Jianghu Demolition Squad

Jianghu By May 31, 2024 1 Comment
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Chapter 17: Captured

Visible Skin, Hidden Bones (Part Six)

Yu’er and Yan Li had not been sitting for long when a procession of carriages arrived, coming to a halt a short distance away. A middle-aged man descended from the carriage, his figure portly, dressed in a long robe adorned with cloud patterns, a jade ring on his finger. He walked with large strides, followed by two servants.

Approaching the fortune-telling stall, the man bowed respectfully with his hands clasped forward, “Master, may I inquire about my fate?”

Yan Li replied curtly, “Payment is required for services.”

 The middle-aged man was taken aback by Yan Li’s directness, then smiled, intrigued by the fortune-teller’s uniqueness. He signaled a servant, who placed a silver ingot on the table.

Yan Li examined the middle-aged man’s face and said, “Benefactor, your forehead is full, your facial structure is round and smooth, and your earlobes are red and plump, indicating a life of wealth and nobility, free from illness and disaster in your earlier years, and without worries.”

The man smiled but shook his head, slightly dissatisfied, feeling these words were no different from the flattering ones often heard from fortune-tellers.

However, Yan Li then added, “But as the moon waxes, it also wanes; as water fills, it overflows. With such fortune, one should perform good deeds to extend it. Yet, I see no mark of charitable deeds in your immediate future, suggesting you have only sought pleasure for yourself…”

A servant angrily retorted, “Nonsense! Our master, Master Qin, has been distributing porridge and medicine, aiding the poor. Everyone in Fengyu Town knows this…”

Yan Li’s eyebrow quirked. Fengyu Town? Master Qin?

What a coincidence…

Continuing, Yan Li said, “Additionally, the red glow in your Life Palace is too intense, suggesting a looming disaster of bloodshed.”

The servant grew more furious, “This is even more absurd! Our master is a blessed and virtuous man. How dare these impostors attempt to deceive us? I will not allow you to tarnish our reputation.”

Yet, the man was visibly shaken, his face changing colors, becoming even more respectful. He quickly motioned for the servant to stop, “Hold! Do not be disrespectful!”

He then pleaded with Yan Li in a low voice, very earnestly, “Master, is there a way to avert this disaster?”

Yan Li pondered in silence. The man stepped closer, softly saying, “Master, why not come to my humble home to calculate further? I can offer wine and hospitality. I would host you with wine and if you could help me avert this calamity, I would be deeply grateful.”

After a moment of thought, Yan Li nodded, “Then I shall impose.”

“No, it is my fortune to host you.” The man replied.

Yan Li made some preparations, taking the white banner to follow the man.

The man asked, “Is the young master not coming along?”

Yan Li glanced at Yu’er, stating, “Her cultivation is still shallow; she needs to return to her place to practice. It’s not suitable for her to accompany us.”

Understanding Yan Li’s hint, Yu’er respectfully said, “Safe travels, Master.”

The man said no more. Yan Li nodded, and they left together.

Yu’er quickly tidied up the table, obediently not lingering in the street, and hurried back to the courtyard.

Inside the courtyard, after searching around, she found Mo Wen had bought some wine, gotten drunk, and was now sleeping in the room.  She then went to the courtyard to grind the medicinal herbs Mo Wen had left unfinished in the mortar.

Not long after, she heard a knock on the door.

Approaching the door, Yu’er felt puzzled, “Qing Jiu and the others couldn’t have returned so soon. Could it be Yan Li coming back?”

Resting her hand on the latch, Yu’er called out, “Who’s there?”

No answer came from outside, sending a chill down Yu’er’s spine, sensing something was wrong. She withdrew her hand, remaining silent, straining her ears to catch any sound from outside when suddenly, she detected a faint, familiar fragrance. It was similar to the intoxicating scent she had smelled in Qing Jiu’s room at the inn; a sleeping incense that would weaken the body and soon render one unconscious upon inhalation.

Quickly covering her nose and mouth, Yu’er tiptoed back inside, intending to wake Mo Wen.

Suddenly, a loud bang echoed as someone attempted to force the door open, followed by another, breaking the latch. Three figures burst through the door.

Feeling her legs weaken, Yu’er recognized the man leading them as the same one who had harassed her on the street. With his distinctive white eyes and scattered eyebrows, he clearly harbored malicious intentions and had followed her here.

Cold sweat beaded on Yu’er’s forehead as she defensively glared at the three men, her voice desperately calling out, “Mo Wen!”

The leader looked inside the house, saw no one coming out, and sighed in relief before signaling the others, “Go!”

One of the men wielded a stick, another held a sack.

The one with the sack, seeing Yu’er as a delicate young girl, let his guard down and lunged at her with the sack open, aiming to bag her in one swift move.

Yu’er ducked and spun on her feet, agilely moving to the side of the man, and kicked him at the knee. Although her kick was not strong, it was precisely aimed at his acupoint, causing him to fall to the ground.

“The girl has some moves,” the leader remarked coldly, instructing the other, “Don’t hit the face. Other injuries are fine.”

They stopped underestimating her and decided to approach her from both sides. The leader quickly aimed a punch at Yu’er’s chest, moving too fast for her to avoid. With no chance to dodge, Yu’er used her hands to block the attack and redirected the force away. Meanwhile, another man attempted to hit her back with his stick. Caught off guard, Yu’er managed to dodge in a panic, but she didn’t expect the leader to follow up with a kick aimed at her lower body.

Caught off guard and weakened by the sleeping incense, Yu’er’s movements were sluggish and weak. A lapse in concentration led to her being struck by the stick, knocking the wind out of her and inhaling more of the incense, her head becoming dizzy and heavy.

The attackers, seemingly unaffected by the incense, must have taken an antidote beforehand.

As Yu’er fell to her knees, the man she had knocked down earlier stood up, grabbed the sack, and put it over Yu’er’s head, plunging her world into darkness.

When Yu’er regained consciousness, her head was still foggy. She opened her eyes to the dark stone ceiling and iron bars, she closed them again, taking a moment to gather herself before slowly kneeling up.

She found herself in what seemed like a prison cell, with three stone walls and one made of iron bars, as if carved out of a massive rock. The cells formed a circle around a large central space, dominated by a bronze cauldron burning firewood, its flames providing the only light in this windowless, doorless dungeon.

Yu’er’s wrists and ankles were tightly bound with hemp rope. Looking around at the other women in the cells, she felt a surreal sense of déjà vu, as if she were back under the moonlit night, trapped in the oppressive iron cage of the Fanyun Fuyu Thirteen Fortresses.

Surveying her surroundings, Yu’er noticed three other individuals in her cell besides herself. To the left, a pair of fair-skinned young boys were shackled, their chains adorned with wooden tags bearing numbers, a chilling reminder of the villainous methods of the bandit fortress.

Upon closer inspection, Yu’er recognized the boys as those she had seen in Fengyu Town, slaves bought by the Qin family.

Could this place be the Qin residence? Was the man who captured her from the Qin family?

Yu’er was shocked. The two boys were staring at her curiously. After a moment’s thought, she inched closer to them like a caterpillar and whispered, “Were you brought here from the Fanyun Fuyu Thirteen Fortresses?”

The boys, both strikingly handsome, one widened his eyes in surprise, “How did you know? Are you one too?”

The other shook his head, “She’s not. Look, she’s not wearing chains and was brought in alone.”

Yu’er realized with a sinking heart, “This has to be the work of the Qin family.”

Since the Qin family was connected to Yuan Wenliu and Meiren Gu, they must also have ties to the mountain bandits. The so-called criminals sold by the government were likely just a facade, bribing local officials to cover up the truth. These people were kidnapped, stolen, or seized by the Fanyun Fuyu Thirteen Fortresses and then smuggled to the Jiangnan region for the Qin family to sell.

Despite the danger, Yu’er couldn’t help but find the irony amusing. She had escaped from the Fanyun Fuyu Thirteen Fortresses, traveled thousands of li to Jiangnan, only to be captured again by the remnants of the same bandits.

Perhaps due to her experiences, or training in martial arts and literacy with Qing Jiu and the others, Yu’er had become more courageous and resilient. In contrast to the despair and panic she felt on Yan Ling Mountain, she now found herself remarkably calm. She carefully observed her surroundings and thought about possible ways to escape.

Yu’er pressed herself against the floor, the heat of the day making the cold, damp stone beneath her all the more apparent. Surveying her surroundings, she deduced she was underground.

The two young boys noticed Yu’er’s eyes actively scanning the area, in contrast to the other women who either looked lifeless upon arrival or were crying, overwhelmed by their despair.

Having just arrived, the two boys had yet to witness the hellish sights of the place and were still lively. “Hey! I’m Banjin, and he’s Baliang. What’s your name?” one of them asked.

Yu’er glanced at the twins, noting their refined features. Aside from their different-colored clothes—one in orange and the other in dark green—they looked identical. “I’m Yu’er.”

“Why were you captured too?” Banjin inquired.

Why indeed? Yu’er wasn’t entirely sure herself, perhaps just bad luck to catch that man’s attention.

A fleeting laugh echoed through the cell, drawing Yu’er’s attention to the other girl in their cell.

In total, there were four of them: Yu’er, the two boys, and another girl, all seemingly around fourteen or fifteen years old.

The girl’s beauty was marred by her tattered clothes, which resembled the Miao ethnicity’s style, similar to Mo Wen’s, but were reduced to rags. She seemed indifferent to her exposed skin. The visible bruises and scabbed wounds struck Yu’er deeply, making her own past injuries feel freshly painful.

Yu’er’s felt a tightness in her chest, almost unable to breathe, as if the sight of the girl’s wounds brought back the pain of her own past injuries, causing her to sweat.

The girl, smiling foolishly at the air, suddenly stood and wandered the cell, reaching out as if to catch something invisible, murmuring, “Butterfly, butterfly.”

“What happened to her?” Yu’er asked.

Banjin looked at the girl with pity, “We don’t know. She was fine when we arrived, but after they took her out a few days ago, she came back like this.”

Yu’er’s fingers traced the raised scars on the back of her thumb, then clenched her hands tightly, determination shining in her eyes.

“What are you doing?” Baliang asked, startled.

Yu’er moved closer to them, turning her back, “Untie me.”

Her calm request surprised Baliang into action, who then proceeded to untie her.

With her hands and feet freed, Yu’er declared, “I need to get out.”

Banjin’s eyes widened in disbelief, “You want to escape? It’s impossible!”

“We have to try.”

If this was indeed the Qin family’s place, then Yan Li, Qing Jiu, and the others must be here too. All she needed was to find them…

Baliang queried, “Do you have a plan?”

Yu’er paused momentarily before nodding affirmatively.

The prison was eerily silent, the flickering flames casting shadows that danced like sinister specters with gaping maws.

Suddenly, a panicked cry shattered the silence, “Someone’s dead! Someone’s dead!”

Moments later, footsteps echoed through the dungeon’s sole passage to the outside world, followed by a man’s gruff voice demanding, “What’s all the noise about? What’s all the noise?”

A man in simple attire unlocked and swung open the cell door, stepping inside to find the newly captured girl lying on the floor with the two boys standing protectively in front of her, obscuring whether she was dead or alive.

“She’s dead,” Banjin stated, fear coloring his tone.

As the man approached for a closer look, a white blur flashed across the floor—a hemp rope that looped around his neck.

Yu’er’s foot shot out, striking his knee and causing him to involuntarily kneel, his iron club clattering to the ground. Banjin, quick to act, snatched the club and rendered the man unconscious with a swift blow.

Yu’er stood up as the twin brothers kicked and cursed at the man on the ground. Suddenly, they were interrupted by a loud shout, “You curs!”

It was another guard, drawn by the commotion. He raised his club to strike, but Yu’er, with agile movements, snatched the club from Banjin, stepped lightly onto the incoming guard’s knee, and used it as leverage to jump up and bring the club down hard, knocking him out as well.

Banjin and Baliang, their eyes gleaming with admiration, exclaimed, “You know martial arts!”

Discarding the club, Yu’er asked, “Are you coming with me?”

The twins exchanged glances, and Banjin shook his head, “We’re a bit scared…”

He clarified, “Don’t get us wrong. It’s not that we’re afraid of those outlaws and don’t want to escape. We… we just don’t want to slow you down.”

Yu’er understood that having more people would indeed attract attention, making their escape more challenging.

Yu’er pursed her lips, saying nothing further. She took the keys from the guard’s waist, tossed them to Ba Lian, and silently made her way out. As she reached the door, someone grabbed her wrist.

Turning, Yu’er saw it was the delirious girl. She gripped Yu’er’s wrist tightly, shaking her head vigorously, warning, “Don’t go out. There are the Black and White Guardians of the Underworld outside, Ox-Head and Horse-Face, they only take children to eat.”

Her eyes wide with terror, as if she could see those mythical creatures right then.

Suddenly releasing Yu’er, the girl retreated to a corner, curling into a ball, trembling and whimpering, “So scary, so scary.”

In that moment, Yu’er saw a reflection of her own past self, hiding in a stable, her throat tightening with emotion.

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22 days ago

This is count 3 for yu er’s capture, at this point it’s all in a days work.