“It all started that March day in Deans Xiaogan County. …”
Ming Feizhen had already eaten a tonne of food aboard, yet he still had room for another chicken drumstick, although it was glossy enough to suspect it mightve been from his private stash. “Go on.”
“Due toFanning the Mattress and Warming the Pillow,Selling Oneself to Bury their Father andTears That Brought Bamboo-shoots From the Frozen Earth, Huang Xian, Dong Yong and Meng Yong gained fame for their filial characters.
“Xu Clan, a family that resided in Xiaogan County for generations, was a famous family in the county. In particular, Master Xu was known for heeding the word of our predecessors and caring for his family. On 15th January each year, he would set up a stand to serve porridge to people struggling to get by. Four times a year, he would deliver roast pork, beef and lamb as philanthropy work.
“As a thief, I select a few affluent households to commit burglary whenever I arrive at a new place, and I chose Xu Clan that day. On two of my three attempts to scout them out, I almost got caught. Though they carry themselves as an ordinary household, the strict security protocol behind their closed doors could compare to a martial arts clan.”
Actually, Hua Qing was caught on both occasions but spared. He wouldnt have risked a third beating from the two Shaolin disciples if there wasnt something that attracted him - of course, there was also his desire to shoot them for revenge, though he genuinely admired them.
On his third time in, he was alarmed when he saw blood ubiquitously. Even the two Shaolin disciples who subdued him in two exchanges were cold bodies in their own blood. Hua Qings alarm told him to leave multiple times. Howbeit, he instinctively followed the groaning and moaning to discover Master Xu with only an arm and a leg still attached to his torso. He mustered up his courage to approach the elder, only to find his brain scouring for words.
As soon as he saw Hua Qing, Master Xu explained they actually hailed from a lineage of notable people in the martial world. Once their ancestors decided to convert to business to focus on repaying their parents, their family heirlooms whereabouts also became a mystery to all but Master Xu.
As a young, hot-blooded and impetuous youth, Master Xu once let their heirlooms secret slip while in an inebriated state. He immediately tasked someone to chase down his sworn brother he divulged the secret to once he regained self-awareness. Luckily, his brother was waiting for Master Xu at the latters home. He raised three fingers to swear an oath and, before Master Xu could intervene, sliced off two fingers to express sincerity in his oath. Startled, Master Xu risked his own skin to grab his friends dagger, then shaved off part of his left thumb to apologise. The matter was settled once his friend was offered sixth months of free lodging at Xu Clans place to recover.
Despite becoming an accomplished man in the martial world two decades later, he always treated Master Xu respectfully as always. If he couldnt visit one year, hed still have a courier deliver gifts. In January of that year, Miss Xu was supposed to marry the eldest son of her brothers friend.
In February, a Shaolin monk visited Xu Clan with two disciples. As a devotee of Buddhism himself, Master Xu was more than happy to welcome them with open arms. Instead of preaching, they shared with Master Xu a spate of unsolved murder cases, puzzling him.
The monk said, “Master Xu, this one is here to speak about the common denominator in the three cases.”
“Please enlighten me.”
“Though their deaths are peculiar, it is a product of someone deliberately creating that impression. The same martial art discipline used to kill the first victim was the same one employed to kill the next two. It seems you are not privy of events in the martial world, so you must not be aware that the culprit wields your ancestorsAerial Flower Divine Seal. The swordplay that was venerated two centuries ago shared the same origins as Huzhous Luo Sword Manor.”
While Master Xu wasnt educated on Luo Sword Manors disciplines, he definitely recognised his ancestors discipline that their clan ceased practicing generations ago.
“Amitabha. I am here to investigate the case. According to your testimony, it seems that there are many questions to answer. In the past, your ancestors carried Repository Jade on them at all times. Would it have resurfaced together with the swordplay”
“Ever since migrating to Xiaogan County, our family has not involved ourselves in martial arts in any shape or form. While we never practiced our ancestors skills, we have not forgotten them. On the other hand, our ancestors told us to never show anyone Repository Jade. Nobody has used it ever since it was sealed long ago; we do not even know its whereabouts now.”
“I see… I am afraid trouble encroaches. I may have been here before others, but many predictable people are out there. Those with their ears to the ground may have already set their sights on your family heirloom.”
As predicted, people tried infiltrating Xu Manor only a few days later. Shaolins monks were present; however, they were busy investigating the case, as well. As a counter measure, the monk left behind his two disciples, while he rushed back. Master Xu immediately penned a letter to his sworn brother to call for help. After the monk left, though, he never returned. Master Xu, therefore, had no choice but to seek the aid of the monks two disciples and hire people in the martial arts community to bodyguard his family until the matter blew over. Alas, all of Master Xus preparations couldnt even qualify as a security system when the assailant started lopping off heads in one go.
Hua Qing regretted lending an ear to Master Xu because hed also need a grave if the culprit came back.
“Master Xu, let me bandage your wounds first.”
Wheezing, Master Xu stated, “No… No… Im done for. He went to our cellar to search. Our ancestors set up a lot of contraptions down there, while he only has one night. He will likely have to break all of them, which gives us some time…”
“Okay, Ill get you out of here first, and we can leave the rest for later.”
“No, no, theres no saving me… Sorry…” Master Xu then told Hua Qing the location of the heirloom that he wouldnt mention even at the cost of his familys life.
“Dont screw with me! I dont want to become the next victim!”
“Go… take it. Dont let the monk from the Western Regions get his hands on it.” Master Xu kept his gaze fixed ahead, seemingly unable to hear Hua Qings exclamation. “I couldnt understand… why my familys swordplay would resurface… and why my family would be targeted. Its him. It must be him.” Master Xu made himself bleed even more with his fingernails in his palm. “Conniving scum! Conniving scum! He is plotting to sabotage the Central Plains martial world! I must stop him… and that fraudulent daoist!”
“What monk What fraud Who are we talking about Hang on. Why should I help you!”
“My youngest daughter is still alive. Please take care of her.”
“We dont even know each other; why should I listen to you”
“Repository Jades location is where all of my clans savings are. You should be able to live comfortably for three lifetimes with it. Please take Repository Jade and take my daughter somewhere safe.”
“You dont think Ill pocket it and walk off”
Master Xu looked straight into Hua Qings young eyes with his fading eyes. “Youre a good man. Ive seen you before… When I served porridge in the back alley, you let a child go first even though you were starving. You have the heart of a hero.”
“…” Hua Qing scrubbed his head. “God damn it! I wouldnt help you if you didnt also endanger me. Let me make this clear: Im just using your heirloom as a talisman to ward off trouble. The moment theres danger, Im out.”
Master Xu subtly curved up the corners of his lips, then told Hua Qing where his daughter was. Due to the recent ominous feelings he had, he sent her off to find her fiancé, thus saving her from a tragic fate. “Please go now… The culprit is strong and will be back soon.”
“But I… I left so many traces behind. Plus, he probably has informants out there.”
“Set fire… People will come here when they see the fire.”
People sounded off once they saw smoke and fire to put it out. Pretty much half of Xiaogan County witnessed the fire consume the edifice.
On his way out, Hua Qing turned around to see Master Xu mouth from the sea of flames, “Thank you.” With all his emotions riding high, Hua Qing lingered in place, wrestling between leaving and running back in to save Master Xu. Because of that, he saw a man with veiny arms, a chest tattoo and white eyes.
The bald man snapped anything that fell from the ceiling with his bare hands, yet the flames didnt burn him. Scarier than the indiscriminate flames was the moment Hua Qing met eyes with the culprit.
Hua Qing believed the culprit remembered him that night despite not finding anyone on his tail. Within days following the incident, he was accused of committing all the heinous crimes. For the next year, he kept a low profile, yet he kept gaining notoriety.
“That is the entire story… Do you understand now”
Putting aside his reluctance to share his story, Hua Qing didnt think it was likely for anyone to believe his story.
Ming Feizhen shook his head. “The hell was that Im totally confused.”
Xiaogan County - Now known as Xiaochang County.-