When one’s vision turned dark, one’s sense of hearing would be heightened.
Song Ci held the scimitar tightly, feeling uneasy as he gingerly stood up. He pressed his ears against the window and listened carefully.
The sound of gongs and drums was bold and loud. Even at a distance, it still grated on his ears. He seemed to hear a woman’s delicate laughter amidst the commotion.
Hearing the celebratory sound getting closer and closer, Song Ci quietly opened the door and crept out of the room.
Thick clouds covered the moon, and there was hardly any light in the courtyard, but it did not affect Song Ci’s vision.
He noticed another room with lights on. He did not know which scholar was still reading by the candlelight, but he could not really be bothered at this point in time. All his attention was on the approaching bridal procession.
Beyond the wall, the sound of the trumpets and suona was even more vivid. But the strange thing was that the entire Southern Courtyard was still a picture of calm as if he was the only one who heard this sound.
There has to be a maiden from Le Yu in the sedan chair. If he continued to let the bridal sedan proceed all the way to the inn, then perhaps the same thing might happen again – another disappearance.
Song Ci could not be entirely sure, and thus he did not dare to take risks. He clenched his scimitar tightly and prepared to flip over the wall to save the maiden.
Just as he stood on tiptoes, a sudden, crisp knocking sound sounded behind him. The sound of trumpets, suona and the commotion all came to a halt at that very instance.
This unexpected sound startled Song Ci, and he turned his head sharply as he subconsciously lifted the scimitar in his hand. He had been so focused on what was happening outside he did not realize that something was behind him!
Under the dim moonlight, a woman in a scarlet red dress stood in front of the door to Song Ci’s room. Her shoulders were half exposed, and her pale skin was particularly conspicuous in the night. Her long hair was like a waterfall. Just looking at her back alone would give one the impression that she was a fair beauty. She lifted her hand lightly and knocked twice on the door again.
Song Ci did not dare to move. He silently looked at the woman who had suddenly appeared and was knocking softly on his door. A cold sweat broke out on his back. His mind raced to think about his next course of action.
When the lady received no responses after knocking several times, she suddenly stiffened and stood as still as a pole. After standing for a moment. She slowly turned her head around, as if she had sensed Song Ci.
His heart leaped into his throat. He held on to the hilt of his scimitar tightly, ready to swing it any time. He stared on as the lady slowly turned her head back.
The distance of ten steps or so would be enough for him to react to a sudden attack.
“Hey.” A voice rang by his ears without warning as a hand clapped on his shoulder at the same time; Song Ci almost jumped out of his skin. He shuddered and abruptly withdrew a few steps. But before he could swing the scimitar around, he saw that the person was that Big Beard.
He slept until his hair was a mess. There was an outer coat draped haphazardly over his shoulders. He was still drowsy from sleep, and his eyes struggled to stay open. He was oblivious of Song Ci’s wariness and asked in a daze, “What are you doing out here in the middle of the night instead of sleeping?”
Song Ci held his breath and kept his guard up; he was ready to spring into action at any time. Hiding the scimitar inside his sleeve, he said, “I couldn’t sleep and felt like taking a walk. What are you doing out here?”
“Taking a piss.” Big Beard said nonchalantly, “I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I knew I shouldn’t have drunk that much water……”
“Then hurry along.” Song Ci took the opportunity to move him along.
Big Beard nodded and tottered past Song Ci to make his way, half-asleep, to the latrine.
Song Ci looked back again. The woman who had knocked on his door had disappeared. He quietly breathed a sigh of relief. It was only then he realized there was a thin layer of sweat on his forehead.
You’re too timid. He mocked himself in his mind.
An uneasy silence descended once again. There was no movement from the bridal sedan on the other side of the wall.
Song Ci was a little worried about the maiden in the bridal sedan. He turned his head towards the latrine. Once he was sure that Big Beard had made his way inside, he took a couple of steps toward the wall and flipped atop it.
Looking down, there was indeed a bright red bridal sedan parked underneath. There were about five or six people with trumpets and suona beside it, all of them dressed in red. Four sedan bearers were standing on all four sides of the sedan chair.
Under the dark night, the group stood motionlessly like blocks of wood, giving off an eerie and strange vibe.
Song Ci was light and nimble on his feet, and he landed on his feet without making a sound. There was a strong smell of blood and Song Ci was shocked when he took a closer look. The face of these people was a skinless, bloody mess of rotten meat.
Both eyes were cloudy with hardly any white showing. They did not seem alive at all.
On closer inspection, these people were actually all women.
Song Ci observed every single one of them and realized that they all looked almost the same; the skin on their faces was somehow ripped off, making them look both creepy and disgusting.
It turned out that they were literally skinless and faceless as described by the Second Missy of the Hu clan.
These people did not react to Song Ci’s appearance. Just like wooden puppets under control, they simply stood still and stared straight ahead.
This gave Song Ci more courage, and he probed them twice. After determining that these skinless and faceless people had no consciousness, he then lifted the screen of the bridal sedan.
As expected, the Second Missy of the Hu clan was sitting inside wearing a bright red robe. Her eyes were closed as if she was in a coma.
Song Ci moved forward and pulled her out. Lifting her over his shoulder, he took a couple of steps toward the side and propped her up against the trunk of a tree.
“Lady Hu, wake up.” Song Ci lightly patted her cheek.
There was no response. Her face was ghastly white, and her breathing was weak.
Song Ci shouted for a few more times but gave up after there was still no response. He thought about it; it was not necessarily safe to put her in the inn, so he might as well leave her outside.
He uttered an apology and started to remove the second missy’s red outer robe, then draped his own Daoist robe over her.
Fortunately, the red robe was loose-fitting. Other than the sleeves which were a little short, there was no other discomfort.
He clenched his hand, and the scimitar vanished in a mist of fog. He tidied his apparel, then seated himself in the bridal sedan.
The atmosphere inside the bridal sedan was sinister, and the scent of blood was even more pungent. But Song Ci was patient and simply waited quietly.
After about thirty minutes, the muffled beats of the drum suddenly sounded, and the music started up again. From such a close distance, it did not feel that jubilant. On the contrary, it was harsh and jarring to the ears.
After Song Ci turned into a demon, his senses had become much more sensitive. He could not bear this kind of din and thus covered his ears with a frown on his face.
Just then, the bridal sedan was lifted and began to move forward unsteadily.
Without knowing where the bridal sedan would be carried to, Song Ci could not help but feel perturbed.
This was not the first time he had come up against a demon, but a demon’s heart was unpredictable, and demons that harmed humans were brutal and cruel. They had all kinds of ways to torture and kill, and Song Ci had gotten the worst of it before.
It was not even that tiring when he was still human.
The days when he was reading, riding a horse, or occasionally bad-mouthing his cousin, were still most comfortable. When he thought about his old friend, Wen Chan, the corners of his mouth curved into a smile.
His mind was wandering when a ray of light seeped through the curtain and shone at his feet. He lowered his head for a look and shockingly found himself wearing a pair of scarlet red embroidered shoes.
Alarmed, he raised his legs for a look. Instead, he found out that his legs had become a lot smaller and delicate, and his hands had also become slender.
He lowered his eyes and saw that his initially flat chest was now protruding. It hit him then, that at the very instant the light appeared, he had turned into a bride.
Cheers and laughter could be heard from the outside, mixed in with the hustle and bustle from the street. Even the stiff suona melody had become lively as if this had all become a real wedding procession.
Song Ci sneakily lifted the window curtain beside him and took a glance out. He was no longer at the vicinity of the inn but in the streets of the city of Le Yu. It was high noon, and the street was bustling with activity, with the commoners standing around gossiping about the bridal sedan.
The strange thing was that the expressions on these people were odd. He did not know if his mind was playing tricks on him, but somehow, he felt that their smiles were savage.
He had yet to take a closer look when the matron1 who had been accompanying by the side pushed him back into the sedan, “The bride should not show her head, it’s unlucky.”
Song Ci sat back and held up the crooked hairpin on his head. He thought, “I would like to see what medicine they are selling in this demonic gourd.”2
It was beating drums and gongs all the way until the sound of firecrackers could be heard. Amidst the commotion, he heard the voice of the matron, “The bride arrives!”
And then, the sedan screen was pulled open, and the matron said, “Could the bride please come out? The bridegroom is not coming out, so this servant will bring you in instead.”
Which bridegroom does not show himself on his wedding day?
Song Ci blurted out, wanting to ask, but there was no sound. He could only listen to the matron and stepped off the bridal sedan. As soon as his feet landed, he heard a burst of malicious laughter around him. Among the bits and pieces of conversations around him, he heard a name, “Sun Yunniang.”
He could not really get what they were saying. When they neared the main entrance, he raised his head and saw two words on the sign above — “Hu Residence”.
“Hurry.” The matron said impatiently in front of him. Song Ci felt that this whole thing was getting more and more fishy, but he followed her. Stepping beyond the door, he crossed the courtyard and arrived at the main hall.
An old woman was sitting ahead of him, looking at him with a kind smile on her face. She waved to him, “Yunniang, come over.”
Bright red ribbons decorated the pillars of the hall, and a ‘double happiness’3 decoration was also affixed on the wall. But the bridegroom was nowhere to be seen, and there were no guests. The hall was cold and cheerless.
Song Ci walked towards the old lady who held her hand as soon as he stood still. “Yunniang, Qi-er is a little busy today. When he returns, I’ll teach him a lesson. Don’t be mad at him.”
“Mother, I know that my husband is a busy man. Please don’t blame him.” Song Ci heard himself saying. The voice was like cotton wadding – light and soft.
There was a sudden gust of wind, and Song Ci was caught off guard and thrown to the ground. His vision darkened, and when he could see again, he was already back at the inn.
“What’s the matter with you guys?! What’s with that clamor in the middle of the night?” Big Beard’s indignant voice pierced the night.
Song Ci scrambled up from the ground and saw Big Beard facing two men who were dressed in extravagant clothes.
The two men were dressed in blue with a jade crown on their heads. The white sash on their waist was embroidered with exquisite patterns. Both of them held a long sword in their hands.
Song Ci saw that attire before in Dong Wang.
The biggest difference between Dong Wang and Xi Liang was that Xi Liang did not worship deities, so there are no immortal cultivation sects in Xi Liang. But there were plenty of these sects in Dong Wang. The most famous was the Mo Yao Sect, whose disciples were all dressed in blue and wore jade crowns.
Legends had it that someone from Mo Yao Sect had ascended and became an immortal before.
Song Ci did not know why these two Mo Yao disciples had come to this kind of place. He had a headache just by looking at them. He moved his finger, and his scimitar appeared in his hand.
“There is an evil spirit here. My Shixiong and I are here to eliminate evil. Please pardon us if we have caused you any inconvenience.” A man’s warm voice explained to Big Beard.
“Where is the evil spirit? I think you guys are the evil here!” Big Beard retorted in anger, “I was sleeping so soundly! But you guys spoiled it, and now I’m all awake!”
The man with a frosty look on his face raised his hand, and a glowing sword rose in the air. He said, “Shidi, stop talking nonsense with him. Eliminate the demon first.”
His eyes glanced around the inn and rested on Song Ci.
Song Ci tensed.
The next moment, he waved two fingers, and the sword suddenly flew towards Song Ci. He held his breath and prepared to use the scimitar to block it.
Just as the two blades were about to collide, Song Ci was pulled aside by the shoulder, and the flying sword narrowly missed him.
Big Beard’s reaction was so fast that no one saw how he came to Song Ci’s side. His brow wrinkled, and his face looked even more fierce, “Attacking without reason, are you here to do good or evil?”
“Without reason?” That man said coldly, “Whether or not he is human is hard to say.”
Big Beard ranted at them, “Bah! Did all your Mo Yao Sect’s rules go in one ear and out the other? Demons can be distinguished between good and bad. If you can’t tell black from white, then what’s the difference between you and those evil spirits?”
Song Ci gave Big Beard a surprised look. He did not expect this man to know Mo Yao Sect’s rules. Could it be that he was also from one of the sects?
“You!” The man’s face flushed red, and he angrily grabbed hold of his sword and shouted, “Whether he’s human or demon, we’ll know soon!”
“Shixiong! Please don’t be rash!” The man beside him tried to dissuade him.
But Big Beard was still raising a stink, “Bring it on! You think I’m afraid of you?!”
Just when everyone was in a furor, a hoarse scream broke out and broke up the farce.
Song Ci was startled , and his eyelids twitched. Before his brain could react, he was already running in the direction of the scream.
- 喜婆/喜娘, the matron of honor in ancient times. She’s a kind of chaperon who was employed to wait on the bride on her wedding day.
- 葫芦里卖什么药, literally what medicine is sold in the gourd. Song Ci is wondering what tricks they are up to.
- 双喜, literally double happiness or blessings. This word is usually used on decorations during traditional Chinese weddings.