wasn’t due to the cold. It was due to fear.
The front of her clothes was almost torn open. Just one more second, and the one-eyed man’s sabre would have ripped her chest open.
But she didn’t feel any resentment.
Because she brought this on herself. She didn’t blame Ma Kongqun, much less anyone else.
She knew that Ma Kongqun was looking at her. Usually, when he looked at her, she would always smile at him.
But right now, she kept her head lowered, staring at her bosom which was revealed by the ripped cloths.
Ma Kongqun suddenly sighed. “There are other clothes in the bundle. Why don’t you change?”
Third Madame Shen said, “Alright. I’ll change.”
But she didn’t change clothes. She didn’t even move.
Usually, whatever Ma Kongqun said, she followed. No matter what he wanted her to do, she would immediately do it.
Ma Kongqun stared at her. After a long time, he slowly asked, “What are you thinking?”
Third Madame Shen said, “I’m not thinking about anything.”
Ma Kongqun said, “But you look like you have something on your mind.”
Third Madame Shen dully said, “Even if I did, I don’t necessarily have to tell you about it.”
The muscles around Ma Kongqun’s lips stiffened, as though he had suddenly been slapped across the face.
Perhaps this woman had deceived him and even betrayed him, but she had never directly contradicted him face-to-face like this, much less disobey him like this. Not even once.
This was the first time.
But he was already an old man, and had learned to treat women as though they were horses.
Naturally, he wouldn’t act in the same manner as he would’ve if he were still young, rushing over to her and grabbing her by the hair and asking her why she had changed.
He only chuckled. “You’re tired. Go wash your face. Perhaps that will reinvigorate you a bit.”
The was the sound of running water outside the woods. She wouldn’t need to walk too far to find a very clear, pure spring.
But she still didn’t move.
Ma Kongqun glanced at her again, then slowly closed his eyes. He’d already decided to just ignore her.
“Just ignore her.”
Aren’t these three words the most effective way to deal with a woman?
When she’s angry, just ignore her. When she wants to fight with you, just ignore her. When she wants something from you, just ignore her. When she wants money to spend, just ignore her. No matter what she wants, just ignore her.
What can she do?
Unfortunately, not everyone is able to pull this off. Not even Ma Kongqun is necessarily capable of truly pulling this off.
Third Madame Shen suddenly said, “Earlier, you asked me what I was thinking. I didn’t want to say it, but now, I feel as though I have to say it.”
Ma Kongqun said, “Go ahead.”
Third Madame Shen said, “You shouldn’t have killed those people.”
Ma Kongqun said, “I shouldn’t have killed them?”
Third Madame Shen said, “You shouldn’t have!”
Ma Kongqun didn’t open his eyelids, but his eyes were nonetheless twitching. After a long time, he slowly said, “I only killed them because they betrayed me. Anyone who betrays me must die!”
Third Madame Shen forcefully bit her lips, as though she was using all her strength to control herself. But she couldn’t resist saying, “Are you saying that all of those people betrayed you? Did those women and children betray you as well? Why did you have to wipe all of them out?”
Ma Kongqun coldly said, “Because I wanted to stay alive.”
Third Madame Shen suddenly sneered. “You want to stay alive. Don’t other people want to stay alive as well? If we were to have simply left, none of them whatsoever would have blocked us from doing so. Why did you have to be so vicious?”
Ma Kongqun’s hands tightened into fists. Blue veins were bulging from the back of his hands, but after a long moment, he slowly relaxed. He slowly stood up and walked out of the woods.
The spring water was cold and refreshing.
Ma Kongqun squatted down, cupping a handful of the spring water. Only when the water flowed past his wrists did he gradually begin to calm down.
Everyone would consider him to be a calm and steady man, calmer and steadier than anyone else.
Only he himself knew that when he lost his temper, even he himself was sometimes unable to control himself.
Third Madame Shen had followed him out. Standing behind him, she was looking at him.
His back was still stiff and straight, and his waist was still slender. From behind, no one would be able to tell that he was an old man.
Even Third Madame Shen had to admit that he really was a very extraordinary man. Originally, she gave herself to him for the purpose of revenge. But when he took her, she had suddenly felt a sense of satisfaction and joy which she had never before felt.
She had never gotten these feelings from any other man before. “Did I follow him because it is my destiny to?”
She’d never thought about it in this way before, but now she did. Her entire body grew warm.
Ma Kongqun naturally knew that she had come, but he didn’t turn his head.
After passing by this spring, the mountain trail would be almost over. They could already see a large grassland from here.
The grassland was criss-crossed with paths through fields, looking like a giant chess board.
Ma Kongqun gazed down at that faraway sight. He slowly said, “When we descend from the mountain, we can spend a night at a peasant’s house…”
Third Madame Shen suddenly interrupted him. “And then? What do you plan to do next?”
Ma Kongqun was silent. After a long time, he slowly said, “Are you asking me what I am planning to do next, or what we are planning to next?”
Third Madame Shen tightly clenched her hands. “You. Not we.”
Ma Kongqun’s body suddenly stiffened.
Third Madame Shen didn’t look at him. She suddenly smirked. “Are you planning to exterminate the farmers as well to silence them?”
Ma Kongqun suddenly turned around and stared at her. Slowly, he said, “Sometimes, when a man is running for his life, he has to do things which even he finds disgusting. But I didn’t tell you to follow me. I never have.”
Third Madame Shen lowered her head. “I made the decision to follow you. Originally, I had made up my mind to follow you no matter where you go. If you live, I live. If you die, I die!”
Her voice was choked with sobs. Tears began to flow. “I had made up my mind to give my entire life to you, because I…I felt that I had wronged you, and because I felt that no matter what you had done in the past, you are still a real man. But now…now…”
Ma Kongqun said, “Now what?”
Third Madame Shen quietly wiped away her tears. “Now, you’ve changed.”
When she said these words, she suddenly felt a piercing pain in her heart.
Because even she herself did not know if Ma Kongqun had changed, or if she herself had changed.
Ma Kongqun just quietly looked at her, not revealing any expressions at all on his face.
Was this perhaps because he had known all along that there’s no such thing as an unchanging woman, no such thing as unchanging love?
In addition, anyone who had experienced this life of endless fear and fleeing would find it difficult not to change.
Ma Kongqun finally slowly nodded his head. “Fine. When you came, it was your own decision to follow me. I didn’t ask it of you. Now, it is your own decision to leave. Naturally, I won’t force you to stay.”
Third Madame Shen lowered her head. “I’ve carefully thought this through as well. It’s better for you if I leave.”
Ma Kongqun let out a flat chuckle. “Thank you kindly. I understand your good intentions.”
“Thank you kindly.” Although these three words were very commonplace, Third Madame Shen really could not endure them.
In the blink of an eye, her heart was once more filled with shame and guilt. She almost changed her plan.
No matter what type of person he was, and no matter how often he had wronged others, he had never ever let her down or done wrong by her.
She always owed him. Right now, if he took her by the hand and told her not to leave him, she definitely would follow him without any hesitation at all.
But Ma Kongqun only dully asked, “Where will you go in the future? Do you have any plans?”
Third Madame Shen bit her lips. “Not yet. Maybe…maybe I’ll first think of a way to save up a little money, and then start up a small business. Maybe I’ll go do the farmlands and do some farming.”
Ma Kongqun said, “You can accept such a life?”
Third Madame Shen said, “In the past, of course I couldn’t. But now, all I want is to live a few peaceful, quiet, and leisurely years. Even if I die, it’d be alright.”
Ma Kongqun said, “What if you don’t die?”
Third Madame Shen said, “If I don’t die, I’ll go be a nun.”
Ma Kongqun chuckled again. “No need to say such things to me. I know that you’re definitely not the type who is willing to go be a nun. Actually, you’re still quite young. You should go find another man, a young and gentle one. I really am too old for you.”
Although he was still smiling, a look of anger and jealous had appeared in his eyes.
Third Madame Shen didn’t look at him. She let out a quiet sigh then said, “I definitely won’t find another man. I…”
Ma Kongqun interrupted her. “Perhaps you won’t go looking for men, but men will definitely come looking for you.”
Third Madame Shen was quiet for some time, and then faintly said, “Perhaps…no one can predict what the future holds.”
Ma Kongqun coldly said, “Actually, I understand you very well. For a woman like you, if a man isn’t sleeping next to you for three days in a row, you wouldn’t be able to go on living.
Third Madame Shen suddenly raised her head, staring at him in shock.
She had never imagined he would suddenly speak so boorishly towards her and say such terrible things. Ma Kongqun’s eyes had turned red with rage.
At first, he wanted to force himself to remain controlled. He wanted to act like a gentleman and part on good terms with her, but whenever he thought about her amorous flirtations on the bed, whenever he imagined her sharing a bed with another man, whenever he thought about those young, dog-like men lying on top of her…he suddenly felt as though his heart had been bitten by vipers. He suddenly sneered, “Thus, I recommend you go be a *****. That way, you’d be able to change a man every day.”
Third Madame Shen’s entire body had turned ice cold. The shame and guilt she had felt earlier had suddenly been transformed into rage. In a loud voice, she said, “You really are giving me some excellent advice! I might very well follow it. Only, a man a day isn’t enough. It’s better if I have at least seven or eight…”
Before she finished her words, Ma Kongqun suddenly slapped her across the face and then grabbed her by the hair. He furiously said, “You…if you say another word, I’ll kill you!”
Grinding her teeth, Third Madame Shen sneered, “It’d be best if you really did kill me. You should have killed me long ago. It would’ve saved me from having to sleep with you for so many days. When I think about it, I want to vomit!”
She knew that she had no other ways to hurt him. She could only use these vile words.
Ma Kongqun’s hands had balled into fists, balled tightly.
A look of fear had entered Third Madame Shen’s face. She knew how terrifying these fists were.
Perhaps there were no fists in the world which were more terrifying than these two. With a single blow, her face would become totally distorted, totally shattered.
But she didn’t beg.
She still glared at him, eyes wide open.
She seemed to be able to make out every single wrinkle on his face as they quivered and jumped, and every single bead of cold sweat as it came forth from his pores.
Ma Kongqun was staring at her as well. After a long moment, he suddenly let out a long sigh. His clenched fists suddenly relaxed.
Perhaps he really was getting old. His face suddenly turned indescribably decrepit and tired.
He waved his hand and said, gloomily, “Go, go now. It’s best if you never let me see you again. It’s best…”
His voice suddenly came to a stop.
He suddenly saw a flashing dagger flying towards them from behind Third Madame Shen.
Third Madame Shen’s face suddenly contorted, and her beautiful eyes suddenly bulged out from her head. Her eyes were filled with shock, fear, and pain.
She stretched out her hand, seeming to want to steady herself on Ma Kongqun.
But Ma Kongqun took a step back.
Her throat was gurgling, as though she wanted to say something, but before she could get the words out, she collapsed.
A flying dagger was sticking out of her back, penetrating into her flesh.
A flying dagger!
When Ma Kongqun saw this dagger, at first he seemed to be both angered and shocked. But suddenly, all of that changed into unspeakable fear.
Originally, he wanted to go support her, but he suddenly cowered back. Cold sweat poured down from his head like rain.
The mountain wind blew by, stirring the desolate leaves.
The flying dagger was shot out from within the woods, but right now, no voices could be heard within the woods, nor could he make out any human shadows.
Ma Kongqun retreated, one step at a time. His face had become contorted with fear. He suddenly turned around and rushed away, leaping past the spring and fleeing without a backwards glance.
Third Madame Shen lay on the ground, struggling and moaning.
But he didn’t even spare her a single glance.
As she listened to his footsteps descend down the mountain, her heart seemed to sink as well.
She knew that he was secretive and fierce, and could sometimes be sinister and cruel.
But she had never imagined him to be a coward who, after seeing her be ambushed by someone, would flee without even a word.
She suddenly felt an indescribable sort of sorrow and disappointment. The pain from these feelings was even greater than that caused by the dagger in her back.
Only now did she truly believe that she had lived her life in vain, because she had given everything to a man such as this.
Fresh blood oozed from the wound in her back. Her tears cascaded down as well.
Just at this moment, she heard the sound of footsteps, as well as someone’s sighs.
“I didn’t imagine that Ma Kongqun was a man like this. Even if he didn’t plan on avenging you, he should at least look after you. But instead, he ran away, faster than a dog.”
Judging from the sound, the voice belonged to a young man, a young man she didn’t know.
The person who ambushed her from behind?
“Although you’ll have died in my hands, you shouldn’t hate me. You should hate him, because he’s wronged you even worse than I have.”
He really was the one who had ambushed her.
Gritting her teeth, Third Madame Shen struggled, wanting to turn around and look at this person. Didn’t she at least have the right to see who killed her with this dagger?
But this person’s foot had already come to a rest on her back. He coldly laughed, “If you want to look at me, it’ll make no difference to you. You wouldn’t be able to tell who I am, because you’ve never seen me before.”
Summoning all of her strength, Third Madame Shen hoarsely said, “Then why have you harmed me?”
The man said, “Because I felt that there’s no point to your life, so it’s best that you die!”
Third Madame Shen gritted her teeth. Even she herself had to admit that she really did have that sort of feeling earlier.
The man continued, “If I was a woman and had followed a man such as Ma Kongqun, I definitely wouldn’t want to keep on living. Only…with regards to death, well, there’s many ways one can die.”
“You haven’t died yet, so I might as well tell you that sometimes dying is more pleasant than living, but only if you die quickly. If you die slowly, the pain you suffer is unendurable.”
Struggling, Third Madame Shen said in a trembling voice, “You…you still want to torment me?”
The man said, “That depends on you. If you are willing to tell the truth, I’ll let your death be more comfortable.”
Third Madame Shen said, “What do you want me to tell you?”
The man picked up the bundle on the floor. “Although this bundle isn’t small, Ma Kongqun definitely had much more wealth than this could hold. When you left, where did you bury his treasures?”
Third Madame Shen said, “I don’t know, I really don’t know.”
The man leisurely said, “If you say the words ‘don’t know’ another time, I will strip you naked and first use you, then sever your tendons and sell you down the mountain to serve as a prostitute for peasants.”
Smiling, he continued, “Some men aren’t all that picky. They won’t mind a woman who’s crippled.”
Third Madame Shen’s entire body went cold.
This man’s voice was gentle and refined. He should be a young man with a very good upbringing.
But the words he said and the things he did were even more cruel and brutal than those of a wild beast.
The man said, “I’ll ask you one more time. Do you know or don’t you?”
Third Madame Shen said, “I…I…”
Suddenly, a clear sound of bells ringing came from within the woods.
A very melodious female voice said, “I’m sure he definitely took this path. I have a premonition.”
A man laughed.
That young woman said in a loud voice, “What are you laughing at? I’m telling you, never look down upon a woman’s premonitions. Sometimes, it’s even more accurate than Zhuge Liang’s calculations.”
Third Madame Shen had never heard the girl’s voice before either, but the man’s laughter seemed very familiar.
She suddenly remembered who this person was. Her heart rate suddenly sped up.
And then she suddenly discovered that the man who had been stepping on her back had disappeared.
When Ye Kai walked out of the woods, he didn’t see the person either. All he saw was a woman, collapsed in front of the stream.
And of course, he saw the dagger in this woman’s back.
The person was still alive, was still panting.
He charged over there and lifted the woman up. Suddenly, he cried out involuntarily, “Third Madame Shen!”
Third Madame Shen laughed. Her laughter was unspeakably sorrowful and miserable.
She really didn’t want to see Ye Kai under such circumstances, but when she saw him, she felt an indescribable warmth in her heart.
She groaned, and then began to slowly chant,
“Emperor of heaven, sovereign of earth. Her body is like jade, a jade which is fragrant. Third Madame Shen, of the Hall of Ten Thousand Horses…”
Her laughter became even more desolate. She quietly asked, “Do you still remember this song?”
Of course Ye Kai remembered.
He had blurted out the words to these songs that one night, when he saw her, Third Madame Shen, in the midst of that boundless prairie.
He never would have imagined to that Third Madame Shen would have remembered these words to this very day.
Third Madame Shen sadly said, “I’m sure you never imagined that I would still remember. That night, you…”
Ye Kai laughed. His laughter was very desolate as well. “All I remember is that the woman who drank with me that night wasn’t you.”
Third Madame Shen sweetly said, “And I remember that on that night, you weren’t even there.”
After she had struggled to get these words out, fresh blood immediately began to flow from her lips.
Ye Kai gently brushed it away with his fingers. He felt both sorrow and anger in his heart. He couldn’t resist asking, “Did Ma Kongqun do this vile thing?”
Third Madame Shen said, “No, not him!”
Ye Kai said, “If not him, then who?”
Gasping, Third Madame Shen said, “A young man. I didn’t even have a chance to see him.”
Ye Kai said, “But you know he was a young man.”
Third Madame Shen said, “Only because I heard his voice. Just then, he was trying to force me to tell him the location of Ma Kongqun’s buried treasures. He left only after hearing your voice.”
Ye Kai said, “And Ma Kongqun?”
Third Madame Shen said, “Gone. He ran away like he saw a ghost…”
Ye Kai frowned. “Why did he flee? What did he see?”
Third Madame Shen gritted her teeth. “He must have thought that you had caught up to him. He…”
Ye Kai’s eyes suddenly brightened. Crying out in surprise, he said, “He must have seen this dagger in your back!”
A dagger which was three and a half inches long.
A flying dagger!
Ye Kai tore some cloth from his clothes and applied the ‘Golden Wound’ medicine he carried on him to Third Madame Shen’s wound. Then, he pulled the dagger out.
A thin, sharp blade. It glittered beneath the sun, the reflected light piercing into Fu Hongxue’s eyes.
His expression immediately changed, as though he really had been pierced by this dagger.
Ye Kai suddenly turned his head. Watching him, he said, “Of course you’ve seen this type of dagger before.”
Once again, Fu Hongxue’s face had turned so pale as to become nearly translucent. After a long time, he finally nodded slowly.
He couldn’t deny it.
The first time he saw this type of dagger was at Li Mahu’s store. The second time he saw this type of dagger was at the blood-soaked street. The third time he saw this type of dagger was in the room where his heart was shattered, next to the cold, desolate body of his beloved.
He remembered each event very clearly, to the point where it seemed as though all he needed to do was close his eyes in order to once more see the look of fear on Li Mahu’s face, to once more see the blood blossom from that child’s body…but was he wrong in his interpretation of what had happened?
Staring at him, Ye Kai slowly said, “By now, you should finally have come to realize that I’m not the only one who can use this sort of flying dagger.”
Fu Hongxue was silent.
Ye Kai sighed, “To tell you the truth, if I really wanted to ambush someone, I definitely wouldn’t use this type of dagger, nor would I allow anyone to see it.”
Fu Hongxue suddenly said, “Because this is a very unique dagger?”
Ye Kai said, “Yes.”
Fu Hongxue said, “If others aren’t even able to see this dagger, how could they make a copy of it?”
Ye Kai let out a sigh. “I don’t know either, yet. It really isn’t an easy thing to make a copy of this dagger.”
He forced out a smile. “All I know is that when one intends to frame someone, they must go to a great deal of effort.”
Fu Hongxue said, “You believe someone is intentionally trying to frame you?”
Ye Kai smiled bitterly. “Can’t you tell yet?”
Fu Hongxue lowered his head, staring at the sabre in his hands.
When he was unwilling to answer a question, he would always lower his head and stare at this sabre.
Ye Kai said, “This person made you believe that I intentionally provoked the ‘Divine Sabre’ Guo Wei into fighting a bloody battle with you, then made you believe that I was the mastermind behind the death of Cui Nong. At that time, Ding Linglin just so happened to be taken away by her second brother, preventing me from being able to produce a witness on my own behalf.”
He let out another sigh, and then continued, “Clearly, he did all this to create an irreconcilable hatred between the two of us. He wanted us to fight to the death.”
Once more, blue veins began to pop out from the hand with which Fu Hongxue gripped his sabre, but he was still silent.
Ye Kai said, “Looks like he really did go to a great deal of trouble, because his calculations were very thorough. He set it up so that I wouldn’t even have a chance to explain or defend myself. If he hadn’t finally made a mistake and gave the game away this time, no matter how I tried to explain things, you wouldn’t have listened.”
Fu Hongxue couldn’t help but admit that Ye Kai hadn’t said a single word in his own defense.
Ye Kai said, “This time, he clearly didn’t anticipate that we hadn’t yet gotten into a brutal battle, and instead were still travelling together.”
A bitter smile on his lips, he continued, “If Third Madame Shen were to have died, and if you weren’t with me, I imagine you would have once more believed that the person who killed Third Madame Shen was myself. This must be what Ma Kongqun believes right now.”
Ding Linglin was pouting the entire time, fuming off to one side. No one knew what she was fuming about.
But now, she couldn’t resist asking, “Can you imagine who it might be that hates you so much that he would wish to harm you like this?”
Ye Kai sighed, “I can’t. That’s why I must get to the bottom of this.”
He lowered his head. Only now did he notice that Third Madame Shen had raised her own eyes and was staring at Ding Linglin with a very strange look in her eyes.
Ding Linglin was also staring at her with a very strange look in her eyes.
Ye Kai said, “This is Third Madame Shen. You’ve never met her before…”
Ding Linglin suddenly interrupted him. She coldly said, “I know who she is. I just didn’t know you two were on such familiar terms. You seem to treat her much better than you treat me.”
Ye Kai suddenly understood why she was angry.
She was becoming jealous again.
This girl seemed to be capable of becoming jealous at a moment’s notice. Once she became jealous, she didn’t care about anything else at all, and was capable of saying anything.
But why was Third Madame Shen staring at her in such a manner as well?
Ye Kai didn’t get it.
Ding Linglin sneered, “Hey, I’m talking to you. Why aren’t you paying attention to me?”
Ye Kai wasn’t planning to pay her any mind at all. When she grew jealous, she wouldn’t accept any explanations whatsoever.
Naturally, Ding Linglin only grew angrier. She sneered, “Looks like there are lots of memories the two of you want to reminisce over together. Do you want me to make myself scarce and let the two of you slowly chat for a bit?”
Ye Kai said, “Right.”
Ding Linglin stared at him. Her eyes suddenly turned red. She flattened her lips, stamped the ground, then really turned around and left.
And Ye Kai didn’t stop her from leaving either.
Third Madame Shen suddenly let out a sigh. “Looks like that little girl loves you to death. You shouldn’t make her angry on purpose.”
Ye Kai chuckled. “But I really do have a lot of questions for you.”
Third Madame Shen said, “Do you want to ask me what the voice of the person who ambushed me sounded like?”
Ye Kai laughed. “Chatting with you is always such a pleasant thing. You always seem able to understand what others are thinking.”
Third Madame Shen laughed as well, but her laughter had become all the more mournful.
The only person she couldn’t understand was Ma Kongqun. But she had already given her entire life to him.
What was the use of being able to understand others?
After a long time, she summoned her energy. “That man spoke with a northern accent. Judging by his voice, he definitely isn’t more than thirty years old. His voice is very gentle and soft. Even if he were to tell you that he was going to kill you, he would still use that gentle, soft voice. It even seemed to carry a smile with it.”
Ye Kai sighed. “There’s always been many people in the world who have daggers hidden within their smiles. This isn’t necessary all that unique.”
Third Madame Shen said, “There’s only one unique trait to his speech.”
Ye Kai immediately asked, “What’s that?”
Third Madame Shen said, “Whenever he says the word ‘man’ [Ren], he doesn’t seem to be totally capable of curling up his tongue. It always sounds a little bit like ‘able’ [Neng], sort of like how miss Ding speaks.”
Ye Kai finally realized why she had stared at Ding Linglin with such a strange expression earlier.
His eyes suddenly shone, but his face had turned pale, so pale that his face was even more frightening than that of Fu Hongxue’s.
Seeing his face, Third Madame Shen couldn’t resist asking, “You already know who he is?”
Ye Kai was in a daze. After a long time, he slowly shook his head.
Third Madame Shen said, “What are you thinking about?”
This time, Ye Kai didn’t even hear her words, because his ears seemed to be filled with a loud howl.
“Everyone is assembled?”
“Everyone…” [The character in Chinese is ‘ren’; it can be used to refer to a single man, or refer to a group of men, as it can be a singular or a plural verb. In this context, it means ‘all the people’, ie ‘everyone’.]
He looked as though he had suddenly been struck by a thunderbolt. He suddenly jumped to his feet. A strange red glow suddenly suffused his pale face.
Even Fu Hongxue was no longer able to resist staring at him in surprise.
Naturally, Ding Linglin was even more surprised. Although she was standing far off to one side, her eyes were always focused on Ye Kai.
She’d never seen Ye Kai like this before. She’d never even imagined him like this.
Anyone would be forced to admit that Ye Kai was a person who was extremely good at controlling himself. Even if you chopped his nose off, he definitely wouldn’t display any look of astonishment on his face.
But although his face was shining, his eyes suddenly were filled with a queer look of suffering and dread.
No one could describe this expression on his face. No one could know what he was thinking.
Seeing this expression, Ding Linglin’s heart was shattered.
Just a few moments ago, she swore to herself that she would never pay any further attention to this man in the future. But now, she had completely forgotten all about it.
She rushed over and grabbed Ye Kai by the hand. Ye Kai’s hand was ice cold.
She became even more anxious, pressing his hand against her own face. “Why did you suddenly become like this?”
Ye Kai said, “I…I’m angry.”
Ding Linglin said, “Who are you angry at?”
Ye Kai said, “You.”
Ding Linglin lowered her head, but she secretly smiled.
Ye Kai couldn’t help but ask, “I’m angry at you, but you’re smiling?”
The hearts of women really are difficult to decipher.
Head lowered, Ding Linglin said, “I’m happy precisely because you’re angry.”
Ye Kai was even more confused. “Why are you happy?”
Ding Linglin said, “Because…because, if you didn’t care about me, how could you have become so angry?”
Ye Kai smile as well.
But his smile still wasn’t as cheerful as it normally was. His smile seemed to carry with it a very deep worry.
But Ding Linglin couldn’t see it, because her entire body was nestled within his embrace. She didn’t care how many observers there might be. She’d never wanted to conceal the feelings she had for Ye Kai.
Fu Hongxue looked at them. Suddenly, he turned around and walked down the mountain.
The spring water flowed down from the mountain, blocking his path, but he didn’t see it.
He walked directly into the water. The freezing water submerged his legs, but he didn’t feel it.
Behind him, Ye Kai called out, “Wait, we’ll go together to find Ma Kongqun.”
But he didn’t hear it either. He walked very slowly, but definitely would not look back.
Ye Kai watched as his thin, solitary back disappeared. He couldn’t resist sighing, “He really has changed. Not only has he become even lonelier, he’s also become even more depressed. If this continues, I’m worried that…”
He didn’t continue. He couldn’t bear to continue.
Third Madame Shen suddenly asked, “What caused him to change?”
Ye Kai sadly said, “He personally witnessed the only girl whom he truly loved die in front of him, while he was helpless to save her.”
Third Madame Shen said, “Cui Nong?”
Ye Kai said, “Right. Cui Nong.”
A very strange expression suddenly appeared in the eyes of Third Madame Shen. After a long time passed, she lightly sighed. “I really did not imagine that he would really fall in love with Cui Nong.”
Ye Kai said, “Do you believe that Cui Nong was not worth his love?”
Third Madame Shen did not respond. She had no way to respond.
Ye Kai chuckled. His chuckle was very sorrowful. He slowly said, “Unfortunately, there are many people in the world who will fall in love with people they shouldn’t fall in love with. This is one of the greatest sources of tragedy and misery known to man.”
Third Madame Shen finally couldn’t help but let out a mournful sigh. She mumbled to herself, “Why is that? Who can say what the cause for that is?”
The emotions of mankind have always been extremely difficult to understand. No one is capable of controlling them.
It’s precisely because of this that mankind suffers from pain and misery.
Ye Kai looked at Third Madame Shen. A very strange expression appeared in his eyes. He slowly said, “Anyone who has suffered the type of blow which Fu Hongxue had would find it hard to avoid reacting in a similar way, sinking down day after day. In this entire world, there is only one person capable of saving him.”
Third Madame Shen said, “Who?”
Ye Kai said, “You.”
Third Madame was silent for some time before slowly nodding. “So I must not die. I really do have many things I still need to do…”
There are many people who must not die, but still die nonetheless.
Birth, aging, illness, death. None of these can be controlled or dictated to by man. And this is source of man’s sorrows and pains.
Ma Kongqun closed the door, bolted it, and then collapsed. He collapsed onto the bed. The hard, cold wooden planks of the bed felt like a coffin.
The room was as dark and damp as a grave as well. Only he had still managed to stay alive. No matter what, living was better than dying.
Why do the old always fear death more than the young? In all truth, he already had nothing in life worth living for by now, and yet he became all the more reluctant to leave it.
When he was young, he didn’t actually believe death to be a fearful thing.
There seemed to be a moldy smelling coming from the bed, carrying with it the stench of horse manure. He suddenly wanted to vomit.
Actually, he grew up in a place like this. The room in which he was born smelled even worse than this one.
When he first made his way into the martial world, he had hidden himself in an actual pile of horse manure for two days and a night in order to shake off the pursuit of enemies.
Once, he and the brothers of the Bai family had been defeated and encircled by three gangs of ginseng gatherers at Mt. Changbai. When they fled into the desolate mountains, they had even drank their own urine.
Although he was no longer used to such arduous times, he was still able to endure them.
He didn’t want to vomit because of the stench. It was because he suddenly felt that he was very contemptible.
No matter what, a man who saw his woman collapse in front of him should not flee.
But at the time, he was too terrified, because he had seen this exact same dagger before.
A thin, sharp dagger, only three and a half inches long. But it was, without a doubt, the most terrifying dagger in the world.
“This is Little Li’s Flying Dagger.”
Bai Tianyu had held an identical dagger in his hands. His eyes were flickering with an excited light. “Everybody, come check it out! This is Little Li’s Flying Dagger! Li Tanhua personally gave it to me with his own hands!”
That was the first time Ma Kongqun had seen this type dagger.
On the dagger’s blade, the word ‘tolerance’ was carved into the metal. [Translator’s note: The original Chinese character was ‘ren’, which holds multiple meanings, including ‘tolerance’, ‘endurance’, ‘forbearance’, and ‘patience’.]
“Li Tanhua personally used another dagger to carve in the word ‘tolerance’ as well! He said that the reason he was able to stay alive for so long was because he always had a very good understanding of the meaning of the word ‘tolerance’. Thus, he passed on this word to me.”
At the time, he really was very receptive towards Little Li’s good intentions. Bai Tianyu wasn’t a person who couldn’t discriminate between good and evil.
“He also promised me that when my second son is born, I can send the child to his place. He even said that, hypothetically speaking, if there’s anyone in the world who is capable of learning how to use his flying daggers, it would definitely be my son!”
Unfortunately, this wish of his died before it was fulfilled, because he had already forgotten the word ‘tolerance’ which Li Tanhua had bequeathed to him.
But Ma Kongqun did not forget. He had always remembered this in his heart.
The night had gradually darkened.
Ma Kongqun stared at the window, which gradually turned grey, then black. He only wished he could fall asleep.
He believed that this was an extremely safe place. He didn’t actually stay in that farmer’s house when he came down the mountain. He ran all the way here.
The only reason he stopped here was because even he himself had never seen such a dark, shabby guesthouse.
Not only were there no other guests here, there wasn’t even a shop attendant. There was only an old codger who was half blind, half deaf. The old man was stubbornly staying here because he had no other place to go.
Ma Kongqun suddenly felt sick at heart, like a fox mourning the death of the hare. When he saw this old man, he couldn’t help but think of himself as well.
“What about me? Am I like him? Do I, too, no longer have any place to go?”
He tightened his fists and sneered at himself.
At this moment, a sweet aroma of oils and onions drifted it from outside the window. It seemed even more fragrant than the baby back ribs he had just smelled earlier.
His entire body seemed to go soft. Even his fingers seemed to tremble. Hunger is a very difficult thing to endure.
On the way here, he had passed by a noodle shop. He wanted to buy a bowl of noodles, but just as he walked over, he suddenly realized that he didn’t have a single coin on him.
Originally, no matter where the master of the Hall of Ten Thousand Horses went, he shouldn’t need to bring a single coin.
Just like an extremely wealthy man, over the years he had forgotten the habit of carrying money on him. Thus, up till now, he hadn’t eaten a single grain of rice.
He limply rose to his feet. Only then did he realize that he could no longer hold out from his weakness and his hunger.
He pushed the door open and entered the dark courtyard. He finally found the kitchen. That half-blind, half-deaf old man was placing a large bowl of noodles and soup on the table.
Beneath the dim light of the candle, the soup looked like the color of mud. A yellow onion was drifting on top of it.
But in his eyes, it was a very rich supper. Ma Kongqun felt the same way.
Straightening his chest as he walked over, he said in a loud voice, “Give me this bowl of soup, and make another bowl for yourself.”
Up to this very moment, his voice still had an aura of command to it. Unfortunately, no longer did anyone treat his words as commands.
The old man looked at him. He quickly shook his head.
Ma Kongqun frowned. “Didn’t you hear me?”
But the old man revealed his broken, aged yellow teeth in a grin. “I’m not deaf. Of course I heard you. Only, this bowl of noodles is for me. After I’m done eating, I can make another bowl for you as well, but first you need to pay me for it.”
Ma Kongqun’s face sunk. “What type of attitude is this? How can you possibly run a business if this is how you treat customers?”
The old man laughed again. “I’m not a businessman.”
Ma Kongqun said, “Then what’s the point of you running this inn?”
The old man let out a sigh. “No point at all. I’m just waiting here to die. Aside from people nearing death, who else would be willing to come here?”
He didn’t even spare Ma Kongqun another glance. He suddenly bent down and spat his saliva into the bowl of noodles, then muttered to himself, “I know that you’re someone with no money to pay me, and it’s not a problem if you stay in that shabby old room for a few days for free. But this bowl of noodles is mine. If you want to eat it, you’ll have to eat my saliva as well.”
Ma Kongqun was stunned. He stood there in shock, tightly clenching his fists, almost unable to resist punching this old man and knocking out all the water in him.
But he managed to resist. Right now, he couldn’t even fly into a rage. He only felt his mouth fill with a bitter, sour taste. He didn’t know if he should break into a loud laugh or into sobs. Would Ma Kongqun, he who once freely traversed the entire world, now kill a half-deaf, half-blind old man in this dirty, smelly kitchen over a bowl of noodles which looked like mud? He really thought this was hilarious.
He couldn’t resist from laughing, but his laughter was even more tragic than crying.
A gust of wind blew by. A few withered leaves rolled about on the floor.
“Can it be that I am like these withered leaves? Am I also rolling about in the mud?”
Ma Kongqun walked out of the courtyard, head lowered. The cold light of the crescent moon shone upon him, dragging his shadow across the muddy floor. When he pushed the door open, the light followed him inside as well, illuminating him.
A ghostly figure was standing inside the dark room. When the door was pushed open, the cold, clearly moonlight just happened to land on her clothes. A red, short-sleeved vest, paired with a black satin skirt, upon which was embroidered fiery red peach blossoms.
Ma Kongqun all but froze. He recognized these clothes. The first time Third Madame Shen came to him, she was wearing these clothes.
That night, he had removed these clothes from her body and took her. No matter where he was, no matter how much time had passed, he would never, ever forget her soft, pleading, tearful face. Nor could he forget those clothes, even though it had been many years since she had worn them.
Why would she suddenly wear these clothes? How did she suddenly appear here? Could it be that she hadn’t yet died?
Ma Kongqun couldn’t resist lightly calling out, “Third Madame, is it you?”
No answer. No sound.
Only the sound of wind blowing past the door, making her body float about, as though it were about to be blown away.
This person seemed to be without flesh or blood, composed of nothing more than an empty shell of a body. Perhaps she didn’t even have a body at all. Perhaps it was just her ghost. Dead or alive, she would still come to ask this heartless men how he could cast her aside and just flee to save his own skin.
Ma Kongqun’s face had begun to turn blue. In a downcast voice, he said, “Third Madame, I know that I’ve wronged you. Regardless of whether you’re a person or a spirit, from today forwards, I will never throw you behind again.”
When he began to speak, he slowly walked forward. As he finished these words, he suddenly stretched his hand out and seized her by her arm.
The person standing here wasn’t her, nor was it her spirit. It was just a scarecrow wearing her clothes.
Ma Kongqun’s expression changed. Just as he wanted to turn around, he found a sword pressed against his back. The cold blade had already pierced his clothes.
A man walked out from behind the door. With a long, easy sigh, he said, “Emperor of heaven, sovereign of earth. The northeast’s Hall of Ten Thousand Horses. Horses like dragons, and a body like steel!”
In a low voice, Ma Kongqun asked, “Who are you?”
The man said, “I’m a man just like you. I’m a man with flesh and blood, neither a ghost, nor made from steel. Thus, if I were you, I would obediently stand there without even twitching.”
His voice was sharp and strange. Clearly, he was disguising his voice.
He coldly continued, “Naturally, you don’t want to see the tip of this sword coming out from your chest.”
He exerted a little force and the cold tip of the sword seemed to dig slightly into his back.
But Ma Kongqun actually let out a relieved breath, because this was a sword, not a sabre. Because this man was not Fu Hongxue.
Even if Fu Hongxue had suddenly appeared behind him, he wouldn’t disguise his voice.
The man continued, “You’d best not let your imagination run wild either, because you’ll never be able to guess who I am.”
Ma Kongqun said, “How do you know who I am?”
The man laughed. “I’ve known you for a long time. Only, I never imagined that the master of the Hall of Ten Thousand horses, whose horses are like dragons and whose body is like steel, would also admit to having wronged others. If Third Madame Shen were still alive, she would surely be very happy upon hearing your words.”
Ma Kongqun said, “You…you also know Third Madame Shen?”
The man said, “I know everything, so you shouldn’t try to hide anything from me.”
Ma Kongqun said, “You took her clothes from her bundle?
The man laughed coldly. The cold laugh held a tacit admittance.
Ma Kongqun felt a piercing pain in his heart. He hadn’t imagined that Third Madame Shen had preserved this set of clothes.
Did she also preserve the happiness and pain of that night within her heart?
Ma Kongqun gritted his teeth. He suddenly smirked. “Pretending to be a ghost. Aren’t you ashamed? But you shouldn’t have used this set of clothes. Because in doing so, you are telling me that the one who killed Third Madame Shen is you.”
His voice was filled with hatred. He continued, “Not only did you kill her, you stole her possessions…”
The man interrupted him. He smirked, “What, haven’t you killed before? Although I might be vicious, I’m still somewhat better than you. At least, I’ve never killed a brother who had had experienced life and death with me, nor did I use the wealth of my slain brother to build a stable in the northeast.”
Ma Kongqun’s expression changed again. There really weren’t too many people in the martial world who knew this secret.
Not even Fu Hongxue himself knew that the money with which he had built the Hall of Ten Thousand Horses originally belonged to the Bai family.
How did this person know? Ma Kongqun suddenly felt a chill rise up from his feet like a blade. “Who are you?”
The man leisurely said, “I told you, I’m a person who knows everything in the world. By now, you should know that I’m not bluffing you.”
Ma Kongqun said, “If you know everything, what do you want?”
The man said, “Not much. I just want you to hand over the treasures which you took from others.”
Ma Kongqun said, “If you want it, go take it. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that the glorious, fertile Hall of Ten Thousand Horses is now no more than a barren wasteland.”
The man sneered, “You should know that what I’m after is not that barren wasteland, but the treasure which you secretly stashed away.”
Ma Kongqun said, “Treasure? What treasure?”
The man said, “In former years, the ‘Divine Sabre Hall’ dominated the martial world. Its force was greater than that of Shangguan Jinhong’s ‘Golden Coin Clan’. When Shangguan Jinhong died, he left behind a terrifyingly high amount of wealth. This is all the more true of the ‘Divine Sabre Hall!’”
Ma Kongqun said, “Unfortunately, I don’t belong to the ‘Divine Sabre Hall.’”
The man coldly said, “Of course you don’t. You’re just an assassin who killed the master of the ‘Divine Sabre Hall’. You had others do your dirty work for you and kill Bai Tianyu, but swallowed all of his wealth by yourself. Those poor people who died outside the Plum Blossom Convent really died in vain…in vain!”
Ma Kongqun’s hands were frozen. He suddenly realized that this person really did know too much.
The man said in a fierce voice, “Some of the widows of those dead warriors don’t even have enough clothing to wear. Now, I have come to settle this account with you on their behalf!”
Ma Kongqun suddenly sneered, “But how do you know the identities of those who died outside the Plum Blossom Convent?”
The man didn’t speak. The sword in his hand suddenly trembled.
Ma Kongqun said, one word at a time, “Aside from myself, there’s only one person in the entire world who knew their identities. Just one person…I never imagined that he would reveal that secret to another.”
His voice was cold and vicious. He slowly continued, “And yet, you too know this secret. Who exactly are you?”
The man only sneered.
Ma Kongqun pursued, “Who are you?”
The man replied, with a cold laugh, “Perhaps you’ll never know who I am!”
Ma Kongqun coldly said, “Then I’m afraid you’ll never know where those treasures are stored.”
The man seemed to be stunned again.
Ma Kongqun said, “In addition, even if you don’t tell me, I still know who you are. If you really kill me, within three days of my death, someone will expose your family’s secrets and let everyone in the martial world know the truth…the descendants of the Bai family will find out as well.”
The sword in this man’s hand seemed to tremble again. With a sneer, he said, “If you die, who might reveal this secret?”
He was a young man, after all. No matter how sly and crafty he might be, he still couldn’t compare to an old fox like Ma Kongqun.
Not only did these words give an impression of weakness, they also confirmed without a doubt that he was who Ma Kongqun thought he was.
Ma Kongqun’s eyes suddenly gleamed. He coldly said, “Naturally, while I’m alive, no one can reveal this secret.”
The man couldn’t help but ask, “But if you die, someone will?”
Ma Kongqun said, “Right.”
The man said, “You…you really left behind a letter to someone? If you die, he’ll expose the contents of the letter?”
Ma Kongqun flatly said, “Looks like you’re a smart fellow. You can think of this idea as well.”
The man said, “I can think of it, but I don’t believe it.”
Ma Kongqun said, “Oh?”
The man said, “Because there’s nobody in the world who you truly trust. How could you give such a letter to anyone?”
Ma Kongqun suddenly chuckled. “Are you trying to get me to tell you who that person is, so that after you kill me, you will go kill him?”
The man didn’t speak.
Ma Kongqun dully laughed. “This really is a very good method. Unfortunately for you, I used this type of method over thirty years ago.”
The man was silent. After a long time, he chuckled as well. “Do you actually believe that I’ll spare you, just like that?”
Ma Kongqun said, “Of course you won’t. But why don’t we strike a bargain?”
The man said, “What bargain?”
Ma Kongqun said, “Come kill Fu Hongxue with me, and I’ll take you to the treasure trove. If you keep my secret, I definitely won’t expose you either. The wealth within my treasure trove is more than enough for both of us. Don’t you think this is fair?”
The man was silent. Clearly, he was a bit swayed.
Ma Kongqun said, “In addition, you should also know that the person from your previous generation was the only person in the world who could share secrets with me, because I trusted him and he trusted me. That’s why we were able to do something so astounding. Now, don’t we have an even better opportunity than then?”
The man hesitated. He slowly said, “I can agree to this, but we must first find the treasure and then go kill Fu Hongxue.”
Ma Kongqun said, “Fine.”
The man said, “In addition, when we go to the treasure trove, I need to first seal the acupoints on your arms.”
Ma Kongqun said, “Are you actually afraid that I will attack you?”
The man said, “Will you agree or won’t you?”
Ma Kongqun chuckled. “As I was able to trust the person from your previous generation, perhaps I can trust you as well.”
The man finally let out a relieved breath. “I’ll only seal the ‘Shoulder Well’ acupoints on your arms to prevent you from attacking.”
He took a step forward, striking towards Ma Kongqun’s shoulder with two fingers. At this moment, he was forced to lower his sword slightly. Otherwise, his fingers wouldn’t be able to reach Ma Kongqun’s shoulder.
But this happened all in a flash. Just as the sword in his right hand drooped slightly, his left hand struck out. He was confident that he definitely wouldn’t be slower than the other man.
But he still wasn’t fast enough.
Just at this split second, Ma Kongqun suddenly swung sideways and struck him on his right ribcage with one fist while cracking him in the face with a second backwards punch.
The man heard the sound of his bones splintering. He had already been knocked flying.
He only suddenly felt everything go black, but countless stars were dancing within the blackness. But he knew that he definitely must not faint. After fifteen years of endless training from dawn to dusk, not only did he learn how to beat others, he also had learned how to take a beating. When his body fell to the ground, he suddenly bit his lips hard, using the pain to bring himself awake. And then his body rolled away.
Ma Kongqun followed him out, only to see him suddenly lift his hands. And then, there was a flash of a dagger! The dagger flashed like lightning. It was a flying dagger!
“Little Li’s Flying Dagger, Once Thrown Never Misses!”
The prestige of Little Li’s Flying Dagger was still, to this very day, enough to scare the people of the martial world out of their wits. Although this wasn’t Little Li’s Flying Dagger, it was still enough to shake Ma Kongqun’s soul. He didn’t dare to block it, and his dodge became slower due to his fear as well.
After flashing, the dagger disappeared. It was now nailed to his shoulder.
This was also a flying dagger. But in all the world, throughout time immemorial, nobody’s flying dagger could compare to Little Li’s Flying Dagger!
This is much like how, regardless of how bright the stars in the night sky might be, no star could compare with the brightness of the moon.
If this dagger was Little Li’s Flying Dagger, even if Ma Kongqun’s movements were ten times as fast, he still wouldn’t have been able to dodge. This was because Little Li’s Flying Dagger was no longer just a flying dagger. It had become a sacred, holy symbol, filled with a sacred, holy force. No one could dodge Little Li’s Flying Dagger, because everyone had already decided in advance that this dagger was impossible to dodge.
This sort of thinking is similar to how people know that natural disasters are impossible to avoid.
After the flash of the dagger, the man rolled out of the courtyard, then jumped to his feet.
Ma Kongqun only saw an outline of a man dressed in black. With a flicker of movement, he disappeared into the darkness.
Grinding his teeth, he pulled the dagger from his shoulder and pursued.
He believed that this man definitely wouldn’t be able to run far. Nobody in the world would be able to run for long, after having eaten two of his punches.