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Jianghu Demolition Squad

Jianghu By Jun 03, 2024 2 Comments
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Chapter 21: Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

Visible Skin, Hidden Bones (Part Ten)

As soon as the words left her lips, Qing Jiu sprang into action like a swift gust of wind, her movements discernible only to Ye Sheng and Yan Li. Without any verbal communication, a mere exchange of glances was enough for understanding between Qing Jiu and Yan Li. Thus, when Ye Sheng drew his sword, intending to intervene, Yan Li quickly positioned herself in front of him. This prevented any interference with Qing Jiu’s actions.

In the blink of an eye, Qing Jiu had closed the distance to the Qin steward, her sword flashing coldly before she sheathed it again. The steward, still in shock, did not react until his hands fell to the ground, blood spurting out. Only then did he feel the agonizing pain, staring in horror at his severed wrists, collapsing to his knees with a harrowing scream of pain.

The disciples of the Wenwu Sect, one in green and the other in white, were too late to react, stunned by the proficiency and ruthlessness of Qing Jiu’s swordsmanship.

Distracted for a moment, Qing Jiu turned and attacked them barehanded. They were startled and hurried to defend themselves. However, Qing Jiu’s movements were unpredictably swift, and her palm strikes carried the weight of tidal waves, powered by her profound internal energy, far beyond their capability to withstand.

Qing Jiu’s swordsmanship was exceptional, and her palm technique was even more formidable and fierce. Before they could even recognize the familiarity of her style, one was struck and sent flying into the lake.

Ye Wushuang cried out in alarm, “Jiang Si! Jiang Zhu!”

The two, having fallen into the shallower parts of the lake, struggled to get up, coughing up blood, clearly having sustained internal injuries.

Standing on the shore, Qing Jiu looked on with a slight smile, “Impressive skills, you two.”

They were stunned and then flushed with embarrassment. “Impressive skills,” indeed, when they had been easily defeated. Though part of their defeat was due to underestimating their opponent, the gap between them was real. Despite Qing Jiu’s gentle appearance and tone, her words felt ironic to them.

Seeing his men wounded, Ye Sheng demanded coldly, “What is your intention here?”

Qing Jiu turned and approached Qin Mu.

Faced with Qing Jiu’s ruthless efficiency, Qin Mu was terrified, retreating while pleading, “Sect Leader Ye, save me!”

Qing Jiu, with a smile still on her face, grasped his collar, “I have a personal score to settle with him.” She then proceeded to drag him away, with Yu’er following closely behind.

Ye Sheng called out, “Master Qin!”

This time, not only was Ye Wushuang infuriated, but Ye Sheng was also visibly upset, with Yan Li blocking their way.

Ye Sheng thought the person he was seeing might be Yan Li, but he was uncertain. He had only met Yan Li once, six years ago, and remembered her as someone distant and reserved, not fond of mingling with others. The person before him, deeply involved in astrology and divination with a strong jianghu presence and associating with suspicious characters, didn’t seem like the Yan Li he remembered. This led Ye Sheng to believe he was wrong in his initial assumption.

Holding his sword, Ye Sheng warned coldly, “Miss, if you continue to obstruct us, do not blame me for being rude!”

Yan Li, holding her whisk, responded calmly, “Sect Leader Ye, the Wenwu Sect detests evil, and you are known for your upright character. Surely, you would not associate with the cruel and deceitful.”

Ye Sheng frowned, puzzled by her comment, “What do you mean by that, Miss?”

Yan Li suggested, “If Sect Leader Ye wishes to understand our purpose, why not sheath your sword and watch from the sidelines?”

With a slight bow to him, Yan Li followed Qing Jiu’s lead and departed.

Ye Sheng, filled with questions about their intentions, heard Ye Wushuang softly calling him, “Eldest Brother.” Gathering his thoughts, he led the three of them to follow.

Yuan Wenliu, having broken out of a room, fled swiftly as if shot from a bow. Although Tang Linzhi was not lacking in lightness skills, her unfamiliarity with the area and poor sense of direction allowed Yuan Wenliu to quickly gain distance.

The chase led them to a courtyard near the Qin Manor, where under the silver moon, Tang Linzhi spotted two figures from the distance.

She shouted, “Hua Lian! Stop him!”

As she leapt forward, Hua Lian moved with incredible speed, leaving only afterimages as he chased after Yuan Wenliu, sweeping at his legs.

Hua Lian declared, “You wanted evidence, here is your evidence!”

Unexpectedly, Yuan Wenliu twisted his body and launched four flying knives. Hua Lian dodged to the side, but as Yuan Wenliu attempted to flee, a sword energy swept towards his knee from the right.

Forced to roll off the roof to avoid the attack, Yuan Wenliu saw the blade energy split a small house in two, revealing Hao Yun with a fierce tiger-like presence.

Realizing the danger, Yuan Wenliu knew Hao Yun recognized him. He was aware of Hao Yun’s presence in the Qin Manor and had let his guard down, thinking his superior lightness skills and nocturnal movements would prevent their paths from crossing.

As Hao Yun blocked his way, Tang Linzhi caught up, attacking from the left with Hua Lian on the right, and with Hao Yun in front, Yuan Wenliu found himself outnumbered. Despite his exceptional lightness skills, facing three opponents left him little room for underhanded tactics, which Tang Linzhi, having seen it all before, easily countered.

After engaging in combat for over a hundred exchanges, Yuan Wenliu was finally brought to his knees by a reverse swing of Hao Yun’s blade handle to his leg. Hua Lian, with astonishing speed, took advantage of Yuan Wenliu’s inability to dodge and struck his acupoints, rendering him immobile.

With the zhanmadao thudding to the ground, emitting a metallic clang, Hao Yun grimly called out, “Yuan Wenliu!”

Just then, Qing Jiu arrived, dragging Qin Mu along with Yu’er. She flung Qin Mu forward as effortlessly as one might toss a small animal, causing his substantial frame to crash to the ground, prostrate.

Hua Lian glanced at Qing Jiu, but his attention shifted back to Yu’er, his eyes widening in surprise, “Little Yu’er? Little Yu’er?! Why are you here?!”

Qing Jiu replied, “She was captured.” She briefly relayed Yu’er’s story to the gathered crowd, pausing as Yan Li and Ye Sheng joined them.

Upon finishing the story, Hua Lian’s expression darkened, and he coldly approached Yuan Wenliu, delivering a kick.

Hao Yun, facing Qin Mu, declared through clenched teeth, “You appear benevolent and righteous on the outside but are filthy and despicable on the inside. You’re nothing but a lapdog for the Fanyun Fuyu Thirteen Fortresses! I didn’t believe it when the young man told me!”

Qin Mu, having been thrown down but with his acupoints now released, protested loudly, “This is a complete misunderstanding! A lapdog? Master Hao, how can you even say such a thing?”

Hao Yun pointed at Yuan Wenliu, “The man who ran out from your house, and you still deny it!”

Qin Mu shook his head, “I do not know this man! Who is he? How did he end up in my house?”

Ye Sheng frowned, “Master Qin is known for his generosity and kindness. It’s hard to believe that the entire town would speak in defense of a man of heinous crimes, claiming that Master Qin has colluded with the Fanyun Fuyu Thirteen Fortresses.”

Ye Wushuang added, “Exactly!”

A soft voice then interjected, “Those ‘criminal slaves’ they mention are actually innocent women taken by the Fanyun Fuyu Thirteen Fortresses, not sold by the government. They were brought here for trade, and those people were kept in the dungeon under the ancestral hall, guarded by Qin’s servants. Are you going to say this has nothing to do with you as well?”

Yu’er, holding the black hair at her chest, spoke with a solemnity that belied her gentle voice, taking an indignant step forward. Qing Jiu glanced at her, her gaze probing, and asked, “Yu’er, do you want to save them?” Yu’er, caught off guard, turned to look at Qing Jiu, her gaze colliding with Qing Jiu’s deep, onyx-like eyes.

Previously, when they had passed through Fengyu Town, Qing Jiu had posed the same question, which Yu’er had hesitated to answer. Qing Jiu had made it clear they were not heroes, and Yu’er remembered every word, understanding they did not meddle in every injustice. Yu’er feared that asking to save these women would bring trouble to them and possibly upset them.

But now…

Yu’er, recalling how Qing Jiu had severed the Qin steward’s hands and then dealt a blow to the two men from Wenwu Sect, harbored a sliver of hope, thinking, “Rescuing them now should just be a matter of convenience. She should agree to this…”

Feeling a deep empathy and unable to bear their suffering any longer, Yu’er thought if she could be saved, then she should do what she could to help them escape this hell.

Yu’er hesitantly nodded, her gaze fixed intently on Qing Jiu’s expression.

Qing Jiu stated, “Then let’s save them.” Instantly, Yu’er’s smile blossomed.

Tang Linzhi and Hua Lian headed to the dungeon and returned with a group of thirty to forty women, including a pair of twin boys and a young girl.

The twins, bruised and battered, rushed towards Yu’er excitedly upon seeing her.

Yu’er asked, “Banjin, Baliang, what happened to your faces…?” Quickly realizing that their bruises were likely a result of the Qin steward venting his anger on them after her escape, she felt a twinge of guilt.

The boys joyfully exclaimed, “Yu’er, you’re safe! We’re fine. We heard from the heroes that it was you who sent them to rescue us. You’re so kind!”

Now, confronted by the group referred to as ‘criminal slaves’ by the Qin family, Qin Mu, usually eloquent, found himself at a loss for words.

Hao Yun furiously cursed, “You! Damn your mother.”

With a flourish of his zhanmadao, the blade stopped just a hair’s breadth from Qin Mu’s forehead, the cold blade energy causing a cut to appear on Qin Mu’s skin, from which blood trickled down.

After a tense moment, during which even the night wind seemed to hold its breath, Hao Yun didn’t lower his blade but instead swung it to the left. The force of the blade caused another house to collapse with a thunderous crash.

Hao Yun, in a rage, smashed his gourd to the ground, breaking it into pieces and splattering the wine. He declared vehemently, “You bastard! Killing you would dirty my blade!”

Hao Yun, placing his zhanmadao back on his shoulder, turned to Hua Lian, “Little brother, I owe you one this time!” With that, he stormed off.

After Hao Yun’s departure, Hua Lian kicked Qin Mu over and demanded sternly, “Where is the Meiren Gu?”

Qin Mu, struggling to his feet, stammered, “I—I don’t know…”

Tang Linzhi promptly positioned her dagger against Qin Mu’s neck. Seeing that he was outmatched and recalling Qing Jiu’s swift and decisive actions earlier, Qin Mu, fearing for his life, quickly corrected himself, “Meiren Gu left the manor four days ago.”

Hua Lian’s voice rose in surprise, “Left the manor?!” Glancing at Qing Jiu and noticing her nod, his brows furrowed deeply, his expression turning sour.

Qin Mu sneakily glanced at the group, then suddenly knelt down, pleading, “Honorable heroes, my allegiance to the Fanyun Fuyu Thirteen Fortresses was born out of coercion, forced by their tyranny. Although I served them, I’ve lived in constant fear and guilt, hence I’ve given generously in charity, hoping to atone for my sins in any small way.”

Hua Lian scoffed, “Lived in fear and guilt, giving generously in charity? It seems more like you’re trying to cover up your identity and present yourself as a benevolent master to avoid trouble from jianghu.”

Qin Mu prostrated himself fully on the ground, “I am willing to give away all my possessions and spend the rest of my life in prayer and penance to cleanse my sins. I beg you, heroes, to spare my life.”

The group remained silent. Qin Mu then threw himself at Ye Sheng’s feet, calling out pathetically, “Sect Leader Ye.”

Seeing his earnest plea, Ye Sheng couldn’t help but feel a twinge of compassion, “If what Qin… says is true, and he’s not utterly irredeemable, sparing his life wouldn’t hurt.”

As Ye Sheng and the others appeared to waver, Qing Jiu and her companions showed no reaction. Qin Mu then crawled towards Qing Jiu, noticing the prayer beads in her hand and brightening up, he exclaimed, “Great master! Saving a life is more meritorious than building a seven-story pagoda. You, a follower of Buddha with a heart of compassion, please save me!”

Qing Jiu’s gaze was serene, her smile faintly cold as she spoke softly, “Building bridges and paving roads doesn’t erase the bodies buried beneath them; committing murder and arson solely to obtain a gold belt is not righteous. Just as wearing human skin doesn’t transform a beast into a human, carrying prayer beads doesn’t convert a demon into a Buddha.”

Turning to Ye Sheng with a smile, Qing Jiu remarked, “Sect Leader Ye, isn’t the logic of this world laughable?”

Ye Sheng was struck speechless, unable to utter a word.

Qing Jiu casually asked, “Yu’er, do you think we should spare him?”

Yu’er looked at Qin Mu, who was in a pitiful state on the ground. His words seemed to blur the line between truth and deception. Although Yu’er was astute, her lack of worldly experience made it hard for her to discern the sincerity of his words. She shook her head, “I don’t know…”

Qing Jiu gazed at the moon, now high in the sky, and noted the deepening night, “Sparing him doesn’t matter to me. I have no personal vendetta against him, and whether he lives or dies is of no concern to me.”

Ye Sheng was surprised by Qing Jiu’s leniency, pausing for a moment before bowing and sighing, “Miss, you are truly enlightened…”

Before he could finish, a scream was heard.

The deranged girl from the dungeon snatched the dagger from Tang Linzhi’s hand and plunged it into Qin Mu’s back, shouting, “I’ll kill you!”

Qin Mu reached out towards the others, crying, “Save… save me…”

The imprisoned women, as if suddenly reinvigorated, pounced on Qin Mu like a pack of hungry wolves, eager to tear him apart and vent their long-held hatred.

Qing Jiu remarked with a smile, “It’s not that I won’t kill him, but there are plenty who wish to.”

Qing Jiu and her companions stood aside, neither intervening nor assisting.

Ye Sheng and his companions wanted to stop the crowd but found themselves unable to act. These people had been deeply wronged; what right did they have to prevent them from seeking vengeance?

Ye Sheng sighed deeply, “I was blind, mistaking an outlaw for a saint. I am ashamed!” He bowed to the crowd, bid farewell, and left with a sweep of his sleeve.

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anazu
anazu
26 days ago

Good that he realised.

Khriss
Khriss
21 days ago

Hmmm I like the story so far, thank you! I wonder how I would have answered if I had judgement over such a situation. But as an outsider without having personally been a victim, and towards his seemingly repenting intention, hmmm it’s very unforgivable to send anyone to be a victim to such a beast so definitely some sort of life sentence.