The clover mat at the entrance of the guest house had fallen off, and inside lay two corpses in disarray. One was in beast form, and the other, who hadn’t had time to transform, seemed to have been killed from behind when trying to escape. Part of his body was missing, and based on the trace left behind, it may have been carried away by a passing beast.
Hua Yi looked at the corpse and thought for a moment. When he turned his head around, he saw in the forest not far away several pairs of green eyes covetously looking over. With no hesitation, Hua Yi transformed into his giant beast form and gave a low growl to those wolves.
Chang An then saw those animals salivating for the dead meat shrink back for a moment before slowly retreating. He couldn’t help but look at this big guy with envy, thinking of how useful his move was.
Afterwards, Chang An bent down, not at all minding the dirt. He turned over the corpse with his hands, carefully examined the wounds on the dead man, and judged: “An arrow, two longswords1长剑 (cháng jiàn) – A type of jian sword (more about jian swords in a different note in this chapter)., and a scimitar2弯刀 (wān dāo) – Literally, “bent saber.”. In the end, he was killed by the scimitar.”
Longswords and scimitars were actually the first choice of most beastmen hunters.
Scimitars were very common in tribal wars. They could be used on horseback and had a wide range of attacks.
Longswords were usually three to five feet long, and were as wide as two adult palms. The lightest longswords, which were fit for growing children, weighed around 30 catties3斤 (jin) = equivalent to around half a kilogram. In the legends, there were those that weighed as much as 100 catties. And since beastmen were naturally strong and tall, they mostly wouldn’t take advantage of weapons that were too short. The short sabers they carried were generally tools and were not used for fighting and hunting… Of course, there were special cases, such as Hua Yi’s nine-inch short saber. It wasn’t used for roasting meat, and was instead generally for assassination.
Someone like Chang An who carried a horse-chopping saber on the road everyday was very rare, for in real combat, a double-edged sword was always easier to handle than a single-edged saber.4 剑 (jiàn) and 刀 (dāo) – Historically, all Chinese sword-like weapons are classified into two types: jian and dao. Jians are double-edged straight swords, while daos are single-edged and curved, and often translated as saber. The “blade” in the novel title is translated from dao (which, by the way, can also be used as a general term for any bladed weapon), and likewise, this novel explores more on the dao than on the jian.
Chang An reached inside the corpse’s clothes, probed around, and found a black iron plate in the dead man’s arms. He picked up the small plate that was dripping with blood and examined it for a while. Not sure what the thing was for, he asked Hua Yi. “Do you know what this is?”
“It’s a distress card,” said Hua Yi after turning back into his human form and just giving it a glance. “He’s an envoy, sent to ask for help from nearby tribes. There was probably a tribal war.”
Chang An glanced at him and knew that Hua Yi hadn’t spoken the truth. He intuitively felt that Hua Yi must know something he didn’t know. However, Chang An didn’t say anything. Whether it was a tribal war or not, it had nothing to do with them.
It was late summer and early autumn, a time for a bumper harvest of sprout wheat, whether planted by people or grown in the wild. Many fruits and vegetables could also be picked. The weather was neither hot nor cold, and the animals in the forest weren’t far away, so hunting wasn’t a problem. It was the best time of the year, and it wasn’t at the point that it was difficult to make a living. Usually at this time, everyone would be preparing food for the winter in their own tribe. Who would go all the way to another tribe to wage war?
It could only be that they had encountered a ghost tribe.
There were a few of these so-called “ghost tribes.” These tribes scarcely had any sub-beasts, and most of their women had been taken by force. They didn’t work, had no fixed homes, and would just wander around. They would bypass the powerful tribes but target on the weak, small ones. All year round, they would rob for a living.
Hua Yi was deep in thought. This place… was not far from his employer’s tribe. Looking at the direction the envoy was running to, perhaps this small tribe was even under the protection of his employer.
Hua Yi nudged Chang An on the shoulder, stood up, and said, “It’s none of our business. Let’s go.”
Chang An glanced at the empty guest house and asked, “You’re not gonna stop over?”
Hua Yi said casually, “Stop over shit, the fighting outside is so noisy, how could you sleep? Aren’t you afraid that a man’s head will fly in through the window and wake you up?”
Chang An said “oh,” apparently unmoved. Hua Yi immediately recalled his unique skill of falling asleep anytime, anywhere, and his teeth hurt a little. Right, this person could sleep regardless of the situation. He had almost forgotten.
Both of them were not slow on their feet, and they walked on as if they were hastening their journey in the night. Deep in an unfamiliar forest, even an old hunter could only estimate the general direction. It was impossible to find the exact way unless they were locals. As a result, although Hua Yi had wanted to skirt around the other tribe, he still accidentally passed the battlefield.
It was inappropriate to call it a battlefield though—the war seemed to be over.
Hua Yi’s ears twitched. From the wind came the sound of people’s miserable cries and screams, as well as a child’s young and tender voice that had gone hoarse from crying.
But apart from the fact that this was happening at the wrong time of the year, a war like this one was nothing new in the North.
Each tribe occupied a certain territory and enjoyed the animals, plants and food around them. The poor areas suffered from hunger and cold, and the rich areas were fed and watered. There shouldn’t have been a tribe as weak as this one occupying such a good place.
They should have just washed their neck clean and waited5Waiting for someone to kill you, since to behead is to chop at the neck., or got out of the way before it was too late.
As for the fate of the defeated side, it would depend on the mood of the victor. If they were merciful, they could spare the locals and let them join their tribe. But even if they weren’t merciful, there was nothing wrong with killing all the prisoners of war. However, no matter how merciful or unmerciful, the Chief and the Elders of the defeated side couldn’t stay. One had to cut the weeds and dig up the roots6To destroy evil, leaving no chance for its revival. Their young children were to be roasted over the fire till they dried, and the body oil left behind were to be paid as tribute for the souls of the warriors who died in battle.
Besides, this was obviously a raid by a ghost tribe, which had come to rob maliciously. Instead of counting on them to be merciful, people would be better off hoping for the blessing of the drowned gods who had long fallen into a river who knew where.
Listening to the child’s shrill and hysterical scream, Hua Yi knew that it was the sound of being roasted alive. However, his footsteps did not stop the slightest, his face almost unfeeling—He didn’t know when it began, when he had become such a person.
It was the first time for Chang An, who had been quietly following behind him, to encounter such a scene. He stopped several times, but seeing Hua Yi’s look of turning a deaf ear to it, he had no choice but to catch up with him.
Just then, the teenager suddenly asked, “Zhe Yan said that you were very young at that time and was on your own on the road. Why did you use your own food to save him and even hunt a deer for him?”
At first, Hua Yi thought that Chang An was hinting something or finding fault in him, but when he saw the young man’s expression, he realized that he might have really just been expressing his doubts. He pushed aside the prickly bushes in front of him, kept silent for a while, then shook his head and sighed exaggeratedly while speaking in a voice that was extremely softly pressed down.
He said to Chang An with a miserable expression, “Look, a man like me who can’t write and speak well, and whose brain is no good could have only shot a deer. At that time, it was as easy as lifting a finger, so I helped.”
“… Oh.” He was blurting out nonsense, but Chang An didn’t look into it. He just nodded his head and answered briefly, making it impossible to see what was in his mind.
Hua Yi felt stung by his “oh.” He stopped talking and concentrated on walking, but he couldn’t help asking himself. If he was fourteen or fifteen, an age when he, upon seeing a child with a dirty face, couldn’t help but carry him to wash in the river, then would he have recklessly rushed to save the child being burned before running away?
He couldn’t remember… After so many years, he couldn’t remember what kind of person he was back then.
Just then, a woman suddenly appeared in front of them… She seemed too young though that she could only be considered a girl. She was naked, and her bare skin was covered with all kinds of bruises. Her raven braids had untangled, and the tips of them were stained with a lot of blood, clumping her hair into a mess. She stumbled and fell directly at Hua Yi’s feet.
Hua Yi instinctively took a step back. Right after, a huge beast transformed from a beastman came out of the forest. He was about to pounce on the woman, but when he saw Hua Yi, he paused, wondering whether this man who suddenly appeared was a friend or a foe.
Hua Yi stood motionless opposite the giant beast.
The woman at his feet stretched out a blood-stained hand and clutched the corner of his garments in a pleading manner.
Her hands were very beautiful, and her skin was quite tender. Her new wounds aside, not a single old callus could be seen. In peacetime, she must have been someone who didn’t have to work. She was also good-looking, beautiful even. Her torn skirt had an intricate lace, which would have taken months for even the most skilled woman to weave. Looking at it like this, if she wasn’t from the tribe Chief’s family, she was most likely a daughter from some Elder’s family.
Hua Yi looked at her with pity. These noblewomen of the tribe often enjoyed the best of everything and were pursued by many, so it was only fair that they come out to take the blame for all their clansmen at this time.
The giant beast opened its mouth, baring its ugly, bloodied teeth. Its facial expression was ferocious as it looked at Hua Yi with a threat.
A moment later, Hua Yi bowed his head slightly, avoiding the beastman’s line of sight and showing some weakness. He gave a very cautious and even ingratiating smile as he kept his body low and said in a soft voice, “My brother and I are just passing by. We don’t want any trouble.”
After saying this, as if to express his sincerity, he bent down and gently pulled his clothes out from the woman’s hand. Meeting her increasingly desperate eyes, he sighed and looked at her with a complicated gaze as he said softly, “Woman, this is your life. There is no one else to blame.”
The girl let out a short, desperate cry.
Chang An, however, suddenly frowned, his palm pressing against the hilt of his saber hidden in his baggage.
But before he could make a move, Hua Yi had already lowered his head and walked to the giant beast’s side. As he walked, he said, “We are outsiders who are not familiar with this place. It was really unintentional that we broke in here.”
The giant beast looked at him with disdain, then arrogantly leaned its body sideways to let this wimpy-looking man pass. When he passed by, he heard this burly7人高马大 – tall and strong yet soft man still incessantly saying, “Fighting everyday, ai… you Northeners ah, you’re really…”
The moment the words “you’re really” were uttered, Hua Yi leaned sideways, looking like he was extremely afraid of bumping into the other party. In that instant, his hand, which was hidden at his side, suddenly pulled out without the slightest warning. Even Chang An couldn’t clearly see him moving his shoulder as he sent his nine-inch saber down the giant beast’s throat with incomparable precision.
“… barbaric.” Hua Yi held the saber in his hand and felt the warm blood gushing out of the beastman’s neck as he finished his words with a straight face.
The color of his small saber was so dark that it couldn’t be seen at night, and sticking it into flesh was as easy as slicing a melon. Hua Yi’s hand lightly moved down, cutting the giant beast’s throat along with its large blood vessels. Without having even said a word, the giant beast fell down with a thud.
Hua Yi leisurely reached out to catch the giant beast’s huge body. He used his human hands to catch such a big guy that was almost as tall as him when on all fours, yet it looked effortless. Then he bent down, wiped the blood on his hands and on his saber on the giant beast’s fur, and gently put the body on the ground.
All these happened in the blink of an eye. Hua Yi killed the person as if he were a goose feather falling onto sand. It was done so quietly that it was on a whole different level.
Then Hua Yi picked up the girl from the ground. Beads of blood rolled down from the center of his brow to the straight bridge of his nose. He casually wiped it, grabbed a handful of jerky from the food he carried with him, and gave it to her, saying, “Run.”
The girl gave him a deep look, then plunged into the thick forest with the jerky.