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Zhao Jing’s horse was in the lead as he brought them up Fengya Mountain. “No need to worry, everyone,” he shouted. “The evil Ghosts are no better than…”
His voice suddenly trailed off, and he appeared apprehensive as he raised his head to look in Yama Hall’s direction. He saw a group of Ghosts in gray file out; they made no noise when they walked, as if their feet never hit the ground, partitioned by air. Both sides stood solemnly. A ghost-faced banner silently rose, billowing viciously in the wind, the hazy, setting sun dying it a blood-like color.
A tall, jade-like man donning long, dark red robes stood on the other side. Hands encased inside his spacious sleeves, his head was down, and he had some inattentiveness, as though he was in a daze whilst he viewed something unknown.
With a raise of his hand, everyone stopped in their tracks along with Zhao Jing, hemming in on observing the man. Looking at the environs, Lao Meng was standing a little further in, nearly overlooked by others while the man in red drew in all gazes. Like he had been disturbed, the latter slowly turned around, allowing them to get a vivid view.
“It’s you?!” Zhao Jing cried out.
Wen Kexing raised his brow. “Ah, Hero Zhao. It’s been a while,” he answered softly.
He had seen Wen Kexing not just once before this, but on this meeting, he felt like the soul inside the other’s shell had been switched out. No matter how he viewed him, he looked grotesque, making him slightly aghast. Wen Kexing slowly descended the stone stairs, and it seemed like every step forward he took had a compelling pressure. Zhao Jing involuntarily took a step back, thereafter forcing himself to bear with it. “You… you’re the…”
Wen Kexing gave a mn. “My trifling, untalented self is indeed that evil-filled boss of the Ghosts that everyone’s been talking about,” he explained, very understanding of the other’s emotions. “I hope everybody can forgive me for all that disrespect from before.”
Zhao Jing had witnessed his moves a few times and knew that his martial arts were decent, yet still wasn’t taking such a young man seriously in any way, merely feeling that something was off about this situation. Before he could think deeply on that, however, someone leapt into the air behind him. “You’re a bastard just pretending to be powerful!” he shouted.
With no time to stop him, Zhao Jing only caught sight of that elder being one of Qingfeng Sword Sect’s ‘Huai’ generation, Mo Huaifeng. Zhao Jing’s thoughts turned around; he knew that because of what had happened with Cao Weining, Mo Huaikong had turned back before the fight. This was Mo Huaiyang scouting for dignity by putting a half-hand out, then quietly shrinking back with the intention to observe from a safe spot.
Mo Huaifeng didn’t care that he was possibly being taken advantage of for being lower in rank. Not being polite with anybody, he drew out his longsword, then went for Wen Kexing like a storm. In front of everyone’s eyes, the red-clothed man went down the steps as casually as ever, not dodging, looking as if even the width between each of his steps was invariable. Then, all of a sudden, Mo Huaifeng let out a heart-splitting scream, and his entire body collapsed to one side.
Wen Kexing’s hands were still hung parallel to him, the smile he had completely unchanged. Zhao Jing hadn’t even seen how he had moved.
Mo Huaifeng fell to the ground, twitching all over non-stop. A couple of gray Ghosts standing nearby shifted to encircle him, eager excitement showing on their faces, yet they dared not to move, only peering at Wen Kexing impatiently.
The latter inclined his head towards them. “It’s already gotten to this hour,” he said, softly. “Why are you still being polite?”
Zhao Jing and the rest didn’t understand his implication, at first. In the wake of his command, the Ghosts surrounding Mo Huaifeng suddenly shrieked inhumanly, then pounced on the man that was unable to resist like a bunch of children massing together to play with a bug. In no more than a blink of the eye, Mo Huaifeng was torn apart, his entire body cut into pieces — he could not possibly be more dead.
Blood sprayed out beautifully, one zhang high. Zhao Jing’s pupils shrank.
These were actual evil Ghosts!
At that moment, Wen Kexing was already standing three stone steps away from him. Zhao Jing could finally no longer put on a brave front, recoiling one huge step back as he held his weapon horizontal to his chest. “You… you actually dared to…”
“I don’t think you understand yet, Hero Zhao,” the other began, sounding like a soft breeze and fine rain. “Exit Green Bamboo Ridge, and it’s the human world. Upon coming to said world, you must properly act like a human. For instance, if a child suffers bullying by others, you save them. If a beauty is unhappy, you console them. If someone gives food, you give them coin. If you see someone in trouble, you lend a hand. What is all that? …It’s being human. But, when we’re all here, there are no humans. And the act of conducting oneself like one…”
He stopped, then turned to glance back at the Ghosts that had just been stained with blood, yet were still eager to move. Laughing, he stretched out a finger, then wagged it twice before Zhao Jing’s eyes. “Contend with us, and you’re bound to die, because we don’t have elders, children, men, or women. Here, there are only malevolent ghosts that want lives.”
He coolly raised his hand, lightly stirring his sleeve, and looked at their group condescendingly. “Oh, would you look at that. There hasn’t been any visitors to the Valley in many years, so I got excited and talked a lot. In what way are you hallowed, Hero Zhao? That one hadn’t conducted himself like a human would at all; do you need me to bring up the reason for that? Tell me: yes, or no?”
Mo Huaiyang stepped forth, standing abreast of Zhao Jing with an unsightly expression. “Alone, we won’t be the opponents of this monster,” he whispered into his ear. “We’ll act together.”
Zhao Jing was having trouble getting off the tiger he was riding. His gaze jumped over Wen Kexing to see Lao Meng standing a bit behind the main gate of Yama Hall, along with the cryptic look he had, and inwardly understood the other’s likely plan; this was killing two eagles with one arrow. Right now, he no longer had any means of retreat, so he had no choice but to toughen up, let out a roar of fury, and lunge.
That was akin to a signal, which the two parties standing opposite received simultaneously. The brawl began.
Meanwhile, the Scorpion had already detoured around to the other end of Fengya. He looked up to gaze at the rolling, verdant mountains. “Beautiful,” he mumbled, “really beautiful. Fengya Mountain is one of the most stunning views in the human world. What a pity… that this is a prickly beauty that can only be observed from a distance, not played around with. Do you think it looks good?”
The one he asked was a masked Poisonous Scorpion beside him, who followed his line of sight, then looked like he had just received some kind of assignment. “Yes!”
The smile on the Scorpion’s face curbed by half. “You’re really no fun.”
“Yes!” the other said again.
It was like the guy could only say one word. The Scorpion’s interest in sightseeing vanished, face cooling down. “They should have already set to task. We’ll go up now, and be right in time to reap the benefits — my client, Lao Meng, spent a lot of money, so he’s waiting to coordinate with me from the inside.”
“Yes!” the other said yet again.
The Scorpion ignored him, beginning to walk forward on his own. The well-trained Scorpions immediately followed after; whether they were a group of real people, or a big bunch of puppets, was practically unknowable.
After a period of walking, a gray blur flashed over in front of them. The black-clothed Scorpions revealed their hooks, only to be stopped by the Scorpion. The Ghost craftily swept his eyes around in a circle at the dark crowd, and, likely not having swept to any conclusion, turned to the Scorpion. “Mister Impermanence asked me to receive you, Scorpion Master. If you please.”
The Scorpion smiled with a half-bow. “Thanks for your trouble.”
…To be blunt, this was what it was to let a wolf into your own house.
The sky gradually darkened. Before Yama Hall, reality resembled the unending netherworld; corpses were piling up, shouts and screams rose and fell, and, regardless of whether they were a ghost or a human, no one could wield their personal sense of integrity. As soon as the fracas had started, none were able to keep a hold on the situation, and even the hiding Lao Meng had quickly gotten dragged into it.
Wen Kexing’s dark red robes had now changed to the utmost of bright, his face that could be described as handsome splattered entirely with bloodstains. It wasn’t clear whether those were from himself or someone else, but he didn’t appear to know what exhaustion and pain were, not looking the tiniest bit tense. Using his fingers, he gently wiped off his browbone, uncovering a pair of eyes whose blacks and whites were in stark contrast. As if he was in some sort of majestic ceremony, he faintly held a crazed, yet at-ease smile.
It was unknown how long this battle had been fought. Zhao Jing could feel his heart hammering like thunder, wave after wave of blackness coming before his eyes, but he firmly grit his teeth and bore with it. Then, he caught sight of Wen Kexing’s smiling visage, and got a chill, sensing that the man wasn’t wanting to kill him immediately. Like a vicious beast catching its tiny prey, he wanted to have fun playing with him before he’d be willing to take a vicious bite.
Zhao Jing hollered and threw himself over once again, sabre hacking towards Wen Kexing’s chest — a wide open, and a wide close, such as how a river would flow into the sea. This was one of his signature moves. The veins in his hands swelled with true qi, looking like they were about to burst.
A life-saving gambit, and also a life-toying gambit.
It was a strike as exacting as lightning, made with all-out strength and an immense momentum that could cleave mountains and oceans. Wen Kexing gave a small gasp, seemingly a bit surprised; even with his skill, he couldn’t dodge it entirely. Frowning slightly, he could only turn his body to the side to keep his vitals away, then brace himself as he doggedly resisted the blade with the flesh of his shoulder. Its edge cut horizontally into it, and Zhao Jing spat out a mouthful of blood, both in extreme pain and wild joy.
However, he could not take a step further to follow it up. Wen Kexing grasped his sabre’s blade with both hands, after which a massive force shook Zhao Jing off of it. He stumbled a step back, retreating desperately, but with no real support, he collapsed onto the ground.
Before his eyes was darkness. The mountains turned upside down, and there was an incessant rumbling in his ears — a single hand then gripped his throat, and his entire body was lifted upwards. He fought to open his eyes wide, meeting with the other’s gaze.
“Take a good look at me,” he heard Wen Kexing say. “Everyone always says that I look just like my father. Has my appearance gone awry over these years? Or is your conscience so burdened with guilt, you’re too afraid to acknowledge it?”
Zhao Jing stared at him vacantly for a long time. All of a sudden, he violently began to struggle.
Wen Kexing slowly sucked in a breath, then sighed. “You went so long without recognizing me, that I was under the impression that I might have thought wrong, haha… Hero Zhao, thirty years ago, Long Que and one other bore their sins and fled after witnessing Rong Xuan kill his own wife. Madam Rong had passed the key off to that someone. There were only three people on scene, then; Madam Rong died, and Long Que never said who the other one was all the way until his death. Yet, the location of the key was leaked, and it got to the point that a married couple withdrew from jianghu to live incognito in a small mountain village, terrified, for over ten years, hiding away from the world, yet unable to hide from the evil Ghosts. What went on with that?”
Zhao Jing only felt bursts of acute pain in his insides. With his throat blocked, it couldn’t take in a single breath, and he vainly tried to use his hands to break away Wen Kexing’s iron-like fingers, eyes starting to roll up into the back of his head.
“After he came back from the dead, Rong Xuan’s personality had greatly changed,” Wen Kexing soliloquized. “But could that have gotten to the extent that he wouldn’t be able to distinguish friend from foe, and ruthlessly kill his own wife — and so easily? Even a rabid dog would still recognize its owner… so who did all that, then? Who was it that had interrogated Madam Rong about the arsenal key, then killed her when he had no need of her? Who had escaped in a panic because someone else was coming, and who hid away somewhere secret, knowing everything that had happened? Who was so talentless, that he sold out the whereabouts of Wen Ruyu and his wife…?”
The other was no longer moving. Wen Kexing’s eyes were blank. Seemingly unaware of what night it was, he released his hand, allowed the man’s body to fall noisily to the ground, then stood there absently for a time.
Right then, Mo Huaiyang decisively snatched this opportunity to launch a sneak-attack from behind. Hearing the sound of wind, Wen Kexing startled, forcing himself to set his qi into motion — but Zhao Jing’s sabre was still stuck in his shoulder, and he couldn’t dredge any up!
At the same time, a light swish was heard, and a high-flying knife swept over, its strike slanting Mo Huaiyang’s sword away. A monstrous-looking maiden coldly stood before him. “I told you before,” she said, dragging her words out, “that I’m going to kill you.”
Wen Kexing was stunned for a good while. “Ah-Xiang?”
Due to that nickname, her ice-cold expression could no longer be maintained, tears falling down it. She slowly turned to him, squeezing out a smile. “You can keep the dowry, Master,” she whispered. “Brother… Brother Cao, he…”
After that, her voice choked off, and she flung her head away in order to not look at him, like if she couldn’t see him, she wouldn’t seem weak, or aggrieved.
A scream thereafter sounded through the air. Lao Meng shut his eyes, giving off a relaxed smile — that was the Scorpion arriving. He knew that his victory was secure. Upon opening his eyes once more, the chilling light in them sharply rose, because right now, Wen Kexing had his back to him.
With a light raise of his hand, a cluster of cold glints shot out of his sleeve.
Gu Xiang noticed that her eyes were getting stung by something before her tears were yet dry. She suddenly leapt forth and tackled Wen Kexing, the two of them getting thrown down to the ground together.
Wen Kexing’s eyes went wide. This moment might have been only a single second’s time, but to him, it felt as long as a passing eternity.
He lifted the hand that he had subconsciously placed on her back when they fell. It was dripping with fresh blood — the girl’s entire back looked like something had exploded it open. He nearly believed that he had just been touching bone and viscera.
Her head was on his chest. Forcefully lifting it up, she gave him a smile, breath like gossamer. “Master, I said I was going to kill him, but that was a bluff. I don’t… have the skill… kill him for me, I’m begging you… kill him… for me.”
He nodded woodenly. Gu Xiang looked pained, and she felt aching, cold all over. It was like all of her warmth was pouring out of her back. She had to hold tightly onto his lapels, like a little girl. “It’s f-fine if I die… Brother Cao definitely would have wanted me to live well… but I… I’m not going to… be able to… Master…”
Wen Kexing covered her head with his bloodied hand. “Don’t call me Master,” he said, gentle. “Call me gege.”
She attempted to force a smile, but failed. No longer obeying her, her limbs began to spasm, and her eyes gradually unfocused. “Gege, you have to… kill him… for me…”
Lao Meng, still fearful of Wen Kexing, had immediately retreated when his attack had missed.
Wen Kexing slowly got up, laying Gu Xiang’s body out flat, then reached up and firmly pulled Zhao Jing’s sabre out of his shoulder. Half of his body was numb, no strength able to be put into it, but the malevolent qi about him grew even heavier.
“Alright. I’ll kill him for you,” he said, as if talking to himself.
Mo Huaiyang had noticed that things were inauspicious, and, more slippery than a loach, had since fled. Wen Kexing’s gaze swept across the crowd. With his still-usable hand, he snatched a Ghost in gray. “You saw the man with the sword that had just been standing next to Zhao, yes?”
A gurgling noise came from the Ghost’s throat as he shakily pointed at a direction.
Wen Kexing smiled. “Thanks much.”
His fingers then pressed in hard, and the Ghost’s head instantly broke apart into a pile of messy flesh.