Chapter 4: Disaster Strikes Unexpectedly
"Jala! Bring another dozen glasses of black pine wine!"
Inside the noisy and dim Sunset Pub, Quide was breathing heavily as he leaned down on the bar counter. He raised a glass of wine to his mouth, drinking glass after glass.
"Hey, big guy. If you don't tip there would be no black pine wine!"
Jala stood behind the bar counter and was in a bad mood as she brought two glasses of black pine wine. She slammed them on the bar counter without a trace of politeness. "I am giving you the last two glasses out of respect for your father! I will give you thirty seconds to finish drinking it. After that, quickly get lost! Every time you sit here for more than an hour, the profits of my bar, no, the entire Underground Street would drop by ten percent!"
Quide was already in a daze. Even in the din of the bar, Jala's voice still sounded distant. The feeling of being stared at and the possible mockery in their hearts set Quide's heart aflame.
'In those years, I was a terrifying presence in the Lower District, the "Blood Axe" Quide. If it was not because of that incident… Now, why is it that a bar girl even dares to bully me? Even the bald-headed Sven who debuted two years later than I dared to ridicule me in front of the beggar children. They laughed at my lower body that...'
"Watch where you are going, girl!" Quide gnashed his teeth. He shook his heavy head as he stood and grabbed Jala's hand. He pulled her across the bar counter and fiercely roared, "I said, another dozen glasses of black pine wine!"
The whole pub turned quiet.
The Lower District was well known for its chaos in Eternal Star City. Moreover, the Underground Street was famous for its chaos in the Lower District. This was especially so after the Black Street Brotherhood took over ten years ago. This chaotic place revolved around the Sunset Pub. In the Sunset Pub, if a person was not a member of the Brotherhood, he would be here looking for the Brotherhood members.
This was why when Quide grabbed Jala's hand, all the other people in the pub just watched the scene. They did not say anything nor did they try and stop it.
Quide felt more and more dizzy. However, he still felt that the wrist he seized felt slippery and soft. He could smell the fragrance of Jala's body. In the dim light from the candles, the nearby Jala's brown hair appeared tidy and clean. Her smooth face and delicate figure appeared clearer than usual, causing Quide's imagination to run wild.
Jala was frightened. She was shocked by this once powerful thug who was now a drunkard.
The noise from the guests had vanished making the drunk Quide feeling pleased. He felt that his actions had received the proper attention.
But soon, when he looked at Jala's body, he started to get sober. His recklessness to be pleased gradually turned into fear.
Jala Charleton. Quide was one of the few who knew her full name.
'This pretty woman…' Quide suddenly remembered that his father warned him to 'stay away from her' many times.
The captivating and daring 'bar girl' was gazing fixedly at him. Quide's lower jaw began to tremble.
"Jala… I did not…"
Before Quide could react, the hand that seized Jala's wrist was, in turn, pulled and locked at the back. The next second, Quide's middle finger and forefinger were bent towards the wrong direction. What followed was a heart wrenching severe pain.
Quide shouted in pain. Even his face twisted in a grimace.
However, it was not over. She had ruthlessly hooked his hand and then forcefully pulled his elbow joint the other way.
"Argh! No! Jala! Big Sister Jala! I was wrong... I should not have... argh!"
Quide's scream coincided with the sound of his elbow being dislocated.
Before Quide's cry for mercy had ended, the nimble woman had already taken advantage of the momentum to flip over. In her extremely short pants, she had already lifted her slender left leg over the bar counter and smashed it onto Quide's neck.
"Good job Little Jala! You did not make the boss lose face!"
"With this skill, you can apply for the Eradicator swordsmanship training!"
"She is actually wearing safety pants!"
"I swear I saw it! I dare to bet ten coppers that she is wearing black!"
The surrounding guests resumed the partying spirit. All of them cheered for Jala.
"Listen here you big-headed gorilla!"
Jala ruthlessly glared at Quide who was gasping for breath. She stood with one foot behind the counter and her left feet on the countertop while her right arm locked Quide's extended arm. Jala's figure was graceful and slender.
She slowly pulled out a weird knife from the holster on her left leg. The blade and the handle of the knife were not in a straight line. From a distance, it looked like the leg of a wolf.
After that, Jala stabbed the palm of Quide's hand without batting an eyelid. The Wolf Limb Blade nailed him to the bar.
The cheers of the other guests became even louder.
"Wu wu!" Quide's tears streamed down from the pain. However, with his neck being squeezed, his cries sounded like a pig's.
Jala slowly lowered her upper body. Her gentle beauty was evident. She approached Quide's teary face before whistling and laughing.
With a look that was as fierce as a ruthless demon, but an amorous and rhythmic (causing others to feel disappointed) voice, she spoke.
"I don't care whose son you are. I don't care that you are the head of the beggars. I don't care that you are a thug collecting debts. However, you better f*cking listen up! From now onwards, if you dare to appear in my pub, I will mince your genitalia into minced meat, blend it into wine, and make you drink it! Do you understand me?"
Quide cried as he held his pierced right hand and ran out of the pub. Meanwhile, the other guests laughed loudly while Jala continued to project a despicable look. Jala clapped her hands before she wiped the Wolf Limb Blade clean with a look of disgust as though it was not blood but the mucus of a devil.
Jala turned around unhappily and looked at the other guests who were still looking. Most of them had lascivious looks and ulterior motives.
"What are you looking at? Whoever dares to keep looking will be charged double!"
Her rude words caused the others' attention to go back to their wine. Jala then ruthlessly threw away the rag and returned to the kitchen.
"Is that enough? I did as you said and even said the word 'genitalia'."
Jala grabbed a bottle of white wine. A multipurpose pocket knife appeared in her hand which she used to neatly open the cork.
"Of course, Miss Jala." In the kitchen, Quide's deputy and the actual manager of the beggar's business, Nayer Rick, gently lifted his black hat and nodded with a smile. "I hope he would restrain himself in future by not drinking too much and continue to wantonly tyrannize the beggars. The Brotherhood cannot always clean up his mess."
"I am sure you mean that you cannot always clean up his mess." Jala quickly drank a mouthful of wine. Rick suddenly felt that Jala's rough actions appeared appropriate, fresh and attractive.
"That is also correct. This is because the Brotherhood's gains are my gains." Rick laughed and subconsciously touched his neck.
"Do you think this would be effective? I feel like such a person would end up causing more problems such as venting on your beggars."
"You know him well," Rick thought to himself.
"Actually, I myself am not too sure if it would be useful. This is because I do not know him that well. However…" Rick shook his head helplessly. This was his signature expression of innocence. "He was aggravated three days ago for a laughable reason. He beat up one of the young ones with good prospects. If the child was not clever, another good prospect would have been killed by Quide."
"I never knew you were so kind and righteous," Jala sarcastically said in her heart.
At this point, Rick's eyes became firm.
"That is why I decided that this cannot continue. He has to be admonished otherwise sooner or later he would destroy the business containing all my hardships."
"Alright. You do not have to explain to me the reasons you want to kill your boss."
"I never said I wanted to kill him."
"Returning to the main topic, give me my agreed remuneration. I only take cash," Jala interrupted Rick. She lazily drank the white wine. She then stretched out her tongue and tried to lick the last drop of wine from the bottle. It was an action that stirred Rick's mind.
"Also, you must pay the money he owed today."
"Especially..." Jala narrowed her eyes at Rick who had taken off his hat and saluted and left.
'Don't think I do not know that you substituted Quide's wine.'
'Others may not notice but I, Jala, from the Sunset Pub can tell that Quide drank the powerful and highly concentrated Chaca wine.'
'Unlike the other wine, Chaca is often given to the death convicts in handcuffs in the western battlefield for that last charge. Drunk people have no trouble moving but they are just not as aware.'
'That is why Rick, did you think you have too much money or did you really want him dead?'
Quide was still tipsy and in utter humiliation and pain when he returned to the entrance of the Abandoned Houses. He did not stay at the Blackstreet Headquarters where Quide felt that everybody who knew the news would be looking at his lower body. Sure enough, two thugs happened to pass by behind the walls. The contents of their chat drifted from afar.
"Have you heard? The beggars were passing rumors that Quide is no longer a man."
"What does that mean? How could he become a woman?"
"Idiot. It means that Quide got castrated! I heard that a few years ago, he collected debts at a haunted house at Carima Street. It was where Earl Norfolk and his family were hanged. Apparently, he encountered a red-clothed female ghost that cut off his lower body part… a clean cut."
Suddenly, Quide felt as though all the blood in his body rose to his head.
The next moment, he lost control of himself and roared as he rushed out from behind the wall. He then strangled the throat of one of the thugs tightly.
"Who?! Who said that? Which bastard!'
"I am going to kill him!"
The other thug stumbled back from fright.
Quide overpowered the thug on the ground. His grip gradually tightened. However, his impaled palm was unable to apply much strength.
Back in the day, Quide was a well-known head of the thugs in the Brotherhood and also a leader. He was dispirited in the past few years and this caused his stamina and skill to drop. As long as it was not the woman from the Charleton Family, he would still be able to overcome the other common thugs, especially in this given scenario. At that moment, Quide's anger had become a source of endless strength.
"Boss Quide. These are only rumors. We do not believe… Argh!"
Quide suddenly raised his head like a beast.
The thug offering an excuse stepped back in extreme fear.
He could immediately see that his companion had turned pale. The companion's breath became weaker and weaker.
The thug that kept retreating saw the ominous glint from Quide's face and became frightened. "Ah, that's right. These rumors all came from the beggars. Boss, it is not our fault! Go and ask the beggars!"
It was the sound of a neck being broken. The thug that was being strangled by Quide was now lifeless.
Quide slowly got up from the ground with an ominous glint in his eyes. The strong aftereffects of the wine he drank had caused him to gradually lose his reasoning.
The remaining thug trembled as he looked at the terrible situation. He cried out in distress as he frantically tried to escape.
Quide wanted to chase but he was so drunk and unsteady that he was unable to run.
Quide ruthlessly gasped for breath as he looked at the corpse by his feet. He was still not satisfied so he kicked the corpse a few times. Then he shook his head and walked towards the dozen abandoned houses.
Quide never wondered why the thugs on patrol never showed up as it was necessary to keep a tight watch over the beggars. His only drive was to find the ones that ridiculed him and then torture them to death one by one.
As he had just killed someone, Quide felt as though a shackle in his mind had been released after a long time. He had returned to the days in the past where he made a living with the knife.
"These damned thieves," He fiercely thought to himself. "Since you dare to start such rumors, you better be ready to pay the price."
The fleeing thug scaled the large gate of the Abandoned Houses. He coincidentally met Rick at the tree outside the gate.
"Mister Rick!" The thug looked at Rick as though he had found his savior. "Boss Quide… Boss Quide has gone mad! Didn't you say that we would be able escape in time? In the end, before we could finish speaking, Quide…" The thug was so terrified that he was breathless and his words were not clear.
"Pierson could not escape? He was killed?" Rick was taken aback.
After the thug sobbed and confirmed it, Rick shook his head sadly. "This is my fault. I had thought that after hearing this news, Quide would have… No other choice. Go and close the large gate. Lock Quide inside the Abandoned Houses District. After that, prepare the carriage. We are leaving immediately."
"Alright, Mister Rick. Where are we going?" The badly shaken thug quickly nodded repeatedly when he heard that they would leave. He did not stop to think about what would happen to the beggars who would also be locked in.
"Go to our headquarters. Look for Boss Morris."
Rick watched the thug run to the stone gates. He closed the gates and then locked it. After that, Rick's expression looked solemn.
"This time, Quide would look for all the beggars. Amongst them is definitely the one that the 'ghost' is looking for. I had moved the schedule ahead today. It is not dark yet. Quide would have most of the night to deal with the beggars.
"Whether they would be killed or tyrannized, these would be the problems of the ghost or assassin. Since he is interested in the beggars, what would he do when the beggars suffer a catastrophe?
"First of all, he would have no time to look for me. If he is here to look for the beggars, Quide would be killed by him. The Brotherhood would then take over this place tomorrow and I would not have any more problems.
"If he is here to kill a certain beggar, he may see Quide (this is very likely and nobles should never be underestimated) and allow him to continue killing the beggar. Once the objective is achieved, the problem would also be solved.'
"In other words, the family problem of this big shot and my cold neck would be solved tonight.
"If it doesn't, the ghost that is unable to find its objective would look for me." muttered Rick. Rick did not think that the lackeys of a big family would have a good temper. He also did not believe that he would live to see the next day after meeting them.
Rick had also thought of feigning illness for a month or even transferring to some other place. He had wanted to run as far as possible, away from this place, until the ghost found what it wanted.
However, if he were to suddenly fall sick, it may reveal to the ghost that he knew of the ghost's existence. That would be using his life as stakes to gamble on the ghost's compassion.
Rick believed that there would be a safer method, a scapegoat to reduce suspicion, to expose the ghost and end his bad luck.
"Boss Quide. This time I will have to trouble you!" Rick thought.
"It is unfortunate for the beggars such as Thales and Karak. It's certainly possible that certain troubles might have occurred because of my inadequate supervision. But when compared to my life and future..."
At this moment, the lucky thug who escaped returned quickly from a distance with a carriage.
Rick nodded to him and gave him a comforting and encouraging smile. He then went to the carriage and pulled out a mini crossbow that had its arrows soaked in Blue Vine Grass. He proceeded to shoot it into the wide-open mouth of the surprised thug.
What Rick did would never be known to the world. However, his actions would influence the fate of the kingdom.
Because their rest period had been shifted earlier, the beggars of the sixth house led by Thales sat next to the fire they had lighted with difficulty as they counted that day's earnings.
"The black-clothed woman gave us eight coppers. I heard that her youngest son had just died from typhoid. No wonder she was so generous."
"Droopy-ears Miralla gave us all her remaining coppers after grocery shopping… Oh, there were only two."
Sinti smiled and counted the coppers one-by-one, placing them in his left hand. Thales nodded and grabbed a sharp rock. He then wrote two '正' characters on the ground1.
"That thin man wearing high boots would not give us any money. So, Ryan and I taught him a lesson."
Kellet took out a card, looked at it worriedly and said, "However, he only had this card in his hand. I do not know what this is for."
"This is the pass for the state-run research association, Jade Star Grand Library. That is in the Upper District five blocks away from us," Thales said after he scrutinized the card, "That thin man must be a foreign scholar. He is probably a philosopher or a scientist. However, with his unconventional appearance, he is most likely a literature and art scholar."
"Wow, Thales! You can read those words!" Both Coria and Ned looked at Thales in admiration.
"How is that possible?" Thales shrugged as he noticed the admiration of the two children. "Nobody taught us how to read or count. I simply looked at the back of the card and saw that book emblem."
However, Thales had already taught himself how to read a little. Some of the words he learned were "Sunset Pub", "Grove Pharmacy", and "National Research Institute". These words on the signboards and his previous memories made him value knowledge. He would not pass up any opportunity to gather knowledge.
The freedom to sit at desks and learn from their predecessors was really a blessing. Thales lifted his dust-covered palms that had worked the whole day which were covered prematurely with calluses, then rubbed his stomach that was eternally hungry and sighed.
Thales could not remember his transmigration circumstances. To be precise, he only regained the memories of his past life after the gradual maturity of the young Thales' cerebrum.
His memory of when he was two to three years old was unclear, just like a regular two-year-old. He only remembered sticky red blood (he did not know why color could be described with the word sticky), a black stone room full of crying infants, a skinny woman who he would later on recognize as the 'Black-Hearted Widow' Behrs, the female leader responsible for raising the new children of the Brotherhood.
Thales was sent to the Abandoned Houses at the age of three. It was also about that time when memories of his past life began to surface. Most of the scenes he recalled were of himself sitting in front of a desk looking back and forth between a book and a computer or sitting in a classroom conversing with a dozen or so young people that were dressed differently or together with a middle-aged professor discussing something.
However, that was now an illusion.
In the past four years, Thales managed to maintain the living conditions of the beggars in the sixth house. This was in an environment of crime and death where beggars were beaten up and bullied in the Lower District.
Compared to his past life as a post-graduate student where he was more brain than brawn, Thales had acquired many new skills in his four years of his begging career. For example, putting on an act to win sympathy, pickpocketing, eavesdropping silently and collaborating with someone else to shift the blame.
In the meantime, Thales had made many preparations that exceeded the capabilities of a beggar. For example, creating good relationships with people from the different social strata (in the Lower District presumably they were from the lower strata), secretly exploring the secrets of the Brotherhood, arranging secret locations and stashing some stuff from the bosses. Quide was not wrong at all.
That was right. Thales was not ready to accept the destiny given to him by the world. He will not become a contented beggar nor did he want to become a thug of the Brotherhood, a thief, or involved in any kind of gang-related roles in Eternal Star City.
He wanted to run away, find his own life and become a free man.
At the very least, more freedom than his current life.
"I just need to proceed step-by-step with a good plan…"
Thales looked to a corner of the house where there was an inconspicuous slab stone.
'Then I can… I can…'
At this moment, screams of fear and panic came from the seventeenth house. "No! Kara!"
Soon, Thales would learn the most important lesson after he transmigrated.
Disaster strikes unexpectedly.
1. The Chinese character '正' has 5 strokes. It is usually written stroke-by-stroke in tandem with each tallying count. Hence, a complete character would be a group of five counts. Two complete characters would be a total of ten counts.