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Chapter 72 South Wall
A river divided Jade City into two, the North and the South. A large cob wall too high for the average person to climb was built on the northern shore of the river; this wall served two purposes—the first to contain the southern inhabitants, and the second to prevent them from trespassing.
Tie Hanfeng had the Golden Roc Castle killer’s yao pai, which was one form of an acceptable passport; Servant Huan was his luggage. “Follow me closely; without me, your Master, forget about getting back to the castle. You’d only rot in the south of the city and be fed to the dogs.”
The north of Jade City was one of the safest places in the Western Region or even in the whole world, whereas the south of Jade City was…
Gu Shenwei spent some time observing and finding the right word, after crossing the only pontoon bridge and entering the south of Jade City, he finally concluded that this was the most riotous place under heaven.
The first building he saw was a dilapidated brothel, erected at the crossroad and signalling to visitors exactly what the south of Jade City was all about. It was dusk now, and a listless prostitute was standing at the entrance of the brothel. Even her thick rouge and powder makeup couldn’t conceal the wrinkles under her eyes they were clearly visible in the setting sunshine. Only after nightfall would she emerge as a finely clothed beauty.
But Tie Hanfeng behaved as if he’d seen a beautiful goddess, his ruddy face was even redder than the sunset clouds on the horizon. Overjoyed, he held the prostitute and walked towards the inside. He had already crossed the threshold when he remembered his disciple who was still outside, “Do you wanna play?” he turned his head and asked half-heartedly.
Gu Shenwei immediately shook his head ‘no’.
“Then wait outside for a while, don’t go too far away.”
Gu Shenwei couldn’t stand at the door of the brothel, because if he did so he would be treated as a doorkeeper or a pimp. So he continued walking along the street and stopped after passing by three brothels and four taverns.
It was getting dark, and from the open doors and windows that lined the street, soft light was being cast out onto the dirty ground, forming a new luminous path that looked like pearls. The dilapidated brothel, the listless prostitute, even the mud on the ground had an alluring appeal under the chaotic light of the night. So, in the twinkling of an eye, the south of Jade City had changed from a hell of desperation and poverty into a heaven of drunkenness and debauchery, enticing the countless guests, now crowding the street, who suddenly appeared as if from underground.
Gu Shenwei finally understood why his father didn’t want to stay too long at Jade City: he didn’t want his three sons to be lured by the scene of feasting and revelry.
Standing at the street corner and observing the passers-by, Gu Shenwei suspected that many of these guests came from the safe northern district. Because they were all dressed gorgeously, accompanied with groups of servants, swaggering along the street like geese overseeing their territories.
Amongst the passers-by there were even killers from the castle. Their features were very conspicuous: they looked gloomy and stern and deliberately walked along the street side with their head lowered. Once someone approached, they would instantly shoot a wary look, their killing aura could even be sensed outside the street.
Golden Roc Castle required their killers to be inconspicuous all the time, but in this sleepless city filling with a cheerful atmosphere, the killer’s low profile and caution were like the wrinkles on the face of the old prostitute which were exposed under sunshine. No matter how thick the powder was, they couldn’t be concealed.
On the contrary, Tie Hanfeng, who was out of place within the castle, was like a fish in water here, and could conceal his killer identity easily.
Gu Shenwei felt a bit uneasy. He didn’t like this place. He would rather stay behind Golden Roc’s cold stone wall than stay in this clamouring crowd. This was a world he had never touched before, it was even stranger than the killer’s castle.
Most of the pedestrians tried to avoid him, this teenager was the same as those conspicuous Golden Roc killers, perhaps even more typical than them.
But there were also people interested in him, a young man wearing a poncho walked alongside him, then he turned and whispered into Gu Shenwei’s ear: “Do you want a good sabre? It is absolutely the sharpest sabre under heaven, it will not become dull even after cutting a hundred people.”
Gu Shenwei wasn’t used to being so close to a stranger, his body subconsciously leaned back and he tried to extend his right hand to touch his sabre’s hilt, then realized that he had handed over his weapon at the north of Jade City gate a long time ago.
After the blunt refusal, the young man showed no intention of retreating, instead, he continued to promote his goods, “What about poisons, I’ve got all kinds: Antiaris Toxicaria, Heartbroken Power, it won’t leave a trace at all.”
“I don’t have any money.”
Gu Shenwei hoped this would put out the man’s passion, but that young man was just stunned a bit, and then smiled, “Little brother, you mustn’t have bought anything in the southern district before. At the first look of you I knew you came outta the castle, just open your mouth if you want to earn money, or anything else, as long as ….” The young man drew his finger across his neck.
Gu Shenwei understood, the currency used by Golden Roc killers was not gold and silver, but head.
The young man was waiting hopefully for the teenager to swallow the bait when a man suddenly jumped out from aside, pushed him several steps back and ferociously spit out two words, “Fuck off!”
The young man fled and Tie Hanfeng’s face restored a smile. He hadn’t been drinking but his temper was even better than when he was drunk. He patted his disciple’s shoulder, “Don’t give a shit about those bastards, they can’t even live to see tomorrow. Just follow your Master if you wanna earn big money, even if you can’t be a killer, you’ll still live better than anybody else.” he instructed earnestly.
“No, I’ll be a killer.” Gu Shenwei’s reply was resolute and decisive, but Tie Hanfeng didn’t take it seriously, he dragged his disciple and walked purposefully, “Follow me, I’ll lead you to a good place, to see if you still want to be a killer.”
Gu Shenwei wanted to remind his Master that the purpose of this trip was to kill someone, but he couldn’t find a chance. It was said that someone had plotted secretly and wanted to kill Tie Hanfeng’s own disciple. Gu Shenwei didn’t believe this, but he wanted to see for himself his Master’s assassination techniques.
A long time ago, a section of the city wall in the south-west corner of Jade City had collapsed and was left broken since then. Many stores extended out of the city because of this and formed a new bustling territory outside the city. The so-called ‘good place’ mentioned by Tie Hanfeng was located in this area. Since it backed onto the collapsed city wall, it was called ‘southwall’.
“As the saying goes one will not turn back unless one bumps into the south wall, do you know what follows? No one will turn back once they’ve entered southwall, haha.”1
Tie Hanfeng was as excited as a kid, ‘killing someone’ had purely become an excuse for pleasure-seeking, he’d already forgotten his purpose completely before entering the southwall tavern.
Unlike other places, southwall tavern was very mean with the light. The darkened doorway would be easily overlooked by unfamiliar passersby.
The doorkeepers were two fatties, one tall and one short. They body searched every guest and seized every weapon they found: sabre, sword, and dagger. “Claim on exit,” they would add these words emotionlessly after the confiscation.
Tie Hanfeng was obviously a regular customer here, he spread his arms to show he was unarmed and entered directly without a body search. The two fatties bowed happily to him, but they blocked the teenager following behind and did a thorough search before pushing him inside.
Gu Shenwei’s first impression on southwall tavern was the same as the whole southern district; terrible. He felt a mixture of disdain, disgust and a dash of wariness. He could never have imagined that, in the future, he would treat this place as a second ‘home’. And since he had lost his first ‘home’, this would be his own ‘home’.
What most surprised Gu Shenwei was that Tie Hanfeng was a big shot here.
Lame Tie’s obsequious appearance at Golden Roc Castle was imprinted on Gu Shenwei’s heart, so when he saw almost every guest and waiter enthusiastically greet his Master and invite him for a drink in the tavern, he first thought it was a misunderstanding.
The tavern had a spacious layout and was ablaze with lights inside. It was filled with tables of all sizes, and more than a dozen waiters squeezed through the crowd to meet the needs of all the guests: their movements were so light and nimble that they’d easily meet Tie Hangfeng’s ‘Do not touch the ground’ standard.
Intoxicating liquors were the foundation of southwall’s fame. It had collected the finest liquors in the world, from east to west and north to south. A guest from the Central Plains, which was thousands of miles away, could drink the specially fermented Fen liquor, Diao liquor of their hometown, and also sample varieties of wine they’d never heard of before. Guests who wanted to try new things would usually order a cup of each brand, they could drink from the second watch periods until daybreak and the same spirit would never be served twice. The experienced drinkers would only order a single type and savour it until they became drunk.
Gu Shenwei lost his way as soon as he came inside, and it took some time for him to see his Master who was sitting and waving at him from the corner.
Intoxicating liquors of various colors covered the table in front of Tie Hanfeng. Although he was an alcoholic, he had never sampled all the brands and reached the experienced level. He drank like the guests who came to southwall for the first time, focusing more on quantity than quality.
Tie Hanfeng pushed a cup of red wine towards his disciple, “Drink!” He said hoarsely.
Gu Shenwei shook his head. Tie Hanfeng stuffed the jade cup into his disciple’s hand, “Every killer drinks, this is a technique you must learn.”
Naturally Gu Shenwei didn’t believe this statement, but he still raised the wine cup. Looking at the blood-like liquid, he felt a wave of nausea from deep inside his stomach. In the past monthly tests he had successively killed three people, but this feeling still followed him. This was his secret, so he followed his Master’s example and drained the cup dry.
The acidic, sweet wine roiled up a whirlwind in his stomach, it blew away his nausea, and then seemed to blow all his feelings away too.
Gu Shenwei drank one cup after another like his Master. People came to talk and drink with Tie Hanfeng now and then. Tie Hanfeng had the ability to pour liquor into his mouth while talking without pause, he drank even faster than his silent disciple.
At first Gu Shenwei just focused on drinking, he gradually understood his Master’s talks were not simple greetings between acquaintances, but exchanges of all kinds of information.
A man, lean like bamboo, said a fatty of Shu Le County died at cherry-apple alley. Then a one-eyed man whispered I have a batch of goods, I’m looking for someone to escort it to the Central Plains. Tie Hanfeng kept it in mind, he waved his hand and called in a shabby middle-aged man, telling him there was business to do and it was not ‘official goods’ so he could price a bit higher. The middle-aged man bowed in thanks and walked into the crowd to find the single-eyed man. Tie Hanfeng then called the thin man nearby and stuffed a small bag of silvers in his hand.
This was all done while a cup of liquor was on his lips.
The later it became, the more people arrived at the tavern. People seemed to keep squeezing inside, and no one wanted to leave. Tie Hanfeng’s business was very good, he took out a lot of silvers but brought in more. When less people approached him, he finally started talking of everything under the sun with some real drinking buddies.
There were many drinking buddies and they had various appearances, but Gu Shenwei was sure that there was no Golden Roc killers amongst them. He only remembered one man.
That man had a long, horse face and a disproportionately small mouth. He talked with Tie Hanfeng the longest. They were good old friends and had done many big deals together. The two talked while drinking and gradually became nostalgic. They started recalling the sweet times of youth, their deceased good friends, their beautiful and emotional women; they even recalled their long-buried enemies with tears in their eyes.
After midnight the customers gradually dispersed. The horse-faced man hugged Tie Hanfeng and also waggly walked away.
Tie Hanfeng had had a real good time. Fully satisfied and contented, he stroked his belly, looked at the face of his disciple, and said: “Go, kill that bastard.”
- Translator’s note: One will not turn back unless one bump into the south wall is an chinese old saying, it is used to show someone is too stubborn to listen to others’ suggestions. ↩