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Jianghu Demolition Squad

Jianghu By May 21, 2024 1 Comment
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Chapter 2: Lamb Steam Buns

Fanyun Fuyu Thirteen Fortresses(Part Two)

The next morning greeted Yu’er with a warm wash of sunlight filtering through her window. She awoke with a start, her fingers brushing against the soft, clean bedding beneath her. Dressed in fresh, clean clothes, she lay there for a moment, slowly accepting that the events of the previous night were indeed real, not just fragments of a dream.

The rain from the day before had given way to a sky washed clean, a breathtaking clear blue sky stretching above. The air was crisp and refreshing. Yu’er, stepping out of her room, felt a noticeable ease in her body’s dull ache, enough to allow her a cautious walk.

In the corner of the courtyard, a peach tree stood, its branches alive with the sweet chirping of birds. The tree was a tapestry of green leaves, interspersed with delicate red buds and a few blooming flowers, their fragile beauty almost tangible in the fresh, fragrant air.

Yu’er paused, her thoughts drifting to the mysterious, almost celestial figure who had appeared so unexpectedly. A delicate smile curved her lips as she savored the memory.

In the kitchen, she busied herself with boiling water. Suddenly, a voice from behind startled her: “I didn’t see you in the house. What are you doing here?”

Yu’er hadn’t heard any footsteps, and the sudden voice made her jump, turning around quickly. There stood a woman, dressed in dark, sleek attire, her features strikingly beautiful. Yu’er recognized her from the unique accent she had, despite the woman not having removed her mask the previous night.

Yu’er knelt before Tang Linzhi, her voice filled with gratitude: “Yu’er wishes to repay your kindness for saving my life.”

Having no money, all she could offer was simple tasks like sweeping and boiling water, but she believed that every small act was a step towards repaying the enormous debt of her life being saved.

Tang Linzhi, holding a basin and a washcloth, poured hot water into it. “Stand up, my name is Tang Linzhi. I am no noble; don’t call me like that.”

As Tang Linzhi dabbed her face with the wet cloth, she asked, “Your name is Yu’er?”

“Yes.”

“Your body hasn’t fully recovered; it’s not wise to move around too much.”

After speaking, she poured out the water from the basin, fetched another basin of hot water, and walked away.

Yu’er moved towards the stove. A year ago, bandits had broken her leg, and without proper treatment, her gait was still unsteady, marked by a noticeable limp.

Sitting on a small stool, her frail body seemed even smaller. She looked at her clean white clothes, rested her face against the sleeve, and closed her eyes, revealing a contented smile.

Yu’er knew these were the new clothes they had changed her into after she had fallen unconscious last night. These clothes bore no black footprints, no smell of grease, blood, or the musty, damp mix of the stable.

Yu’er sat on the stool until noon when she heard someone surprisedly ask: “Why are you sitting here?”

Yu’er’s heart skipped a beat, and she quickly stood up. Qing Jiu stepped over the threshold into the kitchen, dressed in water-blue clothes with a white shawl, a jade flute tied at her waist, and a long sword slung across her back with a gently swaying tassel hung from her right hip, and a wine gourd hanging beneath.

In the daylight, Qing Jiu’s features were even more clearly defined, a blend of purity and elegance.

“Have you been sitting here all morning?”

Yu’er, holding her clothes tightly, didn’t know how to stand properly: “Um.”

Qing Jiu washed her hands at the wooden basin and dried them with a towel: “Your injuries need more rest to heal properly. Go back and lie down.”

Yu’er remained silent. Qing Jiu then asked, “Do you like sitting by the stove?”

“Yes,” Yu’er replied, her grip tightening on her clothes, her lips pursed slightly, torn between wanting to look at Qing Jiu and not daring to.

Her preference for sitting by the stove was not out of enjoyment, but rather a remnant of a time when she was confined to the kitchen.

Qing Jiu approached the stove. Yu’er, head bowed, could see Qing Jiu’s white shoes just a step away. Her voice, gentle and close, inquired, “How do you feel about your recovery?”

“Um…”

“Um. Um. Um.” Qing Jiu elongated the sound teasingly. When Yu’er looked up, Qing Jiu’s eyes were full of smiles. “If I hadn’t heard you speak last night, I might have thought you didn’t know how.”

Qing Jiu rested her hand on the stove, and her long, graceful fingers, like ivory or white jade, appeared even more strikingly beautiful against the contrasting backdrop of the grey-black stove.

Yu’er hesitantly asked, “Which, which words?”

“You want to live.”

Yu’er stood there, momentarily stunned, as Qing Jiu deftly slipped on an overcoat she had taken from a shelf.

“Are you planning to cook? I can, I can do it…”

Qing Jiu replied, “No need…”

Yu’er stood awkwardly in place, unsure whether to leave or stay, feeling very uneasy.

“Just help me by adding some wood to the fire,” Qing Jiu suggested.

“Yes!” Yu’er replied, her voice laced with a newfound purpose. She quickly busied herself with the task, her movements swift and precise, tending to the robust flames in the stove with a straight-backed posture, holding a log of wood.

“I asked you earlier, how is your body feeling? Do you feel any discomfort?”

“I’m, I’m fine now,”

Qing Jiu smiled, and Yu’er also smiled lightly, her smile clean and pure. The stove’s flames danced and flickered, casting a warm glow that tinged Yu’er’s face with a slight blush. She sat with her feet together, neatly, sneaking glances at Qing Jiu.

Lunch was ready, and five steaming bowls of lamb stew filled the air with their rich, inviting aroma.

Qing Jiu raised her voice, calling out, “Mo Wen!”

Footsteps sounded in response as Mo Wen hurried in, quickly grabbing two bowls of the stew before rushing out again. Tang Linzhi followed at a leisurely pace, picking up a bowl of stew and a plate of white bread.

Qing Jiu retrieved a string of Buddhist beads from her pocket, wrapping them around her right hand, and followed the others with the remaining food.

Yu’er was still sitting in front of the stove, where the fire had died down but still warm.

She rolled up her sleeves, revealing her thin, almost skeletal arms, marked by dark, purple circles at her wrists – the lingering scars of long years in chains, similar marks adorning her ankles.

Yu’er hugged her knees, still feeling as if everything around her was nothing more than a dream.

“What are you doing sitting here?” Qing Jiu asked, having returned to the kitchen.

Yu’er, suddenly tense, stood up quickly, pointing vaguely and stammering, “I… I’m waiting to wash the dishes…”

In the past, after cooking for that man, she had to wait until he finished eating before she could clean the dishes and eat herself. She had to sit in the kitchen, out of his sight but always ready to respond to his call. Being slow meant getting beaten.

So, at times like these, she was always on edge, afraid of missing his call.

“Someone will come to wash the dishes later, go eat first.” Qing Jiu said.

Seeing Yu’er still hesitating, Qing Jiu added, “Come here.”

Qing Jiu turned and walked away, and Yu’er had no choice but to follow. Walking behind Qing Jiu, Yu’er noticed her flowing black hair, adorned with two white tassels that blended seamlessly into her hair, appearing like delicate snowflakes against dark jade, beautifully complementing her. Yu’er couldn’t help but follow the gentle sway of the tassels with her eyes.

They reached the main room. Qing Jiu sat down at the table, while Yu’er remained standing by the door. “Come and sit,” Qing Jiu invited.

Mo Wen and Tang Linzhi looked up as Yu’er approached and took her seat, Mo Wen on her left and Qing Jiu on her right, with a large bowl of lamb stew in front of her. Sharing a meal at the same table with others felt like a distant memory from another life. Now seated there, she felt distinctly out of place, holding her chopsticks but not moving for a long while.

Mo Wen remarked, “Lamb is good for dispelling cold and will be beneficial for your health…”

She glanced at Yu’er’s bowl and added, “If you can’t finish it, I can have the rest.”

In front of Mo Wen, there were two large bowls of lamb stew, with one already half-finished. While her physique was sturdier compared to Qing Jiu and Tang Linzhi, she still had an average build for a woman. However, what was surprising was her impressively large appetite.

Her expression remained stern as she spoke, making Yu’er slightly intimidated. “Okay,” Yu’er replied quickly.

Mo Wen then inquired, “How much did you find out yesterday?”

“Almost everything,” Tang Linzhi responded. “We’ll scare them a bit more tonight to see if they’re hiding anything else.”

Qing Jiu was tearing bread with her hands, holding a white loaf in her right hand while her left hand tore it apart, the dark red Buddhist beads wrapped against her pale arm, “We found out quite a few interesting things. We’ll head back to Ning City tomorrow, regroup with Yan Li and Hua Lian, and then formulate our plan.”

After breaking the bread, Qing Jiu shared it. Tang Linzhi took a small portion and added a couple of spoonful of spicy oil. Mo Wen took about half. Qing Jiu then pushed the remaining bread towards Yu’er: “Lamb soup with steamed buns is a specialty of your region, try it and see if I made it well.”

Yu’er accepted it, scooping some into her bowl. The aroma of the lamb intensified, becoming even richer.

Yu’er stirred the soup slowly with her spoon, then took a tentative sip, her nose suddenly tingling.

Tang Linzhi asked, “Yu’er, do you know those two men were bandits from the Fanyun Fuyu Thirteen Fortresses?”

“Yes.”

“When did they capture you? What about your parents?”

“Three years ago…” Her voice trembled at the end.

“Do you know if…”

“Linzhi,” Qing Jiu interrupted her, prompting a puzzled response from her, “What’s wrong?”

“Don’t talk while eating.”

“…”

Yu’er held her bowl with both hands, managing a strained smile. That smile, however, triggered a tear to roll down from her eye, dropping into the bowl.

She tried to hold back, but the tears, once started, continued to flow relentlessly.

Tang Linzhi muttered under her breath, “Strange girl. She didn’t cry even when those bandits beat her, but now she’s crying just from being asked a few questions…”

Yu’er thought to herself, it was really strange. She had endured three long years of pain and suffering, but now, the sudden warmth and kindness she was experiencing caused her defenses to drop, making her vulnerable. Just a spoonful of familiar-tasting soup was enough to break her, and she couldn’t hold back any longer.

Mo Wen handed Yu’er a handkerchief, her voice unexpectedly soft and gentle compared to her expression, “Here, take this.”

Yu’er accepted it: “Thank you, madam.”

“Just call me Mo Wen.”

That night, Yu’er lay in bed, restless and unable to sleep, even after taking the medicine Mo Wen had given her. Sleep eluded her.

The lunchtime conversation stirred in Yu’er memories of an unprovoked disaster that had befallen her family.

Her father had passed away early, leaving her and her mother to depend on each other for survival. Three years ago, the expansion of the Fanyun Fuyu Thirteen Fortresses’ influence marked the beginning of their nightmare, as they selected her village as a strategic location for their operations.

Their house was seized, and both mother and daughter were forced into slavery. Their neighbors, too scared to even speak, offered no help or support.

Two years ago, her mother managed to escape and sought the help of Wulin heroes. But instead of finding help, she was captured and brought back. In front of Yu’er, they slit her mother’s throat, then proceeded to brutally assault her as she lay dying.

The sticky, dark red blood spread across the cold floor, and the sound of her mother’s muffled groans mixed with the man’s heavy, disgusting breathing haunted Yu’er’s mind incessantly.

One night, Yu’er awoke in a cold sweat. She slipped out of bed and stealthily made her way to the kitchen, where she grabbed a kitchen knife. She approached the side room, gently pushing the door open and stepping inside.

The room was barren except for two chairs in the middle, upon which two men were tied up. The pale moonlight seeped through the window bars, illuminating their faces clearly.

These were the men Yu’er was looking for, but they were barely recognizable. Their once strong bodies had become extremely thin, especially the man with whiskers like a rat, whose ribs protruded from his chest like those of a mummy.

Yu’er took a few steps forward, gripping the knife handle tightly, her hands trembling uncontrollably as she took a deep breath.

The men’s eyes were sunken, and they seemed to have aged decades overnight. When their dazed eyes caught sight of the knife in her hands, they suddenly lit up and started struggling frantically, pushing their bodies towards the blade, “Please, please kill me!”

Their voices were grating, as if scraping over gravel.

“Kill me! Please, just end it quickly!”

The once proud and fearsome men now begged for death like madmen.

Yu’er’s breathing became erratic, and her hand shook so violently that she nearly dropped the knife.

A gentle hand reached from behind her, slowly pressing down on the knife: “Killing someone is not an easy task.”

It was Qing Jiu, who had arrived silently, like a ghost.

Holding the knife, Yu’er’s eyes reddened, and she choked, “He, he killed my mother.”

Qing Jiu’s eyes, deep and inscrutable like a dark well, gazed at Yu’er for a long time before saying softly, “Killing is not a good thing either.”

Gently taking the knife from Yu’er’s hand, Qing Jiu led her out of the room, “It’s late. Go back to sleep.”

Yu’er limped back to her room, pausing with every few steps. Qing Jiu re-entered the side room, where another figure dropped silently from the rafters, landing gracefully beside the two men.

“Linzhi,” Qing Jiu nodded slightly towards the two men.

Understanding her cue, Tang Linzhi cracked her knuckles and grinned, “Let’s see how they fare against the Tang Sect’s interrogation methods.”

“We’ve told you everything! Please, have mercy on us, great masters!”

“We’ve confessed everything! Just end it quickly, please! Madam, my ancestors!”

The men begged frantically, their faces streaked with tears and snot, nodding vigorously as if their lives depended on it. Had they not been bound, they would surely be on their knees, begging for mercy.

Tang Linzhi looked towards Qing Jiu, seeking her guidance. Qing Jiu, her fingers twirling the dark red prayer beads, her eyes obscured in the shadows, remained inscrutable.

Qing Jiu’s lips parted slightly, her voice cool and detached, “Continue, and make sure to clean up afterward.”

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Khriss
Khriss
1 month ago

Thank you for the chapter!