“The flowers have not yet wilted;
the moon has not yet waned,
so where doth the moon shine?
Wild roses are at the horizon.”
Was Yan Nanfei truly drunk?
He sat down beside the fresh flowers, in between beautiful women, in front of a golden cup of wine.
The wine was amber, and the roses were bright.
The scent of the roses in his hand were intoxicating, but they were nothing compared to the wine.
He was totally inebriated, and collapsed on the laps and knees of the beautiful women that were sitting next to him.
Beautiful women were also intoxicating; they giggled like orioles, and their cheerful faces turned into beautiful shades of pink.
He was still a youth; a youth with youthful exuberance. He had plenty of gold, he had perfumed flowers, fine wine and beautiful women. What a happy time it is, what a happy life.
But why did he come to this dead town to enjoy all these pleasures?
Was he here because of Fu Hongxue?
He did not even give Fu Hongxue a glance, as though he did not realise Fu Hongxue’s existence.
Fu Hongxue too behaved in the same way, as though others did not exist. Around him, there were no flowers, women, nor wine; it was as though an invisible wall separated him and the other merry makers.
He had not taken part in such merry-making activities for a very long time.
The watchman’s drum was struck once again. It was now the second watch.
They were still drinking and making merry. They seemed to have totally forgotten all the frustrations, sorrow and pain in the world.
He was stilling holding a cup full of wine in one hand, and a stalk of wild rose on the other. A beautiful woman tugged at his hand and asked, “Why do you like the wild rose?”
“Wild roses have thorns.”
“You like thorns?”
“I like to pierce people. Pierce their hands and pierce their heart.”
The beautiful woman’s hand was pierced, her heart was also pierced.
She grimaced in pain, frowned and shook her head, “That is not a good reason, I don’t like it.”
“You don’t like it? What would you have liked to hear then?”
Yan Nanfei laughed. “Do you want to listen to another story?”
“Of course I do.”
“Once upon a time, in a place far far away, a nightingale saw a wild rose in bloom and fell in love with it. The bird was so much in love, it leaped from the branch into the pond and drowned.”
“That story is beautiful,” the beautiful woman’s eyes had turned red, “but it is too sad.”
“You are wrong.” Yan Nanfei’s smile had become even wider, “Death is not something sorrowful. If there was pride in death, or even beauty in death, then there is nothing to fear.”
The beautiful woman stared at the wild rose that was in his hand. The wild rose appeared to be smiling too.
She stared at the rose intently for a while, and whispered,
“This morning, I wanted to give you a few stalks of wild roses.
I spent a lot of time tying the flowers to my girdle.
But the girdle loosened and even the flowers were loosened too.
They fell and scattered, some to the winds and others into the water.
The river waters flowed eastward, and the flower petals too, never to return.
River waves had become crimson red with petals, but only a light fragrance remains on my sleeve.”
Her poem was beautiful, just like a song.
She lifted her sleeves, “Please smell them. I insist you smell them, as our final rememberance.”
Yan Nanfei looked at her sleeves and held her hand lightly.
Just at this moment, the night watchman’s drum reverberated once more.
It was the third watch!
“The road to the horizon,
A path of no return,
In the third watch past midnight,
Time for the destruction of Man’s soul.”
Yan Nanfei suddenly released the her hands.
The music stopped abruptly.
He waved his hand and gave a short command, “Leave”.
It was like a magic spell. The ghostly night watchman had just struck his drum for the third watch. Immediately the command was issued and immediately the previously joyful atmosphere disappeared.
The tavern had become bare, and only two people remained.
Even the beautiful woman whose hand pricked by the wild rose left. Her hand was hurt but her heart was hurt far more deeply.
The horse carriage left, and the lands returned to their original state of deathlike loneliness.
Only one lamp remained indoors, and the weak light flickered at Yan Nanfei’s bright eyes.
He appeared to be drunk, but his eyes were far from drunk.
Fu Hongxue was still sitting quietly at his corner.
Not listening, not seeing, nor moving.
But Yan Nanfei was now standing up and in so revealed the sword on his waist.
Bright red scabbard; bright red hilt!
More red than the wild rose; more red than blood.
The tavern was filled with happiness a short while ago, was suddenly filled with an air of murderous intent.
He walked forward, towards Fu Hongxue.
He may be drunk, but his sword was certainly not intoxicated.
His sword was already in his hand.
A pale white hand clenched to a blood red sword.
Fu Hongxue’s hand was also clenched to his sabre.
His sabre never left his hand, no matter what happened.
A pale white hand clenched to a pitch black sabre!
The sabre was as black as death, and the scabbard was as red as blood.
The distance between these weapons was slowly diminishing.
The distance between Fu Hongxue and Yan Nanfei was slowly diminishing.
The murderous air thickened even further.
Yan Nanfei was finally standing in front of Fu Hongxue. Suddenly he pulled his sword out; the light reflected from the blade of the sword was as radiant as the sun’s rays, yet as beautiful as the wild roses under sunlight.
The sword emitted a powerful aura, right between Fu Hongxue’s eyebrows.
Fu Hongxue was still not listening, not seeing, nor moving!
Light rays from the sword flashed passed him. The beaded door curtain that was hanging on the door frame nearby was severed into two; the beads fell from the curtain like tear drops from a beautiful woman.
Then the sword rays disappeared suddenly.
The sword was still there, still in Yan Nanfei’s hand. He raised his sword with two hands, and presented it to Fu Hongxue.
The sharpness of the sword was unparalleled under the heavens!
The sword technique that he used was also unparalleled under the heavens!
Why was he presenting such a sword to Fu Hongxue?
He came from afar, made merry and drank.
He pulled out his sword, swung it, and presented it as a gift.
What was really happening?
His hands were pale, and the blade of his sword also appeared to be pale under the dim light from a lamp.
Fu Hongxue’s face was even paler.
He finally raised his head slowly, and gazed at the sword in Yan Nanfei’s hands.
He shown no expression, but the pupils of his eyes narrowed.
Yan Nanfei was also gazing at him; bright eyed, carrying a strange expression. Was it an expression of a person that was close to the ultimate release of joy, or one of unspeakable and helpless sorrow?
Fun Hongxue raised his head further and stared into Yan Nanfei’s eyes. It was as though he had just noticed Yan Nanfei.
Two pairs of eyes established contact. There was a flash of some sort, a spark; as though there was silent communication between them.
“You are here,” said Fu Hongxue, unexpectedly.
“I am here,” Yan Nanfei replied.
Fu Hongxue said, “I knew you would come.”
Yan Nanfei replied, “I would come for sure, and you knew that. If not, you would not have let me go a year ago.”
Fu Hongxue looked grave, and gazed long and hard at the sword that in Yan Nanfei’s hand before slowly said,
“Now a year has passed.”
Yan Nanfei said, “Exactly one full year.”
Fu Hongxue sighed, “What a long year that was.”
Yan Nanfei also sighed, “What a short year that was.”
Was the span of a year truly long or short?
Yan Nanfei gave a short burst of laughter; his laughter was laced with sarcasm, “You felt that the year had passed slowly only because you were waiting. You have been waiting for today to come.”
“What about you?” Fu Hongxue asked.
“I didn’t wait at all,” Yan Nanfei answered.
He gave a faint smile and continued, “Although I knew that today would be the day I die, but I am not the sort of person to wait for death.”
Fu Hongxue asked, “Was it because you had so many things to settle that you found the year to be too short?”
Yan Nanfei answered, “The year was certainly too short.”
Fun Hongxue asked, “Have you completed everything that you wanted to finish? Your desires and wishes?”
The sword rays were illumining; the thin blade of the sword flashed like lightning.
The sabre seemed slower in comparison.
The sword rays had not arrived, but the sabre was already forcing the sword back.
Then the sabre was at Yan Nanfei’s throat.
It was Fu Hongxue’s sabre at Yan Nanfei’s throat.
The sabre was in Fu Hongxue’s hand, and that hand was now back on the table.
Yan Nanfei stared at this pitch black sabre for a long time, and said slowly, “A year ago, I was defeated by your sabre.”
Fu Hongxue lightly, “Perhaps you should not have lost. You were too young, but yet your swordplay was too worn.”
Yan Nanfei was slient as if in deep consideration of Fu Hongxue’s words. After a long while, he said unhurriedly, “You asked me then, if I had any unfulfilled wishes left.”
Fu Hongxue nodded, “I had asked you that!”
Yan Nanfei continued, “I replied then, that though I had unfinished business, that business was my own and only mine to do.”
Fu Hongxue answered, “I remember.”
“I told you then, that you could kill me anytime, but you could forget about forcing me to reveal anything if I was unwilling to do so.” Yan Nanfei said.
Fu Hongxue nodded. “And now…?”
Yan Nanfei answered, “Now is still the same!”
Fu Hongxue asked, “Still the same unwillingness to talk?”
Yan Nanfei answered, “You loaned me a year’s time, to let me finish my business. Now had a year has passed, I…”
“Came back here to die!” Fu Hongxue said.
Yan Nanfei nodded. “That is correct. I came back here to die!”
He held his sword, and spoke each word with care, “You can kill me now.”
He had came here to die!
He was originally from *Jiangnan. He rushed through thousands of li, just to get to Phoenix Settlement, just in time to die![*Jiangnan, literally South of the River, refers to regions south of the Yangzi River, also known as the Chang Jiang.]
He drank his fill of wine from gold wine cups and made merry; but all these were merely forms of pre-death entertainment.
How beautiful and stately was this kind of death.
The sword was still in his hand; the sabre was still on the table.
“At this very time and place a year ago, I could have killed you.” Fu Hongxue said.
Yan Nanfei said, “You let me go a year ago, was it because you were sure I would return?”
“If you did not, I would probably never have found you.” Fu Hongxue answered.
“Very possibly” Yan Nanfei agreed.
“But you came” Fu Hongxue said.
“I would have come no matter what,” Yan Nanfei replied.
“Because of this, I can give you one more year for you to complete your unfinished business.” Fu Hongxue said.
“No need” Yan Nanfei answered.
“No need?” Fu Hongxue questioned.
“Since I’m here, I am already mentally prepared to die.” Yan Nanfei said.
“You don’t want to live for one more year?” Fu Hongxue asked.
Yan Nanfei suddenly gave a long guffaw, “If a true man lives in the world, but could not help the weak and destroy evil; avenge wrongs and repay kindness. He would be no better than being dead, even if he lived another hundreds of years.”
He was laughing, yet in his laughter carried an indescribable pain and anguish.
Fun Hongxue looked at him intently, waited for his laughter to die before abruptly said, “But you still have unfulfilled wishes.”
“Who said that?” Yan Nanfei retorted.
“I did. I can tell.” Fu Hongxue answered.
Yan Nanfei gave a cold laugh, “Even if I have some unfulfilled wishes, it is none of your business.”
Fu Hongxue said, “But I am…”
Yan Nanfei interrupted him, “You had never been a man of many words, and I didn’t come here to talk to you!”
“You only wish for a quick death?” Fu Hongxue asked.
“Yes.” The answer was short and swift.
“You would rather die than to reveal your unfulfilled wishes?” Fu Hongxue asked.
“Yes,” Yan Nanfei said definitely.
The “Yes” came out strong and decisive. Nothing in this world could change his mind.
The hand that Fu Hongxue was holding the sabre with had veins popping out of the arm.
Once the sabre left its sheath, death would follow. Nothing in the world could stop it.
Was his sabre getting ready to leave its sheath?
Yan Nanfei presented his sword to Fu Hongxue with both hands, “I would rather die by my own sword.”
“I know!” Fu Hongxue answered.
“But you are using your sabre anyway?” Yan Nanfei asked.
“You have some things that you refuse to do. So do I.” Fu Hongxue answered.
Yan Nanfei was silent, then spoke slowly, “After I die, would you take good care of my sword?”
Fu Hongxue said coldly, “If the sword is alive, the person is alive. If the person perishes, so will the sword. When you die, your sword will join you in your destruction.”
Yan Nanfei gave a deep breath out and closed his eyes. “All right, strike me down now!”
Fu Hongxue’s sabre had already left its sheath, but it had not found its mark yet. There was a deafening rattling noise, like that of a giant wheel rolling on the ground. Then, a loud explosion sounded.
The already rotting tavern door was blown apart by this explosion, and something rolled in. It was large and shiny golden sphere; the sphere was the size of the wheels on a wagon.
Fu Hongxue did not move, and neither did Yan Nanfei turn his head.
The golden sphere was rolling towards Yan Nanfei, and was about to run him over.
No man can withstand the force of such a collision. That force was not one that mere flesh and blood can stop.
Just at this very moment, Fu Hongxue drawn his sabre!
The sabre flashed, and stopped moving.
All motion and noise stopped too.
The seemingly unstoppable golden sphere stopped after being tapped lightly with his sabre.
At the same moment, thirteen spears flew out of the golden sphere, straight towards Yan Nanfei’s back.
Yan Nanfei still did not move, and Fu Hongxue’s sabre moved again.
Light from the sabre flashed, and the spearheads all broke and fell. The golden sphere looked as though it weighed a ton, but it had been cut into four quarters by the sabre.
The sphere was actually hollow, and the four quarters opened like those of flower petals. A small, dwarfish man was sitting on the floor amongst the four pieces of what remained of the sphere. He sat there without moving.
That sabre lopped off thirteen spear heads and hacked the golden sphere to four quarters with one slash; the speed and force of this slash was incredible and unimaginable. It was as though all the magic and energy in this world united to generate this sabre slash.
The sabre technique that was used was beyond all other sabre techniques; it was enough to destroy everything.
However, even with the destruction of the spear heads and the golden sphere, that short man was still perfectly fine and sitting on the floor. Not only was he motionless, he had no expression on his face. It was as though he was a man made of wood.
The windows and door were wrecked by the impact; some roof tiles were loosened and fell. They landed on this wooden man; the sound of ceramic tiles crashing against wood was produced.
It turned out that the man was really made of wood.
Fu Hongxue looked at him coldly. Since he didn’t move, Fu Hongxue also didn’t move.
How could a wooden man move about anyway?
Unexpectedly, this one did.
He moved quickly and suddenly rocketed towards Yan Nanfei’s back.
He had no weapons.
He used his own person as a weapon, his entire body, his four limbs were all weapons. Even the most menacing weapons required a person to handle them, because weapons themselves were not alive. However, this weapon was totally alive!
Also at that very moment, a pair of hands came up from the ground and grabbed hold of Yan Nanfei’s legs. This move was also totally unexpected. Now even if Yan Nanfei had wanted to avoid the attack, he would not have been able to.
This attack was very well coordinated; the sudden movement of the Wood Man; the hands from the ground; attacking from both top and bottom. Wood Man’s legs had also wrapped around Yan Nanfei’s waist, both his hands already flying at the throat in top speed!
This attack was not only totally out of ordinary, but also carefully planned. It was a strike that would not have failed to hit the target.
It is a pity that they forgot that Yan Nanfei had a sabre close to him!
Fu Hongxue’s sabre!
A sabre totally unmatched under the heavens!
The sabre flashed! Just a single flash!
There were open wounds on all four hands, Wood Man’s hand was bleeding originally.
The blood oozing out from the new wounds was just as red. But his deadwood face had grimaced.
The hands loosen, all four hands. A man totally covered with soil leaped out from the ground. He looked like a man made of mud.
Mud Man was also a dwarf.
Both of them leaped up, made a turn in the air, and each withdrawing to a corner. No one chased after them.
Fu Hongxue’s sabre was motionless, as he was. Yan Nanfei didn’t even turn his head.
Mud Man held his hands up, suddenly turned and said, “This is all your fault. You said that nothing could go wrong with our plan of attack.”
Wood Man replied, “Now that we have failed, we have best kill ourselves now. Returning with failure would mean death anyway.”
“How do you wish to die?” asked Mud Man.
“I am a wooden man, certainly the best way to die is to go up in flames,” Wood Man said.
“All right then, you better burn yourself to ashes.” Mud Man told him.
Wood Man gave a small sigh, and really set fire to his clothes up with a fire starter.
The fire burned very quickly. In a very short while, Wood Man was totally in flames.
Mud Man stood afar to avoid the heat. Suddenly he exclaimed, “Hold on, you cannot die yet; you still have a few thousand taels of silver in paper money. They are of no use to anybody if they are burnt into ashes.”
A voice actually came out from the flames, “Come and get it yourself.”
Mud Man said, “I am afraid of the heat.”
A loud sigh came from within the flames and suddenly a jet of clear water sprouted up vertically within the flames. Falling onto the flaming mass like rain, creating a fog of mist.
The fire was doused immediately, and creating a lot of think smoke.
Wood Man remained in the smoke, nobody could see how badly Wood Man was burnt.
Fu Hongxue did not even glance at him, he was only concerned about one person.
Yan Nanfei, however looked as though he would not concern himself with anyone ever again.
The smoke was everywhere in the tavern. The smoke floated out though the door windows.
There was a small breeze outside.
The smoke floated out and disappeared into the winds.
That little black cat that was crossing the street earlier had been hiding behind a pillar some distance away.
A small wisp of smoke was blown towards the direction of this cat. It stiffened and collapsed; its leg muscles were still twitching.
Although it had been through the horrors of the destruction and starvation, it was still alive. But, this small wisp of smoke turned it into a bag of rotten bones within the twinkle of an eye. At this moment, Fu Hongxue and Yan Nanfei were standing right in the smoke.
To be continued……