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Nightfall - Chapter 653

Published at 21st of December 2018 12:45:21 AM


Chapter 653: The Woodcutter, who Returned to Shubi Lake

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If Shubi Lake was near, would the City of Wei be far?




It was very quiet in the carriage. Sangsang took a look at Ning Que but received no response. He had made a decision at the White Tower Temple. He would not go back to the Academy, let alone the City of Wei.

Located between Seven Stockaded Villages at the border of Tang Empire and Golden Palace, Shubi Lake was a rare freshwater lake in the Wilderness. Owing to countless years' erosion, several slits appeared and extended westward on the rocky lakebed. Those slits connected with the lake's long body, making the lake look like a comb. That was why it was called "Shubi Lake" – a green lake that looks like a comb.

Trade caravans used to often stop by the lake, because of that, horse gangs also appeared there. The battle between blood and money lasted many years. Since a time that no one is certain of, trade caravans were gradually forced to choose more remote and difficult routes, while Shubi Lake became a gathering and hiding place for horse gangs.

At dusk, the black carriage arrived at the periphery of the lake. Clouds in the sky blocked out most of the sunlight, so it was already as dark as night. One could see from afar the bonfires by the lake, hear the faint singing, even smell the aroma of barbecue and liquor.

Wheels creaked as they rolled through the simple soil road amid the jungle by the lake. The carriage successfully evaded the hidden sentries left by horse gangs and came to the lakeside. For Ning Que, who had been there hundreds of times, Shubi Lake was a place as familiar as his own home.

A dozen bonfires by the lake were divided into three groups according to the distance between them. Hundreds of horse thieves, who should belong to the three parties, were eating and drinking around them.

Horse thieves of the Wilderness were the most cold-blooded and deceitful creatures. They were extremely greedy and never trusted other people, especially their peers. If they encountered each other in the Wilderness, they would have long been involved in a fight. But it would never happen by the lake, because it was a rule.

Very thick firewood was put at the bottom of every bonfire, crackling slightly. The flame was like a giant's tongue licking the rolling roast sheep. The grease dripping from the roast sheep was like saliva of the invisible giant.

Singing, men's shouting and sultry voices of women reverberated around the lake. The horse thieves looked so lively, drinking and fooling around with women. But their knives and arrows were close at hand, so they could pick up them at any time.

Their cutlasses were usually not inserted in their sheaths. Under the light of flames, blood on the cutlasses was clear to see. Some blood was still fresh. It should be a trade caravan or a solitary patrol guard dying a terrible death under the cutlass.

The horse gangs lived a happy life in these years. Golden Palace and the Tang Empire had been at a stalemate for a long time. Both parties were very careful, so few troops were sent to suppress horse gangs in the Wilderness. Therefore, pressure faced by horse thieves suddenly decreased a lot. Especially after the departure of that person, they felt that life was so nice and happy, and looked forward to living this kind of life forever.

The happier life was, the more one would cherish it. Horse gangs knew this truth well. So they seldom fought against each other. But that did not mean they were not vigilant anymore. When a black carriage appeared by the lake, it attracted everyone's attention.

A lone carriage appeared at Shubi Lake – right before the eyes of three hundred cruel horse thieves. It was just like a little white rabbit walking into a pack of wolves, who had starved for countless days.





However, the horse thieves did not rush up with strange shouts, but rather looked somewhat wary. The three leaders of the horse gangs looked at each other through the fire and saw the uneasiness in each other's eyes.

Shubi Lake had long been famous, so neither caravans nor travelers would choose to stay here. It was very weird that the carriage dared to travel alone through the Wilderness and even come here.

One of the leaders looked at the black carriage and croaked,"My distinguished guest, I did not expect that you would come to our poor people's shabby home. Who are you? Please come out and meet us."

But what answered him was an arrow. An arrow whistled and struck right between his eyebrows, leaving a small bloody hole. The leader fell dead, his eyes wide open.

It caused an uproar among all the horse gangs at once. They pushed the women in their arms away and stood up with their knives in hand. Dozens of horse thieves, that were led by that leader shouted and rushed at the carriage.

With ceaseless swishing of arrows, each of the seven or eight horse thieves rushing at the forefront was shot by an arrow right between their eyebrows. They fell on the ground with a big noise like trees being cut down one after another.

Ning Que got off the carriage with an arrow box behind his back and a boxwood bow in his hand. Looking at those frightened horse thieves, he asked, "When did Shubi Lake become your home?"

In the dim light of night, bonfires swayed in the wind. The dim light fell on his black uniform as well as his expressionless face, making his eyes exceptionally clear.

Shubi Lake was a haunt of the Wilderness horse gangs. Even the military of Tang Empire would not dare come here, except in big groups. But that person said that the lake was his home?

A leader gazed at his face, with his eyebrows gradually frowned, as if recalling something from the past. All of a sudden, his face turned pale, as he remembered those dark, turbulent and miserable bygone days several years ago. He turned around and rushed toward his horse.

As he was running back, he kicked those subordinates who were still in a daze like crazy. "Are you fucking blind?" he shouted in a trembling voice, "Get up and follow me, now!"

Horse thieves around the bonfires did not understand why their leader would suddenly behave this way. Though he was skillful in archery, they doubted that the newcomer could kill over three hundred horse thieves by himself. In daily life, their leader was the bravest and most ruthless one. How could he be as cowardly as a woman today?

Another leader also recalled who the newcomer was. He looked at the young man beside the black carriage with a pale face. "Run!" he shouted, "The woodcutter's back."


Dead silence reigned over Shubi Lake. Expressions on horse thieves' faces became extremely strange. The world seemed to freeze. The very next moment, with a shrilling sound, they came to, scattered and fled.

"The woodcutter! The woodcutter from Wei!"

"The woodcutter!"

...

...

In the unrecorded history of Shubi Lake, the most famous figure was not the former leader of horse gangs, who hid twelve thousand taels of gold at the bottom of the lake in legend, but a young man from the City of Wei.

Tang army called the activity of suppressing horse gangs – or those people pretending to be horse gangs – wood cutting. Those who carried out this mission were definitely the best of the cavalries, called – woodcutters.

Since the young man from the City of Wei joined it, 'woodcutter' in the horse thieves' mouths referred to him in particular. The young man was the woodcutter, famous among horse gangs.

He was not the person who grabbed the most silver, nor someone who killed the most horse thieves, but definitely the one who made all horse gangs in Shubi Lake the most afraid. Those horrible days of the past were still their most painful memories.

It was not until the young man left the City of Wei for the City of Chang'an that they regained their courage, the pleasure of swinging knives in wind and the happiness of life.

Woodcutter of Shubi Lake was a nightmare for all horse thieves. There was no horse thief who was unafraid of him.

When the news from Chang'an came to the Wilderness, horse thieves knew that the man had become a student of the second floor of the Academy, as well as the most trusted subordinate of the Tang Empire's Emperor. Fear, or perhaps – a kind of abnormal admiration, peaked in their hearts. At the same time, they thought that he had become a man of another world and would never come back to Shubi Lake to deal with lowly horse thieves. So they felt even more relieved.

Tonight, however, the woodcutter was back at Shubi Lake.


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...

...

Countless screams rang out from Shubi Lake, both from women and horse thieves, who were heartless and cruel in daily life. In a scene of chaos surrounding the bonfires, hundreds of horse thieves ran away with their women in a flash – like a gust of wind. It became extremely quiet beside the lake.

In the whole process, no one had the courage to try attacking Ning Que. No one even dared to look at him. They looked so frightened that the whole situation seemed ludicrous.

Ning Que put the boxwood bow back over his shoulders and held the reins to lead the carriage to a bonfire by the lake. Then he helped Sangsang get off the carriage and sit on the wool felt left by the horse thieves.

The roast sheep on the bonfire was still dripping with grease, spreading attractive fragrance.

Ning Que made himself at home. He took out a sharp knife and cut three big plates of meat from the best part of the sheep. Then he took two bags of unopened liquor from another bonfire and handed one of them to Sangsang.

Sangsang ate meat in small bits and drank a lot, while Ning Que did the opposite. Soon they finished all the meat and liquor.

Ning Que turned to look at the Shubi Lake he had not seen in years.

Sangsang looked at his profile and asked, "Aren't you afraid the horse thieves will leak our whereabouts?"

"The south of the Shubi Lake is under Tang's sphere of influence. Neither Golden Palace, nor the two Sects would dare enter. If someone wants to kill us – it should only be the Tangs."

Ning Que suddenly noticed that there was a pile of charred wood by the lake. There was a gigot on it and a circle of stones around it, making it look like a sacrificial altar. But he did not know which god it was made for.

In his memory, neither the barbarians nor the horse gangs from Golden Palace had such a ceremony of worship.


Near a bonfire in the distance, was a drunk horse thief, who had been abandoned mercilessly by his companions. He did not know what had happened at all. Ning Que walked over and threw him into the cold lake.

...

...

The horse thief regained consciousness immediately in the cold water. Ning Que found out what he wanted to know with no effort, such as the recent situation in the City of Wei and Golden Palace. What's more, he also learnt that the simple altar by the lake was an emerging religion in the Wilderness in recent years.

The god of the religion was called Tengri.

Ning Que had not heard of the name before, nor this religion. After pondering for a moment, he decided not to think about it again. He took out his podao and beheaded the horse thief.

His action was fluent – as if it had been repeated countless times. In fact, he had done it so many times that it had become kind of a habit.

After cutting off the horse thief's head, Ning Que realized that he was no longer a serviceman of the Tang Empire, nor a woodcutter – he had no need to kill the horse thief.

However, he had killed him anyway and he would not feel guilty.

Every horse thief had a pair of hands stained with the blood of innocent people, so every one of them should die. He had allowed those three hundred horse thieves to escape because he was tired and not in the mood for killing. In addition, it was indeed difficult for him to kill all of them.

Since the horse thief dared to drink himself unconscious by Shubi Lake, he had no choice but to die.

It could just be regarded as woodcutters' worship or commemoration to Shubi Lake.

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