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TL: FoodieMonster007; ED: TheGreatT20 If you see this, you are at the wrong site!
“Speaking of Heroes, Who is a Hero?” by Woon Swee Oan
Translator’s Note: I translated this chapter a long time ago and thought I’d just share it for fun. There is no plan to continue. “Speaking of Heroes, Who is a Hero?” is a classic wuxia novel series where good and evil is ambiguous. As you can see, the writing style is quite different from korean murim webnovels.
Volume 1: A Gentle Blade
Part 1: The Person Inside the Ruins on a Rainy Day
Chapter 1: Humans That Do Not Look Human
Wang Xiaoshi was one of many who traveled to the capital to seek their fortune. He was young, handsome, ambitious, and talented. He came from afar and had nothing to his name. However, he felt that neither the gentle breeze, the misty rain, nor the vast, rough terrain could deter him from pursuing his dream of adventuring in the jianghu. His circumstances were poor, but he saw beauty in melancholy and did not fall into despair.
Wang Xiaoshi was a little different from the other travelers, though. He carried a sword.
His sword was, of course, tightly wrapped in cloth. He was neither a bureaucrat nor a bodyguard. He was a traveler wearing ragged clothes. If he did not conceal his weapon, he would only invite trouble.
The sword wrapped in heavy cloth had only one unique characteristic: the sword hilt was curved.
A sword blade is straight.
A sword hilt is also straight.
But his sword had a curved hilt like the crescent moon.
“Someone’s playing a fine bamboo flute in the Yellow Crane Tower, which makes me feel chilly even though it’s summer in Jiangcheng.”1
If Wang Xiaoshi had not purposely lengthened his stay in Hubei to tour the famous Yellow Crane Tower, he would not have met Bai Choufei.
And if he had not met Bai Choufei, the events afterward would probably never have happened. Even if it did happen, it would not have been the same.
This was life. A large change could be caused by looking at something a little more carefully, or hearing something in passing. On the other hand, careful planning did not always lead to success.
Looking out from inside the tower, river water could be seen flowing like a torrent, and the wind carried smoke across a great distance. On every floor, many influential men had left their words behind in ink. In contrast, a noisy market occupied the street outside the tower, blanketing it with the fishy smell of seafood and rotten stench of livestock. The ground was covered in filth. The Yellow Crane Tower, once known for its poetic beauty, was utterly unrecognizable.
Even so, the street vendors and the merchants knew that people came here not only for the scenery. They would browse the shops, play with women, enjoy boat rides on the river, take pleasure in music, and drown themselves in wine.
Wang Xiaoshi wandered around various places, but the shopkeepers had sharp eyes and ignored him when they saw his ragged clothes. He likely had no money to spend.
Wang Xiaoshi felt a little disappointed, so he decided to board a boat and cross the river. Suddenly, his attention was diverted by the thunder of drums. At the end of the street, there was an empty area paved with smooth stones. This was the place where performers staged their shows. It was a pretty large space, and many people were watching a show while whispering to one another. Whenever a show came to an end, several children would come to collect money. Usually, onlookers would throw a few coins, and the performers would thank them and say a few words before continuing their performance.
Curious, Wang Xiaoshi glanced at the stage.
It was just one glance.
But it was already too late.
Right before he turned to look, a thought flashed through his mind. Maybe, there was a beautiful female martial artist holding a tournament to decide her groom? And, she would fall in love with him the moment they traded glances, just like the shows he had seen on stage?
How wrong he was.
He did, however, see something extremely shocking.
Humans that did not look human.
On the stone floor, people sat in a circle. Within the circle, there were several strong men telling a funny story to the accompaniment of gongs and drums. Two masked muscular women, small knives and daggers in hand, performed acrobatic stunts on ropes and stools. There were thin metal collars around their necks.
Besides the performers, there were several baboons bound to a rack with thick chains, old age and exhaustion visible in their eyes as they looked at the young monkeys performing on stage with the helpless feeling of elders looking over silly little children.
But these were not enough to leave Wang Xiaoshi in shock.
What really shocked him were the people.
On the stone floor, there were several more people.
To call them human was an act of cruelty.
Some of them were missing arms. Some were missing legs. Some only had an arm and a leg. Some only had one limb. There was even a person with no limbs at all, who could only open his mouth and make “ah, ah” sounds. The sight of them made peoples’ hearts sink.
There were even more grotesque people than the cripples. One of them was buried in a three-foot-tall vase, with only their head sticking out. Their face was that of a silly grinning child, but their hair was white and sparse.
Another one had a normal head with the body of a monkey. He was covered in fur and even had a short tail. It was just that, he was nowhere near as agile as a monkey.
Another “person” was actually two people who were conjoined at the back, like two people sharing one body. Yet another one had a very normal body with all limbs intact, but his facial features were completely disfigured. The eyes, nose and mouth were squished together on one small part of the face such that a twitch of the nose would open the mouth, and the squint of an eye would reveal teeth. It was a hideous sight.
Besides the freaks, there were several boxes covered with black cloth. He wondered what was inside them.
Wang Xiaoshi gave the freaks a quick glance, then immediately turned away. How cruel were the heavens, to allow such people to be born? He pulled out a small silver fragment, and tossed it at the stage.
One glance wasn’t enough for him to have seen everything, but it was enough to have left a permanent scar in his heart.
Feeling terrible, he started to walk away.
Why were some people born strong and healthy, but others born crippled?
Before he could walk away from the ranks of the audience though, someone suddenly tugged at his sleeve.
Wang Xiaoshi looked down and saw a big-headed dwarf who was barely three feet tall, holding a ceramic bowl. His eyes looked dead and his limbs were thin and shriveled like a child. The dwarf gestured at the stage, then pointed at the ceramic bowl.
Wang Xiaoshi knew that the dwarf was asking for money.
However, Wang Xiaoshi only had a few silvers left.
These were silvers that he had gotten from selling his beloved horse ten days ago.
He had sold that horse with a heavy heart. He never imagined that the horse he’d traveled a thousand miles with wouldn’t even make it to the capital with him.
A traveler who is forced to sell his horse, is like a hero who is forced to hang up his sword, or a general who is forced to take off his armor. He felt depressed and helpless at the same time.
However, he was willing to empty his pockets for the sake of those pitiful people who were born crippled.
The dwarf waved his arms around while making unintelligible sounds. Wang Xiaoshi nodded, reached for his wallet, and said, “Unfortunately, you have met a poor man. I hope that you will meet a kind, wealthy person who would take you in and care for you, so that you will not have to suffer on the frigid streets of the jianghu ever again.”
Wang Xiaoshi had said that line with absolute sincerity.
However, he heard a snigger filled with disdain.
The sound originated from somewhere close by.
His gaze swept over the people around him, but all of them were mesmerized by the freaks’ performance, cheering and clapping. None of them were looking in his direction.
Although, there was just one person looking up at the sky.
This person was handsome, young, and dressed in fancy clothes. He stood out from the rest like a rose among thorns.
Because he was looking up, his face could not be seen clearly.
Since he was the only person in the audience who was looking at the sky, Wang Xiaoshi noticed his presence. However, he couldn’t be sure if this was the person who had sniggered disdainfully.
The dwarf appeared to be deeply moved by Wang Xiaoshi’s words. He made some hand gestures and incoherent cries to express his gratefulness to Wang Xiaoshi.
Wang Xiaoshi was just about to place several silver fragments in the ceramic bowl when he had a sudden revelation and froze for a moment.
The dwarf took the silvers from him and left to beg another person for money.
Wang Xiaoshi felt like he had caught on to something, something that was related to tongues, but he couldn’t figure out exactly what it was at the spur of the moment. To confirm his suspicions, he looked toward the stage again.
Currently, two baboons were imitating humans and fighting with blades and spears to the sound of gongs. The audience clapped and gasped in awe. It seemed that humans were beings who found it amusing to watch beasts imitate human behavior. The harder the baboons fought, the more excited the audience got.
Wang Xiaoshi’s thoughts cleared up when he made several observations:
He immediately made the connection. The dwarf was likely not born mute, he had lost his tongue.
No, he could say with conviction: The dwarf’s tongue had been sliced off with a sharp blade!
He could even tell if a strand of hair had been cut by a knife or a sword. Why? Because he was Wang Xiaoshi!
The sole disciple of Venerable Tianyi, Wang Xiaoshi!
When Wang Xiaoshi realized that the dwarf was not naturally mute, but had his tongue cut off, his heart ached.
This was a very strange feeling. Previously, as he watched someone in the market slice up a fish, he had experienced this kind of imaginary pain as well. It was as if the knife was not only slicing open the fish’s belly, it was also slicing into his heart.
A person like you is not suited to martial arts—this was the evaluation Venerable Tianyi had given Wang Xiaoshi.
A true martial arts master should understand that Nature had no compassion. Only when one was composed at all times, and viewed the world rationally, unaffected by emotion, could one attain transcendence and perfection.
But Wang Xiaoshi could not be like that.
Wang Xiaoshi was a very emotional person.
Despite his flaws, after ten years of training, Wang Xiaoshi somehow managed to turn what was supposed to be a heartless sword into one that was filled with deep emotion, even defeating Venerable Tianyi’s unfeeling sword. This left Venerable Tianyi with no choice but to exclaim, “As a child, he was unwilling to hunt even a rabbit, and would bring home stray dogs and cats to rear. Whenever he sparred with the kids from other sects, he would rather be injured than injure others. Back then, I had thought that this child would never amount to anything. I never would have imagined that… sigh… he would actually succeed in mastering the humane sword—“The Benevolent Sword”, as well as master the dao all at the same time. His skill in the martial arts might not be enough to make him unparalleled, but they are enough for him to stand at the top.”
Since his training was finished, Wang Xiaoshi and his sword, plus a little bit of renown, set off toward the capital to seek his fortune.
However, before he could even reach the capital, he just had to run into a dwarf who had his tongue cut off!
Moreover, it wasn’t just the dwarf’s tongue that had been cut off. Wang Xiaoshi discovered a fact that made his blood boil with rage:
Most of the cripples’ limbs had been chopped off by a sharp object.
People who were born crippled did not have scars like that. Could they be victims of war or bandits? If that were the case, why would they be this malnourished, and gathered together like this? Wang Xiaoshi’s suspicions were aroused.
He squatted down and observed a nearby cripple who had lost both legs and an arm.
When he noticed Wang Xiaoshi observing him, the cripple cried out “Ahhhh”, as if lamenting the endless hellish pain and torture that this world had inflicted on him.
Wang Xiaoshi’s hands began to tremble uncontrollably: Not only did this pitiful person have his limbs chopped off, even his tongue had been cut off intentionally!
—Just who was so cruel and evil!?
Suddenly, a large man squeezed through the crowd and pushed Wang Xiaoshi. He glared at Wang Xiaoshi and barked, “If you want to donate, then donate. If not, don’t obstruct everyone else!”
Wang Xiaoshi asked, “Was his arm cut off?”
The large man was taken aback. He frowned and glared at Wang Xiaoshi coldly, but seeing that Wang Xiaoshi was but a gentlemanly scholar, he concluded that Wang Xiaoshi wasn’t a threat. He said in a low voice, “Why are you asking me this?”
Wang Xiaoshi asked again, “Were his legs cut off?”
The large man was furious, but he did not want to cause a big scene amongst the audience. He could only restrain himself and growl, “That has nothing to do with you!” He pushed Wang Xiaoshi roughly, and Wang Xiaoshi did not resist. Instead, Wang Xiaoshi used the force to take a step back, saying, “Was his tongue cut off?”
The large man took a step forward, but realizing that the people around them had noticed the commotion, he forced a smile and patted Wang Xiaoshi’s shoulder, loudly saying, “Stand properly.” He then threatened in a low voice, “I’m warning you; this has nothing to do with you. Don’t cause trouble!”
The large man turned away, picked up the cripple and carried him back toward the stage, turning around occasionally to glare viciously at Wang Xiaoshi.
Wang Xiaoshi saw absolute terror and panic fill the cripple’s eyes.
He wanted to make a move, but suddenly heard someone say, “A single act of recklessness is enough to compromise a great plan. Without knowing the opponent’s strength, taking action might do more harm than good, no?”
The voice sounded like it came from someone right next to Wang Xiaoshi.
Wang Xiaoshi immediately turned around!
The long-necked man who had been looking at the sky, suddenly lowered his head and walked out from the crowd.
Wang Xiaoshi’s heart skipped a beat, but just as he was about to follow this man, another person forcefully squeezed into the crowd and bumped right into Wang Xiaoshi, sparking angry cries from everyone around them who had also been pushed around.
The careless person raised an arm, shielded their chest, and quickly took a step back. However, the movement was too sudden and they accidentally stepped on a woman’s foot. The woman cried out in pain, “You blind?!”
The careless person frowned and wanted to retort, but decided to hold it in.
Wang Xiaoshi was stunned speechless.
He had never seen such a beautiful man before.
Whenever his expression changed, his eyebrows like thin blades exuded an air of indescribable grace. The sunlight that streamed through the gaps between leaves on his sun hat lit up only part of his face; in the light, skin like white ivory, in the dark, refined and delicate features. In that moment though, this person furrowed his brows, impatiently lowered his hat, and walked around Wang Xiaoshi. It seemed that he was looking for someone.
Wang Xiaoshi noticed that there was a long, wrapped up object hanging on that person’s waist.
One glance was enough for Wang Xiaoshi to confirm that it was a dao.
Part of famous Chinese poet Li Bai’s poem “The Sound of a Flute in the Yellow Crane Tower” (黄鹤楼闻笛). ↩