I’m so happy so many folks are as enchanted by this novel as I am and are following along. It feels like the book club days of Da Mo Yao and Yun Zhong Ge are back, but I understand Lost You Forever plops everyone right into the story so it’s harder to discuss in the early chapters without much information to go by. Poor Shi Qi is forcibly dragged back to his past life, and for him and Xiao Liu, it’s a difficult choice but one both are likely used it since they have’t lived easy carefree lives until now either. The romance parts of the story hasn’t fully gotten underway yet but it’s clear Shi Qi is completely in love with Xiao Liu. It’s love, it’s devotion, it’s gratitude, it’s appreciation, it’s everything he expresses in action and nothing that words enough could convey. Xiao Liu is clearly sad that Shi Qi is gone, but what does that sadness mean? Sadness because of loss or because of disappointment, or a bit of both wrapped in the confirmation that yet again nothing is forever. Xiao Liu’s interactions with Xiang Liu are a lot more fascinating because of how much he talks, and how they say and do things to each other that seem totally bizarre to anyone watching but seemingly fine to them. Xiang Liu sucks Xiao Liu’s blood to heal, but to Shi Qi he only sees the imprint of what looks like a kiss rather than a bite. That’s so telling, and the way Xiao Liu makes poisons and prays for Xiang Liu to die is at odds with how much Xiao Liu lights up in anxiety and fascination anytime Xiang Liu shows up. There is also Xuan, who I can’t talk about yet until his identity gets revealed in this novel, because the connection between Xiao Liu and Xuan is at a completely different plane than whatever Xiao Liu has with Shi Qi.
Chapter 5 – Wish to Entrust Myself to the Mountains and Streams:
Lao Mu went to buy groceries, Chuan Zi went to deliver medicine, and Xan Tian Er was in the room learning to sew clothes for Chuan Zi. Without any patients, Xiao Liu sprawled on the pallet sleeping. When he woke up there still wasn’t any patients so he rapped himself on the head. Can’t just mold away like this, best find something to do.
Xiao Liu decided to go to Xuan’s wine shop to drink. He put his hands behind him and hummed a little ditty, hopping along until Xuan saw him and warmly called out “Brother Liu, what do you want to drink?”
Xiao Liu found a corner spot and sat down and replied warmly “Whatever Brother Xuan decides.”
Xuan brought him a jug of wine and a plate of cashews. Xiao Liu looked around, peeled the cashews, and drank his wine. He then saw sitting in the opposite corner a man wearing immaculate richly decorated clothes and a straw hat that shielded his face. Even though his face was hidden and he wasn’t wearing any expensive jewelry, but his elegant demeanor immediately made one feel respectful towards him. Xiao Liu was racking his brain thinking of when such a lofty personage came to Qing Shui Town when a beautiful maid hurried in and bowed to the man before standing behind him. It was Jing Ye dressed like a man.
Xiao Liu understood and immediately lowered his head to focus on peeling the cashews. On that table there was also a plate of cashews, initially it was untouched but now that man was also peeling it. But he didn’t eat it and instead neatly placed it back on the plate.
Shi Qi said something in a low voice and Jing Ye bowed and retreated. He walked over and sat next to Xiao Liu and placed the plate of peeled cashews before him.
Hai Tang came out to greet customers, sitting behind the counter and counting the money, occasionally glancing towards Shi Qi and Xiao Liu. Because of Hai Tang, the business in the shop got busier as more men came to buy wine. Those with money sat inside, those without held their bowls and sat outside, all of them ogling Hai Tang.
After some bowls of wine were in the gullet, tongues began to loosen. Whatever interesting happened in Qing Shui Town could be heard in the conversation here. Xiao Liu was impressed with Xuan, opening this shop was a great idea!
“That’s nothing interesting. There is something even more major that happened in town!”
“What? Do tell!”
“Let me test you guys first. Other than Xuan Yuan, Gao Xing, and Sheng Nong, within the great wilderness what are the other powerful and famous clans?”
“Who doesn’t know that? Below the Three Imperial Families, on the top of the pecking order are the Four Great Clans – the Chi Shui family, the Xi Ling family, the Tu Shan family, and the Gui Fang family. Other than the Four Great Clans, in the Middles Plans are the Six Big Families. And below the Six Big Families are various moderately powerful smaller clans such as the Jin Tian family to the South, the Fang Feng family to the North….. But none of them can compare to the Four Great Clans.”
“The Tu Shan clan is based in the city of Qing Qiu. From the dawn of time until now, every generation is in trade. Their businesses blanket every part of the great wilderness. They have so much money it’s not even considered money. I hear even the imperial family of the Xuan Yuan and Sheng Nong kingdoms have borrowed money from the clan. It’s genuinely wealth that can rival a kingdom. What I’m going to say involves the Tu Shan clan.”
“So what of it? Hurry up and tell us!”
“I have reliable intel that says the Tu Shan clan’s Second Young Master is in Qing Shui Town!”
“What? That can’t be true.”
“Speaking of the Tu Shan clan’s Second Young Master, he’s definitely an impressive figure. This generation has only two sons, a pair of fraternal male twins born from the same mother and father. But I heard the Second Lord is very capable and since he was small he’s been lording over the Eldest Lord. He makes all the decisions in the family.”
“In the entire great wilderness, no matter if it’s Xuan Yuan or Gao Xing territories, their businesses extend there. Can you imagine how wealthy they must be? I hear this Second Lord is very handsome, talented in all the arts from music to painting to chess, a witty conversationalist and all-around scholar. His nickname is the Young Master of Qing Qiu. So many well-born families want to marry their daughter to him. The Tu Shan family matriarch selected carefully and finally picked the daughter of the Fang Feng family. I hear that daughter followed her father and brothers all around growing up, she’s capable and very well traveled, as beautiful as a flower and can shoot a damn fine arrow.”
“That Tu Shan eldest son is comparatively pathetic, he married a serving girl and can’t even be competition for the inheritance.”
“Nine years ago when the two families were about to hold the wedding ceremony, even the invitations had gone out, right before the wedding the Tu Shan family second son suddenly got sick and called off the wedding. All these years, the Second Lord has been hidden away healing while the Eldest Lord has been the one handling all the clan affairs.”
“That Miss Fang Feng is one loyal girl for sure, when her family wanted to call off the engagement, she dressed up in her wedding robes and ran to Qing Qiu and told Grand Madam Tu Shan “Born into Tu Shan house, buried in Tu Shan tomb.” The Madam was so touched she was in tears, and all these years since Miss Fang Feng has lived at the Tu Shan residence helping the Madam with household matters.”
“Now that the Fang Feng family has heard the Second Lord has recovered, the two families have resumed wedding preparations and want it to happen as soon as possible.”
“Hearing the Tu Shan Second Lord is here in Qing Shui town, likely he’s getting ready to take over running the family business affairs.”
The crowd started discussing about the upcoming inheritance battle between the Eldest Lord and the Second Lord, trying to guess who would emerge the victor.
Xiao Liu was arranging the cashews on the plate, first into a flower, and then into a crescent moon.
The person next to him was ramrod stiff, his hand tightly clenching a cashew until it had been reduced to powder.
Xiao Liu drank his wine and teased “Hey, what is your name? When I see you later, I can’t act like I don’t know you but I can’t call you Shi Qi anymore! Even if you don’t mind, your wife will likely shoot an arrow into me.”
After a few moments, Shi Qi painfully said “Tu Shan Jing.”
“Tu Shan….how to write it?” Jing splashed some wine and wrote his name for Xiao Liu who laughed and asked “And what’s the name of your soon-to-be wife?”
Jing’s hand froze above the table. Xiao Liu smiled “Six years, I let you stay for six years. Give me six years without rent and then we won’t owe each other anything!” Xiao Liu got up to leave but Jing grabbed his arm. Xiao Liu jerked a few times but Jing never let go. Xiao Liu realized for the first time that the normally gentle Jing was actually quite strong and it was enough to subdue him.
Xuan walked over with a laugh “Brother Liu is leaving?”
Xiao Liu smiled “Yes, you have your big business, I have my little medical clinic. If I’m not leaving, shall I stay forever then? I can’t help you with what you’re doing.”
Jing released his grip and Xiao Liu shook off his hand, handed money to Xuan, and walked out of the shop humming a ditty.
The appearance of the Tu Shan family Second Lord caused Qing Shui Town to get even more lively as people jostled for opportunities and advancement. Everyone was discussing him. Even Butcher Gao lamented to Lao Mu that all the shops on the street belonged to the Tu Shan family. Chuan Zi and Tian Er didn’t think anything of it since those people were like stars, so far above their reach. Lao Mu had his questions but one look at Xiao Liu’s calm face and it relieved him. It can’t be, it can’t be Shi Qi!
Xiao Liu refused to go to the river banks anymore. He locked the doors to the courtyard and laid on the pallet to count the stars. “Three thousand three hundred twenty seven……..”
A white snowflake descended from the sky and Xiao Liu was so surprised happy but he quietly tamped down his smile and closed his eyes.
Xiang Liu looked down at him from up high “Stop pretending to be asleep.” Xiao Liu pressed his hands on his ears “I’m asleep, I can’t hear anything.” Xiang Liu waved his hand and a wild wind blew everything off the pallet. He sat down and stared at Xiao Liu.
Xiao Liu felt two knives were scraping back and forth on his face. He endured, and endured, more enduring, until finally he couldn’t anymore…..he opened his eyes “My lord isn’t busy in the mountains, what are you doing here in my little courtyard?”
“The man beside you, he’s from the Tu Shan clan?”
“Who? Ma Zi? Chaun Zi?” Xiao Liu opened his eyes and asked sincerely. “I wanted to be nicer to you but you always have way of making me want to bite down and wring your neck.” Xiang Liu put both his hands around Xiao Liu’s head and slowly lowered his head. Under the moonlight, his two teeth extended into fangs as sharp as any beast.
Xiao Liu spoke “You’re really more and more careless with your image. Last time it was the demon eyes, this time it’s the beast fangs. I know you’re a demon monster but knowing is different than seeing with my own eyes. You should know us people, whether be gods or humans, we like the outer image and we don’t care about what’s on the inside. Even what we eat we care about how it looks and smells. The wives we take must be pretty. Not like you demons, picking the plumpest fattest….”
Xiang Liu’s fangs retreated and he patted Xiao Liu’s cheek “Lately you’ve been lonely?”
Xiao Liu sighed “People who are too smart are bound to die young. But you’re not a person, you’re a demon….so you’ll die even faster!” Xiang Liu grabbed Xiao Liu’s neck and pressed in “That man, the one who you always hide every time I show up, is that Tu Shan clan’s second son?”
Xiao Liu thought and knew he wouldn’t believe him if he said no “Yes.”
“Good.” Xiang Liu released him. Xiao Liu saw him smile and all his goosebumps came out. “I’m not close with him, if you want something you go see him yourself.”
“I’m even less familiar with him. I’m familiar with you.”
Xiao Liu laughed “A demon’s jokes are so not funny!”
Xiang Liu said “It’s been very hot lately and there is an illness spreading in the mountains and medicine is desperately needed. Have Tu Shan Jing get some medicine for us.”
Xiao Liu sat up “Why? Who do you think you are?” Xiang Liu smiled at Xiao Liu “I’m someone who can eat you.”
“I’d rather you eat me then go find him.”
Xiang Liu conjectured out loud “Do you want to know what the eldest son of the Tu Shan clan is like? Nine years ago, he disappeared right before his wedding. If I contact the eldest son and asked him for some medicine and he asked me to kill a person, what are the odds that the Young Master of Qing Qiu can stay alive?”
Xiao Liu spit out through gritted teeth “No wonder your name is number 1 on the list of Most Wanted. I really want to use your head to exchange for the reward money.”
Xiang Liu laughed out loud and suddenly moved right in front of Xiao Liu’s face and said slowly “I have nine heads, remember to sharpen the knife very well.” Xiao Liu glared at him, the two of them so close their breaths were mingling.
After a moment Xiao Liu said “If he helped you, what good will that bring him.” Xiang Liu slowly moved away from Xiao Liu “When matters in the mountain isn’t too busy, sometimes I’m an assassin for hire, and a pretty notorious one at that. If the Tu Shan eldest son asked me to kill him, I would turn him down. If he wanted me to kill the Tu Shan eldest, I will accept the job.”
“He just went home, he might not be able to utilize the family money and manpower.”
“You underestimate him! Just a pallet of medicine, to him it’s nothing. Tu Shan clan does any type of business. Back then, he sold way more dangerous items to the Sheng Nong army.”
Xiao Liu asked “This time, why don’t you buy it directly from the Tu Shan clan?” Xiang Liu coldly replied “No money!”
Xiao Liu wanted to laugh but didn’t dare in case he made him angry. He raised his head to look at the stars “You are a demon, to help out the completely unrelated Sheng Nong, is it worth it?”
Xiang Liu laughed “You can waste your time taking care of a bunch of losers. Why can’t I waste my time doing pointless things?” Xiao Liu smiled “You’re right. In this long life, one has to find something to do. Fine, let’s go see him.”
Xiao Liu got up and walked out the door but Xiang Liu grabbed him back “He’s by the riverbank.” Xiao Liu walked to the riverbank with Xiang Liu following behind.
Jing heard a sound and turned around with a look of joy, but immediately he saw a white figure behind Xiao Liu, proud and wild, completely untouched by the world. Xiang Liu walked to the river edge and looked out towards the distance.
Xiao Liu walked up to Jing and felt a bit awkward. He coughed and asked “Have you been well lately?”
“Is Jing Ye well?”
Xiang Liu’s cold gaze glanced over and Xiao Liu hurriedly asked “I have something to ask of you.”
Jing replied “Yes.”
“I need a batch of medicine.” Xiang Liu tossed over a tube, Xiao Liu caught it and handed it to Jing “Inside is the details.”
“When the medicine arrives in Qing Shui Town, contact me and Xiang Liu will go and retrieve it.”
This business was done just like that? So easy? Xiao Liu added “I have no money to pay you, you know that right?” Jing lowered his eyees “You. Don’t need to pay.” Xiao Liu didn’t know what else to say so he looked towards Xiang Liu. He nodded so Xiao Liu told Jing “Then….thank you. I’m, I’m done.”
Jing started to walk away and when he passed Xiao Liu his low voice carried in the wind “From now on, don’t say thank you.”
Xiao Liu silently stood there for awhile and said to Xiang Liu “I’m going back to sleep. You leave by yourself!” Xiang Liu grabbed his collar and pulled him back “Before I get the medicine, you’re with me.”
Furball landed and Xiao Liu jumped on the back of the condor and laughed like he didn’t care “Fine. Recently I concocted new poison and I can test it out.”
Furball took them into the deep deep mountain. Xiao Liu closed his eyes and reminded Xiang Liu “You think about this again. I’m afraid of pain, not loyal, willing to fold easily. If the Xuan Yuan army capture me in the future, I will tell them anything on the hint of torture.”
Xiang Liu said nothing.
Xiao Liu grabbed Furball’s neck and fell asleep. When he was deep in sleep, he could feel Furball descending. Xiang Liu grabbed him off the condor “Open your eyes.”
“No!” Xiang Liu grabbed Xiang Liu’s hand with his eyes still tightly shut “I won’t give you a reason to kill me in the future!”
Xiang Liu’s hand froze and Xiao Liu laughed slyly. Xiang Liu moved so fast that Xiao Liu could only cling on to his hand as he was dragged behind stumbling into the army base. Xiang Liu said “We’re at the base. It’s all houses so if you don’t poke around then you won’t be able to find the location of this place.” Xiang Liu walked into a wooden shack and Xiao Liu followed. It was threadbare with a narrow pallet, some animal skin rugs on the ground, and a wooden chest at the end of the pallet for putting clothes. A table was on top of the rug with a tea set on it as well as writing instruments.
As one of the leaders of the rebel army yet his living situation was so paltry. Xiao Liu silently sighed having really no idea what that nine-headed demon was hoping to gain from all this. It was dark out and Xiang Liu naturally slept on the pallet while Xiao Liu wrapped himself in a blanket and curled up on the rug to sleep.
Morning time, Xiang Liu left so Xiao Liu climbed on the pallet and kept on sleeping. There was the sound of organized chants and hollers from outside, initially it was interesting but after some time Xiao Liu wished he were deaf. Day after day, year after year, these repetitive army exercises were boring but needed to keep the blade sharp and morale high. But was their determination worth it? The soldiers wanted to protect their homeland, to protect their people, but they were now hiding in the mountains without either a homeland or people to protect.
Xiao Liu was suddenly rather impressed with Xiang Liu. Demons were by nature wild and untamed, refusing to follow rules and authority, and definitely no desire for status. But Xiang Liu reined in his rebellious streak to live a mundane daily life doing what might be something he utterly despised. When Xiang Liu finished training the soldiers, he returned to the hut.
Xiao Liu sat in front of the table tending to himself. Inside the tea cannister was something strange but Xiao Liu just mumbled about life and tossed it into the tea pot to brew something that looked like tea. Xiang Liu sat on the rug and leaned against the pallet as if waiting to laugh at Xiao Liu. To his surprise, Xiao Liu took one sip, squinted his face briefly, before resuming and finishing the entire cup of tea.
Xiang Liu said “I now believe that you were forced to eat lots of strange disgusting things.”
Xiao Liu smiled “I never lie. I just like saying a lot of crap.”
Xiang Liu added “When I finished the tea, I tossed into the cannister the scent ball used to ward off bugs. I heard it’s the poop of some strange beast.” Xiao Liu’s face changed color but he forced himself to remain placid. Xiang Liu softly chuckled, a genuine sound of mirth. Xiao Liu looked at how his cold handsome eyes seemed to melt like the Spring water and Xiao Liu wanted to freeze this moment.
The soldier reported from outside “General Xiang Liu, two more soldiers died.” Xiang Liu’s laughter stopped and he immediately stood up and walked out. Xiao Liu hesitated and walked to the door. There were two bodies on top of a pyre. Xiang Liu walked over where there were hundreds of soldiers lined up. He poured three cups of wine and then lit the pyre. Within the flames of the fire, the faces of the men showed their familiarity with death, but in the mournful sounds of the song they sang it conveyed their deep sorrow. Their singing wasn’t in unison, flitting in and out, as they wondered about their cause and what it all meant in the long run.
It was true that the Yellow Emperor forcibly took over the lands of Sheng Nong. But the Sheng Nong Kingdom was now no more and the people living there only wanted a peaceful life to live. They don’t care who is the Emperor, and had even begun to speak warmly of the Yellow Emperor’s intelligence and generosity. The people don’t care about the remaining Sheng Nong soldiers who refuse to surrender. Thousands of years later, their determination won’t be remembered.
Only by giving up, bowing low, could they get a sweet wife, a cute kid, perhaps even the wealth given by the Emperor. But they still persisted to cling on to their belief, to hold onto something most people no longer cared about, to risk their lives for it.
The wheels of history were already turning but they remained stubbornly rooted in place, with their arms outstretched trying to turn the wheels back. But they were people that time has forgotten, they are going against the tide, and they were destined to be obliterated. Xiao Liu knew they were foolish, and felt pity for them, but he also couldn’t help but feel respect towards them.
In this moment, Xiao Liu suddenly realized why his last mocking question to Xiang Liu about why he worked for Gong Gong doing pointless things, to suggest that he betray Gong Gong and throw his lot with the Yellow Emperor, that question would cause Xiang Liu to fly into a dark rage. In this world, there was a determination that may be destroyed, may be annihilated, but can never be mocked!
Xiang Liu slowly walked back with the sorrowful song lingering behind him. Xiao Liu leaned against the door and watched him walk in the blood red sunset, his white hair and white robe still pristine and untouched. Xiang Liu stopped in front of Xiao Liu, his cold gaze containing a measure of disdain, but it wasn’t clear if it was meant for the world or for himself.
Xiao Liu suddenly bowed “I wanted to apologize for what I said last time.” Xiang Liu was expressionless as he entered the house “If the medicine comes sooner, they can live a bit longer. They are warriors, if they are to die, it ought to be in front of the Yellow Emperor’s army.”
Xiao Liu silently sat in the corner and genuinely started to pray that Jing would hurry up with the medicine. Two days later, Xiang Liu took Xiao Liu back to Qing Shui Town. Jing stood by the river and stared as Xiang Liu and Xiao Liu arrived together on the back of the white condor. Xiao Liu jumped off the condor and anxiously asked “The medicine is here? Where?”
Jing looked at Xiang Liu “The medicine the General wants is all ready. It’s in the basement of the fourth house on Dong Liu street. General can dispatch someone to retrieve it.” Xiang Liu nodded and the condor rose into the sky. Xiao Liu didn’t want to face Jing so raised his head to look at Xiang Liu. His eyes remained on him until he disappeared into the clouds.
After Xiang Liu left, Xiao Liu still didn’t know what to say to Jing so he continued staring into the sky with a look of longing. After his neck was sore, Xiao Liu finally looked down and turned with a smile to Jing. He was still wearing that old sack cloth robe from before. Xiao Liu coughed twice “Was it difficult to get the medicine?” Jing shook his head. Xiao Liu asked “When do you leave Qing Shui Town?”
“Not leaving.” His gaze towards Xiao Liu was filled with tenderness. Xiao Liu laughed with his head cocked “So your fiancee will be coming here then?” Jing lowered his head and tightly clenched his lips. Xiao Liu said “I’m going back” and walked past him quickly through the herb garden not caring how many plants were squashed underfoot. Xiao Liu took a deep breath and pushed open the door and hollered “I, Wen Xiao Liu, is back!”
In the middle of the night, when Xiao Liu was fast sleep, he suddenly startled awake. Xiang Liu was standing next to his pallet, still white hair white robe, but his hair was slightly mussed and his white robe slightly dirty.
“You’re injured again?” Xiao Liu sighed, sitting up and pulling down his collar. Xiang Liu didn’t bother with niceties, pulling Xiao Liu close and biting down to drink his blood. Xiao Liu laughed “You’re lucky to have a wonder medicine chest like me. But your….” Xiao Liu suddenly realized “Did you get the medicine? Did someone sneak attack you?”
Xiang Liu raised his head “No, someone from the Tu Shan clan leaked the location where the medicine was hidden.” “It can’t be Tu Shan Jing.” “I know it’s not him.” “Then who is it?” “How would I know? You should go ask him!” “Do you know who stole the medicine?” “No.” “How come you don’t know anything?”
“It’s the same group that injured me last time. They arrive very fast, leave very fast, I worry there is a traitor in the mountains but still haven’t discovered any proof.”
Xiao Liu smacked his own head and wanted to sigh to the Heavens “Why such a crowd!”
Xiang Liu was much too smart and immediately asked “You know who it is?” Xiao Liu smiled wanly “You first let me think.” Xiang Liu’s hands went around his throat “This concerns the lives of thousands of soldiers, it’s not one of your loneliness dispelling games!”
Xiao Liu thought and made up his mind “It’s Xuan who runs the wine shop.” Xiang Liu let him go and was about to leave when Xiao Liu grabbed him tightly “You can’t snatch, he has a lot of subordinates. Plus he ought to have close ties with the Tu Shan clan. If this gets big, the Tu Shan clan will side with him.” Xiang Liu tossed his hand aside and Xiao Liu added “I have a way to avoid bloodshed and get the medicine back.”
Xiang Liu stopped and turned around. Xiao Liu jumped off the pallet and pulled on a robe “Xuan has a little sister cousin called Ah Nian. Xuan’s very smart and also very protective of this little sister. It’s hard to one up Xuan, but it’s easy to capture Ah Nian. Use Ah Nian to exchange for the medicine. When we get the medicine back, Xuan gets his sister back. No one will need to fight.”
Xiang Liu thought about it “Fine.” The two walked out and Xiao Liu said “You go distract Xuan and I’ll go capture Ah Nian.” “I don’t have a lot of men and can only give you four.” “You can’t be giving me all the men you’ve got? You’re injured so keep two. Xuan isn’t easy to deal with.”
Xiang Liu ignored him and vaulted on Furball. Four masked men on winged rides appeared and Xiang Liu ordered them “Until I get back, listen to his orders.” “Yes!” The four men lined up and one flew down to pick Xiao Liu up before they all flew up into the clouds. Xiang Liu left on Furball and Xiao Liu called out “Nine-headed demon, don’t die!” It wasn’t clear whether Xiang Liu heard it but soon he was gone from sight.
Xiao Liu looked at the four men with masks on but all showing determined eyes looking at him. “Are you familiar with this area?” “Very familiar.” Xiao Liu gestured and made plans “Understood?” “Understood!”
“Good, then see you guys in a bit.”
Xiao Liu went to the back entrance to the wine shop and knocked loudly “Brother Xuan, Brother Xuan….” knowing full well he wasn’t there but wanting to wake the people inside. Hai Tang walked out “Middle of the night, what do you want?” Xiao Liu rudely scoffed “Scram to the side, I’m looking for Brother Xuan, not you.” Hai Tang was furious but as a maid she couldn’t say anything, but Ah Nian could and she walked out “Lowlife! If you don’t scram then I’ll teach you a lesson!”
“You want to teach me a lesson? How about I teach you a lesson! If it wasn’t on account of Brother Xuan, I would have slapped you a dozen times already. You stupid bitch, ugly wench, born with a pair of eyes like a dead fish.”
Ah Nian had never been so insulted in her entire life and she was quaking with rage “Hai Tang, kill him. Kill him and if Xuan gege gets mad, I’ll take all the blame.”
“Yes!” Hai Tang immediately sprang into action so Xiao Liu turned and ran “I’m giving Brother Xuan face. If you dare then come outside. Ah Nian, if you have the balls then don’t ask your maid to do your dirty work.”
“This is preposterous!” Ah Nian ran after Xiao Liu “I’ll do it myself!” Xiao Liu hurled insults and Ah Nian chased after him. Xiao Liu ran through the list of all the dirty insults he heard in the marketplace and Ah Nian was so angry she was about to go crazy. She didn’t even realize that the Hai Tang behind her was already passed out and a masked man had taken her away.
Xiao Liu lured Ah Nian to a desolate place but by the time Ah Nian realized something was off and called for Hai Tang, no one responded. She at least had some guts and wasn’t scared, only waving her hands and water blades sliced towards Xiao Liu. One masked man blocked it for Xiao Liu. Three against one, it was an easy victory! Ah Nian was trussed up nice and secure and placed on a winged ride. Ah Nian cursed them the entire way to meet up with Xiang Liu.
Arriving in the mountains, Hai Tang was laying on the ground while the four masked men spread out to keep watch. Xiao Liu picked up Ah Nian who started cursing “Let me go, let me go otherwise I’ll cut off your hands!” Xiao Liu dropped Ah Nian and with a splat she landed on the ground. Ah Nian yelled “How dare you drop me!” Xiao Liu countered “You told me to let go.” Ah Nian yelled “Who told you to carry me?” “Because you were tied up, if I don’t carry you, should I toss you?” Ah Nian was so furious she couldn’t speak.
Xiao Liu knelt down with a laugh “A high born lady like you, probably ever been tied up before. How does it feel?” Ah Nian really wasn’t scared and looked at Xiao Liu liked he was a dead man walking “You are just digging your own grave.” Xiao Liu was more and more impressed with Ah Nian’s parents “Girlie, look around, you’re the one tied up.” Ah Nian coldly laughed “My older brother cousin will soon find me. He will be very very angry. You will die a very very painful death!”
Xiao Liu put his hands under his chin and looked at the rare species that is Ah Nian “You have that much faith in your cousin?”
“Of course. Fa…..father never compliments anyone but he complimented him.”
“Your parents love you very much?” “Of course my parents love me!” “Everyone around you treat you well?” “Of course, how could anyone not treat me well?”
Xiao Liu finally understood what made Ah Nian like a rare species. In her world, everything revolved around her. She asked and it will be given. In Ah Nian’s world, there was no hardship, no darkness. Remembering the way Xuan treated Ah Nian, Xiao Liu suddenly felt jealous of Ah Nian. She might be very spoiled but if you ask any girl, every girl wanted to be pampered to the point she was cluelessly self-absorbed and brashly rude. How much love did that need, how many people to love her did that take, to create a world for Ah Nian that was filled with only rainbows and flowers and happiness so that she ended up with this personality.
If a person could have everything go their way, who would choose to endure suffering? Who wanted to taste the pain of this world? Who would want to see the true darkness within people’s soul? Xiao Liu sat down on the ground and softly asked “Ah Nian, what are your parents like?”
Ah Nian glared at Xiao Liu and didn’t want to answer but couldn’t control her pride “My father is the world’s most handsome, most powerful man.” Xiao Liu teased her “Then your cousin?” “My cousin is as well.” “Both of them are? Who’s better?” “You moron! My father is the past, my cousin is the future!”
“What does your dad do with you normally?” Xiao Liu had no dad so he was curious what dads did with daughters. Before Ah Nian could answer, Xiang Liu came back. Xiang Liu was wearing a white mask and dropped from the sky with his immaculate white hair and white robe like an ethereal snowflake from another world. The men went up to make a report and then left with Hai Tang after getting orders.
Ah Nian curiously stared at Xiang Liu and was so fixated she forgot to be angry. Xiao Liu chuckled “Do you want to know the face under that mask? It’s comparable to your cousin!” Ah Nian blushed “Humph, who cares!” She immediately closed her eyes to indicate that she wasn’t going to look or speak to such pathetic lowly people.
Xiang Liu sat down next to a tree with his eyes closed to regain strength. Xiao Liu walked over “Are you okay?” “Yes.” “Do you want to heal?” “You know what it’s like when I’m healing, it’ll have to wait until this is finished.”
“When Xuan gives the medicine to your men, I’ll take Ah Nian back and you go find a place to heal.”
Xiang Liu opened his eyes “Do you know Xuan’s real identity?” Xiao Liu shook his head “His earthly aura is too strong, not like one of the scions of the noble or powerful families. But he’s very connected which means he has a lot of money which is hard to do if he’s not from a powerful family.”
Xiang Liu smiled “I’ve got a good guess.” “Who is he?” “I need a bit more proof first.” “Oh——” “If it’s the person I think he really is, then you’re in deep trouble.”
“That person is very protective of what is close to him. He loathes anyone harming his family. You kidnapped his sister which is his biggest no-no. He will undoubtedly kill you. It’s my fault this time, until I destroy him you can stay by my side.”
“You don’t believe me?”
“I do! Even the big demon thinks I’m in danger so it’s definitely dangerous. But do you think I’m the type to hide behind another’s back until the trouble passes?” Xiang Liu smiled broadly “Fine! But——–” he lightly choked Xiao Liu’s neck “Really don’t die!”
Furball’s projection came flying down and chirped to Xiang Liu who pat it a few times on the head “The medicine has been received and the men safely away.” Xiao Liu stood up and stretched “I’ll take her back. With this parting, the rivers are long and the mountains are wide. If there is next time, and if there isn’t next time, then don’t miss me.” Xiang Liu smiled “What I miss is your blood, not your person.”
Xiao Liu guffawed and went to pull Ah Nian up and drag her off amid her curses. As Xiao Liu walked, he thought about how to deal with Xuan. He went through each and every detail about Xuan and realized that he couldn’t figure the man out.
That man wore a complete and utter mask. People who wore masks, you can tell it’s a mask. But his mask appeared to be a part of him, completely natural and effortless. Lao Mu, Chuan Zi, Ma Zi, Butcher Gao, they all like him since he’s easy to talk to. Tian Er and Chun Tao like him because he’s handsome and amusing. Xiao Liu thought about it and realized he also like Xuan for being smart and handled things well. But in truth, Xuan’s real personality, what he liked, how he did things……Xiao Liu couldn’t suss it out. All he knows is that Xuan’s weakness is protecting those close to him. No matter what his cousin did, he asked others to let it go and was even willing to apologize so his sister cousin didn’t need to apologize.
Xiao Liu suddenly wondered to herself – how could there be a guy like him in this world. What did he live through so that his personality was so odd. Xiao Liu said to Ah Nian “I’m beginning to be a little scared of your cousin.” Ah Nian saucily replied “It’s too late to figure it out now!”
Xiao Liu looked at Ah Nian with a smile and she felt a shiver go through her “What….what do you want?”
Xiao Liu put Ah Nian on the ground and shoved three pills and a packet of powder in her mouth and forced her mouth closed until she swallowed. “You….you….what did you made me eat?” “Poison. You carry a poison-warding amulet but I don’t believe you have such an amulet in your belly.”
Xiao Liu took Ah Nian’s hair pin off and spread some powder on it and pricked her twice on the wrist. Ah Nuan’s tears fell as she had never been so mistreated in her entire life as today. Xiao Liu added “And I don’t believe your blood can ward off poison.”
Xiao Liu thought some more and put another powder on the hair pin before touching Ah Nian’s back with his hand “For insurance let’s put another poison. Your spiritual power is of the water type ice skill, right? I’ve got to find the right pressure point.” Xiao Liu’s hand touched from left to right all over Ah Nian’s back until her waist. She was still a young girl and had never been touched by a man before. This was the first time she was scared in her entire life and she cried “I’m going to kill you! I’m going to kill you!”
Xiao Liu was unmoved and found the spot on her back and pricked her. It didn’t hurt but Ah Nian felt like death. If she could, she would cut Xiao Liu’s hand off and cut her own back skin off. Xiao Liu put the hair pin back in Ah Nian’s hair and fixed her clothes “Come on, your cousin wants me dead, I’ll take you down with me.” Ah Nian was sobbing and refused to move. Xiao Liu put his head in front of her “Do you want me to look for a pressure point on your chest?” Ah Nian started wailing loudly but started moving behind Xiao Liu.
Xiao Liu listened to her loud cries and wondered if he really was too evil this time, making a young girl cry like that. Before he could reach a conclusion, a group of people arrived led by Xuan.
“Gege——” Ah Nian rushed into Xuan’s arms and started wailing. Xiao Liu was surrounded by masked men but Xuan paid him no heed and only gently patted Ah Nian on the back and comforted her. Ah Nian was crying so hard she couldn’t speak and her face was all red. After some time, her sobs lessened and she was able to answer Xuan’s questions. When she told him about being poisoned and where Xiao Liu pricked her, Ah Nian started crying again and refused to answer his questions. Even if she didn’t answer her tears said enough.
Xuan’s razor sharp eyes glanced over Xiao Liu who brushed the goosebumps off his arms and tried to maintain a placid smile. Xuan took Ah Nian away while Xiao Liu was knocked unconscious and also taken away.
When Xiao Liu woke up, he was in a sealed room without any light other than two oil lamps on the wall. Two masked men came in explaining they were under orders to keep him alive, but the rest was fine. The decided on his hands so he couldn’t poison others. They took out a torture device which was a rectangular stone box like a little coffin but with an opening on top.
The men smeared oil on Xiao Liu’s hand and put his hand in the box. Inside the box was dirt and once the oil smell hit little bugs burrowed towards his fingers. The men shoved a cloth in his mouth and tied it.
“Inside the box are flesh eating bugs. The oil is smeared on dead corpses for burial. This will signal to them your hands are dead flesh to be eaten. They will slowly burrow into your fingers and you will feel your flesh being eaten. The fingers are tied to the heart and it’s so painful that people will try to gnaw off their own hands to end the pain. So that is why we have to seal your mouth shut. Five days later when the box is opened, you will see two sets of finger bones as clean as white porcelain. We’re turning off all the light so that in the dark you can feel the pain more. Last time we did this, the person went insane. We hope you won’t go crazy.”
Before the light disappeared completely, Xiao Liu opened his eyes wide. He knew the men were right, the only way not to go crazy was to stay awake. Xiao Liu felt the pain in the fingertips, like a bug burrowing into his body and gnawing on his heart.
Xiao Liu started talking to himself, whatever he remembered he would say out loud. In the painful darkness, the images appeared strangely clear.
The fire red phoenix flower was blooming overhead and the swing was hung on the phoenix tree. She liked to swing on the swing but her older brother cousin liked to practice his power training. She loved to tease him “Gege, gege, look how high I’m swinging…..” He never acknowledged her but if she accidentally fell down then he would always catch her in time.
In the verdant green forest she liked to play hide-and-seek. Seeing Gege coming to find her, she would jump on his back when he wasn’t looking and laugh. She would refuse to get off so that he would piggyback her home. When Mom saw them she would sigh and shake her head. But Grandmother would point out that Mom was the same when she was a kid.
She would play tug of war with Gege and the loser would have their nose scraped. When she won she would scrape really really hard, but when she lost, she would softly plead “Gege, Gege, not too hard!” Gege would raise his hand and come down hard, but the moment his hand touched it was whisper soft.
The red-robed Uncle gave her a cut off white fox tail to play with. She loved it and so did Gege, but she would only allow him to play with it for a short while. But each time there needed to be a trade, Gege needed to steal some snacks for her. One time she ate too many and had an upset stomach and Mom angrily scolded her. But she felt wronged and told Gege “You learn how to make that snack, so that I can eat as much as I want and Mom and Grandmother won’t have a say!” Gege agreed and actually learned to make the snack but refused to make any for her. All he said was “when you grow up and won’t have a stomachache when you eat it, then I’ll make it for you.”
Grandmother’s health deteriorated and Mom was always by her side and couldn’t take care of her and Gege. People said that Uncle and Auntie died, and that Grandmother would die soon. She was so scared and at night she secretly climbed into bed with Gege and softly asked “What is death?” Gege answered “Death is never being able to see someone again”
“And can’t talk to that person again?” “Nope.” “Like you can’t see your mom and dad again?” “Yes.” “Is Grandmother going to die?” Gege embraced her tightly and his tears fell on her face. She hugged him back tightly “I will never die, and I will always talk to you.”
Everyone said that Gege was very strong inside, even Grandfather thought Gege never cried. But she knew Gege cried, but she never told Mom. She often snuck into Gege’s bed at night to keep him company. Even if the next day she got scolded that she was too old now and needed to learn to sleep alone. She can’t go bother Gege and disturb his rest. She said nothing and accepted the scolding, but every night she would sneak out to go find Gege.
During the day Gege would study hard but only she knew that at night Gege would wake up and curl into a ball and shiver. She knew that he was seeing the image of his own mother committing suicide. She would hold Gege like cradling a doll, lightly patting him and humming the same song that Mom and Auntie would sing. Tears would fall from Gege’s eyes and one time she tasted it and learned it was salty and bitter.
One time Gege had a nightmare and tried to hold back his tears. She grabbed him and yelled “Gege, cry! You need to cry!” Gege asked her “They all want me to not cry, why do you want me to cry? Don’t you know that I shouldn’t cry?” She tweaked her nose “I don’t care what they say. All I know is that your heart hurts and tears can help the pain flow out of your body. Once the pain flows out, the heart can slowly heal.”
The night before she left for Jade Mountain, Gege asked to sleep with her. She was sleeping all drowsy when she felt Gege embrace her and tears fell on her face. She thought he had a nightmare and was about to pat him “Don’t worry, I’m here with you.” Gege instead kept repeating “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m too useless. I will hurry up and grow up. I will protect you and Auntie. I will go bring you back….”
In the darkness the time passed but Xiao Liu only spoke to himself but sometimes there was so much pain he forgot what he was saying. But every time he used his incredible willpower to keep on talking to himself. Who knows how much time passed but Xiao Liu was talking about how to grill fish various ways when the door opened and a light shone in. Being in the darkness for so long, the light hurt so Xiao Liu closed his eyes.
“His expression….is different than any I’ve seen before.” “He’s very unique.”
The two jailers opened the box and untied him. Once they started tending to his hand, Xiao Liu moaned in pain, and in his consciousness he appeared to hear Shi Qi’s voice. That snapped the taut string in his mind and he fainted dead away.
When Xiao Liu opened his eyes, it was still dark but he was wearing clean clothes and laying on a soft pallet. Someone sat next to him but he didn’t believe his eyes “Shi Qi? Jing?”
Shi Qi immediately got up and opened the window. The mountain breeze came in and Xiao Liu took a deep breath. Jing lit a lamp and helped Xiao Liu up. Xiao Liu looked at his hands which were wrapped like two balls, indicating the injuries were severe but with the medicine applied there wasn’t much pain. Jing brought a bowl of soup over and Xiao Liu was starving but forced himself to drink slowly. After eating, Jing took out a pill and told Xiao Liu to suck on it. Xiao Liu sucked on the pill and looked around. It was a simple wooden hut with some rugs on the ground and seemed familiar.
“We’re at the Sheng Nong army base?”
“I went to find General Xiang Liu to help save you. Xiang Liu took men to attack Xuan while I went to the cellar prison to rescue you.” From contacting Xiang Liu to planning the rescue, Jing explained it in a few scant words.
Xiao Liu said “Actually, you didn’t need to come save me.”
Jing said “I’m going back to Qing Shui Town so give me the antidote for Ah Nian.”
Xiao Liu said “She wasn’t even poisoned! Ah Nian, with her background, of course she found the best doctors and can cure any poison so I decided to just pull a fast one on her. Everyone around her is so protective of her. They will be looking for the poison and if they can’t find it, they will keep me alive.”
“You——–” Jing looked at his hands and in his eyes was unspoken pain. Xiao Liu “That…. fooling them will only temporarily save my life. So even if I didn’t poison Ah Nian….I poisoned Xuan.”
Jing stared in shock at Xiao Liu.
“The poison was placed on Ah Nian’s body, I know Xuan would hug her, comfort her, and the poison would enter his body. Once it went into the blood stream, it’s very hard to remove. With Ah Nian’s personality, she must be crying these last few days and needing Xuan to comfort her often. He would never suspect it was aimed at him.”
“What poison did you give him?”
Xiao Liu cautiously explained “Actually, it’s not really a poison, it’s best described as voodoo. The voodoo magic is practiced by the Jiu Li tribe and is their secret learning. A few hundred years ago, the Jiu Li tribe had a voodoo king who was called the poison master of the great wilderness. The voodoo magic is considered evil stacked against mainstream medicine and poisons. People have heard of it but very few actually understand it.”
Xiao Liu explained “In truth, I raised a voodoo bug inside of my body, and that bug is now in Xuan’s body. From now on, when my body hurts, his body will also experience the same pain.”
“That voodoo bug, must not have been easy to raise.”
“Of course! Very hard to raise!” If it was easy to raise this magic would be all over the great wilderness. Even with Xiao Liu’s special body, it still took him years to raise it.
“Why raise a voodoo bug?”
Xiao Liu sighed “It was all to control Xiang Liu that big demon! He is a nine-headed monster and not a single poison can take him down. So I thought of this great plan but before I had a chance to plant it in him, I ended up using it on Xuan.” Beasts are very instinctive and Xiao Liu was worried Xiang Liu would cotton on to the voodoo bug, He was so compliant when he needed to drink his blood so that one day the voodoo bug would unwittingly be planted into Xiang Liu’s body.
Jing asked “Is the voodoo bug harmful to the body?”
“Yes, with my life I promise!”
Jing wasn’t so sure but he didn’t know enough about voodoo bugs so he would need to consult a doctor later. Xiao Liu asked “How many days since I was captured?” “Four.”
Xiao Liu looked down at his hands, thinking perhaps its time not to apply medicine. “The time is almost ready.”
“Xiao Liu, let me handle Xuan…..”
Xiao Liu looked up at Jing “Xiang Liu already knew Xuan would deal with me viciously. He offered to let me stay by his side by I turned him down. If I’m the type to hide behind someone stronger, then I wouldn’t have let you stay many years ago. I am used to being independent – I do what I want and handle my own problems.”
Jing’s eyes were filled with care “You don’t have to be alone.”
Xiao Liu coldly turned his head “I saved you once, you saved me once. I fed you once, you fed me once. We don’t owe each other anymore. My situation doesn’t need your help!” Jing silently sat there for some time and then quietly walked out.
Xiao Liu wanted to sleep but couldn’t so he struggled off the bed and walked out the door. This wasn’t in the army base but a hunter’s lodge in the mountains. It was the only residence in the entire cliff, which makes sense because if Xiang Liu was helping Jing save someone, he would use his own power and not tap into the Sheng Nong army.
The winds were howling and the clouds were below his feet. Xiao Liu stared for some time and it felt like the clouds would rise up and consume him. He couldn’t help but call out “Xiang Liu, are you there?”
A bird called from behind and Xiao Liu turned around to see Xiang Liu sitting on the tree next to the hut. Under the silver moonlight, with his white hair white robe, he was like a person made of snow, so pristine so perfect, it made one want to get close but afraid to.
Xiao Liu stared and then suddenly asked “How long have you been here?”
Xiang Liu lightly answered “Long enough to hear that you wanted to plant a voodoo bug in me.” Xiao Liu’s face changed color – speaking with Jing, he never tried to play word games so he was just careless earlier and forgot that he was on Xiang Liu’s territory. Xiao Liu laughed “But I didn’t do it, I planted it in Xuan.”
Xiang Liu came down and stared at Xiao Liu like a predator looking at prey. “If you hurt, he hurts? When will the voodoo bug start working?” Xiao Liu immediately took a step back afraid that Xiang Liu would strike “The time isn’t here yet, but with the voodoo bug planted he won’t get off easy.”
Xiang Liu stared out over the clouds “First you insult his cousin, then plant a voodoo bug on him. He will not let you live. I hope your bug is impossible to remove so that he is wary of you.”
“That voodoo bug was prepared for you, I’m the only one in this world who can remove it.”
Xiang Liu closed his eyes “Go back to sleep and hurry up and heal your hand.”
Xiao Liu was too scared to talk back and went back to sleep even if he couldn’t fall asleep.