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Jianghu Demolition Squad

Jianghu By May 31, 2024 1 Comment
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Chapter 16: Bending Over

Visible Skin, Hidden Bones (Part Five)

As Qing Jiu and her companions emerged into the daylight, the sun hung high in the sky, bathing the bustling streets in its warm glow. People brushed shoulders as they walked, adding to the lively atmosphere of the marketplace.

Tang Linzhi no longer concealed herself, joining the crowd with a casual ease. Qi Tianzhu, ever observant, was puzzled; he hadn’t seen Tang Linzhi arrive, nor had he seen her enter Yanyu Pavilion, yet there she was, emerging with the group as if she’d been there all along.

Leading the way, Yan Li couldn’t help but chide Tang Linzhi, her words laced with frustration. “Can’t you keep your mouth shut for once? A few words from you and you’ve got that girl fuming with rage. What a talent you have! A situation that could have been settled for less, but you opened your mouth and now it’s ten thousand taels. It’s as if your words are worth their weight in gold. It’s only because we had the money. If we didn’t, what would you have done? We were supposed to leisurely look for Yuan Wenliu, and now we’re penniless. Even heroes bend for lack of money!”

Tang Linzhi, unfazed by Yan Li’s scolding, simply covered her ears, closed her eyes, and kept walking, the very picture of indifference, as if she were immune to the scalding heat of boiling water.

Behind them, Qing Jiu seemed not to hear the exchange. A smile played on her lips as she took in the sights of Suzhou with a serene joy, her gaze wandering from one side to the other, until something caught her eye, sparking a glint of interest.

Approaching a street vendor, Qing Jiu gracefully produced some coins and, in the pure Wu dialect, requested, “Grandma, one serving, please.”

Yan Li, exasperated, called out, “Qing Jiu,” as a reminder of their need to conserve their funds.

Qing Jiu, unconcerned, laughed, “That Liu Xiu girl is no simple character either. Even if Linzhi hadn’t provoked her, she would have fleeced us just the same. Since the ten thousand taels are already spent, don’t be angry, being broke makes one feel lighter.”

Yan Li retorted, “We’re about to be down to drinking northwest wind, how is that light?”

Upon their return to the courtyard, Hua Lian was idly waiting for someone to cook, clearly bored.

Seeing Yan Li’s stern face, Hua Lian guessed there must be an interesting story, skipped dinner, and eagerly asked. After hearing the story, he laughed loudly, “Tiger Lady, you didn’t disappoint me, angering Liu Xiu on your first encounter!”

It was then they all realized that Liu Xiu was the young mistress of Yanyu Pavilion.

In the wandering life of martial artists, being well-informed is crucial, especially for someone like Tang Linzhi, an assassin. Having made an enemy of Liu Xiu could spell trouble for her future adventures in jianghu.

Tang Linzhi stubbornly retorted, “Without her Yanyu Pavilion, there are still places like Xuanji Tower and the Beggar’s Sect. Besides, my Tang Sect is also quite capable of gathering information.”

Yan Li, shaking her head, brought up again the issue of spending ten thousand taels for information and ending up without any funds.

Tang Linzhi then suggested, “Meiren Lian, you always say you’re rich enough to rival a country, and Hangzhou City is only thirty to forty kilometers from here. Why don’t you go home and bring back some money?”

Hua Lian crossed his arms, “You caused the mess, and you want me to fix it?”

Yu’er and Qi Tianzhu, unfamiliar with the backgrounds of these five, listened to Tang Linzhi’s words, unsure what to believe.

Qi Tianzhu scratched his head, a bit confused, “So, are we really going to be down to drinking northwest wind tomorrow?”

Yan Li sighed softly, a sense of resignation in her voice, “It looks like we’ll have to return to our old trades.”

The following day, Yu’er came to understand how this group of travelers usually earned their living on the road.

Qing Jiu and Tang Linzhi set off on horseback towards Fengyu Town, while Hua Lian stayed in the courtyard, his brush dancing over paper, creating calligraphy and paintings to sell. Qi Tianzhu found work doing manual labor for a household. Mo Wen went out to practice medicine. Yu’er and Yan Li set up a small table on the bustling street, laying out brushes, ink, and white paper beside a banner that read “Fortune Telling.”

Yan Li took out three copper coins and placed them on the table, adopting the serene posture of a seasoned monk, motionless.

Sitting beside her, Yu’er was filled with wonder and affection. She had thought these travelers were carefree wanderers, never troubled by the need for money. Yet, here they were, making a living in such a unique way, which she found both novel and endearing.

By midmorning, after one person came to Yan Li for a reading, word of her accurate predictions spread, and more people started to arrive.

As the sun began to set, a slender man in a green satin robe watched from a distance. When the crowd thinned, he approached and asked, “Master, could you do a reading for me?”

Yan Li handed the collected money to Yu’er for safekeeping and inquired, “What would you like to know?”

The man replied, “Let’s see how my fortune looks.”

Yan Li studied his face for a moment, then asked, “How old are you?”

“Twenty-six.”

Yan Li kept her gaze fixed on the man as she spoke slowly, “Your forehead shows a shadow over your upper court, indicating that your life involves frequent traveling and broad experiences. However, the shadow here, especially at twenty-six, suggests that your journey will take you far from home, where you’ll face significant hardships. Moreover, the scar on your forehead, located precisely at the area representing the sun, moon, and your parents, suggests troubles at home, perhaps illness or misfortune. Being far away, your inability to care for them may result in deep, lasting regret.”

Before she could finish, the man’s face flushed with anger. Slamming the table, he shouted, “Nonsense!” and stormed off.

The sudden outburst startled Yu’er, making her heart race. “Why did he get so angry? Were you wrong?” she asked.

Yan Li looked into the distance, her voice tinged with melancholy, “The intricacies of fate are not always for us to decipher accurately. Perhaps I misspoke.”

A gentle voice interjected, it’s not that the Taoist priestess was wrong, but rather, every word was true. It’s just that some people can’t handle the truth and react with anger out of embarrassment.”

Yan Li recognized the speaker, “Miss Liu Xiu.”

A group of five or six women, dressed brightly and wearing fine veils, with waists as slender as willows and graceful figures, passed by, leaving behind a lingering fragrance.

Leading the approach was Liu Xiu herself, her eyes alone visible yet unmistakable, for they seemed to capture the essence of the world’s myriad charms, unique in their allure.

Liu Xiu, with a slight bow towards Yan Li and smiled, “Why is the Taoist nun setting up a fortune-telling stall here?”

Yan Li, not wishing to delve into the complexities of their situation, simply replied, “It’s a long story.”

“Since fate has brought us together, why not divine my fortune as well?” Liu Xiu proposed.

Yan Li picked up the three coins and asked, “Does Miss Liu Xiu wish to know about her future or her love life?”

With a playful glare that could make any onlooker’s heart skip a beat, Liu Xiu laughed, “For someone like me, it’s naturally the future that concerns me.”

Yan Li tossed the coins six times, meticulously interpreting the results: “The Li hexagram.”

“And what does it say?”

“Not good,” Yan Li began, her brows furrowing slightly in concern. “Miss Liu Xiu, be wary of a great fire coming from the south by the end of the year.”

Liu Xiu, skeptical, thought of the damp and rainy climate of the Jiangnan region and the Yanyu Pavilion’s lakeside location, wondering how a fire could pose a threat. “Is there a way to avert this danger?”

“In times of danger, you may need to seek support or find someone reliable to depend on to resolve it.” Yan Li advised.

Liu Xiu bowed again in gratitude, offering payment before she and the others from the Yanyu Pavilion gracefully departed.

As evening approached, the sky was cloaked in dense, reddish clouds, and a cool breeze began to dispel the day’s warmth.

Suddenly, a gust of wind scattered the papers on the table. Yu’er hurried to gather them, anxious to prevent them from being trampled. As she collected them, a clean hand reached out to help her pick up a stack of papers that had fallen in front of her.

Looking up, Yu’er saw a man dressed as a scholar, his handsome features framed by long, elegant eyebrows. He carried a long sword on his back and slightly bent down to hand the papers back to Yu’er after she stood up.

“Thank you,” Yu’er said, to which the scholar responded with a nod and a smile.

Yan Li called out, “Yu’er, it’s getting late. Let’s head back.”

Yu’er acknowledged Yan Li and turned back to see the scholar staring at Yan Li, his eyes full of surprise and intrigue.

As Yan Li began to pack up the banner, the scholar was snapped out of his reverie by his companions’ call. He nodded slightly towards Yu’er, gave Yan Li another look, and then walked away to join two tall men, one dressed in white, the other in blue.

The scholar, deep in thought, murmured, “That person just now seemed like Yan Li.”

The man in white inquired, “Yan Li? Which Yan Li?”

The man in blue explained, “Who else but Yan Li from the Four Auspicious Beasts of the Wuwei Palace?”

The man in the white robe had a moment of realization, “Oh! Hasn’t she been missing for many years? You must be mistaken, Master.”

The man sighed deeply, “Whether she is Yan Li or not is not our immediate concern. Right now, our priority is to bring back Wushuang as soon as possible to prevent her from causing more trouble and stirring up incidents!”

The two men responded in unison, “Yes, Master.”

After Qing Jiu and Tang Linzhi had departed, it took a day before they returned. Yu’er and Yan Li had spent the day fortune-telling and upon returning to their small courtyard, they were greeted by the sight of smoke curling up from the kitchen.

Among the group of five, Qing Jiu was the only one good at cooking. Mo Wen, Yan Li, and Hua Lian were not ones to soil their hands with domestic chores. Tang Linzhi’s attempts at cooking were disastrous, resulting in meals that no one dared to consume. Therefore, in Qing Jiu’s absence, the rest were like children without a mother, either eating out or reluctantly making do with tea-soaked dry food.

Fortunately, now they had Yu’er, who could also cook. The previous day, Hua Lian and the others patiently waited for Yu’er’s return to start cooking.

With the smoke rising again today, it meant Qing Jiu and Tang Linzhi had returned.

During dinner, Yan Li inquired, “How did your investigation go?”

The information from the Yanyu Pavilion indicated that Yuan Wenliu and Meiren Gu were last seen in Fengyu Town, possibly entangled in a murky relationship with the prominent Qin family of the town. They also provided portraits of Yuan Wenliu and Meiren Gu, so Qing Jiu and Tang Linzhi went to Fengyu Town, about twenty kilometers away, to investigate the Qin family. Coincidentally, this Qin family was the same one Qing Jiu and Yu’er encountered in the carriage, involved in slave trading.

Tang Linzhi, scooping up some spicy sauce, scoffed coldly, “Aside from their slave trading, which is somewhat suspicious, the rest about the Qin family appears quite reputable.”

Yan Li asked, “What do you mean?”

Qing Jiu explained, “Building bridges, paving roads, distributing porridge, and providing medicine—the head of the Qin family, Qin Mu, is praised by the townspeople as a great philanthropist of high moral standing.”

Hua Lian asked anxiously, “What about Yuan Wenliu and Meiren Gu?”

Qing Jiu replied with a smile, “We didn’t see them. The Qin family keeps its secrets well. It’s not simple. Linzhi and I didn’t want to barge in recklessly and startle them, so we came back first.”

Qing Jiu, leisurely sipping her soup, paused before adding, “Tomorrow, Hua Lian and Brother Qi will join us to check out the Qin family. We’ll see if their generosity is genuine or just for show.”

Both agreed. After resting for the night, they split into three groups the following day. Qing Jiu and three others headed back to Fengyu Town. Mo Wen stayed behind to look after the courtyard, while Yan Li and Yu’er returned to their fortune-telling stall.

That day, blessed with a gentle breeze, a tall, thin man passed by the fortune-telling stall. After walking past, he doubled back, intrigued.

Approaching Yu’er, the tall, slender man examined her with a smile that was too bold, making Yu’er feel quite uncomfortable, yet unsure how to respond.

The man extended his hand, his veins prominent, and grasped Yu’er’s delicate wrist, chuckling, “Little girl, standing here in the wind and sun, how much do you think you can earn? I see you…”

Thanks to Mo Wen’s medical care, Yu’er’s health had improved significantly over the past few months. She had transformed, like a lotus pulling free from the mud, completely changing her appearance.

Now with delicate, fair skin and refined features, she hadn’t fully matured yet, but there was already an extraordinary grace between her brows. Her body was still slender, adding a certain fragile beauty to her.

This man harbored dishonorable intentions.

Yan Li’s eyes flashed coldly, targeting the man. With a flick of her whisk, she wrapped it around the man’s wrist, “Sir, it’s improper for men and women to touch.”

The man glared at Yan Li for a moment, and when he withdrew his hand, he noticed thin red marks on his wrist as if from silk threads, causing his body to shudder before he sullenly walked away.

Yan Li watched the man leave, frowning, and solemnly advised Yu’er, “His eyes too white, the ends of his brows scattered; Yu’er, individuals with his demeanor—sinister, cold, selfish, impulsive, and narrow-minded, lacking any tolerance—should be avoided if you encounter them in the future. Try not to provoke them. There’s a saying, ‘The face reflects the heart.’ It’s not always true, but there’s some truth to it that shouldn’t be ignored.”

Yu’er asked, “What if he comes to bother me?”

Yan Li paused, then sighed, “Then it’s his own bad luck.”

Translation notes:

      Drinking northwest wind (喝西北风) – Chinese idiom that means cold and hungry.

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Khriss
Khriss
29 days ago

Hummm it’s all a facade
Let’s see what’s left when the bag is pulled off their heads
Thanks for the TL!