Bordertown Wanderer 08 Print
Tuesday, 22 July 2008 05:56

Chapter 8 - Warmth of the Spring Breeze


 
From the edge of the long street, a person slowly made his way over to them, his each and every step looked arduous and heavy. It was Fu HongXue.

He was still clencing tightly to the sabre in his hand, step by step he drudged towards them. Nothing in the world could get him to alter his pace.

He was alone. Luo LuoShan and MuRong MingZhu were nowhere in sight.

Ye Kai walked over to him with a smile and said, "So you've returned?"

Fu HongXue returned a cold glance and replied, "So you're still alive?"

"Where is everyone else?" Ye Kai said.

"I walk very slowly." Fu HongXue said.

"The rest of them were ahead of you?" Ye Kai said.

"Yes." Fu HongXue said.

"If they were ahead of you, then why haven't any of them come back yet?" Ye Kai said.

"What makes you think that they would come back here?" Fu HongXue said.

Ye Kai nodded and asked with a smile, "Do you know who was the first to come back?"

"No, I don't." Fu HongXue said.

"A dead body." Ye Kai said as a hint of sarcasm formed in his smile, "Funny how a dead body that can't walk makes it back first, while the ones who can walk and who left first don't show up at all. Some things in this world are really quite ironic."

"Who's body was it?" Fu HongXue asked.

"Flying Spider." Ye Kai replied.

Fu HongXue knitted his brow, after contemplating for quite a while he said, "Flying Spider was with me for a bit when we left."

"He was with you? Why?" Ye Kai said.

"He was asking questions." Fu HongXue said.

"He was asking you questions?" Ye Kai said.

"He asked, I listened." Fu HongXue said.

"You only listened? You didn't reply?" Ye Kai said.

"It's tiring enough just to listen." Fu HongXue said.

"And afterwards?" Ye Kai said.

"I was walking very slowly." Fu HongXue said.

"Since he couldn't get you to answer any of his questions, he raced ahead to join the others?" Ye Kai postulated.

A hint of sarcasm leaked from Fu HongXue's eyes as well as he replied, "That's why he arrived first!"

Ye Kai smiled, but his smile looked very tasteless.

"When you asked, I answered. Do you know why?" Fu HongXue said.

"I was wondering about just that." Ye Kai said.

"I only answered your questions because I have questions to ask you as well." Fu HongXue said.

"If you ask, then I'll answer as well." Ye Kai said.

"Now is not the time to ask yet." Fu HongXue said.

"Then when are you going to ask those questions?" Ye Kai said.

"When I feel like it." Fu HongXue responded.

"Fine! No matter when you feel like asking, and no matter what you ask me about, I'll definitely answer you!" Ye Kai said.

With a turn of his body, Fu HongXue walked off. He didn't even bother to lay a single eye on the procession of coffins or the corpse inside that coffin. It was as if his eyes were extremely precious and valuable. It didn't matter whether you were dead or alive, if he didn't want to, then he wouldn't even cast a single glance at you.

Ye Kai smiled and let out a sigh. He turned around and saw that Yun ZaiTian had proceeded to question the other cart drivers.

Ye Kai didn't bother to go over and listen - he felt that it would probably be easier to get information from a dead corpse than from the lips of those men.

Besides, corpses often reveal many secrets. It's just that the manner in which they convey their message is usually hidden.

Flying Spider's body was cold and stiff. His two fists were clenched tightly, he looked like he was holding on for dear life onto something precious, unwilling to let go even in death.

Ye Kai stood beside the coffin as his eyes lay fixed on the corpse for quite a while.

"Meticulous as fine silk, swift as lightning strikes ... is there something that you're still trying to tell me ..." Ye Kai mumbled.

________________________________________

A little past noon. Rays of sunlight streaked through the gloomy skies.

But the mud-covered streets were still damp and wet, especially since those heavy carts and horses had just passed through.

By now the procession of mule-drawn carts had reached the 'Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses'.

Before questioning them to the very last detail and learning the truth, Yun ZaiTian would never even think of letting those drivers go.

That fine carriage that was drawn by eight horses was still parked in the middle of town. There were four or five people around it busily washing away the mud and dirt from its exterior, and also preparing a mix of beans and grass to feed the horses.

Next to the general store was a butcher's shop, a greasy sign that hung from its door read, "We sell beef, lamb and pork."

And just past the butcher's was a small eatery, the sign that hung from its door was even greasier, and the lighting inside looked was even dimmer.

Fu HongXue happened to be inside that shop slowly eating a bowl of noodles.

That right hand of his was still as skillful, what other people needed two hands to accomplish, he could do much better with just one.

And past that eatery was the small alley in which Fu HongXue lived. Although many people lived in that alley, few were ever seen walking out. Yet at that very moment, that old white-haired lady could be seen, with her back hunched, slowly prodding out from her door. She pasted a red parchment onto the wall of her hut, and then slowly made her way back inside.

The red parchment read, "For rent, one room, bed and breakfast. Twelve silver taels a month, please pay in advance, singles only, no children."

That old woman, who had earlier just collected fifty silver taels in rent, had seemingly developed an itch for money. She was renting out her own room and the price had even risen by two silver taels.

The owner of the general store was dozing off as usual.

In the embroidery shop across the street, there were two finely dressed young ladies browsing through silks and cloths, chatting and giggling on the side. But in terms of beauty and elegance when put next to the Third Aunt and Ma FangLing, they paled in comparison.

Where were they now?

Although their carriage was still in the center of town, the two of them were nowhere to be seen.

Ye Kai who had been wandering around town had yet to see even a trace of them.

He originally wanted to stop by the small eatery but suddenly changed his mind. Ye Kai walked towards the small alley and took down that red parchment, curled it up, then stuffed it into his boots.

There appeared to be something else in his boots, but it wasn't a stick of gold or a dagger.

The narrowest door on that street belonged to a place that drained people of their money. Although the door was narrow, the hall inside was quite large. There were no markings or signs above that door, only a small red lantern that hung from above. When that lantern was lit, it meant that the place was open for business, and ready to collect the coins from your purse. Yet when that lantern was out, no one was ever seen exiting from those doors. When that lantern was out, it seemed like the most quiet and desolate place in town.

Ye Kai let out a yawn as a hint of tiredness leaked from his eyes. After several moments, he finally pushed open those doors and walked inside.

The room was dark and dim, there was a person inside, but it wasn't Xiao BieLi, it was Ma FangLing.

The person who Ye Kai was trying so hard to find was actually right here waiting for him.

The actions of women are always impossible to grasp.

"What are you doing here?" Ye Kai said with a smile.

Ma FangLing cast a single eye on him, then stood up and abruptly made her way towards the door. She had been waiting here anxiously for quite some time, and was certain that she would erupt with joy when she saw Ye Kai, but for some reason when she finally did, all she could do was turn her head and leave.

Ye Kai figured that she must have gotten angry for having to wait so long.

The best thing to do in these situations is to let her anger subside before saying another word. You'd be an idiot if you tried to stop or console her.

Ye Kai was no idiot, all he did was let out a sigh before taking a seat.

Ma FangLing, who was just rushing out the door, suddenly turned her head and stared at him to ask, "Hey, so why'd you come here for?"

"To look for you." Ye Kai replied.

"To look for me? And you come now? What makes you think that I would've waited for you?" Ma FangLing said with a smile.

"You're not waiting for me now?" Ye Kai said.

"Of course not." Ma FangLing responded.

"If you're not waiting for me, then who are you waiting for?" Ye Kai asked.

"Third Aunt." Ma FangLing replied.

"Your Third Aunt? She's meeting you here too?" Ye Kai said, looking slightly surprised.

"What, you think that only men come to this place?" Ma FangLing said.

"I didn't assume anything, nor did I know that you were here, that's why I was looking for you all around town." Ye Kai said.

Ma FangLing stared at him for a while, for what seemed like half a day, before asking, "You were really looking for me this entire time?"

"Who else would I be looking for?" Ye Kai said.

Ma FangLing suddenly let out a giggle and said, "Silly boy, did you think that this place only has one entrance?"

She had come in from the back door. When women come to places like these, they obviously had to avoid the eyes and ears of others.

Ye Kai let out a sigh and said, "I would've never figured that you came in through the back."

"It wasn't my idea, it was Third Aunt's." Ma FangLing replied.

"She's here too?" Ye Kai said.

"Dummy, didn't I just tell you that she was here?" Ma FangLing said.

"Then where is she?" Ye Kai asked.

Ma FangLing pointed to the third door on the left and said, "She's inside there."

The door she was pointing to was Cui Nong's quarters.

"Gossipping." Ma FangLing said.

"She's gossipping with Cui Nong?" Ye Kai said.

"They're both good friends, whenever Third Aunt comes to town, she always visits Cui Nong for a chat." Ma FangLing explained.

Suddenly, her eyes lit up and fixed on Ye Kai. "How do you know her name is Cui Nong? Do you know her?"

"I think I've seen her before." Ye Kai replied.

"You think you've seen her? Or you really have seen her before?" Ma FangLing questioned as her eyes widended.

"I really have seen her before." Ye Kai said.

Ma FangLing slanted her head and stared at him out of the corner of her eyes. "You were here two nights ago weren't you."

"Mmm." Ye Kai replied.

"Where did you stay that night?" Ma FangLing asked.

"I think ... I think it was ..." Ye Kai said.

Ma FangLing bit down on her lips. With a sudden twist of her head, she turned and stormed out.

Her temper really did resemble the weather in May, it changed often and suddenly.

What else could Ye Kai do but sigh?

Men should really choose their words wisely when talking to women, especially women who are fond of them. After a short while, the door slowly swung open again, Ma FangLing slowly made her way back inside. She stopped in front of Ye Kai and sat down across from him.

Her expression appeared much calmer now. She looked at Ye Kai with a smile that didn't quite resemble a smile, and asked, "Why aren't you saying anything?"

"I'm afraid to." Ye Kai replied.

"Afraid?" Ma FangLing said.

"I don't want to say the wrong thing and upset you again." Ye Kai said.

"You're afraid of upsetting me?" Ma FangLing said.

"Deathly afraid." Ye Kai said.

Ma FangLing's eyes began to move, she let out a laugh and said, "Silly boy, you chatter on when you should keep your mouth shut, and you keep your mouth shut when you should talk."

Her glance slowly became warm and gentle as she looked at Ye Kai and said, "This morning, when they asked about your whereabouts last night, why didn't you answer them?"

"I don't know." Ye Kai said.

Smart men always know when to play dumb.

Ma FangLing's eyes looked even more tender as she asked, "You really weren't afraid that they would kill you?"

"Not at all, I'm only afraid of upsetting you." Ye Kai said.

Ma FangLing smiled delectably upon hearing those words. Her warm, sweet expression resembled the Spring breeze that could melt frozen rivers.

Ye Kai's eyes were fixed on her, he almost looked a bit silly.

Ma FangLing slowly lowered her head and said, "Did my dad talk to you this morning too?"

"Mmm." Ye Kai replied.

"What'd he say?" Ma FangLind asked.

"He wanted me to leave, he wanted me to leave this town." Ye Kai replied.

Ma FangLing bit down on her lips and asked, "And how did you respond?"

"I won't leave!" Ye Kai said.

Ma FangLing lifted her head and suddenly stood up, she reached out, grabbed his hand and said, "You ... you're really not going to leave?"

Ye Kai nodded his head.

"There isn't anyone else waiting for you somewhere?" Ma FangLing asked.

"There's only one place where someone is waiting for me." Ye Kai said sharply.

"Where's that?" Ma FangLing said.

"Here." Ye Kai replied.

Ma FangLing let out a smile, her smile looked even sweeter than before. Her eyes looked starry like she was in a dream. "No one has ever said those things to me before. And no one has ever held my hand either ... did you know that? Do you believe me?"

"I believe you." Ye Kai said.

"Everyone has always assumed that I'm cruel and vicious, that soon even I started to believe that I was that way, but in all honesty ..." Ma FangLing said.

"But in all honesty, you really are vicious." Ye Kai coulnd't help but utter with a laugh.

Ma FangLing smiled and said, "Well in all honesty, sometimes when I'm upset with you, I'm really just pretending."

"Why would you pretend to be upset?" Ye Kai asked.

"It's just that I feel that if I don't throw a fit once in awhile, other people will pick on me." Ma FangLing said.

"No one will ever try to pick on you ever again." Ye Kai said sharply.

Ma FangLing looked at him and said, "Are you going to take their lives if they do?"

"For certain! But ... in the future, I'd appreciate it if you don't throw any more fits." Ye Kai said.

Ma FangLing bit down on her lips and said, "But in the future, if you ever stay the night here again, I'll really be upset."

Ye Kai didn't say a word, he reached into his boots and pulled out that red parchment.

After Ma FangLing read over what it said, that smile that was as warm as the Spring breeze appeared on her face again.

Ye Kai looked at her, deep inside he felt that she was an extremely cute and adorable girl. Cheerful and innocent, she sometimes really did resemble a little child. He couldn't resist and lifted up her hands, holding her tenderly.

Her face blushed red, bright red.

Just at that moment, they heard someone cough lightly. That person smiled slightly staring at the two of them.

Ma FangLing's face became even redder, she quickly withdrew her hands and hid them behind her back.

"We really should be getting back now." the Third Aunt said.

Ma FangLing lowered her red cheeks and replied, "Yes."

"I'll wait for you outside." the Third Aunt said.

As the Third AUnt was walking out, whether intentionally or not, she smiled at Ye Kai.

A smile that could melt your soul.

Ma FangLing's smile was bright, adorable, and sweet, like the first rays of light on a Spring day.

But her smile was like the thick of Spring, so thick that you couldn't escape, that could intoxicate without a single drop of alcohol.

She made Ma FangLing look like even more childish.

Anyone who watched her walking out would feel particularly enticed, as if she had stolen something away from you.

Of course Ye Kai couldn't let even an inkling of that feeling show, so he quickly looked at her and asked, "You always ride this same carriage every time you come to town?"

Ma FangLing couldn't really figure why he would ask such a question but nodded her head in response.

"How many carriages do you have that look like this?" Ye Kai asked further.

"Just this one. Everyone around here prefers riding on horseback anyway." Ma FangLing said.

Ye Kai let out a sigh and said, "So it was because the two of you had to take this carriage that they had to return by themselves."

"Who's they?" Ma FangLing asked.

"The guests that arrived with me last night." Ye Kai said.

Ma FangLing laughed and said, "They're not children, what does it matter that they had to get back by themselves? Why worry over something like that?"

Ye Kai sighed and said, "Because thirteen of them went last night, one came back dead, and eleven have gone missing."

Ma FangLing's eyes opened wide as she asked, "Who came back dead?"

"Flying Spider." Ye Kai replied.

"And the ones who are missing?" she asked.

"Mr. Luo, MuRong MingZhu, and those nine attendants of his." Ye Kai said.

"How could that many people all disappear at once?" Ma FangLing said.

"Strange things happenly regularly in a place like this." Ye Kai said.

Ma FangLing puckered her lips and said, "Maybe you're just being paranoid, they could come back here at anytime now."

Ye Kai shook his head, then suddenly asked, "Do you think that I could catch a ride with the two of you in your carriage?"

"Of course you can. But ... where are you planning to go?" Ma FangLing said.

"To look for those people that disappeared." Ye Kai replied.

"How do you know that they're still close by? They all might've taken different roads back." she said.

"Couldn't be." Ye Kai said.

"Why not?" Ma FangLing said.

"I'm certain of it." Ye Kai said.

"How are you so certain?" Ma FangLing asked.

"Someone told me so." Ye Kai said.

"Who?" Ma FangLing said.

Ye Kai looked down at his hands and slowly replied, "A dead person."

"A dead person?" Ma FangLing said with a look of surprise.

Ye Kai nodded his head and said, "Did you know that dead people can talk as well? It's just that the way in which they do is a bit different from the living."

Ma FangLing had a frightened look in her eyes as she said, "And you believe what the dead tell you?"

Ye Kai nodded as a mysterious smile came over his lips, "Only the words of the dead are always honest ... because they no longer have any reason to lie to you."

________________________________________

Those clenched fists had finally loosened, his fingers were crooked and bent. This corpse could still tell one last secret, but his fists would've never opened by themselves. Flying Spider's clenched fists had finally opened, his fingers crooked and bent.

Ma KongQun stood beside the coffin, his eyes shining brightly as they stared at that pair of hands.

He ignored the wretched, twisted appearance of the corpse's face, he ignored the traces of blood that had coagulated on the corpse's mouth. He only paid attention to that pair of hands.

"What do you see?" Ma KongQun suddenly asked.

Hua MenTian and Yun ZaiTian both took a look at the body and fell silent.

"They're just a dead pair of hands, not much different from any other dead pair of hands." GongSun Duan said.

"There is a difference." Ma KongQun said.

"What difference?" GongSun Duan asked.

"These hands were originally clenched very tightly, but have since been pried open." Ma KongQun replied.

"How can you tell?" GongSun Duan said.

"The bones and blood of this corpse have already stiffened, it wouldn't be easy at all to pry his fists open. That's why his fingers are crooked and bent, plus you can see the marks that were left." Ma KongQun said.

"He could've received those wounds before he died." GongSun Duan said.

"Impossible." Ma KongQun replied.

"Why?" GongSun Duan said.

"If he was wounded before he died, there would've been blood on those marks. Only a dead corpse will not bleed." Ma KongQun explained.

He turned to Yun ZaiTian and asked, "When you saw his body, was he dead for very long?"

Yun ZaiTian nodded and replied, "For at least two hours, when I saw the body, it had already frozen stiff."

"What about his hands? Were they clenched tightly at that time?" Ma KongQun asked.

Yun ZaiTian lowered his head and replied, "I didn't notice his hands at the time."

Ma KongQun's expression sunk, "Then what were you paying attention to?"

"I ... I was busy questioning the drivers." Yun ZaiTian said.

"And what did you find out?" Ma KongQun said.

"Nothing." Yun ZaiTian said.

"Next time you should keep in mind that the dead can tell you much more than the living, and what they're able tell you is much more reliable." Ma KongQun sneered.

"Yes." Yun ZaiTian said.

"His hands were definitely holding tightly on to something, whatever it was it must have been an important piece of information. It could even have been something that he grabbed off of his killer. If you had retrieved it earlier, we could've known who the murdererer is by now." Ma KongQun said.

A hint of fear leaked from Yun ZaiTian's eyes as he replied, "I won't make the same mistake next time."

The expression on Ma KongQun's face calmed a bit as he asked, "Was there anyone else around when you were inspecting this coffin?"

Yun ZaiTian's eyes suddenly flashed as he replied, "Ye Kai!"

"Did you notice him touching the body?" Ma KongQun said.

Yun ZaiTian lowered his head again and replied, "I didn't really notice, but ..."

"But what?" Ma KongQun said.

"He did seem very interested in this corpse, he stood next to it for quite some time." Yun ZaiTian said.

"It would seem that this youngster's vision far exceeds yours." Ma KongQun said with a cold smile.

"This person is nothing but a thief, why should we care whether he is dead or alive?" GongSun Duan cut in.

"We should care." Ma KongQun said.

"Why?" GongSun Duan asked.

"Although he is just a thief, he is quite an adept thief. With a simple wave of his hands, he could make tens of thousands of taels disappear. His observations of others are extremely accurate and thorough." Ma KongQun explained.

He continued slowly, "That's why I sent men to specially invite him here ..."

"You specially invited him here?" GongSun Duan exclaimed.

"I spent five thousand silver taels to invite him here." Ma KongQun said.

"Why did you invite him here for?" GongSun Duan asked.

"To secretly spy on the rest of the guests to find out who had come seeking vengeance." Ma KongQun said.

"Well, why did you specifically ask him to?" GongSun Duan asked.

"Because he had nothing to do with the situation, no one would've suspected much of him, which would naturally increase his chances of uncovering the truth." Ma KongQun said.

GongSun Duan let out a sigh and said, "It's a pity that he was killed before he could discover anything."

"If he hadn't discovered anything, then he wouldn't have been killed!" Ma KongQun said.

"Oh?" GongSun Duan said.

"He was silenced, precisely because he must've discovered the culprit's identity!" Ma KongQun said.

"So if we find his killer, then we'll know who our enemy is?" GongSun Duan said.

"That's why that shred of evidence in his hands is so important!" Ma KongQun said.

"I'll go question Ye Kai about whether he had taken something from Flying Spider's hands." GongSun Duan said.

"No need." Ma KongQun said.

"Why?" GongSun Duan said.

"At the time of his death, Ye Kai was in town, so Ye Kai is definitely not the murderer." Ma KongQun said, "Besides, if Ye Kai really did take something from his hands, you'd never be able to get it from him."

GongSun Duan's hand reached for the handle of his sabre, a cold smile broke on his face, he looked unconvinced.

"Who was with him before he was murdered?" Ma KongQun asked.

"Mr. Luo, MuRong MingZhu, and Fu HongXue." Yun ZaiTian replied.

"Where are they now?" Ma KongQun said.

"Fu HongXue is back in town, Luo LuoShan and MuRong MingZhu have yet to be seen." Yun ZaiTian said.

"Go search for them immediately, take forty of our men with you." Ma KongQun ordered.

"Yes." Yun ZaiTian said.

"Split the men into four groups of ten, take extra food and supplies with you, and don't dare come back until you've found them!" Ma KongQun said.

"Yes." Yun ZaiTian replied.

No matter what Ma KongQun said, his expression always remained compliant and respectful. In front of Ma KongQun, this martial expert who had once commanded great respect had become nothing but a lowly servant.

"Go find Fu HongXue!" GongSun Duan blasted.

"No need." Ma KongQun said.

"Why not? Don't tell me that that kid can't be found either!" GongSun Duan said.

Ma KongQun let out a sigh and said, "Can't you tell how this person was killed?"

GongSun Duan stared at the sabre in his own hands, then replied, "Who said that sabre wielders must kill with their sabres?"

Ma KongQun did not immediately reply to him. Yun ZaiTian slowly took his leave and stepped out of the hall.

"Who said that he had to have killed with his sabre?" GongSun Duan asked.

"He himself." Ma KongQun replied.

"He himself?" GongSun Duan said.

"If he really did come for revenge, then that sabre must be his symbol of vengeance. If he were to kill, he would definitely use that sabre!" Ma KongQun said.

He smiled insipidly and continued, "If he didn't come for revenge, then why bother looking for him?"

GongSun Duan didn't say another word. He turned around and stormed out of the room, his footsteps were heavier than an ox.

Ma KongQun stared at his massive figure as he walked out, a hint of sadness and apprehension leaked from his eyes. In this person's image, he saw a sorrowful calamity.

________________________________________

Forty people, forty horses.

Forty sheepskin sacks filled with water and provisions.

Their blades were sharpened, their arrows strung.

Yun ZaiTian looked meticulously over everything twice before nodding his head, "Ten people to a group, split up and search, don't even think about returning if you find nothing!"

GongSun Duan had returned to his own quarters. Although somewhat disordered, his lodge was still spacious and comfortable. His walls were lined with animal hides, his table filled with countless bottles of fragrant wines. If he desired so, someone would deliver a beautiful maiden to his room. This was his compensation for his countless years of toil, blood and sweat.

But he was never quite satisfied with this kind of life, because a sabre and a whip still lay buried deep within his heart.

He had buried them himself with his own blood soaked hands!

No matter what he did, that sabre shook incessantly inside of him, that whip constantly lashing at his soul.

The gold cup on his table was still full of wine, he downed it in a single gulp, tears came flooding to his eyes.

Somebody had finally come for revenge, yet all he could do was hide in his house, wiping the tears from his eyes with his sleeves - no matter why he shed them, tears were still tears.

He poured himself another cup of wine and drank it down.

"Perseverance! What's the point? If someone is here to kill me, then why can't I go and kill that person first?" GongSun Duan exclaimed.

He stormed out of the room.

Maybe he really didn't want to kill, or perhaps he was simply afraid.

Not vengeance, not resentment, but fear!

People kill out of fear much more often than vengenace or resentment!

People often kill not because they have been hurt, but rather because they've hurt others.

A tragedy that has been with humankind since the earliest of times.