Chapter 14: Who is an animal?
The second month, the twenty-fourth. Noontime.
The Guan Luo road.
Sima Chaoqun lashed his horse, loosening the reins, speeding it forward.
He sped toward Chang’an.
His horse tore along, galloping at full speed. He had already changed horses four times on his journey.
Every horse had been top quality, and fast. He knew horses, and was willing to spend a lot of money buying one.
He urgently wished to arrive in Chang’an.
Of the four horses, and all of them had ended up collapsing.
Sima Chaoqun felt the same, completely exhausted, about to collapse.
Because he must reach Chang’an.
A frightening and inauspicious premonition filled his heart, as if a dear relative was about to be slaughtered like an animal.
The same day, the same time. Chang’an.
The same old Chang’an. Chang’an was the same as before, the people were the same as before.
The person with the box was waiting to make his kill just as before, and the person without a box was waiting to be killed just as before.
There was no snow, and no sunlight.
The gloomy sky looked like the eyes of a young girl who has been crying for too long, devoid of charm and color. To those eyes, the box looked just as ordinary as before, just as old fashioned. Awkward and ugly.
But the box had already opened.
The ordinary, ugly pieces of metal inside the box had in the twinkling of an eye been transformed into a weapon that could not be defended against, and in just as short a time period, Zhuo Donglai would soon be killed.
From the time he was young all the way into the prime of his life, Zhuo Donglai had always wielded a sword.
He had used many types of swords. When thirteen years of age, he had used a butcher’s knife, which he had pilfered directly from a butcher’s chopping block, to kill the tyrant of the fish and meat market, “Boss Pig-killer.” Since then he had changed blades many times.
When he was fourteen he had used a folded iron broadsword, at fifteen, a pure steel horse-cutter, and at sixteen, a ghost-head blade. At seventeen he replaced his single blade with double blades, a pair of mandarin duck butterfly swords. At twenty, he replaced his double blades with a single blade, an extremely heavy, extremely dignified golden-backed mountain-chopping blade.
At twenty-three, he had used the most dignified weapon in all of Jianghu, a purple-gold fish-scale blade.
But after the age of twenty-six, the blades he used yet again changed, from the resplendent to the ordinary.
He once again used a folded iron broadsword, a goose-quill sabre, even a foreign monk’s knife.
Isn’t it true that one can see the changes in a person’s sword skill and personality from the changes in the weapons they use?
Regardless, regarding knowledge and understanding of “blades” and “sword skill,” almost no one in the martial world could compare to Zhuo Donglai.
So after reaching the prime of his life, he no longer needed to use a sword.
He could take a tangible sword and make it intangible, could defeat a sword with no sword. And yet he still used a sword.
Concealed in his boot was an incredibly sharp dagger that could cut through iron as if it were mud, or cut through two legs as if they were made of tofu.
—Die Wu’s legs, so lithe, so nimble, so beautiful.
Flower-petal-like drops of blood splattered everywhere. Die Wu stopped dancing, would never dance again.
Then Zhu Meng fled. Little Gao left.
And Zhuo Donglai snatched up the dagger, carrying with it the gory soul of a dancer. And so once again it lay concealed in the boot of this ice-cold person.
This dagger was a blade among blades, created by Zhuo Donglai after countless bitter lessons, setbacks and victories alike.
It was the essence of everything he had experienced.
What method would Xiao Leixue use to assemble a weapon that could overcome this blade?
He definitely had a method.
He had never failed in an attempt to kill someone.
The same day, afternoon.
The main road outside of Chang’an city.
As Chang’an neared, Sima Chaoqun’s state of mind grew more agitated than ever. The inauspicious premonition was stronger than ever.
It was as if he could see one of his closest relatives calling out from within a pool of blood.
But he couldn’t see who it was.
This time, the people who should soon be dead were Gao Jianfei and Zhu Meng. He did not see how they could escape death.
But their deaths did not really concern him. They were not related to him, and were not friends.
What of Wu Wan? Could it be Wu Wan?
It couldn’t be.
She was a woman, and had never harmed another. Furthermore, she lived a life of seclusion at home. How could she have befallen any sort of calamity?
Could it be Zhuo Donglai?
That was even more improbable. Zhuo Donglai’s resourcefulness and martial arts would allow him to protect himself in any situation.
Even if the Great Protection Agency had befallen some great calamity, he would definitely have escaped safely.
Other than these people, he really had no other relatives in the world.
To whom did this horrible, inauspicious premonition relate?
Sima Chaoqun could not imagine.
And even less imaginable to him was the fact that Zhuo Donglai was currently like a helpless animal beneath the claws of a tiger, a fish on the chopping block.
The same day, the same time.
Zhuo Donglai’s fate was most certainly sealed. He knew that Xiao Leixue had never before failed in an attempt to kill someone.
And yet, he wasn’t dead.
There was a “beng” sound when the box opened, and Xiao Leixue’s long, dextrous, powerful fingers went into motion.
Once he moved, the metal pieces in the box would be assembled in an instant to form a deadly weapon, something that could definitely overpower Zhuo Donglai’s blade.
And yet in that exact moment, his fingers suddenly grew stiff.
His whole body grew stiff.
After a very long time, he lifted his head and faced Zhuo Donglai. His face was completely emotionless, but his eyes were filled with the expression of a dying wild animal facing a hunter, furious and sorrowful.
Zhuo Donglai looked at him.
The two men faced each other. Neither spoke, nor moved.
More time passed, who knew how long. Suddenly, footsteps could be heard on the path outside the small courtyard, and then Zhuo Qing appeared.
Four men followed him. One carried a drinking vessel, another carried some clothing and a hat, and the remaining two carried a violet sandalwood chair, covered with a violet sable skin.
Zhuo Donglai put on a pair of pants and some stockings, then donned the leather hat. He sat down gently into the chair, and poured some red wine into the violet crystal drinking cup. He let out a light sigh. “This is much more comfortable.”
Xiao Leixue wasn’t listening, and wasn’t watching. All of this, it seemed he wasn’t watching. Anyone who looking at this scene would definitely think they were dreaming.
This couldn’t be happening.
He was the most fearsome enemy under heaven, with the most fearsome weapon; life and death hung on a breath, then suddenly Zhuo Donglai started acting completely relaxed and carefree, so much so that he called for people to bring a change of clothes. He was even drinking.
An intelligent and clear-headed person would never do something like this.
And yet Zhuo Donglai had.
After the box opened, Xiao Leixue didn’t move at all.
This mysterious and fearsome person seemed like a spectre from hell, whose spirit had suddenly been recalled by the lord of the netherworld, and whose body had become like an ancient, fossilized corpse.
Zhuo Donglai poured another cup of wine and took a sip. He turned and asked Zhuo Qing, “Do you know what’s going on here?”
“Do you know what kind of person Mr. Xiao is?” Zhuo Donglai answered his own question. “He’s an amazing person. In the last twenty or thirty years, the number of Jianghu heroes and experts of the martial world who have died under his hand number at least forty or fifty.”
Zhuo Qing listened.
“It’s said that the box he has in his hand is the most fearsome weapon under heaven. I’ve never been a very humble person, but I truly believe that all he has to do is make a move, and I would be dead.”
He looked at the box in Xiao Leixue’s hand.
“He already opened the box, because he wants to kill me, and yet up to now he hasn’t made a move.” Zhuo Donglai was very calm. “All of a sudden, he would rather just stand there like an idiot watching me drink, and not do anything.”
Xiao Leixue wasn’t listening.
Whatever Zhuo Donglai said, it seemed he wasn’t listening at all.
Zhuo Donglai suddenly laughed.
“It’s not that he doesn’t dare to kill me. In Mr. Xiao’s eyes, someone like me is no better than a dog.” He looked at Zhuo Qing, “Do you know why he hasn’t killed me?”
“I don’t know.”
“He hasn’t killed me because he has no way to kill me,” said Zhuo Donglai. “The only thing he can do now is stand there and wait for me to kill him. Kill him like a dog. In fact, killing him might be easier than killing a dog.”
This should not be happening.
No one would dare insult Xiao Leixue in this way, much the same way that no one had ever dared to insult Zhuo Donglai.
“Zhuo Qing, let me ask you. Do you know how the incomparable, matchless Mr. Xiao could suddenly change into a dog?”
“I don’t know.”
“You should be able to see, or at least see a little bit,” said Zhuo Donglai coldly. “If you can’t see, I’m afraid you’ll have a hard time living to twenty years of age.”
“Yes,” said Zhuo Qing. “I should be able to see at least a bit.”
“What can you see?”
“It seems someone used a special method to immobilize Mr. Xiao. He can’t use any of the power in his body whatsoever.”
“Mr. Xiao used to be a dragon among men, not a dog. But Mr. Xiao also knows that if the dragon dies, even if it is a celestial dragon, it can’t compare to a dog.” He spoke very calmly, because he was merely stating the facts.
“But dogs can die as well.”
“Of course. Sooner or later. But not at the moment. Wheter it be dragon, person, or dog, being able to live one moment longer is better than dying.”
With life, there was hope. Even if it was only a sliver of hope, it should not be abandoned.
“Sadly, I don’t see how he can have any hope now,” said Zhuo Donglai. “I’m afraid anyone who is poisoned by ‘Fragrance of the Gentleman,’ will be left without any hope.”
“Fragrance of the Gentleman?”
“The friendship of gentlemen is as pure as water. The sincere and honest gentlemen is as warm and kind as jade. Fragrance of the Gentleman is the same.”
“As clear and fluid as water, colorless, odorless. As gentle and beautiful as jade.” Zhuo Donglai’s voice was also very warm. “The only difference is, the gentleman in Fragrance of the Gentleman is a hypocrite. Because it is a poison.” He laughed. “The friendship of gentlemen is as cleansing as the spring breeze, and the poison of this gentlemen is also like the spring breeze. It can make a person unwittingly become intoxicated. And once intoxicated, ones emotions will overcome one’s spirit, and one will be lost forever.”
“How could Mr. Xiao have been poisoned by something like this?”
“Because in Mr. Xiao’s eyes, I’m nothing but a dog, an obedient dog. In front of Mr. Xiao, there are some things I don’t dare even think of, because as soon as I think of them, it would be revealed in my expression, and would be very difficult to conceal.”
Zhuo Donglai poured another glass of wine.
“Mr. Xiao obviously never imagined that I would have come earlier and placed Fragrance of the Gentleman onto the jacket of a dead person. As soon as Mr. Xiao approached the body and moved the clothing, Fragrance of the Gentleman would float like the spring breeze into his face.” Zhuo Donglai sighed. “Mr. Xiao never imagined that a dog would do something like this.”
“Yes,” said Zhuo Qing. “In the future, I will never view other people as dogs.”
The old man was dead, and the secret that Xiao Leixue so wished to understand had died with him.
When he caught sight of the dead old man, of course he would check to see of he was really dead. And how he had died.
And of course, it would be difficult to look for the cause of death without disturbing the clothing on the body.
Zhuo Donglai had planned ahead of time in case Xiao Leixue lived, and had thus prepared the Fragrance of the Gentleman.
It was really a simple matter, very simple.
Simple and fearsome.
Zhuo Donglai let out another sigh. “When this old man was alive, he was no gentleman. Who would have thought that after he died he would have the fragrance of a gentleman. Sometimes a gentleman really is fearsome.”
His words were not gems of wisdom, nor food for thought or philosophy.
They were simple facts.
By dusk, Sima Chaoqun had returned to Chang’an.
He had resided here longer than any other place in his life. He was familiar with most of the streets and roads, and yet it seemed that as of now there had been a great change.
Although, it was not the ancient city of Chang’an that changed, but rather he himself.
And yet he couldn’t say what exactly had changed, nor when the change had occurred.
—Was it when he’d set foot on that blood-stained, slab stone street? Or was it when he’d listened to Oxhide talk of Cleats’ bloodstained bravery?
If one must trample the corpses of others to climb up, even if one reaches the peak, it would not be a joyous occasion.
Men and horses both can become exhausted.
As he lashed his horse down an out-of-the-way little street that ran along the city wall, he suddenly caught sight of someone familiar from behind.
This person had already blended into the shadows of the city wall, and then disappeared into the darkness without turning his head.
But Sima Chaoqun was certain that it was Gao Jianfei.
When he wasn’t drunk, his memory and vision were much better than others.
—How could Gao Jianfei still be alive? How could Zhuo Donglai have let him go?
—Had the Great Protection Agency and the Lion Clan already faced off?
Sima Chaoqun wanted to chase after Gao Jianfei and ask him, but he was more anxious to return home and see whether the frightening premonition had come to fruition.
Right now the sky had grown dark, and his state of mind was unstable. In these circumstances, it would be easy for anyone to misidentify another.
Perhaps the person wasn’t Gao Jianfei after all.
If Xiao Leixue hadn’t died beneath “Tearstains,” then Gao Jianfei must certainly be dead.
Once he had entered into a contract to kill someone, Xiao Leixue would never let them go for any reason.
He definitely wouldn’t make an exception for Little Gao.
Little Gao was a worthless Jianghu wanderer, and had nothing to do with him.
Little Gao also couldn’t figure out why Xiao Leixue hadn’t killed him. He’d tried to think of different reasons, but none seemed satisfactory.
He really couldn’t think of any justification for why Xiao Leixue had let him go.
The fact that he lived was really a miracle.
Sima Chaoqun hadn’t judged wrong. The person he’d just caught sight of really was Gao Jianfei.
Little Gao had also seen Sima Chaoqun as he galloped past on his horse.
He’d avoided him on purpose. Other than Zhu Meng, he didn’t want to see anyone else.
He was looking for Zhu Meng, and had searched every dark corner of Chang’an.
This was a time in which Zhu Meng most needed a friend. Even if Zhu Meng didn’t consider him to be a friend any more, he would not abandon him. No matter what.
—If Zhu Meng was still with Die Wu, what would he do when he saw Little Gao?
Little Gao had considered this embarrassing likelihood, but he had already firmly resolved to face anything and everything with courage.
The night grew darker.
As the darkness of ancient Chang’an pressed down on Little Gao, his spirits sank more and more.
—Zhu Meng was a true man, open-minded and deeply concerned with personal relationship.
—Zhu Meng should understand his predicament, and should be able to forgive him.
But what about Die Wu?
Little Gao clenched his fists and strode forward. Suddenly, a blade flashed; a shining, snow-white broadsword slashed out of the darkness toward his face.
The blade descended, clearly intent on splitting his head in two.
But whoever it was that wanted to split Gao Jianfei’s head into two, they would find it a difficult task. He had a sword in his hand.
This blade attack was not very fast, the technique not very amazing. Gao Jianfei could easily unsheathe his sword, counterattack and kill the person hiding in the shadows.
But he did not unsheathe his sword.
Because at that moment he caught sight of a white strip of cloth tied around the person’s head. He also saw the person’s face.
His name was Man Niu, and he was one of the bravest members of the Lion Clan, one of the eighty-six warriors Zhu Meng had brought to Chang’an to die. (1)
Even though he had never officially met this man, he considered himself to be his brother, a brother with whom to share weal and woe.
This attack was definitely made in error.
“I’m Little Gao, Gao Jianfei.” His body flashed, and the blade met nothing. It hit the ground. Sparks flew in all directions.
Within the darkness, two blood-red eyes stared at him.
“You are Little Gao. I know you are Little Gao.(2)” He suddenly howled. “F*ck your mother!!!”
As he howled, he chopped down again with his blade. In addition to Man Niu’s blade, other blades appeared.
These blades were not well-forged, and their wielders were no experts. But each attack was filled with hatred and fury. Each wielder was clearly attacking without thought to their lives.
Little Gao wasn’t afraid to die.
With his sword skill, he could rip the throats out of each and every one of these people in an instant. And at the same time, he could not.
And yet, he also could not allow himself to be killed.
He attacked with his sheathed sword, and in an instant, the other blades fell to the ground. The wielders also fell, immobilized.
The wielders of the blades did not retreat. Their eyes still shone with venomous hatred and fury.
“Very well. Gao, your skill is amazing,” said Man Niu hoarsely. “If you dare, slaughter all of us. If you leave even one of us alive, then you’re a son of a b*tch.”
“I don’t understand,” said Little Gao angrily. He was shaking. “I really don’t understand.”
“You don’t understand? F*ck your ancestors. If you don’t understand then who could?” Man Niu howled angrily. “We viewed you as a person!(3) Who knew that you were really just an animal? When we were risking our lives and dying, where were you, you animal? Were you off stealing someone else’s woman?”
“Now I understand. But… you don’t,” he said sadly. “There are some things you will never understand.”
“What do you want?”
“I want you to take me to see Zhu Meng.”
“You are really freaking shameless.” Man Niu stood up. “You really have the face to confront him?”
“I must see him,” said Little Gao, struggling to keep cool. “You have no choice but to take me.”
“Fine. We’ll take you!”
Another man stood up. He charged toward the city wall and smashed his head against it. It burst like a pomegranate.
Hot blood splashed everywhere, and Little Gao’s heart grew cold. Man Niu howled again.
“Do you want to see him so you can drive him crazy? Fine. We will take you to him.”
He charged head first toward the city wall. But Little Gao had already learned his painful lesson. He quickly grabbed Man Niu and threw him to the ground, then, without turning back, disappeared.
He shed no tears.
Because his tears had already been dissolved into his blood.
Heroes shed no tears, the tears have been dissolved into righteous blood.
When the black blade passes, does it leave behind tears, or blood?
(1) Man Niu’s name literally means: “Man” rough, fierce, barbaric, and “Niu” ox, cow. Basically his name sounds really strong and cool.
(2) The word he is using to refer to himself 俺 an, makes him sound somewhat uneducated and unrefined.
(3) During this whole conversation he uses the word 老子 laozi, to refer to himself and his buddies, which is something you say when you are looking down on the person you are talking to or view yourself as their superior.