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Jianghu Demolition Squad

Jianghu By May 30, 2024 2 Comments
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Chapter 15: Yanyu Pavilion

Visible Skin, Hidden Bones (Part Four)

The woman in the peach-colored silk dress led the four to a private room, which was intricately and elegantly furnished, with a fragrant incense burner emitting a subtle aroma.

The flutter of red curtains animated the room, with desks and tables arranged on either side, centered around a circular stage designed for the musicians and dancers to entertain the guests.

No sooner had the four settled into their seats than a procession of women, dressed in colorful dresses, floated in, their laughter reminiscent of songbirds, followed closely by musicians. They all took their place on the stage, greeted the four with a bow, and then the music and dance commenced.

The table was laden with an abundance of wines, meats, and fruits, creating a feast for the senses as the dancers moved gracefully on the stage, accompanied by the melodious harmony of strings and flutes—a truly enjoyable scene.

Mo Wen, with a drink in hand, was carefree no matter where she was, eagerly gulping down the wine. Yan Li slightly closed her eyes, resting her chin on her arms, sitting upright as if in meditation. Qing Jiu, savoring her drink, her wrist wrapped with prayer beads resting against her cheek, watched the performance with a half-smile, as if genuinely appreciating the entertainment offered by the Yanyu Pavilion.

Yu’er, however, felt restless and out of place. Having heard Qing Jiu and Hua Lian describe the Yanyu Pavilion as a place for gathering intelligence, she was not prepared for the overwhelming atmosphere of amusement and revelry, the seductive dances making her skin crawl with discomfort, unable to bring herself to watch the performers on stage.

As the performance concluded, the four dancers bowed to their audience.

Yan Li slowly opened her eyes, offering praise, “The music mourns like a phoenix, and the dance bids farewell to spring like blossoming flowers.”

Qing Jiu added, “It’s a pity, though, that such a refined piece is misplaced in a venue of pleasure and revelry.”

The dancers exchanged surprised looks, then all broke into smiles, shyly covering their faces and laughing as they dispersed to attend to the tables of the four guests.

The dancer approaching Yan Li rested her gentle hands on her shoulders and said with a laugh, “Though the music speaks of high ideals, it’s rare to find those who truly understand the sorrow and despair hidden within our performance. Men might see our dance as mere fantasy, unaware of the true grief it embodies. Indeed, it seems like only women can truly understand what’s in another woman’s heart.”

Before she could finish speaking, her hand reached towards Yan Li’s neck. Yan Li, with a flick of her whisk, retorted, “As a cultivator, I have severed all worldly ties.”

Shocked back a few steps, the woman held her wrist, her eyes twinkling with amusement and a hint of understanding, then she exchanged a knowing look with her companions.

Meanwhile, the dancer behind Qing Jiu moved to embrace her. Qing Jiu turned around, hands pressed together in a bow, and gently said, “I have renounced worldly desires.”

Yu’er blushed furiously, shocked by the behavior they encountered in a place they thought unusual for a group of women to enter, let alone to be flirted with so openly and aggressively.

Only Mo Wen, focused solely on her drink, remained indifferent to the surroundings, paying no mind to anyone’s actions.

A soft laugh came from outside, a uniquely feminine and charming voice that teased the heartstrings, “A Taoist priestess, a Buddhist nun, a little girl, and a fool, the visitors to my Yanyu Pavilion are ever so intriguing.”

The door swung open, and a woman dressed in a water-blue cloud-patterned dress made her graceful entrance, her steps light, her silken robes flowing around her as if she were a celestial being stepping down from the heavens.

This newcomer, enchanting and graceful, partially covered her face, revealing only her eyes and brows. She offered a smile, soft and captivating, that seemed to ensnare the soul.

The woman introduced herself with a modest bow, “This humble woman is Liu Xiu, pleased to make your acquaintance.”

Qing Jiu and her companions returned the gesture, sharing their names in kind.

Liu Xiu, with a smile, said, “I’ve heard that you four are here to discuss business.”

Liu Xiu scrutinized the group, “My Yanyu Pavilion is a place of sensual pleasures. I wonder what kind of business you ladies have to discuss with us?”

Qing Jiu and her companions, in turn, appraised her discreetly, recognizing from her demeanor that she was no ordinary courtesan.

Qing Jiu responded, “Miss Liu Xiu jests. Among the world’s three major intelligence networks—The Beggars’ Sect, Xuanji Tower, and Yanyu Pavilion—how could this place be an ordinary place of pleasure and entertainment, concerned only with selling smiles?”

With Qing Jiu revealing their true purpose, Liu Xiu could no longer feign ignorance. The dancers and musicians exited, leaving only one person standing silently behind Liu Xiu.

Liu Xiu, still smiling, called out, “Why doesn’t our friend above join us as well? We have fine tea and refreshments here; there’s no need to be shy, hiding in that dark, cramped space.”

The expressions of Qing Jiu and her companions remained unchanged, but Yu’er, surprised, followed Liu Xiu’s gaze upwards. The beams were shadowed, making it difficult to discern anyone hiding among them.

A voice declared, “I refuse to sit with prostitutes.”

Yu’er recognized the voice as Tang Linzhi’s and wondered, “She was so against coming, refusing, saying she wouldn’t. When did she follow us here…”

She thought back to a brief, puzzling exchange between Qing Jiu and Yan Li on the road, realizing Tang Linzhi must have been following them since then.

Liu Xiu’s expression darkened. Yu’er knew Tang Linzhi’s blunt words had angered her. Hua Lian often told her that Tang Linzhi, having grown up among men, spoke crudely without regard for others’ feelings, advising her not to take it to heart. Yu’er thought Tang Linzhi was usually not so harsh, mainly just bantering with Hua Lian, but now it seemed her words could indeed be cutting.

Liu Xiu retorted, “If you look down on courtesans so much, why come into my Yanyu Pavilion at all and risk sullying your clothes?”

Leaning against a beam, arms crossed, Tang Linzhi snorted, “The women of brothels are heartless and shameless. If I weren’t concerned for the safety of my friends, I would never have entered this place.”

Liu Xiu’s eyes flashed with anger as she coldly looked upwards. The Yanyu Pavilion, cloaked under the guise of a pleasure house, engaged in the business of selling information. The women here were once unfortunate souls who had fallen into disrepute, either taken in by Yanyu Pavilion or having sought refuge within its walls themselves.

The Pavilion’s foremost rule was to sell art, not their bodies, making it not entirely a brothel. Yet, even so, those who mocked and looked down on them were still plentiful. Because they performed and entertained, society viewed them as lesser beings, especially those who were former courtesans. However, most people would at most disdain them in their hearts, not daring to voice their contempt openly, let alone within the walls of Yanyu Pavilion!

Tang Linzhi’s use of the term ‘prostitutes’ and her blunt accusation of being ‘heartless and shameless’ were clearly directed at all the women of the Yanyu Pavilion, a painfully direct and biting insult.

How could Liu Xiu not be furious?

Yan Li called out in a stern voice, “Linzhi.”

Tang Linzhi hummed from above, remaining silent.

Yan Li turned to Liu Xiu with a bow, “Please, Miss Liu Xiu, forgive my friend. She harbors some grievances from her childhood involving women from the pleasure quarters, hence her harsh words. On her behalf, I apologize to you.”

Liu Xiu’s expression turned serious as she replied, “Your words are misguided, Taoist priestess. If there were grievances, why should we be blamed? Your friend’s accusations are harsh, accusing us of being without integrity. If everyone lashed out over personal grievances like she does, projecting their anger onto innocent women, we’d be drowned by their spit. The women here already lead hard lives; no one would choose this life and the contempt that comes with it if they had any other option. Your friend is also a woman, yet shows no compassion, speaking from a place of privilege without understanding our pain.”

Her words struck a chord in Tang Linzhi’s heart.

Tang Linzhi’s eyes suddenly blazed with emotion, and she nearly stormed down in a rage but held back, striking the beam so hard it almost snapped. “I come from privilege! Such privilege that I’d rather roll around in the mud and be happy and free! I’d rather wear rags and eat wild herbs and bark than wear silk and brocade and sell my smiles to others!”

Tang Linzhi’s outburst made everyone but Yu’er, who lacked internal energy, hear her unsteady breath.

Finally, Qing Jiu spoke up softly, “Linzhi.”

The person above gradually calmed down.

Qing Jiu, with a light smile, asked for Liu Xiu’s understanding, “Please excuse her, Miss Liu Xiu. Her grudge does indeed run deep, hence her bias against courtesans. Do not take her to heart.”

Liu Xiu scoffed coldly, “Bias against our kind is to be expected. But let me remind you, Yanyu Pavilion doesn’t beg for patronage. If it weren’t for the fact you’re friends of Hua Lian, you would have been shown the door by now.”

Qing Jiu then cut to the chase, “Since we’re clear on where we stand, let’s dispense with the pleasantries and get down to business. We’ve come to purchase information on the whereabouts of two individuals.”

Liu Xiu’s interest in the group waned, she inquired indifferently, “Who are they?”

“Yuan Wenliu, Meiren Gu.”

Liu Xiu didn’t inquire further into their reasons, simply sweeping a lock of hair lazily behind her ear, “You must be aware of Yanyu Pavilion’s rules to have come here.”

“Of course,” Qing Jiu replied.

Transactions at Yanyu Pavilion, especially those involving the exchange of information, naturally required equivalent compensation. However, the form of payment—be it money, treasures, promises, or even information itself—was dictated by Yanyu Pavilion.

Liu Xiu elaborated slowly, “There’s a tomb in the mountains of Miaojiang known as King Cheng’s Tomb. I would like you to retrieve something from there for me.”

With a slight smile and her eyes shimmering with a hint of amusement, Qing Jiu responded, “I’ve heard a bit about King Cheng’s Tomb. It’s filled with traps, poisonous creatures, and not to mention, all manner of supernatural guardians. With our modest skills, entering is suicide. Proposing such a condition in exchange for information, Miss Liu Xiu, you truly know how to do business.”

“Modest skills? You’re too modest,” Liu laughed lightly, with a seductive look in her eyes, “The biggest news in jianghu right now is the annihilation of the Fanyun Fuyu Thirteen Fortresses. Do you know how this fortress, which was impregnable to jianghu heroes for so long, was destroyed overnight?”

Qing Jiu and Yan Li remained impassive, though they were internally impressed by the speed at which news traveled through Yanyu Pavilion.

Liu Xiu continued, “It was seven heroes, as if descended from heaven, who silently and effortlessly killed over six hundred bandits, with none of the thirteen leaders escaping. The origins of these seven are the subject of much speculation, but their descriptions are consistent.”

Her gaze swept over the group, pausing as she slowly said, “A towering monk, a Taoist priestess, a maidservant, a Miao woman.”

With just these descriptions, it was all too easy to draw connections.

As Liu Xiu looked around, Yu’er moved closer to Qing Jiu, thinking to herself, “We stand out too much; it would be easy for someone to spot us.”

Liu Xiu smiled, “If your skills were just for show, how would you have the courage to approach Yuan Wenliu and Meiren Gu?”

The group remained silent. Yu’er looked towards Qing Jiu, noticing her calm demeanor as she continued to finger her prayer beads.

Liu Xiu stated, “Of course, whether we proceed with this transaction is entirely up to you.”

Suddenly, from the rafters above, Tang Linzhi’s voice rang out again, dripping with sarcasm, “Hah! Truly a prostitute with a heart of gold. Among the four great immoral acts through the ages—stealing milk from a nursing mother, deceiving the honest, prying into a widow’s home, and desecrating the graves of the destitute—you’ve chosen quite the noble path! To think your first request is to have someone rob graves for you!”

Tang Linzhi’s biting mockery caused Liu Xiu’s expression to darken considerably. However, constrained by her position, she couldn’t directly confront Tang Linzhi and could only scoff disdainfully, “Ha! If you’re unwilling, I won’t force you. We’ll go by the usual terms—if you want this information, pay with real gold and silver.”

Yan Li, frowning, inquired, “How much do you ask?”

“Ten thousand taels,” was Liu Xiu’s response.

Tang Linzhi exclaimed in outrage, “Why don’t you just rob us!”

Liu Xiu replied coolly, “If you find it too expensive, then leave. I’m not forcing you to stay.”

Without Tang Linzhi’s interference, Qing Jiu and Yan Li might have been able to negotiate the price down by half, but Liu Xiu was too upset now. She was showing considerable restraint by not expelling them immediately; changing the price was out of the question.

Yan Li’s expression darkened as she looked upwards.

Tang Linzhi remained silent.

Qing Jiu then produced a banknote from her robes and handed it to Liu Xiu, “Fine, we’ll buy it.”

This banknote was looted from the bandit fortress; they had spent quite a bit of it on the journey. Yan Li had thought with these ten thousand taels, they wouldn’t have to worry about expenses for a while, not expecting to spend it so soon.

With their funds now depleted, their hands were tied once more.

Reflecting on this, Yan Li couldn’t help but cast another cold glance at Tang Linzhi.

Tang Linzhi remained silent.

After obtaining the information, Qing Jiu and her companions prepared to leave. Liu Xiu escorted them to the door, offering a seductive smile, her eyes concealing unspoken thoughts, she softly said, “We shall meet again.”

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dweeb
dweeb
1 month ago

Well… that’s one way to splurge

Khriss
Khriss
22 days ago

Bro wtf 😒 people sometimes sigh. Literally hold your tounge for 5 minutes
Thanks for the TL.