The sun was setting in the west.
Fu Hongxue stood alone under the setting sun. It was as though he were the only person in the whole wide world.
It was cold and barren for a thousand miles around; it seemed that even the setting sun had changed colour because of its loneliness, changed into a greyish white that was mournful and desolate.
He felt the same.
His hand clenched a sabre; a pale white fist with a pitch black sabre!
Pale white and pitch black were colours close to Death! And Death was the limit of voidness and loneliness!
His eyes were lonely and empty; they could almost see death!
Could it be death was just in front of his eyes?
He was walking. He walked very slowly, but he never stopped. Even if Death was waiting for him in front, he would never stop.
His walking posture was strange and unique; the left foot would take a quick step forward, and the right foot would follow slowly. He appeared to walk with considerable difficulty. Nevertheless, he had walked countless of miles, made innumerable journeys; and he walked that entire road by himself, step by step.
When could he stop walking like this? When could he even stop walking?
He didn’t know. In fact, he had never considered it!
Now that he had got here, what lay beyond? Was Death really in front? Definitely! His eyes contained Death, his hand also gripped Death; in fact his sabre represented Death!
It was a pitch black blade with a pitch black handle and a pitch black sheath.
His sabre may represent Death, but it was his whole life!
The sky had become even darker, but still he could make out the presence of a small town in the far distance.
He knew that was Phoenix Settlement, one of the more populous towns in the remote area. Of course he knew, because that was where the death he was searching for was to be found.
Little did he know that Phoenix Settlement was already dead!
The street was not very long or very wide, but there were still numerous stores, stalls and houses along the streets.
There were countless such towns in the world, and every one of them was the same; streets with many stores, stalls and houses; and these stalls had dilapidated store fronts, cheap goods and honest merchants. In the houses lived kind and friendly people. However, Phoenix Settlement was different from these other towns. While the stores and the stalls and the houses were still present, there was nobody around.
Nobody, not a single person was around.
There were doors and windows that lined both sides of the street. Some were shut, but all were broken, smashed. Thick stacks of dust covered the streets, inside and outside the houses and stores. The roofs and beams were full of spider webs. A black cat was startled by the footsteps and leaped out, but it had already lost its alertness and agility. It was panting and limping as it crawled across the street; it did not even look like a cat anymore.
Wasn’t it a well known fact that starvation could change everything?
Could it be that the cat was the sole surviving creature in this little town?
Fu Hongxue’s heart turned cold, even colder than the blade in his hand.
He was presently standing on this street, and seeing everything with his own eyes. But he could not believe, dared not believe, and would not believe.
What disaster had befallen this place?
How did this tragedy occur?
At the side of the street, an old signboard was squeaking in the wind. He could still make out the words beneath all that dust “Chen Family Tavern, Best Vintage In Town!”
This was originally one of the nicer looking signboards in the district, but it was now tattered and broken, just like teeth of elderly people.
But the condition of the tavern was much worse than the signboard.
Fu Hongxue stood silently, observing and waiting. As the wind died down, he strolled over to the tavern and pushed open the door. It was as though he walked into a grave that had been exhumed.
He had been here before!
Though the wine was not even good, much less vintage, at least it wasn’t vinegar. And the place had looked far from a grave.
Exactly a year ago, this place was still a busy establishment. Travellers from all over who past through Phoenix Settlement would be attracted by the signboard outside, and stopped for a drink here.
Once wine entered empty stomachs, people became chatty. Hence, the tavern was always noisy. Noisy taverns attracted people.
The tavern was not very small, but it was always crowded. The owner of the tavern was very friendly, and a smile was always seen on his face.
But the smile had disappeared, clean tables had become table tops filled with dust; the ground was littered with broken wine bottles, the aromatic smell of wine had turned into a putrid odour which was vomit-inducing.
Laughter, chatter, wine swigging in the tavern; clanking of buckets and knifes, and oil boiling in woks behind the tavern; these sounds had all vanished. Only the creaking sounds of broken window panes swinging in wind were left; and they were oddly reminiscent to the flapping of bats’ wings in prisons.
The skies had darkened even further; it was almost pitch black.
Fu Hongxue walked slowly to a corner and sat down unhurriedly, with his back towards the door.
That was the corner he sat when he came here a year ago. But the place was presently like a grave; there was no place for any living person to hang about.
Why did he still choose to sit down? Was he reminiscing about the past? Or was he waiting?
If he was reminiscing, what could have happened that was worthy of his reminiscence?
If he was waiting, who or what was he waiting for?
Was it Death? Was it really Death?
The colour of night had finally wrapped her arms around all of the land.
There were no lamps, candles or fire; only darkness.
He hated the darkness. However, darkness was similar to death in that they were both inescapable.
Now that darkness had arrived, what about death? He sat there without moving, his hand still clenched tightly to his sabre. Perhaps you could still see the pale hand, but certainly not the sabre, for it had melted into the darkness.
Was his sabre as inescapable as death?
The night was as silent as death. Suddenly, the wind brought the melodious strains of string instrumental music.
Under such depressing circumstances, it was as though the music came from the heavens.
His empty eyes had a strange expression after hearing this heavenly music. – Many adjectives could be used to describe this expression, but joyfulness was not one of them.
The music steadily increased in volume. Amongst the raising music volume, the creaking of the wheels of a horse carriage could also be heard.
Who other than Fu Hongxue could be rushing to this God-forsaken place?
Fu Hongxue’s eyes were slowly returning to their original coldness, but the hand that was on his sabre clenched even tighter.
Could it be that he knew the person that was coming?
Could it be that he was waiting for this person?
Could it be that this person was Death himself?
What kind of music did heavenly music sound like? Nobody had ever heard how heavenly music sound like!
But if there existed a form of music which could melt one’s heart, and even one’s soul, this music would be as close to as heavenly music as it could be heard on earth. The music that Fu Hongxue was listening to would certainly qualify to be heavenly music.
But Fu Hongxue did not melt.
He sat there listening, but remained still and silent. All of a sudden, eight men dressed in black coats with colourful silk sashes tied to their waists walked into the tavern in quick steps. All of them were carrying bamboo baskets; these baskets contained peculiar items, including cloth rags and brooms.
None of them stopped to give Fu Hongxue a glance. Once in the tavern, they began to clean and tidy up the tavern. All of them worked briskly.
Not only did they work briskly, they were also worked very efficiently.
The dilapidated tavern had a miraculous make over in a very short period of time.
Every nook and cranny was cleaned up until not a speck of dust remained. Wallpaper was put up, and beads hung in front of the door frames. There were table cloths on all tables, and even a red carpet on the floor. Only the corner that Fu Hongxue was sitting at remained untouched.
Once the eight men were done cleaning up, they stood in attention near the tavern entrance. Four women who were dressed in bright colours walked into the tavern, holding bamboo baskets. They placed fresh flowers, food and wine on a table.
A row of string ensemble players strolled in, playing beautiful music.
A single drum beat could be heard amongst the music. It was already mid-night. From the window, a solitary figure could be seen dressed in white, holding a watchman’s drum. He looked like a spirit standing alone in the darkness.
Where did this night watchman come from?
Was he constantly reminding people of the coming of death?
Who was he reminding this time?
After the reverberation of the watchman drum ended, the song began:
“The road to the horizon,
A path of no return,
Man broke his soul at the horizon ,
But the soul was broken before reaching the horizon……”
The song had not yet ended. But a seemingly drunk Yan Nanfei was already walking into the tavern.
To be continued……