Chapter 6. The Beauty
No one made a sound. The group quickly exchanged looks, disregarding Zhang Chengling to slowly circle around Gu Xiang and Zhou Zishu.
Gu Xiang sighed. "What an unfortunate situation. I haven't done good deeds in forever, and of course the moment I did it troubles came to me. Brother1 Zhou, I'm just a frail maiden who has never been attacked by this many before, I'm very afraid, please protect me."
That last sentence could really scare people to death. Zhou Zishu almost had to struggle to breathe properly, giving Gu Xiang a bothered look while the girl put on her best poker face.
She then stared back at him witheringly.
The group of assassins felt somewhat out of place during this lovingly tender staring contest. It wasn't clear who issued the order for others to move forward, but in no time, a web-like formation was created, caging the two inside.
Only now did Gu Xiang uttered a soft "Ah," face stern, interest piqued. The delicate charade was dropped; she ignored Zhou Zishu, pulling out a small dagger, ready to face the oncoming assault.
She had faith in her own capability, but quickly realized the formation was quite a tough one the moment the fight started. There were fourteen enemies, and while it was possible that not all of them would be a match for her, as a whole they had created continuous pressure on all sides, making the situation increasingly perilous. She ended up forced to retreat while fighting, with the formation simultaneously closing in on her, blocking all escapes.
Doubt festered in Gu Xiang as she withdrew next to Zhou Zishu. They stood with their back toward each other; Zhou Zishu's gaze darkened. He watched their enemies without blinking, telling Gu Xiang, "I've underestimated them."
Gu Xiang couldn't take it in at first. Her forehead sweated faintly. "What… is this formation?"
Zhou Zishu replied, "I've never encountered it before, but it's said that there exists one called the Formation of Far and Wide2, its structure is ever-changing and well-coordinated. Every person's gap can be filled in by others almost immediately and immaculately, creating a barrier through which nothing can pierce…"
Gu Xiang cried out as Zhou Zishu used his bare hand to stop an incoming blade and knocked it away.
"Then what do we do now?"
Zhou Zishu gave her no answer, eyes entirely focused. All of a sudden, he flew up, using the altar as a platform to launch himself further into the air; the dusty table didn't even budge during the whole process. Three masked men followed him immediately, swords blocking every way out, but Zhou Zishu unexpectedly moved backwards, wriggling through their defense like a fish to reach the Buddha statue.
He made a noise, and with an unknown strength, using his hands to propel the statue forward, mumbling, "Buddha, have mercy and help me this time."
The stone statue came at the masked men at full force; Gu Xiang immediately stooped down to get out of its way, feeling the wind grazing her hair. The three after Zhou Zishu in midair were not that fast, they didn't expect this retaliation at all. Facing it head-on was the only option since there was no way to dodge or seek assistance, and naturally they were knocked back, creating a gaping hole in the formation.
Gu Xiang snickered, "Interesting."
She didn't let this momentum go to waste, and with a wave of the arm, an arrow shot out from inside her sleeve. The one directly facing her had to bear the brunt of the attack with their face, and they fell back without a sound.
The remained lost all their courage. Gu Xiang's murderous streak made its appearance again, and she started charging at them without a care.
Zhou Zishu had exhausted all his strength with that move, his yet-to-recover limbs now temporarily numb. He sat calmly on the incense table with no further desire to boast his might.
Gu Xiang only noticed after a good while. She turned to him, tone accusing, "Zhou Xu, what are you doing?"
Zhou Zishu replied unhurriedly, "Little Sister Gu, I'm just a frail beggar who has never been attacked by this many before, I'm very afraid, please protect me."
Gu Xiang's hands shook in anger. Her knife plunged into one's chest, to the point that it was deeply lodged in their ribcage and unable to be removed.
Gu Xiang was flexible, but not enduring enough in a long fight. She became frantic after having lost her weapon, moving three steps back, trying her best to defend herself. Zhou Zishu, after a fair time to rest, didn't rejoin the fight right away. He watched them all with a chuckle, picking up a few small rocks. He played with them before abruptly shot one at the forehead of one intending to perform a sneak attack on the girl.
"That's no good, no good at all; your moves don't have a structure to it," he gave her some directions at the same time.
He was as quick as lightning, flicking another stone at one's Huantiao point3 to make them lose balance and stumble forward, conveniently right under Gu Xiang's feet. She instinctively lifted her leg, a reflecting light flashing under her shoe to reveal a tiny blade, which was used to stab the person in the throat. Zhou Zishu continued leisurely, "The foundation is of utmost importance, if your phases are without roots4 and you move without a basis, how can you fully control yourself in a situation?"
Gu Xiang was a smart one. She bent her back to dodge a sword, kicking at the enemy's leg. Taking advantage of them falling forward to restrain the pulse, she snatched their weapon away afterwards, cracking down on their Baihui point5 to kill them for good.
Another stone was shot at one's Jianjing point6 while they were in the middle of attacking, making their upper body freeze and fall. Gu Xiang heard the beggar complain equivocally, "No good, still no good, the formation has been broken but that's not an excuse to take risks, stop underestimating things."
At those words, the lotus shape created from her feet movements became more lively and flexible. She dodged another one, who by instinct changed their strategy by holding the sword horizontally, exposing a weak spot that Gu Xiang could exploit. She easily took down two more thanks to that.
In no times, bodies littered the ground. The rest of the masked people glanced at each other and retreated, knowing this would not go well if they continued. Zhou Zishu frowned; these people were way too troublesome. He did agree to take the boy to this Tai Hu Holdings or wherever, but he wouldn't tolerate the possible hoards of attackers along the way. If he let them go this time, they would just come back later during the journey.
These murderers with ambiguous identity, who tried to eradicate every single person in the boy's family were the true scums of the earth.
A fleeting motion made Gu Xiang dizzy — the person who was just sitting at the table was now at the shrine's door. The masked person nearest to him only had time to slightly lean away before their shoulder was dislodged with a cracking sound. Zhou Zishu had his hand around their throat, twisting it with the gentlest movement; the tip of his toe lifted the victim's fallen weapon at the same time.
On his pallid face was a smile that carried all of the world's demonic energy…
Gu Xiang couldn't keep up with what was happening, and before she knew it, all the remained of the assassin group had become corpses. She blinked in astonishment — this ragged man's ramblings worth diddlysquat, but his execution in battle was one of the cleanest and cruelest she had ever seen. It really made one wonder who he was.
Zhou Zishu was actually not holding on as impressively as she thought, his legs like jelly, body not having enough time to recover ever since he touched the ground again. There was a slight sway to him after he had finished all of them, but he had no intention for Gu Xiang to find out, retreating a few steps as his strength allowed. His walk seemed light as feather, but in reality he was in a miserable state trying his hardest to find something that could support him.
A pair of arms suddenly appeared behind out of nowhere, propping him up firmly. Zhou Zishu startled; he couldn't sense this person coming near at all, feeling his hair stand on end. Fortunately, the person purely wanted to help with no further motives.
Gu Xiang's eyes shone as she exclaimed, "Master!"
Zhou Zishu heaved a sigh of relief at that, straightening. The person behind him was the man in gray he saw back at the tavern, looking around thirty, face undeniably handsome — though his stare would unnerve most people.
Those intense eyes were fixed on Zhou Zishu right now, full of impudence, looking as if they wanted nothing else than to uncover what was beneath the layer of mask on his face.
Zhou Zishu coughed, "Thank you…"
"Wen, Wen Kexing." The man replied, his expressions riddled with vague doubt. He dragged his eyes down to Zhou Zishu's neck and hands, suspicion only piling up further.
Even though Zhou Zishu couldn't detect the man's intention, he had confidence in his craft. He knew his skills better than anyone; if he failed this simple disguise then he would have perished during a mission years ago. "Ah, thank you, Brother1 Wen." He said calmly.
The man tore his gaze away after a good while, nodding, "It's nothing."
He strolled into the shrine after that. Gu Xiang was flittering around kicking away the bodies, making a seat for her master from the hay. Wen Kexing glanced at Zhou Zishu once more. "I didn't mean to do it," he added, in case the latter misunderstood what happened.
Zhou Zishu instantly recognized where Gu Xiang got her peculiar attitude from. He sat down and began to meditate.
After about two hours, he opened his eyes to Wen Kexing leaning on a wall, legs crossed, still watching him intently. He couldn't help but ask, "Is there something on my face? Why does Brother Wen keep studying me?"
Wen Kexing asked with a straight face, "Are you wearing a disguise?"
Zhou Zishu tensed, his face betraying nothing, "What do you mean?"
The other paid it no mind, muttering under his breath, "How strange… Really, really strange. I can't see if you're wearing a mask or not, can't be sure that you aren't, hm…"
He rubbed his chin, sounding uncertain, "I've never been wrong before; the moment I saw your butterfly bone, I knew you had to be a great beauty."
Nothing could have prepared Zhou Zishu for that answer.
Wen Kexing nodded, confirming to himself. "I'm definitely not wrong this time, of course you're wearing a disguise."
Nothing could have prepared Zhou Zishu for this answer, either.
Wen Kexing didn't stop staring at him, only giving up after a long period, "Though I can't see anything on you that would indicate such," he inclined his head backwards, "how good must you be for me to not see through your tricks? Can someone like you really exist? This is really, really, impossible…"
Gu Xiang spoke coldly, "Master, remember last time when you told me a butcher was pretty just by looking at his back?"
Wen Kexing's voice softened. "He might be a butcher, but those watery, shining eyes of his were enough were enough proof of his charms. People never care about a hero's background, why can't that be applied to a butcher too? But what does an uncultured brat like you know anyway."
Gu Xiang sighed, "Watery, shining eyes? He was just teary from yawning! And apart from that his nose was big, his mouth was big, his head was big, his ears…"
Wen Kexing's voice left no room for arguments, "Gu Xiang, you are very blind."
Zhou Zishu had nothing to do but to go check out Zhang Chengling's well-being.
1 兄 (xiōng) in this situation is used to address a man with various degrees of familiarity.
2 Originally Bahuang Liuhe / The Eight Wastelands and Six Constituents (八荒六合), 八荒 refers to extremely remote areas beyond China; 六合 means the six directions (north, south, east, west, up, down), basically everything in the universe.
3 The acupuncture point near the hip joint.
4 Zhou Zishu referred to the five hang - five phases in Chinese philosophy: wood, fire, earth, metal, water; and five gen - five senses: eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body.
5 The acupuncture point at the top middle of the head.
6 The acupuncture point at the highest point of the shoulders.
Translator’s notes. Another update today to celebrate the incoming December! I’m not good with action scenes, so hopefully this chapter is still readable ;; A ;; Also, now that all the main characters have been properly introduced, I hope you look forward to their journey!