Chapter 46: People Like Grass Without Roots
"Xiahou Lian of Garan of Seven Leaves, sending Village Leader Liu to be reborn in the Land of Bliss."
Right after he said this, the girl swept up like a swallow, and when her wide sleeves fluttered up, the desolate and cold light of her saber flashed past the disciple’s eyes. The girl landed steadily on the ground, and her saber arm rapidly sliced the throats of two disciples. In an instant, blood gushed like a spring, seeming like a gorgeous flower blooming in the darkness.
In the pitch-black dark night, the hoarse man’s voice was counting down. "Eight."
The remaining eight disciples rushed forward, pulling out the Qi Clan Military Sabers at their waists, which poured out like light on water. Three cut their sabers onto Zhaoye’s shoulder at the same time, and the crisp sound of iron striking together sounded, like plucked strings of a pipa. Everyone was stunned, and in the next instant, Zhaoye’s saber arm reached them. In the splashing of blood, the three people’s arms were cut off in unison.
The man’s voice continued counting. "Five."
"Village Leader! It’s… It’s not a person!" The five disciples backed away in unison, their faces filled with fear.
"Mechanism puppet." Liu Guizang came out of the carriage and stood on the armrest at the front of the carriage, his remaining eye squinting slightly. "Do not be afraid, soldiers, chop its joints and break its arms!"
Three disciples went forward, head-on, and two disciples attacked Zhaoye’s two flanks, one on the left and one on the right. Zhaoye crouched down slightly like a fully drawn bow. Close, close, the three people directly in front were already only five steps away. Zhaoye suddenly started moving, shooting into the night like an unstoppable arrow and pouncing directly at the enemies’ faces. However, in the instant they raised their sabers, Zhaoye suddenly bent her knees and lowered herself, as if worshiping on her knees, and passed through between two people, happening to dodge the swift and fierce saber lights over her head at the same time.
Time seemed to stagnate at that moment. Liu Guizang saw the upper and lower bodies of the two people whom Zhaoye had passed on the sides of slowly separate. Their legs still kept upright, but their upper bodies were already slowly sliding down, falling onto the ground like burlap sacks.
In the darkness, the man let out a low laugh. "Three."
A terrible chill grew like frost hairs out of the bottom of his heart, and Liu Guizang suddenly realized that the grieving and indignant boy from four years ago had already grown into a sinister and bloodthirsty ghost. He was lurking somewhere in this darkness, grinding his teeth and sucking blood.
Someone cut Zhaoye’s joint. However, Zhaoye’s curved arm clamped that person’s military saber, and her other saber arm stabbed his stomach. In an instant, it withdrew and stabbed again several times, and the huge momentum forced him to back away nonstop as his stomach was practically pulverized into mud. Zhaoye stepped forward with his retreating footsteps and then let her saber arm go, turning around and swinging the saber. The disciple who had been behind her, preparing for a sneak attack, was split into two.
The last person trembled as he tightly gripped the long saber in his hands, like a frozen bird shuddering in the cold wind. He firmly stared at Zhaoye’s exquisite back, gritting his teeth so that they chattered. Zhaoye turned her head and seemed to glance at him. She only had pitch-black eye holes and didn’t have eyes at all, but he seemed to feel the icy light in her eyes, as cold as winter frost and snow.
Zhaoye didn’t walk toward him and instead walked toward Liu Guizang on the carriage. He sighed in relief. However, in the next moment, Zhaoye raised her left arm, and a jet-black short arrow shot out of her sleeve hole. He felt a dull pain between his eyebrows, and burning hot blood flowed down the bridge of his nose. He let go of his saber and fell to the ground.
"What a mechanism puppet." Liu Guizang applauded and praised, "Ever since I retreated to live in seclusion in Tang Sect eighteen years ago, shutting my door and declining guests, I haven’t seen such an exquisite puppet in a long time."
Zhaoye didn’t say anything. Her head was lowered, and she stood silently among the pile of corpses. Dark clouds accumulated in the air and a fierce gale blew, howling as it tore at her robes. A few drops of dark red blood had splashed onto her plain porcelain mask, like gorgeous red plums on plain white rice paper.
"Son of the Garuda, you’ve hid like a turtle for four years, so I originally thought that you didn’t dare to challenge me again. It turns out that in order to deal with me, you’ve refined a killing weapon of this level." Liu Guizang got off the carriage. He held a three-foot long saber with a narrow blade in his hand. It was different from the Qi Clan Military Sabers of his disciples. The blade of his saber curved slightly, like a thin crescent moon.
It was a Japanese saber.
The corners of Liu Guizang’s lips curved up slightly, a ridiculing arc. "But, do you know why Tang Sect retreated from the mountains and plains?"
He placed his right hand on the jet-black hilt of the saber and lifted his eyes, fierceness like a tiger’s and wolf’s flashing past them.
"Because, in the end, the sorcery of mechanisms cannot defeat the proper way of saber skills!"
Zhaoye abruptly and forcibly stepped on the ground, running toward Liu Guizang. The sound of steel striking the ground was like heavy military drums. When her skirt flew up, Liu Guizang saw Zhaoye’s straight legs that flowed with a dark light. She was clearly silent, but in that instant, Liu Guizang seemed to hear the puppet girl’s shrill roar.
In the moment the two of them met, the lights of their sabers instantly splashed like snow. The Japanese saber was pulled out of its scabbard, slicing out an arc that was like a crescent moon.
The two of them stood with their backs facing each other. With a crack, Zhaoye’s saber arm broke into two halves.
At the end of Dongchengmen Street, inside a shop facing the street, Tang Shiqi and Shu Qing were squatting in front of the pasted paper of the window lattices. Ten Garan spies were squeezed behind them. When everyone saw Zhaoye’s saber arm get cut, they were shocked.
"The planned blow missed. Shige should withdraw," Shu Qing said in a low voice.
"Do you think that bald donkey will withdraw?" Tang Shiqi curled his lip and said, "It’s okay, listen to my instructions in a bit. If the situation is unfavorable, I’ll count to three, and we’ll rush out to save him."
All of the spies nodded.
The wind and clouds surged darkly. There were rumbling sounds of thunder in the distance, as if a carriage was galloping on the horizon. Liu Guizang held his saber and looked around. Zhaoye had already become a puppet that wouldn’t move. On closer look, thin silk threads had fallen all over her head and shoulders, like transparent frost flowers. They twinkled and reflected a faint cold light.
Liu Guizang roared, "Xiahou Lian, did you escape? What, are you going to hide like a turtle again?!"
He didn’t see that a dark shadow was slowly and silently hanging down from the decorated archway on top of his head, like a spider hanging on silk threads. Liu Guizang still looked around. There was no one on the two ends of the long street. There were only the corpses lying down on the ground and the unconscious puppet, a deathlike silence.
Suddenly, something flashed his eyes, and the fighting instincts of many years allowed Liu Guizang to swiftly react. He drew his saber and chopped toward the top of his head. Two saber lights instantly collided, sparks flashing abruptly. He flipped down from the air like a shadowy owl, and Liu Guizang saw a face that looked exactly like the Garuda’s.
Liu Guizang’s heart jumped abruptly. In that moment, he practically mistakenly thought that that demon-like woman from back then had come to life.
"Xiahou Lian, you’re not afraid to show your face?" sneered Liu Guizang.
"Because the one who kills you is me, Xiahou Lian, not a Garan assassin!" Xiahou Lian dropped a blow, and the two sabers emitted an overburdened low wail. The two of them backed away at the same time.
Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled, and heavy rain poured down. The rain arrows scrambled to gather into the pitch-black earth, and water soon flooded, not past the soles of their shoes. Rainwater soaked the corpses, and blood gurgled as it flowed into a ditch. Xiahou Lian’s left hand drew a two-foot short blade from his waist and held it across his chest with a reverse grip. His right hand held Hengbo, and he lowered himself slightly. Raindrops pattered on the short blade, and every drop of water reflected Xiahou Lian’s cold face.
Liu Guizang put his saber back into its scabbard. He held the scabbard in his left hand and hid it behind himself, his right hand placed on the hilt of the saber. He wanted to use the Quick-Draw Saber Technique of the Japanese saber. The extreme angle and swift momentum of drawing the saber was enough to cut Xiahou Lian into two halves.
Rain poured like a flood, as if the sky was going to fall. Thousands of rain curtains laid between the two of them.
In an instant, the two of them finished breathing at the same time, started moving at the same time, and began rushing toward each other at the same time! Rainwater and blood splashed underneath their feet, and the two of them met one breath later. Liu Guizang swiftly drew his saber, as if lightning flashed across the horizon in that instant. However, at this moment, Xiahou Lian abruptly crouched, exactly the same as Zhaoye had done before. The saber he held with a reverse grip in his left hand cut toward Liu Guizang’s calf, but Liu Guizang leapt up. The moment of his saber inconceivably reversed, chopping toward Xiahou Lian’s back.
The splash of blood he had expected didn’t happen. The fragile cloth split, and the point of the saber sliced past chain mail, bringing out a series of sparks. Xiahou Lian flipped abruptly, and the two sabers met in midair. The lights of the saber were instantly like rolling snow, spreading out densely like a huge net, shrouding the two of them inside it. The momentum of Xiahou Lian’s saber became faster and faster, like a hurricane. Before his left hand fell, his right hand arrived! Liu Guizang was panting rapidly, inconceivably discovering that he actually practically couldn’t keep up with the frenzied momentum of Xiahou Lian’s saber.
At last, Xiahou Lian spun up, his robes fluttering like graceful butterfly wings. He abandoned the saber in his left hand, pressing all of his strength into his right hand. The point of his saber went past a desolate and cold arc that was like the full moon, landing a cut that seemed to collapse mountains, seas, and clouds.
Garan Saber • Moon-Cutting.
Liu Guizang took this blow firmly, and tremors overflowed past his blade, spreading from his palms all the way to his limbs and bones, like an icy snake wandering over his entire body. The part between his thumb and index finger hurt severely. Liu Guizang looked down and saw that the part between his thumb and index finger had actually split.
How was this possible! Liu Guizang looked at Xiahou Lian in disbelief and said hoarsely, "How is this possible? How can you beat me!"
The assassin was exhaling icy breaths, like the hissing of a snake. A fierce and vicious smile hung on his face, and bloodthirsty cruelty filled his eyes.
"Because I’ve studied in depth for four years!" Xiahou Lian swung his saber in another slash, and Liu Guizang staggered backward. "I searched through the saber techniques of hundreds of clans and finally understood your Qi Clan Saber. And this fatal blow, fuck!" Xiahou Lian roared, "I’ve practiced it twenty-nine thousand two hundred times!"
Twenty-nine thousand two hundred times! How could he not win! He knew how to restrain every saber technique of the Qi Clan Saber. Dodge to the left for the Skyward Saber Technique, jump for the Amputation Skill, block horizontally for the Left Lift… And as for Moon-Cutting, he had practiced it twenty times every day and had practiced for four entire years!
In an instant, Liu Guizang seemed to see Xiahou Lian’s pupils coincide with those demon pupils in his impression. He suddenly had a strange thought, that Xiahou Lian was the Garuda. He had climbed out of his grave to take revenge on him! In an instant, he saw two extremely strong assassins hook their mouths up into a hint of an evil smile at the same time and then say in a low voice, "Liu Guizang, go to hell!"
"Shiqi-ge, is Shige going to win!" Shu Qing stared at the street and said excitedly.
Tang Shiqi frowned. "It’s already been several minutes now. If he doesn’t hurry up, soldiers are going to come. Your shige is still entangled over there! No, listen to my orders. I’ll count to three, and we’ll rush out to help him!"
All of the spies held the hilts of their sabers and gathered at the door.
Tang Shiqi stared at the heavy curtain of night. The two people on the street kept colliding and then separating, and the momentums of their sabers weaved a circular field, as if even the rain had no way of entering.
He said in a low voice, "One."
In the night sky, lightning accumulated, and light flashed from time to time among the dark clouds, as if a dragon was passing through the clouds.
"Two." Right after he said this, a centipede-like lightning tore through the night sky, and it was as if a big tear had split in the air. The light of sky broke through the curtain of night, and the world was white for an instant.
"Three" was just about to leave his mouth, but Tang Shiqi bit his own tongue and forcibly swallowed the entire word back into his stomach.
He waved Shu Qing aside and moved to the window paper, staring at the street unblinkingly. Lightning sliced through the night sky again, and this time, Tang Shiqi saw it clearly. On both sides of the street, there was a row of shadows of heads on top of the shadows of the eaves, gathered together like wisteria on a tree.
Shu Qing asked Tang Shiqi in confusion, "What is it? Why aren’t you counting?"
Tang Shiqi mumbled, "It’s over, this is a trap." He grabbed Shu Qing’s collar, and Shu Qing saw the fear that pulsated in his eyes like a candle flame. "This is a fucking trap!"
Heavy rain poured, and the night was as dark as a huge iron prison.
In the thick misty rain, Shen Jue staggered as he ran. He seemed to have lost his bearings and couldn’t find the way back home. In a daze, he saw that there was a tall and dark shadow ahead, holding a saber and standing silently.
Shen Jue walked over with alternating heavy and light steps. The mist gradually dissipated, and he saw a headless figure standing erect before his eyes. He anxiously and uncertainly walked forward, but he suddenly stepped on a rock underneath his foot. He looked down, yet saw Xiahou Lian’s head lying by his foot.
Shen Jue abruptly woke up and reached out to feel that his entire body was already covered with cold sweat.
He lifted the gauze curtain. The room was a pitch-black expanse, and using the bit of light that penetrated through the window paper, he could see a few black-painted desks, tables and chairs made of nanmu wood that had been polished by the flow of water. There was a bunch of unknown flowers inserted inside a cloisonné square bottle about two feet tall. It was already withered, the petals were yellow and shriveled, and a few flowers had even fallen onto the carpet. Outside the window lattices, the rain fell and the wind blew, the roof tiles pattering from being struck. Shen Jue pulled the latch open and pushed the window to see that the garden was covered with flowers and mud.
Shen Jue called a servant, lit a lantern, and rode a carriage to go to a villa in the west of the capital. He didn’t call for Situ Jin nor did he call for Shen Wenxing, and he only brought a few underlings in Shen Manor that were on the night shift and left. Fang Cunzhen was sleeping soundly when he heard Shen Jue come. He hurriedly wore his clothes and fastened his belt, putting on his boots as he rushed to the main hall.
"It’s the middle of the night, what are you doing here, Governor? If you have any instructions, you should have called a servant to come over and let me know, and I can personally go to your door and report it." Fang Cunzhen smiled placatingly as he served tea.
However, Shen Jue didn’t take it and only asked with a cold face, "How is the production of the medicine going?"
"The day before yesterday, I just tested some new medicine on two test subjects. They’re still in a coma right now," Fang Cunzhen said hesitantly.
Shen Jue smiled grimly and coldly. "So that means no progress at all?"
"This… is not the case. If the two of them can wake up, then…" Fang Cunzhen rubbed his hands, forcibly squeezing out a smile.
Shen Jue turned and entered the backyard, looking through the window screen of the wing room to look at the test subjects inside, and a strong smell of medicine inside the room came out through the holes in the window screen. The test subjects were lying rigidly on beds, like wooden puppets. Shen Jue laughed angrily and said to Fang Cunzhen, "I should feed you Mid-July. It’s the fifth month right now, so there’s still some time until Mid-July, enough for you to give a lot of care to developing the antidote. With your own life, you should be more careful, right!"
"Governor, spare my life! Governor, spare my life!" Fang Cunzhen knelt on the ground and kowtowed forcibly, crying bitterly. "I’ve been making painstaking efforts the entire time! The new medicine this time will definitely have results, I’m begging you to give me some more time! Governor, spare my life!"
Shen Jue didn’t reply, and he only coldly looked at the raindrops in front of the steps. The sounds of rain, wind, and Fang Cunzhen’s begging for mercy seemed to be in another world. Shen Jue pursed his lips, and the headless figure emerged clearly in his mind again.
His heart was burning with agitation, and if he was holding a saber in his hand, he probably would have chopped Fang Cunzhen up.
"Governor!" An underling ran inside in the rain and handed him a secret report that was wrapped in an oil paper bag. "Urgent report from Liuzhou!"
Blood dripped from Liu Guizang’s hands, and Xiahou Lian slashed again. Liu Guizang was finally unable to support himself, and he fell in the rain. His beard was stained with mud and blood, and his only eye stared firmly at Xiahou Lian.
Rainwater flowed along the hair on Xiahou Lian’s temple, outlining his grim silhouette. In the curtains of rain, the black-clothed assassin raised Hengbo in both hands, and rainwater gurgled down along the point of the saber.
"Go to hell, old brute! …Uh!"
It was as if a snake had bitten the center of his back, and it hurt fiercely. Hengbo stagnated, and Liu Guizang seized the instant’s opportunity, swinging his saber to chop Hengbo away. Hengbo left his hands and spun before sticking into a pile of a peddler’s goods at the side of the street. Immediately afterward, there was another pain in his calf. Xiahou Lian looked down and saw a short black arrow pierced in his leg.
He didn’t look back and only swiftly picked up a Qi Clan Military Saber from the ground, spinning and cutting down at Liu Guizang again. Three arrows flew obliquely and pierced Xiahou Lian’s right hand, and one of the arrows passed through his arm. Pain spread throughout his entire body like a wildfire, and stick blood flowed down along the gaps between his fingers.
Xiahou Lian fell to the ground. He looked back and saw densely packed disciples of the Liu clan on the rooftops who were staring at him impassively.
Trap, this was a trap!
At the end of the street, Shu Qing used all of his strength to shake Tang Shiqi. "Hurry! Hurry and save my shige!"
Tang Shiqi roared angrily, "Shut up! Do you fucking want us to seek our deaths together?"
"Do you think that I don’t want to save him! Take a fucking look for yourself how many Liu clan disciples there are and how many people we have!" Tang Shiqi dug his fingers into the window lattice, his fingertips turning pale. "Resign yourself to your fate. Aren’t your Garan’s rules like this anyway, don’t save those who are certain to die. It depends on the boss’s luck!" He closed his eyes and stopped looking.
"You’re indeed very strong, Xiahou Lian." Liu Guizang stood in front of Xiahou Lian and smiled as he said, "At the time when your mother died, there was also such heavy rain."
Xiahou Lian struggled to get up from the ground and picked the saber up again, roaring angrily as he chopped at Liu Guizang. Another arrow shot into his calf, and he staggered as he fell into the mud, mud droplets splashing onto his cheeks.
"I’ve waited four years for you." Liu Guizang continued, "Do you think that this killing field of Dongchengmen Street was chosen by you? You’re wrong, Xiahou Lian, I meticulously prepared this for you! On the first and fifteenth of every month, I pass through here, and on the first and fifteenth of every month, I hide my disciples on the rooftops, waiting for this day! Sure enough, you lived up to my expectations, and you’ve finally come!"
Pain burned like a raging fire, and Xiahou Lian practically drowned in the excruciating and piercing pain. He gritted his teeth as he stood up again and again, and fell to the ground again and again.
How did this happen? How did this happen? He dragged his saber and went step by step toward Liu Guizang. His lungs were pulled like old box bellows, and he panted like an old ox. He was going to kill him! He must kill him!
But, there was no way. Every time Xiahou Lian stood up, he would be fiercely hit back. His head was cut open on the ground, and blood dripped. The pain from the wounds on his body clamored in pain, one after another. He was like a fish on a chopping board, thrashing powerlessly.
Another arrow flew over and brushed past his cheek. Liu Guizang picked up his scabbard that was on the ground and fiercely hit Xiahou Lian’s abdomen. Xiahou Lian covered his mouth and fell back on the ground, blood seeping out from between the gaps of his fingers.
"But I can’t kill you now, you’re still useful." Liu Guizang picked up the arrow that had just been shot. "I’ll take you to the Evil-Punishing Scaffold to let everyone in the world know that I caught the Garuda’s son. My prestige will once again resound through the martial arts world, and that dirty scandal will be washed clean. Xiahou Lian, your mother helped me take my top seat in the martial arts world, and you’ll help me consolidate my superiority among the martial arts circles. I really am extremely grateful to you mother and son, hahaha!"
Shut up, shut up! He was going to kill him, kill him! This thought was like a brand, burning hot in Xiahou Lian’s mind. Xiahou Lian glared at him, and his eyes had a cruelty like a wolf’s.
"Liu Cuckold, wanting to wash off your reputation as a cuckold, stop dreaming!" Xiahou Lian said viciously.
Liu Guizang’s expression changed drastically. He bent his knee and knelt on Xiahou Lian’s arm, stabbing the arrow into Xiahou Lian’s left palm, nailing his palm to the ground. Xiahou Lian’s entire body spasmed, and his facial features practically contorted from the pain, but he didn’t make a sound. Liu Guizang hadn’t expected that he could actually not groan from suffering such a heavy injury. Blood flowed windingly out of his mouth; it turned out that he was biting his tongue.
"Good-for-nothing, Xiahou Lian, do you think that killing me could prove that you’re not a good-for-nothing?" Liu Guizang stood up and sneered, "See, you couldn’t kill me four years ago, and you still can’t kill me now." He turned his head and looked at Zhaoye, who was next to the carriage. "What mechanism puppet. Good-for-nothing, you only know how to hide behind women!"
"Shut up!" Xiahou Lian gritted his teeth tightly and raised his right hand, pulling the arrow out of his left hand. The excruciating pain practically made him pass out, but he didn’t fall and instead struggled to stand up, picking up his saber. He held the saber in both hands and slowly gripped it. The pain in his palm instantly intensified, burning his nerves like a fire that filled the sky.
He dragged his feet forward, and Liu Guizang leaned on his saber as he looked at him. His legs trembled like withered leaves in the wind, as if they could fracture in the next moment. However, in the end, he didn’t fall down and instead had crimson eyes as he walked step by step in front of Liu Guizang.
He roared loudly, like the angry howl of a lone wolf, sharp and furious. At that moment, Liu Guizang seemed to see an evil Asura spirit; he had come from hell and he was bathed in blood, flames of vengeance wrapping around him. The military saber went on a line of twists and turns. It was a stunning arc, and a bit of a cold light congealed at the point of the saber, as if it was a firefly in the night.
Then, it stopped abruptly.
The firefly was extinguished, and the long saber slumped as it fell to the ground. Liu Guizang’s scabbard fiercely hit the side of Xiahou Lian’s head, and the world spun before his eyes. The ground rushed toward his face, and his cheeks were immersed in icy rainwater. It was as if the world had gone silent, leaving behind only a sharp and long wail in his ears. He looked over his line of sight and just happened to see Hengbo, which was stuck in the pile of a peddler’s goods, and the blade that sparkled like water reflected his broken and bleeding face.
In his daze, he seemed to hear that familiar call.