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100 Three Rusty Coins

    When Xue'er left, she had never thought that she had somehow been revered as a vagrant assassin that was deeply feared by some and hated by others, but she would not have cared anyway.

    When she smelled a distinctive scent of rotting flesh, her steps slowed down as she arrived at a barren hill that was full of displaced dirt. It seemed to have been a place where the green grass once filled the hill, but now there were clumps of grass here and there with a lot more dirt dug up and placed over the grass.

    There were a few lone trees that stood upright in the darkness. The trees were full of vitality, unlike the grass that was close to the ground. Seemingly sucking up every single particle of nutrient and depleting it from the earth to allow it to grow so tall.

    As the wind blew, a light sandy dust could be blown away. There was complete silence upon this barren hill.

    Xue'er walked across the sandy dirt along the way, there were a few crunches to be heard beneath her cloth shoes. A sound very similar to the crackling of old and worn bones.

    Her eyes gazed over the empty hill, where there was not much to be seen, yet beneath the surface, there was so much more. Her shoes accidentally kicked a grey stone that was placed in the soil, as a sort of marking. As far as the eye could see, there were many stones that were placed spread out, there were no two stones that were placed next to each other. It was no different from gazing into a barren field of lonely stones.

    Her eyes saddened as they saw this scene, but there was not a trace of anger as though this was something as natural as the seasons changing. Bending down, the stone was placed back in its place as though a reminder of what had happened.

    ~

    "You've come." Owner Chao said as he watched Xue'er walk through the doors of his in. The night was dark and he had always kept a vigilant watch of all those who arrived.

    "Of course, it's the fourteenth day. I will be leaving soon." Xue'er said. There was not a hint of a smile on her face as she spoke.

    "You have not really stayed here for too long, I feel guilty for taking your silver." He spoke like a man of righteousness.

    "It was not my silver." Xue'er assured him. It was not her idea to stay here either, Gan Tian Chi had forced her to stay in this inn.

    Owner Chao seemed to have a few more words to say but did not know how to speak them.

    Before he could speak, Xue'er had already gone up the stairs and into room number one to retrieve her things, which was nothing more than a cloth bundle.

    As she was prepared to leave walking downstairs, she saw that Owner Chao had set up a meal, as though waiting for her to dine. Xue'er did not turn down the invitation and sat down across from him.

    The meal was simple, but it was also quite lavish from a normal person's standard, there was rice, and meat, even some sweet soup balls that were filled with minced peanuts, sesame, and sugar that was meant to be eaten on the fifteenth day of the first month.

    By the time it was finished, the night watchmen came hitting the gong to signal the beginning of the last day of the new year. The sound resounded throughout the city and all were excited for the true start of the year.

    "I'm coming." Li Yang called out to the sound that kept knocking on the wooden plank that served as a plank.

    When the planks were taken down, it revealed two men who were dressed in coarse clothing, one was more burly than the other and both wore deerskin boots. As the entrance was revealed, they pushed their way in, nearly causing Li Yang to fall down.

    "Sirs." Li Yang greeted them respectfully despite their lack of manners.

    "How are they?" The burly man was not the one to waste words.

    "Sorry, I was unable to cure them." Li Yang spoke truthfully.

    Upon hearing the words of this quack of a physician, they immediately barged their way into the clinic, carelessly knocking a few things in their wake.

    When they got to see the condition of their associates, both men felt a sense of anger overcome them. The night of new lunar's eve, they had found their associates sprawled in an alleyway. Initially, they believed that it was just a fainting spell and that all would be well once they awoke. But that was not the case as they had fallen ill after they awoke.

    Now in the hands of this so-called physician, the two lying in bed seemed about to breathe their last. The condition they were in seemed much more severe than when they had arrived.

    "What have you done to our brothers?" The man asked, pulling on Li Yang's collar. Because he had used a great amount of strength, Li Yang was forced to stand on his toes, it was an uncomfortable position.

    "I ... am unable to cure them." Li Yang repeated as he was being pulled by his collar, there was a sharp pain in his neck. Before he was able to say another word, he found that he was on the hard ground, with immense pain shooting through his back.

    Both men hurriedly supported their associates out of the clinic, not forgetting to give him a few more kicks in the process.

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    Xue'er arrived to see Li Yang unconscious and curling in on himself from the pain and the beds that were empty, she could vaguely guess what happened. She sighed at the missed opportunity that she would not be there to see their horrible ends though she knew it would come soon.

    After making sure that his injuries were not life-threatening, she picked up a few things that had been displaced. While putting things back in its original place, Xue'er found a few things that caught her attention. A beautiful golden turtle shell that rattled with the coins that were contained within. The entire set seemed to be a strange artifact used in the old times to deviate the prophecy.

    She then sat on the ground while playing with her newfound toys, waiting for him to wake up. The coins rattled in the old shell for a while before being expelled out. One could see the rusty coins stood on its edge in uncertainty. Immensely surprised by the deviation, the coins were placed back into the shell, and were not expelled again.

    When Li Yang awoke, he saw the girl looking down at him. Her gaze was not on him, but an empty turtle shell that was being fumbled around in her hands.

    He groaned as he tried to lift himself from the ground, but found the sharp pain in his abdomen difficult to disperse, so he remained on the ground.

    "You haven't been hurt too seriously. Just rest for a while." Xue'er said to him.

    Li Yang could only lay there and adhere to fate as he knew the girl did not have any intention of helping him get up.

    "Are all people so terrible?" Xue'er asked him, looking into his eyes, her question was like that of a young child asking about the world. He returned her gaze and found something off about it.

    "It depends." He said soothingly.

    "I always thought that too, but I think I am wrong. We were both wrong." Xue'er told him it was not words spoken despondently, rather it was a mere statement that she had come upon herself.

    "We are not wrong." He told her as he tried to reach for her head to pat it, but she had moved out of his reach. It was not a move out of disgust or fear, rather out of habit. He could tell that she was not used to it and withdrew his hand.

    "Then tell me, why are you being pursued for something you had no hand in, and why are other people also caught up in this mess?" Xue'er questioned him.

    Li Yang frowned at the question, of course, there were so many people that were innocently dragged into this mess but weren't they all. There were times he wondered what was going on in the mind of that emperor who resided in the capital. Was he one to laugh as the world went into chaos, or was he clueless when it came to the officials battled among themselves.

    He did not answer as to allow her to give up hope on the world. Knowing that a child's mind was fragile, he did not dare expose her to the cruel reality.

    "It's okay if you don't answer me." She had already known but choose not to believe.

    For some reason, she had a feeling that Gan Tian Chi would just come out of nowhere and tell her that he had known all along and she was just foolish.

    By the next day, the last day of the new year has arrived, and Li Yang had gotten well enough to get off the floor. The first thing he decided to do was brew some tea to entertain his young guest, adhering to the proper way to greet her.

    Xue'er still lingered around his clinic, not yet leaving. But he didn't seem to mind the girl who didn't seem to be leaving yet. When he saw the cloth bundle by her side, he wondered if she was planning to move in, or if she would be leaving soon.

    "Where are you going with that?" Li Yang pointed out the cloth bundle that was by her side.

    "I'll be leaving the border town." Xue'er answered picking up the tea for a sip. It was a very common tea made from leaves native to the north. Though not particularly famous it was still pretty good.

    Li Yang nodded silently. Not asking her where she would be going. He had the feeling that even if he did, she would not answer and leave him hanging as she did when he asked for her name. He had not her question him about the whereabouts of her friend and concluded she must have given up.

    "If fate has it, we will meet again."

    Seeing that the time was right and that she had fulfilled all of Gan Tian Chi's requests, she left the border town to go deep into the woods to the deserted village.
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