Chapter 352 - Jiu'er?
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In fact, when Zhao Qing left this place a year ago, he had made a pact with Zhao Huai: neither of them were to kill, assassinate or bury corpses anywhere in the Gaoshan mountains, including that forest Jing Rong’s party had passed through. Whoever breached this agreement would have their arm chopped off as penance - Zhao Qing was here today to retrieve Zhao Huai’s arm.
He drew a dagger from his waist, placing it into Zhao Huai’s hand without delay, “I believe you don’t need me to remind you. This dagger you gave me years ago is as sharp today as it was then; you should have no problems hacking through your arm.”
Zhao Huai turned the dagger over with his fingers. There were two lifelike tigers carved into its hilt. They were pouncing at each other, running lengthwise along its grip. One held a spear with its claws, and the other a brush, symbolizing the union of the warrior and the scholar. The dagger itself was shaped like a bamboo leaf. A round stone, polished smooth by time, was embedded in the center where the dagger met its hilt. Such a design was unique and scarce even in modern times, but Ji Yunshu had once seen something like this from afar on an archeological dig before she came to this world, although nothing else had happened beyond the find.
Zhao Huai looked at the dagger, reminiscing, “This was left to us when Father died. He said, the older brother takes the place of the provider, and so he left this dagger to me. When you said that you liked it four years ago, I gave it to you then. But today, you’re giving me back the dagger, only to take my life?”
“Not your life, just your arm!” Zhao Qing spoke expressionlessly.
Zhao Huai stepped closer to him, raising the dagger and piercing it firmly into a wooden table next to them with a loud ‘thud’!
Nobody dared to make a sound; neither of their leaders was to be messed with.
Zhao Huai tried to repress his growing anger as he spat angrily, “Zhao Qing, this is my territory - it is not a place where you can come and go as you please!”
“So? Are you saying you’ll not forsake your arm?”
“What proof do you have that it was my men who let those arrows loose? Did you witness it? Or did you capture anyone? If not, shut your damn mouth and I can still treat you well enough as a guest of our gang.” He turned away arrogantly.
Zhao Qing knew his brother; he had expected that Zhao Huai would never amputate his own arm. Zhao Qing continued, “Zhao Huai, a man must keep to his word. If it were my men who shot those arrows in the forest, I would have come to you a one-armed man today in peace.”
“I’m not you!” Zhao Huai bellowed, his face contorting and twisted with rage. He threw his hands up into the air as if he were showing off, “Zhao Qing, look carefully around you - you’re surrounded by my men. Don’t think about leaving this place now you’ve entered our territory.” The surrounding bandits began to clamored; they clapped their hands over their mouths as they called out battle cries. “Oh, oh, oh,” Several of them banged the hilts of their weapons and knives on the tables around rhythmically, adding to the tribal, feral chant echoing in the hall… Their ‘symphony’ only ended when Zhao Huai balled his hands into fists and raised them into the air.
Zhao Qing did not bother to spare those rioting men a glance; he kept his eyes solely on Zhao Huai who was basking in this atmosphere. He spoke when the hall quietened down, “Zhao Huai, it was you who went back on our promise. Now, you want to kill me?”
“So what if I do? I’ll do anything I want.”
“You can try!”
The two of them were engaged in a fierce showdown as their eyes met each others’, none of them backing down. Their gazes and killing intent only grew stronger by the minute. Just as the men thought they would finally implode, Zhao Huai suddenly asked, “Tell me the truth, what are you really here for?”
Huh? Have you lost your memory, boss? Didn’t the second-in-command tell you just now? He said he was here for your arm since you had forsaken the agreement.
Zhao Qing frowned as he scratched his bearded chin, “Release those two men that you captured.”
“I want those two men,” Zhao Qing replied.
Zhao Huai laughed for a moment, but only for a brief moment. His nostrils flared as he rebuked, “Your men? Those men killed thirty to forty of my Gaoshan Gang men - every one of them are my blood brothers. I want their lives in return.”
“If that were so, why didn’t you kill them there and then in the forest?”
“I don’t just want their lives, but also their money. If they’re dead, who’ll give me my jewels and treasure?” How greedy!
Zhao Qing looked at him calmly, repeating himself, “In any case, I’m taking those two men with me today.” There was no room for negotiation.
Zhao Huai stepped in closer to him, “That’ll depend on your capabilities.”
“Zhao Huai, since I’ve dared to enter this place today, I’ve already made all my preparations. I’m going to take those men with me, and you, will definitely release them.” He was not speaking empty words; a young bandit ran in as if his pants were on fire, whispering something in Zhao Huai’s ear.
Zhao Huai’s expression darkened. He glared at Zhao Qing, grabbing him by the collar with rage, “You dare set me up?”
Zhao Qing pushed him away, smoothing out his messy robe. He sneered, “As long as you let them go, I’ll ask my men outside to back off. Otherwise, I’ll just employ your methods; I’ll release burning arrows this way, burning this place to the ground.”
“You wouldn’t dare!”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“Zhao Qing, this place was left to us by Father. I’ll kill you if you dare to burn it down.”
But, Zhao Qing suddenly flared up as he rebutted, “Father left this place to you, not me.”
“All these years, whether you pilfered or killed, I turned a blind eye towards it. But if you wanted to murder, why kill Jiu’er? This place is a living hell - the abattoir where you killed Jiu’er!” he screamed.
Zhao Huai fell silent.
‘Jiu’er’ was a sore spot between the brothers, a wound that wouldn’t heal, a thorn that drove them further apart. It was because of this ‘Jiu’er’ that Zhao Huai and Zhao Qing had fallen out last year.
Zhao Huai finally muttered under his breath quietly as he looked away, “I didn’t kill Jiu’er.”
“I saw it with my own eyes - are you still trying to deny it? Zhao Huai, it was you who killed her.”
“It wasn’t me!” Zhao Huai suddenly screamed.
Zhao Qing had enough. He took a deep breath in, “Fine. I don’t want to argue anymore. I’ve already told you why I came; I must take those two with me.”
“Those two are innocent - it wasn’t them who killed your brothers.”
An unexpected timing help
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