Note: This chapter marks the start of the paid chapters and is extra long for that reason. Please support Priest by buying the paid chapters on JJWXC!
The moment Xiang Xiaoman turned around, the shop employee subconsciously leaned the upper half of his body back, as though her gaze was a hot oil splatter that he needed to block with a pot cover.
Following that, he seemed to gather all the courage he had in his body and stammered in that cat-cry voice, "You… You must calm down. You have a child. If there's anything… anything that you can't bear, you can get help from other people… I…"
His voice was soft and slow, and his words were rather unclear, like he was someone with learning difficulties.
Without waiting for him to finish speaking, Xiang Xiaoman walked over with an expressionless face, grabbed the blade together with the paper bag, and left.
The shop employee closed his mouth, staring at her retreating back at a loss. Taking the initiative to say a couple of words to a strange lady seemed to have taken all his strength. Even after she had walked out of the laundry shop, his wildly thumping heart didn't seem like it wanted to calm down and even his legs were shaking.
After a long while, he finally saw his reflection in the mirror at the front door. The features on his face were proper, his body tall and large; but his "proper" looks were not particularly pleasing to the eye. He did not have any outstanding features, his looks were forgettable. His "tall and large" body wasn't of the "extraordinary bearing" or "immense strength" variety. For some reason that he did not know, he wasn't fat but he looked slow and sluggish. His fringe covered his eyes; they had just been washed but were already greasy enough to gather into locks. His entire person had the bearing of someone tense and cowering, like he was ready to bow to anyone at a moment's notice.
Ugly man, he thought.
As though he couldn't bear to see his own image anymore, he moved his gaze away.
In front of the laundry shop, people walked to and fro. Every day, he saw other people talked and joked with one another, and would feel very bewildered. He suspected that all of those people privately had a script and that everything they said had been written down and memorised beforehand. Otherwise, how could they be so relaxed and not stumble even a little bit?
Every time he was forced to speak to other people, it seemed to be something extremely risky and dangerous that he had to throw caution to the wind to do.
Tone and intonation, where to put his hands and where his eyes should look, what to say—he had to rehearse all that in his heart a few times but it was still useless. Once he opened his mouth and his mind multi-tasked to take care of all those many things, he would inevitably fall short somewhere, and danger would pop up all around him.
The more he said things badly, the more he panicked; the more he panicked, the more he said things badly. More often than not, people would not have the patience to listen to the end of his grunting and mumbling lines. They would cut him off, ignore him, brush him off… or just bluntly turn around and leave.
He was like a freak that did not fit in anywhere. Everytime he tried to extend his feelers to touch the world around him, he would end up getting a round of electric shock. As time went by, "extending his feelers" seemed to be something that could endanger his life.
The outer room of the laundry shop had a counter to receive customers. Behind the counter was the washing area. Next to it was a very small storeroom—the cleaning tools, the things used in the shop such as clothes racks and plastic bags were stuffed into that room. And squeezed into the gap between these miscellaneous items was a small and narrow camp bed. That was his nest.
In his nest was a laptop of a very old model and an Ayanami Rei figurine. Just one, and it was not even a limited edition one. Those great gods on the internet who could easily have a display cabinet full of figurines were too extravagant. The figurines they had were extravagant, the display cabinets they had were extravagant, the space they had for the cabinets even more extravagant.
Even though she was not much of a treasure, she had always accompanied him. She was like a close, intimate friend. Through the animation, he understood her story; meanwhile, by staying beside him day after day, she understood his thoughts, and nothing more needed to be said.
"Yan Hao! Yan Hao!" The laundry shop owner was back and shouting for him. "Where did you run off to again?"
The shop employee trembled. Carefully, he put Ayanami Rei away and turned to walk out of the room.
"Ai, you gave me a fright. Kid, why isn't there any sound when you walk?" The shop owner patted his own chest and tossed a small booklet over to him. "The clothes for No. 115 to No. 121 are ready. Give them a call and tell them to come pick them up."
Yan Hao's scalp started prickling once he heard the words "give them a call." Rather than making a phone call, he would pick chestnuts out of a fire with his bare hands. Hence, he accepted the booklet and, while outwardly agreeing to the task, secretly cheated. He put the reminder in a text message and sent a mass text to the phone numbers.
The boss saw him doing this and sighed as he said, "Aiyo, I only asked you to make a phone call, it's just a couple of words. There are so many spam messages nowadays, a lot of people don't even look at their messages. Xiao-Yan ah, you can't be so introverted. Look at you, when you have nothing to do, you stay in and play on your computer or fiddle with your little plastic figurine. How old are you and you're still watching cartoons! As time goes by, your mind will become abnormal! Humans have to interact with other humans, and have to go out and make friends. If you hide yourself indoors everyday, you won't even find a partner. Society will abandon you!"
Yan Hao quietly listened beside him, cowardly and slow. The moment the boss saw him like that, he worried until he was losing hair.
"At the Martial Arts General Assembly this time, you can't cower at the back anymore. Quite a number of young people will be going, it'll do you no harm to get to know a few of them. You hear me? Your family entrusted you to me so I have to take responsibility." As the boss enumerated his shortcomings, he became angry looking at how Yan Hao was shrinking back. Enraged, he bellowed, "Straighten your back! Your ancestors were heroes, not rodents burrowing into the ground! What are you bowing for!"
Yan Hao quivered in fright. His back swiftly straightened up and he stood as rigid as a coffin board. Then, sticking close to the wall, he slipped away woefully.
After leaving Yan Hao's laundry shop, Xiang Xiaoman didn't go straight home like she usually did. Carrying a large plastic bag full of clothes, she walked along the shaded path strewn with yellow leaves, then turned into a small alley. Right at the end of the alley was a desserts shop that was popular on the internet, with a long queue outside all year round. Xiang Xiaoman hesitated a while, then walked over. She joined the end of the queue but her gaze swept uneasily around her surroundings, like she was looking for something.
Right then, a middle-aged woman walked towards her and lined up behind Xiang Xiaoman. The woman tapped Xiang Xiaoman's elbow and asked, "This shop's desserts are a bit expensive. Are they good?"
Xiang Xiaoman shrank back instinctively but she did not evade the woman.
The middle-aged woman gave her a very kindly smile. "But something that is really good is worth it even though it is expensive, isn't that right?"
As she spoke, her hand appeared to move inadvertently and, without a fuss, she pushed a paper bag into Xiang Xiaoman's hand.
Xiang Xiaoman seemed to have touched something terrifying. What little colour she had on her face disappeared completely.
"11th of November." The middle-aged woman stopped smiling, her voice so soft it was almost a whisper. She gave Xiang Xiaoman's hand a vicious squeeze, then turned and left.
Xiang Xiaoman was afraid that other people had overheard them and looked around in a panic. Lined up behind her were a few high school students who had finished school early for some reason. All of them had earphones in their ears, their heads lowered and their attention on their phones. No one was noticing her. Only then did she relax. That was right, who would spare her some of their barely sufficient attention?
No one would. In over thirty years, no one had.
Xiang Xiaoman hurriedly peeked at the thing the woman had given her. It was an envelope. Inside was a paper packet containing some drug powder. The envelope was printed with a row of words: Why you? Why not someone else?
When she saw that row of words, she pressed her pale lips together. She walked out of the queue and slipped the envelope into the pocket of her coat. Right then, she touched something in her pocket and took it out for a look—it was a paper note.
On the paper note, written in a graceful yet rather childish handwriting, was a private phone number…
And a sentence: If you have any difficulties, call me any time. I will come as soon as you call.
This was something the female police officer who had come to her house the other day secretly slipped to her before leaving. Xiang Xiaoman's steps paused. For a second, a touched expression flashed across her face. Then, that little bit of hesitation passed fleetingly; her gaze swiftly turned steady and numb. She crumpled the paper note into a ball and threw it into a nearby rubbish bin.
The crumpled paper wasn't thrown accurately. It hit the rim of the bin and bounced back out, rolling to the middle of the street. Xiang Xiaoman didn't turn back to see.
She had just left when Gan Qing, sticking close to the wall, slipped out from behind a dirt wall in a tiny fork in the road. For a few seconds, she watched Xiang Xiaoman walk away, her eyes narrowed. Then, she walked over and picked up the paper note. The warm, friendly smile on her face had disappeared and there was a gloom in her pensive gaze. A guy who had just finished shopping was walking straight ahead with his head down, and accidentally bumped into her. He was just about to apologise when he turned his head and met her eyes. He shivered for some reason, and hastily walked off.
However, the man might have walked off but the smell of the meat floss cake in his hand remained. Gan Qing came back to herself and scrunched up her nose. The gloom in her eyes was wiped out by her gluttony.
She slipped the paper note into her pocket and turned to the little shop's window to look at the price list. A rich buttery smell wafted out continuously from the window, tempting her into staying there. While looking, Gan Qing pinched the spare change in her pocket. She could feel the thin, flimsy renminbi tearfully accusing their owner of not treasuring them and felt a little guilty. Hence, legs facing forward and head turned back, step by dragging step, she prepared to go back. She plotted to defraud a few more foolish big spenders next month, take a cut of the profit, and then she would definitely come here for a round of eating.
Right then, a few high school students came from the opposite direction. Gan Qing's eyes suddenly gleamed. "Xiao-Qi-Qi!"
The foolish big spender was here!
Liu Zhongqi's school was holding a sports meet for the autumn season, which was why they finished school earlier than usual. He had just represented his class in the 3,000-meter race and he didn't know if it was because he was tired or because of something else, but his eyelid had been twitching non-stop. Gan Qing's shout made him jump out of his skin.
"Come here, come here." Gan Qing smiled a very mysterious smile and crooked a finger to beckon him. "Young man, treat me to tea and I will teach you an all-powerful self-defense technique."
The moment Liu Zhongqi heard that, he ran over excitedly.
Fifteen minutes later, in the bright and gleaming desserts shop, the young man who had once again fallen for a trick was exceptionally angry. "This is what you call an all-powerful self-defense technique?"
"This is the most effective self-defense technique in the world." Gan Qing took a bite of the thin-skinned and generous-filling xue mei niang. The light cream enclosed the chocolate chips, the different textures clear and distinct. The chocolate chips were slightly melted, soft as silk, and they dissolved with just the slightest pressure. The innermost part of the cream still had some fine ice shards, cutting through the richness of the dessert. The aftertaste lingered on her tongue. Gan Qing felt that after this bite, even the sky falling down was not a problem. Hence, she patiently explained to Liu Zhongqi, "Running away is a wide field of study. Not only must you be able to run, and run fast, you also need to observe your surroundings and keep your ears open. You have to use the terrain to shake off your pursuer and must absolutely not give them a chance to detour and trap you. You can't just run in a straight line, or they can easily hit you if they throw something-"
Liu Zhongqi cut her off angrily. "You liar!"
The last time, she had used a personal alarm to trick him into treating her to a round of McDonald's. The last last time, she had used a despicable and obscene groin kick technique to trick him into buying a fortune-changing bracelet.
And he still hadn't learned his lesson and had fallen for her tricks for a third time!
"I'm really not lying to you. There is always a higher mountain, and there is always a more powerful person. No matter how good an expert is, there will be a day when they make a mistake. There is no technique that is all-powerful." Gan Qing took a gulp of her black coffee, clearing away the remaining taste of the chocolate xue mei niang in her mouth. Then, she reached her little fork towards the piece of mango mousse. "If you want to be in a position where you won't be defeated, the only way is to not fight. Have you ever seen your brother fight someone else? No, right? He knows all the complaint hotlines in the world. If he can use his mouth, he definitely won't use his hands. That is the way of the true expert."
Liu Zhongqi said in disgust, "Pah!"
Gan Qing didn't feel there was anything wrong at all with tricking a child into buying her a meal. "You don't have a girlfriend anyway, so you don't have anything to spend your allowance on. What if you have a lot of money and you go to Mudpool Backlane and end up getting kidnapped again? I'm helping you reduce risk. No need to thank me, it's what I should do."
Liu Zhongqi said through gritted teeth, "And whose fault is it that I don't have a girlfriend anymore?"
Gan Qing gave him a thumbs-up. "You did it all by yourself!"
Liu Zhongqi was so angry that he stood up and walked away immediately, even forgetting his school bag. In one breath, he charged out and ran for more than 200 meters before realising that something was missing from his shoulders. He ran back again, steam rising from his every orifice.
He charged into the little desserts shop like a small train and saw Gan Qing reclining against the windowsill. A narrow beam of light shone through the glass, sweeping across her features.
Her head was lowered and she was looking at something. There was a peculiar sort of tranquility and loneliness about her, like time had stopped still. Liu Zhongqi suddenly recalled the Gan Qing who had saved him at the urban village—even when she was hit or cursed at, or when her head was pushed, she didn't care. She didn't seem to care about the danger and didn't seem to know pain. Thinking carefully, there was a touch of the kind of weariness where she looked at everything as though she was a detached bystander.
Liu Zhongqi stared blankly for a few seconds. He followed the line of her gaze…
"Who allowed you to touch my homework! What are you looking at!" The fire that had just gone out flared up again. Liu Zhongqi rushed over in a fluster, snatching back his half-done English paper. "Give me back my school bag!"
"I was afraid that someone would take it, so I put it here to keep an eye on it out of the goodness of my heart. That paper of yours fell out on its own." Gan Qing threw the bag over to Liu Zhongqi and took a contented gulp of her milk tea. "You need to study hard ah, little friend. Don't spend the whole day dreaming of jumping onto roofs and walking on walls. Out of a total of twenty fill-in-the-blanks questions, you got fourteen wrong in one go. Isn't failing your exam scarier than getting beaten up?"
Liu Zhongqi's homework paper had just been given out and had to be handed in to the teacher to be marked. The students did not have the answer scripts. He scoffed and grabbed the paper, and left right away, thinking, Did this illiterate ruffian even graduate from junior high? Putting on an act to trick others, pretending she can understand it.
The illiterate ruffian Gan Qing had a satisfying tea and not even a single crumb was left. She stood up and stretched her body, and made a note on the "double eleven" date in her phone calendar.
11th of November… Was there something special about this date?
"The date is… 'double eleven'?" Yu Yan had an incredulous look on his face. "Are you sure? Who picked that stupid date?"
"Me." Yu Lanchuan crossed his arms over his chest, one eyebrow raised. "Do you have an opinion on it?"
Yu Yan said, "Holding the Martial Arts General Assembly on Singles' Day. Alliance Leader, aren't you afraid of being single for the rest of your life?"
"What's wrong with being single for the rest of my life? Being single for the rest of my life sounds pretty good," Alliance Leader Yu answered, half-dead. "The eleventh is a Sunday. I can use the excuse of getting a medical check-up to free up half a day in the morning. Furthermore, this way, the ones coming from other parts of the country can come over on Saturday and everyone can go back to their own homes on Sunday afternoon. It won't interfere with them going to school or to work… and will also prevent the situation where only the members who are jobless vagrants or bored retirees come to attend."
"Okay, sure. Look at that sour face of yours. Just take it as a side gig that pays 8,000 a month. A side gig that pays 8,000 a month is not easy to find." Yu Yan advised him. "The location for this General Assembly of yours is, uhh… the activity center for seniors?"
Firstly, Yu Lanchuan was busy. Secondly, he had never organised something like this, so for this Martial Arts General Assembly, other than picking the date and time, the location, agenda and other matters were still handled by Old Master Yang and the others. Even the publicity poster was designed in the old and middle-aged people style of "Raising a Toast to Friendship."
As for the agenda, once he thought of it, Yu Lanchuan felt like he didn't want to live anymore.
"You guys better keep a low profile, Master Lan. Let me tell you, this thing of yours isn't registered with the authorities. If there is a ruckus and someone reports all of you for holding an illegal assembly, things will be troublesome," Yu Yan exhorted him strictly while flipping through the agenda. "Martial arts combat is strictly prohibited throughout the General Assembly, the main objective is to have peaceful relations… Oh, that's pretty good… The first event, entrance of the major sects, Alliance Leader's speech, mm… it's the starter segment where everyone gets to know each other. The second event is… free socialising. To make it more conducive for socialising, every sect will disperse and sit separately. The seats are divided into three areas. Those above fifty-five years old and sect leaders (limited to married sect leaders) will be in Area A. Those who are unmarried will complete a personal information form and go to Area B. All other guests will be in Area C… Why are the seats separated into married and unmarried?"
Yu Lanchuan reached up and covered his own eyes.
As Yu Yan read on, he faintly detected something amiss. "...After the free socialising, the younger generation in Area B will go to Area A one-by-one according to their seats and receive guidance from the older generation. Fourth event, talent show and lunch… This, Master Lan, wait a minute!"
Yu Lanchuan reached out and took back the Martial Arts General Assembly agenda, cutting him off with a serious look. "You're done reading it, right? Good, then let us talk about the matter of 'Tang Qian Yan's descendant.'"
"I'm not done reading," Yu Yan said. "Let me analyse the agenda for this assembly of yours-"
Yu Lanchuan said, "You don't have to analyse it!"
Yu Yan opened his mouth at the same time. "So, the sequence of events at your Martial Arts General Assembly is: first, state your sect; next, those already married will go to the side while the unmarried men and women speeddate; then, line up to meet the parents; finally, sit down for a meal?"
Yu Lanchuan, "..."
That mouth of his!
Yu Yan said, "Amazing, Alliance Leader. You're a genius!"
Yu Lanchuan forced out his words through gritted teeth. "Like I said, I didn't arrange this."
Alliance Leader Yu skived off his role and didn't have common sense, and had actually dared to leave this kind of matter to Old Master Yang and the rest. He had underestimated how venomous the group of middle-aged and old people in the country was—they can turn any gathering for any purpose into an arranged dating convention.
Police Officer Yu held on to the office desk and laughed his heart out.
Yu Lanchuan pushed his glasses up and said with an expressionless face, "Like I said, prohibiting combat is an old rule that has been in place for many years. Elder Yang and the others are also here. If this who-knows-real-or-fake Tang Qian Yan descendant wants to blend in with the crowd, he shouldn't make a move during the assembly. I think he will wait for me to be alone to come for me. How about this—after the assembly, I will send all the guests off and find a chance to put the activity center back to how it was on my own. Since he has left a letter of challenge, there is a high chance that he will appear then. At that time, you guys wait outside for my signal. I will help you keep him there."
Yu Yan asked, "Are you confident that you can defeat him?"
Baffled, Yu Lanchuan answered him, "How would I know? I don't know this person."
Yu Yan asked a little worriedly, "Then, what if you aren't his match?"
"Then I'll just admit defeat," Yu Lanchuan said without any reservations. "If I'm injured, I'll make him compensate me for the cost of medical treatment and loss of working hours."
Yu Yan, "..."
In wuxia stories, when experts met for a match, more often than not they would bet their lives. Their entire lifetime's dignity and success or failure all depended on one move. According to incomplete statistics, those who suffered defeat in martial arts matches ended up taking their own lives, going crazy, severing their own meridian points, destroying their own abilities… The lightest symptom was to throw away their weapon, let their name fall into disrepute, and disappear from the jianghu.
To be thinking of compensation for loss of working hours even before the match, this was probably the first time in history!
Police Officer Yu was stunned by how broadminded the new Martial Arts Alliance Leader was and could not say anything for a long while.
Yu Lanchuan said, "Then, it's decided. I still have something on, I'll leave now."
"Ai, Master Lan." Yu Yan shamelessly held him back, jogging to keep up as Yu Lanchuan walked out. "No hurry, you still haven't told me yet—as a sad single, how do you feel to be soon hosting the 23rd Martial Arts Arranged Dating General Assembly since the establishment of the new China-"
Yu Lanchuan said, "Get lost!"
Yu Yan asked, "Can the host get a get-out-of-jail, no, get-out-of-marriage card? Are there any girls who are pretty and can fight? Can an outsider—for example, me—participate? Hey… you're taking advantage of your longer legs to walk faster, aren't you!"
Yu Lanchuan couldn't be bothered to say more to him. He raised his hand to hail down a cab.
"Don't pretend to be proper, Master Lan," Yu Yan said behind him. "Don't tell me you're no longer straight after too much overtime?"
Yu Lanchuan said, "Don't worry, even if I'm not, it's not like I'll fall for you."
Yu Yan smiled mischievously and said, "I remember when you were young, you were someone cold outside but wild inside. Back in junior high, a girl from the next class gave you a love letter but you threw it away without even reading it. From day to night, you put on a 'I will not be muddied together with the profane world' act, then went home and secretly drew a girl's portrait."
Yu Lanchuan said, "I drew your mum."
Yu Yan said, "I knew you wouldn't admit it! I have evidence! It was the same person in different poses. One sketchbook was completely filled up and there were at least a few hundred pictures. I took photos for memories…"
Yu Lanchuan slammed the cab door in his face. Leaving behind a trail of exhaust fumes, he disappeared.
He had just reached the downstairs of his apartment building when his phone started vibrating madly. That despicable Yu Yan had sent a string of photos over and had added a watermark that said: Records of the Martial Arts Alliance Leader's Dark History.
Yu Lanchuan was just about to start cursing when he was suddenly stunned.
He had indeed once owned such a sketchbook. But it had been so many years; he had gone abroad to study and then worked, and moving house became as ordinary as an everyday meal. His childhood belongings had long since been thrown away. Now, he was caught off-guard as he looked at the old traces from more than a decade ago. His blurry memories suddenly became clear.
The resolution of the images was not very high, making it seem like the immature sketches were overlaid with a filter. There were pencil sketches, and also sketches done with ballpoint pen or gel pen. The girl in the pictures was drawn with an acute and severe silhouette. The artist's skill was not very good but every frown and every smile was extremely vivid. She gazed out of the paper, her eyes curved in an arc.
Yu Lanchuan came to an abrupt stop. When he looked up, he was right outside his own door. With an incredulous look in his eyes, he turned his head towards the next door apartment. After staring blankly for a while, he was suddenly gripped by an inexplicable desire to knock on that door.
Right at that moment, the elevator sounded. A waft of sweet-ish perfume drifted over. The newcomer yawned and asked lazily, "Xiao-Chuan, what's the matter?"
The person walking over was Zhang Meizhen who had just returned from outside. Yu Lanchuan finally came back to himself. He cleared his throat. "I… I'm looking for Gan Qing. I have something to ask her."
"Oh, is it urgent?" With a fingertip, Zhang Meizhen wiped the corner of her eye that had light makeup on. "If it's not urgent, then leave it for tomorrow. That little nun goes to bed early, she has long since gone off to recite sutras in her dreams. How about I help you pass her a message?"
Yu Lanchuan shook his head in a fluster and quietly gave way to the old lady. He stood for a while in the corridor before carrying the thoughts in his heart home.
Then, for the next two to three days, he didn't see Gan Qing.
Every morning when he woke up, Gan Qing had already wandered off somewhere to get breakfast. She seemed to never be done with the meal and showed no signs of coming back even after a long while. He had to get to work on time and couldn't wait too long. In the evening, Yu Lanchuan got off work and came back. If he was back early, she would not be home; if he was back late, the lights next door would already be switched off.
Yu Lanchuan didn't know if he was imagining things but he felt that recently, Gan Qing's work and rest hours were exceptionally irregular. She seemed to be out the whole day and catching her just once was exceptionally hard.
While his hands were occupied and his mind restless, time flew swiftly by. In a blink of the eye, it was the 11th of November.
This was the first Arranged—no, Martial Arts General Assembly since the old Yu Huaide passed away.
To the ordinary residents of No. 110 Courtyard, this was a peaceful weekend. For once, everyone could sleep all they wanted. Before nine in the morning, there were barely a handful of people in the garden.
No one noticed that today, starting with Old Master Yang, the few elderly people with red armbands who usually wandered around downstairs had disappeared. A few residents in the building had also left their homes very early. The laundry shop did not open for business, the leather goods repair shop also kept their doors closed and turned away customers. The jianbing stalls on the northern and southern roads seemed to have come to an agreement beforehand and were both skipping work. The beggars and vagrants within a radius of two kilometers also had an unspoken agreement and did not turn up.
This unassuming old building usually seemed to be covered by a layer of protective film. Today, this layer of protective film temporarily disappeared.
The bilingual kindergarten outside the western gate had a partnership with Yanning's television station. For this year's New Year's Eve night event, there would be a program where the children would perform in a group. The kindergarten's teachers and students' parents all placed great importance on this matter and the children who were participating in the performance had to rehearse on weekends. Nie Ke had sent his child to kindergarten early that morning.
Xiang Xiaoman had never bothered with sending or picking up the child, even though the kindergarten was right at the courtyard's western gate, so near it was practically a neighbour.
The location of the living room in the old apartments was not ideal and the lighting was always not very good. Even though it was daytime, the apartment had some dark and gloomy corners. Xiang Xiaoman sat in the shadow of the sofa. She seemed to be carved from wood, staring in a daze at her own hands.
Those people had told her, "Your fate and all the pain you have suffered are essentially of your own doing. Otherwise, why you? Why not someone else?"
"You must have done something wrong. If you want to leave all these worldly sufferings, you must cut yourself completely away from your cowering self."
Look at how you are now, don't you hate yourself?
You must kill that cowardly, despicable you.
Shaking with fear, Xiang Xiaoman turned her head to glanced at the mirror. The woman in the mirror had drooping cheeks and the pallor of candle wax, without any sign of life. Messy hair covered half her face. Through the gaps of the dry hair, her evasive gaze peeked out tentatively.
Is… that me?
Her throat let out a stifled howl. Trembling, she buried her head in her arms.
Why you, why not someone else?
Asking for help is useless, making a police report is even more useless. No one can whole-heartedly understand you and no one will help you. Have you heard of the story of Xiang Lin's wife?
In this word, who isn't a lonely island?
Today is your only chance. Don't worry. For issues related to technique, we will help you deal with the aftermath.
You only need to...
Right then, the sound of the key turning in the lock came from the front door. Nie Ke was back!
Xiang Xiaoman's mind blanked out. By the time she came back to herself, she had already poured the drug powder in the envelope into Nie Ke's thermal mug!
The door knob turned twice and Nie Ke opened the door. Xiang Xiaoman subconsciously crumpled the paper packet into a ball in her hand and stood up abruptly. Her whole body stiff, she watched Nie Ke enter the door.
Nie Ke didn't notice anything. He seemed to be already used to her various peculiar actions and didn't spare her even an extra glance. He smoothly changed out of his outerwear and changed his shoes, then entered the house and picked up his thermal mug.
Xiang Xiaoman's heart was practically leaping out of her throat.
Then, Nie Ke brought the mug to his lips and suddenly paused. "Oh, that's right."
He noticed it! Was there too much of the drug powder?
Xiang Xiaoman's face was pale. A sheen of cold sweat covered her palms.
Nie Ke asked her curiously, "What's the matter with you this time?"
Xiang Xiaoman's limbs started to turn numb from anxiety.
Nie Ke didn't get a reply from her. He frowned and said, as though to himself, "The previous doctor didn't seem much good. I think the results were so-so. Recently, I asked a friend to help me contact a new doctor. I'll take you to see him this afternoon. The appointment is at two o'clock. Get changed."
Xiang Xiaoman felt as though her lips had rusted shut. She couldn't say a single word.
Nie Ke finished his one-sided conversation, and his gentle and well-mannered face finally revealed a hint of impatience and coldness. His brows knitted, he blew a few times, then took a few gulps of the water in the thermal mug.
"Tastes like overnight water," he grumbled, planning to go to the kitchen to pour the water away. "There's a strange taste."
From the kitchen first came the splashing sound of the mug being washed. Subsequently, the thermal mug fell into the sink with a clunk and after that, there was the thump of something heavy falling to the floor.
Nie Ke held on to the sink futilely, knocking the broom over. In the end, he still slid senselessly down the kitchen cabinet.
Xiang Xiaoman's heart was beating so quickly it seemed on the verge of exploding. Quietly, she tiptoed over to the kitchen door. She stared at Nie Ke lying on the floor, holding onto the door frame with much effort to steady herself.
The first step: If there are latex paints or wallpapers around that are not easy to clean, it is necessary to cover well with plastic. The kitchen and the bathroom are the most ideal locations. Porcelain tiles are easier to clean.
The second step: Wear your raincoat.
Stumbling a little, Xiang Xiaoman dug out the raincoat she had prepared. Her hand gripped a small blade tightly.
The third step: ...Open the door. The people who will help you have come.
Right then, someone knocked lightly a few times on her front door. Xiang Xiaoman took a few harsh breaths and opened the door. Two people entered from outside, both wearing caps, face masks and gloves. They were covered up tightly, their faces only revealing two pairs of dark and heavy gazes.
The person who entered last closed the door silently. Through the peephole, they looked at the empty corridor outside, then nodded at their accomplice. The other person walked into the apartment and surveyed the place, then held Xiang Xiaoman up by her shoulder.
"Shh…" The person spoke beside Xiang Xiaoman's ear. "Don't be afraid. A person's body is sturdy yet weak. Find the correct spot and even a child can easily end a life. Find the wrong spot and a burly man weighing a few hundred pounds wielding an axe might not easily chop off a person's head. Paoding Jieniu is the supreme technique of a martial arts sect, let me teach you."
The person walked over and leaned forward to study the unconscious Nie Ke for a few seconds. Then, they let out a cold laugh, tied him up and stuffed something in his mouth. After that, there was a clicking sound from their hand. Xiang Xiaoman jolted violently. She saw them take out a red ballpoint pen from somewhere, clicked the tip out, lifted Nie Ke's chin, and drew a red line on his neck.
"Cut open along the dotted line. Can you do that?" The other person held Xiang Xiaoman's trembling hand. "Do it slowly. The knife is very sharp. Don't cut your own hand. Go."
Xiang Xiaoman slowly walked towards the unconscious man. The two tightly bundled up people slowly retreated, giving her space. She held her right hand in a deathgrip. She didn't look at Nie Ke's face, focusing her eyes on the red line.
It was very easy. It didn't need her to exert any strength.
The cold blade landed on the person's neck… no, on the red line.
"Press down, Xiaoman."
Xiang Xiaoman's fingers trembled increasingly. She opened her mouth wide, like she was letting out a soundless shout. Her fingers suddenly slipped down and blood seeped out right away. The pain awakened Nie Ke. He opened his eyes, his head fuzzy...
Right at that moment, someone knocked loudly on the outside of 804's door.
"Is anyone home?" The person said loudly, "Open the door, it's the police!"
Xiang Xiaoman fell to sit on the floor. Nie Ke seemed to realise something. The blade sticking out of his neck, he started struggling violently. The two people in the house exchanged looks, and rushed over to the balcony in unison!
"Police! Open the door!"
The two masked people broke out of the window and headed in different directions, and were even climbing bare-handed.
Right then, a window on the tenth floor opened and something swooped down together with a lethal wind...
 Xue mei niang 雪媚娘 is a dessert consisting of a thin, chewy skin wrapped around whipped cream and chunks of fruits or chocolate.
 "Double eleven" or 11th of November is known as Singles' Day in China (because 1 = single person). Quoting wiki, it is an "unofficial holiday and shopping season that celebrates people who are not in relationships." In practice, it's less about celebrating singlehood and more about really great shopping deals.
 Xiang Lin's wife 祥林嫂 refers to the story The New Year Sacrifice by Lu Xun which tells the sorrowful story of a woman subjected to repeated torments due to traditional views.
If a person wanted to dangle out of an eighth floor window, in a situation where they had no equipment, they had to rely solely on the strength of their arms and legs to cling to the cracks in the wall. Among those, their wrists and their fingers bore the brunt of their weight. The two streams of wind rushing down from upstairs were aiming right at these two people's wrists.
The person who had drawn the line on Nie Ke's neck bent his legs and forcefully leaped upwards by nearly a meter to dodge the wind. In a moment of panic, his feet landed on empty air. He twisted in the air, looking as sorry as a carp jumping out of the water, and just barely managed to grab on to a clothes drying rack hanging out of someone's balcony window.
The other person's reaction was not as quick. When the sound of the wind cut close, he had no way to dodge. His left hand was abruptly thrown away from the wall while his other hand couldn't keep his balance. He shrieked at once and fell down from the eighth floor. Luckily, the sixth floor had anti-theft windows that slowed down his fall midway. This unfortunate person first crashed forcefully onto the anti-theft window, then bounced off and rolled all the way down. He fell through the rain canopy on the second floor and finally rolled all the way to sprawl on his back on the canopy over the bicycle racks, spasming as he lay there. In his left wrist, sticking out of his flesh, was a caramelised sunflower seed.
The second batch of police arrived right at that moment. All together, they swarmed up.
The one hanging from the clothes drying rack initially wanted to charge up to the tenth floor to see who was the interfering busybody but seeing so many police on the ground, he couldn't be bothered to do that anymore. He climbed madly for his life towards the western side. The police on the ground gathered around and gave chase.
Gan Qing closed the window, shutting out the jumbled voices from outside. She leaned against the side of the window and finished snacking on the sunflower seeds in her hand. Then, she unhurriedly put on a coat and went outside. The elevator brought the police who came later to the eighth floor, then creaked its way up to the tenth floor to fetch her. Both parties passed by each other.
The police at 804 broke down the door and entered. The first to charge in was the young female police officer who had left a paper note with Xiang Xiaoman. Once she entered, she was shocked by the scene in the apartment which was completely different from what she had expected. Only when Nie Ke started struggling for his life, his head knocking against the kitchen cabinet, did she realise that the person was still alive.
The police officer strode over and stood between Xiang Xiaoman and Nie Ke, preventing her from taking any drastic action. Her other colleagues rushed to Nie Ke's side, nervously looking at the wound on his neck. Fortunately, the small blade had only cut into the flesh at the side of his neck and did not reach any major arteries. It had already fallen out when he was struggling.
"Don't move, I'll untie you."
The moment the police pulled out the strip of cloth in Nie Ke's mouth, the man's hysterical screams were like the water from a burst dam. "H-Help me stop the bleeding, quick, quick! C-Call the ambulance! This crazy woman wants to murder me! She wants to murder me! Officer, she has two more accomplices! T-They escaped through the window just now! I… How much blood have I lost? I… Can I still be saved…."
The door was opened and it was also a Sunday. With so much hustle and bustle going on, all the neighbours on that floor poked their heads out one by one. An unsuccesful murder attempt was not something they could be an onlooker to every day. The killer and the victim were even husband and wife!
In no time at all, the other floors also got the news. At the stairwell on the eighth floor, there was a large crowd made up of all sorts—men and women, old and young. Each one of them stretched their necks out two meters long, their five senses all fighting each other to squeeze to the front, wanting nothing more than to fly forward from their faces, go past the police stopping them, and investigate every little detail.
Xiang Xiaoman didn't resist anymore. That one cut seemed to have used up all her courage and strength. After the police broke down the door and entered, she only sat on the floor in a stupor, blankly and obediently watching everything happening before her eyes, letting the police search her body as they needed.
By then, Nie Ke had regained his senses. When he found out that his neck only had a small cut that could be managed with a bandaid, he quickly straightened his clothes and recovered his bearing.
"All these while, I didn't want other people to know about this. I was afraid that if the neighbours know, they would look at us with biased eyes. My wife is indeed seeing a psychiatrist. Because of this, there was no way she could go out and work. I have been taking care of the house and our child all these while. Ai… erm… Officer, don't make things too hard for her. She couldn't control herself. It's my fault for always neglecting her a few years ago because of my work…"
The man was courteous and respectable, with a face full of worries; the woman stared straight ahead, slumped on the ground like a lump of rotting meat, surrounded by the police like she was a dangerous item.
The old lady from next door looked on feelingly, saying "Aiyo" a few times in sympathy. "What is going on here?"
"She doesn't like leaving the house. I was afraid she would be bored, so I encouraged her to go online. I didn't know that there are so many terrible people online nowadays!" Nie Ke hissed in pain and covered his neck. He poured out all his grievances as the victim to everyone in the building.
No one wanted to be sick. What did the sick person do wrong? They were just unlucky and indeed should not be subjected to any criticism.
But what did their family members do wrong? Why did they have to bear this kind of endless torment and carry this burden? As the saying went, "By the bedside of a chronic illness, there is no filial piety." An ordinary invalid who couldn't get up from bed could already make other people feel annoyed, much less someone with mental illness.
In some people's eyes, everything in the world could be segregated by rank and status, including illnesses. According to this discriminatory view, since ancient times, mental illness had always been at the very bottom of the chain. It was just barely a step up from sexually transmitted diseases, neither of them were anything good.
"This person should be sent to the hospital." Sounds of whispered discussions came from the stairwell. "Otherwise, what will happen if her illness flares up again?"
"Her husband still has to go to work. How would he have the energy to follow her around for twenty-four hours a day?"
"You can still hire a nanny or a nurse for ordinary illnesses. This… You can't hire anyone for this type of sickness!"
"Today she wants to kill her husband, what if she wants to burn down the house tomorrow? This isn't just about them."
"Clear the scene, don't let them crowd around. Why are there so many unrelated people here!" The young female police officer who was the first to get the call was a little agitated. "Do any of you know what actually happened? You are just making blind guesses! We came because we got a call saying that this man was beating his wife. Mr. Nie, it was also your home that was broken into previously, wasn't it? Did a burglar really break in or did you make a false report to cover up what you did in your home?"
Nie Ke looked at the police officer in shock. "Me? Beat my wife? I… I… Food can be eaten in any way, but words cannot be spoken irresponsibly! I'm the victim here, aren't I? Didn't you see her try to kill me with your own eyes?"
"Why would she want to kill you for no reason?" The police officer scoffed. "Just you wait, let the evidence speak for itself."
As she spoke, she pulled Xiang Xiaoman into the room next to them and closed the door. If Xiang Xiaoman was a long-term victim of domestic violence, the previous occurrence where her face was injured was surely not the only time Nie Ke had beaten her. She surely had other wounds on her body.
Yu Yan and Yu Lanchuan had agreed beforehand to lay in wait for their prey at the activity center for seniors and were waiting to catch that Spiderman. Who would have thought that before they got there, more than half the people they had were diverted elsewhere.
His colleague called him to inform him of the situation at 804. Yu Yan listened and felt his head blowing up. "What? There was an unsuccessful premeditated murder attempt, and there's even a mysterious group capable of jumping on roofs and walking on walls behind it… Seriously… All right, take them away for now. This matter has gotten big, we might have to hand it to the higher-ups."
After hanging up, Yu Yan texted Alliance Leader Yu, instructing that if "Spiderman" were to appear, he was to please try his best to keep him there, the neighbourhood police didn't have enough hands to go around.
"I initially wanted to hug the alliance leader's thigh tightly so that I can work less overtime in the future," Yu Yan said as he typed. "But I think this alliance leader is an unlucky disaster-bringer."
His colleague said, "Suspected domestic violence, drugging and murdering her own husband... Yeap, this is a real life version of a Be Afraid of Marriage lesson, letting you guys take a good look at what happens after marriage."
Yu Yan glanced at his colleague. "You talk like you can find a partner. Did your previous arranged dating end in failure again? Was it because she didn't like you or because you didn't like her?"
"Hard to say. I didn't feel anything and there was nothing wrong with her either. We're all ordinary people anyway, if we can get along then we'll get along. In the end, my family again didn't agree. They just had to say that she was not a local and must be targeting our family's household registration. Let me ask you, isn't it funny? She doesn't know me anyway, if it was not for the household registration, what else can it be?" His colleague dangled a cigarette from his mouth and let out a laugh as broadminded as the sea. "Since they don't agree, that's it. I'm fine either way. My parents want to look for a daughter-in-law and they're the ones paying for a house, so they can call the shots. I don't care."
An older police officer from the front looked back. "What are you saying!"
"I'm being logical here. In the first place, whoever pays is the one who calls the shots. I'm spending my old mum and old dad's money, so I gotta listen to my old mum and old dad. Whomever they ask me to marry, I'll marry. How many kids they want me to have, that's how many I'll have. Ge, with this lousy job of ours, relying on our ego to struggle to buy a house and a car is just a dream. Without money, is there freedom? I've long since accepted it. To steadily continue depending on my parents and not cause trouble—that's what it means to be filial."
Yu Yan said, "Move aside, you with the wrong views."
His colleague replied, "All right, your views are right. Then, have you saved up your deposit?"
Yu Yan, "..."
In the past, he had thought that Yu Lanchuan's chuuni sickness had reached the fourth stage, which was why he was at loggerheads with his family and made things difficult for himself. Now, he suddenly seemed to understand why Master Lan was willing to lose all his fortune and bear the weight of a few millions worth of debt.
"Ai, enough chit chat. Yu-ge, check your phone!"
Yu Yan jolted. This was what he had agreed beforehand with Yu Lanchuan. This morning, they would use WeChat to contact each other if there was anything. Once the "Spiderman" appeared, Yu Lanchuan would immediately speed-dial his number. The phone call was the signal.
"Go, go go, quick!" Yu Yan pushed open the car door. As he led them towards the activity center for seniors at a run, he muttered in puzzlement, "Isn't their assembly not yet over?"
Yu Lanchuan had actually come out for a breath of fresh air. Because the new alliance leader was a young bachelor of good looks and talents, the seniors from all the major sects had gone crazy and were practically pouncing on him and making moves on him. Since young, Yu Lanchuan had been prideful and stubborn, and had never been on an arranged date even once. This was the first time he was facing such a situation. The cool and aloof demeanour he had developed through crawling and rolling and fighting in the working world was of no use. After holding on for a few minutes, he fled in defeat.
He wandered over to the reception area and poured himself a cup of coffee, wanting to calm down for a bit. He had just sat down when a small balled-up paper flew over from the back, bouncing a few times on the table before landing beside his hand. Yu Lanchuan looked back abruptly. A shadow suddenly flitted past behind him. The window was open, Yu Lanchuan poked his head out for a look and saw that at the grove of trees in the park behind the activity center for seniors, someone dressed up as Spiderman was standing there, far away.
This "Spiderman" was tall and broad. He wore a tight-fitting cosplay costume bought from Taobao. The quality was worrying and the net over the eye holes seemed to have been pasted on himself using the mesh lining from track pants. When he saw Yu Lanchuan, without saying a word, he immediately struck a pose.
"Who on earth are you?" Yu Lanchuan walked over, carrying his coffee, and asked, "After all the fuss with the challenge, you're not even going to show your face?"
"Spiderman" didn't say anything. From a few steps away, he made a sign with his hands. The meaning was, "Stop talking nonsense, I'm going to attack."
Yu Lanchuan took no notice. "You said that you're the descendant of Tang Qian Yan? Where did you come from? How are you related to Tang Qian Yan, Mr. Yan Ruofei? Is it a family relationship or a master-and-disciple one? Do you have proof?"
The Yan Hao inside the "Spiderman" skinsuit was about to go crazy. Didn't the masters in the television shows all begin their attacks without saying a word? Why was there an oral test segment?
Yu Lanchuan asked, "Who made you challenge me? Do the recent spate of high-rise burglaries have anything to do with you?"
Yan Hao didn't want to have a chat with him. He just wanted to take the chance when no one was around to fight and then leave right away. Since he had already gone through the opening steps, he felt that the formalities were already complete. Hence, he gritted his teeth and charged towards Yu Lanchuan, one fist aiming straight for Yu Lanchuan's shoulder.
"Careful, this is hot." Yu Lanchuan frowned and stepped nimbly aside to dodge. He put the hot coffee on a small stone table beside him and raised his hand. Yan Hao's eyes gleamed. He thought Yu Lanchuan was going to fight back but what he saw was the other man raising his hands and not moving. "I'm not going to fight anymore. I surrender."
Yan Hao, "..."
"You've won," Yu Lanchuan said. His words were still in the air when footsteps sounded. "However, on the matter of breaking into a private residence, you need to explain that to the police."
"I see that Spiderman!"
"That's him, Master Lan, don't let him escape!"
Yan Hao quivered, then twisted his head around and leaped towards the little grove. There seemed to be a pair of springs under his feet; when he jumped, he really looked like a large spider. He leaped over the stone table, clambered up a fork in a tree about three meters high, and swung himself away.
Right at that moment, Yu Lanchuan moved. At some point, he had picked up a pebble from the ground which he now threw ruthlessly. The tree branch that was as thick as a human thigh shook violently, mercilessly shaking off the Spiderman on it. Yan Hao wanted to run the moment he landed but a stick swept towards him, blocking his escape route. A flick of the wrist and the "Spiderman" got a faceful of dew, and his eye holes were blurred. Yan Hao closed his eyes and ducked. The stick caught on his skinsuit. With a tearing sound, the cheap quality skinsuit tore open, revealing the cowering face of the laundry shop employee inside...
"We caught him!"
Meanwhile, at the same time, at Apartment 804 of No. 110 Courtyard, the "righteous and brimming with indignation" female police officer who wanted to have Xiang Xiaoman's injuries checked walked out with a strange expression.
Xiang Xiaoman's body was very clean. There were no injuries.
 "Views" here is literally "three views," 三观. These three views refer to "view of life," "view of the world" and "view of value." Altogether, this term can be understood to refer to a person's values system and mindset.
The matter of Yan Hao being taken away by the police while wearing a Spiderman costume created huge waves. After all, whether it was "Spiderman" or "police," both were worth getting worked up over. The intense and exciting Martial Arts Arranged Dating General Assembly was interrupted just like that.
"I was the one who brought him here. It's all because you people insisted that everyone has to sit in different groups. When I turned my head, I couldn't find where he had gone off too. This child gets scared whenever he's at a place he's not familiar with and doesn't even dare to go to the toilet!" The boss of the laundry shop had the surname Jiang, full name Jiang Xiangyang. He lived at No. 110 Courtyard. Other than running the laundry shop, he was also the leader of the tai chi squad of the Senior Citizens Morning Exercise Army. "Sect Leader Yang, he is the descendant of Old Senior Yan. There isn't anyone left in his family, that's why they came to Yanning to seek my help. He's a well-behaved and guileless child, how can the police take him away? What on earth is the misunderstanding here?"
Old Master Yang didn't know what "Spiderman" was and had only seen Yan Hao from far. Even though he was confused why this young man would want to dress up like a sneaky dragon fruit, he had been good neighbours with Boss Jiang for many decades, so he was still willing to believe his brother's words. "Don't panic, Xiao-Chuan is going with them."
Yu Lanchuan went off with Yu Yan and the others because after Spiderman Yan Hao was surrounded by the police, he became like a bird frightened by the twang of the bow string, ready to take flight at any second. This guy climbed high-rise buildings like walking on flat ground; if he escaped on the way, they would not be able to catch him, so they had to bring Yu Lanchuan along just in case.
"This kid is adamantly refusing to admit that he has stolen things before," Yu Yan said. "But we have checked, he came to Yanning at the beginning of this year. He eats and stays at the laundry shop, and usually hardly ever goes out. He doesn't have much money with him either. All his personal items are at the shop. My colleague just went over to see and didn't find anything suspicious either. Just an old laptop and some daily necessities, a few cans of cat food… If that's really the case, there is indeed no evidence to prove that he committed those high-rise burglaries."
"Canned cat food?" Yu Lanchuan asked curiously. "His taste is pretty heavy."
"Behave yourself." Yu Yan jabbed him with his elbow. "Maybe they're to feed stray cats, we don't know. It's not related to this case so we didn't ask in detail. If we ask any further, he's going to kill himself. Look at how he is, it really doesn't seem like he would have accomplices. I think that even for a territory fight, no one would be willing to be in a gang with him, much less for something risky like high-rise burglaries."
Yu Lanchuan asked, "Then, what about that night when 804 was broken into?"
Yu Yan said, "He said that he climbed the window that day just to give you the letter of challenge. He didn't go to 804."
Yu Lanchuan said, "Why on earth must he give me a letter of challenge? My good looks are my own business, I'm not stopping him from being ugly. Even if he defeats me, there is no stage-clearing reward."
"I don't know. He said it was his mum that made him do it. His mum's dying wish was for him to surpass his peers and become the new generation's… head of something supreme?"
"Ai, fine, your esteemed community doesn't have any damned thing to do the whole day but you guys sure have a lot of special terms. Five Supremes, so there are five of them. In the end, when this mummy's boy got here, he found out that other than himself, one person couldn't be found no matter what, one person would pant for breath just from running after the bus, and one person was a woman so he really didn't dare talk to her. So, after considering all of them, you're the only one left."
Yu Lanchuan, "..."
Yu Yan had a rather strange expression on his face. "That's right, he said that when he passed by the eighth floor that day, he saw the woman sobbing and making a huge fuss. The man was next to her, restraining her and trying to get her to calm down."
Yu Lanchuan frowned, "So who was the one who broke 804's window?"
"Our deduction is that the window should have been broken by Xiang Xiaoman," Yu Yan said. "My colleague is still there. Xiang Xiaoman's murder attempt was unsuccessful and is currently being restrained. Nie Ke is now admitting that he was indeed urged by the neighbours around him and had no choice but to make a false police report. Based on what Nie Ke said, Xiang Xiaoman was not in a good state during that period of time. That's why he sent their child away just a few days ago. That night, her illness suddenly flared up and she sobbed and made a fuss at home, and even threw things to vent her emotions. Nie Ke tried to hug her from the back to stop her from moving. Xiang Xiaoman grabbed a wooden chair and swung it backwards to hit him. She didn't hit Nie Ke, but broke the window. The injuries on her face and head also happened when she fought and struggled when Nie Ke restrained her."
There didn't seem to be any major problems with this explanation. Nie Ke wasn't a very burly man, it wouldn't be easy for him to restrain a grown woman who was acting wildly. For there to be falls and bumps during the process could be considered normal.
Yu Lanchuan thought of something and asked, "Then, who called the police today?"
"Right, that's also a question," Yu Yan said. "I have a colleague who has always been suspecting Nie Ke of domestic violence. She left her personal number with Xiang Xiaoman. The call today was made to her personal number. The other person's voice was a female voice, very soft and also came from very far away, so we initially thought it was Xiang Xiaoman herself. But Xiang Xiaoman didn't admit it. It makes sense too, since she had already contacted her accomplices and made the decision to kill Nie Ke, of course she wouldn't call the police herself. We've also checked the number the call was from, it's a single-use burner number."
Which was to say, someone knew what was happening at 804.
"The most troublesome thing now is that out of the two people who appeared inexplicably at Nie Ke's home, one escaped and couldn't be caught while the one we caught fell down from the eighth floor and is still in the hospital now." Yu Yan passed the phone to Yu Lanchuan. The entire sequence of events when the two people were hanging outside the window had been caught on the police's body cameras. "Xiang Xiaoman's drug was given by them. We are now suspecting that this is an organisation of substantial scale that instigates crimes. There's enough now to hand the case over to the detectives. I say, Master Lan, previously when I consulted you on the question of jumping over walls, you said that ordinary people can jump over walls with just a bit of training. Then, what level is this freehand wall climbing? Don't tell me that this type of sports is also included in the national 'Sports For All' program!"
Yu Lanchuan didn't say anything. The video was a little shaky. It started from the moment one of the two people fell down and the other person sprang up to clamber up the clothes drying rack. He rewatched this part of the video three times.
The one who fell down was nothing much. His skill was not good enough and he hadn't gotten a firm hold. But the other person's movement was very inexplicable — he had one very risky move where he swiftly leaped upwards, followed by a series of dodges and evasions like he was surrounded by perils. When he was hanging beneath the clothes rack, he had also looked up at something...
What was he looking at?
Yu Lanchuan suddenly stood up.
"What's the matter?" Yu Yan asked curiously. "Did your boss use a summoning talisman again?"
Yu Lanchuan ignored him. He rushed out of the police station and hailed a cab.
That person made those dodges and evasions because someone was throwing things down from the upper floor. There was also a possibility that the accomplice didn't fall down on his own. On this day when even Yang Yifan had reluctantly attended the "arranged dating general assembly" and everyone in the building who could have done this was not at home, other than...
The man was in a sorry state, panting harshly. He tore off his coat and face mask. On the inside, he wore a light sweater of a preppy style. He quickly ran his fingers through his hair, fumbled out a pair of glasses which he perched on his nose, and also made a small change to the way he walked. Immediately, his entire demeanour changed; he seemed like a feeble yet proud intellectual.
Right after that, he walked out of a small alley as though nothing had happened. He saw a bookstore at the corner of the street. Two primary school students were squatting by the small rack at the bookstore's entrance, choosing comics. The man narrowed his eyes a little and strode over. Without any warning, he grabbed the comic from the little girl's hands and asked sternly, "Are you students from No. 1 Primary School? Who taught you to read this kind of unhealthy extracurricular book? Which class are you from, who's your class teacher?"
His tone was stern and fierce. The two little children had probably just started school not long ago and were immediately frightened. They thought that he was really one of their school teachers that they did not recognise and stood frozen on the spot like two dead quails.
Right then, the police ran past in pursuit. Their eyes swept past the man standing with the children at the roadside, and didn't stop.
The man glanced at the police running further away out of the corner of his eye and smiled a barely discernible smile. Then, unexpectedly, he did not leave but instead, came up with a long lecture off the top of his head and scolded and scared the two unlucky children into crying. Only then did he brush off the dust on his pants, stood up, and swaggered away.
He was evidently a bad person who could not be saved anymore.
He avoided the police who were pursuing him. From far, he looked back and stared at the No. 110 Courtyard in the shaded lane. He spat on the ground. Just you wait.
Right then, a voice suddenly spoke from behind him. "The fine for spitting in public is fifty yuan. Teacher, as a role model for others, how could you be so uncivilised?"
The man had not noticed at all that someone was approaching him. Startled, he turned around abruptly but before he could see clearly who was behind him, the back of his knees took a heavy blow. His balance suddenly lost, he instinctively covered his head and landed on his shoulder, rolling on the ground. When he looked up, the space behind him was empty.
His eyes widened. Right at that moment, that voice again spoke from behind him. It sounded like someone was keeping their voice very low, delivering each word into his ears one by one. "Do you know what the real 'Paoding Jieniu' is? Are you even worthy of speaking those words?"
The man let out a roar. He jabbed his elbow to the back but met empty air. Right after that, a pair of hands pressed down on his shoulders, using the force of his jab to twist lightly. With a snap, half the man's body went numb. He even had a misperception that he had exerted too much force and dislocated his shoulder. The most outrageous thing was that the person actually used a plastic bag that had been used to carry deep-fried dough cakes to stifle his anguished scream in his mouth. The grease was all over his face!
Immediately after that, a cold light flashed in that person's hand. There was a chill on the man's neck.
In that second, he seemed to hear the sound of his flesh being cut open.
Before he lost consciousness, he heard the person say with a hint of a laugh, "The dotted line was not drawn clearly. Is this where I should cut?"
Yu Lanchuan leaped out of the cab. The elevator was too busy right now; he pressed the button a couple of times, then directly turned to run up the stairs to the tenth floor and started hammering on the 1003's door.
No one answered.
"Ge?" Liu Zhongqi was on vacation at home and heard the noise. He poked his head out, a shrimp dumpling half-stuffed in his mouth. "You're back, have you eaten? I just ordered delivery…"
Yu Lanchuan pushed him into the apartment. "Give me your phone!"
Baffled, Liu Zhongqi fumbled out his phone and handed it over.
Yu Lanchuan asked, "Do you have Gan Qing's number? Which one?"
Liu Zhongqi, who frequently went to Star Dreams to be deceived voluntarily, said, "...Big Swindler."
Yu Lanchuan found Gan Qing's number and immediately dialled it. Before it rang even once, the other side rejected the call.
If the one who called the police was Gan Qing, then there was a high chance that she had been keeping tabs on what was going on with that organisation that instigated murders. Otherwise, if she waited for Xiang Xiaoman to make a move before calling the police, by the time the police arrived everything would be too late.
It looked like she had learned her lesson from being found by Yu Yan the last time she called the police and knew to use a burner sim now.
How long had she been tracking this organisation?
Since she had called the police and had taken action to help them take down one person, why didn't she clearly point out the location of their nest to the police?
Where was she now, what was she planning?
Yu Lanchuan had a bizarre hunch. Gan Qing appeared to be someone who acted strictly according to convention and didn't bother with things that were none of her business but he kept feeling that… in her bones, this person was not a good citizen who followed norms and obeyed laws.
He opened up WeChat and sent three messages in a row to Gan Qing.
Where are you? What are you doing?
This is now a lawful society, don't cross the line!
I know you're seeing this, reply!
Liu Zhongqi swallowed the shrimp dumpling. "Ge, are you looking for her for something urgent?"
Yu Lanchuan ignored him. Gripping the phone, he pondered over how he could locate her.
"I feel that even though she's a big swindler, she seems quite… quite amazing." The first time they met, she had said that he had a sibling that he couldn't get along with. Until now, Liu Zhongqi still couldn't understand how she had known. "The last time, she looked at my English paper and said that I made fourteen mistakes in the fill-in-the-blanks exercise. I didn't believe her. Our teacher finished marking and returned the paper to us on Friday, I really got fourteen of them wrong! Ge, is fortune-telling really accurate?"
Yu Lanchuan, who scored 119 in TOEFL, had his train of thought cut off. Speechless, he glanced at Liu Zhongqi and suspected that his stepfather's genes had a virus.
Following that, he thought of something. "When was that?"
He hadn't seen Gan Qing for a while. Recently, this person seemed to be wandering outside every day.
"Last Monday." Liu Zhongqi said, "After the sports event on that day, I bumped into her at the entrance of Snow House. She even tricked me into treating her… Hey, ge…"
Yu Lanchuan turned and left immediately.
Liu Zhongqi said, "...My phone… Ai, forget it."
The desserts shop Snow House was located in a mess of winding and tangled little alleys. There was a former residence of a famous personage nearby and it could be considered a tourist spot. Quite a number of non-locals came to seek out this shop that was popular on the internet and also dropped by the tourist spot on the way. The people were many and various, and there were also a few guest houses and room rentals of dubious legality in the alleys. It was a place suitable for concealing wicked deeds.
Someone who spent the whole day tricking meals from a child probably wouldn't have spare money to visit an internet-popular shop. So why had she gone there?
What did she find out near that place?
As he hurried there, Yu Lanchuan notified Yu Yan.
Liu Zhongqi's phone was silent. Gan Qing hadn't replied.
At this hour, Snow House—the place where the drugs had changed hands between Xiang Xiaoman and the middle-aged woman—had just opened for business. There was already a line of customers. Behind it was an alley that was slanted at an angle, very well hidden. At a glance, it seemed to be a blind alley. One had to walk in to see that at the very end, there was a narrow lane wide enough for just one person to walk. Squeeze in, and it was another street. There was a hole-in-the-wall dingy little restaurant there and also a few small courtyards with guest houses scattered around, all totting unremarkable shop signboards.
The middle-aged woman hurried into a courtyard. She knocked on her companion's door. The person inside had just poked their head out when she pushed them in again and entered, closing the door behind her. "Are they back yet?"
This guestroom was a suite. There was a small hall and two bedrooms. One man and two women were inside.
The man shook his head and asked, "Why?"
The middle-aged woman paced in anxious circles. "Shifu had stressed that No. 110 Courtyard cannot be touched. It cannot be touched. You guys didn't listen and now we're in trouble!"
"That Xiang Xiaoman's circumstances were so suitable and she also has money. It's a pity to let it go." After saying that, the man continued asking, "What happened? Did they fail?"
"I don't know," the middle-aged woman said. "That place is full of police cars, I didn't dare take a second look. Quick, pack up, get ready to leave this place."
The other two women in the suite hastily separated to pack their things. Suddenly, one of them exclaimed in surprise. "Shijie, the 'Chun' tablet is gone!"
"How could you be so careless with our founder's memorial tablet!"
"It was right on the altar… Hey, who opened the window?"
Outside the guest house's tiny window, there was a soft snap. Leaning upright against the wall, Gan Qing snapped the wooden tablet into two pieces.
 Tai chi 太极拳 - a form of martial arts that is still commonly practised nowadays for health benefits.
Gan Qing looked down to glance at her phone. In just a short while, there were over twenty unread messages, all from Zhong But Not Qi. Even though the messages were all purely text only, from the words and punctuation used she could tell that the person sending the messages was hysterically trying to stop her from taking a misstep.
First he emphasised strongly on logic and rationality; then, he appealed gently to emotion and sentiment. He started by talking about looking at the big picture from society’s perspective and went all the way to talking about an individual’s choice, then from public policy doctrine to anti-violence rhetoric. One look and she could tell that it was definitely not that child Liu Zhongqi on the other side of the account.
He can really talk, Gan Qing thought.
In the harshness of late autumn, Yu Lanchuan ran until he was sweating all over. All the messages he sent out got as much response as stones thrown into the ocean. Finally, the “typing…” line popped out on the screen.
Yu Lanchuan’s breath hitched. He stared at the screen, every second seeming to stretch infinitely long.
She was replying! What was she going to say?
“This is none of your business”?
“I’ve already gotten rid of those people”?
Or… was there any chance that she had been persuaded by his words?
A few seconds later, Gan Qing’s message was finally sent. She had sent a crass-looking WeChat meme: I bow down to the power of your nagging.
Yu Lanchuan, “...”
Was there something wrong with her!
Gan Qing put away her phone, picked up a pebble, then raised her hand and flicked it towards the glass window next to her.
In unison, the three women and one man in the suite all jumped out of their skin in fright. The middle-aged woman dashed over to the window. “Who's there!”
The little courtyard of the guest house that was filled with junk was devoid of humans. A palm-sized leaf from a parasol tree spun as it floated down with a soft rustle. Before the four of them could investigate, someone fell straight down from where they had been leaning against the wall, hitting the ground with a heavy thump.
The man who had fled from No. 110 Courtyard was tied up like a rice dumpling, his glasses shattered until only the frame was left, his left arm and right leg bent at unnatural angles. The scariest thing was, there was a familiar red line on his neck.
His head was lowered and he was not moving. They couldn't tell whether he was alive or dead.
“Who! Who is it!”
“If I may ask,” Gan Qing spoke up and asked very politely, “what is the meaning of the ‘Wan Mu Chun’ written on this wooden tablet?”
The middle-aged woman looked up abruptly and sucked in a harsh breath. There were a few of them there but they had not realised that there was someone else in this courtyard until that person spoke up on her own and walked out of the shadow of the little building. As though to mock them, Gan Qing was also wearing a long hooded coat. The hood hung low, covering almost half her face. She was even wearing a face mask exactly like them.
Just one person… and a woman at that?
There was an old adage for traveling through the jianghu: The weaker a person looked, the more they should not be provoked. The world did not have so many lucky idiots; when the wrong person appeared at the wrong place, there was definitely something going on.
Gan Qing strolled over and stood still at the window. She threw the item in her hand onto the ground—it was the wooden memorial table, broken into two halves.
In unison, the three women and one man looked in the direction of the noise. “Our founder’s memorial tablet! You’re looking for death!”
The middle-aged woman reached out to stop her companion. “Friend, you don’t look like a cop. Which group are you from?”
Gan Qing took out a very long strip of cloth from her pocket which looked rather like the hand wraps used in Muay Thai. She smiled and carefully wound the cloth strip around her right hand, fixing those few fingers that were like withered sticks in place and protecting them. “Me? I’m just a curious passerby.”
“Wan Mu Chun is our sect,” the middle-aged woman said coldly. “In the generations before us, there had been one of the Five Supremes. The path we walk is a bright and open one, what we do is help the weak and defeat the strong. Friend, since you don’t know anything, why did you break our founder’s memorial tablet and even injure our shixiong?”
“Is that so?” Gan Qing’s voice had a hint of a smile but her eyes did not curve. “Just now, I saw the police chasing him and thought he was a wanted criminal.”
The man in the room shouted, “Who cares about the police!”
The middle-aged woman waved her hand. “Young lady, there is so much injustice in the world. There are some things that the police don’t want to handle and some things that they can’t handle. The things that they don’t handle, we will execute justice on behalf of Heaven. Yet, they say we are breaking the rules and laws. How is that logical?”
“I thought that anyone who still dares to say the words ‘Execute justice on behalf of Heaven’ in this day and age have all gone to work on making artificial rain,” Gan Qing said. “Aiding and abetting murder also counts?”
“We are killing a scumbag,” one of the other women in the room cut in agitatedly. “We are saving her!”
Gan Qing arched a brow.
“Since you know what we do, then we won’t beat around the bush,” the middle-aged woman said. “How many men out there beat their wife like they are sandbags, while outsiders think of it as resolving a family conflict and even urge them to forgive rather than to divorce? In the news, the men who beat their wives to death are sentenced to a few years in prison. But for the women who couldn't bear the torment anymore and got rid of those brutes, what kind of sentence do they get? Maybe you’re strong and have never suffered this kind of torment, but you’re also a woman. When you see and hear this kind of thing, don’t you put yourself in the other person’s shoes and feel even a bit of sympathy? Even without us, she will still go on this road one day. At that time, she might not be able to defeat this human scum and get hurt in return. Even if she is lucky and succeeds, if no one helps her take care of the aftermath, she would spend the rest of her life sitting behind bars!”
“Oh, then how do you guys plan to ‘execute justice on behalf of Heaven'?” Gan Qing asked. “First help her take care of the man’s corpse, then let her use her position as his wife to apply for leave and resign from his job. Transfer the assets as soon as possible, transform them into cash—you're a one-stop service provider. But a full-grown person disappearing is not something that can be covered up for long. She is a murderer at the end of her rope and she doesn’t have the ability to live independently at all. In the future, she can only join you guys and depend on your protection. Her family has a house and a car, they can afford to send their child to a bilingual kindergarten, they can afford to rent a school district residence in the middle of the city—their assets should be quite significant, am I right?”
“Lies and slander!”
“The cost is one packet of drug powder and a few days’ of room rental while the profit can be up to ten million. What a good deal.” Gan Qing smiled. She stretched out her leg and kicked the wooden tablet. “The name ‘Wan Mu Chun’ has been disgraced by you geniuses. I know a little about the origins of these three words, why don’t I share with you guys?”
“Wan Mu Chun—at the very beginning, it was known as Wan Chun Hall. They started during the Southern Song dynasty. At the start, their business was in murdering people and they took on any kind of dirty jobs. At a point of time, their name was notorious. Later on, after a few changes of dynasties, this sect slowly declined and the disciples scattered to the four winds. Only the ancient killing techniques were passed down. At the end of the Qing dynasty, there was this one person who reformed Wan Chun Hall’s ancient killing techniques and arranged them into a systematic and unique skill set called Paoding Jieniu and started a sect called Wan Mu Chun. To learn his skills is to not indulge in ferocity, to not fight fiercely, to not compare skills with others, to not be a chivalrous hero, and to take a life the moment the blade is out, efficient and ruthless.” The woman's slightly raspy voice said each word clearly and unhurriedly, like a patient museum guide. Then, for some unknown reason, the autumn wind sweeping across seemed to become noticeably colder, carrying with it the damp smell rising from the ground. “Because they were too vicious, in the later years, there was internal conflict among the disciples and they started killing each other. After going through great sorrow and rage, this old senior took action to cleanse the sect himself and set up a rule—in every generation, Wan Mu Chun can only take in one disciple.”
“What were you guys saying just now? This is your founder’s memorial tablet? But I see that your sect is flourishing and it really doesn’t look like there has been a few generations of single disciples.” After saying that, Gan Qing held her phone behind her back and pressed send. “Don’t tell me… you’re calling the wrong person daddy?”
Yu Lanchuan had rushed to where Snow House was located when his phone buzzed. The WeChat friend “Big Swindler” had sent her location!
In the little courtyard of the guest house, a chill ran down the middle-aged woman’s back. “Who on earth are you?”
“A passerby,” Gan Qing replied. “Exposing fakes on the way.”
Her words were still hanging in the air when the middle-aged woman suddenly made a move. She closed the window abruptly!
Practically at the same time, Gan Qing’s left hand moved forward. From her hand, something metallic slipped through the crack of the closing window, striking accurately on the woman’s wrist like a viper. The middle-aged woman shrieked and the window opened inward with a violent snap.
Gan Qing leaped up. In the room, the man lifted a wooden chair and hurled it at her.
Gan Qing seemed to laugh softly. She already had one foot on the windowsill; now, her entire body flipped forward with preternatural agility. She soared into the air, narrowly letting the chair smash past her. Kicking against the leg of the chair, she leaped up and disappeared.
The sound of the window shattering startled the people in the guest house. The dozing janitors who doubled as customer service personnel poked their heads out in a fluster. “What happened, what happened? Ahhh! Why is there a dead person in the courtyard!”
The middle-aged woman made a snap decision. “Quick, go!”
“What about Shixiong?”
“We don’t have time to bother with him, we’ll wait for a chance. Quick!”
The other two women and the man in the room grabbed their bags in unison, pulling out various lethal weapons—everything from electric truncheons to machetes—and charged towards the front door.
The door suddenly opened. Fingers wrapped in a cloth strip rested on the door frame.
The middle-aged woman said, “Careful, she has a hidden weapon in her hand!”
The electric truncheon and the machete swung towards Gan Qing’s head in unison. She seemed to blur into a shadow, slipping through the cracks of the pincer attack without even a single hair coming to harm. The woman holding the electric truncheon felt a pricking on her scalp and the truncheon in her hand snapped uncontrollably towards her companion standing beside her. Before she could let go and cut off the electric flow, it hit squarely on her machete-wielding companion’s wrist.
Gan Qing said, “If I want to get rid of you guys…”
The machete wielder took 100,000 volts without warning and fell down unconscious. The woman holding the electric truncheon had accidentally injured her own companion and hadn’t yet regained her wits when there was a sudden pain in her elbow. The electric truncheon immediately fell out of her hand; Gan Qing’s hand swept past and grabbed it. Swinging an expandable baton, the man in the room charged at her. Gan Qing didn’t seem to quite understand how to use the electric truncheon. Pressed for time, she used it as an ordinary weapon to block. With the electricity flow cut off, the outer shell very quickly cracked. She let out a “tsk” and shoved the electric truncheon forcefully towards the man’s chest.
The man wielding the expandable baton subconsciously dodged backwards. She contracted her stomach, her center of gravity shifting to the back. Then, with a kick, she flew to the man’s side. A buzzing sound went off beside his ear; the earth spun around him and then he was lying on the ground.
Gan Qing said, “...just my fingers are enough. Do I even need a hidden weapon?”
Right then, the wind whistled lethally by her ear. Gan Qing suddenly slid half a step to the back. A small metal bolt brushed past her, slicing open her sleeve. She turned back and saw that the middle-aged woman whose wrist she had injured had a small crossbow fitted to her arm, and was aiming right at her from a few steps away.
Gan Qing gasped in amazement. “I say, how did you guys pass the security checks?”
All the people in the guest house had been startled. Someone shouted in the courtyard, “Murder! Quick, call the police!”
“What kind of people do you have staying at this lousy place? Is this a pyramid scheme!”
The middle-aged woman’s forehead was covered in cold sweat. From a close distance, the crossbow hummed as it fired at Gan Qing. The illegal guest house was cramped and there was also furniture in the way on one side so Gan Qing could only dodge to the other side. At the same time, the woman who had lost hold of her electric truncheon just now caught her breath and picked up her companion’s machete. She swung at Gan Qing’s back, right at the spot where Gan Qing was dodging to!
On top of that, the crossbow was even capable of firing multiple shots. The metal bolts closed in on Gan Qing, strong and forceful. The woman was not even afraid of harming her own companion!
Gan Qing stepped to the side, letting the machete swing past. She raised her hand and grabbed the wielder’s wrist and neck, pulling her down viciously. The woman heard her bones break with a snap and even had a misperception that her neck was broken. She fell forward uncontrollably. Subconsciously and out of habit, Gan Qing made use of the woman’s fall to push her towards the incoming crossbow bolt, a lethal move…
Right at that moment, a wooden pole burst in from outside the window, hitting squarely on the middle-aged woman’s arm. The crossbow slipped loose. Gan Qing’s pupils contracted slightly; her wrist that was bound with a cloth strip suddenly pressed down on the person in her hands. The crossbow bolt brushed past the machete-wielding woman’s cheekbone, barely a few centimeters away from her left eye, and pierced Gan Qing’s coat.
Yu Lanchuan jumped in through the shattered window. He sent the crossbow on the ground flying with a kick and in a few efficient seconds, he restrained the middle-aged woman who tried to retrieve it. He looked up at Gan Qing and was nearly shocked out of his mind by the bolt hanging above her stomach. “Gan Qing!”
Gan Qing loosened her grip and dropped the woman who had fainted from shock onto the ground. She pulled out the bolt hanging on her coat. Luckily, she was thin and her clothes loose. The crossbow bolt had only pierced through her clothes, ripping open a hole on the thin imitation leather belt.
“Ai, that was close,” she muttered. “They nearly took my pants off.”
Yu Lanchuan, “...”
Gan Qing was not the least bit surprised to see Yu Lanchuan. She smiled at him. “Little Master Yu has quite a good sense of direction. I thought you would need to search for a while more.”
Yu Lanchuan came back to himself and took a deep breath. “Are you mad! If you know where their den is, why didn’t you call the police? Who do you think you are? Spiderman?”
Spiderman had just been arrested!
Gan Qing shrank back. “I…”
She was just about to speak when police sirens sounded from outside the guest house. The police were here quicker than expected.
“...I knew you would bring back-up.” Gan Qing sighed and winked at Yu Lanchuan. “Little Master Yu, since you’re here already, why don’t you help out to the end?”
“I don’t want to talk to the police. Just say that you took care of everything. Don’t worry, I knew what I was doing and no one’s dead. That one in the courtyard is still breathing.” In the space of a few words, Gan Qing had already leaped out the window. Clinging to the window frame, she climbed up to the second floor of the guest house. In a flash, she disappeared from the roof. “Tomorrow, I’ll get my pay and treat you to a meal!”
Shoved into the role of “the hero standing up for justice,” Yu Lanchuan looked at the mess the suite was in, his face expressionless.
Bullshit! Yu Yan knew him since primary school. He would never fight if the other party had more than two people!
"The one tied up in the courtyard is still alive. Other than two dislocated joints, he has no other major injuries. He was totally just frightened into fainting. Also, other than the line on his neck, there are seven other red lines on his body, all of them very fine blood marks. We don't know what was used to make the cuts, the wounds are very shallow, just barely breaking the skin and letting a bit of blood seep out." As Yu Yan spoke, he shivered. "The line on his neck was exactly the same as the red line the suspect drew on Nie Ke's neck. The few red lines on his body are practically symmetrical. From far, it looked like this person was cut into a few pieces. Master Lan, where did you get this cheat code from? It's too terrifying."
Yu Lanchuan hadn't yet thought of how he was going to shoulder the blame and Officer Yu was already excluding him from the list of suspects. He glanced at Yu Yan rather gloomily. "Why couldn't I have done it myself?"
"You?" Yu Yan's eyes widened in astonishment. "Four… Five people! Stop fooling around. My good sir, you treasure your life like a cat that has once gotten a terminal illness. Since young, it has always been other people fighting while you went and told the teacher. How you were at seven years old determines how you are now. It's impossible."
Yu Lanchuan, "..."
Yu Yan became serious. "Do you not know, or can you not say?"
Yu Lanchuan asked, "Is there a difference?"
"If you can't say, then it means that you know the person. I believe in your morals and how much you treasure your life, you won't have anything to do with crazy murderers," Yu Yan said. "If even you do not know, then this person who appeared in our area of jurisdiction today will make it rather hard for us to sleep at night."
Yu Lanchuan paused, then waved at Yu Yan. "About what happened today, just treat it as I saw something wrong going on and put it right. When my younger brother passed by this area last Monday, he saw Xiang Xiaoman and one of those people talking. That's why I came here to try my luck."
"All right, Alliance Leader. If you give me your word, I have no worries." Yu Yan understood his meaning. Then, he sighed. "These few people are quite the dangerous fugitives. They've all gone through professional training, they can climb up buildings freehanded and also carry around so many regulated weapons. To think they were defeated by one person with just their bare hands, and that person had even controlled their strength well enough not to cause any deaths… Master Lan, are they really still such experts in the world?"
Yu Lanchuan said, "The less you've seen, the easier you're impressed."
"No, it's not that," Yu Yan said. "Let's take you for example. Regardless of which sect you're from, your main occupation is study and work. Back then, if practising the sword and fist techniques interrupted your graduation project, you would have stopped practising, right? This is not a skill that can feed you unless you become a martial arts athlete. Otherwise, with how fierce the competition in society is, who would spend so much energy to study things like this?"
It was said that in ancient times, the main occupation of heroes was to "be chivalrous and uphold justice" but this career had long since lost all future prospects. This was because the business of collecting protection fees was conducted by prohibited underground societies. If one did not "uphold justice" properly, it was also easy to break the law. Studies were intense, work was time-consuming; to lose oneself in martial arts was evidently not an economical choice. Inversely, it was those burglary rings and members of the violent criminal class that had nothing proper to occupy themselves with every day and specialised in destruction who would diligently increase their level and have some real skills on them.
Then, what about Gan Qing?
Yu Lanchuan was lost in his thoughts.
Drawing lines on a person to break down their body into parts was definitely not something done by martial arts athletes. Where did her skills come from? What did she do in the past? Why was she hunkering down in a small accessories shop to pass her days?
Of course, this was just Yu Lanchuan's biased view as an "academic tyrant" and "elite". For people like him, "plans" and "checklists" were the cornerstone of their souls. Each and every one of them had a very clear career progression plan and very strictly disciplined management of themselves. In their eyes, those who did not have a career, who went everywhere to run errands for others, who had no decisions for the future, all belonged to the category of "deadbeats".
In actual fact, Gan Qing was not a deadbeat. As a witch, she worked very hard to sway her customers into buying things.
Gan Qing broke that "Wan Mu Chun" wooden tablet without leaving a trace, let the alliance leader shoulder the blame, then changed her clothes and went to work as though nothing had happened. To Boss Meng, her explanation was that she had gone to replenish the shop's stock. At night, she sewed up the torn belt herself, then cleverly cut up the coat that could not be saved anymore and transformed it into a bag. The next day, her personal life and work life went back to normal. She took none of it to heart, and waited in anticipation of warmer weather and her salary.
Looking at how every day was colder than the last, accessories made of metal and gemstones were not so easy to sell anymore. She had already prepared a batch of astrological sign scarves and gloves, as well as fortune-changing lucky charms. The sales revenue did not fall and instead, increased. The fortune-changing lucky charms were selling especially well. They were actually just a small embroidered pouch that cost 2.50 yuan each. Inside, they were stuffed with a colourful patterned talisman that she had randomly drawn herself with watercolours. She sold them at 20 yuan each. It was the same as reblogging the lucky carp on Weibo anyway, if one believed in it, it would come true.
Her basic salary was 1,500 yuan a month. The rest was a percentage of her monthly sales. Her commission in November was higher than her basic pay. After transferring her rent to her landlord Madam Zhang Meizhen, she still had 3,000 left.
"I'm rich!" Gan Qing sent Boss Meng a red packet worth fifty yuan to pay him back. "Uncle Meng, I won't be freeloading at your place today!"
"Where are you going to eat? Spending money frivolously again! When can you live your days properly!" Meng Tianyi walked out with a sigh. "You spend frivolously the moment you get paid, just a bit of money and you go crazy! At the end of the month, you'll be so poor again that you'll come to me for food. Ai, I told you to get social insurance somewhere, have you done it?"
Gan Qing took a long winding stretch of the body and brushed him off. "I will next month. Let me save a bit of money first or I'll be short of cash."
"Last month you said this month, this month you say next month! Greedy and lazy! Since when are you not short of cash!"
The words went in one ear and out the other. Gan Qing prepared to slip off.
Boss Meng called her back, taking out a large bag of old books from inside the shop. "Wait a bit. One of my old brothers' kids just finished taking the exams for self-taught students. I asked him for the books. Take them home and study them. While you're young and your memory is still good, go take the exams too."
Gan Qing took the books and both her hands immediately sank under the weight. She didn't feel like she could disappoint Boss Meng's good intentions, so she could only hold her nose and take them away.
Meng Tianyi said, "You need to be serious!"
Carrying the books, Gan Qing waved at him feebly.
She left Mudpool Backlane and got on a bus. She fished out a book from the bag and flipped through it, then stuffed it back in without much interest. Boss Meng's friend might not pass the exam—only the pages at the front showed signs of having been opened, the ones at the back were spotless.
The "greedy and lazy" Gan Qing didn't find a place to have a good meal. She didn't even eat at all. She took the bus all the way to the final stop, then got down and bought rice, flour, meat and a large bottle of oil. She walked along a very long stretch of road and arrived at an old neighbourhood at the outskirts.
Those items altogether weighed tens of pounds. On top of that, there was the large bag of books added by Boss Meng. By the time she reached the entrance of the small neighbourhood, Gan Qing was already panting a little, breaking out into a sweat in the cold wind. Her right hand was shaking so hard she could not hold on to the things. She put down the heavy items, blew on her palms where the blood was not circulating well, and ate a piece of chocolate.
During the morning rush hour every day, looking at the sardine-packed people above and below the ground, one would feel that Yanning's population size was bursting at its seams. But there were so many secluded places here where not even a stray cat could be seen when taking a night walk. Desolate and silent, so much so that when another person occasionally passed by, both parties would be equally startled.
From not far away, someone waved a flashlight for a bit. Gan Qing lifted her head. A few seconds later, there was the sound of footsteps, a little draggy. A withered and thin old lady walked over. When she saw Gan Qing, she said rather cautiously, "Y-You're here?"
Gan Qing let out a mm. She bent down and picked up the things. "Didn't you say the last time that you were out of oil?"
Seeing that she was carrying so many things, the old lady tried to come forward to help. Gan Qing raised an arm to keep her away and said coldly. "No need."
The old lady's leg was a little stiff. With much effort, she followed Gan Qing, smiled at her, and clumsily tried to find something to talk about. But she didn't know how to make conversation and everything she said sounded foolish and stammered. She talked on her own for a while, then seeing that Gan Qing had no intentions of paying her any attention, she closed her mouth in embarrassment.
The old lady's home was on the first floor, small and cramped. The inside of the house was pitch black, probably to save electricity. Now that a visitor was here, she hastily switched on the light. The poor quality incandescent bulb flickered without pause, colouring the furnishings in the house with dismal hue. There were dripping sounds coming from the kitchen and the toilet. Water dripped down from the faucets to be caught by plastic pails underneath. By collecting the water in this way, the water meter would not tick and she could save on the water bill. It was just that listening to the sound made a person feel agitated.
There was a rundown wooden dining table in the hall. One of the legs was a section shorter than the others and was propped up by a wooden block. On the table was a thermos flask and a row of small medicine bottles. There was also a bowl of half-eaten vegetable congee and a small plate of pickled radish.
"I cooked a bit for myself," the old lady said cautiously. "Have… Have you eaten? Do you want a bowl of congee?"
Gan Qing glanced at the kitchen. There were still a few wilted vegetable leaves on the chopping board. "You collected the scraps from the vegetable market?"
The old lady let out a soft mm.
Gan Qing took out a small stack of bills from her pocket and passed it over. "Just say if you don't have money. Do you need to go that far?"
The old lady took the money but there was no sign of happiness on her face. "I'm already being shameless just by staying alive. I'm useless, I can't do anything and always need to take medicine… Every day when I wake up in the morning, I wonder why I'm not dead yet. When I sit, I end up sitting for the whole day and I don't even have someone to talk to, I…"
As she spoke, she lowered her head and wiped her tears. "How can I keep asking for money from you? You're not my daughter… If my daughter was alive, I wouldn't be like this. My pitiful chi-"
Gan Qing cut her off with a scoff. "If your daughter didn't have a mother, she wouldn't die so young."
When the old lady heard that, she wailed in anguish. "I was the one who did that to her, I was the one who burdened her! But it was for her own good… Men earn money to support their families, they suffer outside, so if their temper is bad when they come home and they vent their anger, it's not a big deal. A pair of husband and wife arguing when they're young and occasionally hitting each other is normal… Whose life isn't like that? Just bear with it for a bit and it'll be over. She wanted to divorce but where would she find another partner? She doesn't have a job either, what was she going to eat? How would the two of us survive? ...Who would have thought that her temper… How could she go on that road of no return? She just couldn't be more accepting…"
On the back of Gan Qing's hand, a vein bulged out.
There were some people who lived under the same sky as everyone else, who grew to look like members of the same human species as everyone else, yet who knew what their brains contained. Normal people would never know what they were thinking and would never be able to communicate with them.
She couldn't beat up a trembling old lady and also couldn't be bothered to waste words on her. She looked up at a black-and-white photograph hanging on the wall. In the photo was a young lady, her features gently melancholic, smiling at her.
If it wasn't to repay your kindness, Gan Qing thought with an expressionless face as she turned to leave, I wouldn't come to see your rotten mother.
Passing through the quiet of the night, she headed back. She got down at the intersection and saw Yan Hao at the intersection in front of the laundry shop, squatting down to feed the stray cats.
Yan Hao was speaking softly to the cats. When he saw someone walking towards him, he immediately closed his mouth, his back tense like he was doing something wrong. He waited until she had walked far away before he let out a huge relieved breath.
The police had no concrete proof to link him to the burglaries. Even though sticking a paper notice on the outside of Yu Lanchuan's window had caused a disturbance to the residents, in the end, he couldn't be blamed for the entire matter. Hence, according to the Regulations on Administrative Penalties for Public Security, he was released. It could be considered a brief brush against the edges of the law.
But the matter of him being taken away by the police while wearing a strange costume had already spread around the nearby area. Rumours had wings and were capable of crossing a thousand miles in a day. At the start, there were some who said that he had stolen things. Very quickly, there were people who added seasonings to the story of him stealing things and it turned into him stealing underwear. As it spread, somehow, "stealing underwear" turned into "molesting women."
Very quickly, everyone knew that the laundry shop employee that didn't look normal was a pervert. Even the boss's business fell significantly. Yan Hao was already afraid of people; now he shrank even further into his shell. In his world, the only things left were the lonely Ayanami Rei and the stray cats.
The other related hot topic was the matter of Xiang Xiaoman's unsuccessful murder attempt on her husband. The case of Xiang Xiaoman and the mysterious criminal ring was no longer handled by the neighbourhood police station and had been handed over to the higher-ups.
However, apparently Nie Ke was magnanimous. In consideration of their child, he didn't want to pick a fight with someone who had mental health issues. It was said that someone who suffered from mental health issues did not have to bear punishments under the law. If it was proven, she would likely spend the rest of her life in a psychiatric hospital… As for why she wanted to kill her husband, who knew?
She couldn't even speak clearly.
Did a mad person need a reason?
The traffic in Yanning gradually grew sparse. This entire city was full of people who had lost their voices.
Gan Qing hadn't had dinner and her stomach felt very cold. She was very afraid of the cold and every winter was very difficult for her to endure. At least she now had heating at home. Hence, she briskly slipped into the corridor of No. 110 Courtyard, shivering as she breathed out a puff of cold air.
"Back so late?" The sound-activated light in the elevator lobby lit up.
Gan Qing looked up and realised that, unexpectedly, it was Yu Lanchuan who was there waiting for the elevator.
Yu Lanchuan gave her a solemn nod, looking every inch the elite businessman. "It has been a week, have you received your salary?"
Gan Qing, "..."
She was frozen by the cold and couldn't follow the conversation.
Hence, Yu Lanchuan went for a direct hit. "You still owe me a meal."
According to Gan Qing's general knowledge, "I'll treat you to a meal next time" was about the same as "You're not fat at all"; both belonged to the category of "New Year greetings." They were purely to express politeness and had no practical value. Most people did not take them to heart.
There was a possibility that the alliance leader was not "most people."
"This… Aren't you very busy?" Gan Qing was dumbstruck for a while and it took her a lot of effort to squeeze out a few words. "I see that you work overtime every day and have so many things to do, so I didn't dare ask you."
"It's okay." Yu Lanchuan looked at her intently. "This month is still all right. Next month will be the end of the year and there will be even more miscellaneous things to take care of at the office. So it's better to fix the time at a nearer date."
And also to avoid letting it drag until the end of the month when you'll run out of money again.
Yu Lanchuan paused, then added, "After all, that day, I helped you out of the kindness of my heart."
In the end, not only did you abandon me in the villains' den, I even had to face the police and shoulder the blame for you.
Yu Lanchuan's every word had half a word's worth of breathing space. His tone was calm and mild, and didn't sound particularly impolite. But the unspoken accusations were all in his gaze, letting her feel them for herself.
The wages Gan Qing had received that afternoon was like a box of tissue during flu season; she couldn't avoid pulling from it a few times and more than half of it was gone by now. Her heart felt colder than her stomach.
She looked at Director Yu's structured and stylish wool coat, then glanced at her own cotton-padded jacket that she had bought at a huge discount, and felt that this was the scene of a brutal and merciless exploitation.
But owing a debt to someone and even having that someone come up to collect it was indeed something rather embarrassing. Gan Qing had no choice but to grit her teeth and acknowledge it. Thinking that it was better to end the pain as soon as possible, she said, "Then, have you eaten today? I happen to be hungry now. It's rare for us to bump into each other, why don't I treat you to supper?"
She thought calculatively, Supper is cheaper than a proper meal.
As an expert in keeping a healthy lifestyle, unless he was so busy that he really had no other choice, Yu Lanchuan was strongly against consuming food late at night. But now, he stared at Gan Qing for a while for some reason, and then unexpectedly nodded his head. "Okay."
Even though Gan Qing had furtively changed her words from "meal" to "supper," she was still treating someone after all. Hence, she still picked the most luxurious place within her level of expenditure—she brought Director Yu to a McDonald's about 300 meters away.
After the age of twenty-four, Yu Lanchuan had never stepped foot into a fast food restaurant and he was shocked to his core. After locking eyes with the red-headed uncle at the entrance for a while, he turned his head around to give Gan Qing an incredulous look—This is what you're treating me to?
"Not used to it?" Gan Qing beamed and extended a hand to point at the opposite side of the road. "There's a malatang place over there. It's also pretty good. I know the boss well, we can go there too."
Yu Lanchuan followed her gaze to see that there was indeed a hole-in-the-wall place on the opposite side of the road. The shop's door was a thick hanging screen the colour of dirt yellow. The cooking grease might have been used to smear the windows and he couldn't see what it was like inside. The shop's environment was extremely dire. At the entrance, the name of the shop was spelled out using a string of lightbulbs, three words in total, half of them spoiled, all of them trembling in the cold wind.
Why hadn't it been shut down by the relevant agencies?
Gan Qing said, "It's just that his shop is a little small. At this hour, there might not be seats anymore and we'll have to stand-"
Quick as lightning, Yu Lanchuan bolted into the McDonald's.
Once he entered, the heavy smell of the frying grease and butter greeted him. Yu Lanchuan had a vague feeling that he had entered some arranged dating forum—Topic: My arranged dating partner is a weirdo.
Based on incomplete statistics, stories complaining about these "weirdos" usually started with "The place where we met up for the first time was, of all places, a McDonald's / KFC."
Gan Qing asked considerately, "Is there anything you don't eat? What do you like to eat?"
Yu Lanchuan thought discontentedly, There's nothing here that I eat and nothing that I want to eat.
However, beyond his control, his mouth said, "...No, anything is fine."
Gan Qing said, "So easy to feed? Then, I'll order as I wish."
Yu Lanchuan put on a fake smile. "...Sure."
After ordering and while waiting for the food, Gan Qing turned her head around and saw that Director Yu had taken off his coat, folded it neatly and draped it over the back of his chair. Under the cuff of his shirt, a section of a crocodile leather watch strap could be seen.
Speaking of which, Yu Lanchuan was actually a rather solemn person. He had quite the proper and serious air about him.
This kind of bearing was very hard to maintain because it usually required a person to have a sense of being aloof and remote, a cold indifference, a pureness and an immortal-like air. If the person was not immortal-like enough, just a bit of carelessness and it would turn into a kind of greasy and ill-bred kind of feeling. A sanctimonious kind of ill-bred manner was often even more of an annoyance than the kind that looked ugly and sly.
But Little Master Yu was just that incredible. His "clear, cold and proper" manner was not pure enough. One look was enough to tell that it was a pretence; yet, it did not feel crass. Instead, it was a touch comical. The moment he came on stage, he blew away all the cold wind and flames of anger in her belly today.
She saw him pick up a paper placemat menu. His posture as he studied the thing with knitted brows was just like an emperor reading petitions—a very severe expression, like he was ready to sentence a corrupt official to death by beheading.
Gan Qing amused herself with her own thoughts and accidentally let out a laugh. Yu Lanchuan, who was sitting with perfect posture, had very alert ears and unexpectedly heard her even from so far away. With an immortal-like yet severe manner, he lifted his head to glance at her.
Gan Qing let slip another puff of laughter.
It only made her want to laugh even more.
At this hour, there weren't many people eating in the restaurant. The few, straggling customers were mostly not there to eat. Yu Lanchuan surveyed his surroundings and saw a clean scrap-collector dozing in the corner. A seven or eight years old student was taking up an entire table, sipping on Coke while doing homework. A food delivery worker was perhaps there to rest his feet and was sprawled on a table, sleeping. There were a few more people who had ordered some snacks and were hotly discussing a "Series A Financing" at a table where the average expenditure was thirty yuan per person.
Gan Qing bought an extra bowl of corn and put it down before the primary school student as she passed by, and patted him on the head. The little boy seemed to be very familiar with her. He cheerfully accepted the corn and gave her a gap-toothed smile.
"The kid is from the malatang place on the other side of the road," Gan Qing said. "The family of three all stays in the shop. The shop is doing business and there are customers who drink at night. It's too rowdy so he comes here to do his homework."
Yu Lanchuan watched her tear open a sauce packet with ease and familiarity, and thought he could hear the sound of a bomb exploding.
Gan Qing said, "The fries are newly fried."
High GI food.
Yu Lanchuan stared at her fingers, a string of words starting to pop up frantically in his heart: Once ingested into the stomach, your blood sugar will take a helicopter straight up to the sky. Then, you will open the sluice gates and release the insulin, rapidly converting the calories into fat. When your blood sugar is in mid-flight, the helicopter under your butt will disappear and you will start to freefall. You will realise that you are hungry again, and you just can't stop. These freshly made fats will clog your arteries and organs. Once ingested, they cannot be vomited out. In the future, what awaits you is high cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood sugar.
He glanced at the reed-thin Gan Qing and felt that her pancreas was at the moment frantically shrieking.
As the person paying for the meal, when Gan Qing saw that he was not moving, she thoughtfully took a cup of Coke, poked a straw through the cap and passed it to him. "Don't hold back."
Yu Lanchuan, "..."
High sugar will trigger dopamine production, similar to how addiction to drugs is formed. As time goes by, it will lower your cognitive ability and increase emotional disturbance—which is to say, you will become gloomy and foolish.
The main speaker at the "Series A Financing" table next to theirs was as impassioned as ever. "...Health will definitely be the issue that people will be most concerned with in the future, especially healthy eating! But due to the lack of professional knowledge and also the negligence of nutritional makeup, we always consume a lot of junk food without realising it. The main purpose of our product is to take care of this problem. It provides our customers with a comprehensive and all-rounded nutritional balance…"
Yu Lanchuan couldn't bear listening anymore. He took a gulp of the Coke, putting on a brave face like he was testing poison with his body, and thought resentfully, Why am I here… Damn, this tastes good.
The more Gan Qing looked at him, the more amused she was. With his expression accompanying the meal, her appetite improved significantly.
To prevent himself from accidentally eating even more junk food, Yu Lanchuan drank two gulps and then reached out to firmly pinch off the straw and tried to occupy his mouth by talking. "Since when did you start following Xiang Xiaoman and that group of people?"
Gan Qing fobbed him off without even looking up. "I was bored and wandering around, and accidentally bumped into them."
Yu Lanchuan asked, "Since you had always known that they were there, why didn't you report them to the police earlier?"
"How would I know what they were going to do?" Gan Qing spread her hands helplessly. "What if they were non-locals who came here for a holiday and were just meeting up with their internet friend on the way?"
"You do know." Yu Lanchuan was not willing to let her off. "On the day when Xiang Xiaoman made her move, when you called the police, those two people had just reached the intersection. Don't deny it, there's CCTV at the traffic lights at the intersection."
"Don't make blind guesses. How can I have the ability to tell the future?" Gan Qing dipped a fry in her ice-cream and ate it, not revealing a thing. "What did the person who called the police say? 'I saw two suspicious people walk over from the intersection'? 110 pays attention to calls like this nowadays too?"
Yu Lanchuan was unmoved. "That gang had a wooden memorial tablet carved with the words 'Wan Mu Chun.' Someone broke it."
Gan Qing's hands paused. The fry she was holding dipped into a spot of chocolate. Then, as though nothing had happened, she said, "Is that so? I didn't notice it. Maybe it was broken when we were fighting."
"Wan Mu Chun is one of the Five Supremes. Have you heard of the name?" Yu Lanchuan asked mildly, "Aren't you curious why the descendants of a hero would do such things?"
Gan Qing said, "Please excuse my ignorance, I'm rather uninformed of what's going on in the world."
Yu Lanchuan said, "I think no. In that gang of criminals, there was one person whose body had a few blood marks. The line on his neck is in the exact same position as the one he drew on Nie Ke's neck. Such a coincidence—either you were there watching when Xiang Xiaoman was about to commit murder, or you have an exceptional understanding of these people's methods. You went to their den on your own and broke that wooden tablet, is it because you have a grudge against the legendary Wan Mu Chun who disappeared without a trace or because you are related to Wan Mu Chun in some way, and can't bear to see others laying false claims to the name?"
Gan Qing sighed and looked at him in resignation. "Little Master Yu, the reason why I live in your esteemed neighbourhood is really only because I'm poor. I couldn't find a suitable place so I thickened my skin and begged for shelter. I don't have any other intentions. We're neighbours after all so this is also fate. If we can get along without any trouble, that's for the best. If I happen to turn rich one day, I may move out immediately. I've never questioned you about the lineage of your skills, have I?"
"You want to ask which lineage my skills belong to? The Seven Secret Arts of Han Jiang was taught to me by my grandfather. The schools where I did my undergraduate and masters are listed on my resume, you can find it on my company's website," Yu Lanchuan said frankly. "Which lottery did you buy that you're prepared to get rich from? Is it a number you divined yourself?"
Gan Qing, "..."
Yu Lanchuan said, "I'm not being a busybody. However, I helped you cover up for this matter. I have a right to know who I helped and why I helped, don't I?"
Gan Qing fell silent for a few seconds. Just as Yu Lanchuan thought she was going to drown herself in the ice-cream, she finally said slowly, "That day, Xiang Xiaoman's screams made me think of a friend."
Yu Lanchuan raised a brow slightly.
"She had been abused by her own husband and had never been able to walk out of that shadow. Sometimes, when she startled awake from her nightmares in the middle of the night, she would scream in that way."
"Screaming herself hoarse. Consciously and purposely screaming herself hoarse." Gan Qing thought awhile. "Not because of pain and also not because she was frightened. What she was letting out was the pain that had accumulated over a very long time but could not be expressed… or perhaps she had expressed it before but no one understood her, no one listened to her."
Yu Lanchuan said, "But Xiang Xiaoman had no injuries. The neighbours can also testify that Nie Ke had never abused her. The soundproofing in the old building isn't good. When the kid next door gets a little louder when practicing music, sometimes the sound travels through the heating vents. If Nie Ke had hit her before, there's no way the neighbours wouldn't know at all. They've stayed there for a year already."
"Yeah." Gan Qing smiled placidly. "I heard. I guess I was mistaken."
Perhaps Xiang Xiaoman had really become mentally unstable to the point where she saw Nie Ke as some kind of enemy. In any case, someone was taking care of it now. Evidence would speak, the investigation would have a conclusion.
Fortunately, there was no loss of life.
Since that was the case, as this was somebody else's business, outsiders like them could not poke their noses in and neither did they have the right to.
The two of them finished eating and went back home. It was already very late.
When Gan Qing was about to open her door, Alliance Leader Yu suddenly spoke up. "Let me add you on WeChat."
Gan Qing looked up to glance at him.
Yu Lanchuan met her eyes and felt a little nervous for some reason. Hence, he lowered his head and forced an explanation. "I've vouched for you to Yu Yan before. I hope that the next time you get up to these antics, you can notify me beforehand."
Gan Qing had added all sorts of customers to her WeChat, adding one more person made no difference. In her heart, she thought, This alliance leader doesn't get paid a single cent for his efforts but he's acting quite the part.
Yu Lanchuan said, "You…"
Gan Qing poked her head out from the apartment, "Mm?"
Yu Lanchuan hesitated a while, wanting to speak but stopping himself again. He shook his head.
Gan Qing's usual bedtime had long since passed. The overpowering circadian rhythm was urging her to lie down and she said goodbye to Yu Lanchuan without thinking too much. She washed up, then walked through the heated air contentedly and burrowed into her blankets, ready to sleep.
Right then, her phone buzzed.
Gan Qing opened her eyes a slit and realised that the message came from next door.
Yu Lanchuan asked: From the way you speak, you sound like a local?
Gan Qing replied: Not really. When I was young, I attended school here for a few years as a temporary student.
Yu Lanchuan replied almost immediately: Primary school? Secondary school?
Yu Lanchuan sent: You're so familiar with Mudpool Backlane, was it because you have stayed there before?
Gan Qing was probably sleepy. It was a while before she sent a brief reply: Yeah.
Yu Lanchuan stared at that "Yeah." Then, he opened the photo Yu Yan had sent him. After a while, he realised that he had been subconsciously holding his breath. He took off his glasses and pressed hard at the center of his brows….
Fifteen years ago, the girl from Mudpool Backlane…
...might be right next door.
Yu Lanchuan's grandparents had passed away before he was born so he didn't know them well. Apart from them, the only person from that older generation of his family was the granduncle who was a wild, unrestrained old man. One generation above Yu Lanchuan himself was his father, an unrestrained middle-aged man. Based on this pattern, this family might be one where "the wild waves at the back pushes forward the waves in front, each wave reaching ever greater heights." As for Yu Lanchuan himself, based on the way he was right now, he still had quite the appearance of a proper person but no one knew what would happen in the future. He might still be in his incubation period.
Yu Lanchuan's mother was the complete opposite. She was a diehard perfectionist. In her whole life, she was strict with herself and even stricter with others. She believed firmly that "If one doesn't worry about the long-term, one would have to worry about the short-term." She spent every minute and every second worrying, and also had very strong self-control.
These two people being together was like a wild horse falling in love with the cement ground. There was nothing wrong with their personalities, they were purely just incompatible.
Yu Lanchun inherited the Yu clan's "unrestrained" genes and had been "obedient with a touch of wildness" since young. Especially during his chuuni period—even though he had largely been able to follow all the preset rules, he had to follow them out of his own volition. The moment someone else interfered, he would definitely rebel in secret while outwardly obeying.
When Liu Zhongqi was born, his mother had a bit of postpartum depression. Her emotions swung wildly and her need for control that she usually could restrain intensified, causing a huge havoc in the family. At that time, school had just started and Yu Lanchuan's heart was still floating restlessly in the summer holiday mood. He hadn't adjusted his state of mind and cut some corners on his homework. When his mother who could not quite control her emotions saw it, she tore it up and made him redo it, and even said that she would call his teacher.
Fifteen years ago, the chuuni Yu Lanchuan hadn't argued with her. Silently, he redid his homework. Then, when everyone was asleep at night, he took the chance to pack his things and ran away from home without even leaving a note.
However, even though they had both ran away from home, he was more self-aware than Liu Zhongqi. Liu Zhongqi had acted completely on impulse and hadn't even thought of where he would stay. On the other hand, back then, Yu Lanchuan had planned everything out clearly—he planned to look for Granduncle and shelter there for a period of time, then find a reason to apply to stay in the school dorms. He would not go back home anymore in the future. Out of sight, out of mind.
Thinking of it, the reason why his mum used the "western-style" education on her younger child after that was likely because she had learned from that incident.
That day, Yu Lanchuan had taken a cab to No. 110 Courtyard in the middle of the night. He knocked on the door for a long while but no one answered. He had always stayed there during festive occasions and had a key to Granduncle's house, so he opened the door to enter. The old man's bedroom door was opened. Little Yu Lanchuan poked his head in to see and realised that the blankets were unfolded. The old man seemed to have gotten into bed, then rushed out again because of some matter.
Little Yu Lanchuan waited for a while. He was so sleepy that he could not keep his eyes open, so he hung his school bag behind the door and went to sleep in the other room. Initially, he thought that once he opened his eyes the next day, he would be able to eat the old man's fried rice but when he woke up in the morning, he realised that the old man had not returned home the whole night. He searched around the house and finally found a scrawled note beside the old landline phone. Someone had written an address in pencil. Little Yu Lanchuan could make out the words "Mudpool Backlane."
That day happened to be a Saturday. There was no one to handle the gremlin child. His curiosity lit ablaze by that single spark, he followed the note to go to the legendary "Mudpool Backlane" to investigate. He even bought a bag of small dumplings from a roadside stall. In the end, before he finished the dumplings, he had gotten lost in the tangled maze of alleys. Just as he wanted to ask for directions, he was knocked unconscious and stuffed into a car.
That girl had left him at a landfill and ran off on her own. Amidst the overwhelmingly smelly piles of trash, he listened fearfully to the jumbled voices carrying over from not far away and then heading off to somewhere else. The people were cursing and the tone of the barking dogs had changed, so bleak that they sounded like the howling of wolves.
He tried his best to extend his ears, wanting to hear even just a word from the girl, but there was none.
He wanted to climb out from somewhere and look for her, but those people came too quickly and also ran off too quickly. Before he realised what was happening, he could no longer tell where they had chased the girl to. Little Yu Lanchuan hid alone in the darkness, unable to see or hear anything. His mind was flooded with all kinds of terrifying scenes—those people catching her, or the dogs pouncing on her and tearing her to shreds...
It was only in the morning of the next day that there were rubbish trucks coming in and he was rescued. Granduncle had spent an entire day and night looking for him, his hair nearly turning white from panic.
Because of that one incident, Yu Lanchuan finally knew that Granduncle was not an ordinary person. A corner of that mysterious world hidden beside him was revealed. Later on, that band of evil kidnappers were caught and Yu Lanchuan finally knew that he had actually been dragged into a jianghu dispute. Someone was keeping an eye on No. 110 and he had been followed the moment he left the place. No. 110 was near the city center so the other party had not dared to do anything at first. Who knew he would go to Mudpool Backlane on his own, walking right into the trap.
But no one ever saw the girl who saved him again. After hearing what Little Yu Lanchuan said, Yu Huaide tried to find out about her but his efforts were fruitless. Everyone suspected that she was something he imagined when in a state of extreme fear.
Only Yu Lanchuan knew that was not the case. He was already past the age where he couldn't differentiate between fiction and reality. Furthermore, even if it was really his imagination, he could have picked Sun Wukong or the Transformers, why would he come up with a scrawny girl?
The young girl that couldn't be found tormented him for close to half a year, playing the lead role in his every nightmare.
From then on, Yu Lanchuan never again dared to step out of line. He never again caused trouble that he could not handle and even pestered Granduncle to teach him the Seven Secret Arts of Han Jiang.
That's right. Yu Lanchuan suddenly remembered—when he first started practising the sword, he was still young. He hadn't been thinking of preventing sudden death from overwork. The original purpose that enabled him to persevere was so that he would be able to protect himself and others if he encountered any danger in the future. He wouldn't lose his head out of fear and wouldn't have any regrets when it was over…
It could be said that it was because of her.
That day, where did those people chase her to? What happened after that?
Has she been staying at Mudpool Backlane all these years? Or did she go elsewhere… And what happened to her hand?
Yu Lanchuan had always slept well; now, he spent the entire night tossing and turning.
Based on a few rounds of interactions, Gan Qing seemed to be a very easy-going person but still waters ran deep. She was definitely not the type to share matters close to her heart with people she did not know well. All these things that he was dying to know, he would definitely not get an answer if he asked her directly, especially when so many years had passed and she seemed to no longer remember him.
It's okay, Yu Lanchuan thought. Just you wait.
Gan Qing had always been early to bed and early to rise. In the morning, she fumbled for her phone and looked at the time, and realised that she had fallen asleep right after sending the message and hadn't even closed the app. As she clambered out of bed to wash up, she scrolled through Yu Lanchuan's WeChat Moments out of boredom.
Little Master Yu's WeChat name was just "Yu Lanchuan" and his profile pic was his own handwritten signature, extremely simple and plain. The posts he made to his WeChat Moments were never deleted. Gan Qing skimmed through them and saw that they were all long articles on things like Trends in Monetary Policy, Interpretation of New Regulations on XX, Global XXX. It made her head spin and she felt that she had clicked into the official account for some financial news site.
Right at that moment, there was a notification saying that the WeChat Moments had been updated. Gan Qing pulled down to refresh and realised that the alliance leader next door had reblogged a long informative article early in the morning. This time, the topic was "If you do not watch your diet, are you enjoying life or are you letting go of yourself?"
The image accompanying the article was cookies and "fat happy water."
Gan Qing spluttered with laughter and coughed.
She nearly choked on the toothpaste. Thinking of Yu Lanchuan's expression yesterday when they were in front of McDonald's, Gan Qing suspected that he had been suppressing these words for the entire night, and might even not have slept well.
At half past six, Gan Qing left the house on time in search of breakfast. Yu Lanchuan had long since been keeping an ear out for any noise and immediately followed suit, and even made a note in his phone: Leaves the house at 6.30.
The two of them "bumped" into each other at the elevator lobby. Gan Qing asked in surprise, "Little Master Yu goes to work so early?"
Yu Lanchuan answered reservedly, "Yeah, I'm going to work earlier to take care of some matters."
Gan Qing said, "Ai, that's how it is. It isn't easy to earn a bit of money."
Director "not easy" Yu reached his office before 6.45 a.m. The office building was pitch dark, even the janitors hadn't yet arrived at their post. His sudden diligence made his colleagues suspect that he was planning to usurp the head of department's position.
After a week's effort, Yu Lanchuan figured out Gan Qing's work and rest hours. Regardless of whether it was a work day or a rest day, she left the house at around 6.30 in the morning every day and came back around 8.15. She tidied up for a while, then went to work at around 9.30. At night, if there weren't any special circumstances, she would be back by a little past 9. She would not reply messages after 10.30.
Every Sunday afternoon, she posted the coming week's horoscope for the twelve astrological signs along with tips on what to wear for good luck, subtly reminding those people who believed in her nefarious teachings that it was time to give her money. Every now and then, she would go to the wholesale market for small merchandise and close the shop for half a day. She would even shamelessly post in her WeChat Moments a day earlier, stating that she needed to "go into seclusion" to experience the trajectory of the stars.
As long as she was not sleeping, she replied messages very quickly. She had an amazingly large amount of memes and she liked everything she saw in her WeChat Moments. It was obvious that her daily work consisted of two things—hoodwinking people and playing with her phone.
On Gan Qing's side, she realised that recently, Little Master Yu turned into someone she bumped into at all times of the day. In the past, even though they were neighbours, they had barely met once a week. Now, they bumped into each other at least once a day. Every three or five days, there would even be an incident—for example, the next door's delivery packages being sent by mistake to her place, or something was spoiled next door so he came over to borrow a spanner… Yu Lanchuan probably didn't like owing people a debt. When thanking others, he never used words. If he troubled someone today, the very next day he would send something over. It was usually little things like a few bags of nuts or two pounds of cherries.
When Gan Qing came to stay at No. 110 Courtyard, she wanted to quietly find a place to burrow into. She hadn't planned on interacting with anyone. Unexpectedly, due to a bunch of petty and minor incidents, she somehow became close to her cold and aloof neighbour.
More than ten days later, Gan Qing was lectured by Boss Meng while having dinner and because of that, accidentally ate an extra half a pound of grilled chicken wings. Her stomach was a little stuffed and she purposely took the long way home, planning to walk a bit more to help digest the food. When she passed by the nearby shopping center, she happened to see Nie Ke carrying two bags of daily necessities walking out of the supermarket.
This man was right in the middle of a morass of rumours and gossip. Whenever he got his hands on someone, he would put on a show of how pitiful he was for them. He was completely like a modern day Mr. Rochester. Xiang Xiaoman would likely have to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital in the future if she was freed, and it was said that there were already kind-hearted matchmakers introducing potential partners to Nie Ke now.
Gan Qing didn't have the mood to see his face of "deep emotions and strong honour, deserving of pity and respect." She purposely dawdled for a while, waiting for Nie Ke to walk further away until there was a distance of a few hundred meters between them so that they wouldn't be walking together.
Right as Nie Ke turned at the last intersection, out of the corner of her eye, Gan Qing, who had her head lowered looking at her phone, suddenly saw a shadow running in Nie Ke's direction. It was so fast it was like the car lights sweeping past a large tree…
But there were no cars at the intersection right now.
Gan Qing frowned.
 "Fat happy water" 肥仔快乐水 is another name for Coca-Cola in China.
Yan Hao wasn't good at reading a person's words and face but he had a unique ability—if the other person disliked him, he was able to immediately discern the person's ill will. He could also always accidentally overhear other people discussing him.
He didn't know why he was like that. Maybe it was because no one paid him any attention, so his world was quieter than other people's and hence, also more sensitive.
That evening, when Old Master Yang came to the laundry shop to look for Boss Jiang, Yan Hao was actually right at the door.
It happened to be the time for his dinner. At this time, Boss Jiang would come to take his place to watch the shop, giving him one hour of rest time. But Yan Hao had never dared to take too long. He had always just bought something convenient, stuffed the entire thing into his mouth, and then went back.
It was just that while he was waiting for the lights to change at the intersection, from far he saw Old Master Yang enter the shop.
Even though Old Master Yang had joined the workforce after the country was liberated, he still carried on the old traditions. If his clothes could be patched up, he would not throw them away. He usually just wore cotton shirts and pants; he didn't have anything that needed to be dry-cleaned or anything high-quality that needed special treatment. He was also very unused to the habits of the younger people who were not willing to even wash a pair of socks on their own. If he came to the shop, it was certainly not for the shop's business. He definitely had something to say to Boss Jiang.
Those elderly and high-ranking people made Yan Hao nervous, no matter how kindly they were. He really didn't want to meet Sect Leader Yang face-to-face, so he hesitated a while at the laundry shop's entrance.
Old Yang and Boss Jiang very quickly finished talking and came out. Yan Hao heard their voices.
"...Since she came from thousands of miles away to seek shelter with me, what else could I do?" This was Boss Jiang's voice.
Yan Hao's heart stuttered. He keenly sensed who the words were referring to and his heart started thumping wildly. Following that, he flitted away like a swallow and hid behind a trash can in the little lane at the side.
Boss Jiang supported Old Yang to cross over the laundry shop's doorstep. "Watch your step, Sect Leader Yang."
Yan Hao heard Old Yang say, "It has affected your business, hasn't it?"
Boss Jiang smiled bitterly and let out a regretful sigh.
Old Yang patted him on the shoulder. Boss Jiang only said vaguely, "This is also a problem… Ai, be careful on your way back."
It was the evening rush hour. The tree-lined road was full of rushing people and congested cars. The mannerless drivers honked right into the people's ears, bi— bi—, and the people's voices were cacophonous. The two old men didn't notice the "little sparrow" behind the trash can. Boss Jiang conscientiously watched Old Master Yang walk all the way to the intersection before putting his hand behind his back, lowering his head, and slowly turning around to walk towards his shop. His face drooped down and looked rather anxious and bitter.
What else could I do… Affected your business… Problem...
These few phrases looped in Yan Hao's head. Alone, he curled into himself behind the trash can. He thought, They are talking about me.
Boss Jiang was a friend of his parents. Before Yan Hao's mother passed away, she had entrusted her inarticulate and mediocre little son to him.
From the day he summoned the courage to come to Yanning, Yan Hao had been worrying that he wouldn't be able to do things well and make other people dislike him. He could sense that he was the reason why the shop had been much quieter recently. Clothes were worn on a person's body. Whether or not it was cleaned professionally was another matter, but it had to at least be clean. Many customers heard the baseless rumour that the shop employee was a pervert and had stopped coming—who knew what disgusting thing he would do to the clothes?
Yan Hao had been very scared all the while. It was like walking on thin ice, until just now, when he heard with his own ears what Boss Jiang had said.
Inversely, he now had a feeling of relief. This day had come after all, Boss Jiang also disliked him now.
This was only natural. He had always felt that in his entire life, other than his father who had passed away early, it seemed like no one had ever liked him. He wasn't good at studies, the teachers didn't like him and his schoolmates isolated him. Even his own mother had probably held her nose and brought him up just because it was her duty. She rarely smiled at him and even more rarely praised him. Even if all he was doing was to breathe quietly, she could find something wrong.
Yan Hao knew that Boss Jiang didn't feel like he could directly ask him to leave so he decided to be more self-aware. But after making the resolve a few times, he still didn't have the courage to say goodbye to Boss Jiang in person, so he left a note under the accounts book and left without a word.
He packed the remaining canned cat food into a cardboard box and put it outside the next door pet store. Other than doing business, that pet shore also rescued strays. Sometimes, if they couldn't find a suitable owner after a long time, the store would have to take out a lot of additional capital. He wanted to help them a little.
There was a kitten that was not sleeping late at night. It sprawled against the window, peeking out from between the blinds, looking curiously at him.
Yan Hao smiled at it. He bent his arm, letting Ayanami Rei sit in the crook of his elbow, and walked into the cold night with his back curved and his neck shrank back.
"Where shall we go?" he asked the figurine softly. At that moment, his eyes were not as evasive as they were in the daytime and his voice was also flowing easier. If one listened closely, they would realise that the way he spoke was a little strange. He seemed to have a slight lisp and he tried very hard to say each word clearly, the words seeming to hop out one by one.
"I won't be able to find a job."
"Luckily, you don't need to eat. Otherwise, you'll starve being with me."
"You have to bear mistreatment while being with me… I'm sorry."
"Are you the first Ayanami Rei to sleep on the streets?"
When he passed near No. 110 Courtyard, Yan Hao's steps suddenly paused. He looked towards the little building hidden in the shadows and thought of the woman on the eighth floor… the blade in the pocket of her clothes, and also her desperate, anguished howling in the middle of the night.
"They say that her mental state is abnormal. I feel very bad." Yan Hao patted Ayanami Rei's hair. "Because I seem to be abnormal too."
Ayanami Rei gazed at him with silent eyes.
Yan Hao stood where he was, mulling over something. Then, he put Ayanami Rei in his backpack and flew away.
It was said that back in those years, Tang Qian Yan Yan Ruofei could step on the duckweed on the water to cross a river. When he reached the other side, not even the tips of his shoes would be wet. By the time it was his generation, this unique skill was lost. At most, Yan Hao could just barely climb up buildings, jump over walls, and follow a white collar office worker who had been turned half-deaf by noise pollution. He had been following Nie Ke for a few days.
Nie Ke dressed in western-style suits and leather shoes. His spirits were high and he didn't look at all like there had been a great disturbance in his life. When he bumped into ladies, he was especially talkative. He matched wits with everyone he met, and was very self-assured.
Yan Hao even once saw him have a meal with a young and shy lady. They had seemed to be on a date.
When they parted at the restaurant's entrance, Yan Hao was hidden not far away. He heard Nie Ke say to the girl, "...In your area of specialisation, it's very hard for you to get a footing in Yanning in the future. You have to support your family and you also have a younger brother. The help your family can give you is very limited. You said that they can't even take out one million, that means it's practically impossible for you to buy a house here and settle down. I'm not the kind of person who likes to make empty talk, these are all truths. It's for your own good, please don't take offense. I'm a few years older than you. As your dage, I advise you to go back to your parents' home."
The girl looked like she was in her early twenties and still had the air of a student about her. She was obviously new to the ways of the world and believed his tricks. She replied softly, "But if I go home, there aren't jobs that are suited to my specialisation…"
"You're overthinking things. How many people can work in their own area of specialisation? Doesn't everyone just make do with any job to survive for the time being?" Nie Ke's words sounded very sincere. "Yes, no one's happy with that. How much pain did we go through to enter university and do a postgrad? It wasn't easy for you to get into such a good university and you wasted a good part of your youth to finish your studies. Then, once you graduate, you see that it was all a waste!"
The girl was at the age when she was easily lost. Thinking along the lines of Nie Ke's words, wasn't that really the case? She was so saddened by his words that she could not speak.
"But fortunately, you're a girl." After steadily laying out the foundation, Nie Ke watched the girl's young and fresh face, and his true intentions peeked out. "Girls are better off than guys, you still have a chance for a 'rebirth.' You don't have to depend on yourself for everything. In my case, the person who introduced me to you should probably have told you… To be honest, I really don't have the mood to look for someone else. I really didn't want to come today but the person who set this up is a friend of mine, so I can't reject… But chatting with you, I feel that we hit it off quite well. You're still young, you don't have to hurry. If you're okay with it, you can just treat me as an older brother. If you have any troubles, you can come to me any time."
"Genuine" and sincere, and also did not have anything up his sleeves—such a man gained other people's trust easily. The girl voluntarily added him on WeChat and went away feeling very touched.
Even Yan Hao, eavesdropping at the corner of the wall, was very moved by Nie Ke's heartfelt words. He felt that he was overthinking things and was wrongly putting the blame on a good person.
But when he was about to leave his spot, he saw that Nie Ke didn't move away after saying goodbye to the girl. He smoked a cigarette at the restaurant's entrance, waited a while, and then a middle-aged nasty-looking man came.
Nie Ke hailed him and wrapped an arm around the middle-aged man's shoulder like they were very close. He opened the boot of his car and passed two cigarettes over. The two of them, arms on each other's shoulders, talked about something for a while. Then, Nie Ke took out a stack of bills from his coat's inner pocket and quietly passed it to the other person. The two of them exchanged a look of mutual understanding. Nie Ke smiled, and finally drove away.
He didn't know why but Yan Hao intuitively felt that it was very strange. Before he realised what he was doing, he was stealthily following the middle-aged man who had taken the money.
He saw the man furtively take out the money and counted them. Then, he seemed to be very satisfied and walked away humming a song, passing through a few twisting, winding lanes. Yan Hao saw him go up a rundown residential building. On the side of the building that was close to the road, there were a few small illegal shops providing services such as "House Calls for Getting Rid of Grey Nails" and "Moxibustion and Massages"... The innermost shop was called Peaceful Mind Clinic.
Above the anti-theft windows was a digital signboard. The words "Forty years of experience; many different types of treatment available; effective against psychological problems such as insomnia, depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety" were looping on it.
The words looping on the billboard were bright red in colour. Yan Hao felt like there was a block of ice in his chest. He shivered involuntarily.
He went back to No. 110 Courtyard and again followed Nie Ke.
Soon after that, Yan Hao realised that Nie Ke went out to meet quite a few young women. The lines he used were all the same as what he used on the first day—first cold, then warm. Before a week was up, he had spiritedly gathered a group of "younger sisters," enough to fill up a Grand View Garden.
If a person dug ten pitfalls, they would surely trap at least one naive and guileless girl. On that Friday night, Yan Hao kept watch at the intersection to look out for Nie Ke and saw the man walk over carrying two supermarket plastic bags, walking breezily while sending voice messages.
"...You decide, it's my treat… Sure, dage usually doesn't have time to watch movies anyway. Anything you say. See you tomorrow… What do you want to eat? Let me know ahead of time… Why are you being so polite with me? It's fate that we got to know each other. I'm your family in Yanning…"
Yan Hao's chest was full of stifled and vexed feelings, and a nameless fire suddenly erupted there. Without even thinking, he charged over under the cover of the night.
Nie Ke whistled as he flirted with the other person. He felt a slight breeze at his back but before he could turn around to see, there was a sharp pain at his neck. And then he knew nothing more.
Yan Hao had rushed up to him and knocked him out, and it was completely on a moment's impulse. Suddenly, he didn't know what to do.
He stared at Nie Ke who was lying face-down on the ground for a few seconds and realised that the screen on the phone the man had dropped was still lit up. Yan Hao thought a while, then nervously picked up the phone, squatted by the side of the road and texted the girl on the other end. He's lying to you! This man is scum, he drove his previous wife to madness! He's dating a few girls at the same time, don't fall for his trap!
The girl on the other WeChat account sent a string of question marks.
Yan Hao drew a deep breath, trembled a little, then turned around and carried Nie Ke on his shoulder.
"Hey." Right then, someone spoke behind him. Yan Hao quivered and nearly dropped the human scum on his shoulder. He turned his head around abruptly and saw a thin figure of a woman walk out of the other corner. She was tapping on her phone. The light from the screen shone on her face, clean and cold and slightly familiar. Very quickly, Yan Hao realised that he often saw her at the breakfast stalls but they had never spoken to each other.
Gan Qing locked the screen and slipped the phone into her pocket. She sighed and looked up at Yan Hao, and said, "Why don't you put him down? I didn't see anything just now."
Yan Hao took a step back. His mind was actually already flustered. Defensively, he broadened his shoulders, putting on a fierce appearance to hide his weakness, trying to scare away this woman who was alone.
Gan Qing, "..."
Why is this dude so silly?
Gan Qing stuck her hands in her pockets. "Do you have a grudge against him? Why not we do it this way, you cover him in a sack, drag him over there and beat him up to vent your anger. I didn't see anything."
Yan Hao said, "You… Mind your own business!"
A momentary slip and his words had a bit of a lisp. His face immediately turned red.
Fortunately, Gan Qing didn't seem to notice it. She said sincerely and thoughtfully, "Where do you plan to carry him off to? Listen to my advice, these fake elites say that they have personal assets of a few million but in the end, all they have is a house and a car. They don't have much cash in their bank account. You won't get much from kidnapping him. Old men don't have any value on the market so you can't even sell him. When the time comes, how will you get rid of him? You can only kill him off."
Yan Hao, "..."
"It's very troublesome to kill someone in Yanning, it's not worth the trouble." Gan Qing extended her hand to him. "Come, put him down here. Hurry home and wash up and go to-"
The word "bed" hadn't even left her mouth when Yan Hao turned around and ran off carrying Nie Ke.
Running right after a meal is a recipe for gastroptosis! Gan Qing cursed under her breath, then moved her legs to chase after him.
Tang Qian Yan was indeed Tang Qian Yan. Even if his wings had deteriorated, when he ran for his life he was still an ostrich whose feet barely touched the ground.
Not only was this Yan Hao fast, the scarier thing was he was extremely sharp. Even carrying a man weighing more than a hundred pounds on his shoulder did not affect him leaping up and down.
He turned a corner and jumped into an office building's little courtyard. To deter thieves, the little courtyard's wall had curls of barbed wire on it.
Like the legendary Dapeng bird, Yan Hao leaped up, the tip of his foot stepping lightly on a small indent on the wall, and "flew" upwards. He crossed above the barbed wire to the other side without a single scratch, the curled barbed wire not moving the slightest bit, and landed on the other side without a sound!
Gan Qing's pupils contracted and she came to an abrupt stop. She decided on her next move immediately and detoured around the wall, turning towards the direction of the little courtyard's main entrance.
The CCTV guarding the door flickered in the darkness of the night. A pebble flew over; with a pop, the lens broke. Right after that, Gan Qing leaped over the tightly shut main door.
However, the little courtyard was quiet and tranquil. That foolish sparrow had disappeared.
 Grand View Garden, also known as Daguanyan (大观园) is from the classic novel Dream of the Red Chamber. It is where Jia Baoyu and many girls of the Jia family stayed.
Gan Qing searched the area but found no trace of Yan Hao. After sucking in a bellyful of wind and running and pausing repeatedly, her stomach was really starting to hurt. She shouldn't have eaten those additional chicken wings for dinner.
This might be payback. The last time, she had no filter on her mouth and had, behind his back, said that "Tang Qian Yan" was now a lizard crawling on the wall. Today, the lizard had dragged her through three streets.
On the courtyard wall, a notice about central heating that had been stuck there for more than a month was half-peeling away from the wall, flapping restlessly in the cold wind. The words on it were very mottled.
Gan Qing stared at it for a while, then turned to go. I don't care anymore, he can die for all I care. I'm going home to sleep.
Then, right at that moment, a short, fearful scream sounded and was quickly cut off. Like a fish, Gan Qing slipped out and disappeared from where she was in a mere second.
This shout was from Nie Ke. By chance, Nie Ke regained consciousness at this moment.
A second ago, he was still happily seducing a sweet and naive young woman. The next second, he opened his eyes and realised that he was being carried on someone's shoulder like a sack and that someone was running madly. Anyone in his place would also shout. Nie Ke's stomach was bouncing against Yan Hao's old bag and there was something inside that was very hard, jabbing at him between two of his ribs, making him want to puke.
Nie Ke subconsciously tugged on the old canvas bag. He opened his mouth and set his voice free. "Ahhhh help-!"
Shocked out of his skin, Yan Hao's hands slipped and he threw the man down from his shoulder.
After falling from the height of a person and smashing squarely onto the ground, Nie Ke felt his insides shaking from the impact and his vision was blacking out. Right after that, before he could see clearly who this black-hearted kidnapper was, a coat so dampened by sweat it was stinking a little was thrown over his head.
Nie Ke was going to go mad. Tugging at Yan Hao's old cloth bag, he covered his waist and curled on the ground, and tried to inch back on his butt with all his might. "Who the hell are you- Mm… Mm!"
Yan Hao gave him a kick and the man curled up like a large dried shrimp. This Tang Qian Yan was not proficient in the art of kidnapping and his head was covered in sweat. He pulled on his bag to get it back, trying to push Nie Ke's head down at the same time. With a ripping sound, his cloth bag that was worth sixteen yuan valiantly laid down its life in the tug-of-war between the two men and the contents scattered all over the ground.
Flustered and panicked, Yan Hao struck Nie Ke with his elbow and the man finally stopped moving.
Yan Hao panted harshly. He hastily stuffed the things that had fallen out back into his bag but before he could check the contents, he keenly sensed a small movement. His face changed and he bent down to lift Nie Ke onto his shoulder, then turned to run.
Right at that moment, a gust of wind swept towards him and blocked his way. Gan Qing had caught up to him!
Yan Hao took a breath to steel himself. He raised an arm, striking a pose, and took the kick at close quarters. The two of them clashed forcefully, then sprang apart at the same time. Gan Qing was thrown further away; there was no way to overcome the difference in their weights.
Yan Hao's forearm hurt like it was broken. His entire body has drawn taut and he glared at the person before him. "You… Who on earth are you?"
There were some outsiders to the field who thought that legs have more strength than arms. Furthermore, the poses were impressive, they look beautiful during a fight and seemed more powerful. But in actual fact, if it wasn't a match where one needed to "make arrangements" for collecting points, when two people unfamiliar with each other fought, they would rarely attack immediately with their legs. This was because when a person gathered and exerted strength, they had to use their two legs. Once they raised a leg, their balance would be lost by half. It was easy to kick out but difficult to judge where to land the kick. And what made it more difficult was that in the process of raising and landing the kick, a person would have a lot of indefensible areas and it was easy for their opponent to fight back.
This kick from his opponent that was blocking his path appeared ferocious on the surface but was actually rather similar to the way a pet owner would use their foot to gently pry away their troublesome little cat or dog. The strength behind it was already held back.
If Gan Qing wasn't a "blockhead" who didn't know anything, then it meant that she was giving him a lot of leeway.
"Don't know me? When we buy jianbing, we always bump into each other. There was once when there was only one piece of cracker left and you let me have it." Gan Qing shook out her leg that was feeling numb. Then, she stopped joking and said softly, "I remember your kindness. Let me say for the last time, put down that person and I won't call the police."
"No, I won't let him go." Yan Hao took half a step back warily. "He… He's a scumbag. He hurt someone and pretended to be innocent. I saw it… He even wants to deceive other people!"
"Who did he hurt?" Gan Qing strained to make out his jumbled words. After staring blankly for a while, she finally realised. "His wife? You know her, Xiang Xiaoman?"
Yan Hao shook his head honestly.
Gan Qing was bewildered. "You don't know her, then why are you making a fuss here? What does it have to do with you?"
Yan Hao's vocabulary was severely lacking. He didn't even know how to scold people, and again and again, he only had the same phrase. ""He's a scumbag!"
"So? You want to avenge her on behalf of Heaven?" Gan Qing asked, "Are you from the Women's Association?"
So much concern for women's rights?
But when Yan Hao heard her say "avenge," he thought of the Avengers—this person was mocking him getting arrested while wearing a Spiderman costume!
A large dimensional gap descended from the sky and landed between the two of them, creating a situation where it was like the chicken talking to the duck.
Yan Hao's face immediately turned red. He roared in anger and charged at Gan Qing without a care.
Gan Qing, "..."
Did she say something wrong?
Yan Hao was tall and broad, and did indeed have an advantage. He used Nie Ke as a large and not-very-handy club, putting on a fierce and mighty front as he brandished him around. The tip of Gan Qing's foot lightly pushed against the ground and she instantly retreated three to four meters. She didn't dare take the attack head-on because this "large club" was made of human flesh. If it was accidentally snapped, the both of them would become murderers.
In a flash, she slipped to Yan Hao's side. Her fingers like a hook, Gan Qing struck at Yan Hao's throat. Goosebumps rose on the skin around his throat and in no time at all, the two of them had exchanged over ten blows. That pale hand was extremely dangerous, each and every joint a lethal weapon. For a moment, Yan Hao was a little fearful and slowed down half a beat. Gan Qing's hand hooked around Nie Ke's belt. She wanted to pull him down.
Yan Hao followed the momentum and swung Nie Ke down.
This move was comparable to "Liu Bei Throwing His Child." If Nie Ke was hit somewhere critical when he landed, even if he could keep his life, he would surely be paralysed. Gan Qing couldn't just stand and watch a human scum become a human pancake, and had no choice but to stretch her arms out to catch him. However, her methods depended on unexpected and unconventional moves, and what she practised was not the kind of technique for pitting strength against others. From their founder onwards, none of the disciples had undertaken any kind of physical labour for work. This swing of Yan Hao's carried the weight of over a hundred pounds. Both of Gan Qing's arms sank down, and she nearly pulled her waist.
Before she could get a steady grip, Yan Hao swung Nie Ke forwards, directly pushing her away, then stretched his legs and ran. A few jumps and he disappeared again.
This person was like a punching bag but his abilities were not at all weak.
Gan Qing was just about to give chase when a wave of cramps from her left abdomen stopped her from moving. She hissed in pain and bent over, her brows furrowed. She felt a little like vomiting—even a martial arts expert couldn't do extreme workouts right after a meal.
Right then, someone ran over, the wind blowing along with them. "What's going on?"
When she saw Yan Hao knock Nie Ke out, Gan Qing notified their alliance leader at once. At that time, Yu Lanchuan had been waiting in the elevator lobby for twenty minutes. While waiting, he had already finished reviewing the monthly report but the person he wanted to bump into had yet to come back. He was just thinking that it was rather strange when he received Gan Qing's text, and had rushed over.
"What happened to you?" Right away, Yu Lanchuan could tell that her complexion was not right. He reached out to support her by the elbow. Her elbow was tough and bony, and when she was curled up, she seemed as light as a feather.
Like a piece of paper, Yu Lanchuan suddenly thought rather absent-mindedly.
After that, he threw away this baffling thought. "Where are you injured? Was it Yan Hao who did it?"
Gan Qing, "..."
No, it was the chicken wings.
"It's okay." She waved a hand and took a breath. "It's a stitch… He's too good at running."
Yu Lanchuan asked, "What on earth happened?"
Gan Qing briefly explained the events and at the end, asked weakly, "Is it the trend nowadays for all you righteous sects to produce weirdos?"
Yu Lanchuan's ears twitched. He raised an eyebrow and glanced at her—what did she mean by "all you righteous sects"?
"Let's go back first," Yu Lanchuan said calmly. "I'll borrow some scouts from Old Master Yang."
Gan Qing's stomach had finished kicking a fuss and rolling around. Seeing that its resistance was effective, it stopped making trouble. She felt a bit better and was just about to leave when suddenly, she saw something at the tree pit on the pavement. She walked over and picked it up. "A doll? Made of plastic?"
Yan Hao carried a scumbag on his shoulder and leaped out of the small courtyard. In his panic, he was not picky about his direction and slipped into a building under construction to hide. He nervously waited for a long while but that highly-skilled person just now did not chase after him. He finally relaxed. He freed his hands and tied up Nie Ke's arms and legs, and examined his torn bag with his heart aching.
Suddenly, Yan Hao's entire person froze. His eyes widened and he spaced out for a few seconds, then poured out everything in his bag onto the ground in a fluster. He went through the contents item by item… Ayanami Rei was gone!
Yanning's night was very short. It seemed like the last train had just sent the weary working-overtime passengers home and the elderly were already coming out to walk their dogs or to do their morning exercises. Before the sky was bright, the breakfast vendors had already lit their stoves, the heat rising to the sky as they prepared to welcome their first batch of customers. Jianbing Guozi's boss parked his little cart, took up the metal spatula and stirred the pot that was filled to the brim with sauce. He lit the stove and warmed his hands. From far, he saw a few people who looked like beggars sticking something onto the walls. He took a piece of grease paper, picked up a few youtiao and brought it over to the beggars for them to divide among themselves. "Why are the brothers from Beggars' Sect so early today?"
"Orders from the old Sect Leader. We don't dare be slow." The beggars said their thanks, accepted the youtiao and wolfed them down.
When Jianbing Guozi's boss heard their words, he knew it was something related to jianghu disputes. His hands folded behind his back, he went over to take a closer look. What he saw was a "Lost and Found" notice printed with a black and white photo of Ayanami Rei. The pick-up point was No. 110 Courtyard's reception office. There was a vague statement on the notice: To be exchanged for what you have taken. Before dawn, else the deal is over.
"Pick up a… doll? I don't understand." Jianbing Guozi's boss muttered for a while in puzzlement. "Your esteemed sect is getting more and more trendy."
At No. 110 Courtyard, Old Master Yang also felt that it was very outrageous. Together with the laundry shop's Boss Jiang whose age together with his own added up to over 150, the two of them stared at the little figurine sitting on the weiqi board between them.
"Will it work?" Old Master Yang glanced at Yu Lanchuan. He still felt that Yu Lanchuan had come up with a rotten idea.
Director Yu was holding a cup of red tea bought from a twenty-four hours convenience shop, tapping loudly on his keyboard as he concentrated on his work for the day. This way, he could make up for his lost sleep during lunch break. He answered without looking up, "Listen to me, don't worry. We have invested in a related project before. The fans' enthusiasm and fervour will exceed your imagination."
Old Master Yang couldn't understand his words. He glanced at what Yu Lanchuan was working on with a rather reverential gaze.
The rumours and slander about Yan Hao was getting increasingly loud. Boss Jiang was afraid that he would not be able to bear it and had wanted to ask Old Master Yang to help him look for a job that wouldn't require him to show his face. Old Master Yang had gone home and fought with his granddaughter for a few days. Finally, President Yang relented and agreed to give Yan Hao a job as a security guard. Boss Jiang was very elated but before he could inform Yan Hao, that kid had left without saying goodbye.
"How old is he now and still playing with dolls… Ai!"
"This child was held back by his mother." Boss Jiang sighed. "When his grandmother was young, she had once been saved by Senior Tang Qian Yan. She talked about it for her entire life and influenced her child. When Yan Hao's mother was young, she didn't work properly and fantasised about heroes all day long. Because of that, she tried every possible way and means to marry our brother Old Yan… Fortunately, Old Yan was an honest person. After their marriage, the two of them lived quite well. It was just that he left too early. After he was gone, only the mother and the child were left behind. All these years, they depended on help from the Yan family's old friends to get by. That kid Yan Hao was born with a slight speech impediment. When he was young, there were bad kids who bullied him and he slowly grew to dislike speaking. That sister-in-law of mine always felt that he was not a proper man and forced him to learn martial arts. She made him do standing meditation when he was only five or six years old. I went to their home once, the child was crying as he practised."
Nowadays, there were very few people who practised the Shaolin Tongzi Gong. The current martial arts techniques emphasised on strength and speed, and the masters wouldn't teach a child that was too young. Firstly, they were afraid that practising the techniques would harm the child's muscles and bones; secondly, they were afraid that if the child was not made of the right stuff, not only would the child not be able to master the skills, their conventional studies would also be hindered. Even when it came to Yu Lanchuan whose family was the origin of the sect, it was only when he was in his teens that he bothered Yu Huaide into teaching him.
Boss Jiang said, "Look at the way he is now. He did master some skills but other than causing trouble, what use are they? What will he depend on to find his place in society in the future? Perhaps it's better for Tang Qian Yan's skills to be cut off in this generation."
At that moment, a gust of wind blew in from the door. There was a creaking sound and the two chattering old men closed their mouths in unison. Like two agile old monkeys, they scrambled towards the door. Yu Lanchuan looked up.
Yan Hao finally showed his face, the morning dew on his body and Nie Ke on his shoulders.
His coat was being used to wrap Nie Ke up and he was only wearing a knitted ochre-coloured sweater. There were a few days' worth of unshaved stubble on his face and his eyes were bloodshot. Avoiding Boss Jiang's gaze, he looked down at his own toes and stretched his hand out towards Yu Lanchuan. "Give her back."
It was nearly dawn. At No. 110 Courtyard, a soft whistle sounded. Nearby, a group of Beggars' Sect members revealed themselves one by one. A few people came over and restrained Yan Hao, the rest efficiently picked up Nie Ke.
One of the Beggars' Sect disciples carried two supermarket bags and said softly to Old Master Yang. "Sect Leader Yang, we have checked the items against the receipt."
"Go quickly!" Old Master Yang waved his hand and the Beggars' Sect disciples lifted Nie Ke with practised ease and went up to the eighth floor. They picked the lock and entered, stealthily carrying him to his own bed. They undid the ropes binding Nie Ke, then took a bottle of alcohol from his own supermarket bag. They trickled a few drops into Nie Ke's mouth and splashed some onto his body and clothes. The bottle was then overturned, filling the apartment with alcohol fumes. After that, they wiped their footprints clean and filed out.
In the reception office, Yu Lanchuan stood up, packed away his laptop and took Ayanami Rei away.
Yan Hao hastily called out, "Give her back!"
Yu Lanchuan looked at the figurine in his hand. He tossed it up in the air and then caught it again, and smiled coldly. "We'll talk again when you have calmed down."
Seeing his lifeblood being tossed around like that, Yan Hao's eyes widened in furious anger but he was firmly restrained by the Beggars' Sect disciples. Boss Jiang smacked him a few times on his back in anger and disappointment, his temper erupting.
"But he's a scumbag, Uncle Jiang!" Yan Hao was familiar with Boss Jiang and his words could just barely flow a little easier. "He pressured his wife until she went crazy and I even saw him give money to an evil doctor from an illegal clinic! There's a reason why she wants to kill him!"
"So what!" Boss Jiang was exasperated. "That's between the two of them. As the people say, 'Even the officials don't interfere in domestic matters'!"
Yan Hao said, "I-"
"Do you have proof? The law and the police want to see proof." Old Master Yang cut him off in a calm tone. "Child, I know you mean well but this is not something for outsiders to explain."
But… what about her? What about Xiang Xiaoman?
How could this be?
Yan Hao looked at them, perplexed and helpless.
 Women's Association is 妇联 fùlián while the Avengers is 復仇者聯盟 fùchóuzhě liánméng or 復聯 fùlián for short. When Gan Qing asked Yan Hao if he was from the Women's Association, Yan Hao heard it as asking if he was from the Avengers. This pun doesn't work in English so I tweaked it a little.
 "Liu Bei Throwing His Child" refers to an event during the Battle of Changban as described in the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Zhao Yun risked his life to save Liu Bei's son, A'dou, and when they reached Liu Bei, Liu Bei threw his son to the ground because he was angry that his son had nearly cost him his best warrior.
 Tongzi Gong 童子功 is part of the Shaolin kungfu curriculum.
The tumultuous night was over. The next day was a Saturday but the number of customers at the roadside jianbing stalls was no less than other days. As usual, before seven o' clock, a long line was forming. Yu Lanchuan still had to put in extra hours at work, the Beggars' Sect disciples had to take advantage of the weekend to go to the hot spots packed with people to meet the requirements of their profession, and even Gan Qing, who hid behind the scenes and didn't reveal her face, had to open shop on time and prepare to welcome the next round of Mercury retrograde. Thus, everyone dispersed.
Only the retired Sect Leader Yang had nothing to do. Together with Boss Jiang, they escorted the dazed and lost Yan Hao back to the laundry shop, and closed the shop to give him a lecture.
Yu Lanchuan went home and took a nap. Then, he took a speed shower and tidied himself up at the fastest possible speed until he was gleaming and presentable, and got ready to go to work. At the door, he suddenly thought of something. He took the white musk cologne spray near the door and sprayed a couple of times at his hair. His legs that were heading towards the elevator made a turn. Bathed in a perfumed cloud, he knocked on the neighbouring apartment's door.
Gan Qing had eaten until she got an upset stomach yesterday night. She didn't go out in the morning and had made herself a bowl of congee. When she heard someone knock on the door, she thought it was the girl who delivered milk to Zhang Meizhen, and came out with a soup spoon still stuck in her mouth.
Word had it that the weather was going to become colder in these two days and the heating in the apartment was especially warm. At home, she wore the long shorts and basketball jersey she wore in summer while squatting by the roadside and gnawing on a corn on the cob… and she wasn't wearing underwear.
The two of them—one inside the door and one outside the door—stared at each other for a few seconds, shocked to the core by this disastrous scene.
After all, the variety of living things on Earth was so wide, so abundant.
Gan Qing's nose was prickled by the smell of the cologne that had yet to dissipate and she wanted to sneeze but she still had a soup spoon in her mouth. She tried to keep the sneeze in. She gritted her teeth and bit down on the spoon, which made the handle swing up and hit her directly on the bridge of her nose. Her eyes immediately reddened; she had hit herself until she was tearing up.
Yu Lanchuan looked down to avoid seeing what he shouldn't see and stared at Zhang Meizhen's doormat. "You… Aren't you cold?"
"Cough, I'm fine." Due to... certain reasons, Gan Qing reached a hand out to hold on to the door frame and used this posture to hide half her body behind the door. She sucked in her chest rather awkwardly. "What's the matter?"
"Oh," Yu Lanchuan said. "Yesterday-"
"What about yesterday?" Gan Qing cut him off. From behind the door, she revealed a pair of crafty eyes. "I went home right after work. I don't know anything."
This was yet another round of "being uncooperative and shirking responsibilities." Yu Lanchuan took out Yan Hao's figurine, his face expressionless.
"There is a type of person who would rather look at the map and spend an entire day and night walking the wrong way than to stop and ask for directions. Unless they absolutely have to, they would definitely not talk." Gan Qing was completely unmoved. "I'm guessing that the little sparrow won't voluntarily give me up. Little Master Yu, what do you think?"
"So what you're saying is, the person who was bored and still wandering around outside late yesterday night was me, the person who bumped into Yan Hao knocking Nie Ke out was also me, and the person who chased him through a few streets and still couldn't catch up to him, and had only picked up a doll and brought it back was also me." Yu Lanchuan was nearly angered to the point of laughing. "Was I so busy?"
"You're being modest. If you're not always on standby, how could you be the alliance leader? Thanks, yeah." Gan Qing spoke properly for barely three and a half sentences before her mouth again slipped. "Next time I'll…"
Yu Lanchuan, "..."
He didn't dare believe that she was still shameless enough to say the words "treat you to a meal."
Gan Qing was stuck for words. She suddenly realised that this bizarre man cloaked in a bizarre perfume in front of her was a weirdo who would claim his free meal on his own volition. Hence, she stiffly changed her words. "...I'll definitely attend when you hold an assembly to give a commendation to yourself. The capable ones work the hardest, heroes acting in the name of justice."
This time, even supper was not on the table.
There was nothing Yu Lanchuan could say. He passed Yan Hao's figurine across the doorway. "I won't be home. That Yan Hao has a habit of climbing up people's windows so keep this with you for a couple of days. We'll discuss this again after Grandpa Yang has taken care of that troublemaker. With this confiscated, he won't run. Of course, you can also use it to threaten Yan Hao and make him not expose you."
Gan Qing said regretfully, "Little Master Yu, listen to what you just said. You sound like a bad guy."
His appearance and his manner were even more like a bad guy, the type in domestic television series that wouldn't survive past three episodes.
"Is that so? Thank you." Yu Lanchuan let out a fake laugh. "I see that you don't have to worry about this. After all, the trademarks of a demonic villainess is a large chest and a thin waist."
Gan Qing, "..."
Director Yu brushed off the nonexistent dust from his clothes and let his thin eyelids fall downwards, his manner insufferably arrogant. "Why are you hiding? My myopia is about a hundred degrees. The way you are, there's nothing I can see even if I wear a microscope."
Oh my, a provocation?
Upon hearing that, Gan Qing lightly licked her teeth and then, unexpectedly, swaggered out from behind the door. She leaned against the door frame, her long limbs unfolding. She was also no longer sucking in her chest. With a smile that was not quite a smile, she said, "My sincere apologies for bringing down the appearance of this city."
Yu Lanchuan was dumbstruck. The fake cocktalker had met a real hoodlum and he was so shocked his gaze shifted 180 degrees. He couldn't force out even a single word and had to beat a hasty, flustered retreat.
"Be careful on your way, Little Master Yu," Gan Qing said, waving the soup spoon at his back. "Don't let me delay you from your beauty contest!"
Due to the fact that he had been stimulated until adrenaline coursed through his body early in the morning, Director Yu's mood was very explosive when he charged into the office and he had a thick murderous aura. His colleagues who were feeling rather lazy because they had to work extra hours on a weekend were intimidated by this murderous aura and their effectiveness all increased. Unexpectedly, they finished their work by noon and could all go home to take a nap.
Yu Lanchuan rested for a while in the office. Then, for reasons he couldn't explain himself, he entered "domestic violence, psychological abuse" into the search engine. There were a lot of related results. He skimmed through them; they were mostly in government-related official language. Hence, he looked up "evidence of psychological abuse." The results were all either unreliable things such as "video and audio recording" or telling him frankly that "evidence is difficult to collect, the offence is difficult to define."
Yu Lanchuan closed his laptop and walked to the window. He took off his glasses and looked into the distance, alleviating the strain on his eyes.
Furthermore, even if they could prove that Nie Ke was a scumbag, so what? It was fact that Xiang Xiaoman tried to murder him and failed. She was indeed abetted by other people and she also had mental health issues, so she didn't have to go to prison. But when someone was in that mental state, they could be anywhere and it would still be a prison to them. What was the difference?
Yu Lanchuan shook his head. This matter lingered in his heart for a few seconds and then was wiped away like he was sweeping off dust. He put on his coat and went to report to his boss. They ended up touching on the Hang Seng index, and thus spent half an hour chatting about the regulations on stock market transactions.
In every trade and profession, at every level, the games between adults had numerous rules, both on the surface and hidden beneath. Yan Hao was completely ignorant of the ways, perhaps because no one had brought him to play games when he was young.
But this was not something for Yu Lanchuan to worry over. That sparrow was Tang Qian Yan's only descendant anyway. No matter what, Old Master Yang and Boss Jiang wouldn't abandon him. In the future, they just needed to keep him on a tight leash and not let him out to cause trouble, and it would be fine.
He took advantage of the beautiful weather in the afternoon to walk home. The rare warm winter sunshine made him sleepy. But in the end, he had just reached the bottom of No. 110 Courtyard when his contentment disappeared—two Beggars' Sect members were hiding sneakily at the corner of the wall, poking their heads into the courtyard to look around. When they saw him walk over, they signalled at him with their eyes. Yu Lanchuan followed the line of their gaze and saw that there was a police car at the bottom of the building!
The one who had called the police, Nie Ke, sent two police officers off. One of them was Yu Yan. Nie Ke looked very exhausted, his eyes drooping like a chain smoker's. Yu Lanchuan heard him talking non-stop. "...The gang that was arrested previously, did some of them escape? I suspect that they have other accomplices and that they are targeting me! Will they cut out my kidney? Officers, as a taxpayer, my contribution is very large. You must protect me…"
Yu Lanchuan made out the words and his heart jolted. He had a bad premonition.
As he expected, after taking care of Nie Ke, Officer Yu Yan came to look for him.
"I saw you downstairs just now. Why are you back so early today?"
Working half the day on a Saturday was called "back early." Yu Lanchuan turned this phrase over in his mind and felt rather disheartened. He didn't feel like chatting and asked directly, "Why are you guys here? Did something happen on the eighth floor again?"
"I don't know. This dude might have been infected by his wife, he keeps muttering on and on," Yu Yan said. "He made a police report just now, saying that he was kidnapped yesterday night after leaving the supermarket, and that the kidnapper could even fly."
As he spoke, he watched Yu Lanchuan's face.
But Yu Lanchuan only raised an eyebrow with a touch of indifference and impatience. Nothing was shown on his face.
"He even said that the moment he opened his eyes today, he realised that he was lying down in his own home and that he hadn't even taken off his clothes. We checked, the items he bought are all there. One bottle of alcohol was empty. We guessed that he must have drank until he forgot what happened and wasn't even aware of it himself," Yu Yan said. "But Nie Ke very firmly rejected that idea. He said that he is very fussy about cleanliness and definitely wouldn't go to bed without taking a shower. He also said that he definitely did not hallucinate being kidnapped because after the kidnapper knocked him out, the kidnapper used his phone to send a WeChat message."
Yu Lanchuan, "..."
Why did this Yan fellow have such meddlesome hands!
"But his WeChat log is indeed very strange. One second earlier, he was still flirting with a girl and asking her out on a date. They were all voice messages and he didn't sound like he was drunk. The next second, he sent a bunch of crazy messages, things like 'This man is a liar,'" Yu Yan said. "Master Lan, this matter sounds a little peculiar."
Yu Lanchuan's expression remained unchanged. In his heart, he tossed Yan Hao around in a pan, stirring and frying him thoroughly. "What are you trying to say?"
"If it was really members of that gang taking revenge, they would have long since chopped this guy up into pieces. Why would they let him go back and lie down in his own bed, completely untouched? And even helped him bring back the things he bought from the supermarket? I think that if it wasn't something wrong with his mental state, then it has to be…" Yu Yan extended a leg and kicked lightly against Yu Lanchuan's shin. "Fess up, Master Lan. Did you not sleep well yesterday night? Whose mess were you cleaning up?"
Yu Lanchuan kicked him right back, then crossed his legs and pretended to be an upstanding member of society. "Comrade Officer, you have to back up your words with proof. Be careful or I'll report you for slander. You may leave now, if there's anything, you can chat with my lawyer."
"Ai, you're the only one who can pull off this weird combination of trying to be cool." Yu Yan sighed. "No more joking, Master Lan, we can't ignore requests from 'taxpayers' like Nie Ke. If we don't manage it well, he might even put us up on Weibo. When we go back, we need to check all the nearby CCTVs based on the location he gave and the time the messages were sent. I came to give you a heads-up, be careful."
Yu Lanchuan rubbed the spot between his brows, well aware that his afternoon nap was gone now.
Yu Yan stood up and straightened his uniform. "The capable ones work the hardest, Alliance Leader!"
When Yu Lanchuan heard the phrase "the capable ones work the hardest" now, he would feel his head getting heavier. He forced his words out from behind clenched teeth, "Say that again and our friendship is over. Get lost."
The Beggars' Sect people hung around the area all year round. They were jianghu veterans and should know how to avoid the CCTVs. There was no need to ask Gan Qing; that person was slippery as an eel and wouldn't expose herself like that.
The problem was that Gan Qing had lost Yan Hao for a while when chasing him. During that time, no one knew where Yan Hao was.
Yu Lanchuan hastily went to the laundry shop downstairs and caught Yan Hao by his collar.
The moment Yan Hao saw him, his eyes reddened again. "Give her back!"
"The hell I will." Yu Lanchuan asked, "When you carried Nie Ke away yesterday, where did you go? Which road did you take? Did you avoid the CCTVs?"
Yan Hao looked utterly confused. It was obvious that he had no idea about the CCTVs.
Yu Lanchuan, "..."
In ancient times, the alliance leader of the martial arts world could call the wind and summon rain. In their daily lives, tens of thousands of people knelt before them. If they saw anyone they didn't like, they could declare that person demonic and order their disciples to teach them a lesson when they had nothing better to do.
Such a wonderful profession!
Why was it that the current day alliance leader was like a poop scooper, rushing everywhere to help these mentally deficient people wipe their asses?
No wonder it was so easy to take up the position. There wasn't even anyone putting up a token fight out of courtesy.
Old Master Yang's brain worked fast and he very quickly realised something. "Nie Ke made a police report?"
Yu Lanchuan glared at Yan Hao, then shared the news that Yu Yan had furtively given him. After listening to him, the two old men faced Yan Hao and sighed repeatedly, one after another.
Boss Jiang asked, "What should we do now?"
Yan Hao shrank back and hunched his shoulders, curling up beside a large washing machine. His entire person was gloomy and depressed, so sorrowful that he was near tears.
Yu Lanchuan glanced at him and thought, Why do I have to take care of this annoying matter?
Old Master Yang said, "Xiao-Chuan!"
Yu Lanchuan said, "...No one was harmed and there was no monetary loss in this matter. Furthermore, it does indeed sound incredulous. It will take some time for the police to get access to the CCTVs. Within this time, as long as Nie Ke himself admits that he was hallucinating after drinking too much, those people at the police station probably wouldn't continue investigating… Hey, Spiderman, tell me in detail about Nie Ke giving money to that doctor from the clinic."