The teacup in Yun Ruoyan’s hands fell to the ground and cracked into smithereens.
“Ah, Miss, are you alright?” the waiter recounting the news to Yun Ruoyan immediately asked. By then, however, Yun Ruoyan’s eyes were brimming with tears as she looked toward Li Mo.
“We’re alright.” Li Mo walked to her side and took her hands in his. “Why didn’t we see these women when we entered the city?”
“The women were sent by the Feng city, so they’re being hung on the gates facing the Feng city. Honored guests, you must have entered through another gate.”
Li Mo handed a spirit crystal to the waiter, who left happily.
“Yan’er, you have to remain calm.” Li Mo rubbed her hands, which had turned cold and clammy the moment she had heard the news. Her body swiftly followed suit.
Yun Ruoyan closed her eyes, and the faces of the courtesan troupe flashed through her mind. A Fei, stoic and reserved; Xiao Qing, who treated her like her own sister; Madam Hong, resolute and unyielding despite what she had experienced, whose will shone like fire…
Yun Ruoyan took a deep breath. When she next opened her eyes, her eyes were like iron. “Li Mo, I want to go see them.”
“We’ll go tonight,” Li Mo replied, still rubbing at Yun Ruoyan’s hands.
That night, as all things grew quiet and still, fifteen women still hung on the eastern gates of the Pi city. Their bodies, once representative of all sorts of beauty, were now parched and dry like the withered leaves of fall. A strong breeze was sufficient to shake them about.
“They were a sight to behold when they were first hung up, but now they’re growing uglier and uglier by the day,” a guard murmured to his companion. They were responsible for the night shift, and were chatting to each other as they drank alcohol for warmth.
“Young Master Pi didn’t say when to cut them loose, did he? It’s depressing to look at them,” his companion replied. “Once the weather warms, they’re going to start rotting. By that time, they’ll scorch our eyes and nose.”
“Heh.” The first guard took a big gulp of alcohol, then stood up and smirked, unfastening his belt. “This morning, I heard one of them shout for water. I’ll go give them something to drink.”
Before he could take a single step, however, a shadow appeared before him. Yun Ruoyan tossed a handful of bewitching fog at him; Li Mo dealt with the guard behind her.
“Go to the side and drink it all yourself,” Yun Ruoyan commanded.
“Yes, Master.” Obeying her command, the swordsman walked to the side and began drinking his own piss.
In her fury, Yun Ruoyan wanted to behead both the guards, but Li Mo stopped her. Sword aura flashed underneath her feet as she flew to the women, glancing at their familiar faces. Sister Linghua was an excellent singer, Sister Qingluo skilled with the guqin, Sister Yaohua with the flute—she flew past each of the fifteen women, forcing herself to look at each one. Xiao Qing was the last, so thin she was naught but skin and bones, but a smile still seemed to dance by her lips. “Xiao Qing,” Yun Ruoyan cried out, and tears flowed unbidden from her eyes.
“Little rabbit, you’re finally here,” Xiao Qing suddenly opened her eyes and murmured weakly.
“Xiao Qing, you’re still alive!” Yun Ruoyan smiled even as she sobbed, hurriedly trying to untie her from the gates. She was about to carry her away when Xiao Qing stopped her, motioning for Yun Ruoyan to put her down, saying that she had something very important to tell her.
Yun Ruoyan brought Xiao Qing to the guard tower, hugging her as Li Mo removed his cape and draped it over the rags that failed to cover up her body.
“Can this wait until you’re better, Sister Xiao Qing?”
Xiao Qing shook her head. “There’s no time. I forced myself to stay alive to wait for you. Thank the heavens that I lasted this long.” She chuckled, but began to wheeze midway through. As her breathing turned labored, Li Mo hurriedly infused spiritual energy into her body. “You must save Madam Hong and A Fei.” With her last breath, Xiao Qing revealed where they were being imprisoned.
“I know where the place you’re referring to is. We’ll save them for sure,” Li Mo promised.
Xiao Qing relaxed, as though a heavy burden had been lifted from her heart. “Little rabbit,” she called out.
“Yes, Sister Xiao Qing, I’m here.” Yun Ruoyan tightly clutched Xiao Qing’s emaciated, skeletal body.
“I’m thirsty. Can you get me some wine?”
Li Mo took out his flask of wine and handed it to Yun Ruoyan, who fed small mouthfuls to Xiao Qing. However, by then, Xiao Qing had already lost the ability to swallow, and the alcohol flowed down the side of her mouth.
“Sister Xiao Qing!” Once again, Yun Ruoyan was unable to hold back her tears.
“Little rabbit… don’t cry. This is good alcohol, fragrant and… spicy, just like the alcohol… my mother brewed for my father. Little rabbit, I’m… finally going to be able to see my parents again…”
As the sun rose, Xiao Qing’s head fell limply into Yun Ruoyan’s lap, a wan smile on her lips. As Li Mo stood guard over them both, Yun Ruoyan closed her eyes, her lips quivered, and mourned the loss of her first friend on this continent.
When Li Mo lay a palm on her shoulder, Yun Ruoyan straightened up, wiped away her tears for the last time, and again hung Xiao Qing’s body on the city gates. They would have to save Feng Mian, Madam Hong, and A Fei that night, so they couldn’t do anything that would arouse suspicion.
“Sisters Xiao Qing, Qingluo, Linghua, Yaohua…” Yun Ruoyan called each of the fifteen women by name. “On my honor, on my life, I swear I’ll avenge all of you.”
After Yun Ruoyan and Li Mo returned to the inn, the two guards woke up from their stupor, wholly unaware of what had happened last night.
The guard who had drunk his own piss retched and spat out whatever was in his mouth. “What sort of alcohol was that last night, dog piss?”
“What? I’ll have you know this wine cost me two whole spirit crystals! Here, try it again!”
“No, stay away from me! Peh!”
The two guards walked down the tower, leaving fifteen departed spirits waiting for Yun Ruoyan to avenge them.
That night, Yun Ruoyan and Li Mo infiltrated the Pi manor. While it was just as heavily guarded as before, Yun Ruoyan and Li Mo had infiltrated the manor so many times that they might as well have been decorations. They first headed to the prison that Xiao Qing mentioned, drugged the prison guard, and found A Fei and Madam Hong within a cell. Luckily, they didn’t seem to have come to any harm.
Before they left, Feng Yicheng had paid a special visit to Yun Ruoyan hoping that she would be able to rescue Madam Hong as well. From his expression, it was apparent how much hope he had entrusted to Yun Ruoyan and Li Mo, and how real his affection for Madam Hong was.
“Thank goodness, Madam Hong, A Fei, you’re both alright!” Yun Ruoyan exclaimed.
“How did you find this place?” they asked simultaneously.
Yun Ruoyan’s expression turned sorrowful. “It was Xiao Qing who told me.”
“Xiao Qing—where is she? Did you save her? And how about the rest of the troupe?” Madam Hong asked, agitated.
“They’re—they’re all gone now…” Yun Ruoyan’s words trailed off. “Pi Batian killed them, and I won’t let him go!”
Madam Hong collapsed, and her eyes lost their luster.
“Madam Hong, A Fei, we’ll save you now.” Yun Ruoyan tried to lift Madam Hong up, but she refused to cooperate.
“No, I can’t leave,” Madam Hong replied. “I need to stay here and accompany my sisters.”
“What?!” Yun Ruoyan was stupefied. “Xiao Qing tasked me with saving you with her last breath!”
“Ruoyan, listen to me. I’m still useful to them, and they won’t do anything to me. I can’t let my sisters die in vain, and I need to expose the atrocities that have been done by the Pi family. I have to stay. Ruoyan, take A Fei with you.”
“Miss, if you don’t leave, I won’t leave either!” A Fei replied, tears staining her face.
“A Fei, listen to me. I have a task for you. Of the entire troupe, only you and I know the ancestry of each sister, their original names, and where their ancestral gravestones are. Once the Pis are eradicated, I need you to send each sister’s remains where it belongs. As for those of them whose families’ graves haven’t been preserved—bury them with me.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter