There was a nagging doubt in Song Ci’s mind. Why do some people love to cause a disturbance in the middle of the night? Isn’t it the perfect time to be sleeping when the moon is shining high up in the sky?
When he opened the door, his sleepiness completely dissipated. Although he was resentful, he cast all his discontent to the back of his mind when he saw so many people at the door. He rushed forward to make inquiries.
He grabbed one of the servants and asked, “What happened?”
“Madam suddenly rushed into Missy’s room with a knife in the middle of the night. They are still at it now…” The servant blabbed. The person next to him elbowed him. “Don’t go shooting your mouth off!”
Song Ci paid them no mind and pushed his way through the crowd. Just as he made it to the front row, he heard the woman shouting again. “Why is someone like you still in the human world? You should just go to hell!”
Then, screams rang out and the stench of blood permeated the air. Song Ci hurriedly pushed aside the person before him and saw a disheveled woman with a savage expression holding a cleaver in each of her hands. One of it was stained with fresh blood.
Mirror Old Man was standing opposite the woman. He seemed to have rushed out in a hurry. He did not even have time to put on his shoes and had come running barefoot. There was a slash on his left shoulder and blood was gushing out of it. His arms were spread out as if protecting the person behind him.
There was a young maiden behind him with her head lowered. She was silent.
Song Ci figured that this maiden was likely Feng Yingqiu, while the one with the cleavers should be Feng Changyue’s wife.
Mirror Old Man ignored the injury on his shoulder and told the servants at the sides. “This person is possessed. Hold her down!”
The servants wanted to step forward on hearing that, but when they saw the woman swinging the cleavers wildly, not a single one of them dared to approach. The woman pointed at Mirror Old Man and said, “Get lost! This has nothing to do with you! “
Mirror Old Man retorted, “You crazy woman. If you dare to touch her today, I’ll kill you!”
Song Ci was perplexed. He could not understand what relationship Mirror Old Man had with Feng Yingqiu for him to be this protective.
By this time, Feng Changyue had hurried over. He heard what Mirror Old Man said and hurriedly stood between them. Waving his hands, he said. “Jing Daozhang,1 please don’t act rashly. I was the one who told my wife that Qiu-er might be possessed by evil spirits. This happened all because she was so scared. I’ll persuade her.”
With that, he ordered the servants. “Help Madam back to her room quickly!”
The woman brandished the cleavers. “Who dares to touch me?! I’ll kill this Jiang demon today and return peace to our Feng Residence!”
“My Lady! That’s Qiu-er! No doubt that demon deserves to die, but what are we going to do if you hurt Qiu-er?” Feng Changyue was so anxious that he was about to stamp his feet. He rushed up and grabbed her knives. “Don’t be reckless!”
Several people had different reactions on hearing this.
When the woman appeared dazed for a moment, Feng Changyue took the opportunity to seize the cleavers and beckoned to the maidservant to grab hold of her.
Mirror Old Man flew into a sudden rage and was about to speak when he heard the person behind him let out a sneer.
Feng Yingqiu, who had been silently keeping her head low, raised her head with a frosty smile on her face. There was an eerie flash of red in her eyes as she stared coldly at Feng Changyue. “I deserve to die?”
On seeing this, Song Ci knew that the evil spirit possessing Feng Yingqiu had appeared., This was a good chance to subdue the demon, but he did not make a move. Instead, he turned his head to look for Rong Bai.
“You are the ones who deserve to die!” Feng Yingqiu said sharply. “All the Fengs should apologize to me! Especially you! Feng Zhuojun!”
Feng Changyue’s body jerked. “It’s really you…”
“So what if it’s me? Did you think that you can rid yourselves of future troubles by killing me? You never expected me to return, right?” Feng Yingqiu’s face took on a savage expression. “Even if I die, I’ll drag everyone in the Feng household to Hell!”
Mirror Old Man looked blankly at her, then made a sudden grab for her wrist. “Jiang…”
Feng Yingqiu shook off his hand. Dark light gleamed off her hands as she jerked them above her head. Strong winds blew around her, and dark clouds rapidly cloaked the night sky, shrouding the moon behind layers of clouds.
“No!” Mirror Old Man cried out in an almost horrified voice.
Song Ci looked up and saw dark clouds swirling in the sky. Lightning like white serpents flashed through the clouds. Thunder boomed in the sky, letting off an unprecedented sound as it struck. Song Ci felt as if this scene was familiar.
He squeezed his way out of the crowd in a panic and ran to Rong Bai’s room. As soon as he got to the door, Rong Bai opened the door. Song Ci said in a hurry. “Master Rong, that demon has shown himself! Go take a look quickly!”
It did not seem as if Rong Bai was sleeping. There was no trace of the languidness of having just woken up his face. Instead, there was a look of understanding on his indifferent face, as if he had anticipated this. He raised his head to look at the sky and said mildly, “The Chessboard has been activated.”
Song Ci looked up as well and saw a sudden glimmer of light breaking through the pitch-black horizon. Upon a closer look, the light turned into a chessboard with numerous squares. It filled the entire sky within his line of sight and covered the top of the entire City of Qinchuan.
The gale continued its dance, sending Feng Yingqiu’s long hair and robe flapping in the wind. Mirror Old Man braved the wind and approached her. His voice dispersed in the wind. “Ah Liang,2 you mustn’t…”
Feng Yingqiu let out a shriek. The sound was similar to that of a man desperately taking his last dying breath. It was so piercing Song Ci’s ears buzzed. The violent wind sent his long hair fluttering all over. Some of it plastered his face, blocking his view.
He brushed them aside with his hand. The last scene he saw was the chessboard above the city plunging, as if it was about to crash onto their heads. He was so scared that he closed his eyes on reflex.
And then, nothing happened. When Song Ci opened his eyes again, he was in a dimly lit room.
The room was bare. The walls seemed to be made of mud, and there was only a simple bed covered with straw in the room. Candle lamps hanging on the walls emitted a faint glow.
It looked as if it had just rained; the ground was wet. The roof was probably leaking in several places.
A young child leaned against the edge of the bed. Both of his hands were grasping the hands of the person on the bed. He murmured something in a whisper.
Song Ci went closer and saw a sallow-faced woman lying on the bed. The woman did not look too good; she was sickly and emaciated, and the aura of death hovered in her eyes. She looked at the child at the side of the bed, trying her best to smile.
The woman was so thin that the cheekbones on her face were visibly jutting out and her arms were a lot thinner than the average person’s. It also made her expression more unsightly. While the child was thin and weak too, his condition was not as exaggerated as the woman’s.
“Mother, are you hungry?” The child asked in a soft voice.
The woman’s smile disappeared at those words. A drop of tear trickled down. “Liang-er,3 Mother has let you down…”
When the child saw the woman crying, he nearly let out a sob, but he held it back. “It’s okay, Mother. It’s just a minor illness. You’ll definitely recover!”
“Mother really doesn’t want to leave. You are still so young. What will happen to you when Mother is gone?!” The woman wailed bitterly and pleaded piteously, “Oh Heaven! Please let me live a little longer! How would my son be able to survive alone?!”
Song Ci was stunned by the scene before him. His eyes felt warm, and tears involuntarily trickled down. He was reminded of his own mother. He had left home for four years. No matter how much he missed her, he had never returned home. Seeing this scene now unleashed the sorrow in his heart.
The child could not hold back any longer and cried as well. “Mother, you won’t die, you definitely won’t die!”
The woman’s breathing was weak. She knew she was at death’s door, but she was loath to simply die like this. She hugged the child and cried while saying, “Liang-er, it has been hard on you these years. It’s all Mother’s fault. I shouldn’t have married that bastard. I failed to give you a peaceful, loving home with enough to eat and wear.”
The child cried until his body convulsed. Even his voice broke as he spoke. “Mother… I, I don’t blame you! Don’t go. Don’t, don’t abandon me!”
“Promise Mother. You must be a kind person in the future. You mustn’t be like your thieving father who kills others for their money. That kind of person will not come to a good end…” The woman cried for a spell as her voice weakened. She tugged at the child’s hand and began to make arrangements for her funeral.
“If I die, don’t bother digging a grave for me. Just cremate me. It’ll save you the trouble.” The woman said, choking with tears again. “My poor Liang-er. I’m supposed to be by your side as you grow up. I’ve failed you.”
“Mother! You won’t die!” The child cried, “I’ll get the physician now! He will surely cure you!”
Then he released the woman’s hand and pulled the only tattered quilt on the bed over the woman’s body. He wiped away his tears. “Mother, wait for me to come back!”
“Liang-er!” The woman called out to him, but did not stop him from running out of the door.
Song Ci wiped away the tears on his face and let out a self-mocking smile. Then, he turned around and followed the child out of the door.
The countryside at night was unlike that of a big city like Qinchuan. There were no lanterns anywhere to illuminate the way. There was not even a decent path. It was pitch-black all around.
The child had lived here since young, so he was familiar with the place. He ran past several houses in a fluster and stopped before a house that seemed normal. Small fists pounded frantically on the door. “Physician Wu! Help! Please save my mother!”
The child banged on the door with great force in each blow. The sound was especially jarring in the silent night. Song Ci watched with anxiety.
He knocked for a long time, but no one came to open the door. The child panicked and ran to another place. A young voice shouted, “Auntie Wang! Auntie Wang! Please help my mother! Please!”
The dog behind the door barked, and the sound of someone cussing could be heard from inside the house. A woman with a robe draped around her opened the door and said in revulsion, “What the hell are you doing here? It’s the middle of the night. You’re disturbing our peace!”
The child continued to plead with her in the face of her scoldings. “Auntie Wang, my mother is ill. Can you lend me some herbs? I’ll definitely return you when she recovers…”
“Nope!” The woman did not wait for him to finish. She spat and said, “The way your father is, who would dare to lend you anything? All of you Jiangs are rotten. It’s just as well if that seductress die!”
The child was both afraid and indignant, but he still kneeled down to beg the woman. “Auntie Wang, please have mercy! I’m different from my father. I’ll definitely repay you for the things I borrowed!”
“My mother, she…” As the child spoke, he could not help crying aloud. “… is dying”
He looked so pitiful that even Song Ci, who was standing at the side, could not help but want to step forward to help him. He wanted to kick the woman until her tart and mean face was swollen.
But no one could see him. It was apparent that he was only a bystander at this point in time.
The woman had a heart of stone. She kicked little Jiang Liang in the chest and snarled at him. “Go away!”
She kicked Jiang Liang so hard the latter rolled on the ground once. Then, she slammed the door shut without mercy.
Knowing that he was too short on time to waste on her, little Jiang Liang got to his feet and dashed to the next house. Song Ci followed him and watched as the child ran as fast as he could to pound on the next door. He looked on as the child was rejected, verbally abused and even beaten up.
He tried house after house, and he was hurt time and time again. His running speed slowed, and the force of his knocks weakened. He kept gasping for air, but he was unwilling to stop for a rest for even a moment. Eventually, he could move no longer and dropped on all fours to wail in despair.
He was too young, and his physical strength was limited. Tears kept streaming down his eyes. He would not give up crying for help even though his voice had grown hoarse to the point it was raspy and grating to the ears.
It was difficult for Song Ci to imagine the depth of the despair little Jiang Liang had experienced this incomparably dark night. He did not even dare to harbor the thought of putting himself in Jiang Liang’s shoes.
After a while, little Jiang Liang got to his feet. Just as he was about to resume his search, someone stopped him. “Isn’t this the Jiang household’s child? What happened? Why are you crying?”
Little Jiang Liang turned back and saw a middle-aged man with a lantern in his hand standing a short distance away. There was even a medicine case4 slung over his body. As if he had seen a ray of light in the darkness, little Jiang Liang’s eyes lit up. He sprinted over to the man and kneeled before him. “Physician Wu, my mother is dying, please save her!”
Physician Wu was the first kind-hearted person Song Ci had seen in this place. After hearing this, he hurriedly got Jiang Liang to lead the way as he rushed back with him. Song Ci breathed a sigh of relief and took comfort in the fact that these hard-hearted people had not destroyed this impoverished and broken family.
Physician Wu was drenched in sweat by the time they reached the house. Not daring to delay the matter further, he put down the medicine case and went to check on little Jiang Liang’s mother. But as soon as Physician Wu pulled over her skinny wrist,5 his expression changed.
He felt the woman’s pulse, then put a finger under her nose for a moment before withdrawing his hand with a sad expression.
Song Ci’s heart thumped on seeing this. He walked around to the bed. The head of the woman on the bed drooped limply, and her eyes were tightly closed. Her chest was no longer heaving.
Little Jiang Liang kneeled in front of the bed, grabbed the woman’s hand and wailed, “Mother! Mother, what’s wrong? I’m back. I’ve brought Physician Wu back to treat you! Get up for treatment!”
Physician Wu sighed heavily and said with a pained expression, “It’s too late. She’s dead.”
“That’s not possible! My mother only had a minor illness! How can that be?!” Little Jiang Liang cried, torn with grief. He shook the woman’s arm. “My mother will not leave me all alone by myself!”
They were still a step too late. While little Jiang Liang was out seeking help, the woman on the bed had passed away, alone and unwillingly.
Song Ci’s felt a stab of pain in his heart. He looked at the scene before him and the intent to kill welled up in him. He wanted to kill everyone who had turned a blind eye to little Jiang Liang’s pleas and who had verbally abused him earlier.
That murderous intent intensified. Even Song Ci himself was taken aback when he realized it. Then his consciousness pulled away and he raised his head from the crook of his arm.
His eyelids were still heavy with drowsiness. As he raised his hand to rub his eyes, he heard a gentle but feeble voice in his ear. “Liang-er, are you awake?”
Song Ci was startled. He looked up and saw the woman lying on the bed. She looked different from the way Song Ci had last seen her, but she had the same emaciated body and listless eyes.
Song Ci held out a hand, only to find that his body had shrunk. His palm was only the size of a child. He suddenly recalled what Rong Bai had said earlier.
The Chessboard has been activated.
The Xingluo Chessboard Array had been set into motion by Jiang Liang, who was in Feng Yingqiu’s body. Everyone in the City of Qinchuan was now chess pieces in the array. And the path Song Ci’s chess piece would take was the same as the one Jiang Liang took back then.
◈ ◈ ◈
This chessboard chapter is an interlude between Feng Zhuojun and Jiang Liang, Song Ci and Rong Bai. Don’t be surprised~
Credits: Many thanks to saed (@saedee_) for the grammar correction and for pointing out what a dumbass I am lmao ♥
- 镜道长 Jing Daozhang. The Jing here is actually taken from his nickname Jing Lao Tou 镜老头, or Mirror Old Man. The Jing means ‘Mirror’. Daozhang is a form of address for a Daoist priest.
- The “Ah” is a prefix used before monosyllabic names to indicate kinship and/or familiarity. Thus Ah Liang is a familiar term of address for Jiang Liang.
- 儿 “Er” means son or child. It is a suffix normally used as a term of endearment. Thus, Liang-er is a more endearing form of address for Jiang Liang
药箱 Medicine case, a small, portable wooden chest with medicines and supplies (like acupuncture needles) that physicians take along on home visits. Like in the picture, but they are typically smaller than shown lmao
- He’s taking her wrist to take her pulse to see what’s wrong with her.