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99 A Troubling Nigh

    Night fell, the moon was almost at its fullest and in the middle of a forest with bare trees, there was a small area where no trees stood, there was a small fort that was about the size of twenty houses. The houses were crudely built with cheap wood that would stand, but was not of much help when it came to keeping out the cold. It resembled a fort that was built out of haste and was thus poorly made.

    Though the occupants in a gambling house seemed to disagree, the sounds of dice rolling and coins being tossed into piles to bet on the outcome echoed throughout the house.

    "Big!"

    "Small!"

    The men yelled as they kept their greedy eyes on the bamboo tube that was about to open, revealing the result. Their eyes were fixed upon the tube in the dealers' hands to prevent any mishaps from happening.

    When the tube was opened to reveal three dice that all had one dot faced up, the shout came, as those who bet on 'small' had won.

    Upstairs in a room that was more lavishly decorated than the rest of the fort, there was a man who was sitting in a chair lined with fur from wild game. The man had a scarf that covered a part of his cheek, for the most part, he seemed relaxed with his fingers carefully stroking the fur that lined his seat.

    A wolf's head hung on a top wall almost in the center of the room. Those glassy eyes seemed to stare down on everyone within the room. The decorations of the room seemed very primitive if not for the other furniture that was hand-carved.

    Around him were four or five other men dressed crudely and sitting in wooden chairs.

    "Boss, I heard you got a thousand taels from that madam Lu, it is hard to come by." One man sitting in a chair said with a fawning smile as he licked his chapped lips.

    The man who was in a relaxed state seemed to not notice a thing and said: "Do you think it is easy to cheat her out of her boney, she merely gave so much because she has a favor to ask."

    "That greedy woman would not be willing to give so much money even if her life depended on it, what was her task for you?" The question was one that many wanted to know.

    The man only smiled and put his head back "No worries, I will arrange it." His words were akin to saying that it was not something they needed to know, nor had the right to know anyway.

    The sounds fell silent as they saw that he had no intention of letting them know.

    When a ruckus of slamming chairs and tables came from the bottom floor, the man who had been relaxed suddenly slammed his hand into the wooden armrest creating a crisp and clear sound. "What is happening down there?" He raised his voice.

    "Boss, we'll go check." The men saw that the boss was angry and silently went to keep the ruckus down.

    They went downstairs to see what was going on. They were in a gambling house, could they really expect these gamblers to gamble quietly like scholars do when they played a game of chess?

    With his subordinates gone, the man laid back down and prepared for a nap. Usually, when he showed his temper, they would be gone for a while before returning, and it was a good time to take a nap.

    Before he could close his eyes, a wind came in causing the windows to blow wide open. A cold breeze filled the room, he frowned as he got up to close the window. Once the window shut, all the candles that lit the room flickered and went out as though by some supernatural power.

    Yet, he still closed the widow wordlessly, looking through the stained glass at the moon that was covered by a blanket of thick clouds.

    He felt a wisp of wind blew past his face and his hair stood up on end. A sound of fabric flowing in the air went past his ears.

    "Who's there?" He called out into the darkness.

    No answer.

    He was all alone in this room, the windows were closed so there was no way that what he heard was the wind.

    "I said who's there! Show yourself!" He yelled out once again, this time, there was a hint of panic within his voice. He was certain that there was a person near him, be in ghost or human, they were most likely here to exact revenge upon him.

    Still no answer.

    "Playing ghost now, are we?" He called out again. He had not intended to anger the person, but the long silence had gotten ahold of him.

    This time, a figure stepped out from the shadows to his surprise, it was a young girl about the age of ten years old her body was cloaked completely in red, which suggested that she may have been a child that was from town who was celebrating the new year, when she accidentally found herself lost in an unknown place. Her head was down, staring at the ground. Yet before he let out a sigh of relief, the child raised her head.

    His eyes froze as their pupils met. This must have been the feeling of one's heart trying to escape one's chest.

    "I heard that they call you boss now, how great," Xue'er said with a gentle smile. That smile, in contrast with her eyes, made for a horrific combination.

    The little girl, with her bright and cheerful smile from the underworld, took a step closer to him.

    The boss was filled with an enormous amount of fear, as he instinctively took a step back. Here she was, clearly a little girl, but why had he felt this feeling of dread as she got nearer.

    It was when she got closer that he noticed, that small smile that hung playfully on her lips did not fully reach her eyes, instead, it was more like the face of a demon who had painted a smile in place of its lips.

    If it was an adult spirit, perhaps he could try to negotiate with them, but this was a child, from what he heard, child spirits were very mischievous and did what they wanted. There were no rules among them, how was he to talk sense to her?

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    The creature did not speak to him, instead, those monstrous eyes glared at him unceasingly. There was a feeling of utter apathy within those eyes.

    He felt as though he saw this girl somewhere before, yet there was no distinct memory.

    "You..." He choked on those words.

    With the sound of a crisp crackle. The man's body slumped to the ground with his neck in an angle that was unachievable by humans.

    Xue'er stared down at the man's body emotionlessly and removed the scarf that always obscured a part of his face. As she pulled the scarf away, she could see the fearful last moments of the man's ordinary face, there was a tattoo that revealed itself on his right cheek. Upon closer inspection, it was a mark that was used to punish criminals who committed crimes.

    He had always been sly enough to get away with crimes, or else he would not have been able to lure away innocent children. She remembered this face a few years ago when he pulled the trick of hawthorn candy and lured her into a place where no one would hear her scream. Perhaps it was a moment of letting his guard down that got him captured and marked for a lifetime.

    Yet that face was one that seemed so simple and honest, there would be no problems imagining him as a friendly neighbor in town.

    There was a mocking laugh on her lips as she looked at the corpse at her feet, a moment's slip up can cause a lifetime of pain.

    This day that was on the fourteenth of the first month, it was true what they say about the fourteenth. That death would loom everywhere on this day, it did not matter even if it was the most celebrated part of the year.

    Sounds of smashing wine jars and flipped tables resounded from the bottom floor. Somehow, there was still a ruckus on the floor below, she could hear that the situation had gotten a little out of hand down there.

    Well, it was none of her concern even if the entire place were to burn to the ground.

    A shadow quietly left through the open window.

    By the time the troubles below were taken care of, those underlings discovered that the candles had been blown out. Under the assumption that their boss had fallen asleep, they quietly retreated, and it was not until the next morning when they found him to be asleep longer than usual was when his body was discovered.

    The discovery would have been quite common as someone like him was bound to have some enemies. The only problem was, this was such a blatant assassination. The assassin hadn't even bothered to make him seem alive, only leaving him sprawled out on the ground. Even if there was no blood, they could see that his neck was broken. Yet the marks that were supposed to show up soon after a person's blood stopped circulating did not show up yet.

    This was bewildering, the amount of force was obviously huge enough to break bones, but there was not even a bruise to be seen. There were some who considered themselves to be experts in this field, even they were completely bewildered as to how this was possible. There were countless experts in the martial arts world, but no one had ever heard of such a person with such ghost like skill.

    In the end, there was an assumption that the person who killed the boss was most likely a vagrant who had been secretly hired by the enemies, explaining why this mysterious assassin had been completely unheard of before. Still, they never decided to curse this mysterious person who killed and disappeared as mysterious as the wind.
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