Author Topic: Chapter 60 - Husbands and Wives (3k words)  (Read 138 times)

Offline springlullaby

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Chapter 60 - Husbands and Wives (3k words)
« on: December 12, 2021, 06:58:03 AM »
Part of a time-warping fantasy with an alternate universe medieval setting that's part European, part Asian. The many names may be confusing: our heroes are Gyllenhad and Lucas. They witness a rogue type villainess, Liligweth - The Red Temptress,  being assaulted by a so-called hero, The Yellow Priest.

Husbands and Wives

Gyllenhad couldn’t fathom what those two were doing here. Going at each other’s throats, no less. Lucas, however, appeared unperturbed. He stood by, watching the spectacle.

Liligweth was already injured, and her opponent was relentless as he pressed in. Faltering, she was retreating step after step when, all of a sudden, The Yellow Priest jumped into the air and swung his sabre downward with a great roar.

The Priest’s expression was sinister. Cruel even. It didn’t retain a hint of the heroic pomp he bore when Gyllenhad had sent him flying with a boot to his booty. Clearly, the guy knew how to adapt to circumstances. And “meet the strong with weakness; and the weak with strength”.

Liligweth scrambled to block by raising her dagger overhead. Even though her short blade was a few inches longer than the one Dylan used, the adage “an inch of metal shorter is an inch more of danger” still held true. Moreover, she didn’t know as many tricks as Dylan did. So, as a result of her risky parry, she felt the edge of The Yellow Priest’s sabre graze her fingers.

The man intended to kill. His blade snapped her dagger at the hilt. Overpowered, Liligweth crumbled to the ground and rolled away.
Thus, one stalking like a madman, the other running for her dear life, the couple acted out a page from a truly bad romance.
While they spied the beast chase the beauty into the distance, Lucas poked at Gyllenhad.

“The girl’s in danger. Aren’t you going to save her?” he prodded.

Gyllenhad thought that the guy couldn’t be more tedious if he tried. Not sparing him a glance, he retorted, “Your husband wouldn’t want you to be jealous.”

Lucas kept silent for quite a while. When he replied, it was with a gloomy face. “Gyllie, be serious, won’t you? Stop taking advantage of me all the time.”

Gyllenhad couldn’t resist throwing him a look. Why, he thought, the word ‘serious’ is actually part of the guy’s vocabulary?

A crease formed between Lucas’s brows while he held himself straighter. “Holding a grudge comes easy to me, you know,” he said, deadpan. “I’ll remember how you always tease me, and on the day we observe the ordinance of the Duke of Zhou, I just may lose control, and you’ll be the one who pays the consequences.”

Gyllenhad clamped his mouth shut at that. After a long silence, he finally managed: “You’re overthinking it.”
Then, without looking back, he went to follow Liligweth’s tracks.
He reflected that something must have happened during the few months the three of them had spent hidden away in Shellingtorn. Indeed, already back in Wassburg, the atmosphere was one of “turbulent winds heralding the mountain storm”, but they had left for the Marionettes’ Manor.

From the corner of his eyes, Gyllenhad took a peek at the man strolling along behind him. Being the Devil Lord, he couldn’t have missed the state in which things were, he thought. Yet, he turned a blind eye to his lackeys running wild, and left with The White Sage instead... Isn’t he afraid someone would actually get their hands on the Crystal Armor, the Key, and Oediphius’ manual, to use against him?

And then, from his observation, Gyllenhad could tell there was history between Liligweth and that fan-loving, middle-aged beau by the name of Albert of Tarrassus. The kind of history people kept secret. But then, wasn’t The Yellow Priest a pal of Albert’s? Why would the latter let the Priest hunt down Liligweth? How would her death profit him? Unless… Did the two men have a fall-out?

Gyllenhad’s eyes flashed. He thought back to the two Armour fragments stolen from the Gao Estate.

At the time, Shen Shen had just died and Wassburg was surrounded by many skilled masters. It would have been difficult for anyone to infiltrate the place. Therefore, an inside job was highly likely — a mole robbing the fragments and blaming it on the Devils.

Gyllenhad then recalled the man had been murdered outside of the Islandia Estate. Albert of Tarrassus’s only son, Antoine of Tarrassus, was killed by the Long-Tongued Devil who had, himself, died with a fragment of the Armour on his corpse…

Could it be that thieving hands is a trait shared by father and son? Gyllenhad wondered.

The more he pondered, the farther Gyllenhad’ thoughts wandered. An anguished wail pulled him back to the present.
Gyllenhad looked up to Liligweth having her arm chopped off by The Yellow Priest.

Blood sprayed out a good few feet in radius. The woman stumbled backward for four, five steps; until she could no longer hang on and she fell flat on her behind with a thud.

The Yellow Priest closed in on her one step at the time, with his sabre raised and a macabre smirk on his face.

“What’s this?” he uttered. “Are you still not going to hand the thing over?”

The thing? What thing? Gyllenhad frowned. Did words of the affair between Liligweth and Albert of Tarrassus get out? Could it be that The Yellow Priest fancied the Armour stolen by the adulterer was now in the hands of the adulteress?

He ducked into a shadowed corner to spy on The Yellow Priest. He reflected that the guy looked like a potato and was about as clever. Indeed, even if Albert of Tarrassus had gotten exposed to his last dirty secret, how could anyone imagine that that guy would entrust something so important to that woman?

If all his previous conjectures proved accurate, then the case of the matter was clear: upon seeing things go skew-whiff, Albert of Tarrassus, the sly bastard, had thrown the dumb girl to the wolves as a scapegoat. And Liligweth just had to be so besotted, she was remaining mumchance to the end.

At that moment, Lucas poked at him again. His train of thoughts interrupted anew, Gyllenhad glared at the guy impatiently.

“What is it this time?”

With an obnoxious grin on his face, Lucas pointed at the gory drama in progress near them.

“If you’re that curious about it, why don’t you rescue her? That way, you can ask her for yourself.”

Gyllenhad got a bad hunch about the guy’s motives. “Why don’t you rescue her?” he replied out of instinct.

“I couldn’t,” Lucas answered. “With my being as exquisitely handsome, charismatic, and suave as I am, I absolutely cannot get involved with rescuing a woman. Lest she takes a fancy to me. Since I can’t reciprocate because I don’t like women anyway, wouldn’t I have to betray her hopes then? And that, you see, is the sort of business which gives you bad karma, so one should never...”

Gyllenhad noted that the guy could work up a case of the nuts under any circumstances. Just looking at the cheeky expression on that face offended the eyes. He reached over and nicked a button off the guy’s collar. Pinching the small object between his fingers, he was about to flick it out when something caught his eyes.

Gyllenhad grabbed Lucas and ducked to the side — someone was coming!
The two of them had barely gotten out of the way when a snort echoed from the woody area nearby. Gyllenhad’s ears twitched reflexively at the noise and Lucas spotted it.

Amused, he couldn’t resist reaching out to nudge the man. Sadly, his wrist got caught mid-route, and he received a warning look to go along with it.

Immediately afterwards, two silhouettes that glittered even in the dim night approached: it was the Pink Matron and the Green Gent.

The Pink Matron was the one who had snorted. Her face harsh, she glared at The Yellow Priest.

“Priest, you aren’t trying to swallow it all by yourself, are you?”

Doubtless because he’d been associating with Lucas for too long, the line got Gyllenhad thinking of something that was definitively from the gutter. Hence, he couldn’t resist casting the guy a glance. Only to see that Lucas was amid moving his lips mutely while wearing a mischievous expression.

“Why... A dalliance by dark moon and windy night, with so many people involved, and such peculiar proclivities...” Lucas’s voice sighed wistfully in Gyllenhad’s ear (he was using the sound transferring technique). “Really makes one ashamed of one’s own limited accomplishments...”

Gyllenhad pinched the guy on the wrist. Lucas clammed up. The both of them turned back their attention to the unfolding scene.

The Yellow Priest smiled mirthlessly at the old couple. He raised his voice as replied:

“And how would I have dared troubling your esteemed persons? No, I simply deemed that, to deal with a slut like her, my meagre competencies were sufficient…”
“Don’t you try to trick us,” the Green Gent said, eyeing him icily.

The Yellow Priest didn’t respond as he took half a step to the side to show goodwill. Yet, he didn’t return his sabre to its scabbard. On the contrary, he let it hang threateningly by his side, as if he were trying to illustrate the phrase “friend in appearance only”.

The Pink Matron gave him a wary look before she turned to Liligweth, her eyes scanning her like those of a snake.

“Little girl, granny’s got questions for you, and you’d better answer them. It’d save me trouble and save you pain.”

Though a springtime chill still hung in the air, Liligweth was covered in cold sweat, looking like she had been freshly hauled out of a pool. She hadn’t stopped the bleeding from her wounded arm in time and her face was ashen; the pain making her shake from head to toe like a leaf in the wind. Still, she stubbornly glared at the three people circling her, gritting her teeth to control the trembling in her voice.

“If... If you want to kill me, what are you wasting your breath for?!”

For someone like Liligweth to say such a thing meant it was more than likely she didn’t know a thing. Indeed, she wasn’t the type to value a mere object over her life.
Unfortunately for her, the three crooks pressing her failed to understand that simple logic.

“Why, another one who’d rather turn down the carrot for the stick,” the Pink Matron sneered as her hand shot out and. A split second later, Liligweth emitted a sharp cry — the Pink Maron had hacked off her other arm.

Body spasming and unable to brace herself, Liligweth’s entire body pitched to the ground. Fallen, she kept jerking her bust upward and gasped for air in big gulps like a dying fish, squirming non-stop as she tried to flip over and sit up.

Though the look in her eyes was hazy, she persisted in muttering, “If you want to kill me... Just do it...”

The Yellow Priest chuckled.

“Matron,” he drawled. “It won’t be of any use if she dies just like that. She was already hit by one of my palm strike, so you may want to consider being lighter-handed with your blade... Besides, aren’t there plenty of ways to make a woman talk?”

The fellow looked like a sleazeball, in the first place. When he smirked, he appeared downright creepy.

Lucas gave a mournful sigh. “One generation is better than the next, indeed. This one looks much more like our age’s worst villain than I do.”

At last, Gyllenhad flicked out the button in his grasp. And he didn’t hold back. The Yellow Priest was taken completely off-guard as it hit him in the arm, going right through flesh and bones and leaving a hole behind. The Yellow Priest squealed like a pig being slaughtered.

Gyllenhad hadn’t wanted to intervene. Liligweth was a scumbag in her own right; he let her go last time only because her proficiency at disguises seemed connected to an elder of the Four Seasons’ Estate. This time around, however, he felt that, for a woman who had spent her whole life waiting after a scoundrel, a clean death was quite enough. She needn’t suffer outrage from trash the like of The Yellow Priest.

Nobody in The Yellow Priest’s little gang had seen Gyllenhad’s real face before. As he showed himself all of a sudden, all three stared blankly at him.
“And who are you?” the Green Gent asked.

Although the corner of Gyllenhad’s lips curled up in a smirk, he didn’t reply. Instead, he used qing-gong to surge forward like a blast of gale, snatching up Liligweth’s blade in passing.

In a flash, Gyllenhad came to stand in front of The Yellow Priest. Out of reflex, the latter jumped backward, but felt something cold at his neck. In utter disbelief, he looked down — there was a cross-shaped cut in his throat!

My throat has a slit in it, was The Yellow Priest’s last thought before blood sprayed out of his neck several inches high. His body spasmed once, and he collapsed to the ground, dead.
Gyllenhad nudged the corpse with the point of his shoe before partially turning around. Blood still dripped from his blade, and a few strands of hair had fallen from his loose topknot tied with a strip of fabric — they floated by his cheekbones.

In the first glimmer of dawn, his face looked deathly pale, but also extremely handsome. He seemed to bear a hint of a smile as he eyed the Pink Matron and Green Gent.
The old woman and her companion both shuffled back a step without meaning to.

Gyllenhad’s feet didn’t seem to touch the ground as he glided toward them slowly. The blood on the dagger trickled to his hand, before running to the cracks between his fingers and drip-dropping to the ground.

In that instant, the aura of danger that emanated from the young man was so strong, the old couple could barely breathe. The Pink Matron roared as she raised her walking staff and smashed it at Gyllenhad’s head. But Gyllenhad disappeared from the place he’d been in a blink. Sensing something amiss, the Pink Matron marshalled her qi with effort and dodged by rolling forward. At the same time, she felt something cold in her back: a great blast of force impacted her in the split-second after.

Everything went dark before the Pink Matron’s eyes as she spat out a mouthful of blood — she felt as if her six viscera had been shattered to pieces.
The Green Gent opened his eyes wide. He took one look at the Pink Matron who had been sent flying (he couldn’t tell whether she was dead); he took another look at the young man who was turning toward him; and he stopped hesitating.

Leaving his old wife behind, he fled.
Gyllenhad didn’t go after the old man. Looking down, he discarded the dagger, knelt beside Liligweth, and reached out to seal the acupoints near her still bleeding wounds.
Liligweth, however, raised her head to look at him: she gave him a small shake of the head — she was about to die and she knew it.

Lucas too walked out of his hiding spot. He came to stand behind Gyllenhad.

“The Armour is with Albert of Tarrassus and he has escaped with it,” Gyllenhad said in a gentle voice. “But he asked you to create a distraction and draw them away, didn’t he?”
Liligweth glanced at him but didn’t speak.

Gyllenhad sighed. “I have no interest in the Crystal Armour, and you are at death’s door. Why should it be so hard to give a nod, I wonder?”
Lucas gave a snort and spoke from behind him:

“Miss Liu, didn’t I tell you Albert of Tarrassus wasn’t to be trusted?”

Liligweth parted her lips — her voice was the lightest whisper and Gyllenhad had to bend his ear.

“Still... still lake with willows on water green; flowers and moon from afar con...vene; year after year after year, the same, same scene...”

The remaining light in her eyes dimmed, and her head lolled to the side as she stopped breathing. There was the faintest smile on her lips that made the sinister scar on half of her face somewhat gentler. Because of her blemished face, she had hidden her true appearance for all her life. But in the end, she was destined to depart as bare as she was born.
Though, she couldn’t finish reciting the second half of her quatrain to the “Raw Haw Song”.

Gyllenhad sighed. He had reached out to close her eyes when a fit of hoarse, yet vicious chortles shrilled from behind them.

The Pink Matron had been swift enough to dodge so, even after getting hit by Gyllenhad’s remote palm strike, she was still alive. Spitting out blood, she pointed at Liligweth’s body and cackled.

“My husband and I were birds from the same forest, yet as adversity struck, he flew off alone... But her? She and that man weren’t even wed, so what did she expect? Hahaha... Since times of old, women are sentimental, whereas men are fickle. She... she couldn’t even figure that out, so hers is a death well earned! Well earned indeed!”

Gyllenhad threw her a glance over his shoulder but didn’t pay her more mind. Instead, he rose to his feet and headed back in long strides.
Lucas and he had been faring, one after the other, for some time when the guy piped up.

“You kung-fu seems more powerful now than when I first met you. And by quite a margin too... How’s that?” Lucas asked.

Gyllenhad’s footsteps faltered. He turned around to witness a rare sobriety on the other man’s features.

He gave a slight smile and pointed himself in the chest.

*“When we first met, they sealed half my internal energy.”
“What about now?”

“Now, compared to my peak, I’m at about eighty percent.”

For some reason, Lucas didn’t appear happy when he heard those words. He only eyed the other man fixedly and in silence. Gyllenhad turned away and resumed walking ahead.

As if indifferent, he said:

“On the day I die, my powers would have returned to what they were.”

Offline jimhays

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Re: Chapter 60 - Husbands and Wives (3k words)
« Reply #1 on: December 26, 2021, 11:35:40 PM »
I did my best to read and comprehend this chapter.  It is clearly well written and you have a strong sense of the world and characters you created.  Reading it without the advantage of knowing about the characters in advance is a pretty challenging task in terms of critiquing it.  Maybe that's why there are no other comments here.  One part I didn't like was that the guy's wife has her arm chopped off and her estranged husband seems to be jovially discussing whether or not to intervene.  Maybe they have the ability to re-grow arms or it's a novel in which death in battle is nothing.  That part kind of disturbed me.  Nevertheless, it is obviously a well-written chapter in the middle of a book somewhere and it's just as good as a lot of published books of this genre that I've been reading voraciously.