Six years ago, Evil Spirits took in their second female member, their first being A-Lan. Their second member greeted them for the first time as the strategist for a band of horseback bandits. While she was impressive in combat, possessed sharp senses and a good head on her shoulders, none of those assets left the deepest impression.
In terms of combat skill, she didn’t qualify superb compared to their previous enemies. She had a good head but was far a long way off from a schemer given her aggressive and impulsive temperament. Her affiliation with Rakshasa made her Abels natural enemy, yet he insisted on keeping her.
What Abels saw in her was her gaze, the aggressive gaze of someone who persisted through fields of corpses no matter how challenging it was. As someone who went through similar experiences, he identified with her aggression.
Living up to Abels’ expectations, she dragged herself across the ground – a consequence of breaking her legs – to assassinate him on her second night with them. The only reason she didn’t attempt to slit his throat the first night was because she poisoned his food when she stole from the kitchen, but that didn’t kill him.
She didn’t have a means of making a living in the desert, so she stayed with them. On her first mission with them, she went back to the location they ambushed their target for their robbery to behead the corrupt official and all his associates. By no means was it an act of spite or upholding of justice; she was purely a murder monger, yet nobody deemed her savage for she shed tears when she killed.
Combat skill wasn’t something she was known for. Nevertheless, whenever they encountered an enemy, she would be first to charge at the enemy, throwing analysis and risk aversion to the wind. Blessed with the ability to analyse and adapt on the fly, fortunately, she would always find a way to kill her opponent, though she would shiver after the act.
Abels once witnessed her convulsing, veins surfacing on her arms and face when she went three days without killing someone. When she was forced to cold turkey against her will, she’d lock herself up and mangle livestock until the symptoms subsided hours later. Grown men used to freak out about eating the livestock’s flesh after, but it soon became praise for her blade work. Because of how derailed and unstable she was, Abels paired her up with Ox Demon.
On one occasion, she overextended herself, getting trapped deep inside an enemy formation on her own. In the end, Ox Demon went on a solo rampage to rescue her, and that was the first time she was slapped so hard that she dropped.
“Stop making a fool of yourself. Someone who is afraid of killing people has no place on a battlefield. You think having the highest kill count makes you brave? You’re afraid! The more your fear suffocates you, the more blood you need to appease your nerves. You think wielding your weapons out of fear makes you invincible? Don’t blaspheme combat!” Ox Demon snapped the long broadsword at her belt and walked off.
She spent the rest of the night crying, no longer demanded to fight on the frontlines. She went to Abels’ tent and implored him to bequeath her martial arts knowledge, finally addressing him as “Master” and restarting her training from scratch. When she returned to the frontlines, she was a new person.
Ox Demon used real combat to teach her the meaning of murder. “Murder is the noblest deed in this world.” Ox Demon grabbed her slim shoulders to fix her shooting so that she’d hit the head in the distance. “If you are going to kill, make sure you get the kill and savour it. There’s no point killing if you don’t enjoy it. Remember: you are the master of murder, not its servant.”
Ox Demon’s teachings gave her bloodlust a direction.
He has a point. If I can’t escape it, why not accept it?
As she released the arrow, as her arrow go out the other side of her target’s head, the trepidation that had agonised her until then also whisked away. From then on, her skills and prudence improved exponentially under Ox Demon’s guidance until she also gained an alias. To her, Ox Demon was a father as well as an elder brother in spite of her constant cussing.
She was well aware that their chances of dethroning Abels and obtaining Luo Ming’s martial arts manual were slimmer than their chances of failing, yet she didn’t hesitate to assist Ox Demon when he chose to take up Luo Ming’s offer because she felt she owed him.
Until this day, Ox Demon’s departure hadn’t sunk in. Not once had she reacted emotionally since hearing of his demise, not because she was indifferent but because she had yet to move on from the stage of shock.
“… that is her past.” River Monster recounted Mountain Monster’s history in a quiet voice for Shen Yiren on their way back from the hunt.
“Why are you telling me so much?” Shen Yiren queried.
“Oh, not interested? I thought you wanted to know.”
“That’s not the case. At least choose better circumstances, though…”
A-Lan shrugged: “You have nothing to lose if you know more about her when interacting with her in the future, do you?”
“… Uhm. I’m curious why she hasn’t had any withdrawal symptoms when she hasn’t killed anyone since learning of Ox Demon’s death.”
A-Lan leaned in close to whisper, “I heard she stopped carrying on about killing people after he locked her up for half a month. You know anything about it?”
“Asking the obvious.” A-Lan covered her impish dimple. “In Mandarin, his surname is often used in the word ‘obvious’.”
Shen Yiren immediately grabbed A-Lan by the ear.
“Ow, ow, ow! What sort of lady are you?!”
“You also have an itch you want scratched?” For some reason, though, Shen Yiren’s ears were redder than the ear she was wrenching unlike her straight face.
“Umm, I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but I do have a question I’d like to ask,” Long Zaitian formally requested from the ground. “Where is the tiger?”
Now that they looked again, the tiger was gone, not that it was surprising considering the fact that Abels managed to penetrate a mountain rock. The question was, who took the dragon’s tiger skin?
“Miss Shen, this is important! Search for my fur!”
“Hear that?” Shen Yiren tugged River Monster’s ear. “Still want to misbehave?”
“No, no, I was just joking! Sheesh!” River Monster threw herself into Abels’ arms to act coquettish as soon as Shen Yiren released her.
Shen Yiren dusted her hands: “Relax. I know where he is. No need to look so surprised. I even have a rough idea of what he’s up to. It’s just” – Shen Yiren turned to Abels – “I’m surprised you didn’t finish him.”
“I wasn’t pulling punches. I know I found my target. It’s just,” Abels looked to his hand, “it didn’t feel like… it was human.”
“I told you it’s a tig-, ow!”
This time, it was Mountain Monster who stomped on Long Zaitian stoically. “My match with him isn’t over. Where is he?”
“It’s about time. Let’s head down to H-, Hero Li’s place.”
At their level, they easily descended the mountain in no time using their qinggong. When they returned, all of their men were scattered across the ground, top of their heads swollen.
“We need to go check on Hero Li!” cried Long Zaitian.
Tie Hanyi and Ye Luo were out cold and had an extra lump on their head each when the group arrived.
“See, even Ol’ Tie lost. I told you it’s an evolved tiger!” Long Zaitian asserted.
Upon entering the room, Dugu, as well as Lai Jingzhen, acted as barricades between Emperor Yuansheng, the tiger and elder brandishing a spiked mace.
Su Xiao and Long Zaitian, upon seeing the elder, blurted, “You!”
Shen Yiren tugged up a corner of her lips and domineeringly pointed at the elder, “I knew it was you, Villach Chieth!”
Shen Yiren meekly retracted her arm to cover her rosy cheeks: “What?! Never bitten your tongue before?!”
Obvious – It’s often written with the “Ming” character in “Ming Feizhen”. In the original text, A-Lan says, “The first character,” which refers to the first character in “Asking the obvious” (Asking the Ming).