Chapter 1: Rainy Night in Chang’an
Year 540 AD, Wei Capital Chang’an, Late Autumn.
The rain had started pouring around afternoon. Originally, it was only a light drizzle, but by evening, it had turned into a heavy downpour. There were very few pedestrians on the road.
Even though it wasn’t time yet for lighting the lamps, but since the sky had become too dark, one by one bright lamps began appearing within the city. The brightness was concentrated and emanating mainly from within a range of 10 li in the East City. That was precisely the location of the imperial City, and also the place of residence of the rich and famous.
The commoners formed the majority living in the West City. There were not many people who had lit lamps. However, in the North-West of the West side, there was a bright spot. This light was much brighter compared to the normal lamps. The light was flickering and swaying incessantly.
The bright light was coming from a small temple. This temple was very dilapidated. its walls and both east-west wings had already collapsed. At this time, only the original main hall for idol worship and sacrifice was left.
Within the hall, an Idol was seated on the altar. Since there was no acolyte to take care of maintenance, the Idol had become quite seriously damaged. Its lacquer paint had worn off exposing the clay idol underneath. Already, it was no longer possible to identify which supernatural entity it represented.
In the middle of the main hall, there was a bonfire. Surrounding the bonfire there were several raggedly clothed beggars. These beggars were all not too old. The biggest was not more than 13-14 years and the smallest was also 8-9 years old.
The oldest one had small breast like bumps, should probably be a female. At this time she was holding a bowl of medicine while talking to a companion who was lying down in front of the idol.
That beggar who was lying down on the straw was a boy about 12-13 years old. He was very thin, and for some unknown reason was confronting his companion who had come over holding the bowl of medicine. He wasn’t taking it and only kept staring straight at the girl, causing the girl to try and persuade him in various ways, but he refused to take the medicine.
Aside from these two, there were two others in the temple. A boy was cooking. The so-called cooking was just segregating the food that they had obtained in begging and separating them into the two pots suspended atop the fire. Even though this person was also a beggar, but he was not as emaciated as his companions, rather he was healthy and plump.
Another was a girl, who was in the process of chopping wood. This one had big eyes, but she never spoke. She only communicated with others through gestures, probably a mute.
That girl who was trying to feed the medicine to her companion didn’t get angry when he stubbornly refused to drink the medicine or behaved rudely, instead, she tried to gently inquire the reason.
That boy no longer looked the girl in the face and turned his head refusing to answer.
The girl said a few more words of persuasion and again tried to give the medicine when the boy suddenly sat up and threw down that bowl of medicine whilst staring angrily at the girl.
The girl impatiently picked up the medicine bowl. The bowl was not broken, but the medicine had already spilt over.
The boy tilted his head to look at the girl. The anger in his eyes gradually faded, replaced by a dense sadness. A moment later, he used his sleeves to wipe away the tears, and rolled over, no longer talking.
The girl helplessly looked at the boy who was lying on the ground and then walked over to pass the medicine bowl to the fatty who was cooking. She looked anxiously at the rain outside getting heavier and heavier, “Do you know where Lu Pingquan and Mo Li went?”
“Didn’t see them. Chang Le didn’t drink the medicine?” Fatty asked.
The girl shook her head, “What about Nan Feng, have you seen Nan Feng?”
Fatty shook his head, “Boss Chu, I will go and try to find them, ok.”
“It’s better that I go.” That girl surnamed Chu waved her hand.
While the two were engaged in this conversation, a sound of footsteps came from the outside. The sound of footsteps seemed to be getting closer. A moment later, two beggars rushed in from the outside. The older amongst these two beggars was about 13-14 years old, and bare to the waist. The younger was about 8-9 years old, with a basket on his head and a tattered coat on his body.
The two people had just entered the door, when a dark thin boy dressed in unlined garments came running in from the outside, “Fuck their ancestors, this father is going to drench to death.”
“Nan Feng, what are you hiding in your bosom?” The fatty who was cooking asked.
“What do you think?” The dark and thin boy smiled a broken smile.
“Good, gather everyone, we’ll eat.” Lu Pingchuan spoke to the fatty. After he speaking, he waved towards the girl surnamed Chu, “Huairou, you come over. I have something to discuss with you.”
Chu Huairou nodded and walked to Lu Pingchuan’s side to discuss in low voices. Fatty began dividing up the food from the pots.
While fatty was dividing the food, Nan Feng walked to the idol and stealthily took out a wine pot from his bosom and slipped it to Changle. “For you, it’s good stuff.”
Fatty divided the food into six parts, with only some soup leftover. He conveniently mixed the soup from the two pots into one, and drank it directly.
Chu Huairou and Lu Pinchuan seemed to be discussing some very important matter. Both people had very serious expressions on their faces. From time to time while talking they would look back at the other people eating food, don’t know if they were afraid of everyone hearing their discussions or the thing they were discussing was related to everyone.
Nan Feng and Chang Le took turns drinking from the wine pot. Nan Feng seemed to want to inquire into something, but Changle just shook his head and didn’t answer.
The dilapidated temple had a rat, and the rat came running out from the dark spot after smelling the food. It moved towards the mute, but the mute didn’t beat it, instead she fed the food to it.
“Elder Sister Chu, Nan Feng once again stole wine and Changle is drinking.” Mo Li complained.
Chu Huairou turned her head upon hearing this and waved her hand towards Mo Li, “Chang Le was suffering from symptoms of cold, he is drinking wine to drive out the cold.”
A short while later, Lu Pinchuan and Chu Huairou left the corner and moved towards the bonfire.
Lu Pingchuan arrived by the bonfire carrying a rice-bowl. He gave the bone inside it to Mo Li, but even so, Lu Pinchuan didn’t eat the rest of the meal. He poured everything into the pot that fatty was holding.
Possibly similar events had occurred earlier a few times, the two people didn’t reject and carried on eating after expressing gratitude.
“You speak.” Lu Pinchuan looked at Chu Huairou.
Chu Huairou shook her head, “It’s better that you speak.”
Everyone could see that the tone of these two people was not normal, and one by one they kept tilting their head to look at the two people. All except that mute girl who kept eating her food in silence. The mute were generally deaf too.
“Ok, I’ll speak.” Lu Pinchuan set right his train of thought, “Yesterday, a major event happened in Chang’an, you all should also have heard about it.”
“Eldest Brother, are you talking about that Dharma Assembly of East City?”
Lu Pinchuan nodded.
“I heard that in the Dharma Assembly there will be fighting over some sutra.” Fatty said.
Lu Pingchuan nodded, “This time’s Dharma Assembly will be personally presided over by Daoist You Huguo, and mass recruitment would be organised. The winner of the martial arts tournament would not only be bestowed with an official position but would also be able to consult the Heavenly Book alongside Daoist You Huguo. A lot of sects have sent over their masters. I thought we should also go to East City to try our luck. Perhaps, some sect might be willing to accept us. Even if we are not suitable to become disciples, even working as a janitor would be better than sheltering here.”
After Lu Pinchuan finished speaking, nobody spoke.
Lu Pingchuan said further: “Our sheltering here is not an option, we have to seek a way out. This is a rare opportunity that we cannot miss.”
Seeing nobody in the crowd declaring their position, Chu Huairou who was standing to the side, said: “So it’s decided, we’ll go to East City tomorrow.”
Lu Pingchuan looked around at the crowd, “Separation is near at hand, I want everyone to remain friends, I don’t know if you all think the same or not?”
Everyone nodded blankly.
“Mo Li, wash your bowl nicely.” Lu Pingchuan pulled out a dagger from his waist, “Nan Feng, bring over the wine.”
“Eldest Brother, I heard that robbers swear on blood wine, good people swear in some other way.” Fatty said.
“You tell me what you have in mind, what other way.” Lu Pingchuan said waving his hands.
At this time, Mo Li had already walked to the gate wanting to scrub his bowl, but he immediately turned around in panic, “Eldest Brother, somebody has come.”
On hearing these words, everyone looked at the entrance and saw a figure in the rain walking slowly towards the dilapidated temple.
When he came close, everyone was able to see the clothing of the person who had come. The person was aged about 50 or so years, he was wearing a shabby blue changpao, holding an already faded yellow cloth banner, and in his right hand, he was holding a wooden cane which he was repeatedly tapping on the ground while walking.
Everyone had roamed the city and there was nobody who wasn’t familiar with the clothing on this person’s body. This was a blind fortune teller……