It was clear that the owner of this uncoordinated half-Japanese, half-Chinese looking mansion was an obstinate and persevering man, who had deep faith and worship in his own origin.
It was late at night, and the mansion was absolutely quiet, save for the slight breeze coming from afar.
A crying voice, together with an incessant knowing of the copper ring on the door, broke the silence.
"Who's causing such a ruckus!?" Another voice boomed from within the mansion almost instantly.
Above the layers of tree bark, flashing black figures could vaguely be seen. Weapons were aimed at the incoming guests.
"Your humble subordinate, Guo Er, is here!" the person banging the copper ring yelled. "Something big has happened, Mayor!"
"The mayor does not receive guests at night! How dare you cause a disturbance at this time of the night?" the authoritative voice responded. "Go back to Su Yinghua!"
"Master Su has been assassinated!"
A loud voice broke out, causing the stern voice from inside the mansion to stop. Upon digesting the news, the man inside the mansion could be heard shuffling, and after some time a voice broke out again. It was no longer heavy but sharp and metallic. "What is it?"
"I don't understand either... there's an assassin, and even a letter was left alongside Master Su's dead body!" Guo Er reported a step away from the opened door, which cast light onto his face as he held a letter above his lowered head.
A dim light spread outward and past Guo Er and a few familiar-looking Rong bailiffs before shifting away. Some time later, a low voice could be heard.
The extremely thick door finally opened. The man's build was unlike most Rong men. His eyes were slightly brown and contained an ominous glint.
He raised his head and looked toward Sir Su's corpse lying on a straw mat on a wheelbarrow, asking in shock, "Why did you drag the body here?"
"Sir," Guo Er greeted, bending down. "Sir Su lost his life nearby. He had detected abnormal activities among the Han citizens. He had been harmed on the way here before he could report it to you. We had no choice but to..."
Ah Shina crinkled his brows, repeating, "Close by?" As if remembering something, he added, "Let me look at the wound and maybe I'll know a little something about the killer."
Guo Er handed the letter over, and a guard went forward to take it. "Don't bring your dirty hands so close." At that, he turned to pass it to Ah Shina, who then accepted it and walked toward the wheelbarrow. Sir Su's face seemed paler under the moonlight, his eyes rolled to the back. It was a cold and eerie sight.
Of course, Ah Shina wasn't afraid of dead bodies. He unhurriedly opened the letter, only to find that it was tightly sealed. He stared at Sir Su's body while subconsciously licking the seal and softening it.
By the time the letter was unveiled, he had reached the corpse.
He lifted the reed mat to cover Sir Su's face while briefly glancing at the thin sheet of paper in his hand.
It was soft, and the words on it were big, bold and cursive.
The moment he set his eyes properly onto the sheet of paper Ah Shina seemed to have realized something, instantly jolting backward.
It was too late, however.
A pair of bloodied, yet delicately-shaped hands shot out from Sir Su's chest area, piercing through it, and toward Ah Shina's throat.
Like lightning, the hands jerked in midair, and as Ah Shina attempted to dodge, he felt his chest tighten, and his legs weaken. At that moment the steeled hands had reached his throat and gripped his windpipe.
'This is it,' he thought. While it was just a pair of hands, the steady force between the fingers was solid as a rock, making it almost impossible for anyone to break free.
With a flick of the fingers, bits of flesh flew outward. Immediately after, Sir Su's corpse sat up. Under the cool moon the pale-white corpse, with a hole in its chest and a pair of hands sticking out from it and grabbing Ah Shina's neck, seemed to have jumped out from a horrifying and sinister painting.
Some witnesses had gone weak in the knees and dropped their lamps to the ground. Flames rose, but no one made any comments.
Amid the terror, bell-like laughter chimed---
"Zhangsun Wuji's ideas are good, but it's a pity I don't have transparent gloves."
---and amid the laughter Sir Su's corpse went limp, and a black figure sat up from the wheelbarrow seat, his hands still around Ah Shina's throat. "Thank you, Mayor, how generous of you to agree immediately."
Ah Shina stared at the stranger - a youth - and inhaled. "Who... are you?"
Instead of answering, the youth sniffed his own body, filled with the stench of a corpse, before shooting a fierce glance into the darkness far away. "I've done the hard work so why aren't you showing yourself yet, lazy man?"
A low laugh emerged along with a white figure, whose lips were a light pink and eyes were in a warm arc. It was Zong Yue.
Naturally, the youth was Meng Fuyao. She stretched her hand and led Ah Shina toward him. "Come, come, Mayor. It's so late already, why are we eating wind out here?"
Pushing Ah Shina into the hall with much swagger, Meng Fuyao waved her sleeve to shut the door. She then dragged a piece of paper over and said, "Write what I say."
She spoke a few sentences, and Ah Shina's face changed. "No!" he growled.
Before his voice fell, a clamor sounded from afar. It sounded like rumbling shouts and cries, powerful enough to split mountains. Amid the clamor was the clanging of swords, and it was closing in wave by wave.
Meng Fuyao's face changed as she pricked her ears up to listen. Zong Yue, who was standing beside her, informed, "A big group is coming this way. News... might have spread."
Following his comment, rain-like poundings could be heard from the door. A few tries were all it took for the door to give way. A bunch of colorfully-dressed Rong men barged in while hissing, and their leader had a few human heads in his hands. Blood dripped, leaving a long line-like trace on the ground.
"Mayor! This family colluded with outsiders to kill Garison's sons, and we have slaughtered his family. Please send soldiers to capture the murderer!"
Heads were handing off and swinging beneath his fingers. The hair on those heads was white and scar-filled. They appeared to be the old Han couple.
Meng Fuyao, who had already retreated into the inner part of the hall, managed to recognize the victims and was unable to control her expression.
Zong Yue was right beside her and could detect the incessant gritting of her teeth and extreme trembling of her body. Worried that she would lead her inner energy astray from fury, he placed his palm on the middle of her back.
This went completely unnoticed by her. All she felt was the heat in her body and the coldness in her hands and feet. There seemed to be a surge of boiling water in her chest sending bouts of burning pain that shot speedily throughout the rest of her body. It was so overwhelming that she felt her heart could burst at any moment.
She was the one who had suggested the civilian shelter. She was the one who had failed to get rid of all the Rong men present. She had failed to prevent a vengeful act from occurring. She had been careless. She hadn't stayed by the couple's side because she was overly confident that news wouldn't spread. She had unknowingly turned into a murderer!
Four lives were gone.
'I have indirectly killed them.'
Anger brewed from her core and her eyes darkened. She was no longer able to control the strength of her grip around Ah Shina's neck. Her fingers twitched slightly, and Ah Shina felt her palms tightening significantly. He attempted to struggle free but to no avail. His face started turning purple as if about to die from asphyxiation.
Uneasy, Zong Yue jabbed her, instantly clearing her mind. She relaxed her grip, and Ah Shina panted for breath while trying to straighten his neck as much as possible. Meng Fuyao turned her head, blood evident in her eyes. She looked coldly at Ah Shina, her eyes sending a chill down his spine.
She simply spoke, word by word and slowly, "All here? Very good. What are you waiting for? You're the host. Ask them in, quickly!"
On the 15th year under Wuji king's reign and a slightly cold winter night, the first unrest had taken over Yaocheng, in which Rong and Han people had been cohabitating for years.
Things started when an ordinary Rong man had been seeking revenge and interrupted by a girl, which then led to a silencing massacre. One Rong man had escaped and gathered his people to seek justice at the mayor's residence. Yet, the girl had simply waited idly, first killing the assistant official and then seizing the mayor. After that, she forced the mayor to invite the important parties in for a "business discussion". Out of respect for him, the Rong men removed their weapons before entering, and upon entering a few of them were called into the inner room for a "one-on-one meeting".
No one knew what happened after, except that those missing had left no trace of existence at all. It was a few days later that a servant had found bloodstains on the door sill of the inner room. Those traces seemed to have been left soaking and had become unremovable. Since the sill reached one's ankle, there was no way for blood to collect in the groove unless a significant amount of blood - an ankle-deep amount at least - had been accumulated some time before.
How much fresh blood was involved?
And to whom did it belong?
The secret behind the missing Rong men would forever remain as one, together with the skinny figure from that night, who exuded a deadly aura and whose walk was light and breezy. The blood from the tip of her sword blade meshed dripped onto the ground between intervals, meshing into the big pool of blood and eventually being buried by Time.
Apart from the few who came to understand their bad luck, the rest had gone into the main hall to wait for the mayor. While envying those companions who had been called in individually, they drank tea and chatted loudly. But after a few sips from their tea, they collapsed onto the ground simultaneously.