|The Scar Inside: kind of a sequel
Author: WuXia Translator PM
Escape to Han Dynasty China...Spectacular fight scenes done WU XIA style!Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Romance - Chapters: 11 - Words: 38,379 - Reviews: 11 - Published: 08-09-05 - id: 1982114
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The doctor pulled back Eighth Sister's sleeve to reveal a dark gash on her forearm. Pus already protruded on the edges of the wound, as well as jagged scar tissue and dead skin. The doctor shook his head.
"I have seen many of these cases, what with women playing swords – why, back in my day…" he sighed, "Well, you've paid me for the medicine and not the opinion. You won't lose this limb, but you will have to undergo a painful procedure immediately."
Xinyu sat by Eighth Sister, as the doctor got out a black smelly ointment and several sharp tools. The old man rolled back his sleeves and took up one of the knives.
"I will have to remove all of that puss, and possibly some of the scabs to prevent further infection. Then this ointment should do well for the healing."
Eighth Sister winced as the scalpel scraped at the pus, hitting the sore spots time and again, relentlessly scraping the wound until she wanted to pull away and shout at the old man to stop. But still, the doctor kept on until she wasn't sure if the pain was real or not.
"You might need to grasp hold of something," suggested the doctor, "this part will especially hurt."
At first, Eighth Sister thought she could hold the pain without any help, but then the new scrapings of the scabs felt like her arm was slitting in two. She clawed around with her good hand, grasping at the straw mat and dirt on the floor, but they were rough and only distracted her. Then her fingers brushed Xinyu's and she grasped the fighter's hand tight. She felt his calluses rub against her own – they had both been through rough times, and winced as the pain from her wound reached a new height. But the pain was a clean sort of pain, not the controlling, evil kind from Yi Su's beatings or Third Brother's tortures with his drugs. Xinyu had told her all what happened the other night with Third Brother and the Royal Guards while she woke up from her delirium.
Xinyu smiled to himself as the ex-Assassin's hands tightened around his. The doctor got out the black ointment and started spreading the rubber mess all over the wound.
After the doctor wrapped several feet's worth of gauze around Eighth Sister's arm, Xinyu reached into his pocket and drew out a few coins from when the Governor of Chao State had paid him, for neither the Emperor nor the Senior Official had paid the Imperial Body Guards yet.
When he saw the doctor to the door of the abandoned temple, Xinyu realized with a sick feeling what the Senior Official was bound to do– kill as many people that suspected him as possible, but not before they gave all they had to offer, so as not to pay out a lot of wages for a lot of work done.
"You have hard luck, Eighth Sister," Xinyu started when he returned, "I mean – we almost got killed so many times…"
"Yen—not Eighth Sister" she said, "That was my name before I was Eighth Sister. Now Eighth Sister is dead. She died with Yi Su. So I'm Yen again." And then she added, "I want title too. Yen the Scarred One, feared by all." A smile formed on her lips, shifting the white gash on her face. As Xinyu laughed, she realized it was good feeling – the scar shifting like that.
"Where have you been?" asked Weng when Xinyu returned to their assigned inn. Servants sent by the Senior Official could be seen moving out the furniture set up for the rooms of Na Win and Lu Feng. Their funerals were today.
"Go put on your mourning robes," snapped Weng, "Then meet me out in the courtyard." Xinyu eyed him suspiciously. Even after Cai's death – the death of his dearest comrade – Weng had remained reasonably calm. And he had never spoken to Xinyu in that tone before. Obviously it was the fact that the emperor almost got killed, but could Weng possibly suspect Xinyu?
The funeral processions included a long hike through the streets of Xian, where news of the attempted assassination had spread like wildfire. Even the homeless knew that someone else other than the Assassins themselves had made it possible for the enemy to enter the Palace, especially the inner Garden where the famed assassin Wang Yi Su had impersonated a song girl! The news was scandalous, as it showed that the organizers of the emperor's Fortieth Grand Birthday had purposefully planted the Assassins there. And Recruits, the escaped prisoners that Xian had talked about only weeks before, had murdered the entire Royal Guard on duty that night, not counting the Army and new candidates!
The Senior Official himself knew all this, and spent the entire morning planning on how to cover up his failed act of assassination. Any logical thinking person, including Weng Mi, would sooner or later put together the pieces and accuse the Official. And correct they would be. The Senior Official had worked many years to this top position – the emperor would no out rightly suspect him. But still, he was not about to go anywhere soon. He was at the top and he would stay at the top.
An Assassin was still out loose. She must die. But then the Senior Official remembered that the Royal Guards were dead. Well, he couldn't bring them back to life and make them search for her. So he would have to train the new candidates. Of course, it had been he, too, who sabotaged the old Royal Guard, and Xinyu knew that; he had also used black mail against Xinyu - not good. Xinyu must die. Weng had eyed him suspiciously during the song girl's dance and he might have suspected Yi Su. He would like to see Weng dead, but that man was too smart for him. If he tried to kill Weng to prevent evidence leak, it would be too suspicious. The other two fighters were already dead, as could be seen from the two hearses carried through the streets. The Senior Official nodded. Two down, two more to go – three if possible.
They arrived on the mountain behind Xian, where several Officials and their menservants had also come to pay their respects. Weng and Xinyu knelt before Lu Feng and Na Win's two graves, side by side, as the primary mourners – they were the closest things to family the two fighters had ever had.
Then one by one the other people come to pay their respects knelt behind them and bowed. All wore white headbands and flowing white robes, the opposite to red, the color of blood, and the color of life.
"Where are you off to now?" asked Weng, "You know there are people trying to kill us. Night is not particularly a safe time for a walk." Xinyu stopped in his tracks out the door and turned. He had been thinking of checking up on Eighth Sister, but now it seemed like it wasn't going to happen soon. The dark sky was dense and seemed to be filled with more blackness than before.
"Xinyu, we are brothers and comrades in the Jian Hu. There is something you are not telling me."
The young fighter from Guilin gave Weng a side-glance. The scholar continued, "I have been through your road, Xinyu. I know. You are hiding that scarred girl."
Xinyu thought for a long time. Finally he admitted, "What if I am? They'll never find her." Then he stood up taller, "You'll have to kill me first."
"You are the last comrade I have in the Jian Hu, Xinyu. I cannot turn you in. It is sealed in our brother's oath. I have already let three of us die. Weng will not kill another brother."
"So what do you plan to do?"
"What do you think? Either we both die, or the girl dies. You two can never exist together outside of your head. She is an Assassin. Even if you desert me and run from Xian, which I doubt you can since the Emperor will no doubt shut the Xian gates, you will be running fugitives for the rest of your lives. The senior Official knows he cannot kill me. But he can kill you.
"- or the girl. I cannot force you, but I trust that you will come around. Now is a good time."
Xinyu turned to the door. "I will never abandon her! She saved my life! What kind of person would I be if I turned her in?" And he stormed out into the night. Weng shook his head. He will come around, he thought, he had better come around.
Eighth Sister heard voices outside the abandoned temple, and tumbled out of her straw mat. She slid on her black tunic, as this was what she was wearing since the attack on the emperor. She felt around in the darkness for her blade, and winced from the pain the groping around produced in her arm. Finding the handle, she unsheathed it, gathered her stuff, and opened the door slightly.
Voices shouted in the distance as torches cast long shadows down the alleyway. Eighth Sister crept around the building and waited to hear what her enemies might do.
Feet clattered into the shack where the girl had been seconds earlier, and they stopped short.
"Not a trace of a living soul," someone said. Another said, "Doesn't seem like anyone's used this place for years- stupid abandoned temple." Eighth Sister smiled to herself – so she had learned some things from her years with the Assassins.
"But what will we tell the Senior Official?" a third voice asked, "'Dead or alive' he said, 'the boy and the girl. Weng too if you can manage it. But at least one of them must die.'"
Eighth Sister gasped despite herself. As the searchers left, she waited a long time before she crept back around the corner. Then she creaked open the rusting door and set up her sleeping mat again. She lay in the darkness for a long time, thinking about life and death, about her current fugitive situation and about Xinyu. He had done enough for her. She would not be a lead weight for him any longer.
The Emperor sat in his throne counting his new Royal Guards. He stood up finally, the beads on his crown clacking together.
"I want you to firmly shut the Xian city gate. Absolutely no one goes in or out until the last Assassin is found. Obey the Senior Official. I have left the finer details of this case to him."
"We hear and we obey." And they clattered out of the palace towards the four gates of Xian.
As they left, the Senior Official stepped up to the Emperor.
"Your majesty," he said, "I have found out who is hiding the last Assassin. But it is rather a complicated deal. You see it happens to be one of the body guards that you hired."
"Your Majesty," panted Weng, just entering the Emperor's study, "Your Majesty, I beg you not to kill Xinyu. Although he hid the Assassin, I have a better solution."
Two figures sat atop the roof, both with scars.
"Eighth – I mean, Yen," Xinyu said, "The gates out of Xian are closed. Looks like you'll have to wait a few days to get out of here."
"Xinyu," whispered the scarred girl, "What is life? The smallest of flowers is alive and the greatest swords master is too. What is the difference? They both come into being, and are stamped out like a dying fire. I would say the flower had it easier."
"But the swords master accomplished more," said Xinyu.
"No, the flower was smarter. It didn't have as many scars, and died so pure and simple…I would rather die now than wither away."
"What are you talking about?" and Xinyu started to furrow his brows. But it didn't matter, he thought. Time spent with this ex-Assassin was like a dream. It could not be real, but it was so sweet…
A thin slice of a moon cast its pale glow on the town square. Several new Royal Guard, hand selected by the Senior Official, and Weng himself waited for the ex-Assassin to show up. They had only recently received a letter:
"I will not tell you where I am hiding to allow a pitiful arrest and the consequential other arrest that would follow. I will go down with dignity like my Master Wang and my Brothers and Sister Wang Yi Su – by the blade. You will fight me with swords only. Tonight when the moon rises. The Xian town square. In return, you must promise me that Xinyu had nothing to do with this."
"Are we ready, Weng?" asked the Senior Official, "I promised that Xinyu could go free. And the new Royal Guards -"
"Shut up!" said Weng as he gripped his blade. The Official backed away- he would not be fighting. Weng let out a nervous sigh. A sword only, was Eighth Sister's condition. Weng's best weapon was not a sword. He held it at a strange jutted-out angle. Perhaps even the new Royal Guards were better than he.
Slowly a figure appeared in the shadows, wearing not an Assassin's tunic, but the clothes of a normal woman. The only thing apart from a civilian was the scar on her face, and the Assassin's Blade.
Wordlessly, she planted herself in front of the Royal Guards. But her eyes fell first on the Senior Official, standing well at a distance from the physical fighting, and then landed on Weng Mi.
She gripped her scabbard and slid it off, the metal sword going twang! But she let go of the scabbard this time, pushed it all the way off, letting it hit the ground with a deafening ring that echoed throughout the deserted town square.
Weng unsheathed his own blade and bowed the handclasp. The ex-Assassin curtsied in the female martial arts bow, sideways with the blade horizontal. The Royal Guard unsheathed their blades and bowed like Weng did. Eighth Sister did so again.
Xinyu rushed from the shack. Yen was not there! Where could she be…!
"Eighth Sister! Yen!" he called, until the words she said to him the previous night suddenly became clear. She had turned herself in, and knowing Eighth Sister, she would not go down without a fight. No doubt it would not be a fair fight; it was mortal combat. And the only place big enough for such combat was the town square.
He saw the torches and flickering blades only after he recognized Yen's scar dashing all around. She was putting up a good fight, as several Royal Guard lay stiff on the ground, but it was nevertheless a losing fight.
"No!" he shouted, and lunged into the crowd.
"Restrain him," ordered the Senior Official, and immediately several dozen Guards surrounded Xinyu. He could not see out of the human thicket, even he slashed them; more just came to fill the slight holes he made.
Yen, Eighth Sister of the Wang style, looked at the world a last time, a dodging, slashing, vicious world. It had been a fun fight. She knew she had to let go and die soon. Death – she had been so ready for it. But now…no, she told herself. Life is good, but you cannot continue living it. If Xinyu will stay alive, your life will have to be spared.
She twisted around, and aimed her torso at the protruding blade that stuck out at a weird angle. That would be my death blade she thought, as she let a Guard knock her Assassin's blade aside, the Assassin's poem on it splitting into two pieces.
Xinyu finally broke loose – just in time to see Weng's blade run through Eighth Sister, clean through her torso and into six inches of air beyond.
Shocked, Weng yanked out the blade. The ex-Assassin gasped and crumpled to the floor. Weng had not expected this. He had wanted one of the Royal Guards to take her. He was just there to pacify the Senior Official. He did not want Xinyu mad at him…
The Royal Guards surrounding Xinyu backed away as he ran to the bleeding girl.
"Yen!" He felt the rage well up inside him, like when his mother and Maylin were killed. But they had died instantly, not hanging on like this. And so Xinyu contained his rage.
"Life goes on, Xinyu." She attempted a weak smile. She reached out with her bandaged arm. Xinyu grasped it again. "No. No. No," he said continuously.
"Hey- no fuss now. Remember I don't like pity. Just remember what I look like."
"Yes," cried Xinyu, and he cared not who saw the tears. He placed his hands over the scar, covering it like when they first met.
"No…" she said, removing his hand, "remember the scar. Everything else will fade from memory. It is the scar that lasts."
Weng knelt before the emperor.
"So I trust that all people behind the case have been caught?" asked the Emperor, "And all the people's suspicions taken care of?"
"Yes, your majesty."
"But…" said the Senior Official, "We have to problem of who within the palace let in the Assassin in the first place. That, I have discovered, happens to be Xinyu, the younger comrade of the body guards your Majesty hired."
"Your majesty," Weng said right away, "Xinyu may have hidden the Assassin known as Eighth Sister, but he was young and foolish warrior, inexperienced in love, blinded by you know…those wuxia fancies."
"I think not –"
"You Majesty," and at this Weng Mi went to his knees, "If you may forgive my impudent mouth, I say that this particular Eighth Sister actually helped us, and, if not for her sworn name and allegiance, I would say her heart was on our side.
"Ever since she could remember, she has remembered obeying nobody but her Master's oldest daughter, the Assassin Wang Yi Su. When she discovered that the torture and abuse she suffered was not common for all martial artists, she had a change of heart.
"And if I may say so, the Imperial Decree states that we live. The Imperial Decree cannot be rewritten."
The emperor thought for a long time and finally ordered the Guards to bring in the locked up Xinyu. The young fighter arrived in chains and the Guards kicked him into a kneeling position besides Weng.
"Young fighter," said the emperor, "do you know why you are being brought here today?"
"Your Majesty wishes to personally proclaim my death sentence."
"No. I have heard the testimony of both sides, of Weng and the Senior Officials, and decided on this. You and your comrade in arms will both live, as guaranteed in my Imperial Decree. However, you will be stripped of your titles, your inn, and your Imperial Body Guard status. You will never be allowed to set foot in the Imperial Palace and grounds again."
Both fighters clasped their hands, Xinyu under rattling chains, and touched their foreheads to the ground.
"Xinyu!" shouted Weng, "It's a new day! We leave Xian this morning!" He already shouldered his pack and walked around their personal inn, past the empty rooms of Lu Feng and Na Win, and stopped in front of the closed doors of Xinyu.
He knocked twice, and then resorted to banging on the doors. Finally he dropped his pack, and kicked the sliding door aside.
"Xinyu!" he shouted again. In the darkest corner, Xinyu sat huddled, unshaven, still in his nightclothes.
"Xinyu! This is unacceptable! What did that girl tell you- Life goes on!"
Xinyu turned around, his back to the light that flooded in from the door. Weng rushed around and pulled back the draped curtains.
"You must learn something from all this, Xinyu, instead of sulking around like so. You are still alive, so you must go on. If you want to die – go ahead. Your Masters Blade is still there. Pick it up and end this all. Go join Eighth Sister. To say the truth, the Senior Official would be happy."
Xinyu turned to the door. He saw his Master's Blade, the jewels on it glinting in the sunlight.
"Did Eighth Sister really sacrifice herself so you could die too? She meant for you to live, Xinyu! Go ahead- kill yourself. If you really wanted to, you would have succeeded in that by now! You had all last night to do it, and even now. But you still want to live. We all want to live."
Two figures strode out of the gates of Xian, four less than they had started with. One carried a pouch of throwing knives; the other, the Masters Blade. Any passing civilian would say they were just ordinary shipping guards, and never would suspect that ex-Imperial Body Guards had just passed them. But then again, things fade.
The two walked a distance apart, but kept in the same direction; perhaps their friendship a little strained, a little scarred, but still whole, like everything else in the Jian Hu.