Jianghu Demolition Squad

Jianghu By May 29, 2024 1 Comment
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Chapter 14: Learning Martial Arts

Visible Skin, Hidden Bones (Part Three)

In the misty south of the Yangtze River, where rain cloaks the world in a veil of fog at the drop of a hat, the tail end of spring thrives with a vibrancy of life. The lush greenery, veiled by a thin mist, makes this water town seem like a slice of paradise on earth.

Qing Jiu and her companions found themselves a cozy little courtyard to rent in the heart of the city. With its back to the north and facing the south, the courtyard boasted a peach tree at one corner. Its blossoms were of a delicate hue, and its young leaves, kissed by dewdrops, shyly drooped. A path of bluestone slabs split the yard into three sections, leading to the main house and a two-story pavilion, surrounded by lush banana and bamboo plants, and fragrant herbs, the ground cloaked in moss. This tranquil haven was particularly beloved by Yu’er.

Upon their arrival in Suzhou, Qing Jiu and her group of seven had quickly settled into this courtyard, calling it home for three days now. Qing Jiu, along with Hua Lian and Tang Linzhi, had ventured out to track down the whereabouts of the Meiren Gu and Yuan Wenliu, leaving Yu’er and three others behind.

The humid climate of the Jiangnan region, especially during the rainy season, soon got to Yan Li, who couldn’t bear the damp and cold, causing her leg ailment to flare up again. She had no choice but to stay behind in the courtyard, relying on Mo Wen’s acupuncture and foot soaks for relief.

With some free time on her hands, Mo Wen prepared a few medicinal herbs before sneaking off to indulge in some wine, eventually dozing off, half-drunk, in a lounge chair.

Qi Tianzhu occupied himself in the courtyard, driving stakes not thicker than a bowl into the ground. The rhythmic thumping of his hammering echoed, marking the quiet space with the sound of labor.

Yu’er mixed boiling water with a couple of ladles of cold water, carrying it to Yan Li’s room.

Yan Li sat in front of her bed, her legs soaking in a wooden bucket, her clothes rolled up to her thighs, and a few acupuncture needles sticking out of her knees “I’ve sweated a lot, my blood and qi are flowing, and the coldness has been greatly reduced. There’s no need to soak any longer,” she said.

Yu’er brought the tub closer, “Mo Wen said to soak for at least half an hour.”

Yu’er was always curious about Yan Li. Despite being in her early twenties, streaks of white ran through her black hair, and her leg ailment, triggered by damp and cold, mirrored the chronic pains of old age. Her demeanor was calm and reserved, much like an elder’s, yet she showed a spark of youthfulness around Hua Lian and the others.

Yan Li inquired, “How’s your leg injury?”

Yu’er replied with a smile, “Mo Wen says it’s nearly healed. I just have to massage a few acupoints points, and pretty soon, you won’t be able to tell I was ever injured when I walk.”

Seeing Yu’er’s happiness, Yan Li smiled too, then asked, “What about Mo Wen? She lets you do things like carrying and pouring water even when your leg has just healed?”

Mo Wen had drunk too much and was asleep in confusion.

Yan Li’s serious tone of inquiry was that of a family elder.

Yu’er responded, “I should do these things. I’m not good at anything else, so this is the only way I can help.”

Yan Li softly said, “It’s true we must be ready for tough times when you’re with us, but not at the cost of your own health.”

Yu’er was deeply moved, choked up, and couldn’t speak for a while, only nodding.

In her heart, Yan Li was a serious and upright person, whom she respected deeply. This was the first time she heard Yan Li say such a thing, and just that one sentence made her unable to hold back.

The people around her claimed to be ruthless killers, but upon getting to know them, they were actually gentle and kind.

By the appointed hour of You, Qi Tianzhu had finished securing all the stakes in the courtyard, and Qing Jiu, along with two others, had returned, just in time for the dinner prepared by Yu’er and Qi Tianzhu.

After the meal, Hua Lian wandered out into the courtyard, inspected the stakes, and called out, “Yu’er, come here.”

Yu’er was washing dishes with Tang Linzhi, dried her hands, and ran out. Hua Lian, leaning against one of the wooden stakes, announced, “We agreed to start your martial arts training once we reached Jiangnan. Now that the weather is warm and your leg has healed, it’s the perfect time to start.”

From under the eaves, Qing Jiu and the others watched, arms folded, smiles playing on their lips. Yu’er glanced at Qing Jiu before nodding in agreement, “Yes.”

Brushing the dust from his hands, Hua Lian drew a fan from his waist, unfurled it with a smile, and said, “Speaking of martial arts, the world is full of diverse skills – from swords and spears to hand-to-hand combat and internal energy techniques. Mastering martial arts is not an overnight achievement; even beginning to spar with others would take at least a year or so. But given the dangers that may lurk around us, you need to be able to defend yourself to give us peace of mind. That’s why the first skill you’ll learn is the essence of martial arts – lightness skills.”

Hua Lian chuckled, “They’re very useful and easy to learn. If you can’t win a fight, at least you can run away. Even if your combat skills aren’t great, being faster than anyone means no one can hurt you.”

Tang Linzhi called out from under the eaves, “Nonsense! Can lightness skills be mastered in a day? Without internal energy as a foundation, how can you achieve excellent lightness skills? What are you even talking about!”

Hua Lian snapped his fan shut, pointing its handle at Tang Linzhi, retorting, “Hey, hey, hey! Then you tell us, if not lightness skills first, what should be learned?”

Tang Linzhi, arms crossed, snorted, “Of course, assassination techniques. With the right techniques and the element of surprise, you can take down an enemy with little internal energy. Yu’er’s appearance can lower an enemy’s guard, which is perfect.”

Hua Lian, pointing at Tang Linzhi speechlessly for a moment, eventually turned to Qing Jiu for a judgement.

Qing Jiu calmly said, “As Hua Lian said, you should start with lightness skills.”

Hua Lian triumphantly told Tang Linzhi, “You hear that!”

Then turning to Yu’er, he continued, “Among the seven of us, Tiger Lady, Qing Jiu, and I excel in lightness skills. Qing Jiu’s technique, known as the ‘Traceless Steps,’ is like a ghost’s – elusive. Tiger Lady’s skill, ‘Silent Steps of a Thousand Li,’ kills silently in the dark. My technique, ah, is something else – the ‘Snow Tracing Steps’, light as a breeze, swift as lightning, unmatched! Yu’er, who do you wish to learn from?”

Without a moment’s hesitation, Yu’er’s gaze instinctively sought out Qing Jiu, who was already looking at her, her eyes soft and gentle.

Seeing this, Hua Lian, feeling a bit defeated, quickly added, “Yu’er, not to brag, but among the three of us in terms of martial arts, Qing Jiu might be the strongest. Tiger Lady and I are about equal, but when it comes to lightness skills, they’re both a step behind me.”

Qing Jiu acknowledged, “Hua Lian’s mastery in lightness skills is indeed beyond the reach of mere mortals.”

It was only then that Yu’er’s attention shifted towards Hua Lian. With a smile playing at the corners of his mouth and tapping his fan against his chest, Hua Lian declared, “Yu’er, from now on, you’ll learn lightness skills from me! Starting tomorrow, at the third quarter of the Mao hour, you’ll rise to practice footwork on the plum blossom stakes that Dazhu has set up. If you dare to slack off, Brother Lian won’t let you off lightly!”

Tang Linzhi quickly interjected, “Then, come learn the art of facing enemies and assassination with me at the Si hour!”

Yan Li also joined in, “In that case, I’ll teach her swordsmanship.”

Qi Tianzhu scratched his head, “I’ll teach the girl some hand-to-hand combat.”

Everyone knew of Yu’er’s exceptional talent and weren’t concerned about her dividing her attention among various disciplines and possibly mastering none to perfection.

Noticing Qing Jiu’s silence, Hua Lian teased, “Qing Jiu, you have the most to offer. Don’t tell me you’re planning to sit this one out.”

While everyone else was eager to teach Yu’er their skills, Qing Jiu remained quiet. Though Yu’er was excited to learn so much, she felt a sense of loss, as if something was missing. Hearing Hua Lian mention Qing Jiu, Yu’er looked towards her, filled with a special anticipation.

Ignoring Hua Lian, Qing Jiu turned to Yu’er and asked, “Do you know all your characters?”

Yu’er was momentarily stunned, then admitted, “Only a few.”

“What scrolls have you read?”

“My mother read me a bit of the ‘Three Character Classic’ and the ‘Thousand Character Classic.'”

“Starting tomorrow, at the third quarter of the Mao hour, come to my room. I’ll teach you reading and writing,” Qing Jiu offered.

Joy bubbled up in Yu’er’s chest, and she nodded vigorously, “Yes!”

Hua Lian protested, “Hey! Wait! If you’re taking the Mao hour, what about my lightness training?!”

“We’ll move it back an hour.”

“Hey! You! You!”

“If you can beat me, you can have the time slot.”

Frustrated, Hua Lian fanned himself vigorously, muttering, “A true man doesn’t fight with a woman.”

Tang Linzhi couldn’t help but tease him, sparking laughter among the group.

From that day forward, Qing Jiu took it upon herself to teach Yu’er reading and writing, Mo Wen instructed her in medicine and acupuncture, and the other four shared their expertise in martial arts.

Over a month drifted by in a blur, ushering in the period of Mangzhong, with the weather growing increasingly hot. Yu’er’s proficiency in martial arts and literature was visibly improving, but Qing Jiu and her companions had made no progress in their search for Yuan Wenliu and Meiren Gu.

They had scoured the entire city of Suzhou without finding a single clue. The lack of progress had begun to weigh on them, fearing their targets might have escaped again, breaking the trail once more.

One early morning, while Yu’er was reading, Hua Lian pulled Qing Jiu aside in the courtyard to talk, “Since we’re here in Suzhou, we might as well visit the Yanyu Pavilion. Why ignore such a convenient approach and go to the trouble of searching for information ourselves? If we delay further, those two might slip away again.”

After a long silence, Qing Jiu nodded in agreement.

Yu’er remembered the Yanyu Pavilion; back in Yunmeng Marsh, Hua Lian had mentioned it as one of the best places in the world.

By noon that day, Qing Jiu was ready to take her to the Yanyu Pavilion, intending to broaden her horizons so she would have a better understanding of jianghu. Yan Li, Mo Wen, and Qi Tianzhu were also part of the group.

Tang Linzhi and Hua Lian decided not to come. Tang Linzhi’s expression of disgust made it clear she disliked the place, while Hua Lian, usually keen on excitement, chose to stay in the courtyard, saying he’d wait for their return.

While walking on the road, Qi Tianzhu laughed and said, “Brother Hua Lian must have someone he likes.”

Yu’er was puzzled, wondering how Qi Tianzhu had come to such a conclusion.

Qing Jiu laughed, “Brother Qi really has a keen intuition for these things.”

Patting his head, Qi Tianzhu laughed, showing his straightforward nature, “Well, I have been married.”

Qing Jiu added, “Just, let’s not mention this in front of Hua Lian.”

Qi Tianzhu was curious but understood there must be a reason, so he didn’t ask further.

The streets were bustling with people. The people of Jiangnan, living close to the water, exuded a lively spirit, even the vendors’ calls sounded as gentle as water.

Yan Li glanced back briefly, noticing a figure flashing past behind them, she sighed somewhat helplessly, “Qing Jiu.”

Qing Jiu smiled, “Let her be.”

After crossing an arch bridge and bypassing a archway, they arrived at a busy area. The place was crowded, and on the left, a bustling building next to a lake bore a sign with golden letters on a red background reading ‘Yanyu Pavilion’—this was their destination.

Yu’er looked far into the distance and couldn’t help but marvel; nearly half of the pavilions and terraces connected by the corridors behind the Yanyu Pavilion were built over the lake. She imagined that if it rained, with mist rising from the lake, these structures would resemble the cloud-riding abode of immortals.

Qi Tianzhu said, “Miss Qing Jiu, I’ll wait outside for you all; I won’t be going in.”

After a glance inside, Qi Tianzhu clasped his hands in a prayerful gesture, murmuring ‘Amitabha,’ and retreated to stand across the street. Qing Jiu did not stop him, responded with a nod, and went into the Yanyu Pavilion with the others.

Inside, the Yanyu Pavilion was lavishly decorated. Even in broad daylight, golden lamps hung high, red curtains touched the floor, dancers in front of the stage swirled their sleeves, and the music of pipes and strings filled the air. Below the stage, guests mingled, their laughter mingling with the sound of clinking glasses.

Following closely behind Qing Jiu, Yu’er felt her cheeks flush with a bashful warmth.

A woman wearing a peach-colored silk dress approached the door, her eyes gleaming with a smile as she surveyed the group, yet she chose to remain silent.

Qing Jiu got straight to the point, “Miss, we are friends of Hua Lian, here to discuss business.”

The woman in the peach-colored silk dress covered her mouth with her water sleeves, hiding a smile, “Since you’re friends of Master Hua, please follow me.”

As they walked, they encountered women wearing cloud-patterned dresses. These women found Qing Jiu and her companions’ unusual attire intriguing, leading them to cast several curious looks their way. They giggled behind their sleeves, covering their cheeks as they passed by, sneaking a few extra glances at the group.

The woman in the peach-colored silk dress led them through the main hall toward a private room at the back. Passing by tables laden with drinks, they overheard a loud conversation: “Hey! Have you heard? The bandit fortress on Yan Ling Mountain was burned down.”

“I know, they say a divine fire descended from the heavens, burning for three days and nights, turning the sky red, and leaving nothing of that wicked fortress and the bandits within but ashes.”

“Nonsense! It was definitely the work of seven martial artists, each with unmatched lightness skills. They appeared and disappeared without a trace, taking on hundreds single-handedly. These seven heroes couldn’t stand the evil deeds of the Fanyun Fuyu Thirteen Fortresses. They decided to confront the bandits on the mountain, rescue many people, and then set the place on fire, completely burning it down.”

The group laughed heartily, clinking their cups together, “Who cares whether it was gods or heroes; that fire burned beautifully!”

Translation Notes:

      Mao Hour (卯时) – Chinese traditional unit of time. This is the fourth period of the day, corresponding to the early morning, from about 5 AM to 7 AM. It’s associated with the Rabbit in the Chinese zodiac.

      Si Hour (巳时) – Chinese traditional unit of time. This is the sixth period of the day, covering late morning to just before noon, from about 9 AM to 11 AM. It’s associated with the Snake in the Chinese zodiac.

      You Hour (酉时) – Chinese traditional unit of time. This is the tenth period of the day, corresponding to late afternoon or early evening, from about 5 PM to 7 PM. It’s associated with the Rooster in the Chinese zodiac.

      Mangzhong(芒种) – Marks the period when crops such as barley and wheat are ready to be harvested. It typically starts between June 5 to June 7 and lasts for two weeks. It signifies the beginning of the hot summer season. Also called as ‘Grain in Ear’ in English.

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22 days ago

OwO thanks for the chapter! Training!!!