Chapter 18: Recalling the Memories (3)
Xu Xingzhi stumbled back into the room and nearly knocked down the pottery vase by mistake because his vision wasn’t clear after entering the room.
As he stabilized the vase, the intermittent images playing in Xu Xingzhi’s eyes gradually became lucid.
However, perhaps because he was accustomed to such levels of dizziness, Xu Xingzhi did not faint this time.
He leaned on the wall as his breathing became shallow and rapid. A large mass of thick fog drifted before his eyes, rolling and surging until it became a clear and bright scene.
A street drenched in the autumn rain emerged before his eyes.
The building by the street opposite a teahouse, judging by the decorated and brightly lit lanterns, it seemed to be a brothel. Within that small building, there were women playing mournful tunes on chinese lutes, and when it mixed with the pitter-patter of the autumn rain, it created an extremely melancholic mood.
There were few travelers on the street, instead a lone chinese cabbage rolled across the street.
A deaf old man who had been selling sugar coated chinese hawthorn squatted under the eaves of the teahouse to take shelter from the rain. The straw stand1 beside him was full of bright sugar coated chinese hawthorn2 that couldn’t be sold anymore in this weather.
A waiter of the teahouse rushed out to chase him away. “Go away! Can’t you see that there are distinguished guests here? If you offend them, you won’t have any good fortune in your next life!!”
The old man couldn’t hear him. He only knew that the waiter was driving him away, so he got up like always and prepared to leave.
Xu Xingzhi was sitting by the window and saw this scene play out through the diamond check window3. His lips slightly curled up and he called out, “Shopkeeper, I’d like to invite the old man in for a cup of tea. Make things convenient for me, won’t you?”
After that, he threw his string of coins4 on the table, and the clanking sound produced by the coins colliding with each other made the waiter’s eyes grow green from listening.
He hurriedly ran into the rain and stopped the old man. After a lot of gesturing, he nodded his head and bowed5, welcoming him back into the shop.
Jiu Zhideng who was seated at the same table with Xu Xingzhi poured a cup of tea into his own cup and silently offered it to the old man. Afterward, he took out rations wrapped in a tender lotus leaf and handed it to him.
The old man repeatedly thanked him but his expression remained unchanged. He just nodded slightly before getting up and going back to the table.
Xu Xingzhi was discussing something with Meng Chongguang. When he saw Jiu Zhideng coming back, he pulled him to sit down and pointed to the other side, asking, “Both of you listen, is that girl’s Lute playing skills good?”
Jiu Zhideng’s face was cold as he said: “… Satisfactory.”
Meng Chongguang who was on the other side of the table looked at Xu Xingzhi with a smile: “Not better than Senior Brother.”
Jiu Zhideng glanced at Meng Chongguang and said nothing.
Xu Xingzhi pulled out a silver draft6 from his palm like he was performing a magic trick: “When this matter of this trip is settled, shall Senior Brother take both of you for a trip?”
Jiu Zhideng immediately blushed. He shook his head, his lips were pursed: “Senior Brother, that’s a place of prostitution, you mustn’t…”
However, Meng Chongguang held his face in hands and simple-mindedly smiled as he interrupted Jiu Zhideng’s words. “Okay, Chongguang will be happy wherever he goes as long as Senior Brother is together with him.”
The girl sitting at their table coughed lightly, her pink dusted cheeks held annoyance: “… Senior Brother.”
The young girl who was dressed in Fengling Mountain’s uniform was born beautiful. There was no false traces on the entirety of her face, her flawless skin and thick black hair was remarkably similar to that of a beautiful sculpture. It was very difficult for women who were fortunate enough to be blessed with such an appearance to not have a finicky nature, and this girl also couldn’t avoid this character flaw; there was a certain aggressiveness between her brows as she said: “Listening to what you’ve said, could it be that Senior Brother often goes to those places?”
Before Xu Xingzhi could open his mouth, Zhou Beinan next to him plunged in: “… Don’t listen to his nonsense. He has no courage to enter those indecent places by himself. He is making all of you to go with him to gain courage.”
Xu Xingzhi said, “Don’t spoil my reputation in front of my Junior Brothers and Junior Sister.”
Zhou Beinan did not heed him and said to the girl, “Last time, I went to Shouyang Mountain with your Senior Brother Xu to arrest those exiled ghost cultivators. After that, he said he would take me to see those money squandering establishments. He spoke like he had seen the outside world many times. As a result, the moment the girl pulled at his waistband, he was terrified and said,”Don’t, don’t! My wife is giving birth soon!” Then he grabbed me and made a run for it.”
Xu Xingzhi: “… Do you want to die, Fatty Zhou?”
Zhou Beinan was not in the least afraid: “You tell us whether it’s true or not.”
Only then did a smile appeared on the young girl’s face, curving on her cheeks, as if she was laughing at Xu Xingzhi.
Zhou Beinan sat next to his sister, Zhou Xian. She had the same appearance as her brother, but her temperament was nothing like his. After listening to his elder brother’s preposterous words, she only gently covered her faint smile.
After listening to Zhou Beinan’s words, Meng Chongguang and Jiu Zhideng both breathed a sigh of relief at the same time. After sensing each other’s actions, they looked at each other only swiftly turned their line of sight away in unison.
Finally, the one that ended this conversation was Wen Xuechen who was sitting alone at a table.
He knocked on the cup and ordered Zhou Beinan and Xu Xingzhi, “You two, don’t bicker any more.”
Compared to the other stores nearby that were shutting their doors due to the downpour, declining further customers and having their countyards emptied, this small teahouse could be said to be unusually lively.
Several tables were occupied by the four sects’ disciples who were dressed in various uniforms. Xu Xingzhi sat at a table with Meng Chongguang, Jiu Zhideng and his Junior Sister, Yuan Ru Zhou. Zhou Beinan and his sister, Zhou Xian sat together. Qu Chi brought three to four disciples from Danyang Peak. Wen Xuechen was the only one that took up one table and drank alone.
He brought two Qingliang Valley’s disciples, including Lu Yujiu. Both of them sat at the other table obediently and behaved themselves, not daring to overstep any lines.
Apart from the four sects’ disciples, a beautiful and delicate young boy was seated at Qu Chi’s table, sobbing incessantly. Qu Chi had been gently coaxing him all the while, but he continued to weep interminably and it gripped at one’s heart.
Xu Xingzhi turned his head and said, “Qu Chi, can you do it or not? Can you get something out of him or not?”
Qu Chi was somewhat helpless: “Take it easy, don’t be rushed.”
He held the child’s cold, soft hand and inquired with good temper, “Will you tell us which direction those people who captured your elder brother went in?”
The child was so blindly occupied with crying that the rim of his eyes were a deep red. He opened his mouth with the desire to speak, but he was so nervous that he couldn’t even say a word.
Qu Chi put his hand on the back of the child’s head and gently rubbed it: “I know you’re frightened. Don’t be afraid. Now that we are by our side, nothing will happen to you. You can rest assured.”
The child was bewildered, his pale lips opened slightly, but he still did not utter any words.
Xu Xingzhi tapped on the table and said, “Ru Zhuo, you give it a try.”
Yuan Ru Zhuo had been quietly watching Xu Xingzhi since just now. Her complexion became flushed like peaches had bloomed on her cheeks and the corner of her lips were full of spring7.
But when Xu Xingzhi looked at her, she straightened her back, raised her chin coldy and replied, “Yes, Senior Brother.”
When he stood up, Yuan Ru Zhuo secretly put the back of her hand on her scalding cheek and then shot a glance at Zhou Xian.
When Zhou Xian saw all of Yuan Ru Zhuo’s feelings, she couldn’t help smiling. She also followed suit and stood up.
Women should have a better way to coax children, especially beautiful women who were born with advantages.
That was what Xu Xingzhi thought, but the child did not appreciate it at all. He was so frightened when he saw Zhou Xuan and Yuan Ru Zhuo approach him that he hid under the table.
Yuan Ru Zhuo stilled and looked puzzled.
The teahouse’s waiter who was standing at the side, scratched his head and explained for them, “I’ve seen this child twice. Their troupe had been performing around Dawu Mountain for many years. I heard that the leader of the troupe was a shrew and she punished the pupils as if she held any resentment against them in her previous life. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, we could even hear the cries of these little things, they cried like puppies and kittens. It’s so heart-wrenching. As a matter of fact… That hag also has a nickname, Gui Jian Chuo8…”
After saying this, he shrugged his shoulders: “This time the whole troupe was captured by those ghost cultivators, so that woman probably would really be seeing the ghost now.”
When he said this, it wasn’t difficult for anyone to at present to guess that the child had probably been badly beaten up by the leader’s wife before, hence, he was afraid of women.
Yuan Ru Zhou and Zhou Xian had to retreat back after taking this information into consideration.
Back at the table, Yuan Ru Zhou complained softly: “How could that woman treat children like that? It’s really inhumane. She deserved it that those ghost cultivators took her away.”
Xu Xingzhi coughed softly, hinting Yuan Ru Zhou to stop talking.
Lu Yujiu, who had a baby face, buried his head extremely low and dared not say a word more.
Since the capture of Ming Ya Nation, ghost cultivators who had not been caught had all scattered in all directions. Two days ago, a group of exiled ghost cultivators came near Dawu Mountain and captured the whole troupe that had settled in the temple. Only the little boy who hid behind the Buddha statue had narrowly escaped this disaster.
Everyone knew that two days have passed since then, and these opera troupe artistes had either been converted into walking corpses, or had been used to refine into Hun Zhu Pills. At this juncture, they probably had no hope of surviving.
It was still imperative to find out where those ghost cultivators were hiding and get rid of them all at once. However, only this child who had survived might know about their whereabouts, but he was also a hard nut to crack even if they made every effort to ask him.
Qu Chi had no other options. He said to Zhou Beinan, “Beinan, you give it a try.”
Zhou Beinan shook his hands to decline this with quite a bit of self-awareness: “Don’t, I don’t know how to coax children. I’d want to cry with them whenever I hear them cry.”
Qu Chi then turned his eyes to Wen Xuechen.
The noise had induced a headache for him and he was rubbing his temple. When the kid heard the words, he looked towards the direction. Then he simply cried out loud, saying: “Mon-monster… Wu- white hair…”
Wen Xuechen: “…”
Xu Xingzhi and Zhou Beinan tried hard to suppress their laughter until their shoulders were shaking.
Qu Chi coughed lightly, feeling pressured in this situation. He turned his eyes and saw the old man leaning against the wall, resting and gorging on the ration. Finally, he came up with a good idea: “I’ll buy you some candied hawthorn to eat. Don’t cry, okay?”
However, he soon realized one thing and turned to Xu Xingzhi: “Xingzhi, I came out this time without bringing any money. Can I borrow some from you?”
Xu Xingzhi held the cup and raised a finger to say, “Okay. For one hundred spirit stones.”
Qu Chi: “…”
“It’s not like you are taking them from Danyang Peak’s funds. Don’t you have some in your personal fund?” Xu Xingzhi took back his hand and said, “One hundred spirit stones, no less.”
Wen Xuechen were somewhat unable to continue seeing this scene: “Xingzhi, don’t bully Qu Chi.”
Xu Xingzhi was not polite at all: “White Hair Wen, when we went out this time. I am the one that paid for all the tea. Can’t I get some remuneration for it?”
Zhou Beinan was honest and blunt: “That child is crying. It’s just a few pennies. Don’t you have any sympathy?”
Xu Xingzhi patted Meng Chongguang’s head and said, “Who doesn’t know how to cry? Chongguang, you cry too.”
Meng Chongguang immediately obediently squeezed out two teardrops.
Jiu Zhideng who had always been silent, also spoke out for Xu Xingzhi: “… Young Master Zhou, Senior Brother is not someone without sympathy…”
“Does Fengling Mountain not bother about order and seniority?” Before the voice of Jiu Zhideng could fall, Wen Xuechen strictly interrupted him, “We are talking. For what reasons are you to butt in to our conversations when you are just a middle-ranking disciple?”
Jiu Zhideng’s complexion went cold and he said respectfully: “… Yes, this disciple knows his mistakes.”
Xu Xingzhi’s shortcoming of protecting his family’s child immediately broke out: “Wen Bai Mao, why are you shouting at out Xiao Deng? Pull your majestic acts on your Qingliang Valley. Our Fengling Mountain do not have those stuffy rules like your Qingliang Valley.”
Seeing the atmosphere was worsening, the good-tempered Qu Chi stood up to diffuse the tension: “Well, don’t quarrel both of you, a hundred spirit stones it is.”
When the transaction was completed, Xu Xingzhi took the initiative to get up, flipped his stool, pulled out a few pennies from his wallet, squatted down in front of the old man selling the candied hawthorn, and selected a large stick of the candy from his straw handle and stuffed it into Qu Chi’s hand. At the same time, he did not forget to remind him, “Keep it in your account, don’t renege your debt.”
Immediately, he turned over the stool of the teahouse with a back kick, straddled it, and dragged the child to his front: “You are not allowed to cry anymore.”
The child’s face was pale as he sobbed.
Xu Xingzhi went straight to the point without any hint of politeness: “Among the captives, there are some of your close relatives, right?”
Having heard what he said, the child looked up in aghastness but his tears flowed even more vigorously.
Having comfirmed what his thoughts, Xu Xingzhi leaned on the back of the chair, raised his foot, and shook it as he said, “Are they your parents? Older sister?”
The child spoke normally, with a tender and delicate voice. It was unlike a boy, and more like a pitiful little girl: “… It’s my elder twin brother who was sent to the troupe by our parents along with me to learn skills in our childhood.”
Xu Xingzhi said, “I’ll help you get your brother’s body back. Can you stop crying?”
Qu Chi was astonished: “… Xingzhi, don’t speak like this.”
Xu Xingzhi raised his index finger to indicate Qu Chi to keep quiet.
But the child heard Xu Xingzhi’s words. He covered his mouth with both hands and tried his best to choke back his cries until he was hiccuping.
Seeing the boy’s reaction, Xu Xingzhi was even more clear now.
The child must have witnessed his brother’s death with his own eyes and knew that his elder brother could never come back to live again.
Therefore, the many comforts that Qu Chi had tried to placate him with before were of little use to him.
Telling him that they would retrieve his brother’s body was more practical for the child than empty comfort.
Xu Xingzhi rubbed his long and messy hair like he was petting a puppy, “Be good. Tell me where you saw those group of monsters run to.”
The child sniffed hard, dipped his hand in the cup of tea on the table and drew a mountain.
Zhou Xian was surprised. She looked at Yuan Ru Zhou. Yuan Ru Zhou raised her chest slightly and her face was glowing with pride.
Meng Chongguang and Jiu Zhideng were showing similar faces of admiration.
“Dawu Mountain?” Seeing the rough drawing drawn by the child, Xu Xingzhi asked, “Did they hide in themselves in Dawu Mountain?”
The child shook his head and pulled the water line from the table towards the west.
With the candied hawthorns in hand, Qu Chi suddenly understood: “… Is it Bai Ma Jian?
The child nodded his head forcefully and stuttered a little: “I saw them going there, but I don’t know if they are still there.”
Zhou Beinan was surprised that he managed to get an answer so quickly, it was inevitable that he was surprised: “Xu Xingzhi, you are good!”
“It goes without saying who I, Xu Xingzhi, am.” Xu Xingzhi accepted the praise without any shame. He patted the child’s melon head and asked, “What’s your name, boy?”
The child did not answer, but instead looked at Qu Chi with tearful eyes first.
With a smiling face and a pair of encouraging eyes, Qu Chi handed over the bunch of candied hawthorn coated with golden sugar.
Those comforts were not totally ineffective, at least in front of these people, the child was still attached to Qu Chi the most.
After a while, he nipped the tip of sugar on the candied hawthorn and softly said, “… My name is Tao Xian.”
The author has something to say:
Next three chapters are set in the past.
Senior Brother Xu’s father power is strong!