Waking from a Dream
Only those touted as great hunters were able to hunt tigers. Usually, elites from the three law enforcement offices were sent out to hunt tigers; ten elite hunters would be sent out to handle setting traps, baiting, setting nets and so forth to capture one.
A tiger complacently ambled along a small creek, ignorant to the threat inching closer. Its hunter, who had been lying in wait for a long time, released his charged-up arrow, piercing the most vulnerable part of the tiger’s neck, yet the tiger refused to fall. Instead, it steadied itself after being startled, then sprinted down the mountain.
A horse burst out from behind the trees, carrying the archer at breakneck speed. They say, Beijiang equestrians among equestrians, Abels among archers on horseback. As an expert at shooting from a horse, he ended the chase in less than five hundred metres.
Abels strapped two bags of tiger flesh and another bag of tiger fur to his horse, then rode down as the sun headed west. In the village shared between hundreds of inhabitants, Abels lived in a small house by a big banyan tree toward the north of the village. The front courtyard was decorated with fresh flowers when the sun had covered the ground. The garden was a sight to behold, but it was incomparable at sunrise. He personally groomed the garden outside the face, while his wife took care of the flowers inside the fence.
Hmm, today’s dinner must be lamb over steamed rice judging from the aroma coming from inside.
Upon sensing their owner return home, several grey dogs raced out to welcome them, and he jovially chucked down a big piece of tiger meat for them to indulge in.
No matter how many times he saw his wife’s smile, Abels could never grow sick of it. He hung his bow up on the wall and greeted the former Princess of Nanjiang, the woman of his dreams.
Abels knew the four year old boy was going to try and catch him by surprise, so he grabbed the boy clinging to his knee and lifted the energetic, plump boy onto his shoulder: “Hahaha, you been a good boy at home?”
A-Lan sulked, “Says the one who refused to read and threw a tantrum about wanting to hunt with his father.”
“Doesn’t matter if he isn’t illiterate. My son is going to become the mightiest warrior in all the land, right? Let’s go check out the tiger fur, Son.” As soon as he passed his son the tiger fur, Abels gave A-Lan a shoulder massage, assuaging, “We can take our time teaching him.”
“Wow, you’re actually admitting you’re wrong. I thought you were the head of the family.”
“That is you, Your Majesty!”
It had been seven years since Abels was reunited with A-Lan. Instead of returning to Beijiang, they decided to join their friends, Luo Ming, Ming Feizhen and company, to exterminate the unique beast in Nanjiang, avenging A-Lan’s ancestors and Luo Clan’s fallen warriors. It wasn’t easy, but Luo Clan’s divine sword and Abel’s Sea Deer Hunter finally brought it down.
Abels heartily drank with Ming Feizhen at the after party and announced he was going to marry A-Lan. Over the next few days, their friends stayed to help until she melted his heart in her wedding gown. The two spent the next year in Nanjiang as part of their honeymoon.
Abels disbanded Evil Spirits, then came to an agreement with Tiezhen Kingdom, allowing his comrades to enlist as soldiers or officials if they wanted. Otherwise, he gave them a handsome retirement sum to do as they liked.
Abels and A-Lan eventually settled down at a quiet village by the border of Nanjiang and the Central Plain as commoners.
“Abels?” A-Lan turned her attention to her husband on the bed once she put their son to sleep.
“What’s on your mind?”
Abels shook his head with a smile.
“That’s a lie. You often zone out. You still… miss life in the martial world, don’t you?”
Abels was happy and cherished the life of peace that they considered a blessing. Before they settled down, he couldn’t have even imagined a more fulfilling life. Nowadays, he couldn’t imagine himself without his wife or son. Having said that, he was perturbed.
“… You still remember how I found you at Luo Sword Manor seven years ago?”
“I do. It was thanks to Patriarch Luo that we were reunited, wasn’t it?”
“That’s right… Thing is… I can’t recall why we were separated in the first place.”
“Why does it matter? Isn’t our life perfect as it is now?”
“A-Lan, will you hear me out?”
“There are some things I can’t recall no matter how hard I try, but it’s like a nightmare that’s constantly chasing me, waiting to devour my consciousness when I’m most prone or something. It’s like I can see cracks, yet I can’t see what’s on the other side of that darkness. This mental dislocation often gnaws at me.
“Let’s run with the ‘what if’ scenario that I failed to rescue you and lost to Luo… Ming… Why would I fight Luo Ming? Strange… Strange… I can’t stop myself from imagining it… The person I fought with that day… His swordplay and strength were equally formidable, and I can only think of one person who fits that description.
“What if I lost to him that day? Is this… all a dream? Despite often watching the floating clouds, I can’t imagine an eagle flying freely. Does the creator of this dream not see eagles often? Why is this village situated in the Central Plain? Why didn’t we return to Beijiang to raise cattle for a living? Could it be that the creator of this dream isn’t familiar with Beijiang’s culture?
“Even though I’m happy here, there’s this hole in my heart that I can’t fill, which is that… I’ve never seen you happy despite smiling. This… is all a dream, isn’t it?”
A-Lan didn’t respond.
“I think someone’s calling for me.” A smile came to Abels’ lips. “It’s a gentle voice… She’s calling for me. I have to go.”
Even in his dreams, A-Lan didn’t stop him.”
“… bels… Abels! Abels!”
The warm touch on his face was her tears. Although his eyes were still closed, the corners of his lips had curved upwards.
“… I told myself that, if the first person I saw upon waking wasn’t you, I must be in another nightmare. Thankfully… the dream is finally over.”
The first sight Abels beheld was the same smile that welcomed him home in his dream.
Once Abels joined the fray, Shen Yiren told Long Zaitian, “Get them out.”
“How many?” Long Zaitian questioned.
“Everyone. Escort everyone out.”
“W-we can’t leave you behind.”
“We can’t interfere in the next stage of this fight. Don’t forget what our duty is. We’ve rescued His Majesty. If we keep him here, though, we’re only putting him at risk. As his vassals, we can’t afford to take risks.”
Long Zaitian, therefore, begrudgingly gathered a group to escort Emperor Yuansheng out. Watching them leave one by one, Shen Yiren called, “Yan Ling, Xiao Han.”
“Present!” the duo responded in synchrony.
“Afraid of death?”
“Glad to hear. Remember what our three offices’ duties are?”
Su Xiao answered, “Emperor’s Entourage serves His Majesty. Qilin Guards guard the nation. Liu Shan Men protects the people.”
“His Majesty’s entourage is now escorting him. Qilin Guards are marching in. They’re fulfilling their duties.” Shen Yiren pointed behind her and asked, “All of the martial artists here are citizens of our nation. Nobody deserves to die at the hands of a nutcase. We are bringing up the rear. Any objections?”
“Good.” Shen Yiren had one last glance at the scalding cauldron prior to wearing on the smile of a warrior: “If we must go out, we’ll go out on our sword. That’s how a warrior is meant to die.”