Ever ridden a roller coaster? Remember the rise? The oh-so-gradual elevation of the cart towards the summit before the inevitable plunge?
Time seems to slow, doesn’t it? Stretching like a rubber band in tandem with your rising anticipation until it snaps, sending you plunging down the slope, screaming.
“On your knees, Demon!”
That was exactly what I felt when I heard that voice in my ear, felt the sharp edge of that knife against my throat.
I froze, all my thoughts scrabbling to reach the surface of my mind, pulling each other down until nothing rose to the top, leaving my mind blank. Just like those jealous crabs in that half-forgotten childhood fable.
“I said! On. Your. Knees!”
It was a wonder I heard her at all, above the pounding of my blood in my ears. Or maybe it was the pressure of her free hand pressing down forcefully on my shoulder that my numb body instinctively obeyed.
It was all a blur back then – but now that I think back to the moment, I think it was the sound of my knees hitting the floor that did it. Pushed me over the brink.
Something in me snapped.
The situation was desperate. Lin was poisoned, dying. I was at knifepoint. Kara had just exited; it would be hours yet till she returned. There was no hope.
If they caught me, it would mean death for me. Or, more likely, a tortured existence as their male dual cultivation furnace. Set to be raped to death when they wrung every bit of use out of me.
I refused to go out like that. No. If I was to end, it’d be on my terms.
I’d at least hurt the woman holding me captive somehow before that knife drew a red smile across my throat.
With decision came clarity. The world shifted into razor focus.
My already superhuman senses grew even keener. Each sound, each breeze against my skin expanded in my perception. From her breath, her heartbeat, the wind-shadow she cast upon my back, I could tell where she was – the position of her head.
I surged upwards and backwards with explosive force, all the muscles of my body linking together in one fluid surge. The back of my head smashed into the assassin’s face, sending her head snapping back with the satisfying crunch of crushed cartilage.
A smashed nose for a slit throat. Not the most equal of trades, but I’d take what I could get.
Instead of the sharp knife scoring a line across my neck that I expected, a fist smashed into my face. A spike of pain shot into my head, making me tear up and stagger backwards, clutching my face.
My mind had yet to catch up to the fact that I was, against all odds, still alive when I heard the ‘thud’ of a body hitting the floor.
Blinking the moisture out of my eyes, I turned to see what the hell was actually going on.
Then I had to blink again to ensure that I wasn’t hallucinating.
The unconscious body of the assassin was lying crumpled on the floor while Lin was standing over her. She had grabbed the wrist of the assassin and the knife the assassin had held in that hand was now stuck in the wooden floor, quivering.
“Oh! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to do that!” she exclaimed. Releasing the assassin’s wrist, she rushed over to me and began fussing over me. “You just moved so quickly…” she muttered, pulling my hand away from my face. “Ah! You’re bleeding. Thankfully, your nose isn’t broken. Just sit down and bend your head back, okay? Breathe through your mouth and don’t blow your nose and it’ll be fine in a moment. Yang qi is really good for healing.”
I just stared at her in a daze as she prattled on, then woodenly allowed her to drag me by the arm and seat me in a chair. Getting behind the chair, she had me lean my head back against the backrest before stepping forward and gently pinching my nose. I could feel the softness of her bosom against my head. I could feel her steadily beating heart. Rhythmic, powerful.
She was poisoned, wasn’t she? Her lip was purple, her breathing erratic… and most importantly, I couldn’t hear her signal just a few moments ago. But now she was fussing over me energetically like that was all a bad dream?
“What the hell is going on?!” I asked, my voice coming out nasal due to her pinching my nose. I still couldn’t hear her signal. I was deathly scared of this current situation being an illusion, my mind conjuring my desires up for me just before I kicked the bucket. “Didn’t she poison you?”
“Oh, that? Don’t worry about it. It wasn’t poison but a special type of qi that she injected into me. That just acted similarly to a poison. I successfully managed to neutralize it with my qi. I’m totally fine now. Well, not totally. My qi purity is compromised…” she chuckled, “but I have you for that, don’t I?”
My hands that had been gripping the hand rests of the chair in a white-knuckled grip finally relaxed somewhat. That explained why I couldn’t hear the signal.
“I felt the corpse qi invading me and tried to resist, but it’s really overbearing and she caught me off guard. I couldn’t move at all. Thankfully, my qi purity was extremely high–” Here she hugged my head tighter into her chest, “–so I was able to resist, and finally neutralize the toxic qi.” Her tone grew smug. “I pretended to be affected still and waited for the corpse maiden to approach before lashing out and catching her off guard. After all, it wouldn’t do to have her run off and spill our secret to everyone, now would it? But, I guess, you were faster than even me and caught my fist with your face.” Her voice caught a slight quiver to it. “That was incredibly brave of you, but don’t you ever get so reckless with your life again.You hear me?!”
“Wait! Back up, slow down a little!” I straightened up, breaking out of her embrace and turned to her. My nosebleed had already healed under the effect of my qi and with a few hard blows of my nose, I cleared my passages of the clotted blood. “What do you mean by corpse qi… and what is a corpse maiden?”
“Ah, right.” she said, wiping the corners of her eyes. “We didn’t mention it to you before… it slipped our minds. Anyway, the corpse maidens are a hidden branch of the Yin Demon Sect. They are the members of the law enforcement branch… more accurately, they are the lackeys of the law enforcement branch. They are essentially assassins that do the dirty work for them. Meting out punishments to the members of the sect, hunting down the traitors… Basically anywhere there is internal disunity and action needs to be taken against fellow sect disciples, you can find their shadow.”
She continued, “You know how we perform dual cultivation? That leads to a lot of male corpses. All of them have to be disposed off somewhere, right? That is done in a mass grave. Since in life, the bodies all had strong yang essence, when they die, the essence turns into a virulent yin essence in a reversal of yin-yang. The corpse maidens use this essence to cultivate their special corpse qi. This qi specially restrains the cultivation of the orthodox members of the Yin Demon Sect. That’s why they are so good at hunting down the traitors.”
That was… disgusting. Really, the more I heard about this sect, the more depraved it sounded.
I shot a glance at the limp form on the ground. The so-called corpse maiden was petite, barely over five-feet tall, and had a very slender frame, almost looking childish in proportion. She wore very concealing dark-grey robes that could be best described as a hooded kimono. The angle at which she was turned meant that I couldn’t see her face from my seat on the chair but from the glimpses I got of her skin, I saw that it was deathly pale, having a slight grayish tinge to it under the sunlight streaming into the room through the window.
“Then why was this corpse maiden here?” I asked. “Why was she monitoring us?” I turned back to Lin. “And most importantly, what do we do with her now?”