Chapter 20: Inauspicious Omens
Zhu Yeqing said, "Because I would rather die than bear to give up a woman such as yourself."
Zi Ling laughed. Stretching out her slender white fingers, she lightly jabbed him on the nose. "No matter what, you'll always be the best in flattering others."
Zhu Yeqing said, "Are you saying that my other skills are inferior?"
Zi Ling smiled beautifully. "If you weren't better than others, why would I whole-heartedly be willing to go with you?"
Her laughter sounded like bells. "I laugh at that old cuckold. He actually ordered me to come here to be a spy! If he knew about our relationship, I'd be shocked if he wouldn't be so pissed that he'd jump off a cliff."
Zhu Yeqing laughed as well. "That's only because you are far too good at acting. You actually convinced him that you hate me. You actually made him into a cuckold who is preening and full of self-satisfaction."
Zi Ling's nails had fallen to rest against his chest, as they lightly drew circles there. "But even I don't understand what you are doing."
Zhu Yeqing said, "What do you mean, what am I doing?" Zi Ling said, "Did you get that old cuckold another batch of helpers?"
Zhu Yeqing said, "Yep!"
Zi Ling said, "Who did you call for?"
Zhu Yeqing said, "Have you ever heard of these two words: 'Black Death'?"
Zi Ling shook her head and asked, "Is 'Black Death' a person?"
Zhu Yeqing said, "Not a person. A group of people!" Zi Ling said, "Why did they pick such an unlucky name for themselves?"
Zhu Yeqing said, "Because they've always been like a pestilence. Anybody who runs into them will find it hard to keep their lives!"
Zi Ling said, "What type of people are they?"
Zhu Yeqing said, "They have all sorts of people. Some come from the Five Sects, others are from Wudang. There are some disciples who have been expelled from Shaolin, and there are even some people who come from Fusang* Island in the Eastern Ocean!
(*Fusang Island is a mythical island which is commonly interpreted as being Japan.)
Zi Ling said, "Can it be that all of them are expert martial artists?"
Zhu Yeqing nodded. "But the most terrifying aspect to them is not their skill in martial arts."
Zi Ling said, "What is it then?" Zhu Yeqing said, "It is the fact that they have no sense of shame or honor, nor do they care about their own lives!"
Zi Ling let out a sigh. She couldn't help but admit, "People like them really are hard to handle."
Zhu Yeqing said, "Which is why you find it strange that I asked them to come here to help the old cuckold deal with Ah Ji."
Zi Ling said, "Yes!"
Zhu Yeqing smiled. "But have you considered this? Now that even Iron Tiger has died, without people protecting him, how would he possibly dare to go face Ah Ji? And if Ah Ji doesn't even have the chance to see him, how will he have the chance to kill him?"
Zi Ling immediately understood his intentions, but couldn't refrain from asking, "Even with these people protecting him, he'll still die?"
Zhu Yeqing said, "He'll die all the faster!"
Zi Ling said, "Can it be that even these people are not Ah Ji's match?!"
Zhu Yeqing said, "Definitely not."
Zi Ling said, "So this time, he'll die for sure!"
Zhu Yeqing said, "More or less."
Zi Ling jumped up. Pressing herself on him, she suddenly frowned. "But you forgot about something."
Zhu Yeqing said, "Oh!"
Zi Ling said, "After the boss dies, the next person Ah Ji will deal with is you!"
Zhu Yeqing said, "Very possibly!"
Zi Ling said, "When that time comes, what will you do?"
Zhu Yeqing smiled but did not answer.
Zi Ling said, "Can it be that you have already come up with a way to handle him?"
Zhu Yeqing did not deny it.
Zi Ling said, "You are certain?"
Zhu Yeqing said, "When have I ever done something I am not certain about?"
Zi Ling let out a light sigh. Glancing at him sideways, she said, "When all of this is over, you'll be the boss. And what about me?"
Zhu Yeqing laughed. "You'll be the boss's wife, of course!"
Zi Ling laughed. Pressing her entire body down against him, she nibbled at his ear. "You'd best remember that there can only be one boss's wife. Otherwise..."
Before she finished speaking, Zhu Yeqing suddenly covered her lips. In a low voice, he said, "Who's that!"
A shadow flashed by the window from outside. A hoarse, callous voice replied, "It's me, Third Master Cui."
Zhu Yeqing let out a relieved breath. "Please come in!"
The shadow flashed by the window once again. With a cracking sound and a flash of light, someone suddenly appeared in front of them. The light just so happened to fall upon his ghastly pale face and cruel lips.
One eye was hidden within the shadow of his bamboo hat. It was staring directly at Zi Ling's nude body.
Although most of Zi Ling's body was hidden within the blanket, anyone who saw the revealed parts of her could guess that she was fully naked, and that the rest of her body was every bit as glossy and sleek as her shoulder.
And naturally, she knew exactly what men would think when they saw her, and what they wanted to do! But she didn't cover up the revealed parts of her nude body. She liked it when men stared at her.
Third Master Cui pressed the bamboo hat further down. He coldly asked, "Who is this woman?"
Zhu Yeqing said, "She's one of us. No worries!"
Zi Ling's lips parted. She suddenly asked, "Is this Third Master Cui the person who is known as the 'Diamond Within the Clouds'?"
Zhu Yeqing smiled and nodded. "We met each other many years ago in Liaobei."
Zi Ling said, "That's why you knew long ago that Iron Tiger wasn't him."
As soon as she mentioned Iron Tiger, Third Master Cui's fists became tightly clenched.
Zhu Yeqing laughed. "It no longer matters who Iron Tiger once was. I've already killed him for you."
Third Master Cui said, "Does his corpse remain?"
Zhu Yeqing said, "It's right outside. You can take it away whenever you want!"
Third Master Cui let out a hmph. Despite Iron Tiger having died, he wasn't willing to even let his corpse rest in peace. From this, one could tell how deep their enmity was.
Zhu Yeqing said, "Where are the people I asked for?"
Third Master Cui said, "I told you that I would be responsible for bringing them. That means they will definitely come!"
Zhu Yeqing said, "All nine of them?"
Third Master Cui said, "Not one will be missing!"
Zhu Yeqing said, "Where do we rendezvous?"
Third Master Cui said, "They also like women. They all heard that there is someone called Madame Han here."
Zhu Yeqing smiled. "Although Madame Han is gone, I can still guarantee that they will be satisfied."
Third Master Cui's eyes were staring at him with a gaze as sharp as a knife. He icily said, "You should definitely let them be satisfied, because this will be the last time."
Frowning, Zhu Yeqing said, "Why would it be their last time?"
Third Master Cui sneered. "You yourself should know quite well that this time, they haven't come to kill. They've come to die!"
Zhu Yeqing said, "To die?!"
Third Master Cui said, "If this Ah Ji is capable of killing Iron Tiger, he is definitely capable of killing them!"
Zhu Yeqing laughed again. "Seems like I can't pull anything over your head you."
Third Master Cui coldly said, "It isn't due to luck alone that I've been able to survive as long as I have."
Zhu Yeqing said, "So you will be sure to continue living."
Third Master Cui said, "Hmph!"
Zhu Yeqing said, "And I can guarantee that your life will become much more carefree than it once was."
Third Master Cui said, "Oh?"
Zhu Yeqing said, "Thus, even if by some stroke of misfortune they really do die, there's no need for you to mourn!"
Third Master Cui stared at him for a long time before slowly saying, "Although I, too, have entered the Black Sect, those people are not my friends!"
Zhu Yeqing said, "They aren't worthy of being your friends."
Third Master Cui said, "I have no friends whatsoever, not even a single one, because there is no one in this world I trust."
Zhu Yeqing immediately understood. "That's why you don't really trust the words that I say either!"
Third Master Cui sneered.
Zhu Yeqing said, "But I can give you a guarantee!"
Third Master Cui said, "What sort of guarantee?"
Zhu Yeqing said, "What sort of guarantee do you want?"
Third Master Cui said, "I want you to personally write me a contract detailing everything you will do for me!"
Without even thinking, Zhu Yeqing said, "Fine!"
Third Master Cui said, "Before tomorrow afternoon, I want you to deposit a hundred thousand taels worth of silver, in cash, into my bank account at the 'Source of Profit' bank!
Zhu Yeqing said, "Fine!"
Third Master Cui's gaze suddenly once more fell upon Zi Ling's naked shoulder. "I also want this woman."
Zhu Yeqing laughed again. "That's even easier. You can take her away right now!"
He suddenly lifted the blanket off of Zi Ling's body. As the cold wind blew in from outside the window, her naked body became to tremble.
Third Master Cui suddenly felt a surge of warmth near his throat. Every part of this woman's body was far more beautiful than even he had imagined.
Her body trembling, she had already clamped her legs shut. His throat seemed to have become sealed off as well.
Right at this moment, a sword flash suddenly appeared from the discarded blanket, and a sword flew out, burying itself in his throat.
His eyes immediately bulged out as he stared at Zhu Yeqing.
Zhu Yeqing's expression did not change. Lightly, he said, "You never imagined that I can use a sword, right?"
A croaking sound came from Third Master Cui's throat, but he couldn't say even a single word.
It had been no easy feat for him to stay alive for so long. Pity that he now died quite easily.
Blood still dripped from the tip of the sword.
Zi Ling suddenly let out a sigh. "Not only did he not imagine it, I didn't imagine it either!"
Zhu Yeqing said, "Didn't imagine that I can use a sword?"
Zi Ling said, "Not only can you use a sword, you absolutely must be an expert at it!"
Zhu Yeqing coldly said, "By now, you should realize that not only am I an expert, I am an expert amongst experts!"
A look of dread suddenly appeared in Zi Ling's eyes. She suddenly threw herself at him, gluing her nude form to his. "But you must know that I definitely won't reveal your secret, just like how I knew all along that you wouldn't give me away to someone else!"
Zhu Yeqing was silent for a long time. Finally, he reached out with an arm and wrapped it around her waist. In a soft voice, he said, "I know!"
Zi Ling let out a held breath. "As long as you trust me, I'm willing to do anything for you!"
Zhu Yeqing said, "Right now, there's one thing I want you to do!"
Zi Ling said, "What?"
Zhu Yeqing said, "Take Madame Han's place and take care of the brothers of the 'Black Death'. Come up with ways to fully satisfy them. Only then would they be willing to risk their lives for the boss to try and kill Ah Ji. Ah Ji definitely won't spare them!"
He suddenly laughed again. "Only, all of this is for you to do tomorrow. Right now, there's some other things for us to do."
If you manage to truly conquer a woman, she definitely will be willing to do anything for you.
When Zi Ling woke up, she felt as though her entire body had no energy left in it. Her limbs and her waist hurt, and it seemed hard to even open her eyes.
When she fully opened her eyes, she realized that Zhu Yeqing had disappeared, along with the blood on the ground and the corpse.
She nestled into the blanket once more for quite some time, as though trying to return to the wildness and the passion of last night.
But as soon as she was certain that Zhu Yeqing wasn't in the room, she immediately got up. She slipped into just a simple dress and rushed out, half-naked.
But when she pushed the door open, she was stunned.
An old hunchback, head filled with flowing white hair, was staring at her from outside the door. His face was criss-crossed with scars and had a strange, secretive smile on it.
Zi Ling involuntarily cried out, "Who are you?" The hunchback's voice was far hoarser and grimmer than that of Third Master Cui. "I am the bearer of news!"
Zi Ling let out a long sigh! "What news?"
The hunchback said, "The brothers of the 'Black Death' arrived early and are waiting for you at Madame Han's place!" Zi Ling said, "Are you going to go with me?"
The hunchback's smile became even more terrifying. "Mr. Zhu emphasized to me over and over that if I were to leave you alone for a single moment, my legs would be cut off and fed to dogs."
This was not the Willow Manor, nor were there the songs of courtesans to be heard.*
[*This is a very complicated line which is the inverse of two lines in a Chinese poem. Forgive me for not being able to fully convey it's meaning.]
Nor was Ah Ji drunk.
Last night, he almost got drunk, but he didn't. He passed by many wineshops, and each time, he wanted to stop and buy some wine. But he managed to resist.
He managed to resist up until midnight. When he could hold out no longer, he went to look for the girl and Miaozi. He was certain that this would be a safe time to go looking for them.
Because even though Big Ox wasn't an ordinary fellow, his house was a very ordinary house.
Ordinary and plain.
An ordinary household like this should be asleep by this time of night and shouldn't have any guests over. He should be able to secretly sneak in and clasp Miaozi by the hand, then gaze into the girl's eyes. Even if he woke up Big Ox's wife, he would be able to leave after apologizing. He had met the wife before. She, too, was a normal, ordinary person. As long as her husband and children were doing well, she would be content.
Their home was nourished by her love, and purchased by the fruits of the labor of her two hands, which could sew. It was a very simple and crude house, with three bedrooms and one living room. Their servant slept in the smallest room, while her and her husband slept in the largest. The middle room was shared by their son and daughter.
Her son was eleven years old. Ah Ji had visited their home before, when he had delivered the girl and Miaozi to that place. When he saw their home, Ah Ji felt both moved and strange. Why would someone with a family and a home like this, keep on working in this line of work?
For the sake of supporting my family!
Big Ox explained, "For the sake of being able to keep on living, and having my family keep on living, there's nothing which I'm unwilling to do!"
Perhaps he was telling the truth, and perhaps he was not. Regardless, after hearing his words, Ah Ji felt a little sick at heart. Only after undergoing these past few difficult days did he come to realize that staying alive was not as easy a thing as he once believed it to be. It really did require one's self to do some things one was unwilling to! Although he had only been there once, this home had left a very deep impression in his heart. That's why he purchased some candy and sweetmeats for the children for this trip.
But now, all the candy fell to the floor! Because Big Ox and his wife were not here, nor were there children, or even their servant girl. The only person in this room was Miao Zi, who stupidly sat in the middle of the house, facing a table covered with wine and food. His gaze was stiff and unmoving.
The furniture in the living room was all very plain and ordinary as well. Within the shrine for worship were the images of two deities who had absolutely nothing in common with each other whatsoever.
Bodhisattva Guan-yin, and Lord Guan Yu.
The shrine was on the wall in front of the desk.
The desk was very old and very shabby, and yet it was now suddenly covered with a sumptuous feast of food and wine. It definitely wasn't food which their family could afford. Twenty year old Clear Bamboo Wine [aka Zhu Ye Qing], along with fried crab and braised shark's fin which had been couriered here from Lake Yangcheng by a team of fast horses.
Miao Zi was staring stupidly at this table filled with food. His eyes were dull and empty, without any expression within at all.
Ah Ji's heart immediately sank.
From his empty eyes, Ah Ji saw an inauspicious omen, warning of calamity.
Miao Zi lifted his head and glanced at him. Suddenly, he said, "Sit." There was an empty seat in front of him. And so, Ah Ji sat down.