Perfect World Chapter 16 – Guilty Hearts

on 08 21, 2010

In a flash, Xiao Yao thrust his shoulder against Guo Bing, who flew against the wall at the end of the alley.  Stepping off his right foot, he connected a right hook against Guo Bing’s face and pivoted to follow his punch with a left elbow strike in one smooth motion.  The back of Guo Bing’s head smashed through the wall as blood splashed into the air from his nose.  Jumping back, Xiao Yao was about to launch another assault when Ling Er grabbed his arm.

“Xiao Yao gege, stop!  It’s not what you think – this is just a misunderstanding!”

“Back away, Ling Er, he has this coming to him, the little rat!” Xiao Yao flung his wife off his arm and grabbed the handle of his father’s sword.  Quickly recovering, Ling Er ran in front of Guo Bing, spreading her arms open as a mother protecting her son.  Facing Xiao Yao, she looked desparately into his eyes and pleaded for him to control his rage.

“Ling Er, what are you doing?!  Get out of the way.  I’m after him, not you!”  Xiao Yao pulled at the sword’s handle.  It didn’t budge.  What was going on?  He pulled again.  The sword remained in its sheath on his back.  This is ridiculous, why can’t he pull out his weapon?  Whiping the blood from his nose, Guo Bing spit out the red substance that had filled his mouth as well.  Leaning with a hand on his knee, he laughed at Xiao Yao after telling Auron to stay out of the fight.

“What’s the matter, Master Li, can’t pull out your sword?  Is it because your wife is shielding me, or because you’re just an incompetant buffoon, you handicapped piece of trash!”

Ling Er promptly turned around and slapped Guo Bing across the face.

“How dare you?  How…dare you?!”  Her eyes pierced into his shiny red ones.  She was protecting this idiot, who insulted her Xiao Yao gege, betraying her good intentions.  She turned towards Xiao Yao and in a calm, cool and collected voice, asked her husband’s forgiveness.  “Xiao Yao gege, I was wrong.  Please forgive me.”  Stepping aside, she walked backwards towards her husband, keeping her eyes on Guo Bing.  Chuckling, Xiao Yao continued to jerk at his sword, which continued to remain locked in its sheath.

“Bah!  I don’t need a weapon to deal with the likes of you.”  Using the Lin fist Yue Ru had taught him, Xiao Yao leaped at Guo Bing, swiftly executing one strike after another at his opponent.  Surprisingly, after being hit by but a few of Xiao Yao’s attacks, Guo Bing began blocking each subsequent slice his attacker threw.  Ling Er watched as Guo Bing slowly adapted to Xiao Yao’s fighting style and began countering with the Lin fist as well.  In the midst of their battle, a figure dashed past Ling Er and in between the two fighters.  Catching Xiao Yao’s fist with one hand and Guo Bing’s foot in the other, he exerted a small amount of force that sent both men flying against the side walls of the alley.

“What do you think you’re doing?!  Stop this foolishness at once.  We’re supposed to be laying low, not attracting the entire town because of our differences!”  Lin Bao Zhu motioned towards the still sleeping men sprawled out in front of them.  Turning to Xiao Yao, he grabbed the young man’s shirt sternly and brought himself face to face with him.

“And you.  I don’t think my daughter taught you our fist style so you can use it to bully others.  If you weren’t in such a jealous rage, you could have killed him!  You’re lucky that the Lin fist requires a calm state of mind.  I expected more of you, Xiao Yao.  So would Yue Ru.“  Flinging Xiao Yao disappointedly back against the wall, Lin Bao Zhu turned and pointed at Guo Bing, who dared not make eye contact with the old master.

“You.  Go clean yourself up.  And I’m warning you.  The next time you even think about manifesting any sort of strife in our group, I’ll kill you myself.”

“……” Guo Bing scaled the alley walls and disappeared into the night.

“We should get out of here before these men wake up.  Ling Er gu niang, please return to the inn and await our return.  I have some words to share with Xiao Yao.”

Nodding obediantly, Ling Er took a long look at Xiao Yao before leaving as well.

“Xiao Yao, come.”  Jumping on the roof in a single bound, Lin Bao Zhu looked at Xiao Yao.  The latter scoffed as he rebounded off the opposite wall, landing next to Lin Bao Zhu.  The two flew from rooftop to rooftop before stopping at a small clearing near the outskirts of the town.  Xiao Yao turned from Lin Bao Zhu.

“Look, old man, I don’t need any of your lecturing.”

“Evidently, you do.  Look at you, so proud and arrogant.”

“He deserved a good thrashing.”

“You could have killed him!”

“I was in complete control –”

“Oh, were you?”

“Yes!”

“I know my own fist style, Xiao Yao.  You were not in control.”

“Psh.”

“You even ignored Ling Er and threw her aside!”

Xiao Yao did not respond.

“I saw the whole thing, Xiao Yao.”  Lin Bao Zhu walked to him and placed a hand on his shoulder.  “Ling Er is not a fool.  She knows your jealousy outweighted her at that point.  Guo Bing is just an overconfident kid, not too unlike yourself when I first met you.  How could you let him affect you so much that you would brush aside her feelings?”

Xiao Yao threw his hand off his shoulder.

“I said I don’t need your lecturing!”

Lin Bao Zhu sighed as he watched Xiao Yao disappear from his view.  It would do no good to chase after him now.  He’ll let him release some steam and they can resume their journey in the morning.  That Guo Bing kid, like Xiao Yao, learned the basics of the Lin fist just by watching it.  He had potential.  After he grows up, he would make either a reliable ally or a fearsome enemy.

Xiao Yao raised his hand and ordered another bottle of wine from the innkeeper.  He was already pretty intoxicated, but thoughts of Guo Bing and Lin Bao Zhu still infuriated him.  The old man looked at Xiao Yao hesitantly before setting the wine on the table.  Seeing Ling Er walk in, he smiled and looked back at Xiao Yao before leaving the couple alone.  Ling Er frowned as she saw the empty bottles laying around on Xiao Yao’s table.  She hated it when he drank.

“The others have already turned in for the night.  Guo Bing still hasn’t returned.”

“Great.  Maybe he’ll leave us alone now and never come back.”  Xiao Yao took another swig of wine.

“Xiao Yao gege, don’t be that way.  It was an honest accident.”

“Oh, really?  He seemed to be enjoying that ‘accident’.  The little rat probably planned it on purpose!”

“I’m not the only one he flirts with.  He was boasting earlier of how he made ten girls fall in love with him today alone.  Guo Bing’s just a big womanizer, Xiao Yao gege.  But you shouldn’t speak so low of him.  We don’t know him that well.”

“You’re defending him again?  Great, simply wonderful.”

“I’m just telling you to do the right thing.  Please don’t be upset with me.”

“Oh, sure, sure.  I’m the bad guy again, the villain.  I’m the screw up.  It’s always my fault.  Let’s all blame Xiao Yao!”  He swung the wine bottle around and slammed it down on the table, causing some wine to spill over.

“Please stop this, Xiao Yao gege.  This isn’t you.”

“What?  Did you enjoy that ‘accident’, too?”

“Xiao Yao gege, how could you?  It’s the wine.  You don’t mean that.  You don’t mean that.”  Ling Er shook her head again and again.  Xiao Yao stood up and stumbled against the table as he tried to walk away.

“Just…leave me alone.”

“Xiao Yao gege!” pleaded Ling Er as she held onto his arm.

“Ling Er,  let go of me.”

“Xiao Yao gege…”

“I said let go!”  Xiao Yao turned and lifted his hand.  Immediately catching himself, he turned from Ling Er and clenched the hand he raised.  “I’m…sorry, Ling Er, I…”

“You…were going to…hit me?”  Ling Er stared at Xiao Yao in disbelief.  Panting, she quickly excused herself and ran up the stairs.  Xiao Yao sank back into his chair as he stared at the ‘Ling’ character in the palm of his hand, the hand that he had raised to his wife.  What had he done?

Ling Er rubbed her eyes.  She didn’t feel Xiao Yao wrap his arm around her this morning.  Oh, right, their argument last night.  A knock on the door shook Ling Er from her thoughts.

“Guo Bing?”

“Ling er gu niang, I came to apologize.”

“Oh…”

“But I think Xiao Yao went too far!  When he raised his hand to you – ”

“You were spying on us?”

“Oh.  Well I…” Guo Bing scratched the back of his head nervously.  How was he going to explain this?  Luckily for him, he wouldn’t have to.

“And I have not told you whether or not I accept your apology.”

The two stood in the doorway for a while before Guo Bing broke the silence.

“Where is Xiao Yao now?”

“I’m not sure.  I don’t think he came back to the room last night.”

“I see…he should really treat you better, though, you know?  If you were my wife, I’d – ”

“He treats me fine, better than fine.”  Ling Er broke eye contact and stared at the ground.  “Anyway, if you want me to forgive you, you must apologize to those girls you fooled yesterday.  I’m sure they wouldn’t fall for you unless you led them on.”

“But I – You wouldn’t believe it if I said they all fell victim to my ravishingly good looks, would ya?”

Ling Er only stared at him coldly.

“On my way…” Nodding reluctantly, Guo Bing hunched over as he walked to the stairs.  Ling Er had just closed the door when it received another series of light knocks.

“Good morning, Ling Er.”

“Good morning to you as well, sir.”  Ling Er turned and invited Lin Bao Zhu into her room.  They sat down at the small table at the foot of the bed.  Placing her hands neatly in her lap, Ling Er asked Lin Bao Zhu how she could be of service this morning.

“Where did you send Guo Bing off to”

“He stirred up some trouble yesterday with a number of maidens, hence the group of men you saw sleeping in the alley last night.  I sent him to make amends.”

“I see.  And Xiao Yao?”

“We…had a bit of a disagreement last night.  I haven’t seen him since.”

Lin Bao Zhu could see worry in Ling Er’s eyes, the same doubt and concern he saw in his own wife’s eyes whenever they had a spat.  He wondered what he had been doing lately.  It was almost as though he had taken the role of father to these young people.  Or was it just his experience in the martial arts world making him obligated to oversee the group?  But if that were true, why did he feel so responsible for their growth?  He was even beginning to feel this way with that troublemaker, Guo Bing.  Once again, his thoughts drifted to Yue Ru, who laid in the next room.  Perhaps it really was his parental instincts shining through.  Xiao Yao was, after all, his daughter’s love in life.  And because he couldn’t take care of Yue Ru as he wished, was he trying to make up for it now?  He smiled warmly at Ling Er.

“Don’t worry.  He’ll come around.”

“I know.”  Ling Er wasn’t mad at her Xiao Yao gege; she was more hurt than anything else.  Though, she thought their love was stronger than that.  She sighed quietly as she reminded herself to have faith her husband.  They’ve been through so much already.  It would be okay in the end.

(Author’s Note:  Notice how Lin Bao Zhu is just as proud and authoratative as Du Gu Jian Sheng, but with a more compassionate and humble nature.)

Guo Bing grumbled to himself.  Shouldn’t Ling Er like him by now?  Wasn’t he making all the right moves?  And hasn’t Xiao Yao made all the mistakes?  The assignment she sent him on was no picnic, either.  His entire body ached, including his face.  He had apologized to nine of the girls already.  As punishment for the trouble he had caused, each had taken their share of shots at Guo Bing, including their friends and brothers.  Rubbing his bruised face, he walked to the garden where he met Jing Hua, hoping she would be there again.  As he feared, she was no where to be seen, meaning he would have to try the front door.  Sighing, he brushed back his white hair and knocked three times.  Ironically, he felt Jing Hua had been fooled the most and had went the farthest in giving him her affections.  He had felt it.  Yet, none of the group of men that had chased him seemed to be after him for her sake.  An old, frail woman answered the door with a solemn face.

“Good morning to you, ma’am.  I’m here to see Jing Hua.  Is she available, perchance?”  Despite his wounds, Guo Bing flashed his most charming smile.  Upon hearing Jing Hua’s name, the old woman, who turned out to be a servant, began bawling and whailing at the top of her lungs.

“Is…something wrong, ma’am?  Is this a bad time?  I can return later if that would be more convenient.”  Guo Bing offered as he looked hesitantly at the servant.  Looking around, Guo Bing began stepping away from the door.  But before he could make a clean getaway, the servant opened her mouth and explained the entire situation to the young man.  Apparantly, Jing Hua was not faring well at all.  Her family was of the lower middle class and only had the old woman to help around the house.  Her parents minded a failing restaurant and had recently fallen into a sizeable amount of debt.  The timing could not be worse as Jing Hua fell ill with heart problems.  The medical bills piled up and the family was forced to sell their property.  The signing of the deed was to be done later that day.  Jing Hua’s parents did not mind as long as their daughter recovered and the old servant did not mind staying around because she loved the family, especially Jing Hua.  They were good people.  The doctor had said that as long as she received proper exercise and avoided shock and stress for a while, she would be fine and recover nicely with the medicine he prescribed.  But yesterday, Jing Hua suddenly collapsed in the garden next to her fan.  When she awoke this morning, she refused to reveal what had happened, but was experiencing extreme shots of pain in her heart.  The doctor was immediately called in.  His diagnosis was an unpleasant one.  Jing Hua’s heart was failing.  She wouldn’t last through the day.

Guo Bing stared at the old woman, dumbfounded.  He had never meant for his prank to go this far.  He only wanted to give Ling Er more of a reason to like him.  Jing Hua was completely innocent.  Now she was going to lose her life, wasting her parents hopes and the selling of their property.

“Can I see her?”  Guo Bing choked as he spoke.

“Her parents are at her bedside, now.  I suppose it would be all right if you would like to say good-bye.  I don’t know who you are, young man; I’ve never seen you around town before.  But if you’re a friend of Jing Hua’s, you’re welcome in this house.  Guo Bing stepped through the doorway to see many boxes stacked along the walls.  They had evidently packed and were all set to move at the signing of the deed.  The old servant led him through the small house to Jing Hua’s room.  The door was cracked open already and Guo Bing could hear someone crying.

“Mother, please don’t cry.  Jing Hua has lived a full life.  I had your and father’s love.  I cannot ask for more.”

The servant knocked on the door before opening it.

“Master and madame Jing, your daughter has a visitor.”  Bowing, she motioned towards Guo Bing, who slowly walked in.  Bowing, Guo Bing introduced himself.  Jing Hua stared at him as another shot of pain entered her body.  Without question or word, Master Jing stood up and escorted his wife outside.  Guo Bing could see he was trying to be strong for his family.  The servant closed the door behind them, leaving the two alone.

“You.  What are you doing here?”

“I came here…to apologize.  I’m…so sorry.”  A pang of guilt shot into Guo Bing’s heart.  Until now, he had been more afraid of the awkwardness of the situation more than anything else.

“Why?  Was I not just another fool to you, to be played with?  Why do you care?”  Jing Hua closed her eyes as a tear slid down her cheek.  Why did he have to come?

“You really like me, don’t you?” Guo Bing’s voice was filled with compassion and sorrow, unlike the usual playful cockiness.  Jing Hua did not respond for a while.

“What does it matter?  You feel nothing for me.”

“That’s not entirely true.  You’re very sweet and beautiful.  If circumstances were different, I’m sure that I’d fall for you.”  Guo Bing couldn’t believe what he was doing.  Was he actually comforting her?  What was wrong with him?

“You lie.”  The pain in her heart seemed to be increasing.  Suddenly, she felt a pair of hands around her arms.  Guo Bing took Jing Hua into his embrace and stroked her hair.  She gasped as they parted and he smiled at her.  Sliding his finger along her cheek, Guo Bing wiped away her tears.

“Do you regret meeting me?” he asked boldly.  Jing Hua looked away.

“Perhaps it is because I’m too young to understand life, or love.  But at this moment, no…I don’t.”  She started crying and her hot tears fell into Guo Bing’s hands.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’ll die by sunset!  And my parents…they…”

Guo Bing nodded and told her not to worry.  He explained that he understood her family’s situation and, as a gesture of his sincerity towards her, he would pay off their debt and let them keep the house.  Jing Hua looked at him in disbelief.  Was he tricking her again?  Lying to make her feel better, more at ease?  Smiling, Guo Bing reached into his tunic and took out all the money he had.  He would soon have no need to carry it anymore, anyways.  He cursed himself for coming here.  He was showing such weakness.  His master would have punished him serverly if he found out about this.

“Please, take it.”  Tears began to well up unexpectedly in Guo Bing’s eyes.  Looking at the money, Jing Hua was still hesitant.  “This should be more than enough.  Don’t worry.”  Guo Bing set the pile of money in her lap as he stood up, still supporting the dying girl, making her sit up.  Sitting behind her, he wrapped his arms around her waist and let her lean against his chest.  Guo Bing kissed her head and began to hum softly in her ear.  Jing Hua’s parents, along with their servant, peeked their heads in.  Guo Bing winked at them and smiled weakly, motioning them with his eyes to join them.  Madame Jing gasped and clasped her hands to her mouth as tears of joy replaced those of despair.  Who was this young man?  Normally, they would have been threatened and infuriated at the scene, cursing and screaming at the young man, forbidding him to see their daughter ever again.  But today’s circumstances were much different.

Xiao Yao threw another rock into the pond.  He had not slept at all the night before and the fatigue was getting to him.  His finger traced the ‘Ling’ character on his hand.  He cursed himself as he thought of his actions towards Ling Er.

Congratulations, Li Xiao Yao.  You’re the number one idiot in the entire world, a real piece of work. I hope you’re proud of yourself.  He had screwed up the entire night, and he knew it.  Holding his head in his hands, Xiao Yao wondered how he was going to make it up to Ling Er.  He had to apologize, that was for sure.  But that wasn’t enough, not to remedy the hurt he caused last night.  And there was still that Guo Bing character.  Sighing, Xiao Yao frowned at the state of things.  Another thing that still bothered him was why he wasn’t able to pull his sword against Guo Bing.  Well, first thing’s first.  The highest priority in his eyes was to return to Ling Er’s good graces, and they had less than a week to reach Mt. Shu before Sheng Gu and Du Gu Jian Sheng would go into hiding with Yi Ru.  Xiao Yao wondered how his daughter was.  Ling Er must miss her, too.  Everything seemed to attack Xiao Yao’s mind at once, making his head hurt.

Ugh, what am I supposed to do, now?  Xiao Yao suddenly sat up and he reached into his pocket, pulling out the charm bracelet he made for Ling Er.  The beads glistened in the sunlight.  He smiled as he began concocting his next move.

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