For the mercenaries, the night was always very long and sleep was but a luxury. Danger lurked everywhere, but there was nothing they could do about it.
Hua Yi could hardly remember the last time he blacked out and slept through the night. Even with his eyes closed, there would always be a part of his body that would stay awake.
Especially when he was alone on the road.
Living from hand to mouth wasn’t easy. From the moment he opened his eyes in the morning until the night came again, fighting was his instinct.
Hua Yi would sometimes look back and wonder what the point was in living like this. It wasn’t any fun. There was more pain than happiness, and more scars on his body than candies in his mouth. If he wanted happiness, he’d have to dig out his heart and lungs to find some fun for himself.
He had no family. He had some friends, but most of them were like him. He also dared not expect to have a wife.
There wasn’t much use in asking for it either, because maybe he’d die within a day or two. Every day, he was always on the move in order to complete the missions assigned to him by his employers. And when he’d get more money and capital, he’d have to find Jing Chu of the Snow Wolf Tribe to exact his revenge. But what came after revenge? He had no clue, no idea, and no expectations for anything.
But though he lived such a tasteless life, he didn’t want to die—he desperately did not want to die.
One time, an enemy cut his stomach open, yet he just stuffed the intestines flowing out back into his body as he crawled and waited for his companions to arrive. But on the other hand, he was also always in a half-dead state, living like a desperado with no regard for his own life. Yet, in spite of this, he had a fierce attachment to the word “alive.”
It was like he was resolute about it, or perhaps merely indignant.
He himself didn’t know why he was so contradictory.
There was only one person around, and he was sleeping. No one would see him smile, so he stopped smiling. The flickering firelight was reflected in his eyes, making it hard to see the emotions within them for only large shadows could be seen.
Hua Yi was in a daze for a while, and then he turned to look at Chang An. He watched him for a long time but still only came to the simple conclusion that this man was good-looking.
Then as if demons and gods were at work1鬼使神差 – an unexplained event; a curious coincidence, Hua Yi moved closer to Chang An and tentatively waved his hands in front of him. The teenager didn’t move. His breathing was still calm and regular, and his sleeping face was as calm as a child’s. Hua Yi sat in place for a while, but then he got so bored, he moved forward again. About a foot away from Chang An’s face, he waved his palm like a fan, setting off a small breeze and lifting a strand of hair in front of Chang An’s forehead.
Chang An remained unresponsive.
Could anyone in the world really sleep like the dead in the wilderness? Hua Yi couldn’t believe it. Unless he was born with copper skin and iron bones2铜皮铁骨 – a defensive technique that makes a person skin and muscles harder and stronger and able to withstand some attacks and was impervious to sword and spear, he would’ve died long ago no matter how capable he was.
At this time, Hua Yi’s hand had inadvertently stretched forward another inch or two forward. Who would’ve thought that when the distance was only half a finger away, Chang An, who’d been sleeping pillowed against his bag since this morning, would suddenly open his eyes. A bit of cold light was reflected in his clear eyes. This young man who was dreaming just a moment ago now exuded a piercing killing intent.
It was like… some kind of divine weapon casted by the ancient gods but had vanished from the legends. People couldn’t help but tremble all over the moment it was unsheathed.
“What are you doing?” When Chang An asked this question, his voice was still hoarse from having just woken up, yet his eyes were clear and bright as if he had never been asleep.
Hua Yi also realized that his behavior was a bit of a nuisance, so he embarrassedly pulled back his hand and ran it through his hair as he asked with a dry laugh, “You weren’t asleep?”
“I was sleeping,” said Chang An. “I won’t wake up unless you come within a foot of me.”
Hua Yi asked, “How come?”
Chang An had been sleeping nicely, but he was woken up by him for no reason. How he wished he could knock his face with the hilt of his saber as he was losing his patience. However, this was his “benefactor” after all. For the sake of his face, Chang An finally held back and kept a straight face, concealing how he had been thinking of beating someone—he was like this towards Zhe Yan and A’Yan.
Zhe Yan was crazy and unreasonable, and A’Yan was always crying. There were actually a lot of unbearable things about them, yet, surprisingly, Chang An was always tolerant of them.
While Zhe Yan scolded him, he would listen quietly. When A’Yan cried for no reason, he would go out to pick flowers with dew for her.
Right now, Chang An was staring at the forest’s damp ground and was silent for a moment. He forcefully pressed his anger back, then answered the other party’s question with a good attitude.
Hua Yi heard the young man say in a very soft and even modest tone: “Because there is nothing beyond one foot that could hurt me, so I don’t need to wake up.”
Hua Yi: “……”
He had never seen someone who could be so savage that could actually be this calm and unruffled.
“Do you have any other questions?” Chang An asked patiently.
Hua Yi was silent for a while. He casually poked at the fire and asked, “Did you live in the Bald Eagle tribe before? Have I seen you there?”
In his mind, he was plotting how he could find out the young man’s mysterious origins, but before he could fully work out a strategy, the teenager himself said it concisely and comprehensively, “I lived with Zhe Yan in the Bald Eagle tribe when I was a child. I met you there. You washed my face and bathed me in the river. I felt there was nothing I could give in return, so I just gave you a flower.”
Chang An spoke in such a manner-of-factly tone that Hua Yi couldn’t tell from his expression if he was speaking the truth or complaining about his clumsiness back then in getting a good child into the river.
“Later, Zhe Yan died. After A’yan took care of me for a few months, I went to Yufeng Mountain, where I grew up with my Shifu.”
Hua Yi was surprised. At the yin and yang ends of Yufeng Mountain, there was the Bald Eagle tribe on one side and the Snow Wolf tribe on the other. He even grew up listening to stories about that unfathomable mountain. He looked at Chang An again. For some reason, if others had said this, Hua Yi would certainly think that they were joking. But when Chang An said this, he believed it.
Look at this young man’s appearance. Wasn’t he exactly a little monster raised in the monster pile?
Hua Yi was stupefied for a moment, then asked, “Where are you going now?”
Chang An paused. He looked up at Hua Yi, and stretched out his hands and feet close to the fire to warm them up. Bei Shi, his Shifu, might as well had been a rice tub3饭桶 – a metaphor for a good-for-nothing. He’d been treating him for ten years, but he still couldn’t cure him. But on the other hand, Chang An was also really lucky. Even in the summer, his hands and feet would be cold.
After a moment of silence, Chang An said, “Aren’t there people out to kill you? I can escort you.”
Hua Yi choked for a moment, his heart skipping a beat.
Beastmen with silver marks were born with divine strength. At the age of seven or eight, Hua Yi was already able to hunt alone, which was no worse than an older hunter. Never had he expected that after so many years of parading4招摇撞骗 (idiom) – a specific kind of showing off that is intended to trick others on the front lines of life and death, a sub-beast would appear and casually say that they want to escort him.
Naturally, Hua Yi wouldn’t be stupid enough to reject the benefits being delivered to his door.
When Chang An finished talking, he clenched his fists and felt that there was finally a little warmth in the palms of his hands. He lay back contentedly, and after lying down, he softly said to Hua Yi: “If you need anything, just call me. Don’t lean over quietly and wave your hands in front of me. If I mistook you for a snake, it would be bad if I hurt you by mistake.”
Hua Yi: “……”
This bizarre person got Hua Yi so vexed for the first time in his life that he simply didn’t know what to say.
Hua Yi glanced down at his own scarred but still muscular arm. Looking at Chang An lying on his side, he silently estimated the distance of one foot, stretched out his arm, and compared it with Chang An’s waist. Then, with a rather biased look, he concluded that his arm was thicker than the other person’s waist. He said to himself, “Little brat, you haven’t seen as much of the world as I have.”
Chang An did what he said he’d do, and indeed, from the second day onwards, he followed Hua Yi with his saber on his back.
He didn’t talk much, but it wasn’t boring. He had a kind of curiosity that was peculiar to people of his age.
This wild boy who grew up in the mountains was extraordinarily ignorant that, for whatever question asked, he didn’t know the answer5一问三不知 – Literally, “replies with 3 ‘I don’t knows’ for every question”. He didn’t even know that there was a sea, and that the land was divided into the North and the South.
When the two of them had nothing else to do and were just roasting meat to eat, Chang An would listen fascinatedly to those stories of distant places and would keep urging Hua Yi to go on. Hua Yi would get so hyped up that he’d show off and talk non-stop. But soon, he found out that this brat was merely taking these novel things as stories to pass the time. Not only did Chang An had no idea about “city states,” he also didn’t know of the commonly used “beta” in the North and South continents.
“Then do you know about ‘pearl stones’?”
This time, Chang An showed an expression that he understood. “Is it money? I know this. When I was young, I saw Zhe Yan use it for exchanging things.”
“What exactly did you eat growing up?” Hua Yi asked as he fished out a beta coin from his arms. It was somewhat like a seashell, but the top of it had a glittering pearly shine.
It was said that this thing first grew at the bottom of the sea. The creatures at the bottom of the sea offended the gods, and in a fit of rage, the gods drained out the seawater. The continent rose to the surface, and the countless creatures under the sea dried up under the sun and the air and became ancient dead things. When the animals inside the shells died, the dried shells became “betas.” These betas looked very uniform, as if they had been measured with a ruler. Not one was bigger or smaller than the other. The surface of a beta was harder than steel, was very wear-resistant, and was also light and easy to carry.
It was said that people used gold and silver in the South. However, gold and silver were too heavy, so in the North, people still only accepted betas.
Hua Yi explained, “Like pearl stones, betas are also money. One beta is equal to sixteen pearl stones.”
Chang An did some mental calculations, trying to fully understand the concept of one beta being equal to sixteen pearl stones, but unfortunately, he couldn’t get it even after thinking about it for a long time. He held the “big money” and played it in his hands. After a while of finding it novel, he felt that it wasn’t so interesting. He couldn’t eat or drink it, so he threw it back to Hua Yi without any hesitation.
Zhe Yan had a few pearl stones, but Bei Shi didn’t even have any money, yet wasn’t he still able to live well? Therefore, this thing was useless.
He carefully listened to Hua Yi’s description of the “mercenaries,” and heard that these mercenaries risked being hunted down by many people to work for their employers just to get these useless things. So he looked at Hua Yi with a bit of pity in his eyes—Chang An thought he was kinda stupid.
This teenager was completely out of the loop that it made Hua Yi sometimes have the illusion that Chang An wasn’t really human. He was an animal cloaked in human skin and knew the human language.
The two of them went all the way to the East, during which they experienced more than a dozen manhunts and encirclements, big and small. Although Chang An called himself an escort, when something really happened, he would just sit on the sidelines for the most part, never doing anything until the situation turned dangerous.
His skills with the saber were so amazing, and he was only seventeen or eighteen, not too old and not too young. Because he was at such a temperamental age, Hua Yi had thought he would be very aggressive. After more than half a month, however, he found that, although Chang An acted oddly, he had his own reasons for going on his way.
If no one came to provoke him, then he wouldn’t go provoking others, so much so that he even knew to propose to Hua Yi to walk around the surrounding tribes to avoid any trouble.
He could even peacefully coexist with the animals they pass by. One time, during a break on their journey, while Chang An was sitting on the ground and drinking some water with his back against a big tree, Hua Yi witnessed a bold horned deer cub that dared to jump over Chang An. But unexpectedly, the teenager was only slightly stunned for a moment. He hardly even cared enough to lift his head.
He hunted as much as he ate and never killed indiscriminately.
In this way, Hua Yi’s mind, which had been on high alert towards him, was put down after oddly getting along with him day after day.
After getting used to this mysterious travelling companion, Hua Yi found his kind of eccentricity very cute. He lived a clean life and didn’t hide anything… But of course, it would be better if this “cute” xiao xiongdi wouldn’t sit so comfortably on a branch and eat pine cones while enjoying watching Hua Yi frantically escaping from killers.
On this day, the two men passed through a forest belonging to a certain tribe. They had intended to find a guest house where they could rest for a while, but unexpectedly, just as they approached the guest house, the two of them coincidentally stopped in their tracks, one after another, at the same time.
“It smells fishy.” Chang An turned to Hua Yi and said, “There is blood here.”