Chapter 12 - Between Life and Death
A fatal darkness! A deathly stillness!
True fear is not being without light or sound. True fear is being without hope.
The children were drinking milk. Only the sound of their suckling gave testament to the fact that life still existed here.
But how long could their lives be preserved?
Fu Hongxue was once more tightly gripping his sabre, but caught in this deadly trap, even his sabre was useless to break them out of here!
He should have gone and comforted Zhuo Yuzhen, but he didn’t know what he should say. His mind was in turmoil.
He had always viewed life and death very lightly. But he couldn’t do so for the children.
Although he wasn’t their true father, they now had a miraculous connection to each other, a connection which was even more intimate than between children and their real fathers.
Because he had personally delivered these children with his own two hands, it was almost as though they were a continuation of his own life.
This sort of emotion was both complicated and subtle. The only reason why the world can continue to exist is because humanity is capable of this sort of emotion.
Zhuo Yuzhen suddenly said, “I heard Mingyue Xin say that you all were once trapped in here before.”
Fu Hongxue grunted in agreement.
Zhuo Yuzhen said, “Since you were able to think of a way out in the past, you’ll definitely be able to think of another way this time.”
Her eyes were shining with light, filled with hope.
Fu Hongxue truly could not bear to extinguish that hope. But he also couldn’t hide the truth from her.
“The reason we were able to escape last time was because there was a perfect weapon for smashing walls here.”
But now, this place was empty. Aside from the four of them, there was only a corpse.
The corpse had already become cold and stiff. Sooner or later, they would be as well.
But a gleam of hope remained in Zhuo Yuzhen’s eyes. “I often hear people say that your sabre is an unparalleled weapon!”
Fu Hongxue looked at the sabre in his hand. His eyes were filled with bitter hatred. “This is a tool for killing people, not saving people.”
His bitter hatred wasn’t directed towards others. It was directed towards himself. So long as he could save the children, he would be willing to do anything.
But there was nothing he could do at all.
Zhuo Yuzhen’s hope finally died away. With an effort, she actually forced a smile to her face. “At least we still have one hope.”
She consoled Fu Hongxue, “Yan Nanfei wanted you to wait here. He will definitely return.”
Fu Hongxue said, “If he was going to return, he would have done so by now. Now, even if he returned, he would definitely assume that we weren’t inside.”
Zhuo Yuzhen shut her mouth.
Of course she knew that Fu Hongxue’s words were true. Yan Nanfei definitely wouldn’t think of the possibility that they would have stayed here for so long. Even less would he think of Fu Hongxue being buried alive here.
Based on Fu Hongxue’s senses and reaction time, if anybody above them made the slightest movement, they should not have been able to hide it from him.
But who could have imagined that right at that moment, he was busy delivering those children? Who would have imagined that there would be the sound of infants crying here?
There are many things in the world which no one can predict at all. True events are sometimes more bizarre and fantastical than the events in legends.
The children started to cry again.
Cold sweat dripped down from the palm of Fu Hongxue’s hand. He suddenly thought of something he could do for them.
Something which he originally would rather die than do.
But now, he definitely would have to do it.
Zhao Ping was also a well-travelled, world-wise person. Such a person would definitely carry certain emergency tools on his body.
Rifling through a dead man’s possessions was something which made him nauseous just thinking about it.
But now, he was already doing just that.
He found a matchbook, a long roll of rope, a realgar gem designed to repel snakes and drive out disease, a bottle of medicine for cuts, a half-eaten piece of ginseng, a keychain, a pearl flower, a few ingots of gold, several banknotes for silver, and a letter.
Pearls and yellow gold were things which people originally would do anything to get their hands on, to the point where they would even exchange their dignity for them. But right now, they had become worthless instruments.
Could it be that this was a form of satire?
After giving birth, a person would be weak. The children were drinking milk.
Anyone would know that right now, that which Zhuo Yuzhen needed the most was ginseng.
Fu Hongxue quietly pulled out his sabre, slicing away the parts which had been gnawed on. This was the first time he had pulled out his sabre for something which was not alive, and the second time Zhuo Yuzhen saw the sabre. He did not care.
The barriers which existed between him and her had been shattered during the childbirth.
A miraculous relationship existed between the two of them as well, now.
Zhuo Yuzhen didn’t bring this up. She quietly accepted the ginseng, but her eyes were focused on that pearl flower.
It was a peony flower. Every single pearl on it was perfectly formed and without flaw.
A soft, sleek sheen. Ingenious workmanship. In the middle of the darkness, it appeared all the more beautiful and extraordinary.
Light appeared in her eyes again.
She was a girl after all.
The glamour cast by jewels and pearls is something which no girl can resist against.
Fu Hongxue hesitated for a while. Finally, he gave it to her.
Perhaps he shouldn’t have done this. But at this moment in time, why bother preventing her from enjoying this last bit of pleasure, this last bit of joy?
Zhuo Yuzhen laughed. Her laughter was like that of a child’s.
The children who were crying fell asleep.
Fu Hongxue said, “You should sleep as well!”
Zhuo Yuzhen said, “I can’t fall asleep.”
Fu Hongxue said, “As long as you close your eyes, you will be able to fall asleep.”
He could tell that she was already very tired. She had lost too much blood, and had undergone too much suffering and fear.
Her eyes finally closed. She immediately sunk deeper into the sweet, peaceful darkness.
Fu Hongxue silently watched her. A mother sleeping with her infants should be something of great joy and beauty. But now…
He gritted his teeth and made up his mind to not allow himself to shed tears.
Right now, he definitely would seek out every single thing which might help them escape. But although he had a pair of eyes that could see in the dark, he too was very tired right now.
He lit the match. The first thing he saw was eight characters on the seal of the letter.
“To Yan Nanfei, my little brother. Yu.”
Can it be that this letter was given by Gongzi Yu, for Zhao Ping to deliver to Yan Nanfei?
My little brother?
What relationship, exactly, did they once have?
Fu Hongxue mastered his curiosity. He folded the letter, then stored it in his clothes.
Zhao Ping hadn’t had the chance to deliver this letter. He hoped to still have a chance to see Yan Nanfei again.
But he himself knew that the chance of that was really very small.
To Fu Hongxue, aside from this letter and the ginseng, the things found on Zhao Ping’s body were totally worthless.
Because he had neglected something. There should not have been a pearl flower on the body of a man like Zhao Ping.
But when he thought of this, it was too late.
The mother and her children were still sleeping. A strange sound could suddenly be heard in the dark.
Fu Hongxue once more lit the match. He saw a snake scurry out from a stone cupboard, scurrying towards the dim left corner of the room.
They couldn’t stand the smell of the realgar.
The cellar had no ventilation. The air gradually grew stale. The smell of the realgar became especially powerful.
Fu Hongxue immediately discovered something terrifying. Perhaps they wouldn’t have to wait for hunger and thirst to kill them. They might suffocate to death.
Especially the children.
The children didn’t yet have the ability to adapt to the environment.
At this moment, he discovered something else. Something which made him very happy.
After several snakes wriggled into that dark corner, they disappeared.
There must be a way out there.
If there was a crack in that corner of the wall, was it recently created by his actions, or had it always been there?
Even though he wasn’t a snake, and didn’t know whether the outside of the wall was above ground or underground.
As long as he had the opportunity, he definitely wouldn’t let it slip.
He struck out with his sabre!
By the time Zhuo Yuzhen awoke, Fu Hongxue had been chopping at the stone wall for a long time. The cracks in the wall had gradually grown bigger, to the point where even the fattest of mice could get out.
Unfortunately, they weren’t mice.
After the children woke up, they cried again. After they cried, they fell asleep once more.
Zhuo Yuzhen took off her outer clothes, laying it on the floor. She gently laid down the sleeping infants, then forced herself to stand.
Fu Hongxue was gasping. His clothes were sopping wet. A sleeping person might not notice, but he had expended too much energy. The thinning air seemed to have become intolerable to him.
He needed to escape immediately. He used even more energy. Suddenly, with a cracking sound, a notch appeared on the blade of his sabre.
This sabre had become part of his body, even a part of his life.
But he did not stop.
Zhuo Yuzhen bit off a piece of ginseng. She silently handed it to him.
Fu Hongxue shook his head. “The children need milk. You need it more than me.”
Zhuo Yuzhen mournfully said, “But if you collapse, who can live?”
Fu Hongxue gritted his teeth. Another notch appeared on his sabre.
Zhuo Yuzhen’s tears began to flow.
This was originally a matchless, incomparable sabre, even to overawe even the wind and the clouds and fill heroes with terror. But right now, it wasn’t even as useful as a metal spade.
What a cruel, sorrowful thing this was!
Naturally, Fu Hongxue himself could understand this sentiment. He almost was really about to collapse.
Zhuo Yuzhen’s hands suddenly silently moved towards him, filled with a sweet fluid.
As soon as Fu Hongxue opened his mouth, the fluid flowed past his lips. An indescribably sweet and refreshing feeling filled his heart.
This was her breast milk.
Fu Hongxue had sworn an oath to never again shed tears. But at this moment, he couldn’t prevent the hot tears from forcing their way out from his eyes.
But just at this moment, something suddenly appeared in the middle of the crack on the stone wall. It was a sword.
A scarlet red sword!
There was a cloth wrapped around the sword, upon which was written ten words. These words were written with blood. “I have not died yet. You cannot die yet either!”
The children began to cry again.
A loud, sonorous boom stirred life awake!
Sunlight filled the sky.
The children finally saw the sun.
Fu Hongxue only hoped that all the children of the world who were born into darkness would be able to live under the sun.
“I actually already left. I left three times.”
“But you came back three times.”
“I don’t know why I came back either. At first, I thought that you definitely wouldn’t be inside here.” Yan Nanfei was laughing. “Because even in my dreams, I never could have imagined that a day would come when Fu Hongxue would be buried alive by someone.”
There wasn’t the slightest hint of ill-will in his laughter. His heart was truly filled with joy. “The last time I came, I was planning to leave as well.”
“Why didn’t you go?”
“Because I suddenly heard a very strange sound. It sounded like someone eating fava beans.”
“That was the sound of a sabre starting to chip.”
Yan Nanfei’s eyebrows rose and his mouth hung open. Shocked, he stared at Fu Hongxue, appearing as though he were even more shocked than he would be upon hearing that the world itself had chipped.
But Fu Hongxue only laughed. “My sabre is only a very ordinary sabre.”
Yan Nanfei said, “Your hand?”
Fu Hongxue said, “I still have my hand.”
Yan Nanfei said, “So long as you still have your hand, even a chipped sabre can kill people.”
Fu Hongxue’s laughter suddenly disappeared. “Where are they?”
Yan Nanfei sighed. With a bitter smile, he said, “They aren’t here. I’m afraid I don’t know where they are.”
Far away, a carriage could be seen, but no one was there.
Fu Hongxue asked, “You rode a carriage here?”
Yan Nanfei chuckled. “I rode a carriage here all three times. I hate walking. If I have a chance to ride, I definitely won’t walk.”
Fu Hongxue looked at him. “Only because you hate walking? Not because of your leg?”
Yan Nanfei looked at him as well. He suddenly sighed. “Why is it that I cannot hide anything from you?”
The infants were wrapped in Fu Hongxue’s outer garments. Yan Nanfei was suppressing his amazement the entire time. He didn’t ask about it.
Because Fu Hongxue didn’t bring it up at all.
He knew that if Fu Hongxue didn’t want to bring up something, you had best pretend you don’t know about it!
But Zhuo Yuzhen, smiling, was already calling out to him. “Uncle Yan, why don’t you come see our children?”
Yan Nanfei finally could no longer contain himself. He couldn’t help but ask, “Your children?”
Zhuo Yuzhen glanced at Fu Hongxue out of the corner of her eyes. “Can it be that he did not tell you?”
Yan Nanfei said, “Tell me what?”
Zhuo Yuzhen smiled beautifully. “One of these two children is surnamed Qiu, the other is surnamed Fu. The boy is the heir to the bloodline of the Qiu family. His name is Qiu Xiaoqing. The girl was born first. Her name is Fu Xiaohong.”
Her eyes were filled with pride and satisfaction. “We already agreed to this. We have already…”
Her face blushed, and she lowered her head.
Yan Nanfei looked at her, then looked at Fu Hongxue. He looked even more shocked than earlier, when he heard that the sabre had chipped.
Fu Hongxue had turned around. He pulled the clothes firmly around the children, then said, “Why don’t you get on the carriage first?”
Zhuo Yuzhen already sat inside the carriage. Only then did Fu Hongxue and Yan Nanfei slowly walk over.
The entire time, neither of them opened their mouths. After a long time, Fu Hongxue suddenly said, “You didn’t think it possible?”
Yan Nanfei forced a laugh. “There are many things which are unthinkable in this world.”
Fu Hongxue said, “You are opposed?”
Yan Nanfei said, “I know that you definitely had your own difficulties which are hard to discuss. Perhaps…”
Fu Hongxue interrupted his words. “If time could go back, I would still have made the same choice. The children cannot be without a father. Somebody must be their father.”
Yan Nanfei’s smile became genuine and optimistic. “Aside from you, I really can’t think of anyone else who could be their father.”
He walked very slowly, and his posture seemed to have become similar to that of Fu Hongxue’s. He was coughing nonstop as well.
Fu Hongxue suddenly came to a stop. Staring at him, he said, “How many wounds did you take?”
Yan Nanfei said, “Not many.”
Fu Hongxue suddenly reached out and pulled his clothes open. Across his firm and strong chest, there were two fingernail markings.
Purple fingernail scratches, appearing as though they had been dyed into his skin.
Fu Hongxue’s pupils immediately contracted. “This is the ‘Great Violet Palm of Decapitating Heaven and Shattering Earth?”
Yan Nanfei grunted in agreement.
Fu Hongxue said, “Were you struck on the leg by the ‘Bone Penetrating Nail’ or the ‘Soul Hunting Needle’?”
Yan Nanfei smiled bitterly. “If it was the ‘Soul Hunting Needle’, would I still be standing here?”
Fu Hongxue said, “People came from the Xingxiuhai plateau of the Western Regions?”
Yan Nanfei said, “Just one person!”
Fu Hongxue said, “Was the person who came Duo Qingzi, or Wu Qingzi?”
Yan Nanfei sighed. “Duo Qingzi is just as merciless when making his move.” [This is a pun; Duo Qingzi means ‘man of great tenderness and affection’, while Wu Qingzi means ‘man without mercy’.]
Fu Hongxue said, “Is the ‘Bone Penetrating Nail’ still in your leg?”
Yan Nanfei said, “The only thing in my leg is a hole.”
He stretched out his hands, revealing a hidden projectile that sparkled in his palm with cold light.
If one were to choose the top ten most deadly hidden projectile weapons in the world, beyond a doubt the ‘Bone Penetrating Nail’ would be one of them. Yan Nanfei suddenly chuckled. “Fortunately, my luck isn’t half bad. He shot out thirteen ‘Bone Penetrating Nails’. I only got hit by one, and it didn’t hit a vital point. I was able to run a bit faster than they were. Otherwise, even if Duo Qingzi didn’t kill me, Yang Wuji would have taken my life.”
His laughter seemed very cheerful. “Let me tell you a little secret. Although my skill in killing isn’t as good as yours, my skill in running for my life is number one in the world.”
Fu Hongxue reached into his clothes. Only after Yan Nanfei was finished speaking did he remove his hand, pulling the letter out with it. “Read it after you get in the carriage.”
“Who will be driver?”
Yan Nanfei laughed. “I seem to remember that you didn’t know how to drive in the past.”
Fu Hongxue said, “Now I do.”
Yan Nanfei said, “When did you learn?”
Fu Hongxue stared at him. Suddenly, he said, “Did you always know how to run for your life?”
Yan Nanfei thought a moment, then shook his head.
Fu Hongxue said, “When did you learn how?”
Yan Nanfei said, “When I reached the point where I had no other choice but to do so.”
Fu Hongxue shut his mouth again. He believed that Yan Nanfei knew what he meant.
When a man reached a point where he must do something, he would do it.
The letter was very long, stretching across three scrolls of paper. Even before they got on the carriage, Yan Nanfei began to read.
He was always an impatient sort.
Fu Hongxue was very good at tamping down his curiosity. He didn’t ask what the letter contained.
Evidently, it was a very amusing letter, as Yan Nanfei’s eyes were filled with a hint of laughter.
Filled with a sort of cynical laughter.
He suddenly said, “It seems Gongzi Yu really is a good person. He really cares very much about me.”
Fu Hongxue said, “Oh?”
Yan Nanfei laughed. “He advises me to leave your company immediately, because you have become an almost pestilential creature. Anyone in your company will suffer misfortune.”
He laughed loudly, then said, “He even wrote out a list for me.”
Fu Hongxue said, “A list?”
Yan Nanfei said, “The list includes the names of all the people who wants to kill us. The people who want to kill you numbers one more than the people who want to kill me.”
Fu Hongxue coldly said, “One person isn’t very much.”
Yan Nanfei said, “Sometimes it isn’t very much, sometimes it isn’t very little. It depends on who this person is.”
His laughter was very unhappy. “Strictly speaking, the person who wants to kill you can’t even be considered a person.”
Fu Hongxue said, “What is he, then?”
Yan Nanfei said, “He should at least be counted as ten people.”
Fu Hongxue said, “Is it Wu Qingzi, of the Xingxiuhai plateau?”
Yan Nanfei said, “Compared to this person, Wu Qingzi can at most be considered a kid who just learned how to kill people.”
Fu Hongxue said, “Who is this person?”
Yan Nanfei went into the carriage and closed the door, as though afraid that he himself might jump out. “It is a man who uses a sabre, a very special sabre.”
Fu Hongxue said, “What sabre?”
Yan Nanfei pulled the carriage door a little tighter shut. Only then did he say, one word at a time, “The ‘Demon Decapitating Sabre of Heaven’s Monarch’!”
The carriage was very spacious. Zhuo Yuzhen put the girl on her knee while holding the boy in her hands. Her eyes were focused on Yan Nanfei. Finally, she couldn’t help but ask, “What type of sabre is the ‘Demon Decapitating Sabre of Heaven’s Monarch’?”
Yan Nanfei forced out a laugh. “Strictly speaking, it cannot be considered a sabre.”
Zhuo Yuzhen said, “It should be considered ten?”
Yan Nanfei didn’t directly respond. Instead, he asked her, “Did you see Xiao Siwu’s dagger?”
Zhuo Yuzhen thought for a moment, then nodded. “I saw him before. He always uses a dagger to trim his nails.”
Yan Nanfei said, “It would take at least five hundred daggers like that to forge a single ‘Demon Decapitating Sabre of Heaven’s Monarch’!”
Zhuo Yuzhen sucked in a breath. “Five hundred daggers?”
Yan Nanfei asked again, “Do you know how many people he’s killed with that sabre in a single blow?”
Zhuo Yuzhen said, “Two people? Three? Five?”
Yan Nanfei let out a sigh. “With one chop, he killed twenty seven people. Every single one of their heads was split in two.”
Zhuo Yuzhen’s countenance changed. She tightened her grip around the child in her bosom. Staring out the window, she forced a laugh. “Are you trying to scare me?”
Yan Nanfei smiled bitterly. “If you see that sabre, you’ll know whether or not I’m trying to scare you.”
He suddenly shook his head. “But naturally, you won’t see it. Heaven, bless and protect us. Don’t let her see that sabre.”
Zhuo Yuzhen asked no more questions, because she saw something very strange. “Look, there’s a wheel there.”
It wasn’t at all strange for a carriage to have a wheel, but why would a wheel be rolling down the road by itself?
Yan Nanfei couldn’t help but stick out his head to take a look. The expression on his face changed as well. “This wheel is from our carriage.”
Before he finished speaking, the carriage began to tilt, slowly beginning to tilt towards one side of the road.
Zhuo Yuzhen cried out loud, “Look! Why is there half a horse there?”
Half a horse? How could there be such a thing as half a horse?
What was even more frightening was that this horse was still galloping forwards on two legs.
Suddenly, a storm of blood rain sprayed forth from it.
That half-horse ran for another seven or eight steps before falling down. Its liver, intestines, and internal organs fell onto the floor.
Yan Nanfei shouted loudly, “Careful!”
Before the sound of his voice dissipated, the carriage suddenly flipped around in mid-air, as though it had somersaulted.
Yan Nanfei rushed over, gathered Zhuo Yuzhen and the children to himself, then kicked the door open.
A hand stretched out from outside the door. Fu Hongxue’s voice could be heard. “Grab hold.”
Their two hands joined. Fu Hongxue gripped Yan Nanfei’s hand, while Yan Nanfei held Zhuo Yuzhen and the children. With an exploding sound, both the adults and the children flew out from the door.
Next, with a thundering sound, the carriage crashed into a large tree by the side of the road.
The weather was sunny and cheerful. The sunlight was gorgeous.
The fresh sunlight was shining on the road. But suddenly, a dark cloud covered it, blocking off the sunrays. It was as though even the sun couldn’t bear to watch what had just happened.
The carriage had been shattered into many pieces.
The horse pulling the carriage had been chopped in twain. The back half was still attached to the carriage. The front half lay fallen by the road.
What had happened just then?
Zhuo Yuzhen tightly held her children, not letting her children cry. Although she herself didn’t know what had just happened either, she was simply too frightened, so frightened that she forgot all of her pain.
Although she felt as though all the bones in her body had been ground to dust, fear had rendered her totally numb. And then, she couldn’t help but vomit.
A young woodcutter was standing by the side of the road. He couldn’t help but vomit as well.
He was just about to go on this road earlier, but he took a step back, because he saw this carriage charging this way.
The carriage-driver had a pallid face and appeared as though he wished he could make this carriage immediately travel eight hundred li.
“Can it be that this person is rushing to a funeral?”
The young, vigorous woodcutter was just about to curse at him, but before he even started, he saw a gleam of sabre light.
As a matter of fact, he couldn’t tell if it was sabre light, or lightning.
All he saw was a gleam of light fly out from within the forest, and then…it suddenly split apart. The front half and the back half actually split apart.
The front half of the horse was actually still running with its two front legs.
What happened afterwards, the woodcutter didn’t notice at all. He couldn’t believe this was real.
He hoped this was a dream, nothing more than a bad dream.
But he was already vomiting.