Huang Rang leaned against the wall, eavesdropping on the location Huang Zeng had arranged with someone. He seemed concerned about prying eyes and had chosen a bamboo house on Three-Li Slope. (T/N: Li (Chinese: 里, lǐ, or 市里, shìlǐ), also known as the Chinese mile, is a traditional Chinese unit of distance. The li has varied considerably over time but was usually about one third of an English mile and now has a standardized length of a half-kilometer (500 meters, 1,640 feet, or 0.311 miles).
Huang Jun remained silent all this time, and Huang Zeng said, “Dear sister, let’s consider it settled. You’ve helped me this time, and I won’t forget it. As the eldest son, I’ll be the head of the Huang family sooner or later. I won’t mistreat any of you.”
After saying this, he let out a sigh of relief, as if he had resolved a major issue.
Huang Rang waited until he left and then jumped down from the courtyard wall. She knew what time it was now.
This year, she was eight years old.
Before the age of eight, Huang Rang was impulsive and passionate.
She disliked Huang Zeng, Huang Shu, even Xi Yin, and all sorts of people from the Huang family.
Even Huang Jun didn’t get too close to her.
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Before leaving, she even secretly applied some of Xi Yin’s scented powder.
Coming out of the courtyard, she saw the candied fruits she had dropped on the ground earlier.
They were still good, so Huang Rang picked them up and put them back in a paper bag.
By the time evening approached, Huang Zeng, fearing that his plan might be exposed, had already left. Huang Jun was still hesitating about whether to go out. Huang Rang innocently ran into Chunxiu’s courtyard; Chunxiu was Huang Zeng’s birth mother.
When it came to methods and charm, Xi Yin was far from a match. Even in terms of style, Xi Yin outshone
She hadn’t even managed to secure her place for long before Huang Shu grew tired of her.
Unfortunately, Chunxiu didn’t enjoy favor for long either. Later, Huang Shu quickly took an interest in other beauties, so how could he still care for someone of her background? Huang Zeng also suffered the consequences of this neglect.
At this moment, when Chunxiu saw Huang Rang, she couldn’t help but feel disgusted. “What are you here for?” she scolded.
Huang Rang snorted and replied, “My mother said that from now on, this courtyard is mine. I came to take a look.”
Chunxiu was furious. “You little wretch! You’re never satisfied with just being beaten! Guards, throw her out!” Huang Rang held her ground and said, “When Big Brother is beaten to death by someone, you’ll be thrown out of the Huang family too. Why can’t I live in this courtyard?”
She was bold in her words, and Chunxiu’s heart skipped a beat. She asked, “Zeng’er? What happened to him? Huang Rang snorted and refused to say anything more.
Chunxiu grabbed her and lifted her up. “What happened to your big brother?” she demanded.
Huang Rang, acting scared, stammered, “He… he owes a lot of gambling debts. Those people took him to a bamboo house on Three-Li Slope to beat him!”
Upon hearing this, Chunxiu couldn’t afford to delay.
She wanted to seek help but feared involving Huang Shu upon hearing that Huang Zeng was in debt.
“This useless child! She couldn’t afford to wait. She quickly gathered some gold and silver valuables and left the Huang household quietly.
Once she was gone, Huang Rang went to look for Huang Shu. At that time, Huang Shu was fooling around with a newly acquired maid. The maid was dressed provocatively, her hair half-tied, giving off an improper air.
Huang Rang acted like she hadn’t noticed, holding a paper bag and smiling brightly. “Father!” She opened her arms and ran over. Seeing her, Huang Shu furrowed his brows.
Huang Shu didn’t like Huang Rang, largely because of the incident involving him and Huang Jun, which was considered beneath their station.
But today, Huang Rang was clean, like a gentle ray of sunlight. Huang Shu softened slightly and asked, “What is it? Huang Rang raised the paper bag and said, “Daughter got a bag of candied fruits. I came specifically to give them to my father.”
Huang Shu wasn’t really interested in candied fruits, but Huang Rang handed one over. He let her put it in his mouth.
The candied fruit was ordinary; how could Huang Jun afford expensive treats? Huang Shu ate one and said, “Alright, I’ve had some. You can go now.”
Huang Rang carefully handed a few more to him, her innocent eyes shining. “These are clean, father. Keep them.”
“Clean?” Huang Shu glanced at the bag in her hand. “Are the ones in the bag dirty?”
Huang Rang pouted and said, “I ran into Big Brother on my way out, and he accidentally spilled them.”
Huang Shu made a sound of acknowledgment, but he wasn’t really interested in what had happened.
Looking at the bruises on Huang Rang’s face, he could guess what had likely occurred.
But these were just some minor squabbles between siblings, and he had no interest in them. Instead, his attention was on the alluring maid before him—someone even more enchanting to dote upon.
Huang Rang fed him another piece of candied fruit, saying, “Tonight, when Aunty Xiu isn’t around, would father like to visit mother? Mother thinks of father every day.”
Huang Shu’s irritation flared up. He was already annoyed and felt Huang Rang was becoming a bother.
“I’ll visit when I have time. You…” He paused, suddenly remembering something. “How do you know Aunty Xiu isn’t here? Where did she go?”
It wasn’t surprising that he was suspicious. After all, Chiuxiu was a brothel woman. As night fell, where else could she go if not home?
Huang Rang fed him another piece of candied fruit, looking innocent. “I heard she went to the bamboo house on Three-Li Slope. Father cares so much about Aunty Xiu, but you don’t even care about mother!”
“Three-Li Slope? Bamboo house?” Huang Shu frowned. “What is she doing there?”
Huang Rang said, “I don’t know. Have another piece, father. Huang Shu wasn’t interested in candied fruit anymore.
He got up immediately, called two servants, and said, “Come with me!”
Huang Rang coaxed him out, then rushed back to the courtyard. By then, Huang Jun had tidied up. Huang Rang grabbed her sister’s sleeve and refused to let her leave.
“Sister, teach me how to read today! She found a twig and pulled Huang Jun to a sandy patch in the courtyard, starting to practice writing.
However, a commotion erupted in the outer courtyard within half an hour.
As expected, Chunxiu had gone to the bamboo house on Three-Li Slope. Waiting there were several desperate men who didn’t care if she was Huang Jun or not.
When Huang Shu arrived, he witnessed the unsightly scene.
Chunxiu was crying desperately, too occupied with repaying Huang Zeng’s gambling debts. Meanwhile, Huang Zeng was hiding outside, unaware of what was happening.
The next day, Chunxiu disappeared from the Huang family.
Some said she was sold by Huang Shu, while others claimed she was beaten to death by him.
The story was shrouded in mystery, but Huang Zeng suffered a severe beating from Huang Shu. As his firstborn son, he had completely fallen from grace. From then on, he became a virtual servant in the Huang family, subjected to everyone’s whims.
At that time, Huang Rang was in Xi Yin’s courtyard, holding a piece of a tree branch. It was from that year onward that she began telling lies. She sweet-talked and flattered Huang Shu, and others began to spread rumors, saying she and her sister were of the same ilk. While Xi Yin often abused her, Huang Rang didn’t endure it as meekly as Huang Jun.
She treated Xi Yin with increasing indifference.
She often engaged in heated arguments with Xi Yin, raising her defensive spines to resist the humiliation inflicted upon her. She ingratiated herself with the village head and clan leader, learning to bully her other siblings. Quietly, she made sure everyone knew not to provoke Huang Rang in this household. So she hurled insults and exposed weaknesses, indifferent to others’ pain and sorrow.
As time went on, Huang Rang began to understand why Huang Zeng and his mother had turned so malicious. Perhaps it was because selfishness and indifference prevailed in the Huang family and no one’s desires were truly fulfilled.
She sat on the sandy ground, carefully writing a character. The character was “秋” (autumn).
During the last encounter with Di Yiqiu in the second dream, the gashes made by those sharp swords were excessively unsightly. She doesn’t wish to experience this dream in such a manner again.
Outside the courtyard, Huang Jun rushed back hurriedly. As she arrived at the courtyard gate, she coincidentally encountered Huang Shu coming out of a concubine’s chamber. The moment she saw him, Huang Jun’s entire body stiffened.
Huang Shu walked up to Huang Jun, raising his hand to tidy her disheveled hair. Huang Jun involuntarily leaned back, instinctively avoiding him. “Did you return from the fields? ” Huang Shu asked affectionately.
Meanwhile, outside, numerous eyes from all directions were fixed on them. Huang Jun could only respond with an affirmative sound. Huang Shu looked her up and down, saying, “You’re the most well-behaved in this household.”
Huang Jun lowered her head, avoiding his gaze. Huang Shu noticed the attention of others and spoke kindly, “Leave the heavy work to the servants; don’t tire yourself out. Go.”
Huang Jun took a few quick steps and retreated into the courtyard.
Outside, once Huang Shu had moved away, the other concubines began to mutter under their breath, making insinuations and sarcastic comments. They were adept at such behavior; their cultivation was deep.
Meanwhile, Huang Rang continued to write determinedly and added another character: “秋” (autumn).
Huang Jun paid no mind and paused for a moment before suddenly asking, “Did you have something to do with Huang Zeng’s mother…?”
Before she could finish her sentence, someone suddenly cursed, “You seductive whore!” Huang Jun’s face turned pale, and she stopped herself from uttering the rest.
Xi Yin entered from outside, casting aside the “fertility elixir” in her hand, and slapped Huang Jun across the face. “To behave so shamelessly in broad daylight, have you no shame? Are you afraid that those lowly women won’t see?”
Huang Jun covered her face, realizing that Xi Yin had once again lost her sanity.
Xi Yin was dressed in a simple, light gray dress. For years, she had prayed and sought blessings for a son, wearing plain clothes. At this moment, her cheeks were gaunt, her eye sockets were sunken, and her deranged, resentful expression made her truly terrifying.
Huang Rang grabbed Huang Jun, trying to leave and escape Xi Yin’s wrath.
Unexpectedly, Xi Yin grabbed Huang Jun’s hair and grabbed a pitchfork by the window, swinging it aggressively.
Huang Jun, a minor earth spirit, is primarily cultivated to channel spiritual energy, maintain human form, and nurture the land. She didn’t possess much combat ability.
Although the blows from the pitchfork were not fatal, they were excruciatingly painful. Meanwhile, Huang Rang had cultivated martial arts for over a hundred years.
Growing impatient, Huang Rang wrested the pitchfork from Xi Yin’s hand, using her momentum to push her to the ground, angrily saying, “Enough!”
Xi Yin sat down suddenly, her hair disheveled and her clothes soiled. Her eyes blazed with even greater fury.
“You… you wretched creature! Sooner or later, you’ll end up like your sister…” She mumbled curses before abruptly rushing into the house. Huang Rang grabbed Huang Jun and attempted to flee, but Huang Jun said, “Sister, you shouldn’t have spoken to her like that. Her mental state has worsened over the years…”
Before Huang Jun could finish her sentence, Xi Yin suddenly reemerged, a glint of cold steel flashing in her hand. She aimed for Huang Jun’s face. Huang Rang instinctively raised her hand to block, feeling excruciating pain. Only then did she realize it was a knife.
“I’ll scar your faces so that no one dares talk about you again!” Xi Yin muttered crazily. Meanwhile, between Huang Rang’s arms, skin and flesh rolled away, revealing white bones, and after a moment, blood flowed freely.
Huang Rang felt a sense of deja vu, as if reliving an old story.
She charged forward, mercilessly knocking the knife out of Xi Yin’s hand with a pitchfork. The swordsmanship of the Yuhu Immortal Sect was indeed not needed for dealing with Xi Yin. Clearly in pain, Xi Yin recoiled, panting heavily.
Huang Rang locked eyes with her, sneering, “We’re lowly? Xi Yin, back when you were in your boudoir, you became pregnant with Huang Shu’s child out of wedlock, and in the end, your family kicked you out. You had to marry into the Huang family. Who’s truly lowly?”
Xi Yin seemed struck by a heavy blow, stumbling backward.
Huang Rang’s words were dripping with mockery as she continued, “You willingly debased yourself, and now you want to parade around with the same arrogance and airs of the former young miss? It’s both pitiful and laughable.”
After her scathing remarks, Huang Rang grabbed Huang Jun’s hand and fled the courtyard, eventually arriving at a piece of farmland.
Huang Rang snapped back to her senses, realizing that this place was where she once nurtured the spirit Herb. The remnants of Xi Yin’s death were scattered here.
Huang Rang fell to the ground, looking up at the sky.
Huang Jun asked, “How’s your injury?”
Huang Rang pressed down on the wound, tearing a piece of cloth to stop the bleeding. She was accustomed to getting hurt; it had become second nature.
So, at this moment, she was worried about something else. “I wonder when she’ll calm down. But I doubt she ever will.” Huang Rang turned around, burying her head in the shallow grass. In this dream of life, how should they proceed? She didn’t want to be in control of the Huang family anymore; if she did, Huang Jun would have to wait for her to grow up. Time had passed for far too long.
In the courtyard, the knife in Xi Yin’s hand had already pierced her chest. Huang Rang picked up a small stone and flicked it lightly. Xi Yin felt a numbness in her wrist, and suddenly her strength gave way. She raised her head and saw Huang Rang leaping over the courtyard wall.
She suddenly roared, “Why did you come back?”
She grabbed Huang Rang and raised her hand as if to slap her again, but after holding it up for a long time, she suddenly pulled Huang Rang into her embrace, crying out, “Why did you come back?”
Her blood stained Huang Rang’s clothes, creating a warm and hot patch.
“Will you survive?” Huang Rang gently stroked her dry hair. The woman held her tightly, crying out like a mournful ghost. She couldn’t answer her question.
Huang Rang could only softly say, “Survive, alright?”
Huang Jun rushed back to the courtyard and saw Huang Rang and Xi Yin embracing each other. Xi Yin knelt on the ground, burying herself in Huang Rang’s arms. Huang Rang’s small chin rested on her head, displaying an unusual compassion for her age.
That evening, Huang Rang set out. She left Xiancha Town and headed for the Ruyi Sword Sect.
She had no money, but fortunately, she had the martial arts from her previous dream. Traveling quickly was not a problem. She hadn’t been to the Ruyi Sword Sect before, but finding the second-ranked sect among the immortal sects was relatively easy.
Huang Rang journeyed relentlessly, day and night, for half a month, finally arriving at her destination. The first thing that came into view was a giant sword. The sword stood tall, exuding a sharp aura.
Huang Rang found a disciple guarding the gate and said, “I am Lady He’s niece; please inform her on my behalf.”
Seeing her covered in dust and looking disheveled, the disciple became suspicious. “Lady of our sect leader? Do you have any proof?” Huang Rang said, “I am the daughter of Xi Yin of the Xi Clan. Please inform Madam on my behalf. My aunt will surely see me.”
The disciple’s brow furrowed, hesitating to let her in.
Huang Rang narrowed her eyes and said, “Don’t judge people by appearances!” With that, she drew the sword from the disciple’s waist and swiftly performed a set of sword techniques. The techniques naturally came from the Yuhu Immortal Sect, known as the Ling Shan Wanderer.
Startled, the disciple no longer dared to underestimate her, hurrying inside to pass the message. Huang Rang waited at the entrance, feeling anxious. She didn’t know if Qu Manying would really come out to meet her.
Before long, the gates of the Ruyi Sword Sect opened, revealing a woman dressed in training attire with a bright red silk sash tied around her waist. “Where is the child?” she asked while looking around.
“Madam… Madam He…” Huang Rang felt like they were separated by an eternity when she saw her again. She didn’t dare call her aunt, fearing that Qu Manying would think she was trying to exploit their relationship. After all, the connection was quite distant.
“Oh my, are you truly Xi Yin’s daughter?” Qu Manying carefully examined her and said after a moment, “You do… resemble her somewhat. What happened to you? Why are you like this?” She lifted Huang Rang, feeling the bruises on her face inflicted by Huang Zeng.
“The blood on you, dear heavens, what happened to Ah Yin?” Qu Manying asked repeatedly.
Huang Rang clung to her, seeking help from someone she barely knew. She pressed her face against Qu Manying’s chest for a long time before saying, “My mother wants to kill my sister. Please, Aunt, save my sister.”
She was young, and her voice was tinged with innocence.
Qu Manying hugged her and said, “Alright, don’t be afraid. Tell Aunt slowly. What happened exactly? How did you end up here?”
As she was asking, someone approached from the distance—it was He Xijin.
He Xijin had a tall and stately figure, a handsome appearance, and an imposing demeanor.
He pointed at Huang Rang and asked, “Sh-she, she, she… who, who, who is she?”
Qu Manying explained, “She claims to be Xi Yin’s daughter. But it’s strange how she ended up all bloody in the Ruyi Sword Sect. Something might have happened to the Huang family. I intend to go and take a look.”
He Xijin nodded and said, “Okay, okay, I’ll, I’ll, I’ll go along.”
“Very well.” Qu Manying nodded. “Prepare the carriage.”
She instructed her servants and then turned to Huang Rang. “My dear child, why does your mother want to kill your sister?”
Huang Rang hesitated and said, “Because Father went to my sister’s room to sleep, and Mother took a knife and attacked her.” She imitated a slashing motion and continued, “My sister was wounded by the attack.”
Upon hearing this, Qu Manying was shocked, and He Xijin’s expression changed dramatically. He raised his voice, “Wh-what?!” Huang Rang seemed startled by the reaction, nestling into Qu Manying’s embrace, her silence prevailing.
“Don’t frighten the child,” Qu Manying comforted Huang Rang and touched her head. “Xijin, openly confronting this matter might not be wise. It’s better to secretly investigate the Huang family first. If Huang Shu is truly capable of such monstrous deeds, we can’t let him continue.”
A fierce determination appeared on He Xijin’s face as he said, “If-if-if this is true, I-I-I’ll flay him, flay his skin!”
While this was supposed to be a fierce declaration, sect leader He delivery was rather hesitant. Huang Rang wanted to laugh, but she held back.
She nestled in Qu Manying’s arms, as if finding a source of support.
When the words “source of support” crossed her mind, Huang Rang couldn’t help but freeze. Someone like her—how could she care about seeking support?
Yet, this feeling was surprisingly comforting. Nestled in Qu Manying’s embrace, she fell asleep before long.
In her dream, she saw Di Yiqiu again, his hand clutching the city gate, being bitten by skeletons formed from black mist. The inside of his chest revealed his organs clearly. “Di Yiqiu,” Huang Rang murmured softly. Qu Manying leaned in to listen, but she couldn’t understand. “This child must be terrified,” she whispered to herself.