Silence engulfed the lower floor of the teahouse. Li Bo’s lackeys weren’t any less stunned than Madam Zhong or the female guests hiding in the corners of the teahouse.
“Ah … Ah Lei?” Madam Zhong fell to her knees next to her husband and shook his shoulder. “Ah Lei?” She waited but he didn’t react. “Ah Lei!” She shook him once again but to no avail.
Madam Zhong’s hands trembled. This couldn’t be true. This couldn’t be happening! She had known this man since they had been children. He was the one who had smiled at her and convinced her to come back with him when she ran away from home when she was five years old. He had been the one to beat up that boy from the neighboring village who had dared to say something mean about her when she was ten. He had been the one to take her hand when she had just come of age and asked if she wanted to marry him.
He had stuck with her when she couldn’t get pregnant in the first years after their marriage. He had accompanied her when her father died and when she didn’t know how to cope with his loss.
He had been so considerate, so sweet … She had thought that they couldn’t be any happier until she finally got pregnant with Jing Yi. They had both thought the Heavens were on their side and wanted to reward them for leading an honest life all these years. Her husband had become even sweeter and had given in to every strange demand of hers.
She still remembered how he had worried more and more about her well-being with every passing day and how he had run out in the dead of the night to get the physician from the nearest town when they noticed that something was amiss.
He might not be the best husband one could imagine but he was still the only one she needed, the only one she wanted! Nothing could happen to him!
“Ah Lei!” Madam Zhong hugged him. Her eyes swam in tears but she fought them back. No, she wouldn’t cry. This … This wasn’t the end. There certainly was something that could still be done!
Madam Zhong looked up at the people around her, her tears still threatening to fall. Was there nobody who could help them? Anyone …
Qiang Wei who had waited in the shadows of the teahouse to monitor Jing Yi ran over and knelt beside her. His face was grim. He could already see that things weren’t looking good but he didn’t want to believe it either. He hoped for a miracle and took Mister Zhong’s wrist, fumbling for a pulse. Anything, just a trace of some life left in him would be enough. Just a heartbeat, only one … Qiang Wei held his breath and calmed his own madly beating heart. His fingers steadied and he continued to search for some sign of life.
Nothing. He came up with nothing.
Qiang Wei closed his eyes. This was impossible. That kick had been forceful but not enough to kill someone. What had gone wrong? He searched for any clues but couldn’t find anything. Everything seemed normal. It was as if Mister Zhong’s time had just come.
Qiang Wei sighed with resignation and turned around to Madam Zhong. “I’m sorry. There is nothing I can do.”
Madam Zhong clasped her hands over her mouth, stifling a sob. She shook her head, not wanting to believe what she just heard. “No. No …”
“I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.” Qiang Wei hung his head. He wanted to help but there was nothing he could do. It was already too late. Somehow, Heaven had claimed his soul.
Though, what Qiang Wei didn’t know — what known of the people present that day would ever guess — was that what had happened wasn’t that simple. This soul, it wouldn’t return to Heaven and it definitely wouldn’t pass on to enter a new cycle of life. It had disappeared forever.
That was what happened when the soul-devouring dagger’s blade touched a mortal’s husk: If the wound was deep, the soul would disintegrate then and there. If the wound was shallow, the soul’s energy would slowly dissipate until nothing was left.
Nobody would notice until it was too late. And even if one had an inkling, there was nothing that could be done. Even the immortal races hadn’t known how to counter this cursed blade’s fatality and lost countless of their kin when the old demon king Jian Heng wielded it on the battlefield. How could mere humans contest this abominable weapon? Even if they had known, they would have had to watch on. This was the cruel reality.
Like this, Zhong Jing Yi’s father, Zhong Lei, passed away on a bright summer day while birds were chirping on the roof outside. Those who weren’t in the know would believe it to be just another day of summer. Just like all the days prior to this one and all the days in years to come. But for the Zhongs and those that cared about them those coming days would never be the same.
Maybe this was how Heaven tried to enforce its own laws.