Zhang Qianqiu broke into sweat with that single sentence.
He met Xiaozhai's eyes, feeling his legs going shaky. But, the guy was of an unyielding temperament after all and decided to let it out. "Yes, I care for Miss Qiu very much."
"Care for? That's an ambiguous description…" Xiaozhai chuckled before saying, "Whatever feeling you have for her, from this moment on, forget it."
"W-why?" Zhang Qianqiu would not give in and said stubbornly, "You have no right to interfere with other people's relationships!"
"Ha, I thought you were the smartest one. It occurs to me that Li Dong is the wisest, regardless of his slow-witted appearance. We must have been treating you too nicely, for you have forgotten one thing: Phoenix Mountain is not a company and we're no more the employers than you are the employee."
She straightened her face all of a sudden. "You three trespassed on the mountain and should consider yourselves very lucky that we're not interested in killing randomly, or you wouldn't live to the day to have this conversation!"
An enormous pressure crushed down on him, as if Mount Tai had fallen down. Zhang Qianqiu's legs gave out and he knelt down in a thump.
The muscles on his face were completely contorted and he felt all his bones were clenched in a giant hand, making crunching sounds as the hand squeezed tighter and tighter.
For a few seconds there, the horror and agony he was in reminded him of hell.
It seemed forever before the pressure was lifted and he collapsed to the ground, almost convulsing from the pain. Unfortunately, he was lucid the entire time.
Zhang Qianqiu, a young man in his twenties with a well-to-do family and successful career, was a resolute and independent man that never had difficulties in dating women. People like him were born winners that would always stand out among the crowd.
Now that the environment had changed, his self-confidence did not waver a bit—he still believed firmly that he could achieve great things. Unfortunately, he had stepped into this new world with an old mindset.
Men of the modern society cared about "face-saving" and retaining room for manoeuver in dealing with other people. Within the boundaries of the law, they played their games by the existing well-established rules and everyone was happy.
At that instant, it dawned on him: this was no civilized world bound by laws; it was a primitive, vast, and savage wilderness ran by instincts and desires.
Zhang Qianqiu gasped for air. With the little amount of strength he just recovered, he asked, "Why, why didn't you kill me?"
"I told you, I don't have the habit of killing randomly, let alone killing some defenseless guy. Of course, if you really want to die, be my guest," replied Xiaozhai.
"Ok, I see." Zhang Qianqiu struggled to his feet and said in a hoarse, low voice, "I know I don't have the power to talk to you as peers now, but one day…"
"Okay, save your tough words. You're going down the mountain in a moment. From now on, you'll be working in the manor on the northern slope. Now, leave."
His unfinished words were stuffed back down his throat. One had to admit, the guy was quite a character. He acted as if nothing had happened and even bowed before leaving the room.
Xiaozhai watched him going away and turned around abruptly. "What were you thinking? Why didn't you say anything?"
"I never knew what was going on. What was I supposed to say with your sudden move?" Gu Yu was rather baffled.
"Of course you know nothing! Your mind is all over cultivation these days!" Xiaozhai rolled her eyes and said matter-of-factly, "Xiao Qiu is mine. No one's taking her away from me!"
Gu Yu curled his lips and could not be bothered to give a comment. He was telling the truth when he said he did not notice what Zhang Qianqiu was thinking—he barely ever met the guy.
One month in court and he was thinking about stealing away the princess.
How could they not worry! They worried about the innocent 174-cm child wandering away even on a trip to the grocery's. They didn't want to kill someone for such a trivial matter, but they couldn't cut the fellow loose, either, hence the guy was confined to the manor down the mountain.
As for the revenge he mentioned, he probably had "every dog has its day" in mind… come on, who cares?
Eastern slope, the cemetery.
With Chinese New Year coming, the custom of this country was that people would visit the graves of their relatives and ancestors to honor the memory of the dead and burn some joss paper as an offering. There was only one cemetery in Bai Town and people were coming in throngs. Some walked pushing their bikes while others carried the offerings in both hands. Everyone was busy going this way and that along a narrow stone-brick-paved path.
At one of the graves in the inner corner stood the family of four.
Gu Yu lit three incense sticks, laid out the fruit and liquor, then tore open several bags of joss paper and wiped his finger across the paper. A dot of red light escaped his finger tip and the paper burst into flames.
Gu Yu had the blaze under control, confining it to a very small area. The smoke curled up and rose right upwards instead of drifting sideways. Xiaozhai stood on one side with two bags of paper gold ingots and would throw some into the flame from time to time.
Long Qiu and Xiaojin remained idle, though both were standing aside quietly without messing around with one another like they usually did.
Needless to say, it was the grave of Gu Yu's grandpa. He used to make sure to come here on important dates such as Qingming Festival 1 , Ghost Festival 2 , Chinese New Year, etc. However, such ritual was broken ever since he started cultivating. He missed the previous Chinese New Year visit, for instance, because he'd been in Huo Zhou at the time.
The fire burnt well. Before long, all that was left was a pile of black ashes.
Gu Yu knelt down a little off to the side and kowtowed three times. He rose to his feet and was about to leave when Xiaozhai went to the same spot and kowtowed three times as well.
Long Qiu was at a loss. She was going to follow suit when Gu Yu stopped her. "Ok, that's not for you. Let's go."
With that, the four left the cemetery along the path.
Gu Yu held Xiaozhai's hand the entire time. He was genuinely touched, but they were together long enough to read each other's mind and did not need to express gratitude in explicit words.
They turned north along a dirt road after leaving the cemetery. The area was even more sparsely populated.
"It's been years since grandpa passed away. I'm... so afraid these days." Gu Yu sighed suddenly.
"Afraid that you might forget one day?" Xiaozhai asked.
"Yes! Ten years or twenty years may not be too long for one to remember their parents and families, but what about a century, two centuries? The world is changing so fast, how much can we remember in the end?" Gu Yu squeezed her hand and went on, "After all the strange things we've been through, we haven't seen a real ghost. I hope there are ghosts. At least that'll give us something to hang onto."
"What you're hanging onto is at the price of many other people's fears." Xiaozhai caressed his palm with her fingertips and chuckled. "Let's move grandpa's grave to our mountain when spring comes. We'll be able to take care of him more easily that way."
"Sure, I was about to say that… Oh, by the way, where was your master buried? Shall we move her out here as well?"
Gu Yu's casually question wiped the smile off her face and for the millionth time, she fell into silence.
Watching her exquisite profile, he said softly, "You never wanted to talk about it, but I really want to know. After all, that's part of your history."
Xiaozhai remained silent.
"Ok, I won't make you tell me, but I have a wish, would you grant it?" he asked.
"What is it?"
"I have taken the hand of her only pupil and even just for the sake of courtesy, I should pay a visit to her grave. Plus, you haven't been back for many years, don't you want to see her?"
There was another long moment of silence before Xiaozhai finally nodded. "Ok."TL/N: aka Tomb-sweeping Day. During Qingming, Chinese families visit the tombs of their ancestors to clean the gravesites, pray to their ancestors, and make ritual offerings. TL/N: In Chinese culture, the fifteenth day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar is called Ghost Day and the seventh month in general is regarded as the Ghost Month, in which ghosts and spirits, including those of the deceased ancestors, come out from the lower realm. Distinct from both the Qingming Festival (in spring) and Double Ninth Festival (in autumn) in which living descendants pay homage to their deceased ancestors, during Ghost Festival, the deceased are believed to visit the living.