Different Year, Same Thing (Part 1)
A romantic ambience permeated in every city as it was Chinese Valentine’s Day tonight – at least, that was how it went in Hangzhou. Jiu Shaozhang had to close shop at sunset due to the eatery running out of ingredients by then.
Jiu Shaozhang, an elder in his fifties, who named his small eatery at the foot of Mount Chenghuang after himself, sported dark hands riddled with callouses earned from forty-plus years of labour as an apprentice to a professional and a hunched back from leaning over to work. Howbeit, he didn’t have a single complaint that he could list. He was over the period where he yearned for fame and riches. That said, he was famous and had enough money to live comfortably.
“Never judge a book by its cover,” as they say. His eatery wasn’t on a main street, yet business thrived from the moment the sun was out and when the argent moon was out. His offerings, which went beyond providing tea and snacks, rewarding palates with the best butter pancake at the foot of Mount Chenghuang.
There is only one more word in “roast butter pancake” compared to “butter pancake”, yet the difference is night and day. Pancakes were a common savoury dish that consisted of unleavened flatbread folded with oil. It is said that the secret lies in getting the bread crispy and adding the perfect aroma of oil. Butter pancakes, however, challenged the norm and are consumed as a dessert.
Jiu Shaozhang’s version of butter pancakes were golden and packed to create a drool-worthy artwork of sunlight sprinkled on snow. Every layer of the pancake tasted distinct thanks to the perfect texture, combining a crispy, yet slight chewy, texture and varying temperatures outside to inside. Since Jiu Shaozhang didn’t have a name for his signature item, someone decided to name it after a straw raincoat due to its appearance – raincoat pancake.
Jiu Shaozhang left his shifu, who taught him the original recipe, in the dust behind him. After getting married and having a daughter, he opened his small eatery and invented his new recipe. His new recipe then went on to wow everyone in the social hierarchy, earning praise as the pancake to die for.
Jiu Shaozhang was looking to retire at his age and for good reason. His daughter was getting married next year, and his son was growing up; he wanted to be around to see his children marry. To that end, he preferred to close shop early these days and refused to accept guests even though they’d commonly come knocking. Later on, he deemed that the biggest mistake in his life.
As it was late at night, the lights at Jiu Shaozhang’s eatery were out. The plaque he hung up on a red string was still there, reflecting the mistake he’d regret for the rest of his life. The people knocking at his door were akin to wild beasts scouring for food a little too soon, yet nobody would’ve done what they would’ve – maybe.
Like a plague, the outburst started out of nowhere and seemingly for no reason. Like the victim who had no means of fighting off the virus that suddenly hit them, Jiu Shaozhang had no means of averting the crisis. They weren’t inhumane or emotionless. It was just an unbridled outburst produced from their pent-up urges and out of pure malice.
Jiu Shaozhang was sinking in his blood on the ground in front of his home that he spent his entire life building. The culprits had brutally mauled him until he could no longer stand. With the scowl of a man hell-bent on revenge, he roared in a throat voice with his head down.
The barbaric men brought a group of prostitutes with them and declared they were going to take over Jiu Shaozhang’s place to set up their utopia. He didn’t get to even protest because they wrestled him out of his home. When he pled them, they beat him, wearing condescending simpers, and severed the nerves on the hands he was proud of. He hit the ground before he even realised it, and they whacked his throat so that he couldn’t speak. No previous sense of powerlessness could compare to the despair inundating him that night. It eluded him as to how they could be so malicious, yet relish it as entertainment. Alas, it was only the beginning of his nightmare.
From the front of his house, Jiu Shaozhang could hear women moaning and men guffawing. The smell coming from inside the house infuriated him. Jiu Shaozhang’s daughter’s cries, the sound of the brutes tearing her clothes off drove him towards madness.
Despite the fame of Jiu Shaozhang’s dessert, what he was truly best known for was being gregarious and on good terms with everyone he met.
Jiu Shaozhang graduated at twenty-five years old and paid off his debts to his shifu. His skills put chefs from big-named restaurants to shame, yet he stuck with his shifu without asking for anything in return until he was thirty, which was when his shifu passed away. Only after his shifu passed away did he start exploring beyond the recipe his shifu imparted. He led a humble life in his small eatery, waking up before the sun to greet it and running his eatery late into the night as if he was fond of keeping the moon company.
People called Jiu Shaozhang stupid. He wasn’t just stupid; he was also a man who never had a change of heart. He fell for his shifu’s daughter when she, adorning an ochre robe, treated his eyes to a sweet smile. Honest to a fault, he never let his feelings show, judging himself to be unworthy of her. Merely having what he considered a privilege to exchange a few meaningless phrases with her daily was all he could ask for. Truthfully, she mutually reciprocated his feelings, though he was too dense to notice. Thankfully, his shifu not noticed their feelings for each other when she was twenty and decided to set the two up for marriage.
Jiu Shaozhang’s daughter was considered the most beautiful girl, even beyond their city. In the last two years, there were so many men who came to ask for her hand in marriage that people mistook her for running a second branch of his business. He was always grateful that fate handed him such a blessed hand in life until it all came crashing down that night.
That night, Jiu Shaozhang’s daughter had her first taste of a man, and it just had to be in such traumatic fashion. Her tears and pleas didn’t beget mercy. To the contrary, it stirred on the beast’s desire to ravage her. She could never get used to the wicked grin on his face even after three rounds. After he was done violating her, he ogled her splendid body with his eyes and wiped his mouth.
The only reason she was still hanging on was because she didn’t want to leave her family. If given the chance, she’d skin him alive and mutilate him. The maiden had one final glint of hope deep down that help would arrive, and the perpetrator picked up on it as a hunter sensed its prey’s fear and anger.
The rapist groped the maiden roughly to distract her and climbed onto her. Wearing a Cheshire smile, he authoritatively and rhetorically asked, “You’re my woman now, got it?”
The maiden refused to respond in any capacity.
“From this day onward, everyone will recognise you as my woman. You think there’s a way to reclaim your purity? You’re different to everyone else now. You’re no longer a virgin. Nobody will show sympathy if you weep. Your neighbours, relatives, friends and fiancé will all find out that I raped you. Your beauty cannot change the reality that you’re now a sullied slag.”
The maiden pursed her quavering lips as tears coursed down her cheeks. His voice was gentle, yet all she heard was violence. As he sullied her, he whispered, “Even if they call you a pure maiden now, what do you think they’ll call you in the future? You think you can still marry? You think you can still have another man’s child? Can you accept another man now that you have me? You’re in your prime. Why would you give up on life? You still have a long life ahead of you and can see the beautiful world. Don’t sell yourself short. Since I have taken your body, why not entrust your future to me?”
The young man was a decent-looking man. She, indeed, was still young. Though she was going through a tragedy, she wondered if she could trust him with her future… Life was life, no? In the end, she reactively nodded.
“Good. That’s the wisest decision. I shall handle our marriage logistics.” He flashed his pearly whites and hollered, “She gave her nod of approval. It’s time to come in and fulfil your duty as her grooms.”
Six youths around his age burst through the door, gawking and grinning lecherously. They, in fact, came through with their manhood hanging out of their trousers already.
“I was tired of this old one. Time for me to feast on a new one. Let’s dig in, brothers.”
A youth threw a naked and beaten woman to the ground. The maiden screamed as her terror escalated.
The group ravaged Jiu Shaozhang’s beautiful wife and abused her to death.
The youth who ravaged Jiu Shaozhang’s daughter got up and stretched out his back: “I already did this slut three times, but she says she still needs some more. You six shouldn’t keep her waiting.”
The six animals proceeded to ravage the maiden, while the seventh youth cracked up.
People knocked on Jiu Shaozhang’s doors even though he told them he didn’t accept guests after he had closed shop for the day. Some merely wanted to feast their eyes on a glimpse of his daughter. A scholar resolved to give a cake to the girl of his dreams tonight, believing he had a chance of touching her with his sincerity. Upon arrival, however, he beheld a catastrophe that had his legs shaking. Cognisant that he was no match for the armed miscreants, he raced off to report them to the local government office.
Wu Daode, county magistrate of Qiantang, sped to Mount Chenghuang with three teams. The attack on Jiu Shaozhang’s family had just ended by the time Wu Daode arrived. Despite being a scholastic official, he was first to rush into the property.
Hope rekindled, Jiu Shaozhang mustered every ounce of energy he had left to cry in his raspy voice, “Sir, please save my wife and daughter! Please!”
Wu Daode looked down and jolted. Unlike the sympathy Jiu Shaozhang expected to receive, he received a shoe to the face, instead!
“Cursed peasants. Die already. Don’t get in my way.”
Wu Daode bolted inside and gingerly knocked.
“Who the hell is it? You want me to come out and beat your face in?!”
Wu Daode fixed his clothes and stood straight up, carrying himself more primly than when he met his superior. He stuttered, “I-It is me, Wu Daode, county magistrate of Qiantang. I heard you were sojourning here, so I came to ensure that these peasants did not make your stay unwelcoming and to see if I could do anything for you.”
Wu Daode’s voice sunk Jiu Shaozhang deeper into the marsh known as despair.
A sweaty youth dressed in just his underpants and draping his outer robe opened the door. The other youths and the ten prostitutes they brought with them were still a mess, though.
Wu Daode averted his gaze and smiled from ear to ear: “You sure are enjoying life to the fullest, Young Master.”
“Eh, something like that.” The youth meandered over to Jiu Shaozhang and crouched down: “Hahaha, your daughter isn’t bad. Her body is soft and smooth unlike your shoddy pancakes.”
“Why? Why? Why?”
“Are you playing a fool or genuinely ignorant?” Lowering his voice, the youth elaborated, “You made me line up just as the rest of those hicks from the boons when I came here to buy some pancakes the day before. You thought you were hot. You want me to line up? The hands you’re so proud of, your daughter and wife are gone. Where’s all your bravado now?”
“That’s the reason?! That’s all it was?!” Jiu Shaozhang’s rage over the ridiculous reason figuratively incinerated him.
“Cool your pants. I was just having some fun with your daughter, not trying to take her from you. You can have her back. Bloody peons don’t know what generosity is.”
Another youth carried something over whilst sporting a wicked grin.
Thunk! Jiu Shaozhang looked over to the naked body covered in the filth of the young men.
“Tsk, tsk, what a pity. She’s a goner.”
Jiu Shaozhang had nothing left to say. He crawled over to the young master’s feet and bit his leg. Jiu Shaozhang’s feeble teeth were no match for the young master’s protective layer of qi, but the former bit anyway until he left red teeth marks.
The young master kicked off Jiu Shaozhang, yet Jiu Shaozhang continued trying to stare the former to death. The rage in Jiu Shaozhang’s eyes successfully rattled the young man. Unfortunately, stares couldn’t kill.
“How dare a peasant threaten me?!”
The youth drew a sword so swiftly nobody saw it happen and plunged it into Jiu Shaozhang’s skull, leaving the elder to perish with his eyes wide. The youth threw the sword onto the ground in contempt once he was done.
Wu Daode’s constables had already lined up the family of three’s corpses.
“Sir… What do we do now?” asked a constable.
Wu Daode viciously slapped his constable over the head and instructed, “What sort of question is that?! Burn it all down!”
The scholar who reported the attack was thrown to the pack of ruthless and sadistic young men. He begged, “Sir, Sir, please help me. I was just passing by! Please help me!”
Wu Daode’s eyes read, “I’m not ruthless. You just had to offend these walking disasters. You should be aware of what type of people they are…”
“Release him!” The leader commanded, startling his cohorts. “Spread the word. Tell everyone in Hangzhou, plead and do whatever you want. Let’s see who does anything about it. Remember what I said. There’s no need to withhold anything. Tell them what I did. Let’s see who dares to defy me.”
The scholar could only quake in his boots. Meanwhile, the constables lined up firewood and the corpses to erase from existence.
“Don’t you dare burn it!” the youth shouted.
“Stop! Stop!” Wu Daode hastily cried. He turned around and lifted the corners of his lips: “Hehe, do you think it is not advisable, Young Master?”
“Obviously. Why would you go burning a house?”
“Hehehe, you are right. You are absolutely right. Do you like it, Young Master?”
“You have the eyes of a bat? Is my taste that bad?”
The scathing remark had Wu Daode’s face alternating between red and ashen.
“Nobody is to touch this place. Leave it exactly as it is. Leave the three corpses here for three days and three nights. Let’s see who in Hangzhou dares to oppose me.”
Hangzhou was well-known in the martial world for being a flourishing but lawless place. The youth was obviously trying to establish his dominance in Hangzhou.
The county magistrate was powerless to stop the young man. Wu Daode inwardly lamented, “Jiangnan… Seven Champion White Princes… Without them, we would have peace…”
As expected, many people visited Jiu Shaozhang’s eatery the next day, only to be shocked at the sight they beheld. It took only a single day for the tragedy to reach every corner of Hangzhou and other regions the day after.
People reported Jiu Shaozhang’s blatantly undeserving demise to magistrates, but it all fell on deaf ears. They resorted to reporting to Liu Shan Men, Qilin Guards and even the Emperor’s Entourage. Alas, nobody stood up for the poor man. They decided to turn to other sects and, at long last, found a ray of hope.
It was easy for those in the martial world to dig up the truth behind almost anything. As such, they covertly alarmed others in the martial world to prepare for a foreign invasion.
Despite everything that was going on, not one soul moved the three corpses.
The tragedy took place during the twenty-fifth year of Emperor Yuansheng’s reign, the year the demon king just fell from grace. The year the Qilin Guards started to bear to their fangs, and the year the Seven Champion White Princes started pushing the envelope.
It isn’t about survival of the fittest. The martial world can be a purposeless hell, where life is cheap.
Wu Daode – The name is a play on words. Wu Daode is used to imply, “Amoral” when you change the “Wu” surname for the character “Wu” that can mean “devoid of”.