From the moment he espied Mr. Zhou’s facial expression, Sun Xianggong knew it was time for him to depart. Never staying in one place for too long benefited him and those he interacted with. Spending three years at Peach Blossom Village already exceeded the typical length he stayed in one place. Perhaps life was too nice there that he forgot it was time to move on.
When the time to leave had come, it was best to leave without a goodbye.
As soon as the first golden rays hit the earth, Sun Xianggong set out with his prepared luggage. There wasn’t worth much taking with him. To begin with, his small home was rather empty. In contrast, he left plenty of things behind for the villagers, including several small handbooks listing suggestions that he believed would improve their quality of life. His connection to Peach Blossom Village was meant to end there. Howbeit, it was impossible for someone as astute and perceptive as him not to notice something was different about the village.
Miss Zhou was missing.
Miss Zhou was constantly zoning out after she went home and badgering her father about whether he had heard of “jadeite cicadas”. It went without saying that her parents knew very well the source of her emotional turmoil. Therefore, her mother spent all night keeping her company, yet, much to her confusion, she couldn’t comprehend why her daughter kept saying things to along the lines of, “He’s so pitiful,” and “Why does he have to suffer so much?” When her parents woke up the next morning, they discovered their daughter was missing.
“Jadeite cicadas, which are also known as ‘jadeite primordial cicadas’, are a type of insect that have a long lifespan as they seldom move throughout their lifetime. Should they survive for more than a century, their bodies will turn white, giving them an appearance similar to white jade, hence their name,” edified Sun Xianggong, setting down his luggage as he joined the conversation.
Rather than adding to the panic, Sun Xianggong’s appearance settled the uneasy hearts.
“Sun Xianggong, are you suggesting my daughter went off in search of them? What a silly girl.”
“I will bring her back.”
None of the villagers doubted Sun Xianggong would fail.
“Shitou, stay here.”
It was Sun Xianggong’s first time not bringing Shitou along with him. It didn’t take much effort for him to find his target in the forest, nonetheless.
“While a fair number of people in the martial world know of jadeite primordial cicadas and their use as a medicinal ingredient, Miss Zhou shouldn’t know about them, and she shouldn’t know they can be found in this forest.”
Sun Xianggong’s two visitors from yesterdays bowed their heads.
“We truly cannot hold a candle to you, Elder.”
“We took the risk of kidnapping her so that we could have an audience with you.”
Sun Xianggong smiled. “And an audience has been granted. Where is she?”
“She is over there.”
Miss Zhou’s limbs were bound, and she was muted with a white piece of cloth. Fortunately, she didn’t have any visible wounds, though her eyes were twice their usual size.
“We would never dare to mistreat someone you care about, Elder.”
“Elder, the orthodox sects should have been erased long ago. The Seven Champion White Princes deserve to suffer every bit they are suffering for accosting Fiends’ Genesis, as well. With your influence, why would you not have a use for manpower? The two of us are willing to serve you without any complaints.”
Sun Xianggong just blinked twice. As the two couldn’t make sense of his reaction, they decided to deploy their ace.
“We will not stop you from maintaining your current lifestyle, hiding your occupation from her and marrying her. We will even keep your secrets for you. If, however, you reject us, we will have to take measures we do not wish to take.”
“We have two more brothers in the village. You understand what we are saying?”
Though Miss Zhou was placed out of earshot, she would see Sun Xianggong’s skills once he retaliated.
“Your timing is not half bad.” Sun Xianggong bobbed his head. “You’re skilled and impressively cunning.”
The duo didn’t know how to react to the sudden adulation or what was being implied.
“Don’t mistake what I mean. Cunningness is an excellent quality. How can a man expect to survive in this world without any cunning?”
The duo thought they understood.
“But I don’t like it.” Sun Xianggong unsheathed his sword.
The duo had every right to feel proud. They had time to see snow seemingly cover the leaves around them in the three exchanges they had against Sun Xianggong.
How disappointing. I probably only needed one strike if I was the version of myself from forty years ago. If I was myself from sixty years ago, I could’ve shut them down with my gaze alone. In my prime… Hah, what is the point of all these “if” situations now?
In Miss Zhou’s eyes, the way Sun Xianggong wiped the blood of his sword was as elegant as him at work with a brush.
Shitou returned to Sun Xianggong’s side. Besides having some bloodstains on him, he was the same Shitou as always.
“Good boy.” Sun Xianggong caressed Shitou’s head. Smiling amiably as always whilst freeing Miss Zhou from her confines, he expressed, “Miss Zhou, you shouldn’t be here.”
Miss Zhou’s response to the fiasco was as strange as Sun Xianggong’s casualness. Instead of fear, she just felt that Sun Xianggong was a little different to the Sun Xianggong she knew. Her stiffness wasn’t a product of fear but concern for him.
“I know that you’re a man capable of great things and that it was only a matter of time before you left. If you won’t leave today, you’ll leave tomorrow. That’s why I wanted to find this for you.” Miss Zhou opened her hand, revealing a jadeite cicada. “I heard them say that this type of cicada has a long lifespan… I want you to have this as a gift. Maybe… it once sung a century ago.”
After checking her for injuries, Sun Xianggong helped Miss Zhou up. “… Why go to such lengths?”
“I don’t know.” Continuing with red eyes and tears coursing down, Miss Zhou conveyed, “I, I just remember you saying you’ve missed your wife for a hundred years. I don’t know what you meant by that, but I can tell you love her and must miss her dearly. I don’t know what I can do, so I just want to brighten up your day a little.”
Once he finished tidying up her appearance for her, Sun Xianggong asked, “Does seeing me make you cry? What’s so good about me?”
Miss Zhou shook her head, paused, nodded and then shook her head again whilst sobbing.
Sun Xianggong let Miss Zhou cry for a while before shoving a sheet of paper into her hand. “This formula is for your dad. Whenever his back gives him trouble again, prepare it for him.”
Miss Zhou grabbed Sun Xianggong’s hand as though she was afraid he’d vanish if she loosened up. “C-can’t you bring me with you? I… I…”
The last thing Miss Zhou prior to falling asleep was the first genuine smile from the bottom of Sun Xianggong’s heart.
Sun Xianggong set Miss Zhou up against a tree, held his hands together before his chest and then gave her a deep bow. “Your admiration for this one is appreciated. Howbeit, he is unworthy of you. His ambition renders his life perpetually at peril and a waste your earnest feelings. This body is already beneath the dirt. Should next life come to be, he promises to repay your kindness.”
Miss Zhou safely returned home.
“Shitou, it’s time we be on our way.” Sun Xianggong chose the mountain path to journey to his next destination.
As Shitou silently followed along, he stared at the jadeite cicada in his hand.
“Come. Let us bring ruin to this country.”
What was wrong had to be corrected.
The summer sun shone on Peach Blossom Village again, but there was less a Shitou and Sun Xianggong.