Page 2 of 6 FirstFirst 123456 LastLast
Results 21 to 40 of 110

Thread: Lu Xiaofeng - Unabridged

  1. #21
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Posts
    3,036

    Default Book 2 - Chapter 7

    Chapter 7 - Unwavering Persistance

    Lu Xiao Feng did not want to ride carriages, but nevertheless he was on a carriage at the moment. People just can not avoid doing some things that they rather not do. “You have to find some way to get some sleep on the carriage, so when you run into First Madame Gong Sun you are in the condition to challenge her!”

    Even Lu Xiao Feng knew that Jin Jiu Ling’s words were right. But how could he sleep at a time like this?

    “The little Prince has taken a real admiration to Hua Man Lou and has insisted that he stay at the Palace for several days. He’s fully taken care of inside the Palace, don’t you worry about him anymore.”

    Lu Xiao Feng knew better than anyone that he had no need to worry about things or people inside the RoyalPalace, nor did he have to worry about the Snake King either. The person that he should be worried about at the moment is none other than himself. No matter how strong a person is, when confronted and weighted down with this much burden and pressure, that person would be hard pressed not to explode, or implode. The horse was pulling the carriage at a very quick pace, and the carriage was bouncing up and down.

    He was trying with all his might to concentrate, there were just too many things that he had to concentrate and figure them out. But even if heart felt as if it had been torn into pieces.

    At day break, the carriage stopped in front of a little tofu shop at a village on the side of the road. The sweet smell of hot tofu milk permeated through the carriage with the gentle morning breeze.

    “I know you don’t feel like eating anything, but you should at least drink a little bit of this hot tofu milk.” Although Lu Xiao Feng did not want to waste any time, he knew better than to not be grateful to the concerns of his friend. Besides, the carriage driver and the carriage pulling horses all needed a little rest.

    The lanterns were still lit inside of the shop. A person was squating in the corner and louding gulping down the huge bowl of tofu milk in his hand. The lantern light flickered and shone on his head, his completely bald head. He was a monk. This monk had a square face and huge ears, a face that predicts great luck as any fortune-teller would tell you. But the clothes on him were dirty and torn, and that pair of straw sandals on his feet was almost completely worn to nothing. Honest Monk!

    Only when he saw possibly the world’s weirdest monk did a smile appear on Lu Xiao Feng’s face.

    “Honest Monk, have you done anything not so honest recently?”

    The Honest Monk looked genuinely surprised upon seeing him and almost spilled the tofu milk in his hand.

    “Well, from the look of you, I know for a fact that you must have been up to no good last night!” Lu Xiao Feng laughed heartily. “Why else do you look so guilty when you saw me?”

    “Honest Monk has only done something not honest once in his life,” the Honest Monk’s face looked like he had just swallowed a rat. “Buddha have mercy, why must Monk keep running into you?”

    “What’s so bad about running into me? At least I could pay for your bowl of tofu milk for you!” Lu Xiao Feng smiled.

    “Monks don’t need to pay to drink tofu milk. Monks know how to beg for alms.” He quickly gulped down the last bit of his tofu milk and looked as if he was about to scuttle out of there.

    But Lu Xiao Feng blocked his way.

    “Well, since you don’t need me to pay for you, then why don’t you stay and chat for a while? Ou Yang Qing isn’t here, what are you in a hurry to leave for?”

    “‘Gentry runs into soldiers, futile to talk logic’,” the Honest Monk meekly smiled. “Monk run into Lu Xiao Feng, much more unlucky than gentry. Chat this chat that, in the end Monk suffers!”

    “What do you mean by that?”

    “If Monk doesn’t suffer, then how come the last time Monk ended up crawling on the ground?”

    “Alright, I’ll guarantee you won’t be crawling today!” Lu Xiao Feng laughed despite of himself.

    “Could still suffer even without crawling,” the Honest Monk sighed. “Monk is only scared to two people in this world, why must Monk run into you again today?”

    “Who’s the other person?”

    “Even if Monk tell you who that person is, you won’t know!”

    “Try me!”

    The Honest Monk hesitated a while before finally giving in.

    “This person is a female!”

    “Monk seems to know quite a number of females!” Lu Xiao Feng joked.

    “Quite a number a females know Monk too.”

    “Is this woman Ou Yang?”

    “Not Ou Yang, Gong Sun!”

    “Gong Sun?” Lu Xiao Feng almost shouted. “Is it First Madame Gong Sun?”

    “You know about her too? How did you find out about her?” The Honest Monk was shocked too.

    “You know her?” Lu Xiao Feng was shouting now. “Do you know where she is?”

    “Why do you ask?”

    “Because I have some unfinished business with her!”

    The Honest Monk stared at Lu Xiao Feng for a while, and then burst into a fit of laughter. He was laughing so hard that he doubled over. Suddenly, he scuttled by Lu Xiao Feng’s side and ended up almost 10 meters away. Even 10 meters away, he was still laughing.

    But this time Lu Xiao Feng had made up his mind not to let him get away. He did a somersault and blocked his way again.

    “Why are you laughing?”

    “When Monk find something funny, Monk laughs. Monk has always been honest.”

    “What’s so funny about this matter?”

    “Why must you smash the pot and ask to the end?”

    “Even if I have to smash a monk’s head open, I’m going to ask this thing to the end.”

    He was very serious when he spoke. All the Honest Monk could do was sigh.

    “Monk’s head can’t be smashed open, Monk only has one head.”

    “Then speak, why is this so funny?”

    “Number one: because you are not going to find her. Number two: because even if you find her, you won’t beat her. Number three, because even if you beat her, it’ll be useless.”

    “How come?”

    “Because as soon as you see her, you won’t be able to bring yourself to hit her. By then you are probably hoping that she would hit you a couple of times!”

    “She’s very pretty?”

    “There are four Great Beauties in the martial world, you probably know them all don’t you?”

    “Yes I do.”

    “Do you think they are beautiful?”

    “Of course Beauties are beautiful.”

    “But First Madame Gong Sun is 10 times prettier than all four of them put together!”

    “You’ve seen her?”

    “Buddha have mercy,” sighed Honest Monk as he smiled miserably. “Please don’t let Monk see her again. Otherwise even if Monk has 10 heads Monk would still lose them all.”

    “Do you know where she is?”

    “Don’t know.” When Honest Monk says he does not know, then he does not know. Honest Monk never lies.

    “Where did you see her last time?”

    “Can’t tell you.” When Honest Monk says he cannot tell you, then he cannot tell you. Even if you smash his head open, he still cannot tell you.

    Even Lu Xiao Feng knew that there was no way to get him to talk. All he could do was angrily glare at him for a moment. Suddenly he laughed.

    “Actually, Monk don’t just only have one head.”

    Honest Monk did not understand.

    “Because Monk still have a Little Monk!”

    He laughed, laughed so hard that he doubled over. The Honest Monk was so angry that he could not even think of anything to say. He knew that Lu Xiao Feng was teasing him on purpose, but yet he still could not help but get mad, so mad that he almost fainted. Jin Jiu Ling was looking on from the side, even he could not help but laugh a little.

    “Monk don’t tell lies and still have one more thing to tell you.” The Honest Monk suddenly sighed.

    “Well? What is it?” Lu Xiao Feng asked, but only after some immense efforts to stop his fits of laughter.

    “From the looks of the two of you, your faces are just covered with bad omens. With in three days, your heads will be smashed open by someone!”

    ***

    Even though Meng Wei only has one head as well, he was known as “Three Headed Snake”. Among the Nine Famed Bounty Hunters, he was always known as the most ruthless one in his methods and the most merciless one in handing out judgements. Three Headed Snake, of course, had three different faces. When he saw Jin Jiu Ling, not only was his demeanor of the utmost respect, his smile was very dear and genuine. Even Lu Xiao Feng was finding it hard that a person like this would often pour salted water or beat a person to a pulp in dark rooms.

    But precisely because there was people like him in this world, everybody should know that it was best not to commit crimes during one’s life. The driver that steered the carriage was also a man under the command of Lu Shao Hua. As soon as they entered the city there was someone from the local bounty group to greet them and lead them to this place. This was also the busy section of town - turns out most people really do find it hard to kick this kind of habit.

    That is why there are so few truly unsolved crimes and mysteries in this world. Meng Wei had been waiting for them in a tea house on the corner of a street. Their final destination was a small alley way just in the back, at the very back of the alley way was a small little house.

    “The person who rented this house was also a very handsome gentry, and also paid a year of rent up front.”

    “Have anybody noticed anything about this house after that?”

    “No, seems like nobody has lived in there since the rental.”

    -Maybe they arrived before First Madame Gong Sun. After all, after killing the Snake King, she must have stalled a bit of time. Not to mention that she also had an injured Xue Bing with her.

    That was why Jin Jiu Ling instructed: “Order those easy to spot men of yours to go away so that nobody notices that special attention is being paid to this place!”

    “We have been extra careful this entire time,” Meng Wei assured them. “The only men that has been here have all been very well disguised.”

    “Is disguises enough?” Jin Jiu Link coldly snickered. “It’s not like nobody can’t see through the disguises.”

    Even Lu Xiao Feng was able to spot in an instant that the waiters in the tea house, the berry selling vendor across the street from the alley, that fortune-teller beside them, and 7 or 8 different customers inside the tea house were all disguised bounty hunters. After a prolonged stay in public service, it is hard to retain the same demeanor and actions as those of a normal person, especially one’s expressions, which is almost impossible not to spot for those who are looking.

    “I’ll tell them to leave now.” Meng Wei conceded.

    Underneath the little corner of the roof that jutted out over the alley, there was a bald, scab covered beggar with a broken roof tile in hand. When Meng Wei walked by, he actually stuck the roof tile out in the way, begging for money. What he got instead was a kick.

    In an instant all those disguised bounty hunters left.

    “I only left two men here,” reported Meng Wei. “That way should anything happen they could be used as messengers.”

    One was the vendor cross the street from the alley. The little vendor display was left as it was, but the vendor was switched to someone not nearly as conspicuous. But who was the other one?

    “Song Hong has been getting much better recently,” Jin Jin Ling looked over at the bald beggar. “Take special care of him, he’ll be a good one in the future.”

    Lu Xiao Feng finally understood, that scab covered beggar was one of them too. It was not yet 9 O’clock, the dog days of July were always a little longer, so there was no need to lit the lamps inside the houses. The setting sun shone in through the window to reveal a room covered in a layer of dust. It really did look like nobody had been inside of here in a long time. The set up and look of the room was very similar to the last one.

    Inside the dresser was 8 or 9 different sets of outfits, there was a mirror on the desk, and besides the desk was a little bed. There was nothing interesting of note, and hence no clue to be found either. It was as if this whole trip was a waste of time. Jin Jiu Ling had his hands behind his back as he meander around the place. Suddenly, with a quick hop, he jumped onto the roof beam, shook his head, and jump back down.

    “Over here!” Meng Wei suddenly shouted from teh kitchen. When he ran out, he had a little wooden box in his hand.

    “Where did you find this?” Jin Jiu Ling was ecstatic.

    “Inside the furnace.” That is truly a great place to hide something, for something to be hidden there, there must be a secret.

    Jin Jiu Ling looked ready to crack the box open for a look see. But Lu Xiao Feng stopped him.

    “Careful, there might be some booby trap inside of it.”

    Jin Jiu Ling tested the weight of the box a little and smiled.

    “This box is really light, if there are any springs or booby traps inside, it should be very heavy.”

    Of course, he was a very prudent man, or else he would have already died twenty times over about 10 years ago. Lu Xiao Feng did not say anything more. Springs and booby traps were made of metal, which would cause a huge difference in weight. There was no locks on the box, so Jin Jiu Ling easily opened it up. Suddenly, a burst of prink smoke shot out from inside the box. Jin Jiu Ling tried to hold his breath, but it was no in time. His entire body was propelled backwards and crashed into the dresser. He collapsed onto the ground!

    There were no mechanical booby traps inside the box, but there was a little balloon made of fish stomaches. As soon as the box opened, the needles on the lid of the box would pop the balloon and immediately release the poison that had been stored inside the balloon. Jin Jiu Ling, despite all his precautions and experience, could not have suspected this.

    There, laying on the floor, he looked just like a popped balloon. His entire body went limp, his complexion was frighteningly pale, and there was a cut on his head. He had banged his head against the dresser just a moment ago and opened a cut on his head.

    -Your faces are just covered with bad omens. With in three days, your heads will be smashed open by someone. Honest Monk was being honest after all. Lu Xiao Feng had already took a deep breath and dispersed the poisonous gas with his palm wind. Thinking back to Honest Monk’s words, his heart suddenly felt a bit cold. Meng Wei had ran out of the room as soon as he could, only after the gas had dispersed did he walk back in, grabbing his nose.

    By now Lu Xiao Feng had helped Jin Jiu Ling sit up and was protecting his heart with his internal energy, hoping to somehow save his life.

    Instead, Meng Wei went over and picked the box up, he seemed more interested in the box than Jin Jiu Ling. But the box was empty, there was nothing inside. After a prolonged inspection, he suddenly shouted.

    “Here it is!”

    The secret was not inside the box, but on the lid of the box. If carefully inspected, one could see that among the carvings on the lid, there were ancient inscriptions, the kind that dated back to before the time of the First Emperor. There were 6 words in total.

    “Leave to Ah-Tu, will return soon.”

    The more obvious, the less attention people pay, the harder it is to find. First Madame Gong Sun really did understand how people’s minds functioned. Who could have thought of communicating using this method? - She was telling someone to give something to Ah-Tu, because Ah-Tu was about to go back soon.

    But who was the instructions meant for? What was supposed to be left to Ah-Tu? Who is Ah-Tu? These question were impossible to answer at the moment.

    “Ah-Tu, Ah-Tu....” Meng Wei frowned and mumbled to himself. “Could it be that Ah-Tu?”

    “You know of an Ah-Tu?” Lu Xiao Feng asked, even though he knew the answer.

    “There was a beggar that was at the head of the alley, everyone called him Ah-Tu.”

    “Where is he now?”

    “In order for Song Hong to stay there disguised as him there, we chased him away.”

    “Quick, go find him.”

    Meng Wei immediately began to leave.

    “Wait a minute.”

    Meng Wei waited for him.

    “Does he know why you chased him away?”

    “I only told him that he’s not allowed to beg there.” Meng Wei shook his head. A bounty hunter never needed any reason to chase away a beggar anyways.

    “Once you find him, immediately come and tell me, no matter what don’t let him find out.”

    “Yes sir, I’ll come back as soon as I find him.”

    “Don’t bother coming back here. I’m going to take Jin Jiu Ling to Shi Jing Mo’s place. If you find anything, just go there instead!” Shi Jing Mo was the most famous doctor in this city, of course, Meng Wei knew this too.

    “Also, get your men to find some dust and pour it over where we just were, make sure the dust look settled.”

    “Yes sir.”

    “And put this box back where you found it.”

    “Yes sir.”

    “Song Hong has to leave here too, get someone else to patrol the head of the alley. Also, it’ll probably wise to put a man in the yard next door, he should also inform me immediately should anything suspicious happen!”

    “Yes sir.” Meng Wei stood there and looked at Lu Xiao Feng, as if he wanted to say something, but restrained himself.

    But when he made it to the door, he gave in and turned around.

    “If Great Hero Lu entered Six Doors, then the rest of us would all have to go back to carrying our babies.” He said with a smile.

    ***

    Lu Xiao Feng was quite proud of himself as well. His handling of this situation was truly quite remarkable. Even if Jin Jiu Ling was sober, he could not have handled it any better than he. Unfortunately, Lu Xiao Feng was not a deity, so there were things that even he could not have expected. Shi Jing Mo was not at home.

    This doctor always carried himself very pompously and very rarely went to the patients’ houses but instead had them come to him. But the master of Magnificent Jade Veranda was an exception.

    The wounds to Ye Yi Fan’s eyes have not completely healed yet, but he also had not recovered from the shock either as he endlessly mumbled the names of famous paintings that he lost. Why is it the richer the person, the harder it is for them to let these material things go? Could it be precisely because they cannot let go that they are rich?

    There was no way to communicate the unexpected change to Meng Wei now, so all Lu Xiao Feng could do was wait in the outer guest hall of the Shi mansion. The strange thing was, for some reason his mind was really clear now. Suddenly, a lot of things popped up in his mind, things that he had not thought about at all before.

    While he was in deep thought, news from Meng Wei arrived.

    “Ah-Tu is at his home.”

    “A beggar has a home?”

    “A beggar is still a person, even dogs have their own little holes, nevermind a beggar.”

    But you would be charitable to call Ah-Tu’s home a “hole”. It was nothing more than a small, abandoned, brick enclosure that had half collapsed onto itself, creating a little room. Several bricks were punched out on all four sides, passing for windows. It was smack in the middle of the summer heat wave, so the squalid wooden board that were used to cover the “windows” were not nailed up yet. There was light inside.

    “Is Ah-Tu still in there?”

    “Yes, don’t know where he got himself a flask of wine, but he’s enjoying it all by himself in there.”

    “Has anyone talked to him at all?”

    “No, but there was someone over there.”

    “What was that someone like?”

    “A young fellow, with a hat with a red cherry on top, dressed like a dispatcher or baliff for an official or something.”

    Not long after this little exchange, a dispatcher with a red cherry hat came strolling pompously up the little dirt hill with a yellow cloth bag with him. After surveying the surrounding area for a while, he jumped into Ah-Tu’s little house. Of course, he did not notice Lu Xiao Feng and Meng Wei, both of them were very well hidden on a particularly large tree.

    “Should we go in and get them now?” Meng Wei whispered.

    “The person we want to catch isn’t him.” Lu Xiao Feng immediately shook his head.

    “You are planning to find that Embroidery Bandit from him?” Meng Wei immediately understood.

    “Mmhmm.”

    “The inscription on the box said that he was going back, do you think he’s going back to where First Madame Gong Sun is?”

    Lu Xiao Feng nodded.

    “And that bag must be something that someone wants to give to her, she’s probably already returned to her base now!”

    Even Ah-Tu has one, nevermind First Madame Gong Sun. So Meng Wei had to restrain his impatience and wait. He did not have to wait long. That red cherry hat wearing dispatcher strolled out and, humming a little tune, walked back down the little dirt hill. He had done his job, so he looked much more relaxed.

    After another long wait, the light from inside the little “house” suddenly went out with Ah-Tu walking out soon after. Before leaving, he made sure to nail close the entrance to his “house” with a door made of a rather large piece of wood. He carried two flax bags on his back with the yellow cloth bag obviously in one of them.

    “I’ll follow him, you go back and take care of your Boss Jin.”

    “You are going without backup, what if....”

    “Don’t worry, I can’t die!” Lu Xiao Feng patted his shoulder.

    The moon was still almost full as it shone brightly upon the world. The night breeze carried with it the tiniest hints of Autumn. This was the perfect weather for travel. Ah-Tu did not rent a carriage, nor did he get a horse, but instead, he was just carelessly walking out in front, as if he had not the slightest care in the world. There was nobody else traveling on this highway, only the two of them, one in front, the other behind. Sometimes, Ah-Tu would hum a tune or two, other times, he would bellow scenes from operas or stories out loud; overall, he seemed to be walking ever slower.

    Lu Xiao Feng could barely restrain himself from going off to find a whip and give the guy a couple of lashes to hurry him up. After what seemed like forever, the stars were getting more sparse and the moon was about to set, but Ah-Tu still did not pick his pace up. Instead, he found a tree on the side of the road and sat down. He opened one of his bags, dug out half of a roasted duck, a flask of wine, and, remarkably, began to eat on the side of the road.

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed, all he could do was find a tree very far away and climb onto it. He waited, and watched. Suddenly, he realized that he was starving. He had not had a decent meal for the last two days. Back then it was because he did not want to eat, but now he simply could not eat.

    Ah-Tu tore off one of the legs of the duck and took a bite out of it, which he followed up by drinking some wine. Suddenly, he sighed as well.

    “Man it’s boring to just drink alone, if there was a person here with me, that would be great.” He mumbled to himself.

    Lu Xiao Feng was truly tempted to go and join him for a meal. But all he could do was watch him eat instead. Finally, Ah-Tu finished. He wiped his hands on his pants and was once again on his way. Lu Xiao Feng was pleasantly surprised to discover that, other than the leg that Ah-Tu tore off, the half of the roasted duck was basically untouched when Ah-Tu left it on the ground. This beggar seemed completely oblivious to the fact that he was a beggar.

    Of course, he was not really a beggar, but Lu Xiao Feng felt as if he was about to die of starvation, he was very tempted to pick up that half of a duck and use it to fill up his stomach. But he had to restrain himself. When he thought about all those scabs that covered Ah-Tu’s body, even if he was really about to die of starvation, he would choose death instead of eating that duck.

    More walking followed, and before he knew it, Lu Xiao Feng found that it was already day. The nights in the month of July are always relatively short as the sun suddenly rose. Slowly, but surely, more and more people on their way to make it to the city markets appeared on the road. Ah-Tu suddenly began to run as fast as he could on the road. A dirty beggar like him would never attract any attention on the road, whether if he was running or rolling.

    But how could Lu Xiao Feng run after him like a wild dog as well? But what could he could besides running? Even if other people took him to be a lunatic, he still had to run. And Ah-Tu was running quite fast too.

    When there were nobody else on the road, he walked slower than a snail, but when there were other people on the road, he was running faster than a rabbit. Lu Xiao Feng suddenly discovered that this man was not a easy person to deal with at all. To keep an eye on a person like this was not easy. Fortunately, Ah-Tu did not look back, and he also looked a bit tired as well. Suddenly, he hopped onto a back of a mule-pulled cart carrying discarded pig parts. He leaned up against the outside of the cart and looked like he was getting ready to take a nap.

    The driver of the cart turned back and glared at him rather viciously, but did not chase him off. Lu Xiao Feng sighed as he made another discovery: traveling as a beggar has quite a number of advantages that other people could have never guessed.

    No wonder there was the saying: “The pauper had it better than the prince.”

    The sun slowly rose to the top of the sky. Ah-Tu’s eyes were closed as he looked like he really did fall asleep. Instead, Lu Xiao Feng was covered in sweat, he was roasting under the heat, exhausted, hungry, thirsty, and just could not stop no matter what.

    To find First Madame Gong Sun, he had to follow this person no matter what. If he was lucky, he would have run into quite a number of vendors selling cold wine or beef rice on the side of the road. But luck was not on his side, there was not even pie vendor to be found.

    Turns out that the people in the south are very particular about eating. To eat, they have to find a comfortable place to sit down and eat. Small vendors like those very rarely sell anything. So it is nearly impossible for small vendors like that to stay in business at all. So all Lu Xiao Feng could do was to bear it.

    On the side of the road was fields after fields of irrigated farm land. Only now did the road curl around the base of a green mountain. Ah-Tu suddenly hopped off of the cart and began making his way up the mountainside. Under the shades of the trees and grass on the mountainside, it was at least quite a bit cooler. Ah-Tu, having taken a nap on the back of the cart, seemed to be full of energy.

    Lu Xiao Feng had no other choice but to pick himself up as well. He suddenly discovered yet another thing, not only was this dirty and downtrodden beggar physically strong, but also seemed to know a bit of lightness skills. Lucky for him that mountain was not very tall, besides, if Ah-Tu was willing to run up the mountainside, may his destination was not that far off. After all, it was very likely for First Madame Gong Sun’s secret headquarter to be on a mountain. But surprisingly, this mountain was completely deserted, not only was there no buildings to be found on either side of the road, but the mountain roads themselves were very narrow and twisted.

    Once at the peak, the air was suddenly filled with a delicious smell, a smell of stewed lamb. There must be a house there, must be First Madame Gong Sun’s house. But surprisingly, Lu Xiao Feng was wrong again. There was no building at the top, but a whole group of beggars eating and drinking.

    “Count yourself as lucky,” someone said as they noticed Ah-Tu. “We had just stole ourself a fat lamb and was about to enjoy it ourselves. Since you showed up, why don’t you join us?”

    “Well, I must have done something right these last couple of days, no matter where I go I keep running into good stuff to eat!” Ah-Tu laughed as he walked up to them.

    But Lu Xiao Feng was relegated to just staring once again. There was no way he could blend in with these beggars and eat that stolen lamb, nor could he allow himself to be seen by Ah-Tu. So all he could do was hide behind a rock, starving so bad that his belly began to hurt.

    He was even beginning to feel a bit of regret, he should have picked up and ate that left over duck last night. Ah-Tu seemed to have warmed himself to those beggar almost instantly. They were laughing and feasting to their hearts content, as if they were in 7th Heaven, but Lu Xiao Feng felt as if he had found the deepest reaches of Hell. He had never before suffered anything remotely like this in his life.

    Only now did he finally experience how frightening a thing starvation can be. If he could somehow use this little opportunity and catch a little shut eye, at least it would not be all bad.

    But there might be other people under the command of First Madame Gong Sun among these beggars, they could have been waiting here to take over for Ah-Tu. So Lu Xiao Feng could not afford to relax for one moment, he had to concentrate on spying all of them. If Ah-Tu secretly handed that yellow bag off to another person to take to First Madame Gong Sun without him noticing, then would not all this suffering he was going through be in vain?

    Finally, those beggars finished eating, Ah-Tu gave each and everyone of them a huge thanks before, incredibly, starting to make his way down the mountain. What was the purpose of this excursion to the top of this mountain?

    “Could he have actually handed that yellow bag off to someone else? How come I didn’t see it?” Lu Xiao Feng could not figure it out. But since he did not see anything, he had to keep following Ah-Tu.

    Half way down the mountain, Ah-Tu suddenly stopped and dug out that yellow bag from one of the flax bags he was carrying. After carefully inspecting it over, he put it back into the bundles on his back.

    “Lucky one of those lamb stealing thieves didn’t steal it,” he smiled and mumbled to himself. “Or else my head might not stay on my neck for too much longer!”

    What was in that yellow bundle? Why was it so important? Lu Xiao Feng could not see, nor could he guess.

    No matter what, at least the thing was still with Ah-Tu. More over, if that thing was that important, then he might have to hand it over to First Madame Gong Sun himself. It looked as if all the suffering that Lu Xiao Feng was going through was not in vain after all.

    But the worst thing of it all was that Ah-Tu actually went back down the mountain the same exact way he went up. He could not possibly have gone up the mountain just to eat some lamb could he? Could he have noticed that somebody was tailing him and was purposefully making him suffer a little? No, that could not be it either. He did not look nervous at all, and if he had noticed that someone was following him, he would not have gone back down the same way.

    Lu Xiao Feng was even more confident that he could not have been discovered. Even if he starved for two more days, he would still not make any kind of sound at all.

    Recently, quite a lot of people had come to the conclusion that his lightness kungfu was among the top 5 in the world.

    “When a person is burden with any kind of secret and important job, no matter if there was someone following him or not, his movements would always be purposefully meandering.”

    That must be why, Lu Xiao Feng seemed pretty satisfied with this explanation. After making his way down the mountain, Ah-Tu’s movements, as expected, did become much more stable. After another hour or so of walking, he entered a city. After wandering about the streets of the city twice, he entered a restaurant, but then exited out of the back door. Suddenly, he turned and went down an alley way, there was only one door in the entire alley. It was a back door in a remote corner of a flower garden of a particularly large complex.

    He looked as if he had just returned home as he casually walked in without even knocking. Once inside the yard, he seemed to be very familiar with the layout of the place as well. A couple of twists and turns and he had made his way through the flower bushes, over a small little bridge, and arrived at a small little pavilion sitting on the edge of a lotus pond. There was light on the upper floor of the pavilion. Only now did Lu Xiao Feng realize that it was past dusk again.

    Past dusk, the setting sun could barely be seen above the horizon. The little pavilion was magnificently lit, but nobody could be heard, not even a servant of any kind. Ah-Tu did not here either as he made his way upstairs. In a particularly ornate room upstairs, nobody could be seen, but a very expensive set of dishes and wines had been neatly laid out on a table.

    “Looks like his luck really is quite something, everywhere he goes he has something good to eat.”

    Even though nobody was there, there was eight sets of chopsticks and wine cups laid out on the table. Ah-Tu sat down, picked up a pair of chopsticks, picked up a piece of “Drunken Chicken”, but shook his head and put it back. He reached behind him and took out that yellow bundle yet again.

    “Didn’t expect me to be the first one here again.” He mumbled. He was obviously waiting for people. But what kind of people was he waiting for? Was First Madame Gong Sun among them?

    Beside the pavilion was a huge, overshadowing gingko tree covered with leaves and branches, perfect for hiding. And it sat perfectly facing the window of that room.

    Like a gecko, Lu Xiao Feng slid up the trunk of the tree facing away from the window and found a part of the tree that was particularly dense with leaves. It was getting dark, even if someone was looking straight out from the window, he would be perfectly safe. At least now that Ah-Tu had reached his destination, he did not have to worry about him pulling some trick anymore.

    Lu Xiao Feng was just about to take a deep breath and rest up a while when he heard the faint sounds of clothing flapping in the wind. A shadow of a human being flashed by the the branches of the tree and landed in the pavilion with a pretty “Ingenius Flip Cloud”

    “Pretty movements, very refined lightness kungfu too.” Lu Xiao Feng immediately opened his eyes wide to take a look. But he already knew that this person was not First Madame Gong Sun. Even though this person’s skills were top notch, it was still a notch below First Madame Gong Sun’s, and, of course, his.

    But this person was a woman too, she looked to be around 40, but she looked half that age. There was still a youthful exuberance and innocence about her, but her style that was hinted by that look from the corner of her eyes was far more seductive that anything a young girl could match. She wore on her a dark purple but form-fitting outfit with a yellow bundle in her hand as well.

    Back then, just as she flew by the tree, Lu Xiao Feng had already noticed that she was wearing a pair of red shoes as well.

    But now she had already sat down.

    “You are first again.” She gave Ah-Tu a sweet smile.

    “Men are always on the short end of these things, we always end up having to wait for women.” Ah-Tu sighed.

    Now that was something that Lu Xiao Feng could very well relate to. He realized that he was right, this Ah-Tu was not an easy customer to deal with, and his position was not low either. How else could he, a scab covered beggar, be able to sit as an equal to this purple clothed woman with great lightness kungfu and a very refined style? Could he be a martial art master?

    Lu Xiao Feng had fancied himself to be very knowledgeable when it comes to people and things in the martial world. But now he realized that there was still quite a lot of masters in this world that he did not know, at least these two sitting in front of him were people that he had never even seen before. The wind suddenly carried with it a wave of silver bell like laughter. The person had not arrived, but her laughter had.

    “Seventh Sister is here.” The purple clothed woman observed.

    She did not even finish before there was one more person in the room. Of course, it was another female. She had her hair done in two ebony black pony tails, her eyes glowed, her teeth shone, and her smile was sweet. She was a red clothed youth and had a yellow bundle in her hand as well.

    She gave Ah-Tu a little smile and then turned toward the woman in purple.

    “Second Madame, you are early!”

    “The elderly are always on the short end of these things, we always wait for the young ones.” sighed the woman in purple.

    “Since when did you ever end up on the short end of things?” She laughed, it was as silver bells were ringing again. “Other people should count their blessings if they don’t end up on the short end of anything you are involved with.”

    The woman in purple looked at her and sighed.

    “I don’t understand what are you laughing about? Why do you laugh all day and all night?”

    “Because she thinks that she’s very pretty when she laughs,” Ah-Tu matter of factly answered. “Not to mention that pair of cute dimples, if she doesn’t laugh, then how could anyone see them?”

    The girl in red gave her an angry glare, but started to laugh again. And this time she could not stop herself either. Lu Xiao Feng now knew that the woman in purple was known as Second Madame. Second Madame? Could it be short for Second Madame Gong Sun? If Second Madame Gong Sun was here, then surely First Madame Gong Sun could not be far behind. Lu Xiao Feng finally felt a bit of joy, at least all that suffering he went through was not for nothing. Besides, that girl in red’s laughter was truly something that just makes people happy upon hearing it. Pity Lu Xiao Feng did not know here either.

    “Let’s have a wager,” she was still laughing. “Who do you think will be the last to arrive this time?”

    “Third Sister, of course,” Second Madame replied. “She takes an hour just to wash her face, even if you burn her eye brows she would not hurry up one bit!”

    “That’s right!” The girl in red clapped her hands in excitement and laughed. “It must be her again this time.”

    “Wrong, it won’t be her this time.” Suddenly a voice objected from downstairs.

    The voice was very gentle, and very slow, as a person slowly came walking upstairs. Even though she was walking slowly now, Lu Xiao Feng had not noticed her she entered the building.

    The girl in red looked shocked to see her, but then she immediately laughed again.

    “Who would have known that a miracle just happened? Third Madame is not late!”

    Not only was her voice gentle, her demeanor was gentle as well, her smile even more gentle as she slowly walked up the stairs, slowly sat down, and slowly placed that yellow bundle of hers onto the table. Only then did she ever so lightly sigh.

    “Not only was I not late this time, but I was here before all of you.”

    “Really?” The girl in red asked.

    “I got here last night and slept downstairs. I had planned on coming up earlier and giving all of you a big shock!”

    “So why did you wait until now to come up here?” The girl in red laughed.

    “Because I had a lot of things that I needed to do!” Third Madame sighed.

    “Like what?”

    “I had to comb my hair, and then wash my face, and then put on my clothes, and then put on my shoes....” By this time, even Lu Xiao Feng, who was hanging off of a tree, had to laugh a little.

    That girl in red had completely doubled over in laughter.

    “These are truly some quite important things.” She said, trying to catch her breath.

    “I told you, she takes a hour to wash her face.” Even Second Madame could not help but laugh a little.

    “I’m only puzzled by one thing!” Ah-Tu suddenly cut in.

    “What one thing?” The girl in red asked, making sure she did before the other two.

    “Other than combing her hair, washing her face, putting on her clothes and shoes, how does she have time to do anything else in a day?”

    “This is truly a serious problem,” the girl in red was trying her best to hold back her laughter and answer with a straight face. “If she ever gets married in the future, she might not even have time to have kids, that’s quite serious indeed!”

    But before she could finish, she was almost rolling on the floor with laughter.

    “All I know is that you will certainly have time to have kids,” Third Madame did not seem to be mad at all, instead, she just slowly replied. “In the future you will at least have 70 or 80 kids.”

    “Even if I have one a year, how could I have that many?” The girl in red was still laughing.

    “If you have them in batches, then wouldn’t you be able to?”

    “Only pigs have batches after batches of little pigs, I’m not a....” The girl in red stopped in mid-sentence, she suddenly realized that she was basically making fun of herself.

    Second Madame could not hold back her laugh either.

    “Hehe, so you aren’t a pig huh? Well, you should immediately declare this to everyone, so as to avoid confusion!” She joked.

    “Oh I see how it is,” the girl in red pouted. “Fourth Sister and Sixth Sister aren’t here, so you are all taking this opportunity to make fun of me!”

    “So how is it any different if they are here?” asked Third Madame.

    “They would at least doing the talking for me, the two of you combined are no match for even one of them.”

    Another gust of wind blew by as three more people flew in from outside the window like birds.

    “There is at least one thing I’m sure of, I know she’s not a little pig!” One of them smiled and said.

    The girl in red clapped her hands again in excitement and laughed.

    “Did you hear that? I just knew that Fourth Sister would be on my side.”

    “But what is she if not a little pig?” Third Madame asked instead.

    “She’s just a little hen, that’s all!” Fourth Sister answered.

    “I’m a little hen?” The girl in red was taken aback by the answer.

    “If you are not one, then why are you always going: ‘gegegege’, laughing nonstop day and night?”

    The girl in red could not laugh anymore, neither could Lu Xiao Feng - Among these last 3 women, he actually knew two of them. One of them was, of course, Jiang Qing Xia, that did not surprise him. But even in his wildest dreams he could not have imagined that their “Fourth Sister” was Ou Yang Qing! That famed prostitute who he had once so angered, that only loved money but did not care for looks, that one and only Ou Yang Qing!

    To see Ou Yang Qing together with Jiang Qing Xia, to see that Ou Yang Qing’s lightness kungfu was not below Jiang Qing Xia’s, Lu Xiao Feng had almost fallen off of his tree. This “Red Shoes” organization really did seem to have every kind of person. Ou Yang Qing and Jian Qing Xia were obviously prominent figures of this organization. There were eight pairs of chopsticks on the table, and now seven people had arrived.

    The woman in purple was Second Madame, that woman who took an hour to wash her face was Third Madame, Fourth Sister was Ou Yang Qing, Fifth Sister was Jiang Qing Xia, Sixth Sister was a white socksed, green robed, and head completely shaved nun, and that little hen that never stops laughing was number seven. So where was First Madame? How come First Madame Gong Sun have yet to show up? And that scab covered Ah-Tu, what was his relationship to them? Where does he rank?

    All seven of them had sat down and placed the yellow bundle in front of them. Only the head seat was still empty, obviously left for First Madame Gong Sun.

    “So what did you six sisters bring back this time?” Ah-Tu suddenly said. “Can you let me see it?”

    “Of course we can,” the girl in red answered, again making sure she answered before the others. “Since Third Madame was here first, why don’t we let her show us what she brought back first?”

    Third Madame did not object nor refuse, instead, she slowly reached out and began to untie the knots on her bundle. She had made 3 knots, but it took her nearly 10 minutes to merely untie the first knot.

    “You gals might be able to stand it, but I can’t,” the Second Madame sighed and meekly smiled. “Let me show you what I have first.”

    Now Lu Xiao Feng had his eyes wide open as he concentrated on the bundle. What was inside these mysterious yellow bundles? He had wanted to know a long time ago. So he was really more anxious to see its contents than anybody else present. Luckily for him, Second Madame’s movements were not slow and it was not long before she had opened up her bundle. Inside it was 70 or 80 different sized bank deposit books.

    “This year was not a very successful year for me, and I took 3 months off as well,” she explained. “So I was only able to take in about one million eight hundred and eighty thousand taels of silver from the bank houses around. But next year I’m sure I’ll be able to get twice as much.”

    In the span of one year, she was able to gather more than 1.8 million taels of silver, and still claim that it was a bad year? Lu Xiao Feng quietly sighed. He could not figure out for the life of him what business this Second Madame was involved in. From what he knew, the biggest and most powerful villains in the underworld were only able to take in about half as much as her. He could not think of any other business in this world that was more profitable the crime.

    “If we only have a little more than 1.8 million taels, then I guess we’ll have to curb our spending a bit this year.” Third Madame sighed.

    “How about you? How was your year?” Second Madame asked.

    “It wasn’t a bad year for me,” Third Madame smiled. “There seem to be quite a number of people who don’t want their noses recently.”

    Don’t want their noses, meaning that they don’t want their face, meaning that they are shameless. Lu Xiao Feng understood that sentence very well, but what did that have to do with her in take this year? That Lu Xiao Feng did not understand. Luckily, by this time Third Madame had finished untying those three knots on her bundle. Inside was a piece of oil cloth.

    She unraveled that layer of oilcloth, only to reveal another layer of red satin. Unbelievably, inside that red satin, was 70 or 80 different sized and different shaped noses! Human noses! Lu Xiao Feng almost fell out of his tree again. How could a woman so gentle and so polite that it would be difficult to imagine her killing an ant cut off 70 or 80 different noses with her own hands?

    “Well, since they did not want their noses anymore, I decided to just simply cut their noses off for them!” Third Madame gently said.

    “That is such a great idea!” The girl in red clapped her hands and laughed again.

    “But next year I won’t be doing this!”

    “What are you planning to do next year?” inquired the girl in red.

    “Next year I’ll be cutting off tongues!”

    “Cutting off tongues? How come?”

    “Because recently I discovered that there are people in this world that talks way too much!” Third Madame lightly sighed and slowly explained.

    “If I didn’t know you, I would have not believed you were such a ruthless and mean person even if you beat me to death!” The girl in red stuck her tongue a little and laughed like a silver bell.

    “I won’t kill you, the most I would do is cut off that tongue of yours!” Third Madame casually replied.

    The girl in red immediately retracted her tongue and shut her mouth, as if she was afraid to even let people see it. When it came to cutting off noses or cutting off tongues, this woman, who took an whole hour to wash her face, would not be slow.

    “Who does the biggest nose in here belong to?” Ou Yang Qing suddenly asked.

    “Why do you want to know?”

    “I’m always very interested in those men with big noses!” Ou Yang Qing joked.

    “That little girl has been spending too much time in that kind of places,” Second Madame laughed as she admonished her jokingly. “Two years in that place and not only is her heart blacker now, her skin is thicker too.”

    “Second Sister must be an insider as well,” Ou Yang Qing giggled. “She seemed to know full well the good things about men with big noses!”

    “Pity that the man with the biggest nose is a person with no nose now!” observed Third Madame.

    “So who are you talking about?” Ou Yang Qing asked.

    “Duan Tian Cheng!”

    When he heard this name, Lu Xiao Feng was shocked again. He had heard of this name before, and met the person before as well. Not only was “QuellingThreeMountains” Duan Tian Cheng’s nose huge, his style was too, as was his backing. Cutting off his nose, no matter by whom, was definitely not an easy thing to do.

    “Are we still planning to do the same thing as in the past?” The girl in red had kept her mouth shut for a long time and could not restrain herself anymore. “All of us drinking and eating and getting drunk to our hearts content?”

    “That is our tradition, of course it won’t change.” answered Second Madame.

    “Well then, since we are all here, why haven’t we started?” The girl in red asked.

    Lu Xiao Feng’s heart sank. - They are all here? - Is First Madame Gong Sun not coming at all today?

    “Who says that we are all here? Could you not see that there’s still a seat empty?” rebuked Second Madame.

    “Who else is coming?”

    “I heard that First Sister found you a younger sister!” Second Madame smiled.

    “Finally, someone younger than me!” The girl in red smiled too. “From now on, if any of you bully me around, I’ll just go and bully her around!”

    “Too bad she won’t be here today!” Ah-Tu suddenly said.

    “Why not? Does she not want to come?” Second Madame frowned.

    “She wants to, but cant!”

    “Someone won’t allow her?” Second Madame asked.

    Ah-Tu nodded.

    “Well if she’s not coming, then who are we waiting for?” The girl in red immediately cut in, anxious to get started.

    “A guest!”

    “We actually have a guest this year?” The girl in red’s eyes lit up.

    “Mmhmm!” answered Ah-Tu.

    “How well does he hold his wine?” The girl in red asked.

    “I hear he’s not bad!”

    “Well, no matter how well he holds his wine, as long as he dare to come today, I guarantee that he will come in vertically, but leave horizontally!” The girl in red laughed.

    “Looks like not only could he hold his wine, but he is pretty brave too,” Second Madame’s eyes flickered. “Or else he would have been scared away by that sentence of yours.”

    “He is not very brave?” The girl in red blinked.

    “He has not ran away yet.” Ah-Tu replied.

    “Well if he has not ran away yet, then why doesn’t he come in?” The girl in red laughed. “Could he possibly like the taste of wind better than the taste of wine?”

    “He’s already tasted a whole day of wind,” Ah-Tu matter of factly answered. “I would say he’s about had enough by now.”

    Someone sighed on the tree outside the window: “I really did have had enough.”

    As he sighed, Lu Xiao Feng floated in along with a gentle breeze. He had wanted to come in for a long time now.

    Seven people like this, how could they not know that there was a person on the tree outside of the window? Lu Xiao Feng had suddenly discovered that hiding outside was really a very stupid thing for him to do. He felt that he was becoming more and more like an idiot.

    But he did not look like an idiot. No idiot, no matter what kind of an idiot he is, would ever have four eyebrows.

    The girl in red looked at him, she suddenly clapped her hands and laughed.

    “I know who you are, you are that four eyebrowed idiot egg Lu Xiao Feng!”

  2. #22
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Posts
    3,036

    Default Book 2 - Chapter 8

    Chapter 8 - Duel After Drinks

    Starving for an entire day, tasting nothing but wind, was already a miserable thing. But the only thing more miserable than that is probably, while on the verge of passing out due to starvation, to be laughed at and called a big “idiot egg”.

    But Lu Xiao Feng laughed.

    “I know plenty of people call me ‘idiot egg’, but there’s plenty of people who likes to call me by another name!”

    “What name is that?” The girl in red asked.

    “Big rooster!”

    The girl in red blushed, blushed so much that her face was red like her clothes.

    “Actually, he has another, even better name.” Ou Yang Qing suddenly interrupted.

    “What name is that?” The girl in red immediately asked again, desperate to change the subject.

    “Three Eggs Lu.”

    “Three Eggs Lu?” The girl in red was puzzled. “What does that mean?”

    “Very simple really,” Ou Yang Qing nonchalantly replied. “Because he’s not only a big idiot egg, he’s a bastard egg as well as a flat broke poor egg. Add it together, doesn’t that equal three eggs?”

    “Oh my that is such a great name!” The girl in red was, once again, doubled over in laughter. “I have never heard of a name as good as that in my life!”

    “Well, since you are all so hungry, why don’t you guys break those three eggs open and fry it for food?” Second Madame joined in the conversation as well with an unassuming smile.

    “Because these three eggs aren’t that fresh anymore,” Ou Yang Qing replied. “They are rotten eggs as well.”

    “Now I’m only worried about one thing!” Third Madame sighed.

    “What’s that?” asked Ou Yang Qing.

    “I’m worried that he’s not a duck egg, but a chicken egg!”

    “That is really a very serious problem,” Ou Yang Qing nodded and replied with a straight face. “If he is a chicken egg, then a hen must have given birth to him, then isn’t he the little hen’s son?”

    Even though the girl in red’s face was even redder, she was completely and hopelessly doubled over with laughter. Lu Xiao Feng did not laugh, but he did realize two things.

    -You cannot afford to mess with women, especially women like Ou Yang Qing.

    -A man arguing with six women would be like a gentry trying to talk logic with six soldiers, he might as well buy a huge piece of tofu and smash himself to death with it. He had already made one mistake, so he did not want to make a second one. The girl in red was still laughing. Not only was her laughter pleasing to the ear, it somewhat infectious. Whenever anybody hears the sound of her laughter, their heart would inevitably be filled with joy, and it would make them laugh along for a little. But Lu Xiao Feng did not laugh. He suddenly lunged forward and, quick as a flash, grabbed the girl in red’s arm and twisted it behind her.

    “Watch out!” The Second Madame shouted.

    As soon as those two words came out of her mouth, the girl in red threw her other elbow back towards Lu Xiao Feng’s ribs, along with three other types of weapons from both sides.

    Their actions were fast, especially that green robed, white socked nun. A quick flash in her palms and a dagger was already flying towards him, its cold and sinister aura was so dense that it was hard for one to keep his eyes open. But too bad that Lu Xiao Feng was even faster, his chest and belly caved in slightly as both of his hands grabbed tightly onto the girl in red’s arm. The three weapons were flew out at the same time, and they stopped at the same time as well, their blades were no more than 10 centimeters away from the fatal points just under Lu Xiao Feng’s ribs.

    But Lu Xiao Feng did not move, in fact, he did not even blink. Because he knew that those moves would never have continued on their ways. If his brother had fell into an enemy’s hands, he would not dare to be so imprudent in his actions either. The veins were bulging on the hand that the green clothed nun used to hold her sword. To pull a move like that to a completely stop uses up tremendously more energy than the move itself.

    “Let go!” The nun viciously demanded, the tip of her blade trembling ever so slightly.

    Lu Xiao Feng did not let go.

    “I haven’t wronged you, why won’t you let go?” The girl in red asked, biting her lip, she could not laugh anymore.

    Lu Xiao Feng still did not let go, nor did he reply.

    “A big man like yourself picking on a little girl, have you no shame?” Ou Yang Qing coldly laughed, her sword already out of her sleeve.

    Lu Xiao Feng was not ashamed of himself. His face did not turn pale nor did it turn red.

    That glowing scimitar that Second Madame was holding had also been withdrawn from within her sleeve. It was not much longer than half a meter.

    “Between our two swords and one sabre, we could poke dozens of holes in you at any given moment!” She threatened.

    “If you don’t let go at this moment, we’ll make sure you die here!” Ou Yang Qing immediately added.

    Lu Xiao Feng suddenly laughed.

    “You don’t believe what we are saying?” Second Madame questioned him.

    “I believe every word that every one of you have said,” Lu Xiao Feng answered with a smile, “but I don’t believe you will really make a move!”

    “Oh really?” Second Madame coldly snickered.

    “Because I’m sure you have all noticed, I’m not a gentleman!” Lu Xiao Feng casually observed.

    “You are not even a man!” The nun viciously rebuked.

    “So therefore, I am capable of quite a lot of things!”

    “What are you planning to do to her?” The Second Madame’s expression changed noticeably.

    “I really want to let her go!”

    This reply was totally unexpected.

    “Why aren’t you letting her go?” Second Madame immediately inquired.

    “As soon as you promise me two things, I’ll let her go!”

    Second Madame pondered for a bit.

    “As long as you let her go, forget about two things, even if....”

    The next portion of what she wanted to say was: “... even if it was two hundred things, I’ll comply!”

    But Second Madame did not finish her sentence.

    “Even if it was half a promise, we will never comply!” Third Madame, who had been quietly sitting in her seat this entire time, suddenly shouted.

    Her voice was still that slow, that gentle, that tender. But by the time the final word came out of her mouth, she struck! Her strike was neither slow nor tender. Her weapon of choice was a whip, a glowing, ebony black, snake-like whip. While she was quietly and peacefully sitting there, she had secretly unwounded her whip under the table. When she struck with her whip, it flew in even faster than a snake, and even deadlier than the deadliest of snakes.

    “Watch out for Seventh Sister!” Second Madame uttered in surprise.

    But Third Madame did not seem to care. The tip of the whip curled like the head of a poisonous snake as it headed toward the fatal artery just below and behind Lu Xiao Feng’s ear. But Lu Xiao Feng had already slid out of the way, taking along with him the girl in red, they slid out about 3 meters. The Third Madame suddenly lept up in the air and sent her whip crashing down from above. She seemed to have completely forgotten that her Sister was completely at the mercy of her foe as her moves left no course of retraction. Lu Xiao Feng sighed to himself. He did not believe that such a quiet and proper lady as this Third Madame would be such an aggressive woman. He did not believe that she would actually attack.

    Now that she had attacked, what could he possibly do to the girl in red? If he harmed her, then her sisters would surely fight him to the death. If he let her go, then her sisters would still fight him to the death. So the only thing left for him to do was to fight back! Other than that, he did not seem to have any other options. The whip from Third Madame just simply did not allow him to have another road to take.

    Second Madame suddenly stomped her foot.

    “Alright, let’s get rid of him first!”

    “What about our Sister?” Ou Yang Qing asked.

    “If he dares to touch one hair on our sister, I’ll cut off every piece of meat from his body off his bones piece by piece!”

    During this simple exchange, Third Madame’s snapped her whip 20 times more. Lu Xiao Feng sighed again. He did not like seeing people bleed and especially detests seeing women bleed. But he was not able to keep dodging any longer, that whip was truly too fast, too fierce. He had to retaliate. Like a shooting rainbow, Second Madame’s scimitar came piercing in as well. Her moves were strange, but they were even more vicious than they were unorthodoxed.

    Now that she had made a move, it was impossibly for Ou Yang Qing to not participate either. But it was at this precise moment, a “bang” could be heard as a wine cup hit her scimitar. A pair of chopsticks suddenly came in from the side and grabbed a hold of that snake-like whip. Ah-Tu!

    That pair of chopsticks was, incredibly, in Ah-Tu’s hand!

    The Third Madame’s complexion was a steely green as she glared at him.

    “I don’t like to be forced by others!” She slowly said.

    “I know,” replied Ah-Tu.

    “If I fell into his hands, none of you needs worry about me and hold anything back either!”

    “I know.”

    “Then why aren’t you letting me attack?”

    “Because even though he might not be a gentleman, he’s still a human being after all!”

    “Huh?”

    “At least he hasn’t used our Sister as a shield against your whip!”

    Third Madame thought about it for a moment before slowly returning to her seat. Once again, she was properly and quietly sitting in her seat, not moving one bit. Second Madame sat down as well, holding her wrist in one hand. Even though she had held on to her scimitar, her wrist was numb with pain due to the wine cup. But there was nary a trace of indignation on her face. She seemed completely submissive towards this scab covered beggar. Lu Xiao Feng eyes were glowing.

    “You were saying earlier about two promises that you wanted us to make?” Ah-Tu suddenly asked.

    Lu Xiao Feng nodded.

    “Why don’t you tell us the first one!”

    “I was going to ask you to take me to First Madame Gong Sun!”

    “And now?”

    “Now that is needless!”

    “Why?”

    Lu Xiao Feng looked at him straight in the face.

    “Because now I am already watching First Madame Gong Sun!”

    Ah-Tu smiled. His smile looked very odd, it looked liked the smile of a mannequin.

    “In all honesty, I should have figured out you were First Madame Gong Sun a long time ago,” Lu Xiao Feng sighed despite of himself. “Not only did I follow you for a day, I had seen you once before!”

    “Actually, more than once!” Ah-Tu laughed.

    “More than once?” Lu Xiao Feng was quite surprised by this revelation.

    “That night in the WestGarden was not the first meeting between us!”

    “Then where was our first meeting?” Lu Xiao Feng was even more puzzled.

    Ah-Tu did not answer his question directly, but instead asked a question in return.

    “Do you remember Huo Xiu?”

    Of course Lu Xiao Feng remembers Huo Xiu.

    “That day when you walked out from Huo Xiu’s little pavilion and was waiting at the foot of the hill for Hua Man Lou, did an old woman carrying a hand basket full of a freshly picked herbs walk by you?”

    “That woman was you?” Lu Xiao Feng almost shouted.

    Ah-Tu nodded.

    “You were also there on that day?”

    Again, Ah-Tu laughed a little.

    “If I wasn’t there, then how is it that Huo Xiu is now trapped in that cage?”

    Lu Xiao Feng was speechless. Only now, at this very moment, did he finally understand why Huo Xiu’s machine beneath the stone platform malfunctioned. It was not because a mouse had randomly found its way in and locked the machine up. There is nothing in the world that coincidental, and there is no such thing as miracles either. After all, miracles are nothing but creations of man!

    “I knew that Huo Xiu was an old fox, but I wouldn’t have cared even if he had cut you up and sold you to the butcher,” Ah-Tu continued. “But he shouldn’t have sold Shang Guan Fei Yan as well.”

    Of course, Shang Guan Fei Yan was one of her people as well. Lu Xiao Feng suddenly remembered that pair of red shoes with a flying swallow embroidered on them.

    “He killed my sister, then he must die,” Ah-Tu nonchalantly concluded. “Even though he’s still alive at this moment, I think he would much rather be dead!”

    “Did Xue-Er see you that day?” Lu Xiao Feng suddenly asked.

    “That kid is truly a clever little devil,” Ah-Tu smiled. “After you two left, she immediately found her way to where the machinery under the stone platform was. She knew that there must be something down there!”

    “She saw you?”

    “No, she didn’t see him, but she did see the pair of red shoes that I left there!”

    “And that’s why she thought that her sister wasn’t actually dead!” Lu Xiao Feng smiled sadly.

    “In the end, she is still just a kid, she’s still too wishful in her thinking,” Ah-Tu sighed. “Those who died in Huo Xiu’s hands could never come back!”

    “And that’s why you left Huo Xiu alive, you are leaving him to her!”

    “Correct, I want her to get her revenge herself.”

    “But I don’t get it, why would you leave all of Huo Xiu’s treasures to her? You look like you need that treasure very much as well!”

    Ah-Tu’s eyes suddenly displayed a very odd expression.

    “Pity that the amount that she could get from Huo Xiu is not much anymore.”

    “Oh?”

    “That treasure had long fallen into another’s hands, nobody could possibly hope to get a single tael of silver from this person’s hands!”

    “Who is this person?” Lu Xiao Feng frowned. “And how did this huge treasure fall into this person’s hands?”

    Ah-Tu stared off into the distance, her eyes filled with an indescribable color of terror.

    “You had said you wanted us to promise you two things,” she suddenly changed the subject and coldly asked. “You have told us one, what is the other thing?”

    “I want you to leave with me!”

    “You want me to go with you?” Ah-Tu laughed again. “Have you fallen for me?”

    “Indeed I have!”

    “Have you fallen for that sugar roasted chestnut selling granny?” Ah-Tu asked, stilling chuckling. “Or this scab covered beggar?”

    “I have fallen for another you!”

    “You are talking about - the Embroidery Bandit?” Ah-Tu’s eyes flickered.

    Lu Xiao Feng nodded.

    “You think I’m the Embroider Bandit?”

    “Do you deny it?”

    “Looks like even if I deny it now, it would be of no use!” Ah-Tu sighed.

    The facts were there, the evidences fit, what use could her denial have?

    “Well, at least you had rescued me once,” Lu Xiao Feng sighed. “I’m not a person who forgets such things!”

    “I know,” Ah-Tu plainly replied, “you are just an idiot egg!”

    All Lu Xiao Feng could do was pretend he did not hear that.

    “Are you planning to take me to Jin Jiu Ling for the punishment?”

    “I guarantee that you will receive a fair and impartial trial and judgement!”

    Suddenly, there was a “dong!” Second Madame’s scimitar had been spiked into the table. The green clothed known was holding the blade of her sword in her other hand. Ou Yang Qing’s expression was one of a cold snicker, and Jiang Qing Xia’s lips were pale.

    “You want my big sister to go with you? Are you dreaming?” The girl in red suddenly began to laugh, her laughter now was no longer that joyous to listen to.

    “He’s not dreaming,” Ah-Tu plainly declared after she had finished laughing. “I could very well leave with him!”

    The girl in red was speechless, everyone was speechless. Even Lu Xiao Feng was caught off guard by what she just said.

    “I like men who could get things done, men with abilities,” Ah-Tu slowly continued. “If a man with some real abilities show up, I would be willing to go anywhere with him.”

    Someone was laughing.

    This time it was Ou Yang Qing.

    She was the first one to understand Ah-Tu’s meaning: “So if you want our big sister to leave with you, first you have to show us if you truly got what it takes!”

    “I have quite a number of abilities,” Lu Xiao Feng smiled, “it’s just that I don’t know which particular ones are you looking for?”

    “I only want to see three kinds!”

    “Three kind?”

    Ah-Tu stared at him, her pupils seemingly dilating.

    “We will have three rounds, if you can beat me twice out of the three rounds, then I’ll go with you!”

    “Best of three? This sounds quite interesting!”

    “I guarantee it will be more interesting than you can hope for!”

    Lu Xiao Feng’s eyes flickered.

    “So what are we going to compete in the first round? Drinking?” He joked. He knew that she was not going to compete drinking with him. Only the dumbest of women would compete drinking with a man like him.

    But Ah-Tu replied with a sentence that he could not have expected even in his wildest of dreams: “Ok! Drinking it is!”

    Only when the wine was placed on the table did Lu Xiao Feng realize that he just did another very dumb thing. At the moment, he was tired like an old ox and starving like a crippled wolf. What he needed to drink most right now is a huge bowl of chicken soup, but instead he asked for a drinking contest.

    Drink is not that different from any other activity, it requires energy. Besides, at the moment, it was not a big deal for First Madame Gong Sun to get drunk, but he could ill afford to be, this place is crawling with First Madame Gong Sun’s people. In reality, he should not even think about touching just a drop of alcohol. But there were six jugs of wine on the table now. Six jugs of Song of Huzhou.

    By now, the scabs and scars on “Ah-Tu”‘s body was no where to be found, nor was he bald anymore. “He” had just changed into a soft and fluffy outfit, there was some slight make up on “her” face. Appearance-wise, she looked just like an ordinary middle aged house wife. Could this be her real appearance? Lu Xiao Feng could not tell, nor could he guess. Nobody knows what First Madame Gong Sun really looked like. Even her voice could change at any given moment. At the moment, her voice was one of a diligent hostess entertaining her guest.

    “Six jugs of wine for 2 people to drink,” she smiled as she stared at Lu Xiao Feng, “do you think this would be enough?”

    “I think it would be enough for 2 horses,” Lu Xiao Feng shot back a miserable smile, “pity the food to help the wine go down isn’t much to talk about!”

    There was still only that small plate of cold vegetables on the table.

    “There isn’t enough food, that is true,” First Madame Gong Sun smiled. “Luckily, we are having a drinking contest, not an eating one!”

    Of course, she knew that when one drinks on an empty stomach, the amount of alcohol one can drink reduces to by at least one fold; and right now Lu Xiao Feng’s stomach is empty like a beggar’s wallet. After just three bowls of wine, he was already feeling something was not right; after 6 bowls, he suddenly began to feel as if he was doing alright, two more bowls, and he discovered that he was almost fighting the urge to gorge himself silly with wine. Then, for some unknown reason, he suddenly discovered that he was puking, puking so hard that he was sure he was puking all of his innads out.

    “You are drunk!” First Madame Gong Sun was still as sober and collected as Guan Zhong. “You lost this round!”

    Lu Xiao Feng wanted to refute that, yet he could not, so all he could many was some quite mumbles in response.

    “I don’t feel drunk at all, it’s just that my stomach is feeling a bit uncomfortable!”

    “Are you not admitting defeat?”

    “Alright I’ll admit it, what’s the big deal!”

    Of course, it was no big deal. In his mind right now, there was nothing in the world that is of great importance. Besides, so he lost the first round, there was still two rounds left. But he forgot one thing. Losing this round has ensured that he has also lost the next two rounds as well. The only thing that a drunk man can compete with other people in is sleeping. Obviously, First Madame Gong Sun was not going to have a sleeping contest with him.

    “For the second round, we’ll have a sword duel!” First Madame Gong Sun casually declared.

    “Alright, a sword duel!” Lu Xiao Feng puffed out his chest. “What’s the big deal?”

    “Good, please wait here while I go change!” First Madame Gong Sun asked.

    “You are changing again?”

    “Mm!”

    “Are we having a duel or are we having a fashion competition?”

    “See, you just don’t understand, when dueling, one must wear an outfit for dueling!”

    “Why?”

    First Madame Gong Sun smiled.

    “Because one’s clothing can affect one’s disposition, one’s demeanor; and also because women naturally like to change!”

    Lu Xiao Feng was now no longer hungry nor tired. Alcohol can usually give people a strange kind of energy and strength. But this surge of energy and strength is a deceiving kind - even if it could not fool anyone else, it could at least be used to fool one’s self. He was suddenly reminded of those “Drunken Masters” that was a part of the folklores of the martial world. Rumors say that these people “only fight well when they are drunk, and the more they drink the better they fight.”

    The stories says that the tiger killing Wu Song of the legendary Heroes of the Water Margins was one such of a man. If he drank one jug of wine, he would have one “jug” worth of fighting ability, if he drank 10 jugs of wine, then he would be 10 times better. Right now, Lu Xiao Feng felt as if he had drank about 10 jugs of wine. He suddenly felt a great surge of confidence in himself, as if his own ability had improved 10 folds. Even if he was attacked by 7 or 8 tigers now, he was sure that he would be able to beat every single one of them to death. Pity that what he faces now was not tigers but First Madame Gong Sun. When true masters duel, one’s timing, positioning, and decision making must not be off by even the slightest of margins.

    Could Lu Xiao Feng still make the correct decisions and judgements at this moment? From the looks of him, he was having a hard time deciding whether or not this room was round or square. Until now, Jiang Qing Xia had not said half a word to him, but at the moment, the look in her eyes carried with them a hint of sympathy and sadness, as if she was watching a person that was about to die soon. Other than the Third Madame, the looks in the eyes of all those present was similiar to hers.

    Lu Xiao Feng stared at Third Madame for a moment before suddenly bursting out with a smile.

    “If I lose, could it be ok if I cut off my ears and give them to you?”

    “I already told you, I’m not looking for ears anymore!” Third Madame quietly replied.

    “Oh that’s right, you are now looking for tongues!”

    “But I don’t want your tongue!”

    “Then what do you want?”

    “I want your head!”

    “Alright!” Lu Xiao Feng leaned back and heartily laughed. “If I lose, then I will hand this head of mine over to you!”

    To him, whether someone had a head or not did not seem that important. Now, when Jiang Qing Xia looked at him, it was as if she was looking at a headless person, even the look from that girl in red showed some pity. Anybody could easily see that this four browed drunk was going to lose this next round!

    But Lu Xiao Feng was still looking for some more wine. The wine jugs were on the table in front of him, yet he still did not see them. This was because his eyes had practically jumped out of their sockets, for someone had just stepped out from the back. It was a woman. A beautiful woman, a woman more dazzling than the sunrise, more graceful than a queen, more heavenly than an angel. Even the clothes was wearing did not seem to be made by human hands but was instead created by raveling together the colors and the other worldly glow of the rainbows in the sky.

    Lu Xiao Feng did not recognize this woman, for never in his life had he seen such a woman of such beauty and grace. Fortunately, he still recognized the swords in her hands, a pair of short, almost dagger-like swords with blades about 20 centimeters long and a sash of red silk tied to each handle. Could she be First Madame Gong Sun? The same person as that ordinary middle aged house wife just a earlier? The same person as that scab covered beggar, that sugar roasted chestnut selling granny? Lu Xiao Feng was rubbing his eyes. He almost could not believe what he seeing in front of him.

    First Madame Gong Sun was staring back at him, smiling.

    “Do you not recognize me anymore?”

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

    “There is just one thing I can’t figure out!”

    “What is that?”

    “I can’t figure out why a woman as beautiful as you would want to dress up like a old granny. If I were you, I wouldn’t do that even if I had a knife up against my neck!”

    “Well how do you know that this is my true appearance?”

    “I don’t know, I’m actually just hoping really!”

    “Why is that?”

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed again.

    “Because if I have to die in someone’s hands, my only wish is for me to die in the hands of someone like you.”

    “Well you really do know how to sweet talk a lady don’t you?” First Madame Gong Sun coquettishly replied. “Even my heart is getting close to being swept away.”

    She gracefully approached him, the rainbow colored outfit of hers swayed to some unfelt breeze, looking like hundreds of thousands of strands of dancing silk.

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed yet again.

    “Next time I get in a sword duel, I’ll make sure to dress up in an outfit like yours!”

    “Oh?”

    “You haven’t even made a move yet, and my eyes are already getting blurred!”

    “My heart is swept away, your eyes are blurred, I guess that makes us even!”

    “Not quite!”

    “No?”

    “You have a pair of swords in your hand, all I’ve got is a handful of sweat!”

    “Where’s your sword?”

    “I don’t carry a sword!”

    “You carry a sabre?”

    “No, don’t carry that either.”

    “A person like you? Not carrying any weapons when he goes out?” First Madame Gong Sun sighed. “That’s really quite dangerous!”

    “It is very dangerous, especially today.”

    “Do you want to borrow a sword?”

    “Yes.”

    “Who do you want to borrow from?”

    Lu Xiao Feng turned and smiled toward the Nun in Green.

    First Madame Gong Sun sighed again.

    “Turns out he’s not really drunk, he knows his stuff.”

    This sword was not that long either, but it almost seemed to glow. The sword’s aura was forboding and oppressive. Just the slightest flick of a thumb caused it to ring endlessly.

    “Such an excellent sword!” Lu Xiao Feng could not help but praise it as he gripped the sword in his hand.

    “Shame that this sword would today be in the hands of a soon to be dead drunkard!” The Nun in Green coldly observed.

    Lu Xiao Feng laughed.

    “The drunkard truly is a drunkard, but I wouldn’t be too sure about that soon to be dead part!”

    By now they had made their way down the pavilion and into the yard outside. Star light twinkled through spaces between the leaves of that huge ginkgo tree and onto Lu Xiao Feng’s face. That drunk look had suddenly and completely vanished from his eyes, he looked as sober as Zhu Ge Liang.

    “You are not drunk?” Second Madame uttered in disbelief.

    Lu Xiao Feng did not refute her claim.

    “If you weren’t drunk, then why did you admit defeat?” Second Madame pressed.

    Lu Xiao Feng let out a little smile.

    “If I didn’t admit defeat first round, I would have surely lost this second round, and forget the third round!”

    “Looks like this guy isn’t really an idiot egg,” Second Madame sighed.

    “But he is truly a bastard egg!” The girl in red viciously sniped, biting her lip.

    “Even if you did admit defeat the first round, you still might not win this second round!” First Madame Gong Sun casually observed.

    As soon as she finished her sentence, she made her move. Flashes of sword danced about as those multi-colored strands of silk she was wearing began to dance as well. Her entire being seemed to have turned into a dazzling and blinding sunrise, making it almost impossible for one to keep one’s eyes open, much less trying to make out where she was or where her swords were. If one cannot even make out where she was, how was one suppose to see her moves?

    During his first encounter with her, Lu Xiao Feng already knew that her moves and techniques were unpredictable and ever changing, to a point where they were almost more frightening than Xi Men Chui Xue’s moves. But only now did he know that last time her techniques were nowhere close to being at their full power. It seemed that the power of this type of technique could only be on full display when used with a multi-colored outfit like this. It had been said that these sword and sashes are not “weapons” but a name for an ancient dance where the dancer dance empty handed, twirling the sashes in air, and that it was only until First Madame Gong Sun did someone take this strictly spectacle dance and, by adding numerous changes, turned it into a true fighting technique that could be used to kill!

    Maybe she did not use swords when she danced in front Emperor Sheng Wen Shen Wu out of her fear that the aura of her swords would frighten His Majesty. But in private, she really did create a sword style, turning the “sword and sash” truly into a type of sword.

    Since this type of sword style was derived from a dance, it would obviously be different from all other sword styles. That was why First Madame Gong Sun purposefully changed into this outfit today, even if it revealed what appeared to be her real appearance. Because the true power of this sword style could only be displayed through “beauty”, and only a legendary beauty like herself could wield this style to its zenith!

    Lu Xiao Feng’s heart sighed. It was only until now that he realized that the secrets of martial arts was not something that could be imagined by any one person.

    Because this style of sword play was truly too unpredictable, its moves truly too complex, once it starts, it felt just like mercury as it seemed to bore into any and every opening! Even the slightest opening, the slightest mistake in his decisions, or the slightest lapse in concentration could lead to his immediate death! If he wanted to win, he had to rely on just one word!

    Speed! Use speed to cut through chaos, use no change to answer ever-change. As soon as First Madame Gong Sun began to make her move, his body had already took off as he flew towards the roof top opposite where they were.

    “He’s running away!” the girl in red shouted.

    Before she even finished saying those three words, Lu Xiao Feng took off again, his being and his sword seemed to have melted into one. The flashes of his sword was like a horse whip, like a rainbow, as it fell towards First Madame Gong Sun from all the way atop the rooftop. The glow of his sword flickered wildly but hurriedly, but there was no change in his move and it almost seemed as if he did not even have an exit move. He had actually transfered all the energy and power in his body into this one strike. --- No change, no variation, sometimes that is also the best variation of all.

    First Madame Gong Sun’s body was like the evening glow, her swords were like meteors, yet she still did not have enough time to react. All of the sudden, her body and swords all seemed to have been covered in the shroud of the aura of Lu Xiao Feng’s strike.

    “Deng!”

    The sound echoed through the night.

    The sword flashes converged and the silky evening covered the sky as scores of sashes on First Madame Gong Sun’s outfit were sliced off.

    Nobody moved, nobody made any sound.

    First Madame Gong Sun had already stopped moving, she motionlessly stood there, not attacking anymore. Lu Xiao Feng stopped attacking as well, he was also motionlessly standing there, staring at First Madame Gong Sun.

    “This round isn’t over yet!” Second Madame suddenly shouted. “Why did you two stop?”

    “If this round was a killing contest, then obviously it isn’t over,” Lu Xiao Feng casually replied. “But if this round was a sword duel, then I’ve already won!”

    First Madame Gong Sun finally let out a long sigh.

    “True, the power of that strike is something that I cannot defeat!”

    “Many thanks.”

    “But I could have never suspected that you could have pulled off such a move.”

    Lu Xiao Feng smiled.

    “Actually, I had just stolen that move!”

    “Where did you steal it from?”

    “Master of WhiteCloudCastle.”

    “Ye Gu Cheng?” First Madame Gong Sun was visibly shocked by the answer.

    Lu Xiao Feng nodded.

    “This strike is called ‘Outer Heaven Angel’, it’s the essense of Master of White Cloud Castle’s sword style, even the Wooden Taoist believes that it could be rightfully called the best sword skill in the world!”

    First Madame Gong Sun sighed.

    “This move is made before the move actually starts, its application left for after the move is made, it uses hardness to emulate softness, uses no variation as variation.” She observed. “It could truly be called the best sword skill in the world!”

    “If Master of White Cloud Castle could have heard First Madame say that himself, he would no doubt be very pleased!” Lu Xiao Feng smiled.

    “But had this move been pulled off by him, it might not have beaten me!” First Madame Gong Sun coldly replied.

    “Why not?” Lu Xiao Feng could not resist his curiosity.

    “Because he is an unmatched master swordsman, before he even made a move, I would have already been on guard for a move. But just then, when you had jumped onto the ridge of the roof, I had thought that you were trying to escape instead, hence my concentration slipped, hence I couldn’t block the strike you made with all the strength in your body!”

    “And also because I didn’t even carry a sword,” Lu Xiao Feng smiled and added. “You probably didn’t think I was capable of such a move!”

    “That is why softness can defeat hardness or how the weak can defeat the strong, it is the same principle!” First Madame Gong Sun sighed.

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed as well.

    “Luckily I’m not a famous swordsman at all, or else I might have really died in your hands today!”

    “But you haven’t won yet!” First Madame Gong Sun’s expression darkened. “We still have the third round!”

    The third and deciding round!

    “What do you want to compete in the third round?” Lu Xiao Feng asked.

    “Qing-Gong, lightness arts!”

    Lu Xiao Feng let out a little laugh.

    “I know that lightness kungfu is your specialty; besides, you are a man and naturally have a strength advantage over me.” First Madame Gong Sun added. “Competing against you in this with you definitely puts me at a disadvantage, so....”

    “So I should cut you some slack and let you get a little advantage as well!” Lu Xiao Feng finished for her.

    “You should at least let me get an early start!”

    “No problem!”

    “But if you catch me, then you’d have won, so you are not really getting the short end of the stick here anyways.”

    “I’m not a person who does things that gives himself the short end of the stick!”

    “I’ll order someone to hit the gong once as a signal, you can only start chasing once the gong stops ringing!”

    “The gong is only hit once?”

    “Just once.”

    “Looks like I’m not really getting the short end of the stick after all!”

    “But I just have to....”

    “Of course you have to go change!” Lu Xiao Feng eagerly finished her sentence for her. “There’s an outfit for drinking, an outfit for dueling, of course there has to be another outfit for racing.”

    First Madame Gong Sun let out a peal of laughter.

    “You really aren’t an idiot, not at all!” She said coquettishly.

    The night was as cold as water. The expressions on the sisters’ faces were cold like water too -- like frozen water.

    The girl in red suddenly let out a bitterly cold snicker.

    “Lying about being drunk, then stealing other’s moves, I despise this kind of man the most.”

    Lu Xiao Feng smiled.

    “I wasn’t trying to make you like me to begin with!”

    “I just want to ask you, are you a real man or not?”

    “Can’t you tell?”

    “I can’t tell.”

    “I figured you wouldn’t be able to,” Lu Xiao Feng sighed, “you are still just a kid!”

    The girl in red shot him a vicious look before swiftly turning around and walking off, as if she could not be bothered with him anymore.

    Ou Yang Qing’s eyes flickered slightly.

    “Well you can’t dismiss me as a mere kid can you?” She asked.

    “Of course you are not a kid, you are almost old enough to be a granny.”

    Ou Yang Qing also shot him a vicious look before turning and walking off into the pavilion.

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed and took a seat on the stone steps.

    “If a man lives to be sixty, at least 10 years of his life would have been a total waste.” He mumbled to himself.

    “How is it wasted?” Second Madame’s curiosity got the better of her.

    “Of those 10 years, at least 5 years is wasted waiting for women to change.”

    “And the other 5 years?”

    “You sure you want to hear it?”

    “Are you scared to say it?”

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed again.

    “Well, if you must know, I’ll tell you. The other 5 years are wasted waiting for women to take them off.”

    Second Madame’s face flush red with fury while the nun in green’s face turned white in anger.

    “I changed my mind!” Third Madame suddenly declared.

    “Changed your mind about what?” This time it was Lu Xiao Feng’s curiosity that got the best of him.

    “I have decided that I want to cut off you tongue instead!” Third Madame coldly answered. At this time, a man in a green shirt with a faceful of beard came walking out of the pavilion carrying a gong in his hand and stopped on the stone steps.

    “I guess my luck isn’t that bad after all.” Lu Xiao Feng mumbled to himself again. “At least I’m waiting for First Madame to change, if I was waiting for someone else, that could have been really bad!”

    “Someone else?” Third Madame shot him a vicious look.

    “I didn’t say you, what are you getting all worked up over?” Lu Xiao Feng replied.

    Third Madame’s face was turning red and white in anger as well now. At this moment, the gong suddenly rang as 3 people flew out from within the pavilion.

    The three beings were all dressed in identical black outfits, even their faces looked the same. As soon as they flew out the building, they somersaulted once and shot out in three different directions. The techniques the 3 of them used were the same as well. Before the ringing of the gong had stopped, all three were outside of the walls surrounding the yard. Which one was the real First Madame Gong Sun? -- The girl in red and Ou Yang Qing had pretended to get mad just moments before strictly so they could go back in and dress up as the two decoys. Who should Lu Xiao Feng chase after? No matter which one he chooses to chase after, even if he caught up to her, he would have surely lost the other 2.

    And of those 2 that he lost, it is more than likely that one of them was First Madame Gong Sun. This was like the old shell game, except much harder. Lu Xiao Feng was at a lost as to what to do.

    Second Madame, Third Madame, and the nun in green all had a slither of a cold sneer on their faces -- Lu Xiao Feng still fell into a trap this time.

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed as well.

    “Looks like I still fell for her tricks this time!” He miserably smiled as he stood up and mumbled. “Well no matter what, let’s catch one and go from there!”

    He took off, but suddenly, and just as quickly, flew back and, in a blink of an eye, grabbed the wrist of the man carrying the gong.

    “Bang!”

    The gong fell onto the ground as the man was startled by this turn of events.

    “What did you do that for?” He asked in a raspy voice.

    “Not for any particular reason,” Lu Xiao Feng smiled. “I just want to take you to meet someone!”

    “Who?”

    “Jin Jiu Ling!”

    The man stared at him, stared at him for a long time before suddenly bursting out in laughter, beautiful laughter that sounded like the orioles chirping.

    “Lu Xiao Feng truly is Lu Xiao Feng, even I’m impressed!”

    Turned out that this gong carrying man was the real First Madame Gong Sun.

    “How did you see through my disguise?”

    Nobody could figure out how Lu Xiao Feng had saw through it all.

    “When Miss Ou Yang got mad and walked back inside, I knew something was wrong!” Lu Xiao Feng smiled.

    “Why is that?”

    “Because she’s not the type of person whom I could chase off in anger with just one sentence!”

    “Three women went in and three women came back out, how did you know that I wasn’t among those three?”

    “I didn’t.”

    “You didn’t?”

    “I only know that a grown man with a faceful of beard shouldn’t smell this good!”

    First Madame Gong Sun sighed.

    “Seems like I shouldn’t have stood this close to you,” she observed with an exasperrated smile, “it is really quite dangerous for a woman to get too close to you!”

    “Especially a woman who smells as good as you!” Lu Xiao Feng smiled.

    First Madame Gong Sun let out a peal of laughter.

    “But I could have never thought that you would be like a little puppy, not only could you use your eyes, but your nose as well!”

    “This is also something that I have only recently picked up from someone else!”

    “From Hua Man Lou?”

    “Correct.”

    “Seems like anybody else’s good traits would get picked up by you in no time!” First Madame Gong Sun sighed.

    “That’s because I’m always very modest.”

    “A modest person would always have good fortunes!” First Madame Gong Sun nodded.

    “That’s why all of you should be a little modest right now and listen to what I have to say!”

    “We are all listening!” First Madame Gong Sun assured him.

    “Now that you have fallen into my hands, if your sisters want you to stay safe and sound, then they would do best to stay here for instructions.” His eyes slowly scanned over Second Madame and Third Madame’s faces before coldly continuing. “If someone still want to try something, then that means she wants you to die sooner so she could take over and be the head of this place.”

    “Don’t worry, nobody here wants me to die!” First Madame Gong Sun smiled and replied.

    Third Madame suddenly stomped her foot despite of her cold demeanor.

    “Do you really intend to leave with him?”

    “You should know that I’m not a person who would go back on my words,” First Madame Gong Sun casually replied. “Besides, even if I didn’t want to leave with him, I would still have to. As soon as this man grabs a hold of a woman, he wouldn’t let go even if it killed him.”

    “Especially a woman as pretty and smelled as good as you.” Lu Xiao Feng nonchalantly added.

    “Right now, I just want you to be careful of one thing!” First Madame Gong Sun said.

    “What’s that?”

    “Careful your hands don’t get cut off!”

  3. #23
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Posts
    3,036

    Default Book 2 - Chapter 9

    Chapter 9 - Success and Failure

    Meng Wei had always been very alert even in his sleep. A man known around the pugilist world as “Three-Headed Snake” must be a light sleeper, else his head would have been cut off a long time ago even if he had thirty heads. But when he woke up tonight, there was already a person standing at the head of his bed, watching him with a pair of almost glowing eyes. The night was still deep, there was no light in the room, so he could not make out this person’s face.

    He suddenly felt that the center of his fists were covered in cold sweat. This person did not move, nor did he. He even purposefully let out a couple of snores to trick the person into believing that he was still asleep. Suddenly, he made his move as he tried to grab the sabre that was hidden underneath his armpit. But that person’s movement was even faster. As soon as his arm began to move, this person immediately pinned his shoulders down onto the bed. Never in his life had he ever met a person with such a strong pair of hands, had these hands been around his throat, his breathing would have stopped within an instant.

    In reality, his breathing was almost about to stop anyways.

    “What do you want?” He asked in a shaken voice.

    This person’s answer was very simple.

    “Money.”

    “How much?” Meng Wei immediately asked.

    “A hundred thousand taels!” This was quite a greedy person as well. “If you can’t hand over 100,000 taels, I’ll take your life!”

    “I’ll hand the money over!” Meng Wei did not even hesitate.

    “I want it all right now!”

    “I can give them to you right now!”

    The person suddenly began to laugh.

    “Didn’t know that Boss Meng was such a generous man.”

    As he laughed, his voice changed. Such a familiar voice.

    “Lu Xiao Feng?” Meng Wei uttered in surprise.

    “That’s me.” The person nodded.

    Meng Wei took a couple of deep breaths before he gave into the urge to complain.

    “That was quite a funny joke you played there, scared me half to death!”

    “I wasn’t planning on playing this joke either,” Lu Xiao Feng’s answered with an apologetic laugh. “But I’m feeling particularly cheerful today!”

    “You’ve caught the Embroidery Bandit?” Meng Wei’s eyes immediately lit up.

    “Where’s your Boss Jin?” Lu Xiao Feng did not answer but instead asked a question of his own.

    “He already went back to the city!”

    “Is the poison giving him any trouble?”

    “Lucky for him you immediately took him to Doctor Shi’s place, Shi Jing Mo is indeed a great doctor.”

    “I have a fugitive with me, so I have to be extra careful. That’s why I could only come to you at night, I can’t let her underlings find out where I am!”

    “I understand.” Meng Wei replied. Secretly, he was quite relieved with himself that he did not let Xiao Hong stay the night. He had never let a woman stay the night because he had never trusted any woman. This was a good habit that he had just decided that he must continue to uphold -- had Lu Xiao Feng found a famed prostitute such as Xiao Hong sleeping on his bed, there was a risk that Boss Jin would find out, and that could not have been a good thing.

    Lu Xiao Feng quietly thought for a moment.

    “Could you possibly message your people in Yang Cheng with your messenger pigeons to tell your Boss Jin to wait for me midnight tomorrow night at the pavilion where the Snake King used to live?”

    “Of course!” Meng Wei jumped up from his bed and slipped on his boots. “I keep the messenger pigeons in the yard just behind here.”

    “You have brush and ink here too?”

    “Yes.”

    “Well why don’t you write your message right now before going outside?”

    Meng Wei nodded and lit a couple of lanterns before grinding out some ink.

    “Master Lu has succeeded, requests Boss Jin to wait at the Snake King’s old headquarter midnight tomorrow night.”

    For a man who had made a living in the Six Doors ever since he was a little kid, his writing was not all that bad, and the language flowed quite smoothly.

    Lu Xiao Feng stood by his side, smiling.

    “Why don’t you write it in Xiao Zhuan? That way the information won’t leak out even if it falls into the wrong hands?”

    {Note: Xiao Zhuan is a form of writing that was set down by Qing Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, as the unifying form of writing for all Chinese. During the Han dynasty, Xiao Zhuan gradually evolved into what is pretty much the Traditional Chinese that we know today; however, the educated elite of China still studied and learned Xiao Zhuan due to its “aesthetic quality”. Though most people could not read Xiao Zhuan, it is still used in everday life, especially as seals.}

    “I’m an old, uneducated man.” Meng Wei replied with a deprecating smile. “I can’t even write Da Zhuan, nevermind Xiao Zhuan. But you don’t have to worry, these pigeons are all trained by Boss Jin personally, they won’t go astray.”

    “Would he get this message in time?”

    “Absolutely!” Meng Wei assured him as he rolled the message up and carefully placed it into a very delicated carved hollow tube made from a section of bamboo. There was a fire brand imprinted on the surface of the bamboo.

    “Are you going to send the message now?”

    “I am going right now.”

    He draped an overcoat over his shoulders and hurriedly walked out. After a bit of a wait, the sound of a bird flapping its wings as it flew by could be heard overhead.

    Lu Xiao Feng waited in his room the entire time, waited until he returned. Only then did he cup his fist and got ready to leave.

    “I’m leaving for Yang Cheng right now!”

    Meng Wei hesitated but finally had to ask.

    “I was just out there, there didn’t seem to be anyone outside.”

    “There isn’t.”

    “Then where is First Madame Gong Sun?” Meng Wei asked with a forced smile.

    Lu Xiao Feng smiled.

    “If you had detained her, would you walk around out in the open with her?”

    Meng Wei shook his head.

    “Then how do you have her detained?”

    “A secret won’t be a secret if it gets out,” Lu Xiao Feng answered with a casual smile. “Once I escorted her back, I’ll tell you when I get the chance!”

    Meng Wei began to smile as well.

    “Master Lu truly is a careful and methodical man. Like I said, if Master Lu would go into our profession, he would surely be the number one man in all of Six Doors!”

    Unexpectedly, Lu Xiao Feng sighed in reply.

    “The thing is, I know that I’l never match up to that Boss Jin of yours no matter what I do!”

    “But Master Lu is the one who captured First Madame Gong Sun!” Meng Wei protested.

    Lu Xiao Feng broke out into a miserible smile.

    “He got me to do the hard work for him while he enjoys himself relaxing on a bed. Just based on that, you could see how much better he is than I am!”

    ***

    The set up of the little pavilion was still the same, the only difference being the person sitting in the chair. Jin Jiu Ling was lying on the chair with his eyes shut. His complexion looked excellent, and his mood was excellent as well. That delicate and fulfilling dinner tonight was still in his belly. Master Mai of BrightnessPark’s works could always be counted on to satisfy him. Besides, now that the bandit was captured, he could enjoy life without worry for another couple of years. He felt that he was indeed very fortunate, so lucky that he could find a helper as good as Lu Xiao Feng.

    Even though Lu Xiao Feng had not arrived yet, he was not the least bit worried, because he knew that Lu Xiao Feng’s plan would never go awry. There was a cup of Persian wine on the table. He picked up the glow in the dark cup and slowly sipped the wine, taking his time to savor its taste. He was indeed a man who knew how to savor and enjoy life. There is not that many men like this in the world. Although Lu Xiao Feng could savor and enjoy life once in a while, unfortunately for him he was such a natural born meddler, always getting his hand in other people’s business. Jin Jiu Ling had already decided that once this case was finished, he would never ever get involved in any matter of Six Doors again.

    It was at this moment that he heard a light sound on the roof. It was not a loud sound, something that a cat would make as it scuttled around on the roof. His face immediately broke out into a smile. He knew that Lu Xiao Feng must have just arrived, and that he must be carrying something heavy with him. When Lu Xiao Feng moves, he would never make a sound.

    “I spent all day and night lugging this heavy chest around, all the while you were comfortably sitting here drinking wine, seems like you are just destined to live the good life!” Jin Jiu Ling had just put down his cup when he heard Lu Xiao Feng sigh outside the window.

    The window was already open, Jin Jiu Ling had opened it from the inside. Lu Xiao Feng had not entered himself, but had already pushed in a very large bamboo chest.

    “I’m not destined to live the good life,” Jin Jiu Ling smiled. “I’m lucky precisely because I have a friend like Lu Xiao Feng around.”

    When he finished his sentence, Lu Xiao Feng was in front of him.

    “You luck is really better than mine,” he asserted with a straight face. “You have all the right friends, I don’t.”

    “This job really was quite difficult to get done, I figured you would be angry,” Jin Jiu Ling smiled. “That’s why I have already prepared this flask of Persian wine to drink that temper of yours away!”

    The golden flask was already on the table, the wine had already been poured into the cup. Jin Jiu Ling offered it up to Lu Xiao Feng with both of his hand.

    “I have just personally cooled this on ice cubs, it’s guaranteed to cool you down.”

    Even Lu Xiao Feng had to smile.

    “Turns out you really are something else when it comes to making others feel good. Had I been a woman, I probably would have fallen for you too.” He took the cup in his hand and drank its contents in one gulp before lifting the bamboo chest up onto the table. “What do you think is in this chest?”

    “Is it an embroiderer?” Jin Jiu Ling’s eyes flickered.

    “Not only can she embroider flowers, but blind men as well!”

    Jin Jiu Ling’s eyes lit up.

    “Lu Xiao Feng truly is Lu Xiao Feng, simply amazing!” He gave him a thumbs up.

    “I don’t know how many tricks I fell for in my life because of that saying,” Lu Xiao Feng broke out into an exasperrated laugh. “But the weird thing is, I still like hearing it being said!”

    “One kiss, two kisses, nothing beats kissing ***!” Jin Jiu Ling burst out laughing. “Those who does the kissing would never be wrong!”

    Still laughing, he made a motion as if he wanted to open the chest.

    “Hold on a second.” Lu Xiao Feng stopped him in his tracks.

    “What for?” Jin Jiu Ling was caught off guard.

    Lu Xiao Feng blinked.

    “Do you know who this Embroidery Bandit is?”

    “Isn’t it First Madame Gong Sun?”

    Lu Xiao Feng nodded. “And do you know what First Madame Gong Sun looks like?” He probed further.

    “No idea!”

    “Well what’s your guess?”

    “An old granny?” Jin Jiu Ling hesitated.

    “Guess again.”

    “Well even if she isn’t an old gramps, she can’t be that young, because a young woman would never do things so expertly and viciously!”

    “Oh?”

    “And I don’t think she would be very pretty, because a pretty woman would never willingly dress up as an old woman!”

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

    “People say that you are almost God-like in your deductions, but this time your deductions are almost pig-like.”

    “Was I wrong?”

    “By quite a lot!”

    “Well what kind of a woman is she?”

    “The kind that could literally mesmerize men to death, especially men like you!”

    “And what kind of a man am I?” Jin Jiu Ling’s lips curled up in a pitiful smile.

    “You are a pervert. I only hope that you don’t get hypnotized by her when you see her!”

    “There are all kinds of perverts, at least I’m not the kind who has yet to lay an eye on a woman.” Jin Jiu Ling laughed and opened up the chest. He only took a peek but was still startled. The woman in the chest was indeed too beautiful, too beautiful like a sleeping rose resting among a sea of snow. Her age might not be that young anymore, but her beauty was more than enough to make people forget her age.

    Jin Jiu Ling sighed.

    “Looks like this job wasn’t all that bad for you after all!”

    The remark elicited a cold sneer from Lu Xiao Feng.

    “Where’s Hua Man Lou?” He suddenly asked.

    “He left!”

    “Why didn’t he wait for me?” Lu Xiao Feng frowned.

    “Because he’s in a hurry to get to Mount Zi Jin!”

    “To do what?”

    Jin Jiu Ling sighed.

    “Master of White Cloud Castle has arranged a duel with Xi Men Chui Xue on the first of the coming month at Mount Zi Jin!”

    Lu Xiao Feng’s expression changed.

    “There’s already quite a number of people who knew about this and not a few from around here has already left for Mount Zi Jin. From what I heard, somebody has apparently placed huge bets on the two of them. The odds are laying down 3 to 2 in favor of Ye Gu Cheng!”

    “What’s today’s date?”

    “The 24th!”

    “If I leave right now, I might make it in time!” Lu Xiao Feng jumped up.

    “But this First Madame Gong Sun....”

    “My part of this whole job is finished, from head to toe, she’s all yours.”

    “Are you trying to tempt me?” Jin Jiu Ling asked with an embarrassed smile.

    “I just hope that you are a person who can resist temptations!”

    “Don’t worry.”

    “I can’t.”

    “This woman is a poisonous snake, I’m not that brave you know, I’m very wary of getting bitten!” Jin Jiu Ling laughed.

    “I’m worried precisely because she can’t bite right now!”

    “Poisonous snakes have moments when they can’t bite?”

    “I’ve already forced her to take a huge dose of her own ‘Seven Days Drink’, even if she wakes up, she still could not move for at least 2 or 3 more days.”

    Jin Jiu Ling listened in silence, the name ‘Seven Days Drink’ seemed vaguely familiar to him.

    “So in those 2 or 3 days, no matter what you do to her, she can’t resist. But if you really did do anything to her, then you are in big trouble, and so would I!”

    “Well if you are really worried, why don’t you stay?” Jin Jiu Ling offered with a smile.

    “Because I’m even more worried about Xi Men Chui Xue!” Lu Xiao Feng seemed all prepared to jump out of the window when he paused for a second. “There is still one thing I have to ask you to do for me!”

    “Please don’t hesitate to ask.”

    “Please find out where Xue Bing is, I don’t know how to get information from people, you do!”

    “Don’t worry, even if she turned out to be a mannequin, I would still find a way to get her to talk!” Jin Jiu Ling could not refute his claim before suddenly remembering. “There’s a horse outside, I rode it here.”

    It was well known that Jin Jiu Ling was a modern day Bo Le and was one of the best judges of horses around. The horse that he rode here on must have been a fine horse.

    “Are you willing to let me borrow it?” Lu Xiao Feng was ecstatic.

    Jin Jiu Ling nodded but then broke out into a smile.

    “But... there is one thing I’m worried about!”

    “What’s that?”

    “The horse is a mare!”

    ***

    Lu Xiao Feng left, left with that flask of Persian wine. The sound of hooves and neighs that came from below soon became distant. That horse was truly a thoroughbred. Jin Jiu Ling pushed open the window and peered out. Down below, in the yard, someone gave him a slight nod. -- Lu Xiao Feng was on the horse. The sound of the hooves had disappeared. Only then did Jin Jiu Ling close the window, walked back to the table, and curled up the sleeves of the girl inside the chest.

    On the lotus root white, smooth as jade arm, there was a dark purple, coin sized birth mark in the shape of a cloud.

    Jin Jiu Ling carefully inspected it for a bit before a proud smile crept up on his face.

    “She is First Madame Gong Sun!” He mumbled.

    How did he know that First Madame Gong Sun had a birthmark like that? To a woman, only the people closest to her would know about this kind of secret. Jin Jiu Ling closed the lid, lifted it up, and hurriedly carried it down the pavilion. Just outside of the front door was a green feathered carriage sedan, Jin Jiu Ling, still carrying the chest with him, sat himself down onto the carriage. The two man who were suppose to carry the sedan around were none other than the two strongest bounty hunters in the city. Before he even said a word, they had already picked up the sedan and was quickly making their way down the street.

    Sitting on the sedan, Jin Jiu Ling’s face was one of great satisfaction, his plan was now 90% complete. The sedan turned into an alley, and then 7 or 8 more alleys, before it finally made its way onto a real street. At the head of the alley there waited an ebony colored horse carriage.

    Still carrying the chest with him, Jin Jiu Ling got off the sedan and onto the carriage. The carriage sped down the street with the driver constantly whipping the horse, controlling it as if it was an extension of his arm. He was none other than Yang Cheng’s famous bounty hunter, Lu Shao Hua.

    There was nobody to be seen on the streets, at every intersection, there would be 2 men on the rooftops on either side of the road giving the same hand signals:

    “There’s no suspicious night walkers out close by, there’s nobody following the carriage.”

    The carriage then turned down 7 or 8 more streets. Now even the people out on the rooftops was gone. Only the two of them knew where this carriage was headed.

    In the west corner of the city there was a street that was not in grid with the other streets, it was short and narrow. There were only a total of 7 buildings on this street, each of the doors were old and worn down. Of the 7, three were antique shops that sold ancient paintings and writings, but most of them were fakes, two others business which mounts wallpapers or paintings, another one was a seal carving vendor, and the last one was an umbrella shop.

    This was supposed to be a very cold and deserted street, frequented only by those poor and bitter old gentries. But the carriage had stopped at the head of this street. As soon as Jin Jiu Ling got off the carriage, Lu Shao Hua immediately took off. A half-deaf half-blind old man had already opened up the doors to one of the plaster shops. Jin Jiu Ling, still carrying the chest with him, flashed into the door.

    Inside the shop were a couple of shabby and not yet framed words or paintings. Jin Jiu Ling brushed a side a forgery of Tang Bo Hu’s landscapes and gently lifted up one of the bricks on the wall. A secret door immediately appeared. Behind the door was a very narrow passageway. At the end of the passageway was another door which, upon opening, incredibly led to a very well kept little yard with flowers and trees.

    The yard might not be big, but every flower and tree had obviously been meticulously groomed to perfection by masters. Where the trees and bushes were the thickest was a tidy little pavilion of about 5 rooms. There were already two bright eyed, pig tail wearing maids standing at the front steps greeting him.

    ***

    First Madame Gong Sun finally woke up only to discover that she was in a very delicate female bedroom, lying on a dazzling and comfortable bed. A delicious smell that was more pure and more elegant than that of an orchid permeated the room, but where did it come from? She quietly laid there, no moving. Because she simply could not move. The shadows by the window was slightly tilted, it was not yet dusk. There were orioles chirping outside, but not a human sound could be heard.

    “Anybody here?” She yelled.

    Nobody answered. Her yell was not that loud anyways, because she simply did not have the strength to yell.

    “Lu Xiao Feng, where did you go off to....” She gritted her teeth and almost cursed. “One of these days, you will die in my hands!”

    All she could do was lie there and wait. Then suddenly, her face flushed crimson red -- she needed to relieve herself. But no matter how hard she tried, she could not move one single bit. More yelling was still to no avail. This lasted until she could literally not control it anymore, the only thing she could do was to relieve herself on the bed. This was truly quite an embarrassing matter. The bed was wet, yet she still had to lay there motionlessly. She was so mad she was on the verge of tears.

    “Lu Xiao Feng, one of these days, I’ll make you beg to die.”

    Suddenly, something fell from a top the canopy and landed on her. It was a snake. The one thing that scares her the most was snakes. Her face turned green in fear, but she still could not move one bit. All she could do was watch the snake crawl around on top of her. She opened her mouth to scream, but was so frightened that nothing came out.

    The snake was just about to crawl onto her face when suddenly a shadow appeared. A person appeared at the head of the bed and, with a quick flick of hand, grabbed the snake and tossed it out the window. First Madame Gong Sun could at last breath a sigh of relief, but her face was already covered in cold sweat.

    But this person was smiling, staring at her.

    “Sorry for the scare First Madame.” The person said in a warm voice. Even though he was of middle age, he was still very handsome. Anybody could tell that the clothes he was wearing were made by top notch masters from top notch materials. But it was the smile on his face that was more captivating to woman than the clothes on his body.

    First Madame Gong Sun stared at him.

    “You... you are the master of this place?”

    Jin Jiu Ling nodded.

    “How did a snake get in your house?”

    “Because I especially went out and caught it!”

    First Madame Gong Sun’s expression noticeably changed.

    “Why?”

    “Because I had to make sure whether or not you, First Madame, is really immobile!”

    “Not only did you guys make me drink an immobilizing drug, you sealed my pressure points too,” First Madame Gong Sun bitterly replied. “Isn’t that enough?”

    “I have always been a very careful man,” Jin Jiu Ling smiled. “And when it comes to matters regarding you, First Madame, I have to be extra careful.”

    “So you are Jin Jiu Ling?” First Madame Gong Sun finally figured it out.

    “Didn’t expect that it would take you so long to recognize me!”

    “Where did that Bastard Lu die and go off to?” First Madame Gong Sun angrily demanded, gritting her teeth at the mere mention of his name.

    “Now that he’s done his part of the job, from head to toe, you, First Madame, are all mine!” Jin Jiu Ling smiled casually.

    “Where is this? Why did you bring me here?”

    “This place might not be much, but it’s at least got to be better than jail.” Jin Jiu Ling sighed and continued. “I know First Madame must have never been to prison before, that place is truly just like a pig sty. There is mosquitoes and stink bugs everywhere. If you, First Madame, went there, you would be bitten to a pulp within half a day. And if you screamed, then you would immediately be beaten. If you were unlucky enough to run into one of the meaner wardens, then you might also get a shower of urine as well.”

    First Madame Gong Sun’s face was turning green again.

    “You wouldn’t want me to take you to a place like that do you?” Jin Jiu Ling inquired rhetorically.

    First Madame Gong Sun suddenly let out a cold laugh.

    “I know what you really want!”

    “Oh?”

    “You just want a hand written confession from me!”

    “First Madame Gong Sun is indeed a smart woman....” Jin Jiu Ling smiled.

    “You want me to confess that I am the Embroidery Bandit, that I committed those heists!”

    “Correct, as long as you are willing to write that confession, I will assure you that I will do you no harm, else....”

    “Else what?”

    “There is quite a lot of snakes around here,” Jin Jiu Ling coldly threatened. “Anytime I want to, I could go and grab a couple hundred of them!”

    First Madame Gong Sun gritted her teeth again.

    “How did you know that I’m most scared of snakes?”

    “I have always known quite a lot of things!”

    First Madame Gong Sun suddenly let out another cold laugh.

    “Actually, I know quite a lot of things as well!”

    “What do you know?”

    “At least I know who the real Embroidery Bandit is!” First Madame Gong Sun stared straight into his eyes as she spoke, emphasizing each word.

    “Who is that?”

    “You! You are the real Embroidery Bandit!”

    Jin Jiu Ling silently stood there at the side of the bed, that captivating smile of his had vanished. Not a trace of emotion could be found on his face.

    “Actually, from the very beginning, I had suspected that you were the Embroidery Bandit!” First Madame Gong Sun continued with a sneer.

    “Oh?”

    “I also know that from the very beginning, you had meant for me to take the fall for you!”

    “Even if I am the real Embroidery Bandit, why would I choose you to take the fall for me?”

    “Because I have always been a very mysterious person, nobody knows the details about me or my background. Therefore no matter what you accuse me of doing, others wouldn’t have a hard time believing it!”

    “Just because of that?”

    “That, of course, was not the main reason!”

    “What other reasons are there?”

    “The most important reason is that, among my sisters, one is your accomplice. You want me to take the fall for you, to die in your place, but my death also let her take my position of leadership. You two were trying to kill two birds with one stone from the very start.”

    Jin Jiu Ling’s expression changed slightly but quickly turned back to normal.

    “Do you already know who she is?” He casually asked.

    “Up until now, I still can’t say for sure, but one of these days I will find out!”

    “Pity that day will probably never come!” Jin Jiu Ling coldly retorted.

    “You know that after these heists occurred, people would come looking for you, because you are the number one bounty hunter within the Six Doors. It’s also because of that nobody would ever suspect you.”

    “My reputation has always been a very good one.”

    “You went to Lu Xiao Feng, because you knew that only he could be a match for me!”

    “He truly is a very smart man, even you would have to concede that!”

    “I only concede that he’s a pig.”

    “But if he was a pig, how did you fall into his hands?” Jin Jiu Ling jokingly inquired.

    First Madame Gong Sun bit her lip.

    “Maybe he is a relatively smart pig, but a pig is still a pig!”

    Jin Jiu Ling laughed.

    “Precisely because he is a pig, thus he was tricked by you from the very beginning!” First Madame Gong Sun continued.

    “Oh?”

    “You purposefully gave that black peony to him because you knew that he would go looking for that old granny Xue!”

    “I also knew that old granny Xue would surely recognize the peony was a work of a woman!” Jin Jiu Ling triumphantly smiled.

    “That’s why he was wrong from the very beginning, he thought that the Embroidery Bandit was a woman in disguise!”

    “Because he believed that Madame Xue’s expert eyes could never be wrong!”

    “Then you purposefully instructed Si Kong Zhai Xing to steal that piece of cloth and take it to Jiang Qing Xia’s place, because you knew Jiang Qing Xia was one of my sisters!”

    “Please go on.”

    “From that moment on, Lu Xiao Feng had decided that this must all be the work of the Red Shoes Sisterhood!”

    “Aren’t you forgetting that Si Kong Zhai Xing is the ‘King of Thieves’? Why would he listen to me and go lie to Lu Xiao Feng?”

    “Because he’s the King of Thieves and you are the king of bounty hunters. Even the King of Thieves would be hard pressed not to have some lapses. He must have fallen into your hands sometime before, but you let him go, because you knew that a person like him would be useful one day in the future!”

    Jin Jiu Ling sighed.

    “Nobody knows about that, you guessed that one didn’t you?”

    First Madame Gong Sun did not deny his claim but instead continued.

    “But just because of that, Lu Xiao Feng still would not have suspected me.”

    “Correct.”

    “You knew that once he got to Yang Cheng, he would go to the Snake King.”

    “Are you saying that the Snake King is an accomplice of mine?”

    “Of course he isn’t, he’s just like Si Kong Zhai Xing, he owed you. That was why he willingly let you use him.”

    “This time you are wrong!”

    “Oh?”

    “He willingly let me use him, because he had no other options!”

    “Why?”

    “The bounty hunters and the law enforcers in Yang Cheng are all my disciples or the disciple of my disciples, not to mention the fact that I had just become the Warden of the RoyalPalace. I could wipe him and all of his organization down to the last man off the face of the world any time it pleased me!” Jin Jiu Ling matter of factly answered.

    “You knew that I would appear at the WestPark on the 15th of July, so you made the Snake King lead Lu Xiao Feng there too!”

    “Your whereabouts may be completely mysterious to others, but I know it like the back of my hand.”

    “Because there is someone among my sisters who constantly informed you of it!”

    “I forged a letter and made the Snake King let Lu Xiao Feng read it,” Jin Jiu Ling was no longer denying it. “Because I knew Lu Xiao Feng was a man who hated owing favors to others and would insist on going in the Snake King’s place!”

    “And it was only from that moment on that Lu Xiao Feng truly began to be suspicious of me.”

    “You shouldn’t have tried to get him to eat those sugar roasted chestnuts!”

    “That day I had something to take care of at the WestPark, when I am in the middle of something, I hate people who get in my way.”

    “But he just had and go ask you to find look for red shoes for him!”

    “That’s why he was truly very lucky not to have died that day.”

    “Not to mention me.”

    “But he still couldn’t be sure even then, so you and the Snake King got together and kidnapped Xue Bing!”

    “Other people say she’s a tigeress. To me, she looked a lot more like a small kitten!”

    “And then you purposefully let Lu Xiao Feng find those two rooms in those small alleys, making him think that they were my hideouts!”

    “Setting up those 2 rooms took quite a lot of effort!” Jin Jiu Ling matter of factly replied.

    “Ah-Tu, of course, was someone that you had placed there from the very beginning!”

    “Because I knew the Lu Xiao Feng would have never been able to find you on his own!”

    “But you had known our meeting place way before hand!”

    “So I made this weird wooden casket and made Ah-Tu take Lu Xiao Feng there!”

    “But why did you pretend to get poisoned?”

    Jin Jiu Ling smiled.

    “Because I didn’t want to go there!”

    “As long as you don’t go and Lu Xiao Feng does, no matter what happens, who wins or who loses, it would have nothing to do with you!”

    “I have always been a very careful man, I never do anything I’m not sure of!” Jin Jiu Ling smiled again.

    “You were completely sure about this matter?”

    “I knew that you are quite an amazing character yourself and would have probably already seen through my actions. I even knew that you had already killed Ah-Tu and dressed up as him. The fact that Lu Xiao Feng could find you was because you had led him there yourself!”

    “You knew?” First Madame Gong Sun seemed quite surprised.

    “Of course I did, but I didn’t worry about it too much!”

    “Oh?”

    “Because I also knew that my plan was about to come to fruition. Every clue, every piece of evidence, pointed to you are the Embroidery Bandit. Even if you knew of my plan, you still did not have a single piece of evidence to prove it.” He let out a triumphant laugh and continued. “Add on top of that Xue Bing’s disappearance and the Snake King’s death, Lu Xiao Feng would already hate you to the bone. So no matter what you claimed, he would never have believed you or let you go. Besides, I’m a famous bounty hunter with a squeaky clean reputation, not to mention his friend, while you are a mysterious female monster!”

    Even First Madame Gong Sun could not help but sigh.

    “You are quite correct, I don’t have a single piece of evidence. Even if I told everyone that you are the Embroidery Bandit, nobody would believe me!”

    “And even if you said it now, still nobody will believe you!”

    “Don’t forget that you have just confessed!” First Madame Gong Sun coldly retorted.

    Jin Jiu Ling threw his head back in laughter.

    “That’s right, I did just confess, but so what if I did?”

    “You think that I’m the only one who could have heard what you just said?” First Madame Gong Sun snickered.

    “I told you, I never do anything I’m not sure of!”

    “You have already made sure that nobody was had followed you here and that I couldn’t move, that’s why you confessed?”

    “I didn’t want you to die not knowing why!”

    “You are not afraid that Lu Xiao Feng might burst in suddenly?”

    “He might be a pig, but he runs pretty fast.” Still smiling, he reached into his shirt and took out a branded tube of bamboo. “I just received this. It came from Nan Hai on a messenger pigeon. Lu Xiao Feng had just made it pass Nan Hai and is as of now, well on his way towards Leng Ling.”

    Once again, First Madame Gong Sun sighed despite of herself.

    “Looks like you really have thought of everything!”

    “Thank you.”

    “But you will never ever get a single word of confession from out of me!”

    “I thought this out as well,” Jin Jiu Ling casually replied. “This confession doesn’t necessarily have to be written by you!”

    First Madame Gong Sun’s expression changed noticeably.

    “I could get someone to write a thousand of these confessions any time I want to, anyone will do really. That’s because nobody knows what your handwriting looks like anyways.”

    “That’s why you can kill me right now, because I resisted arrest and tried to run away, so you had to kill me!”

    “This time you guessed right!” Jin Jiu Ling laughed.

    “After I die, this whole matter would be at an end, for there is nobody to contradict your story.” First Madame Gong Sun bitterly gritted her teeth. “You would literally get away with it!”

    “Even since I was 19, I had always felt that these criminals that get caught were all just stupid pigs. I had wanted to commit the absolute perfect crime for a long time now.”

    “And now your wish has come true!”

    “There’s still one last thing to do.”

    “I’m not dead yet.”

    “I had planned on letting you live a couple more days, you really are a rare beauty.” Jin Jiu Ling sighed. “Pity that I had just discovered that it would be best to kill you as soon as possible.”

    First Madame Gong Sun stared straight into his eyes and suddenly burst out laughing.

    “Do you feel that death is a very funny matter?”

    “Death isn’t a laughing matter, but you are!”

    “Oh?”

    “If you turned around, you would know just how funny you are!”

    Jin Jiu Ling turned around despite of himself and his entire body froze. Because as soon as he looked behind him, he saw Lu Xiao Feng.

    Lu Xiao Feng was smiling at him.

    “I’m Lu Xiao Feng, Little Phoenix, not Little Pig.”

  4. #24
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Posts
    3,036

    Default Book 2 - Chapter 10

    Chapter 10 - The Fall of the Bandit

    Incredibly, the person standing by the door was none other than Lu Xiao Feng, not Three Eggs Lu, not Little Pig Lu, but Lu Xiao Feng. How could he suddenly appear out of thin air? Jin Jiu Ling almost did not believe his own very eyes, this was just quite simply, impossible.

    So much so that Jin Jiu Ling asked a really stupid question.

    “You should be at least 400 kilometers away now!”

    “Apparently so!” Lu Xiao Feng replied.

    “I had just received this message from Nan Hai!” Jin Jiu Ling looked down at the bamboo container in his hand.

    “I know.”

    “You knew?”

    “That pigeon was indeed trained by you, and it was you who gave it to Meng Wei. The brand and the paper that the letter was written on are all real. But this time the pigeon wasn’t released by Meng Wei!”

    Jin Jiu Ling did not understand.

    “Did the letter say: ‘Lu has passed here, heading west’?”

    “How... how did you know?”

    Lu Xiao Feng laughed.

    “Of course I would know, I wrote the letter!”

    Jin Jiu Ling was even more shocked.

    “You wrote it? When did you write it?”

    “Two nights ago.” Lu Xiao Feng smiled and explained. “Two nights ago, I went to Meng Wei to ask him to write a message to you, telling you to meet me at the Snake King’s old headquarters. You should at least know that!”

    Jin Jiu Ling nodded.

    “When he was writing the message last night, I saw his handwriting. It wasn’t exactly difficult to emulate!”

    Because his handwriting was indeed too awkward, it is hard to copy good handwriting, but bad handwriting looks bad one way or another.

    “When he went to release a pigeon, I helped myself to one of these containers and a sheet of paper that he wrote the letters in. After he went back to bed, I went back and stole one of his pigeons too.”

    Jin Jiu Ling’s face looked distinctively blue.

    “That night, I gave the pigeon to a friend of mine in Nan Hai and asked him to release it today afternoon.”

    He broke out into a triumphant smile and explained. “Because I knew that as soon as you see me, you would find some excuse to make me leave so you would have the chance to kill First Madame Gong Sun.”

    “You knew that I would tell Meng Wei to wait and inform me about your whereabouts?” Jin Jiu Ling asked despite of himself.

    “I have to go through Nan Hai to leave and Meng Wei is the Head Snake there, not to mention you have always been a very meticulous and careful man. If I wasn’t far away, how could you make your move?”

    “But this place....”

    “This place is indeed quite secretive and remote.” Lu Xiao Feng cut him off. “I would have had a tough time finding it myself.”

    “So led you here?”

    “That pigeon.”

    Jin Jiu Ling was speechless again.

    “In high winds, the bamboo tube would make a whistling sound. Starting at noon, I had waited on the rooftops. I knew that pigeon would have been able to find you. Luckily, my lightness kungfu isn’t too shabby!”

    Jin Jiu Ling’s face went from blue to green. He looked back at First Madame Gong Sun, then at Lu Xiao Feng.

    “Did you two plan this?”

    “Surprised?” Lu Xiao Feng smiled.

    “When did you start getting suspicious about me?”

    “I had only really started suspecting that it was you on the day the Snake King died!”

    “Why?”

    “Do you recall when we found his body, the lamps weren’t lit on his pavilion?”

    Jin Jiu Ling nodded but failed to see what was so significant about this point!

    “If the lamps weren’t lit, then that means that the Snake King died before night fall, which would mean that he was killed before he found it necessary to light the lamps!”

    Jin Jiu Ling felt his entire body turn cold. He could have never suspected that this tiny little clue was the turning point of this whole case.

    “If First Madame Gong Sun really had invited him to meet in the WestPark, then why would she go over to his place and kill him before hand?” Lu Xiao Feng continued. “That’s why I knew right then and there that the person who killed the Snake King had to be someone else!”

    “And you thought it could be me?”

    “I wasn’t sure, but what I was pretty sure of was that the Snake King was working for you!”

    “Why?”

    “Because only you could control him, because when he went looking for that map of the Palace for me, it was too easy, and the map was too detailed. A streetwalker or the boss of the underworld could not be that powerful, unless he was already in cahoots with the Warden of the Palace!”

    Jin Jiu Ling’s lips were ash white, his forehead was covered with cold sweat.

    “The silk sash that you used to choke the Snake King to death was suppose to point towards First Madame Gong Sun, but instead it became her perfect alibi and exonerated her completely.”

    “Why?”

    “Because when I fought with her, I had already cut the sashes that were tied to her swords in half. Those silk sashes aren’t something you can find at a moment’s notice, and in that time frame she never had a chance to find one!”

    Jin Jiu Ling had nothing to say.

    “One tiny hole can cause the whole dam to collapse,” Lu Xiao Feng sighed. “Besides, there was more than just one hole in your plan!”

    For the third time, Jin Jiu Ling asked: “Why?”

    “Setting up those two rooms was a stroke of genius on your part, but you forgot one thing!”

    “What would that be?”

    “Everyone has a distinctive scent. Had those clothes really been worn by First Madame Gong Sun, they would retain a little bit of her scent.”

    “Quite a lot of people have said that I am indeed a very sweet smelling woman.” First Madame Gong Sun coquettishedly added.

    “You were always trying to keep Hua Man Lou out of this matter, perhaps because you were afraid that he might realize this fact. But you could not have known that I had picked that up from him!” Lu Xiao Feng smiled and continued. “Now, when I look at something, I won’t just be watching with my eyes, I would be smelling with my nose as well!”

    “That why quite a lot of people have said he is like a hound!” First Madame Gong Sun joked.

    “You purposefully made that message carrying wooden box and then purposefully got poisoned so as to make sure I went forth by myself, that was also another stroke of genius. But pity once again, you forgot something.”

    By now, all Jin Jiu Ling could do was listen.

    “Meng Wei is a rough and tumble kind of a guy through and through, he doesn’t even know Xiao Zhuan, how could he have possibly recognized those ancient writings on the box? Besides, after you were poisoned, he didn’t seem that worried, wouldn’t you say that was very odd as well?”

    “On top of that, he has way too much money,” First Madame Gong Sun added. “He could actually get his hands on 100,000 taels of silver on a whim!”

    “I did the math, with his pay, if he did not eat anything, drink anything, or spend a single farthing on anything, he would still have needed about 50 or 60 years to save up 100,000 taels of silver!”

    “Well, you really put some work into that abacus didn’t you?” First Madame Gong Sun said with a smile.

    “Even then, I was still not sure, because if Madame Xue said that the peony was done by a woman, then it must have been the work of a woman, so....”

    “So what did you do?” Jin Jiu Ling finally could not control himself and asked.

    “So I took out that piece of red satin and carefully inspected for a long time.”

    That piece of red satin was stolen by Si Kong Zhai Xing, was brought to Still Dusk Convent by Xue Bing, placed in front of the statue, but still finally ended up in Lu Xiao Feng’s hands.

    “I inspected it for a full 2 hours before I found your secret!”

    “What did you find?”

    “I found that the peony had one petal where the thread was not sewn as tightly as the others. It was embroidered in two layers, so if you unthreaded a layer, there would still be another layer!” He smiled and continued. “When other saw you sew this peony, you were actually unthreading it. That’s how the peony can be the work of a woman while the Embroidery Bandit turn out to be a man!”

    “Anything more?”

    “Just one more thing, you shouldn’t have kidnapped Xue Bing!”

    “Why?” Jin Jiu Ling asked for a fourth time.

    “Because I later found out that Xue Bing had recently become First Madame Gong Sun’s Eighth Sister. Even if First Madame Gong Sun was the real Embroidery Bandit, she would never do any harm to her Eighth Sister!”

    “How did you know she was my Eighth Sister?” First Madame Gong Sun inquired. “Even I couldn’t figure that out!”

    “Because of that hand!”

    “What hand?” First Madame Gong Sun was confused.

    “Sun Zhong’s hand!” Lu Xiao Feng explained. “Xue Bing chopped off Sun Zhong’s hand, but then that hand showed up in Xue Bing’s room again. That hand had obviously not crawled there all by itself, and other than the sisters of the Red Shoes, nobody would go and bring back hands that they had cut off of other people!”

    “So when you saw Third Sister’s bag full of noses, you thought of that hand?”

    Lu Xiao Feng nodded.

    “She has only recently joined and had actually forgot that everyone of you had to bring back something every year,” he continued. “Once she remembered, she went back and got that hand. But unfortunately for her she left in such a hurry that she forgot to take it with her again!”

    He sighed and continued. “When I asked her how the hand had gotten in her room, she pretended to not know what I was talking about. Because she did not want me to find out the connection between you and her!”

    “But you had already figured it out!”

    “It was only until I heard you say ‘Eighth Sister won’t be coming’, only then did I know that your Eighth Sister must have been her!”

    “These reasons are all quite a bit of a stretch!” Jin Jiu Ling suddenly sneered.

    “These reasons really are all quite a bit of a stretch, but to me, they are enough!” Lu Xiao Feng replied.

    “Are they?”

    “There are enough reasons, but not enough evidence.”

    “That’s because you don’t have a single piece of evidence.”

    “That’s why I had to make you confess all of this yourself, that’s why I had to go through with this ‘doomed to death and back’ plan!”

    “Why?”

    “Because I know that only when you know that your plan has succeeded, that First Madame Gong Sun was going to die for sure, only then would you tell the truth in front of her. That’s why I had to put her in a certain death situation and make you think that she was as good as dead!”

    “This plan was indeed quite effective, but I was the one who had to suffer the trials.” First Madame Gong Sun commented with a pitiful smile. “I have never had to go through anything remotely like this in my life.”

    “But the most crucial part of this is that we can’t let you find out about any of this, we can’t risk you suspecting us to be in cahoots!” Lu Xiao Feng continued.

    “But there is someone who was your accomplice among my sisters.”

    “Therefore we had to put on a little act in front of them!”

    “Even now, they have no idea that I left because I wanted to, not because I had lost to you!”

    Lu Xiao Feng broke out into a smile.

    First Madame Gong Sun shot him a look.

    “No need to smile.” She warned. “One of these days, I will get my rematch, still three rounds, to see once and for all who’s better, you or me!”

    “Of course it’s you, I’m just an idiot.”

    “You are indeed very stupid, even I thought so. But you still have one good trait!”

    “I have a good trait?”

    “Of course you do,” First Madame Gong Sun playfully replied. “Sometimes, for no reasons what so ever, you would turn smart all of the sudden!”

    “I find that very puzzling myself!”Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

    “It’s not you that’s puzzled, but others!” First Madame Gong Sun smiled and shot a look over at Jin Jiu Ling out of the corner of her eye. “Take this man here for example, he must be feeling quite puzzled right now trying to figure out how in the world did you get smart all of the sudden!”

    Lu Xiao Feng laughed.

    Jin Jiu Ling could not help but let out a long, drawn out sigh.

    “I really did underestimate you!”

    “Maybe I....” Lu Xiao Feng began to reply but Jin Jiu Ling cut him off.

    “I had took you as a friend all this time, I thought you were a good man. I can’t imagine that you would get in cahoots with the Embroidery Bandit and try to make me take the fall!”

    Lu Xiao Feng stopped laughing as he looked at him in shock, as if he had never seen this man before.

    “Pity that no matter what nasty lies you two say about me, it won’t work!” Jin Jiu Ling coldly continued with a straight face. “I entered public service at age of 13 and in 30 years of work since have never done a single unlawful thing. No matter what you accuse me of, nobody will believe you!”

    “But you just confess just now!”

    “What did I confess to?”

    Lu Xiao Feng seemed a little choked up. Even now, he still did not have a single piece of evidence.

    Of course, Jin Jiu Ling saw this as well.

    “Why would I confess to being the Embroidery Bandit? Who would be stupid enough to do that? If you two tell other people that, they would laugh their teeth off!” He coldly continued. “Besides, from Yang Cheng to Nan Hai, every bounty hunter knows that First Madame Gong Sun is the Embroidery Bandit. Even if you two kill me right now, the government would still paste your likenesses to every corner of the world. You can’t get away!”

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

    “Looks like you won another round.” He pitifully smiled.

    “Good always triumphs over evil, the web of justice has no leaks, the righteous path will last forever, so it would be best for you two if you just follow me to the court and turn yourselves in.”

    “Good always triumphs over evil, the righteous will last forever,” Lu Xiao Feng sighed. “Didn’t think you would actually understand these sayings.”

    “Of course I do.”

    “Well if you do, then you should know that no matter what kind of tricks you pull, it would all be useless!”

    “I didn’t....”

    This time it was Lu Xiao Feng’s turn to cut him off.

    “You think that we are the only ones who heard this conversation?”

    Jin Jiu Ling’s expression changed but quickly recovered.

    “I’m not deaf, if there was others around here, they couldn’t have hid from me!”

    “I know that your ear is very perceptive. The only reason you didn’t notice me was because you were too pleased with yourself just then. Indeed, if I really did have people within 15 meters, they would not be able to hide from you!”

    Jin Jiu Ling arrogantly snickered.

    “And you also know that if someone was outside of 15 meters, then there would have been impossible for them to hear what you just said.” But Lu Xiao Feng did not let Jin Jiu Ling reply before continuing. “Pity these men are different from normal people!”

    “Oh?”

    “These men’s ears are even sharper than yours, although you can’t hear them, they can hear you.” Lu Xiao Feng’s eyes seemed to glow as he continued, emphasizing every word. “Because they are all blind. Blind men’s ears are always much more perceptive than a normal person’s!”

    Jin Jiu Ling’s expression changed again.

    Lu Xiao Feng laughed.

    “You can come out now!” He shouted.

    In between his laughter, the sound of clanking roof tiles could be heard as three green shirted women, leading three blind men, jumped down from the roof top and walked in.

    At first glance, all three women looked almost exactly the same. But upon careful inspection, one could tell that they were all in disguise. They were none other than the three shadows that flew out of the pavilion during the last round of Lu Xiao Feng’s match against First Madame Gong Sun. Of the three blind men they led in, one had 3 scars across his purple colored face, another had very prominent cheek bones and had a very authoritative air about him, while the last one was an old man with a sickly looking complexion dressed in fancy silk clothing. When he saw these three men, Jin Jiu Ling felt his entire body go numb. Of course he recognized these three men. He had blinded all three of them, Chang Man Tian, Jiang Chong Wei, and Hua Yi Fan.

    Jiang Chong Wei’s expression was blue with rage.

    “I have known you for several decades now, I never suspected you to be such a heartless bastard!”

    “The web of justice has no leaks, if you really understood the meaning of that, why did you still do this?” Chang Man Tian asked.

    Hua Yi Fan’s entire body was shaking in rage. He opened his mouth to say something, but could not. Looking at these men, Jin Jiu Ling involuntarily began to step back, stepping back all the way to the wall before collapsing into a chair, seemingly incapable of standing back up again.

    “You probably can’t figure out how these three gentlemen could suddenly show up!” First Madame Gong Sun said.

    Indeed, Jin Jiu Ling could not have even dreamt that they would.

    “Within my sisters, my Fourth and Seventh sisters were the ones without any suspicion. Therefore I had already instructed them, along with my personal maid Lan-Er, to split up and invite Warden Jian, Escort Chang, and Mister Hua here as soon as possible!”

    “We figured that the three of them would make it here today at the latest, so I had also arranged to meet them this morning!” Lu Xiao Feng finished.

    One of the women in green was giggling: “Lu Xiao Feng went chasing after that pigeon, and I went chasing after him. Once I knew where this was, we brought them all here.”

    Her laughter was pretty like a bell, she was none other than the girl in red.

    “But we also knew that your eyes and ears are very sharp, so we didn’t dare risking getting close,” another woman in green continued. “What you said, we didn’t hear any of it. Fortunately, they heard every word of it!”

    Her voice was sweet and gentle, she was none other than First Madame Gong Sun’s Fourth Sister, Ou Yang Qing.

    Jin Jiu Ling did not move, nor say anything. Only now was he truly out of words.

    “Good always triumphs over evil, the righteous will last forever,” maybe it was only now that he truly understood the meaning of those words. The girl in red and Ou Yang Qing had walked over to either side of the bed and helped First Madame Gong Sun sit up. Suddenly, both of them frowned at the same time as a few wrinkles appeared on the ridges of their noses.

    Amazingly, First Madame Gong Sun blushed. She quietly whispered something into their ears. Both of them started to laugh. The girl in red could not help but once again double over in laughter, she was laughing so hard that she was almost out of breath. Indeed, they had the right to laugh, and the reason to laugh. Only those who have a clear self-conscious could laugh, only those who have no guilt in their heart could be so carefree. The one who could not laugh right now was Jin Jiu Ling.

    “I know not only do you know how to sew flowers, you can sew blind men, two pricks and there’s one blind men.” Chang Man Tian viciously declared. “But what can you sew now?”

    “Even if you can sew a pair of wings for yourself, you won’t be able to get out of the web of the law!” Jiang Chong Wei warned.

    “The only thing that he should sew right now, is an especially huge coffin so that both Meng Wei and Lu Shao Hua can accompany him in it.” The girl in red joked in between her laughter.

    “I still have to remind you one thing,” Lu Xiao Feng added. “It’s probably best for you not to wait for the two of them to come here with your disciples in an effort to save you!”

    Jin Jiu Ling did not move, nor did he speak.

    “Right now, Meng Wei is still in Nan Hai waiting to inform you of my whereabouts.” Lu Xiao Feng explained. “But Lu Shao Hua has fallen ill, gravely ill!”

    “Rumors say that his caught a very strange illness indeed!” The girl in red laughed and said. “That pair of greedy, always asking other people for money, hands of his have suddenly vanished!”

    Jin Jiu Ling finally let out a long sigh.

    “One wrong move, and the whole game is lost.” He said. “Didn’t think that I, Jin Jiu Ling, would have a today!”

    Jiang Chong Wei sighed as well.

    “Actually, I knew you would eventually end up like his. You love to spend too much, loved to enjoy life too much!”

    “Others think that you don’t have to spend money on woman, but only I know that to a woman like me, there is only money and nothing else.” Ou Yang Qing declared. “Even if you are the reincarnation of Fan An or Song Yu, you still have to have money to get in the door.”

    Lu Xiao Feng laughed despite of himself. He knew that she was telling the truth firsthand.

    “But you are an exception,” Ou Yang Qing shot him a mean look before playfully declaring. “You are the only exception in this world!”

    “Oh?”

    “Because you are not a man, you are nothing but a four eye browed bastard!” Ou Yang Qing’s expression dropped as she coldly explained.

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed. One truly cannot cross a woman like Ou Yang Qing. If you just cross her once, she will remember it for the rest of her life.

    “I only have one last thing to ask you!” First Madame Gong Sun suddenly interrupted.

    “Ask me?” Jin Jiu Ling turned towards her.

    First Madame Gong Sun nodded.

    “You better tell me now, where is Xue Bing?”

    Jin Jiu Ling suddenly let out a little laugh, but did not answer.

    “Are you planning on using her to threaten us?” First Madame Gong Sun was getting angry. “Don’t you know what my methods are?”

    Jin Jiu Ling ignored her and instead turned to Lu Xiao Feng.

    “The Master of White Cloud Castle’s sword skill are second to none, yet he could not stop praising you, calling you a genius of martial arts of a level that he had never encountered before in his life.”

    As he slowly spoke, Lu Xiao Feng quietly listened, knowing that he was getting somewhere.

    “First Madame Gong Sun, with all her disguises, changes, and tricks, with her best in the world sword and sash skills, still lost to you!”

    “Stop kissing up to him, it won’t work anymore!” First Madame Gong Sun coldly snickered.

    But Jin Jiu Ling continued to ignore her and kept his stare on Lu Xiao Feng.

    “My elder martial brother Bitter Gourd had always not cared much for anyone in the world, yet he treat you differently. Because he believes the clamp of your two fingers is a skill that will never be matched.”

    Lu Xiao Feng quietly sighed. He suddenly thought about how bad Master Gourd would feel when he finds out his only martial brother ending up like this.

    “Huo Xiu, Huo Tian Qing, Yan Tie Shan, they are all the master among masters in the world, yet they all lost in your hands. It’s quite obvious if you are not the best martial art master in the world, you are not that far off.” Jin Jiu Ling sighed again before continuing. “But I’m nothing more than a mere bounty hunter within the Six Doors. A person like me is not worth a farthing in the eyes of those masters of the martial world!”

    “What are you trying to say?” Lu Xiao Feng finally asked.

    “I only want to just have a duel with a martial arts master such as yourself, to see who is really better!” Jin Jiu Ling plainly answered.

    “For all intensive purposes, you are a captured criminal,” First Madame Gong Sun replied with a sneer. “What gives you the right to negotiate a duel?”

    Jin Jiu Ling did not even look in her direction.

    “If I lose, not only would I willingly turn myself in, I would immediately tell you where Xue Bing is!”

    Lu Xiao Feng’s eyes flickered, he was clearly tempted by the offer.

    “But what if you lose?” Jin Jiu Ling inquired.

    “What do you propose?”

    “If you lose, I won’t ask you to let me go!”

    “Even if he lets you go, I won’t!” First Madame Gong Sun viciously protested.

    But Jin Jiu Ling did not seem to even hear her.

    “If you, by some chance, lose to me, I only request one thing.”

    “Do tell!”

    “I only request that you would protect my reputation and not let this leak out. I think on my elder martial brother’s behalf, that wouldn’t be too hard on you!”

    Lu Xiao Feng did not answer immediately. Instead he slowly walked over to the window and pushed it open. The setting suns’ rays colored the sky, it was already dusk.

    “Don’t fall for his tricks,” Chang Man Tian suddenly warned. “This person is cunning like a fox, he must have another trick up his sleeve!”

    “The level of his kungfu was much higher than what I thought was possible.” Jiang Chong Wei commented.

    “I have been making a living in the martial world ever since I was a kid, have fought in hundreds and thousands of fights, suffered scores of injuries.” Chang Man Tian stated. “My kungfu might not be strong, but I have more than enough experience. But even I could not tell just how good his skills are, I couldn’t even last one move against him!”

    Hua Yi Fan suddenly sighed too.

    “Indeed, this man’s kungfu skill is almost beyond measure. In the past I have sparred again the Wooden Taoist and the Ancient Pine Hermit. But from what I have seen, his skill is higher than either one of them!”

    Lu Xiao Feng did not seem to hear a word they said. In the dusk covered sky, a row of wild geese were flying past for the Winter.

    “It was just the dead of summer, in a blink of an eye it’s turned into Autumn.” Lu Xiao Feng mumbled to himself. “Time passes so quickly... so quickly....”

    Jin Jiu Ling sighed as well.

    “Time is like the water in the river, once it’s gone it’s never coming back. Thinking back to when we first met, it has been almost 10 years now, but how many decades are there in life?”

    “First Madame Gong Sun hasn’t fully recovered. Because we were afraid that you might see through our scheme, the drug she took was real!”

    “I know it’s not fake!”

    “At this moment, she probably only has half of her strength and fighting ability back. Add on top of that her Fourth and Seventh Sister and me, there would be no way in the world you could get away, no matter how powerful you are!”

    “I know!”

    “But if I do indeed duel against you and lose to you, even if I survive, I would surely be injured!” Lu Xiao Feng sighed. “Besides, you know full well how I would act if I really did agree to a duel against you. If I lose, I would not attack you again no matter what!”

    “I have always knew that even though you are not a gentleman, you are still a real man!”

    “That’s why if I lost, they might not be able to stop you. If you can escape out of here today, there is a very good chance you would never be caught and get away with this!”

    “Well if you know what he intends to do, then why are you talking all this bullshit to him? Are you really an idiot?” Ou Yang Qing had to cut in.

    Lu Xiao Feng suddenly let out a little laugh.

    “I’m not talking bullshit!”

    “Then what is it?” Ou Yang Qing sneered.

    “I’m merely telling him that since I can’t afford to lose to him, then if I do agree to a duel, it means that I am sure of winning!”

    “You are prepared to agree to the duel?” Ou Yang Qing’s expression changed dramatically.

    “Well if I’m not going to agree to a duel, then doesn’t all of what I just said become bullshit?” Lu Xiao Feng nonchalantly replied.

    Jin Jiu Ling shot up from his chair.

    “Excellent! Lu Xiao Feng indeed is Lu Xiao Feng!”

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

    “And again, I hear that sentence!”

    “Where do you propose to fight this duel?” Jin Jiu Ling inquired.

    “Here!”

    “Here? Inside the room?”

    “No place like this place, I don’t want to give you an extra opportunity to escape!”

    Jin Jiu Ling threw his head back and let out a hearty laughter.

    “Excellent, excellent indeed!”

    He had suddenly regained his energy, it was almost as if he had changed completely into another person.

    “What are you going to use for a weapon?” Lu Xiao Feng asked.

    “Obviously something you can’t clamp those fingers of yours down on!” Jin Jiu Ling joked.

    “You have already made preparations?”

    “I had always had this hunch, it’s as if I knew that I would one day exchange blows against you!”

    In the corner of the room was a closet, Jin Jiu Ling walked over and opened it. Incredibly, inside the closet was a spear, a sabre, two swords, a pair of hooks, a pair of halbreds, a whip, an ax, a spear with a hook on the side, and one very peculiar somewhat whip like, somewhat club like iron flail. This closet was obviously weapon storage.

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

    “Looks like you really are prepared for anything at anytime, anywhere!”

    “I’m a very careful man, I never do anything I’m not sure of!” Jin Jiu Ling smiled.

    “You don’t fight duels you are not sure you can win?”

    “I have yet to lose once to anyone in all my life!” Jin Jiu Ling nonchalantly replied. This was not a lie.

    “But I also know for a fact that you have yet to lose to anyone in all your life as well!” Jin Jiu Ling stated as he stared at Lu Xiao Feng.

    “There is a first time for everything!” Lu Xiao Feng smiled.

    “Good one!” Jin Jiu Ling agreed as he reached out and grabbed his weapon of choice, he chose the heavy flail that weighed at least 70 kilograms.

    First Madame Gong Sun’s expression changed dramatically.

    “All of you get out, wait outside and guard the door and windows!” She gravely commanded.

    “All of you” includes her sisters as well as Chang Man Tian, Jiang Chong Wei, and Hua Yi Fan. She knew what kind of power the flail had. This room might not be small, but it was far from being large. Once this weapon is put in use, anybody or anything in the room could be smashed to bits at any moment!

    Even Lu Xiao Feng was slightly shocked. This man’s weapon was supposed to be a feather light sewing needle, yet now it suddenly became this almost 100 kilogram flail. Could his kungfu really have reached such a place that he could wield both heavy and light weapons with equal ease?

    “What are you going to use for your weapon?” Jin Jiu Ling was already asking.

    Lu Xiao Feng quitely thought about it for a bit. He suddenly noticed that in the corner of the closet was a pouch of sewing needles. So he chose a single solitary sewing needle!

    Jin Jiu Ling burst out laughing.

    “Great stuff! I’m using this giant iron flail, you are using that sewing needle. If anyone else saw this, they would surely think that you are the Embroidery Bandit!”

    “I might not be the Embroidery Bandit, but I still know how to sew!” Lu Xiao Feng casually replied.

    “But can you sew blind men?” Jin Jiu Ling’s eyes flickered.

    “No!” Lu Xiao Feng’s eyes began to glow like the sword blades as he slowly emphasized every word. “Only dead men!”

    First Madame Gong Sun did not leave the room. Instead she stood silently in the corner of the room. Her face displayed no emotions, but inside she was racked with worry. This room is too small and Jin Jiu Ling’s weapon of choice packed too much power. Once he begin his attacks, Lu Xiao Feng might not even have a place to dodge!

    The flail was about 1 and 1/2 meters in length, the sewing needle was only about 3 centimeters long. The weapons they picked could not be anymore different, one was overtly reliant on power, the other overtly reliant on speed, one was extremely heavy, the other extremely light, softness could nullify hardness, but speed might not defeat power, and lightness could not possibly hope to counter heaviness! Judging strictly on weapons, Lu Xiao Feng was obviously at a disadvantage.

    “Could you please leave the room as well?” Jin Jiu Ling suddenly requested.

    “Are you afraid that I might ambush you from behind?” First Madame Gong Sun sneered.

    “I know you are not the kind of person who would do that,” Jin Jiu Ling smiled. “But having you in the room is still a threat to me!”

    First Madame Gong Sun hesitated and looked over at Lu Xiao Feng at the corner of her eye.

    “You can see us fighting outside just as well!” Lu Xiao Feng matter of factly told her.

    First Madame Gong Sun sighed and finally left the room, but not before she turned around and shouted: “I am about 80% recovered, even if you lose, he still won’t get away!”

    Lu Xiao Feng let out a little laugh.

    “Don’t worry, I don’t plan on letting him get away!”

    Jin Jiu Ling smiled.

    “This room is the death ground, I’m thinking about doing this ‘doomed to death and back’ thing as well!”

    Before he even finished talking, the flail in his hand began to move!

    The actual weight of the flail was 87 kilograms. In his hands, a flail weighing 87 kilograms seemed light as a feather. The moves that he was using were quick, nimble, and fast, just like how one would use a sewing needle. Just this first move contained within it 6 or 7 different variations, yet it did not create any sound as it swished through the air. Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

    Only now did he know that Jin Jiu Ling was a person who did not reveal himself to anyone and that his martial arts skill was truly beyond measure. Only now did he believe that the Wooden Taoist, Ancient Pine Hermit, Master Bitter Gourd, and the rest of them indeed were not a match for him. His mind turned fast, his movements were even faster. He took a quick and gentle step back and stabbed out the needle with his palm facing down.

    “Pshhhhh”! The point of the needle pierced through the air like an arrow shot out of a bow!

    The needle might be light as a feather, but in his hands, it seemed to weigh a ton. His moves were hard, fierce, and pressing, just as if he was the one using the flail. In a blink of an eye the two men exchanged over 10 moves each. The heavy and powerful weapon was used with fast and nimble moves instead! The light and weak weapon was used with hard and pressing moves instead!

    The spectacle of this battle was not something that could be described by anyone. The faces of Jiang Chong, Chang Man Tian, and Hua Yi Fan were all covered with the expression of shock. Even though they could not see, they could still hear it.

    There was only the sound of the needle piercing through the air coming from the room, but not a sound of the large flail could be heard. Even though they were all experienced mastered, none of them could imagine how this could be. All that could be heard was the constant “psss, psshhh” of the sewing needle piercing through the air faster and faster but also constantly moving, on the left side one moment, on the right another, much faster than anything any fly could hope to achieve, nevermind any normal human.

    Hua Yi Fan sighed.

    “No wonder the Wooden Taoist always talks about how Lu Xiao Feng is a rare genius only comes along once several generations. It is not an exaggeration!”

    “But Jin Jiu Ling is even more frightening!” Chang Man Tian replied with a grave expression.

    “Oh?”

    “Lu Xiao Feng’s movements are this fast, attacks are this pressing, and yet Jin Jiu Ling’s huge flail could not be heard at all despite being put into full use against him. Isn’t that even more unimaginable?”

    He knew Jin Jiu Ling was using the flail because he had asked Ou Yang Qing earlier. His experience in combat was something that the privileged and respected Hua Yi Fan could not hope to match, hence his analysis was much more accurate than Hua Yi Fan’s.

    Hua Yi Fan thought in silence for a long time before slowly replying: “I have long heard that Escort Chang’s experience in combat and fighting was something that few could match. Seems like this is also not an exaggeration either!”

    “Woom!” As soon as he had finished his sentence, a sudden gust of wind picked up like a dragon shooting out of a cloud.

    “Jin Jiu Ling has changed his tactics!” Chang Man Tian’s expression changed dramatically.

    Jin Jiu Ling’s moves and techniques did indeed change, it changed into a fast and furious, hard and pressing, yield for nothing style! The room was suddenly and completely covered in the wind of the flail, leaving almost no place of refuge for any human to stand.

    Jiang Chong Wei’s expression changed as well.

    “Could he have been testing Lu Xiao Feng all that time and is only now employing his full power?” He inquired.

    “But Lu Xiao Feng is not holding back anymore either!” Chang Man Tian observed.

    “Why do you say that?” Jiang Chong Wei asked.

    “He’s wielding his flail with such power and speed, if it was someone else, he would have surely been forced out of the room by now. But we don’t hear anything from Lu Xiao Feng, obviously he could still manage and is waiting for his chance to strike!”

    Ou Yang Qing was looking at him with a look of pure admiration. This blind man was seeing things even more accurately than anybody else could see with their own eyes! Lu Xiao Feng was indeed still able to manage. His entire body have seemed to have turned into something entirely formless and shapeless, as if he could turn and flex in any direction at will. No matter how Jin Jiu Ling’s flail attacked him, he would always dodge out of the way as if it was nothing.

    There were instances where the flail had obviously cornered him into a losing situation, yet with a suddenly twist of his body, he would dissipate all the danger. First Madame Gong Sun’s face was full of worry at the beginning, but now she could finally breath a sigh of relief.

    Chang Man Tian suddenly sighed.

    “I had thought that Lu Xiao Feng was not a match at the beginning, but now Jin Jiu Ling has no chance to win!”

    “Why do you say that?” Jiang Chong Wei asked again.

    “Jin Jiu Ling is now using his hard and powerful moves, but power must diminish, hard can’t last forever, the rate at which he is tiring must be much faster than that of Lu Xiao Feng’s!” His face was aglow as he slowly continued. “When he could no longer control the flail as he wishes, he would begin smashing up the room. That would signify that his strength is almost all gone. That’s when Lu Xiao Feng can begin his counter-attack!”

    At this moment, a crashing sound could be heard coming from within the room, followed in quick succession with another serious of other objects being smashed.

    “He has just smashed the table!” Ou Yang Qing involuntarily declared.

    “Boom!”

    “Now he’s smashed the bed too!” The girl in red said.

    A smile crept up on Chang Man Tian’s face.

    “Looks like you are about to get back you collection of paintings and writings!”

    Hua Yi Fan’s face was full of joy as well.

    “Don’t forget your silver!”

    “Kaboom!” An earth shattering explosion shook all of them at that moment.

    Jin Jiu Ling’s forehead was covered in sweat and the speed with which he swung his flail steadily slowed. He also knew that Lu Xiao Feng was getting ready to counter-attack.

    He took two steps forward and swung out the flail. Lu Xiao Feng took two steps back and was just about to use those steps as a spring to leap into attack. But unexpectedly, Jin Jiu Ling suddenly let go of his grip and the flail, with the air around it swirling and howling like a tornado, flew towards Lu Xiao Feng.

    Nobody in the world could possible hope to take on the power of this toss directly. All Lu Xiao Feng could do was quickly dodge out of the way.

    “Kaboom!” The earth shook as the flail actually smashed a huge hole in the wall of the room. The force of the flail was not spent as it kept on flying forward even further. Jin Jiu Ling borrowing the reaction to the force of toss to his body, followed the flail through the wall! Even Lu Xiao Feng was caught off guard by this move. All he saw was a shadow of a man flashing by his eyes and Jin Jiu Ling had vanished.

    “Peng!” The flail smashed into the wall encircling the yard and fell onto the ground, but Jin Jiu Ling had already jumped over the wall. First Madame Gong Sun almost panicked as she was just about to go chase after him when suddenly another shadow passed right in front of her: Lu Xiao Feng.

    “Such incredible speed!” Chang Man Tian sighed in disbelief.

    First Madame Gong Sun sighed.

    “If it wasn’t for the fact that I’m not fully recovered, I could let you hear my speed as well!” She said with a rather disappointed smile.

    She did not chase after Jin Jiu Ling. With Lu Xiao Feng chasing, there was no need for her to go as well.

    “Don’t worry First Madame, Jin Jiu Ling’s strength is almost completely drained, and his lightness kungfu is no match for Lu Xiao Feng to begin with, he can’t get away!” Chang Man Tian replied.

    First Madame Gong Sun finally broke out into a smile.

    “Indeed, there is not that many people who can match up against Lu Xiao Feng’s lightness kungfu!”

    ***

    By now Jin Jiu Ling also understood that Lu Xiao Feng’s lightness kungfu was much more frightening than he could have ever imagined. He had a head start as well as the element of surprise, but within 7 or 8 hops, Lu Xiao Feng had almost already caught up.

    The distance between them was originally more than 30 meters, but now it was no more than 15 meters. This gap could be covered in maybe just one more hop. The strange thing was Jin Jiu Ling did not seem too worried. Before him laid a small woods, within it was some gazebo and pavilions along with some sporadic flowers and bushes.

    “Lu Xiao Feng is the Embroidery Bandit! Somebody slow him down, quick!” Jin Jiu Ling suddenly shouted.

    The shout had not completely died down before 4 shadows flew out from within the pavilion, they were none other than Second Madame, Third Madame, the nun in green, and Jiang Qing Xia. The 4 of them swooped around like swallows with the nun in green and Third Madame out in front.

    “Whoop!” The whip in Third Madame’s hand had latched itself around Lu Xiao Feng’s leg.

    Lu Xiao Feng was so concentrated on chasing Jin Jiu Ling that he had actually not been able to dodge this move. Third Madame gave the whip a good tug and he almost fell.

    By now Jin Jiu Ling had already put almost another 20 meters between him and Lu Xiao Feng, he was about to get away. The nun in green’s sword flashed its cold flash as it struck towards Lu Xiao Feng’s chest.

    Lu Xiao Feng suddenly reached out with his two fingers and clamped down on the blade of the sword. The nun in green simply felt her wrist suddenly go numb and lost her grip on her sword.

    Still with the blade caught between his fingers, Lu Xiao Feng flicked the sword out. Nobody could describe the speed and power of this flick!

    Nobody could imagine it! Nobody would even believe it. Even the phrase “lightning fast” could not describe one millionth of the speed of this sword!

    This sword was like the light. As soon as you lit the lamp, light would have already reached every corner of the room.

    The sword left his hand, a flash, and the blade had arrived at the back of Jin Jiu Ling’s heart!

    Jin Jiu Ling suddenly heard a really strange sound, a sound that he had never heard of.

    Only then did he feel a wave of pain through his heart, a pain as if his heart had just broke.

    He looked down, and at once saw a burst of blood shoot out from his heart. Only after the blood shot out did he finally see the blade that had pierced through his chest.

    When he saw the blade, he had already collapsed! But he was not dead! This strike was too fast, faster than even death!

    He could still see Lu Xiao Feng flying over to him -- Third Madame’s whip had already been clipped in half by Lu Xiao Feng’s fingers.

    Lu Xiao Feng reached Jin Jiu Ling and sat him up.

    “Xue Bing! Where is she?” He shouted.

    Jin Jiu Ling stared back into his eyes, stared back with an unique yet cruel hint of laughter in his eyes.

    “I’m going to see her now,” he whispered. “But you’d have to wait a long long time before you can see her. A long long....”

    His voice suddenly stopped, his heart suddenly stopped too.

    His eyes were still full of that cruel and villainous laughter, as if he just saw Xue Bing....

  5. #25
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Posts
    3,036

    Default Book 2 - Epilogue

    Epilogue

    Lu Xiao Feng was drunk. Because he needed to. He must.

    “I’m going to see her now. But you’d have to wait a long long time before you can see her. A long long....”

    He understood what Jin Jiu Ling meant, how could he not want to be drunk? Even though he was incredibly drunk, he was not asleep, but was still listening to First Madame Gong Sun’s explanation to her sisters!

    “Lu Xiao Feng is not an idiot. I knew he wasn’t an idiot from the very beginning, I believed that he would have been able to see through Jin Jiu Ling’s evil plans!”

    “But I wasn’t sure!”

    “Even though I wasn’t sure, I still had to somehow uncover Jin Jiu Ling’s plans, nobody can be allowed to do that to me!”

    “And I had to find out who his accomplice was, I can’t let someone like this stay among my sisters, just like I can’t let a sand stay in my eye.”

    “So I purposefully led Lu Xiao Feng to our meeting place, because I hoped to find an opportunity to tell him what I thought and hope that the two of us can work together to catch the real Embroidery Bandit.”

    “But I could not just come out and say it, because I know one of you was Jin Jiu Ling’s accomplice!”

    “I was just having trouble finding an opportunity when Lu Xiao Feng gave me one!” “He wanted to have a drinking contest with me.”

    “I suddenly realized what he wanted, so I immediately agreed to it!”

    “When he was just about drunk, he did find an opportunity and whispered two sentences to me. Did any of you notice?”

    “He said: ‘Follow me, I know you are not the Embroidery Bandit!’”

    “So I left with him!”

    “But in order to keep this from the spy, we still had to continue the act. So we had two more rounds!”

    “When the final round began, I secretly signaled Fourth Sister and Seventh Sister to follow me in, because I know that only the two of them are without a doubt innocent. Because only the two of them are still virgins!”

    Ou Yang Qing, the prostitute who lives in a brothel, was a virgin? Even Lu Xiao Feng had to whip his head up and look at her in shock and surprise before quickly putting his head back down again.

    First Madame Gong Sun continued.

    “I instructed them, along with Lan-Er, to immediately split up and go find Jiang Chong Wei, Hua Yi Fan, and Chang Man Tian!”

    “That spy would surely think that I was trying to bait Lu Xiao Feng away and would not suspect anything was amiss!”

    “After I left with Lu Xiao Feng, we immediately found a remote place to discuss and compare what we suspected and what we knew!”

    “That was when we decided upon that ‘doomed to death and back’ plan!”

    Everyone was quiet, nobody spoke up.

    “At the end when Jin Jiu Ling was trying to escape, he obviously already knew that you all had arrived at Yang Cheng, that’s why he went that route.”

    That little wood was their meeting place in Yang Cheng.

    First Madame Gong Sun’s eyes were like a pair of piercing blades as she scanned over the faces of Second Madame, Third Madame, the nun in green, and Jiang Qing Xia.

    “So that spy must be among the 4 of you!” She coldly continued.

    Second Madame and Third Madame’s face were completely devoid of emotions, but Jiang Qing Xia’s face was already deathly pale.

    “Fifth Sister Jiang should have been the most suspicious of all, because she was the only one who would understand the layout and security of the RoyalPalace and was the only one who could get close enough to Jiang Chong Wei to steal his keys,” First Madame Gong Sun declared. She paused and broke out into a smile. “But Lu Xiao Feng had convinced me otherwise. Because he knew that Jin Jiu Ling and Jiang Chong Wei were good friends and could get close to Jiang Chong Wei himself without the help of Jiang Qing Xia. Besides, if Fifth Sister was his accomplice, then he would have never sent Si Kong Zhai Xing to take that piece of red satin to Still Dusk Convent.”

    Jiang Qing Xia looked over at the practically passed out Lu Xiao Feng with eyes overflowing with gratitude.

    “Sixth Sister is also quite worthy of suspicion, because despite being committed to Buddhism, I have recently discovered that she has not been able to protect her body like a treasure!”

    The nun in green’s face initially blushed, but soon turned a deathly pale as well.

    “But then I found out who her secret lover is -- you don’t need to ask me who he is, all that you need to know is that he’s not Jin Jiu Ling. I know what kind of a person Sixth Sister is, if she already has a lover, she would never have gotten together with Jin Jiu Ling. So it could not be her either!”

    The nun in green looked down, tears suddenly appearing in her eyes.

    Yet Second and Third Sister still sat there, their faces totally devoid of emotions, neither saying a word.

    First Madame Gong Sun suddenly turned onto Third Madame, the look in her eyes as sharp as the sharpest blades.

    “You were completely free of suspicion, but you should not have attacked Lu Xiao Feng when he had Seventh Sister as a hostage, forcing Lu Xiao Feng into a fight against us. Furthermore, you definitely should not have made such a lethal attack while Lu Xiao Feng was chasing Jin Jiu Ling!” Her expression suddenly dropped. “Second Madame! You know who the spy is, why are you still sitting there?”

    Second Madame was still sitting there, but her silver sabre was now in hand. Suddenly with a backward thrust, she stabbed towards Third Madame’s waist. This was a lethal strike. But Third Madame did not try to dodge at all, as if she was completely willing and fully prepared to take this blow!

    But it was at this moment that the chopsticks in First Madame Gong Sun’s hand flew out. One of them knocked away Second Madame’s sabre while the other one sealed her pressure point. Second Madame’s entire body froze, as if she had suddendly turned into stone.

    First Madame looked at her and slowly began to talk: “Actually, I knew it was you a long time ago. To fund Jin Jiu Ling’s spending habit, you already lost quite a lot of money. You knew that I would find out sooner or later, so you had to kill me. And after I die, only you would be able to take my place!”

    On her frozen face, Second Madame’s forehead was covered with numerous giant beads of sweat.

    “But we are still sisters, so as long as you show a little bit of remorse and could admit to your mistakes, I was prepared to completely forgive and forget what you did!” First Madame Gong Sun let out a long, drawn out sigh. “But you shouldn’t have made such a vicious move against Third Sister, obviously not only were you not remorseful for what you have done, but was prepared to let Third Sister take the fall and die in your place, you....”

    She did not continue but instead walked up and unsealed Second Madame’s pressure point with her hand.

    “Go, leave!” She gravely instructed. “I just hope that after you leave, you can give me a resolution!”

    Second Madame did not leave, instead she stared back at First Madame Gong Sun, her eyes filled with a hopeless fear.

    She knew that she had no other options left. The silver sabre had landed on the table. She picked it up, and suddenly brought it up against her neck.

    But this time her sabre was knocked down again, this time it was Lu Xiao Feng who knocked it down.

    Lu Xiao Feng, in his somewhat drunk but not quite drunk stupor, waved his hand and knocked down her sabre.

    “Such a beautiful hour, such a wonderful party, why are you still trying to kill somebody?” He mumbled.

    “I....” Second Madame bit her lip. “I’m not trying to kill anybody, I just want to kill myself?”

    Lu Xiao Feng laughed, it was an earnest, but forced laughter.

    “Aren’t you somebody?”

    Second Madame was startled.

    Lu Xiao Feng continued to mumble on.

    “If you are already wrong, then why go and do more wrong? The heart has died, why must the person die too? There’s enough hatred out there, why bother adding more worries? Enough blood has been shed, why shed more?”

    Second Madame stared at him for a long time. She suddenly laid her head down on the table and began to cry, cry with all of her broken heart.

    First Madame Gong Sun looked over at Lu Xiao Feng and suddenly broke out into a smile.

    “Alright, I’ll listen to you one more time. But....”

    Lu Xiao Feng cut her off.

    “All that’s needed to say have been said, why say anything more? The man is drunk, why stay any longer?....”

    He shakely stood up and was slowly, gingerly making his way towards the door!

    But First Madame Gong Sun blocked him.

    “You are going now? Really?”

    “There isn’t a party in the world that must disperse, why not now? Those who has to leave will eventually leave, why not now?”

    “Where are you going?”

    “Since I’m leaving anyways, why must you ask?”

    First Madame Gong Sun stared into his eyes.

    “Since I already asked, why must you not tell me?” She playfully answered.

    Lu Xiao Feng laughed, laughed heartily.

    “Actually, I didn’t need to ask, and you didn’t need to answer, because where you are going, is also where I’m going!”

    Lu Xiao Feng’s suddenly flipped open his eyes.

    “You know where I’m headed?”

    “The two most famous swordsman in the martial world in the last 300 years is about to have a duel on top of Mount Zi Jin.” First Madame Gong Sun smiled. “This duel will not only shake the world, but will be talked about for ages to come, how could I miss it?”

    “You know about that?”

    “I also know that the date of their duel is not the First, but the 15th. Jin Jiu Ling told you the First because he was trying to make you leave!”

    “The 15th? The 15th of August? The Mid-Autumn’s Festival?”

    First Madame Gong Sun nodded and began to slowly hum a tune.

    “Night of full moon, peak of Zi Jin, a sword from the west, an outer heaven angel....”

  6. #26
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Posts
    3,036

    Default Book 3 - Chapter 1

    Lu Xiaofeng Book 3: Before and After the Duel
    [决战前后 Juezhan Qianhou]
    Written by Gu Long
    Translated by Moinllieon


    Chapter 1 - Urgent Message from a Strange Man


    Autumn. The maple on the mountains have already turned into various shades of red, the glint of the road was now covered by a layer of white. The dead of Autumn was approaching.

    The 13th of September. Just before dawn. Li Yan Bei walked out of office number 12 of his 30 offices as he made his way quickly down the still fog covered street. The jug of Bamboo Green and an hour worth of fooling around did not seem to have any tiring effect on him.

    He well over 2 meters tall with a huge and strong build that was brimming with expectant energy. On that serious, dark browed, sharp eyed, eagle-nosed face of his was always an expression that was bordering on cruelty, just like that of an ancient leopard that had just leapt out of the bushes.

    Anybody, no matter who he or she might be, would have a little bit of respect and fear when they come across him, and he would never carry himself lightly either.

    Even ten years ago, he was already one of the most powerful man in this ancient city. A group of men followed him about 5 meters behind him, seemingly having to run just to keep up with him. Within this group of men was the head and the individual escorts of the 3 biggest escort services in all of the capital city, as well as the heads of the underground organizations within the cities just outside of the capital, not to mention the wardens and bosses of the most successful businesses and loan sharks within the city.

    There were also several people who had settled down in the city more than 10 years ago but about whose background nobody had any clues about.

    They were all rich and successful middle aged men, and none of them wanted to leave the warmth of their home to walk about on this bitterly cold street this early in the day. But they had to make a walk like this every morning.

    Because Li Yan Bei particularly liked to walk along this set path for at least an hour every morning before dawn. This place could practically be called his kingdom. During this walk, his head would always be particularly sharp and his assesements would always be particularly accurate. He liked to have his most trusted men following right behind him so he could give them instructions on the fly. Besides, this had been a habit of his for many years now. Just like the moring court that the Emperor holds, it does not matter if you like it or not, you could not miss it.

    Ever since the Head Escort of the “World Shaking Escort”, “Golden Sabre” Feng Kun, was dragged by him out of his bed and into a frozen river one particularly cold morning, nobody has missed one of these walks even once.

    The light of the morning sun have not yet arisen, the wind still carried with it the chilling fragrance of the night, the branches on the trees on the side of the road had long been stripped bare of leaves, and the dew on the fallen leaves had already turned into a layer of thin Autumn frost.

    Li Yan Bei’s fists were tight as he had already walked from the outer walls of the city all the way to the center of the city just outside of the front gate.

    “Sun Chong!” He suddenly yelled out. Immediately, a middle aged man in a gentry outfit and a slight whisker came running out among the men behind him and caught up to him. This was one of the best and most famous men under the command of Li Yan Bei, none other than the head of the “Hall of Satisfaction”, the same hall whose weapons making was known throughout all of China.

    “Did I not instruct you 15 years ago to never ever take Da Zong’s business again?” Li Yan Bei asked with a grave voice. He did not slow down and wait for him to catch up, nor did he even look at him.

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Then why is it that last night, you sold 66 sabres, 50 swords, and all of the bow and arrows from your weapon’s arsenal?”

    Sun Chong’s head dipped as his expression dropped. Obviously, he did not think that Li Yan Bei could have found out about this so soon.

    “This deal’s intake was huge, practically paying for itself,” he stammered, “besides....”

    “Besides, business is still just business, right?” Li Yan Bei sneered.

    Sun Chong did not answer but instead only held his head even lower.

    Li Yan Bei’s fists were even tighter as the look of anger appeared on his face.

    “Do you know who is the man behind all those purchases?” He suddenly asked.

    Sun Chong hesitantly shook his head. But his eyes were sneaking peeks at the surrounding. At this time, they had just made their way onto a very narrow street with cherry trees on the side that was off angle with the other streets. The shops and vendors on the side of the street were not yet open. But at this precise moment, two huge covered horse drawn carts charged out of the narrow alleys on either side of the street and cut them off in the middle of the street.

    Next, the black cloth covering the cart were suddenly lifted as well -- revealing about a dozen men in black on both carts, each with a bow in hand, each of the bows already drawn in full, each with an arrow aimed at Li Yan Bei. Sun Chong had wanted to jump onto a cart, but Li Yan Bei had already grabbed his wrist.

    His face suddenly turned deadly pale as he tried to scream.

    “Cease....” was all he could get out before the vibrations from the bows drawned out his voice as the arrows filled the sky.

    Li Yan Bei widened his stance and, with a simple flick of his arm, spun Sun Chong up in the air and right into the oncoming arrows. In an instant Sun Chong’s body was covered with arrows like a hedgehog. Li Yan Bei let out a yell and was prepared to charge onto the carts. But unexpectedly, as soon as this group of shooters let loose their arrows, they immediately fell down onto the floor of the car only to be replaced with another shift of archers behind them.

    Twenty eight bows were fully drawn, arrows awaiting release. Li Yan Bei froze.

    That crowd of people following him was already cut off by a third cart. Even if his body was fashioned out of iron, there was no way he could survive rounds after rounds of this kind of assault!

    After 20 years of struggles, several hundreds of battles and fights, he still could not avoid falling into his enemies’ traps.

    Li Yan Bei’s eyes were blood filled as he looked like a wolf that had fallen into the hunter’s trap. Just one twang of the bow and even this proud and mighty leader of the capital city would be hard pressed to avoid having his heart pierced by an arrow.

    But it was precisely at that instant, a sudden and sharp sound of something flying through the air could be heard coming from the roof on the left.

    Flash! Two streaks of green flew across the bows.

    “Zeng!” “Zeng!” “Zeng!”

    With a string of sounds like marbles dropped on the floor, the strings of all 28 bows were instantly cut in half by the two streaks of light! Then came a loud but flat thud as those two streaks smashed against the door on the right. They turned out to be nothing more than two bronze coins.

    Who could be so strong as to be able to cut 28 bows in half with just two coins? The faces of the archers were deathly pale as they all began to tumble off of the cart and running towards the narrow alleys. But Li Yan Bei did not chase after them.

    These men were not his opponents, they were not worthy to be his foe. Besides, he had learned quite a long time ago that killing could not make people truly respect you.

    Instead, he just took a deep breath and announced in a grave voice: “Slow down, no need to rush everyone. Go back and tell your master that since Li Yan Bei did not die today, he will surely find him one of these days!”

    Someone began clapping on top of the roof on the left.

    “Great stuff! Such composure! Such dignity! Truly fitting of the famed Li Yan Bei!” That person shouted with a hint of laughter.

    Li Yan Bei began to laugh as well.

    “Pity even if the famed Li Yan Bei had three heads and six arms, he would still not be a match for Lu Xiao Feng’s two fingers!”

    With a hearty laugh, that person jumped down from the roof. His round and chiselled face was covered with dust and wear from travel, but his eyes were still bright, and his eye brows were still shiny black.

    Four eyebrows. Other than him, who else in this world could grow a mustache as pretty as his eyebrows?

    “You figured out who I am?”

    “Golden Coin Flick takes strength in one’s fingers,” Li Yan Bei observed. “Other than Lu Xiao Feng, who else could slice the strings of 28 bows in half?”

    ***

    The sun had already risen. Under the sunlight, the steam that poured out from the frying pan looked like a morning fog.

    Lu Xiao Feng had a fuming piece of pork in one hand and a bowl of fermented bean soup in the other, his third bowl. Only after draining this third bowl did he finally let out a drawn out sigh and wipe the sweat off of his forehead.

    “In the three years since I’ve been back at the capital, you know what I’ve missed the most?” He asked with a smile.

    “Bean soup?” Li Yan Bei answered with a smile.

    Lu Xiao Feng threw his head back and laughed.

    “The thing I missed the most is indeed bean soup, and the second most is fried liver, especially the fire fried liver of Gathering Gods Inn, not to mention Shiny Glow Pavilion northern roast and Meat Pie Street’s meat pie.”

    “What about me?” asked an amused Li Yan Bei.

    “Well, when I’m not hungry, only then would I think of you,” replied a smiling Lu Xiao Feng.

    “But you probably didn’t think that there would come a day when I would almost perish in the hands of another.”

    Lu Xiao Feng had to admit that was true.

    “I didn’t think you were going to let them go either!”

    “You think I like killing?”

    A smile appeared on Lu Xiao Feng’s face again.

    “If you did like killing, then I’m afraid you wouldn’t have lived until today.”

    “Yet you....”

    “Yet you still should have at least asked who sent them!” Lu Xiao Feng cut him off.

    A smile appeared on Li Yan Bei’s face as well.

    “I didn’t need to ask.

    “You already figured it out?”

    The smile on Li Yan Bei’s face did not exactly look happy.

    “Other than Old Du from the southern half of the city, who else would have enough guts to try to pull a move like that?” He casually stated.

    “Du Tong Xuan?”

    Li Yan Bei nodded, but the small boiled clam shell that he had just picked up was already squeezed to dust.

    “The two of you have not meddled with each other for the last ten years, and he should have known a long time ago that you are not an easily dealt with person. Why would he take a risk like this?”

    “For six hundred thousand taels of silver and his territories in the south of the city.”

    Lu Xiao Feng did not understand.

    “I’ve a bet with him, and the wager is six hundred thousand taels of silver and all of his territory.”

    That was truly quite a wager. Even Lu Xiao Feng could not help but take a deep breath.

    “So what are you two betting on?”

    “The duel on September 15th!”

    -Night of full moon, peak of Zi Jin, a sword from the west, an angel from the outter heavens!

    “The duel was originally scheduled for August 15th on top of Mount Zi Jin. But Xi Men Chui Xue insisted on delaying the date for a month and changing its location to here.”

    “I know.”

    “Ever since that day of August 15th, nobody in the world has seen or heard of Xi Men Chui Xue!”

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed again. Of course, he knew about that as well. He was also trying to find Xi Men Chui Xue, trying very hard.

    “That’s the reason why everyone thinks that Xi Men Chui Xue is afraid of Ye Gu Cheng,” Li Yan Bei continued, “that he must have already gone into hiding.”

    “But you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’s not that kind of a man!”

    Li Yan Bei nodded.

    “That’s why even though others think he’d surely lose, I’m still betting on him to win! No matter how much the wager.”

    “Of course, Du Tong Xuan can’t let an opportunity like this slip away.”

    “So he made a bet with me.”

    “Using his territory as a wager against your territory?”

    “And if he loses, he has to pay an extra six hundred thousand taels of silver on top.”

    “I know, even a month ago, people were willing to take two to three odds that Ye Gu Cheng would win!”

    “The bookies’ odds reached two to one a couple of days ago. Everyone still thinks that Ye Gu Cheng would win. Up until yesterday morning, Du Tong Xuan still believed that he had a nine in ten chance of winning.”

    “Up until yesterday morning?”

    “Because the situation had completely changed yesterday afternoon!”

    “Oh?”

    Li Yan Bei stared at Lu Xiao Feng in almost disbelief.

    “Have you really not heard of the news that Ye Gu Cheng has been injured?”

    Lu Xiao Feng shook his head, obviously shocked by the news.

    “How could he be injured? Who could injure him?”

    “Tang Tian Yi.”

    “The Tang Family’s eldest son?” Lu Xiao Feng frowned.

    “Correct.”

    “Rumour has it that for some unknown reason or another, the two of them got into a confrontation near Zhang Jia Kou. Even though Ye Gu Cheng’s move, Outter Heaven Angel, badly injured Tang Tian Yi, he was also hit by a handful of Tang Tian Yi’s Poison Sand.”

    The Tang Family poisons could only be cured by the descedents of the Tang Family. When someone is hit by their poison, no matter who it is, even if he did not die right away, he still does not have much longer to live.

    “Once this news reached here, those men who placed their bets on Ye Gu Cheng have been like ants on a frying pan, some have considered suicide, other have tried to figure out a way to have the bet called off.”

    “And of course, if the other bettor is dead, then the bet is off!” Lu Xiao Feng concluded.

    Li Yan Bei let out a colder snicker.

    “That’s why Du Tong Xuan would take such a risk to try and kill me!” Li Yan Bei finished the thought for him.

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed. He finally understood the wherefor and why of this event.

    “Rumour has it that just last night alone, there has been at least 30 deaths in the city because of this. Even the WestImperialPalace’s warden, “Iron Palm Turns the Sky”, was ambushed by someone in the alley behind Iron Lion Lane because he placed an eight thousand tael bet on Xi Men Chui Xue.”

    “Didn’t think eight thousand taels of silver was enough to buy Iron Palm Zhao’s life!” Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

    “Sometimes, even eighty taels of silver is more than enough to buy a life!”

    Lu Xiao Feng looked down at the food in front of him and discovered that, suddenly, he was not that hungry anymore.

    “Did anybody actually see the duel between Ye Gu Cheng and Tang Tian Yi with his own eyes?” He suddenly asked.

    “No.”

    “Well if nobody saw it, then how are we so sure that this news is reliable?” Lu Xiao Feng asked.

    “Because everyone believes that the source of this news would never lie!”

    “Who’s the source?”

    “Honest Monk!”

    Lu Xiao Feng could not say anything more. Not for the first time, nobody could find anything to say with regards to Honest Monk’s credibility.

    “Honest Monk arrived in the city around noon yesterday,” Li Yan Bei explained, “the first thing he did was go over to ‘Ear Eyes’ and ordered stewed dumplings. He ate one dumpling, and let out a sigh!”

    By this time, the oil on the pork had already froze in the September winds of the North. At a glance, it looked like a layer of frost.

    “The Four Swords of Heaven just happened to be eating there at the time, so they asked him why did he sigh,” Li Yan Bei continued. “That’s when Honest Monk broke the news.”

    Of course, the Four Swords of Heaven were not the only ones who heard the news.

    “Other than Honest Monk and the Four Swords of Heaven, at least four or five hundred men of honour have made their way to the city in the last half a month.”

    Lu Xiao Feng looked down at the oil on the meat, he suddenly felt the urge to puke.

    “From what I heard, there should be at least three to four hundred more famous men from the martial world who will arrive before the 15th, among them are at least five heads of sects, ten clan leaders, and twenty three escort masters. Even Wu Dang’s Wooden Taoist and Shao Lin’s Master Abbot will travel here. Nobody wants to miss this duel.”

    Lu Xiao Feng suddenly slammed his palm down onto the table.

    “What do they think Xi Men Chui Xue and Ye Gu Cheng are? Two circus monkeys doing tricks? Two dogs fighting over a discarded bone in the street?” He sneered.

    The meat and the fire pan jumped up from the table when he slammed his palm down and eventually rolled to a stop on the ground.

    Li Yan Bei looked at Lu Xiao Feng in shock. He had never seen Lu Xiao Feng so emotional, nor could he figure out what made Lu Xiao Feng so angry.

    “Aren’t you here to watch the duel too?” He had to ask.

    Lu Xiao Feng’s fists were clenched tight.

    “I only hope to never see this duel!”

    “But now that Ye Gu Cheng has been injured, there’s no way that Xi Men Chui Xue would lose!”

    “It doesn’t matter who wins or loses, it’s all the same!”

    “Isn’t Xi Men Chui Xue your friend?”

    “Precisely because he is my friend, that’s why I don’t want to see him like a dog chasing after an unseen bone!”

    “What unseen bone?” Li Yan Bei still did not understand.

    “Reputation.” - What other people think of you is precisely that piece of unseen bone.

    “If he does win this duel, it’ll let you win Du Tong Xuan’s territory, and those self-aggrandizing self-righteous swordsmen would all get to see a good show, not to mention they get to see their moves as well as the flaws and weaknesses of their techniques. But what about himself?” Lu Xiao Feng coldly continued.

    Would he not have won? But even if he did win, what good would it do him? Could anyone really understand the loneliness of the victor? Li Yan Bei had finally understood Lu Xiao Feng.

    He quietly stared at Lu Xiao Feng, stared at him for a long time.

    “This duel of theirs, they wanted to fight themselves,” he finally said, slowly. “Nobody forced them to do this!”

    Of course not. There was absolutely nobody in this world that could force those two men to do anything.

    “I am also Xi Men Chui Xue’s friend,” Li Yan Bei continued. “I don’t want to see him take this risk either, nor do I ever intended to use him to get Du Tong Xuan’s territory. But if he wanted this fight himself, then I can’t do anything to stop him!”

    He looked Lu Xiao Feng in the eye and continued, emphasizing every word.

    “Even you can’t do anything to stop him!”

    Lu Xiao Feng did not want to admit it, but he could not deny it either.

    “Even more importantly, even the two of them themselves can’t do anything to stop it either!” Li Yan Bei concluded.

    Many things in this world are like that. There are just some things that a man has to do in this world, and it does not really matter if he wants to or not.

    Lu Xiao Feng suddenly let out a gentle sigh.

    “I’m tired, I want to go take a warm bath!”

    ***

    The bath was carved out of limestone and the water was very hot. Lu Xiao Feng submerged himself entirely under the hot water and tried his best to relax his arms and legs. He was truly exhausted, the kind of mental and physical exhaustion that originates from deep within one’s heart.

    Anytime he finish something big, or solve a huge case, he would always feel like this. But never as deep as this.

    The Embroidery Bandit, Jin Jiu Ling, Lu Shao Hua, First Madame Gong Sun, Jiang Chong Wei, Ou Yang Qing, Xue Bing... he never wanted to think of these people again, especially Xue Bing.

    Everytime he thinks of Xue Bing, his heart would feel like it was being stabbed - stabbed by a sewing needle, a long, sharp, burning, and poisonous needle. In order to escape the pain, he went so far as to try and avoid First Madame Gong Sun. That’s why as soon as he reached Jin Ling, he found a way and quietly left her.

    Pity that some things in this world he could not escape from, nor could they be avoided. Xi Men Chui Xue, Ye Gu Cheng, Du Tong Xuan, Honest Monk....

    He did not want to think anymore.

    “Xi Men Chui Xue must have already arrived here!” He suddenly declared.

    “How can you be so sure?” Li Yan Bei was lying on the side of the bath. A burly looking topless man was busy washing his back for him. This place was inside of his territory. He was as safe here as royalties in their own castles.

    “Xi Men Chui Xue always had this quirky concept.”

    “What concept is that?”

    “He had always felt that killing or being killed is a very holy event!”

    Oh?”

    “So matter who he is dueling, he would always arrive a couple of days early, fast for three days, and then take a ceremonial bath to clense himself.”

    Li Yan Bei suddenly let out a little laugh.

    “And you think that he’s weird for doing that?”

    “You don’t think he’s weird for doing that?”

    “No.”

    “Why not?”

    “Because if I was him, I would do the same thing!”

    He raised his hand to signal to the burly fellow to put scrub harder. More than ten years worth of enjoying the finest wine and women have not yet left its mark on his body. He stomach was still washboard flat and the muscles on his body were still as prominent as they were in the old days. These daily baths and power massages really have helped him immensely.

    “Fasting and clensing can clear a man’s mind and help him concentrate. Arriving several days ahead of time at the location of the duel would help acclimate one to the place, making it possible to gain a positional advantage during the duel. That’s why I have always believed that Xi Men Chui Xue is not a man who’s easily defeated. Because if he wasn’t 70% sure of winning, he would never fight to begin with.”

    “So you think he has already arrived as well?”

    “Mmhmm.”

    “But even until today, you still have not found a trace of him.”

    “No.”

    Lu Xiao Feng frowned.

    “Two people who attracts attention as much as them arrived here and you didn’t hear a thing? That’s truly amazing.”

    Li Yan Bei frowned as well.

    “Two? Who’s the other person?”

    “Sun Xiu Qing.”

    {Note: Lu Xiao Feng actually replied Sun Xiu Zhen, I changed it to keep it consistent with the rest of the book.}

    “A woman?”

    “A very beautiful woman!”

    “He’s keeping a woman at his side this close to the duel?”

    “He would never let other women be at his side, but she’s different.”

    Li Yan Bei frowned even deeper and thought for a long time before letting out a loud sigh.

    “Fortunately, Ye Gu Cheng’s already injured, else....”

    He turned over and suddenly stopped talking. Outside of the steam fogged room, a ghostly shape of a man suddenly appeared.

    “Who is it?” Li Yan Bei demanded in a fierce voice.

    That man did not answer, instead there came a sinister laugh.

    “You shouldn’t have came here for a bath today!”

    “Why not?” Li Yan Bei demanded again.

    “Because if Du Tong Xuan could buy Sun Chong, he could definitely buy the man who washes your back for you!”

    The man’s expression changed dramatically as he suddenly made a break for the door. But Li Yan Bei had already grabbed a hold of his arm. He was normally strong man, but under Li Yan Bei’s grasp, he suddenly did not even have the strength the fight back. He tried to struggle, but only heard the sound of his own wrist snapping.

    “The poison is on the towel, if you want the anecdote, go wait in the Oriental Spring Pavilion outside.”

    The ghostly man moved like a ghost as well, with a mere flick of his sleeve, he was gone. But his voice could still be heard from far away.

    “Once you get to Oriental Spring Pavilion, you’d find out who I am, you can still come after me then!”

    By the time he finished, he sounded at least 200 meters away.

    Li Yan Bei tore the towel away from the man’s hand. That man was still screaming from the pain as Li Yan Bei stuffed the towel into his open mouth. His scream suddenly stopped as his body twitched violently. His entire body literally shriveled up as he curled up and fell onto the floor, not moving anymore. There really was poison on this towel!

    When that man was scrubbing his back, the poison on the towel soak through his skin. Suddenly, every muscle on Li Yan Bei’s body began to twitch and jump uncontrollably.

    Even Lu Xiao Feng was taken aback by the sight before him.

    “Du Tong Xuan! What a sinister move!”

    “And who was that man just then?” Li Yan Bei asked, fist clenched tightly as he tried to control himself. “How did he know about Du Tong Xuan’s plan? And why would he safe me?”

    To find the answers, there was only one thing to do.

    “To the Oriental Spring Pavilion!”

    Oriental Spring Pavilion was also in Li Yan Bei’s territory. They rode there on a carriage even though Li Yan Bei liked to walk. However, because he was afraid that the poison would break out, he did not want to exert any more strength than necessary.

    Those who seen him were as polite and courteous as they normally were towards him, bowing deeply as a sign of respect as soon as they saw him approach. Nobody could tell that this tiger of a man’s life was in danger. Of course, Li Yan Bei was not as polite and courteous as he normally would be towards these people -- nobody with a sack of explosive that could go off at any moment inside of them would be in that good of a mood.

    The Oriental Spring Pavilion was huge and had a thriving business. At the time that they arrived, there was no table open, but everywhere Li Yan Bei goes there would inevitably be someone getting up and yielding the table to him. They picked a table in the center of the room, facing the stairs so they could immediately see everyone came up the stairs. There was nobody coming upstairs, only people going down.

    Seeing the vicious look on Li Yan Bei’s face, those who knew better were already getting ready to leave, some were quietly making payment and some others were secretly discussing the situation.

    Suddenly, all the noise and sound in the building stopped. Every eye were glued on one single person, a person who had just walked the stairs.

    This man was very tall, and very thin. His clothing were obviously very meticulously picked out and his mannerisms were exceedingly refined. Even though he was not that old, his sideburns were already turning white. His skinny and green face always seemed to be carrying not only at least some signs of illness but also a definite feeling of power and authority, making it impossible for people to take him lightly.

    He was wearing a jade blue outfit made of the highest quality of cloth and color, on his effeminate and well preserved pair of hands was a priceless white jade ring. Even on his silk belt was a huge piece of flawless jade. From his appearence, he looked just like an official from the Imperial Court or a scholar from the ImperialAcademy.

    In truth, quite a number of people do call him Scholar, and he really enjoyed being called that. But he was not a real scholar.

    He was smiling when he walked up the stairs, but everybody who saw him walking up was finding it difficult to smile, especially Li Yan Bei, his expression turned even sicker.

    Nobody could have imagined that Du Tong Xuan would suddenly appear inside of Li Yan Bei’s territory the same way that nobody could imagine that a wolf would walk into a tiger’s cave. In the last ten years, Du Tong Xuan did not set foot outside of the south of the city even once.

    Scholar Du was always a very careful and cautious person, what made him change today?

    Even more unimaginable for everyone present, he walked straight up to Li Yan Bei.

    “I hope General Li is doing well today?” He asked with a smile as he cupped his fist.

    He liked it when other people call him Scholar Du, but Li Yan Bei hated it when being referred to as General Li. Lu Xiao Feng laughed. To him, be it Scholar or General, the two names were both quite humourous.

    “And might you be the Quick Heart Quick Mind Hero Lu Xiao Feng?” Du Tong Xuan looked over at him and smiled back.

    “You are no scholar, he’s no general, and I’m no hero, I say let’s we should just forego all these polite pleasantries.” Lu Xiao Feng replied with a laugh.

    Du Tong Xuan’s expression did not even change as his mannerisms still remained as refined and dignified as ever. Lu Xiao Feng was finding it hard to see that this was the same unblinking killer that was Old Man Du of the city south.

    Li Yan Bei’s stares were like knives, staring at him.

    “If I were you, I would never have came here!” He suddenly declared.

    “I’m not you, so I did!”

    “You shouldn’t have!”

    “I already have!”

    “If you want to come here, you can.” Li Yan Bei snickered. “But I’m afraid leaving might not be as easy!”

    Du Tong Xuan actually smiled.

    “Is this the way that General Li repays someone for saving his life?”

    The reply shocked Li Yan Bei.

    Du Tong Xuan, using that pair of jade ring wearing hand of his, pulled out a chair and sat down at the table.

    “I had thought that you would at least invite me to a drink.” He continued with a smile.

    “Was that person who just saved me really you?” Li Yan Bei finally asked despite of himself.

    Du Tong Xuan nodded.

    Li Yan Bei stared back.

    “Just today, there have been two attempts on my life, that’s also you?”

    “Sometimes I find it very easy to change my mind!” Du Tong Xuan noted matter of factly.

    “What made you change your mind?”

    Du Tong Xuan did not answer that question; instead, he suddenly shouted: “The anecdote!”

    Almost before he finished shouting, a man was there behind him. A short and skinny man wearing all black. His deathly pale complexion was completely devoid of all emotion and expression, but his eyes were deeply sunken and dark as abyss. If not for his eyes, he could have easily been mistaken for a corpse.

    All these people here in the room, yet amazingly nobody saw how he had gotten there. A corpse-like face, a ghost-like quickness -- Li Yan Bei quickly discerned that he was none other than the man who mysteriously appeared and disappeared outside of the bath earlier. With a demon claw like hand, he had already placed a deathly green colored wooden flask on the table.

    “This is the anecdote, I suggest it would be best if you take it as soon as possible, before the effects of the poison breaks out!”

    Li Yan Bei’s fist remained clenched. For him to take this anecdote in front of all these people would truly be an enormous embarrasement.

    But he just could not refuse either.

    And Du Tong Xuan knew he could not refuse.

    “I was just going to come here to deliever the anecdote, but now....” He casually declared.

    “You changed your mind again?”

    Du Tong Xuan smiled.

    “I only just thought something else to ask of you!”

    “What?”

    “Don’t know if you are interested in adding a little bit more to our wager!”

    Li Yan Bei was taken aback once again.

    “You want to raise the wager?”

    “You are scared?”

    “How much more do you want to raise?”

    “How much more can you wager?”

    Li Yan Bei’s fists underneath the table were clenched again.

    “In my four bookies, there are still stored more than eight hundred thousand more taels of silver!”

    “Then I’ll place another one million two hundred thousand taels of silver in them first thing tomorrow!” His eyes were glowing. “I don’t want to take advantage of you, so we are still wagering on two to three odds!”

    Li Yan Bei’s eyes were glowing as well, he stared Du Tong Xuan in the face and declared, word for word: “If I lose, I would immediately leave the capital. As long as you live, I would never set foot inside the capital again!”

    “If I lose, I would immediately leave the country, as long as you live, I would never set foot inside the Great Wall again!”

    “That settles it then?”

    “Hit palms to cement the deal!”

    The two men slowly raised their hands, eyes never leaving the other’s eyes. Suddenly, not a sound could be heard anywhere in the building. The wagers in this bet was beyond anyone’s imagination, they had literally wagered the lives of their entire families on the line.

    Everyone was staring at the two palms, their own palms covered in a layer of cold sweat.

    “Pa!” The sound of the two palms meeting ringed out, but for whom does the bell toll?

    Li Yan Bei’s expression was very grave, only after a long while did he finally put his hand down.

    But Du Tong Xuan was smiling rather proudly.

    “You must find this strange, why would I raise the bet when I know that Ye Gu Cheng is injured?”

    Li Yan Bei did not refute the statement, for he really was finding all this very strange. Everybody was. Du Tong Xuan had always been a cautious man and would never do anything he was not sure of. Why would he be so sure about this? The answer to this question would come very quickly!

    ***

    The wind breezed by outside the window. Suddenly, everyone became aware of a strange flowery fragrance. Six young maidens with ebony black hair down to their shoulders and clad in white came walking up the stairs all the while tossing flowers from the baskets on their hands onto the floor, creating a literal floral carpet of chrysanthemums up the stairs.

    A man, stepping on the flower petals, slowly walked up the stairs. His face was white, not a colorless white or a pale white but a kind of vibrant and glowing kind of white, like a white piece of jade.

    His eyes were not completely black, but were frighteningly bright, like two cold stars. A top of his pitch black hair sat a pearl crown made of white sandwood. The clothes he was wearing were also as white as the driven snow. He took his time when he walked up like how a king would walk into his own court, or like an angel, coming to visit this world.

    Li Yan Bei did not recognize this man, he had never seen this man before in his life. But he knew who this man was!

    “A sword from the west, an angel from the outter heavens!” Master of White Cloud Castle Ye Gu Cheng had actually showed up! He was still alive!

    There was a glow that almost made one squint eminating from his body. Nobody in his right mind would say that he looked like a man carrying an injury.

    When Li Yan Bei saw him, even his breathing almost stopped, but his heart did sink. Ye Gu Cheng did not see him, instead, those cold, starry eyes of his were staring at Lu Xiao Feng. Lu Xiao Feng smiled.

    “You came as well!” Ye Gu Cheng said.

    “I came as well!” Lu Xiao Feng replied.

    “Excellent, I knew you would come!”

    Lu Xiao Feng did not responde, for Ye Gu Cheng’s eyes suddenly looked away.

    “Who among you is Tang Tian Rong?” He suddenly asked.

    By the time he asked this questions, his eyes had already settled upon a man in the left corner.

    This man’s face was originally very handsome, but by now it suddenly seemed frozen in a twist. He had been sitting quietly in the corner all this time, even Lu Xiao Feng had not noticed him when he arrived. He was still very young but his outfit was very ornate and elegant, but there was vulture like glint of cruelty in his eyes.

    Those eyes were staring straight back at Ye Gu Cheng as well.

    “I am Tang Tian Rong!” He answered, emphasizing each word.

    The people sitting at seven or eight tables between him and Ye Gu Cheng suddenly scattered into the other two corners of the room.

    “Do you know who I am?” Ye Gu Cheng asked.

    Tang Tian Rong nodded.

    “Are you wondering right now exactly how I’m still alive?”

    The corner of Tang Tian Rong’s mouth seemed to be flinching involutarily.

    “Who gave you the antidote?”

    Only now did everybody know that, this time, Honest Monk had still not lied. Ye Gu Cheng really was injured, injured by the Poison Sand of the Tang Family. But yet how could this poison that had long frightened anybody and everybody in all of the martial world until this day not have had any ill effects on Ye Gu Cheng? Who indeed gave him the antidote?

    Everybody wanted to hear Ye Gu Cheng’s answer, but yet he just would not answer this question.

    Instead, he casually replied: “There was no poison to begin with, why bother with an antidote?”

    “No poison to begin with?”

    “Where’s the poison in a bit of dust?”

    Tang Tian Rong’s face dropped.

    “My family’s Flying Sand is nothing but a bit of dust in your eyes?”

    Ye Gu Cheng nodded. Tang Tian Rong did not talk anymore, instead, he slowly stood up and loosened his robe to reveal the shirt he wore inside.

    His shirt was not strange, nor scary. What was frightening was two leopard skin pouches that were held tightly around his hips along with a pair of fish-skin gloves on his belt!

    The entire pavilion suddenly became deathly quiet again. Everybody wanted leave, but nobody was willing to leave. For everybody knew that right here, right now, an incredible battle was about to ensue.

    Tang Tian Rong took off his robe and put on his gloves. Those fish skin gloves had an eerie green glow, his face seemed to be a sickly green as well.

    Ye Gu Cheng quietly stood there, watching. A boy in white walked up from behind him and offered an ancient and elegant sword in black sheath. Sword was now in hand!

    Tang Tian Rong’s eyes did not leave the sword in his hand.

    “Anybody else here thinks that my family’s Flying Sand is nothing more than a bit of dust?” He suddenly shouted.

    Of course nobody answered!

    “If nobody else thinks so, then it would be best if everybody could please go down stairs so as to avoid accidents!”

    Those who were unwilling to leave had to leave now. The Tang Family’s Poison Sands, in the eyes of those in the martial world, was even more frightening than the Black Plague. Nobody wanted to risk touching even one.

    “No need to leave!” Ye Gu Cheng suddenly declared.

    “No need?”

    “I guarantee that you could not even release the Flying Sand out of your hand!” He matter of factly answered.

    Tang Tian Rong’s expression changed again.

    The Tang Family Poison Sand was not just frightening because of the poison it contained, but also because that the Tang Family disciples were extremely fast!

    Even those who had witnessed their attack first hand could not describe just how they attacked. But this time Tang Tian Rong really was not even able to release the poisonous sands. As soon as his hands moved, the glow of a sword took flight!

    Nobody can describe how spectacular and mesmerizing this strike was, and even less can describe its speed! This was not just a sword, but an angry rumblem from the god of thunder. Like a bolt of lightning, it flashed, and disappeared.

    Ye Gu Cheng had already returned onto the floral carpet. But Tang Tian Rong was still standing there, not moving one bit, his arms had fallen to his side, and his face frozen stiff.

    It was only then that everyone saw the blood suddenly spewing out from underneath his collarbone on both shoulders. Tears flooded out with the blood. He knew, at this moment, that in his life he would never be able to use the poison again. To a member of the Tang family, it was a fate more frightening and cruel than death itself!

    But now Ye Gu Cheng’s attention had returned to Lu Xiao Feng.

    “What an extraordinary strike of Outter Heaven Angel!” Even Lu Xiao Feng had to praise the strike.

    “It is indeed a strike peerless in all of the world!” Ye Gu Cheng declared.

    “I won’t deny that!” Lu Xiao Feng agreed.

    A strange emotion suddenly surfaced in Ye Gu Cheng’s eyes and he asked a very strange question.

    “What about Xi Men Chui Xue?”

    “I’m not Xi Men Chui Xue?” Lu Xiao Feng answered. A strange question could only be answered with a strange reply.

    Ye Gu Cheng smiled and stared back at Lu Xiao Feng.

    “Good thing you are not.” He slowly replied. Still smiling, he turned around and walked down the stairs.

    As soon as he left, the entire pavilion suddenly exploded. Some people were loudly debating, while others were scrambling out to be the first to spread the news. Not only was Ye Gu Cheng not dead, he was not even injured. Everybody had seen his strike! His peerless, matchless strike! Li Yan Bei saw it too, saw it very clearly. That was why he looked like he was staring into space.

    Du Tong Xuan looked over at him and suddenly smiled.

    “I’m sure you realize now why I changed my mind!”

    Li Yan Bei did not answer, and he did not need to answer.

    “Usually, I only kill people, I don’t save them, but this time I’ll make an exception.” Du Tong Xuan continued. “Because I don’t want you to die!”

    Still smiling, he stood up.

    “Because a corpse can’t pay up a debt, a gambling debt!”

    ***

    Gambling debt. Only a corpse can reneg on such a debt. As long as Li Yan Bei was alive, then he would have to pay up. A man who goes back on his words would never be able to live in a place like this!

    Now, even though that battle still had not began, everyone was sure that Li Yan Bei would lose. But if he really lost this bet, being alive was not much better than being dead.

    Slowly, hesitantly, Li Yan Bei picked up the antitode that Du Tong Xuan left on the table. He suddenly laughed.

    “No matter what, at least Du Tong Xuan saved my life this once!”

    His laugh looked very forced. The hand he picked up the antidote from seemed to be slightly shaking.

    “No matter what, at least you are still alive right now, and haven’t lost!” Lu Xiao Feng tried to comfort him.

    “At least not yet,” Li Yan Bei nodded.

    Lu Xiao Feng stared Li Yan Bei in the face.

    “But you don’t seem to be nearly as confident as before.”

    Li Yan Bei did not refute this notion, nor could he. Only after a long silence did he finally let out a long, drawn out, exhausted sigh.

    “That truly was a strike peerless in this world!”

    “A peerless strike doesn’t necessarily mean a must-win strike!” Lu Xiao Feng declared.

    “Oh?”

    “There is no must-win strike in this world!”

    “I know that Xi Men Chui Xue has never lost before, he should have at least a half a chance to win, but now....”

    “Now what?”

    Li Yan Bei smiled again, once again, an even more forced smile.

    “If he had arrived in the city, at least I would have known it by now!”

    “So if you don’t know about it, then that means he hasn’t arrived?”

    “You could say that!”

    “And if he hadn’t arrived here yet, does that convey that he doesn’t have confidence in himself?”

    “What do you think?” Li Yan Bei threw the question back at him.

    “I don’t know, I don’t like to speculate too much on things that have yet to happen!”

    Upon hearing that comment, Li Yan Bei became silent again.

    “Did you recognize that guy who came with Du Tong Xuan?” He suddenly asked.

    Lu Xiao Feng shook his head.

    “But you probably noticed that his lightness kungfu wasn’t shabby at all!”

    “Far from shabby. Right now, the people who are better than him probably number less than 10!”

    “You have traveled far and wide and seen many things, don’t you at least have an idea on who he is?”

    “If not for his small and skinny stature, I would have probably mistook him for Si Kong Zhai Xing!” Lu Xiao Feng said, in deep thought.

    “He isn’t?”

    “Absolutely not!”

    “Is that why you can’t figure out who he is?”

    “But I can’t shake the feeling that something’s not right!”

    “What’s bothering you?”

    “No matter who he is, based on his skills, there’s no way he should be a servant of a man like that!”

    Li Yan Bei did not say anything more for a long time.

    “You just arrived here at the capital, I know you must really want to tour the city a bit. I’m sure you’ll meet up with a lot of friends.”

    Lu Xiao Feng did not refute this claim.

    He really did want to see what kind of people had showed up here, and he also wanted to go find Honest Monk.

    “Tonight, I’ll go to Lasting Happiness Hall in Gold Fish Alley and order us a couple of dishes and have them delievered to my house. We’ll celebrate at my house tonight!”

    “Great!” Lu Xiao Feng replied before suddenly bursting out laughing. “Which one of your houses is that?”

    Li Yan Bei laughed too.

    “Today is the 13th? I’m supposed to dine at 13th Mistress’ place tonight. Besides, she’s wanted to see you for a while now and find out why you have 4 eye brows.”

    “I have wanted to meet her too, heard she’s a very famouse beauty!” Lu Xiao Feng smiled.

    “Great!” Li Yan Bei laughed. “When dinner time rolls around, I’ll order a couple of guys to wait here for you to take you to my place!”

    “If I happen to run into Hua Man Lou, I might have to drag him along as well!”

    “No problem!”

    Lu Xiao Feng suddenly sighed.

    “The strange thing is that, he seemed to have disappeared along with Xi Men Chui Xue. If I could find him, I might be able to find Xi Men Chui Xue too!”

    “Why?”

    “He has this weird ability to find people, even I can’t begin to explain how exactly he does it!”

    “If you go take a walk outside, he might find you instead!”

    “Very possible.”

    “Then what are you waiting here for?”

    Lu Xiao Feng looked Li Yan Bei in the face and slowly replied: “Waiting for you to drink the antidote!”

    “You want to watch me take the antidote before you leave?”

    Lu Xiao Feng nodded.

    Li Yan Bei suddenly threw his head back and laughed.

    “Don’t worry, I don’t want to die just yet. I can’t bear to make 30 women turn into widows all at once!”

  7. #27
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Posts
    3,036

    Default Book 3 - Chapter 2

    Chapter 2 - Dead Man Tell No Tales

    September 13th, just past noon. After Lu Xiao Feng walked down Oriental Spring Pavilion, he began to make his way briskly down the street. The sun had already risen.

    He decided that this was truly a beautiful city, its streets were wide and flat, its buildings were neatly kept and clean, every single store front was more refined and delicate than those found in other cities.

    But he also knew that the most beautiful thing about this city was not its bustling streets or its beautiful architure, nor was it those world famous scenery and landmarks, but its people. No matter where you came from, no matter where you go, once you have visited this city, you will never forget it.

    Once past midday, the wind would start to blow. As soon as the wind would blow, the air would be filled with dust. But no dust storm in this world, no matter how large, could cover up the beauty of this city. Even though Lu Xiao Feng was walking at a brisk pace, he had no destination in mind what so ever.

    Of the people he wanted to see, he saw none, but of the people he did not want to see, he saw quite a few. The first one he saw was Ou Yang Qing.

    Ou Yang Qing was roaming through the jewelery shops outside, standing next to a seemingly elegantly dressed madame with a headful of pearls.

    The lady was probably very beautiful, but Lu Xiao Feng dared not to take a second glance. As soon as he saw Ou Yang Qing, he turned his head in the other direction. -- He thought of Xue Bing again. Ou Yang Qing obviously saw him as well, but also pretended not to notice. Suddenly, she grabbed the madame’s hand and boarded an ebony black carriage.

    Only after the carriage rumbled out of sight did Lu Xiao Feng turn his head around as he stared numbly at the dust the carriage stirred up as it rumbled away, not sure how he was feeling inside himself.

    On the other side of the street, several people were waving at him, but a couple steps away from him was a young man staring at him, hand on sword.

    He recognized those men, among them were two master escorts from the Sichuan and Hunan areas, a disciple of Wudang, and a helsman of a bandit group from around Sichuan. But he did not recognize that young man who was staring at him.

    The stare was quite a vicious one as well, and it was coupled with an expression that was just looking for trouble. But Lu Xiao Feng did not want any trouble, so he only lightly nodded towards those men before quickly turning around and walking eastward.

    Suddenly, a hand reached out from an antique art store on the side of the street and patted him on the shoulder.

    “You are here! I knew you would come!”

    A old taoist with a headful of a silvery white hair and a barely patched together robe walked out from the store, laughing; behind him was a thin but healthy looking old man with clean and neat clothes. They were none other than the Wooden Taoist and Ancient Pine Hermit.

    All Lu Xiao Feng could do was return the smile.

    “I knew you would come too!”

    The Wooden Taoist threw his head back in laughter. Despite his advancing age, his face was still bursting red with energy and still had a glint of mischieve. Very few people could tell that he was none other than one of the three most celebrated swordsmen in the world.

    “I can’t miss this duel!” He patted Lu Xiao Feng on the shoulder again and smiled. “Even if I’m too old to walk here, I would crawl!”

    “Is it because you want to see where the weaknesses are in their techniques so you can challenge them later?” Lu Xiao Feng matter of factly countered.

    The Wooden Taoist was not offended, instead he sighed.

    “I’m old, getting into sword duels or drinking contests no longer interests me. But I’m still always up for a game of chess with anybody who wants to challenge me!”

    “Actually, we were just looking for you!” Ancient Pine Hermit suddenly declared.

    “Me? What for?”

    “We have arranged a meeting with someone this afternoon and wanted to invite you along!” Ancient Pine Hermit answered.

    “What do I have to do with the meeting?”

    “Because you would certainly want to meet this person as well!” The Wooden Taoist answered before Ancient Pine Hermit was able to. The smile on his face seemingly very mysterious.

    “Who is this person?” Lu Xiao Feng had to ask.

    The smile on the Wooden Taoist’s face became even more mysterious.

    “If you really want to know who this person is, why don’t you come to the meeting?”

    Of course Lu Xiao Feng went. He had always been susceptible to temptation, not to mention his unmatched curiosity.

    The location of the meeting was a strange one. It was actually in a long been abandoned kiln yard outside of the city. All the dust covered kilns looked just like mound after mound of graves.

    “So many great places inside the city, why did you guys pick here for the meeting?” Lu Xiao Feng frowned.

    “Because we are meeting a weirdo!” Ancient Pine Hermit replied.

    “Strictly speaking, we are meeting three weirdos. One slacker who has never done a day of honest work in his life, and two old men even weirder than I am!” The Wooden Taoist clarified.

    “But these two old men aren’t just your average old men, it’s been rumoured that there is nothing that they don’t know and no problems they can’t solve.” Ancient Pine Hermit added.

    The Wooden Taoist shot a look at Lu Xiao Feng.

    “I’m sure by now you have figured out who we have arranged to meet here!” He smiled.

    Of course Lu Xiao Feng knew. At this precise moment, a short and skinny man with a huge head slowly approached on a mule. He was not yet close, but the stench of alcohol was already noticeable. This person seemed to have never had a sober moment in all of his life. Lu Xiao Feng laughed. Everytime he meet Mister Big Shot Son of a Turtle, he could not help but laugh a little.

    “Seems like your great self didn’t have to be bailed out of debt by somebody else this time! Truly a rare event!”

    Big Shot Sun shot a look at him and exasperratingly rolled his eyes in disgust.

    “You are here too, huh? I....”

    “You knew I was going to come long ago, right?” Lu Xiao Feng cut him off with a laugh.

    Big Shot Sun sighed and mumbled under this breath: “Those who shouldn’t be here are all here, yet those who should be here are not....”

    He threw his leg over the mule’s back and jumped down. But his legs were weak and he wobbled, almost making him fall flat onto the ground.

    Even the Wooden Taoist could not resist laughing.

    “Honestly now, have you ever been sober for one day in your life?”

    “No!” Big Shot Sun’s answer was, not very surprisingly, quite straight forward.

    “There’s one good thing about this guy,” Wooden Taoist joked. “Sometimes he is literally even more honest than Honest Monk!”

    “The way of the wine village is steady on long, other places can’t compare...” In response, Big Shot Sun mumbled. “In wine the heavens are large, the days are long, why would I want to be sober?”

    “You really are a very fortunate man, more fortunate than the rest of us!” The Wooden Taoist laughed and replied.

    “Because I’m smarter than the rest of you!”

    “Oh?”

    “At least I won’t spend 50 taels of silver to ask some questions that should never be asked!”

    “Where is Mr. Smart Guy and Mr. Know-It-All?” Ancient Pine Hermit asked with a straight face, he never did like to laugh too much.

    “Since I arranged to meet you guys here, of course they’re here too!” Big Shot Sun answered.

    “Where?”

    “Over there!” Big Shot Sun casually pointed at a kiln hole ahead of him.

    “What are they doing inside a kiln?” Ancient Pine Hermit frowned.

    Big Shot Sun rolled his eyes towards him as well.

    “Why do you ask them yourself?”

    “And that question would be worth 50 taels of silver?” Lu Xiao Feng asked, trying hard to hold back his laughter.

    “Of course! Any question, every question, 50 taels of silver, and also....”

    “And also the old rules still apply, we can only wait outside and not go in!” Lu Xiao Feng finished for him.

    “Seems like there’s some intelligence in you after all!” Big Shot Sun sighed.

    The hole into the kiln was small and ominously dark, even a man as small as Big Shot Sun had to bend down to work his way inside. At first Lu Xiao Feng was worried that his head was bigger than the hold itself. But eventually he did crawl in, looking much like a corpse crawling into his own grave, very humurous and frightening at the same time.

    After a little bit of silence, his shouted from inside: “Begin!”

    The first one to ask was Wooden Taoist, obviously he was the one who arranged this meeting. But before he even asked, Lu Xiao Feng knew what he was going to ask.

    “The duel on September 15th between Xi Men Chui Xue and Ye Gu Cheng, who do you think will win?”

    That was the question that everyone was asking and quite a few people would be willing to pay 50 times more than the 50 taels of silver to know the answer.

    “You want to get the answer to that for only 50 taels of silver? A little cheap don’t you think?” The one who answered was Smart Guy, Lu Xiao Feng heard him talk before.

    “Nevertheless, I might as well tell you!” He continued. “Neither one of them will win!”

    “Why?” That was the second question, the Wooden Taoist tossed in another 50 taels of silver.

    “The old saying goes that when two tigers fight, one must lose, but that’s wrong.” Smart Guy continued to answer. “More often than not, the result of a fight between two tigers is that both are injured. The real winner is the hunter spectating on the side.”

    Quietly listening, Lu Xiao Feng’s eyes flashed a glint of approval. This “Smart Guy” was truly a “smart guy”, only men of real wit and intelligence could understand to answer that question in such a clever way.

    “Has Xi Men Chui Xue already arrived here in the capital?” The Wooden Taoist asked again.

    “He has.”

    “Where is he?”

    “In a place that’s very difficult to find, because he does not want to see anyone before September 15th.”

    That was another very clever answer, but nobody could say the answer was wrong. The Wooden Taoist sighed, seemingly feeling that those 200 taels of silver was not so well spent.

    “Was Ye Gu Cheng really injured by the Tang Family Poison Sands?” This time it was Ancient Pine Hermit who asked the question.

    “He was.”

    “Other than the Tang family’s unique antidote, is there any other way to combat the poison?”

    “Yes.” This time it was Know-It-All who answered. He knew the ins and outs of every weapon or projectile in the world.

    Ancient Pine Hermit sighed as well, as if he was happy for Ye Gu Cheng. But Lu Xiao Feng knew he was not Ye Gu Cheng’s friend, Ye Gu Cheng did not have that many friends.

    “Why don’t you two ever want to meet anyone?” The Wooden Taoist suddenly asked.

    “Because there is nobody in this world who’s worth meeting!”

    The Wooden Taoist laughed exasperratingly, that last 50 taels of silver was even more of a waste. He turned to Lu Xiao Feng: “Do you have anything you want to ask?”

    Lu Xiao Feng did not really have any questions that he could not explain away himself, but after seeing Ou Yang Qing in the city, he was suddenly reminded of a couple of strange coincidences. Hopefully Smart Guy could help explain all of this to him.

    “Is Ou Yang Qing really a virgin?” This was a very strange question. For the life of him, the Wooden Taoist could not figure out why he would ask this kind of question at this moment.

    “Yes!” The answer came from inside the kiln, but only after a prolonged period of silence.

    “Is Honest Monk really that honest?”

    “Yes.”

    A puzzled look appeared over Lu Xiao Feng’s face.

    “What was he before he became a monk? What was his name back then? Where did he come from?”

    “Nobody knows where he came from!” This was almost not an answer anymore. An exasperrated smile appeared on Lu Xiao Feng’s face as well.

    Even though he was pretty much wasting money, he still had a few questions: “Do you know who that man with Du Tong Xuan was?”

    “He is....” Know-It-All’s answer was suddenly interrupted by a very strange sounding flute. Thankfully, even though the pitch was very high and piercing, it was very short as well, just a distance toot, and then it was gone.

    “Who was that man in black with Du Tong Xuan?” Lu Xiao Feng asked again. No answer came. He waited a long time and then asked again. Still no answer. Taking the silver and not answering, this was the first time that has ever happened.

    Lu Xiao Feng frowned and was just about to ask again before, suddenly, a blood red little snake shot out like an arrow from the kiln hole, straight into a bush and disappeared. Even though the snake was small, its movements were lightning fast and the direction it shot out at was precisely the direction the sound of the flute came from.

    Lu Xiao Feng’s expression changed dramatically.

    “Big Shot Sun! Mr. Big Shot Son of a Turtle!” He shouted.

    Still no answers. Not even a sound was coming from inside the kiln. Lu Xiao Feng suddenly jumped up and viciously stumped on the kiln. The dilapidated kiln instantly caved in to reveal a huge hole on the side.

    The moon light poured through the hole and right upon Big Shot Sun’s face. His face was twisted stiff; his eyes, filled with horror, bulged out like those of a dead fish. His tongue was stuck out of his mouth, but it had already turned a deathly grey, as if somebody had suddenly snapped his neck.

    But his neck was not snapped, on his throat were two puncture wounds, the little bit of blood trailing out from them were black.

    “That snake just then!” The Wooden Taoist conjectured.

    Lu Xiao Feng nodded. Any fool could tell that Big Shot Sun was poisoned to death by that snake. Once a snake like that bit you, you were as good as dead. That was not the strange thing, the strange thing was that Big Shot Sun was the only one inside the kiln.

    “Where’s Know-It-All and Smart Guy?” The Wooden Taoist asked in surprise.

    Lu Xiao Feng thought for a long time, the slowly replied: “There was never a Know-It-All or a Smart Guy.”

    The Wooden Taoist was shocked. He did actually understand, but it was just at the moment, it was not clicking in his mind.

    “Know-It-All was Big Shot Sun, so was Smart Guy.” Lu Xiao Feng explained.

    “The three of them was just him all along?”

    Lu Xiao Feng nodded.

    “But their voices....”

    “A number of people could change their voices, some could even simulate the rockus of dozens of men fighting a crowd of cats and dogs at the same time.”

    The Wooden Taoist did not ask anymore, he had seen more than his own share of weird people and strange happenings in the martial world.

    But Ancient Pine Hermit frowned.

    “So Big Shot Sun created these two men to cheat other people out of their money?”

    “He didn’t cheat anybody!” Lu Xiao Feng coldly rebuked.

    “He didn’t?”

    “He did take other people’s money, but at the same time he solved a lot of their problems. His knowledge and intelligence are worth a lot more than this little bit of silver.” A hint of anger appeared on Lu Xiao Feng’s face. Big Shot Sun was his friend, he did not like other people belittling his friends.

    Ancient Pine Hermit obviously noticed the anger on his face too. He immediately changed his tone and sighed: “I’m only finding it strange that a man as gifted and intelligent as he would use a fake name instead of making a name for himself?”

    Lu Xiao Feng’s expression turned sad. “Because he was a good man and never placed much importance on fame and fortune!”

    --And also because he was afraid, afraid of trouble, of responsability. That was why he was always running, always hiding. Lu Xiao Feng did not say the rest, he had always liked Big Shot Sun.

    “No matter what, his doing this only hurt himself, nobody else.”

    The Wooden Taoist sighed.

    “A man like this should not have died so soon.”

    “He should have known there were poisonous snakes around here.” Ancient Pine Hermit sighed as well.

    “But that snake was not here by himself!” Lu Xiao Feng said.

    “Why not?”

    “Because only snakes that have been trained would go for the throat.”

    “So you think that snake was purposefully placed here to kill him?” The Wooden Taoist was surprised at that assertion.

    Lu Xiao Feng nodded, anger appearing on his face again: “The snake had obviously been trained to attack only once it hears the flute!”

    Naturally, inside the kiln was very dark, and that snake was truly too tiny for Big Shot Sun, who had walked in from the light, to see.

    The Wooden Taoist thought back to the sound: “So you think the one who played the flute was the one who killed Big Shot Sun?”

    “Mm.”

    “Why would he kill Big Shot Sun?”

    “Because he was afraid that Big Shot Sun would spill his secret!”

    “Who is he? What secret?”

    “I don’t care who he is, I don’t care what his secret is,” Lu Xiao Feng’s fists were clenched tight as he slowly declared. “I will find him and his secret!”

    The Wooden Taoist sighed again. Only now did he completely understand why only Big Shot Sun could find Know-It-All and Smart Guy, and why they would never meet other people.

    But he could never understand how many secrets Big Shot Sun knew that people wanted to keep a secret, nor could he understand how he came to know these secrets. Big Shot Sun would probably take the answers to all these mysterious to the grave with him. Could Lu Xiao Feng really dig them out?

    The fragrance of freshly cut flowers permeated the undertaker’s shop. It was supposed to be an clean and refreshing smell, but inside an undertaker’s shop, it had a way of making everybody uncomfortable.

    There were two very high quality caskets made out of nanmu, they looked as if a fresh layer of lacquer was applied on them as well.

    “I want this one.” Lu Xiao Feng picked one of the two. When picking things for his friend, he always went of the best, even caskets.

    “These two caskets were already reserved.” The owner of the store was named Cheng. Maybe it was because he had worked here for too long, but even when he smiles, it looked unnervingly sinister.

    “People reserve caskets?”

    Boss Cheng nodded: “A customer reserved these two caskets for the night of September 15th. I thought it was a bit strange too, he seemed to know that two people must die on that night!”

    September 15th! Two people must die!

    “Who reserved them?” Lu Xiao Feng’s expression noticeably changed.

    “He had already paid for both caskets, but he didn’t leave his name.”

    “What did he look like?”

    “An old man with a hump back.”

    Lu Xiao Feng did not ask anymore, anybody could be disguised as an old man with a hump back. He picked another casket and was getting ready to leave.

    But Boss Cheng suddenly remembered something: “But that customer di leave two names for me to carve onto the caskets!”

    “What are they?” Lu Xiao Feng snapped around.

    “Two very unique names. One is Ye Gu Cheng, another was Xi Men Cui Xue!”

    The Wooden Taoist was a very happy-go-lucky man, but now even his expression was one of extreme worry.

    “Neither one will win... the real winner is the hunter spectating on the side.”

    Apparently now, one of the hunters actually went ahead and reserved two caskets for them.

    “Maybe this is all just a prank.” The Wooden Taoist tried to lighten the mood a little.

    Lu Xiao Feng forced a smile: “Most likely.”

    With smiles on their faces, they walked along underneath the light of the setting sun. The gentle winds breezed along, stirring their sleeves and shirts. Those who saw them on the street could think only of how proud and stately they looked. But inside of them the shadow of death overshadowed everything. Of course, all of them knew that this was not a prank.

    The Wooden Taoist looked up at a puff of white cloud on the blue, distance sky.

    “Have you already seen Ye Gu Cheng?” He suddenly asked.

    “Mm.”

    “Does he look injured to you?”

    Lu Xiao Feng did not answer his question directly.

    Instead, he casually replied: “With one move, he struck through both of Tang Tian Rong’s collar bones.”

    An injured man would never he able to do such a thing to one of the masters of the Tang Family and Tang Tian Rong was one of the four top masters of the Tang Family.

    The Wooden Taoist thought for a while.

    “But Honest Monk would never lie, and he was indeed injured. So who helped cure him?”

    Lu Xiao Feng did not answer, nor could he. Instead he also stared up at that cloud far far away.

    “I’ve wanted to visit White Cloud Castle a long long time ago, but still haven’t had the chance to go.” He suddenly stated.

    “I have been there.” The Wooden Taoist declared.

    “I imagine it to be a beautiful place. Come the right time in Spring and Autumn, the scene would surely be vibrant and colorful with all the blooming flowers!”

    “There’s not that many flowers there, Ye Gu Cheng was not someone who liked to drink wine or enjoy flowers!”

    “Does he like women?”

    The Wooden Taoist laughed a little, seemingly at Lu Xiao Feng’s naivette.

    “Someone who likes women could not possibly achieve the level of swordsmanship that Ye Gu Cheng has!”

    Lu Xiao Feng did not continue to ask, but a very puzzling look appeared on his face. Anytime that expression appears on his face, it would mean that he was thinking abotu a very puzzlng matter.

    After a long pause, the Wooden Taoist spoke up again: “Since he’d already arrived here, he must have found a place to stay!”

    “He’s not like Xi Men Chui Xue, it can’t be that hard to find where he is staying!” Lu Xiao Feng observed.

    “I want to go find him!”

    “I know that you are old friends.”

    “What about you?”

    Lu Xiao Feng looked up at the sky: “I have a dinner with someone tonight, there’s probably already somebody waiting for me at Oriental Spring Pavilion!”

    “Then it seems like we’ll have to part here and now!”

    Lu Xiao Feng nodded but then paused.

    “If a person who did not like flowers or women suddenly had 6 or 7 girls walk in front of him paving his path with flower petals, what would you think of that?” He suddenly asked.

    “This kind of man would never do that kind of thing!” The Wooden Taoist replied.

    “But suppose he did?”

    “Then he must be crazy!” The Wooden Taoist laughed.

    For the life of him, Lu Xiao Feng could not figure out why Ye Gu Cheng would do that either. But he knew at least one thing - Ye Gu Cheng was not crazy.

    ***

    Dusk, just before dusk. The dinner crowd at Oriental Spring had not gathered yet. Lu Xiao Feng found a seat on one of the scattered chairs downstairs, ordered a flask of the favorite tea amongst the citizens of the capital, and waited for Li Yan Bei’s man to arrive.

    It was still quite early, he probably should have been wandering around outside, for he still had a lot of people he wanted to find. Hua Man Lou, Xi Men Cui Xue, Honest Monk....

    He needed to find all these people, yet he suddenly felt the urge to sit down and quietly think things out. He also had a lot of things to sort out.

    The light from the setting sun poured in through the door, taking with them a long and narrow shadow of a man. Seeing the shadow on the floor, Lu Xiao Feng looked up and saw that young man who was angrily staring at him earlier.

    The young lad was staring at him again, his long and slender hands still tightly grapsing the handle of his sword. A layer of soft silk was tightly rolled around the handle, probably to make it easier for the user to handle the sword with greater force and also to keep the user’s palm dry by absorbing the sweat. Only those who really understood how to use a sword would know to do this.

    With a glance, Lu Xiao Feng instantly recognized that this young man’s swordsmanship was very good, but he still could not recognize him.

    He would never forget a face once he had seen it before. But this young man seemed to recognize him. Suddenly, the young man walked directly up to him and stopped directly in front of him. The expression of his face was even scarier than the one Du Tong Xuan had on his face as he walked up to Li Yan Bei. Could this young man possibly have some kind of vendetta or unsettled issue with Lu Xiao Feng?

    Lu Xiao Feng could not figure it out, so he just let out a little laugh: “You....”

    But the young man interrupted him.

    “Are you that four eye-browed Lu Xiao Feng?” He asked ferociously.

    “And you are....”

    “I know you don’t recognize me, but I recognize you!” The young man sneered. “I’ve been trying to find you for a long time now!”

    “Find me? What for?”

    The young man answered in the most direct way possible. Not with words, but with a sword. Suddenly, his sword was unsheathed, and just as suddenly, the ice cold and sharp blade arrived at Lu Xiao Feng’s throat.

    Lu Xiao Feng laughed. In response, he did not parry, nor dodge, instead he laughed.

    “Think I’m afraid to kill you?” The young man demanded, his face turning a steely green.

    Even though he had not struck, the move he used was indeed a killing move, fast, agile, and quick. Lu Xiao Feng had seen this kind of moves before. Four months ago, in Yan Tie Shan’s Pearl and Diamond Pavilion, Su Shao Ying, who died under Xi Men Chui Xue’s sword, used the exact same type of techniques.

    This young man must be one of the “Three Heroes and Four Beauties” who trained under Du Gu Yi He.

    “I won’t kill you, only because I still have a question to ask you.” The edge of his sword inched even closer.

    “Are you Zhang Ying Feng or Yan Ren Ying?” Lu Xiao Feng asked a question in return.

    The young man’s expression changed for an instant before returning back to what it was. He had to admire Lu Xiao Feng’s powers of recognition just a little bit despite of himself.

    “Yan Ren Ying.”

    “And you want to know where Xi Men Chui Xue is?”

    The veins on Yan Ren Ying’s hand bulged out and red blood vessels appeared in his eyes.

    “He killed my master, abducted my martial sister, the seventy disciples of our sect all want to capture him and take him back to E’Mei to sacrifice him to honour our master’s spirit!”

    “But you guys don’t know where he is.”

    “So I’m asking you!”

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed and smiled ironically: “Pity you asked the wrong person!”

    “If you don’t know, then who does?” Yan Ren Ying demanded.

    “Nobody knows.”

    Yan Ren Ying stared into his eyes.

    “Out!” He suddenly commanded.

    “Out?”

    “I don’t want to kill you in here!”

    “I don’t want to die here either, but I also don’t want to go outside.”

    Yan Ren Ying’s hand flicked, a flower with sword petals appeared and, in an instant, struck 7 times, none of them missed Lu Xiao Feng’s throat by more than an inch. Lu Xiao Feng laughed again.

    Again, he neither parried nor dodged, but instead smiled: “You can’t kill me.”

    Yan Ren Ying’s palm was covered in sweat, his forehead was as well. In fact, his entire being seemed to become a fully drawn bow, really to explode.

    Anybody could see that he was almost nervous to the limit of his own self-restraint. The tip of his sword was no more than three inches away from Lu Xiao Feng’s throat.

    The waiters, janitors, and owner of Oriental Spring Pavilion were all visibly shaking, yet Lu Xiao Feng was absolutely still. It was as if every one of his nerves were made from steel strands.

    At this precise moment, a rockus suddenly exploded on the street.

    “Dead... he’s dead....” Someone shouted.

    Yan Ren Ying wanted to turn his head around to see but stopped himself, yet his eyes still involuntarily rolled in that direction for a moment. In that slight instant that his eyes were off of him, the Lu Xiao Feng who was steadily sitting in that chair in front of him had suddenly vanished!

    This man’s movements were even faster than his strikes. Yan Ren Ying’s expression changed again as he jumped up, somersaulted, and landed outside. Lu Xiao Feng was standing in the middle of the street with his hand behind his back. Nobody else was on street.

    All the others had already hid themselves underneath the overhangs at either side of the street. A white horse was galloping this way from the head of street, on the horse was a person. That person looked like a empty brown cloth bag from a distance, lying on top of the horse.

    “Dead! He’s dead!” But who was he? How did he die? As soon as he saw this person’s outfit, Yan Ren Ying’s face turned a deathily pale as he shot towards the horse and grabbed its reins to stop it.

    This person’s outfit was almost exactly the same as what Yan Ren Ying had on. Lu Xiao Feng had already figured out who this person was -- but how did he die? Yan Ren Ying took the cold body off of the horse’s back. There was almost no wound on the body at all, only a slight trace of a wound on his throat -- like the puncture wounds from a snake bite.

    Only that this wound was not left by a snake bite but by the blade of a sword, a very sharp and very frightening sword. Lu Xiao Feng frowned.

    “Zhang Ying Feng?”

    Yan Ren Ying gritted his teeth and nodded.

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

    “Can you tell whose sword killed him?” Yan Ren Ying suddenly asked.

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed again and nodded. I could tell. In this world there was probably only one person who with such a sharp and frightening sword. Not Ye Gu Cheng could do this. His killer strikes could never be this tidy and efficient.

    Yan Ren Ying was staring down at the wound on his martial brother’s throat.

    “Xi Men Chui Xue... only Xi Men Chui Xue....” He mumbled.

    “He probably found Xi Men Chui Xue,” Lu Xiao Feng sighed. “Shame that....”

    Shame that he could not tell where Xi Men Chui Xue was now. Lu Xiao Feng did not need to say the rest, but Yan Ren Ying still understood.

    “Another life! Another debt!” He screamed at the top of his lungs, his pale face suddenly covered with tears.

    “Xi Men Chui Xue! If you can kill, why don’t you come out!” His screams were desperate.

    It was in this desperate scream that dusk suddenly enveloped the world.

    And with it the world was suddenly filled with an unspeakable sad and cold feel of death. The dust storms picked up again. Yan Ren Ying, his martial brother’s body still in his arms, jumped onto the horse and furiously galloped away. The horse came from the west.

    Yan Ren Ying galloped off towards the west, obviously, he was trying to find where Xi Men Chui Xue was from this horse.

    Facing the northwestern winds from the deep Autumns of the northern countries, Lu Xiao Feng saw off the horse and its riders with his eyes.

    “I know that horse!” A man behind him suddenly said quietly.

    Lu Xiao Feng quickly turned around. The man who spoke was dressed in a green outfit. Even though it was simple, he still had that air of authority about him. He was none other than one of those men who was following Li Yan Bei around this morning.

    “I’m Zhao Zheng Wo, from the east of the city, ‘Gan-Er Shang De’, everybody calls me ‘Gan-Er Zhao’.”

    “Gan-Er Shang De” was just another slang for head master, meaning that he was the leader of all the beggars around here. In a city, it meant a great deal of power and control.

    Of course, Lu Xiao Feng recognized who this man was and what position he held, yet he could not be bothered with pleasantries right now.

    “You recognize that horse?” He immediately asked.

    “Only the ImperialPalace could have such a well groomed white horse.” Gan-Er Zhao’s voice was even lower. “It doesn’t matter how much power other people have, nobody dares to violate this pact!”

    White horses symbolized respect and riches, only the royal family could lay claim to be the most respected and most rich.

    “So that horse was from the Forbidden City?” Lu Xiao Feng frowned.

    --Could Xi Men Chui Xue be hiding inside the ImperialPalace? That would explain why nobody could find him. But with the number of guards and security inside the ImperialPalace, how could anyone hide within it? Gan-Er Zhao did not say anything in response to his question. This was one of the most forbidden things in the imperial capital, he dared not to say anything more.

    Lu Xiao Feng thought silently for a while.

    “Could you ask your men to go find out where this horse came from and who was the first to saw it?” He asked.

    Gan-Er Zhao hesitated for a while before finally nodding: “That would not be too hard. But I’ve received orders to take you to 13th Mistress’ place.”

    “This is more important, you can just tell me where it is and I’ll go find it myself!”

    Again, Gan-Er Zhao hesitated for a while.

    “Ok, I’ll tell Xiao-Song, the driver to take you to Rolled Curtain Alley. 13th Mistress’ place is last one on the left.”

    Once he got on the carriage, Lu Xiao Feng’s mind was in chaos again. The puzzling questions seemed to multiply on ends. Who killed Big Shot Sun? What for? Why was Xi Men Chui Xue’s actions so mysterious?”

    ***

    Rolled Curtain Alley was actually a very quiet and serene lane with a lot of large households. Not a sound was coming from within the tall walls. The wind carried with them the sweet fragrance of pomegranate flowers. The color of dusk had darkened, night was near.

    But this day was not over yet. The last household on the left had the tightest gate as well. Every one of Li Yan Bei’s 30 houses were all very secured, no stragglers could be found in front of any of them. Lu Xiao Feng did not knock, instead he lept over the walls and in.

    He trusted that Li Yan Bei would not blame him for this, for such was their friendship. The yard was very big with pomegranate trees and goldfishes swimming about in its ponds. The shades for sunbathing were all taken down and the furnace had been put outside for cleaning. Not long from now, the furnace would be put in use inside.

    The light were lit brightly in guest hall up ahead. The flower hall on the left was lit as well. Li Yan Bei was sitting inside, sighing.

    On the cherry wood table in front of him, there was several layers of balance sheets. His sighs were very heavy, because his heart was heavy.

    But he still heart Lu Xiao Feng. He was already a very sensitive person, and Lu Xiao Feng was not exactly being careful with his own movements. When Li Yan Bei pushed open the door to the room, Lu Xiao Feng was on the other side.

    “You knew it was me?”

    Li Yan Bei forced a meek smile on his face: “Other than you, who else would have the guts to barge in like this?”

    Lu Xiao Feng smiled in return. Looking at that layer upon layers of balance sheets and accounts, his heart suddenly turned sour. In this city, Li Yan Bei had battled hard and spilled blood and sweat for 20 years up to now.

    To be able to find a place to stand in a city as filled with men and dangers as this was hard, but to fall down was easy.

    Why did he place all of his life’s work down on a wager against someone? Was it worth it?

    Li Yan Bei’s smile became even more forced.

    “I’m not conceding defeat, but a little preparation can’t hurt, it has to be better than jumping the cliff at the last moment. Besides....” -- Besides, if Xi Men Chui Xue loses, he would have to leave immediately, he would have to leave everything immediately! And this was not easy to leave behind!

    Lu Xiao Feng understood what he meant and knew what he felt.

    “Xi Men Chui Xue had arrived.” He suddenly declared.

    “Have you seen him?” Li Yan Bei’s eyes lit up.

    Lu Xiao Feng shook his head. “But I do know that his sword is still sharp and he kills as tidy and efficient as he did in the past.”

    The light in Li Yan Bei’s eyes dimmed. He turned around and began putting away the balance sheets on the table.

    “Killer moves aren’t unbeatable moves.” He slowly declared.

    “I’ve already said, there is no unbeatable move in the world, and by the same token, there is no unwinnable moves either.”

    Li Yan Bei paused for a long time at that statement.

    “That’s why we should go drink first!” He suddeny laughed as he turned around and patted Lu Xiao Feng on the shoulder. “The dishes to help the wine go down should be ready. The special guest I invited to keep you company is here too.”

    “Special guest? Who?” Lu Xiao Feng was caught by that statement.

    Li Yan Bei’s smile seemed very mysterious: “Of course it’s someone that you would never find annoying!”

    On the table were already 4 dishes of fruit, 4 dishes of appetizers, and 8 dishes of entrees to eat with the wine -- a dish of smoked fish, a dish of pickled duck, a dish of crystal pig feet, a dish of roasted goose, a dish of pheasant, a dish of diced donkey, a dish of meat from the inside of the goats horns, a dish of goat intestines, and lastly a dish of singed goat head that had been just brought up.

    Lu Xiao Feng blinked.

    “Are you trying to stuff me to death?” He joked.

    Li Yan Bei laughed again. While he was laughing, a graceful lady dressed in elegant clothing walked in, swing her hips as she did. Lu Xiao Feng seemed to take a step back when he saw her.

    “This is that four eye-browed Lu Xiao Feng,” Li Yan Bei said, still laughing. “Didn’t you say you wanted to meet him for a while now?”

    The 13th Mistress bowed politely before suddenly letting out a peal of laughter.

    “I saw him before.”

    “When did you see him?” Li Yan Bei was a bit surprised too.

    “When I went out with Ou Yang to buy some pearls earlier,” the 13th Mistress coquettishly continued. “Ou Yang pointed him out to me.”

    Lu Xiao Feng managed a meek smile.

    “That special guest of yours is her?” He had to ask.

    “You know Ou Yang too?” Li Yan Bei asked.

    Lu Xiao Feng nodded. Li Yan Bei threw his head back in laughter.

    “Of course you do, I should have guessed. If you don’t even a beauty like that, what kind of a hero would Lu Xiao Feng be?”

    “Where is she?”

    “She’s still in the kitchen, making you some of her best desserts: butter soaked snails.”

    Ou Yang Qing was actually making desserts for Lu Xiao Feng?

    Lu Xiao Feng could not help but let out an ironic laugh: “Is she trying to poison me?”

    “You think she wants to poison you?” 13th Mistress asked.

    “I offended her once, some people you can’t offend even once, or else they’ll hate you for the rest of your life!”

    “And you think she is one of them?”

    Lu Xiao Feng did not deny this. 13th Mistress stared at him, not even blinking one bit. Women should not look at men like this, especially in front of her own husband. Even Lu Xiao Feng was getting a little embarrased, but 13th Mistress did not seem to mind at all.

    “What are you looking at?” Li Yan Bei finally asked.

    “I’m looking to see if he is really an idiot.”

    “Absolutely not!”

    “I know he doesn’t look like it, but he really is a full-on idiot!”

    “Really?”

    13th Mistress sighed.

    “If someone was going to leave a long time ago, but suddenly changed her mind when she found out he was going to come; if someone always hated to work in the kitchen, but worked in the kitchen all day when she found out he was coming here for dinner. If there was a women treating you that way, do you know what that means?”

    “I know that at least she doesn’t hate me!”

    “Even you understand, yet he could not!” 13th Mistress sighed. “If he isn’t an idiot then what is he?”

    “I think he’s starting to look like one to me too now.” Li Yan Bei smiled.

    Lu Xiao Feng was speechless, of course he understood what that meant, but he could never have dreamt it in his life.

    “Actually, you can’t really blame him,” Li Yan Bei added with a smile. “The matters of a woman’s heart is something that men just can’t figure out. Not to mention he is involved and doesn’t see clearly like those of us on the side.”

    “I’m not blaming him, I’m just sticking up for little Ou Yang, that’s all.” 13th Mistress coldly replied.

    Li Yan Bei threw his head back in laughter again and patted Lu Xiao Feng on his shoulders.

    “If I were you, when little Ou Yang comes in later, I would make sure to treat her....”

    Before he finished, a strange flute sound could suddenly be heard enminating in with the wind. It was the same sound that Lu Xiao Feng heard at the kiln yard earlier in the afternoon.

    Lu Xiao Feng’s face suddenly dropped.

    “Going to save Ou Yang....” He shouted. Before he even finished, he was already outside of the window, another flash and he was more than 30 meters away!

    The flute came from the southwest, not too far away. After jumping over the western walls of this yard and a small alley way, there was what looked like a long deserted garden.

  8. #28
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Posts
    3,036

    Default Book 3 - Chapter 3

    Chapter 3 - Catching Snake, Saving Beauty

    Night. Darkness has fallen, dark like the ink. The Autumn winds, the unkept grass, the lonely white poplar tree. The cold, unfeeling moon rose and shone down upon this cold and desolate garden. No human could be seen, not even ghosts.

    Even if there were ghost, one could not see them. Facing the on coming Autumn winds, even Lu Xiao Feng had to shudder involuntarily.

    Just before bad things happen, he would always get this strange feeling. He had that strange feeling right now. No light, no stars, even the moon was cold and sinister.

    Under the moonlight, the withered trees shook in the wind, looking just like a ghostly shadow. Suddenly another toot of the whistle came from within the shadows.

    Lu Xiao Feng shot off in the direction of the sound. Finally, he caught a glimpse of the person playing the flute, underneath the withered tree just ahead. But Lu Xiao Feng suddenly stopped dead in his tracks. He seemed shocked again. The person playing the flute was just a kid who could not have been over 10 years old.

    The kid was not tall and wore a torn outfit. On his round face were a pair of huge, bright eyes. Intermittenly, he was shaking and wiping his nose, obvious he was freezing and frightened. Yet in his hand was strangely shaped bamboo whistle.

    Eyes never leaving him, Lu Xiao Feng slowly walked up to him. The kid never noticed him, looking left a bit, then looking over to the right. Suddenly the kid noticed a shadow moving on the ground, he yelped and immediately tried to run away. He did not get away, of course.

    After only a few steps, Lu Xiao Feng grabbed a hold of his arm. The kid immediately began screaming like a skinned pig.

    Only when he stopped screaming did Lu Xiao Feng speak: “I’m not a ghost.”

    The kid looked up at his face. Even though he knew that he was not a ghost, fear remained on his face.

    “Are you... you really not a ghost?” His nose was running again.

    “Ghosts don’t have shadows, I have a shadow.”

    The kid, finally convinced, sighed, and then immediately began to pout.

    “Then why did you grab me?”

    “Because there’s several questions I want to ask you!”

    The kid hesitated.

    “Will you let me go after you asked me?”

    “Not only will I let you go, I’ll give you two strings of money!” Lu Xiao Feng did not really feel like smiling, but he could not really keep a straight face in front of a kid either.

    Seeing his smile, the kid calmed down quite a bit.

    “What do you want to ask?” He asked, blinking his eyes.

    “What’s your name, where’s your home?” Lu Xiao Feng asked gently.

    “My name is Poor Little Thing, I don’t have a home!”

    Of course Poor Little Thing did not have a home, only homeless kids would be named Poor Little Thing.

    Not only does the kid look very sympathetic, he looked honest too, as if he did not know how to lie.

    “It’s very late, aren’t you scared to be out here all by yourself?” Lu Xiao Feng’s voice became even more gentle.

    “I’m not scared! I go where I please!” Poor Little Thing stuck out his chest. But those who say they are not scared are often much more scared than anybody else.

    “Do you think this is a fun place to be?”

    “Not at all!”

    “If not, then why did you come here to blow that whistle?”

    “An old man with a hump back told me to do it, and he gave me two strings of money.”

    The old man with a hump back again. It was he who reserved the caskets for Xi Men Chui Xue and Ye Gu Cheng, it was also he who killed Big Shot Sun. What was he?

    “Did he give you the whistle too?”

    Poor Little Thing nodded.

    “This whistle is alot more fun than those they sell on the street, and it’s really loud too!”

    He obviously really liked the whistle as he could not help but bring it up to his lips and gave it another toot. All other sounds were muted out once the high pitched whistle was blown. Lu Xiao Feng did not hear any other noises, but still, he was hit with an urge to turn around and check behind him.

    Where did he get this urge from? Why did he get it? Even he could not explain it to himself. But in that instant that he turned around, he saw a blood red shadow shoot up from the ground. It was like an arrow, only much much faster than an arrow could ever be shot.

    Almost faster than lightning! With just a flash, the red shadow had arrived at Lu Xiao Feng’s throat. It was also at that precise moment that Lu Xiao Feng reached out and clamped his fingers together.

    He caught something between his fingers. Something cold, sticky, and slick. A blood red snake!

    Its fangs were already out and were almost able to touch Lu Xiao Feng’s throat. But it could not move anymore, Lu Xiao Feng caught it right about seven inches down from its head. Had Lu Xiao Feng’s movement been just a bit slower, had where his fingers clamped down on the snake been a bit off, had he used slightly less strength when he clamped his fingers together....

    Then he would be a dead man by now! Since he appeared in the martial world, Lu Xiao Feng could truly be described has having stared death in the face.

    He had walked that tightrope between life and death countless times and met countless rutherless murders and monsters.

    But he had never ran into anything so dangerous and deadly as this moment was for him. In his hands was a freezing cold snake, but his entire body felt freezing cold as well. He suddenly had to fight off the urge to throw up.

    “Snake... there’s snakes here!” Poor Little Thing screamed and ran.

    Lu Xiao Feng took a deep breath and threw the snake as hard as he could against a huge rock by his side. When he looked up again, that honest and poor little kid was nowhere to be seen.

    The wind whistled through the grass, the withered trees shook. Standing still in the middle of this Autumn night, Lu Xiao Feng took several more deep breaths before his heart beat finally returned to normal. But at this moment another scream came through the darkness. This scream coming from that very kid!

    Poor Little Thing had fainted. By the time Lu Xiao Feng got there, the little kid had collapsed on the ground. On a night like this, in a place like this, how could a little kid like that not be frightened when he suddenly sees a dead man?

    The dead man was right in front of the kid. It was an old man with a hump back. He had a head of bushy white hair, but he was choked to death with a bright red silk sash. He reserved those caskets, he killed Big Shot Sun! So how did he die in the hands of another? Who killed him? Why?

    In the night, the silk sash looked almost glowing red, blood red. Lu Xiao Feng had seen the exact same kind of silk sash before, and he had also seen another man choked to death with this exact same kind of sash.

    First Madame Gong Sun’s daggers were tied to this kind of sash, the Snake King was also choked to death by this kind of sash. Who was the killer this time? Could it be First Madame Gong Sun?

    It was indeed very likely that First Madame Gong Sun had already arrived in the capital. She would not want to miss the duel either. But then who was this old man? Why did he kill Big Shot Sun? And why did First Madame Gong Sun kill him?

    Lu Xiao Feng had never heard of an old man like this in the martial world before. He hesitated. Finally he bent down -- there could be something that could identify the old man on his body.

    But there could also very likely be more snakes! Lu Xiao Feng’s finger tips felt cold as ice as he used those two finger tips to flip open the old man’s shirt. No snakes, snakes would have moved in this situation.

    Lu Xiao Feng reached in but suddenly stopped in shock. In front of his eyes was the forehead of an old, white haired man. But his hand was feeling something different -- this old man was a woman!

    In his hands were the smooth skin of a woman. The white hair was fake, and the face was cleverly disguised. After removing the hair and tearing off the mask, Lu Xiao Feng saw a frozen stiff but still very beautiful face!

    He recognized this face! This old man with a humped back was none other than First Madame Gong Sun!

    Lu Xiao Feng knew first hand the mastery of First Madame Gong Sun’s skill when it comes to disguises. In his mind, there were not that many people who could have seen through her disguises.

    He also knew first hand just how good of a martial arts master she was. Who in the world could actually choke her to death? The killer’s skills must be even better. Lu Xiao Feng involuntarily shuddered.

    He had been in the capital for only one day, but in this one day, he had ran into way too many puzzling and unexplained happenings. He could not figure out why First Madame Gong Sun would kill Big Shot Sun, nor could he understand how First Madame Gong Sun died here.

    If there were too many things one could not figure out, then all that was left was not to try and figure them out; if the more thinking one did the more confused one became, then it would be better to not thing at all. This had always been one of Lu Xiao Feng’s guiding principles.

    But even if he tried not to think, he still could feel that, lurking in a corner somewere in this ancient city, there was a pair of eyes, even more cunning the the shrewdest of foxes, even more poisonous than the most poisonous of snakes, staring at him, waiting to take his life!

    No matter who this person was, without a doubt it would be the most frightening and most powerful foe he had ever faced in his life. He seemed to also have faintly figured out who this foe could be!

    The light was dim and ghastly. The ghastly dim light shone upon Ou Yang Qing’s deathly pale face. There was nary a sign of life to be found on her beautiful face, her beautiful eyes were tightly shut, her jaw also tightly shut.

    Could she open her eyes again? Could she still speak? Silently, Lu Xiao Feng stood at the head of the bed, staring at her, hoping against hope that somehow she could shoot him a look like the ones she gave him before or hurl several insults as before. Li Yan Bei and 13th Mistress were by his side, their expressions just as grave.

    “By the time we made it to the kitchen, she’d already passed out!”

    Lu Xiao Feng stared intently at her throat, he could not find any trace of a wound.

    “Where was she bit?”

    “On her hand, her left hand.”

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed in relief. When the snake shot towards her, she probably reacted the same way Lu Xiao Feng did and tried to catch it. Even though her reflexes were not on par with Lu Xiao Feng’s, they were still better than Big Shot Sun’s. Big Shot Sun really had too much to drink.

    “Luckily you told us to check on her, so we weren’t too late!” Li Yan Bei explained.

    After discovering Ou Yang Qing’s wound, he immediately sealed the pressure points on her shoulder to slow the spread of the poison.

    “So the person who really saved her was not me, but you!” He continued.

    “But I’m still confused, how did you know she would be targetted?” 13th Mistress asked.

    “Honestly, I didn’t know!”

    “Yet you still managed to save her life!”

    “I have done a lot of things that even I’m not too sure how I did them,” Lu Xiao Feng replied with a forced smile. “If you asked me what happened or why it happened, I wouldn’t be able to tell you because I don’t know.”

    “Even though you didn’t know, you still did it,” 13th Mistress countered. “A lot of people wouldn’t be able to do it even if they knew.”

    “That’s why Lu Xiao Feng really is Lu Xiao Feng, the one and only Lu Xiao Feng in this world.” Li Yan Bei concluded.

    13th Mistress gently sighed.

    “No wonder she would be so head over heels for you!”

    Was Ou Yang Qing really head over heels for him?

    “Even though she had been bitten on her left hand and was passed out, her right hand was still clutching onto that plate of butter soaked snails.” 13th Mistress continued. “She wouldn’t let go even if she died, because she made them for you, because....”

    She did not go on, because she had already said enough. Just this alone was enough to prove Ou Yang Qing’s feelings for him.

    Lu Xiao Feng stared at Ou Yang Qing’s face, his heart suddenly flooded with an describable feeling. He could not let Ou Yang Qing die, absolutely not! Xue Bing’s death had already given him enough grief and regret to last until his death.

    There was a question on Li Yan Bei’s mind all this time, he finally could not hold back anymore.

    “Did you find that person who was whistling?”

    Lu Xiao Feng nodded.

    “Who was it?”

    “It was a kid!”

    Li Yan Bei was taken aback by that as well.

    “Is there a mastermind behind all of this?” He immediately asked. He was indeed an experienced man of the martial world, his observations always seemed to be a bit more accurate and a bit deeper than other’s.

    “According to the kid, it was an old man with a humped back who told him to do it!”

    “Did you find that old man?”

    “There probably never was an old man like that in this world, I found one, but it was First Madame Gong Sun in disguise!”

    “Who is First Madame Gong Sun?”

    “She’s Ou Yang Qing’s elder sister, and also my friend.”

    Li Yan Bei was speechless.

    13th Mistress could not help but coldly snicker a little.

    “At least she has quite a sister, and you have quite a friend!”

    Not responding immediately, Lu Xiao Feng quietly thought about the situation for a while.

    “First Madame Gong Sun really was quite a sister, and also quite a friend.”

    “You think so even now?”

    “Because I believe the real mastermind behind all of this is not First Madame Gong Sun!” Lu Xiao Feng explained.

    “If not her, then who?”

    “A person even more cunning and sinister than Huo Xiu, even more devious and heartless than Jin Jiu Ling,” Lu Xiao Feng’s fists were clenched tight. “And this person’s martial art skill could be better than every person I’ve ever met!”

    At one time or another, he had thought that either Huo Xiu and Jin Jiu Ling was the toughest foe he had ever faced as both of them had almost taken his life. It was only after numerous close calls, countless hardships, and some sprinkles of luck that he was able to reveal both men as what they were. But this present foe was even more frightening!

    “How do you know that First Madame Gong Sun was not the real mastermind?” Li Yan Bei inquired.

    “I don’t.”

    “But you suspect that’s the case, you feel that’s the case?” 13th Mistress asked.

    Lu Xiao Feng did not deny this.

    “You are not quite sure why you feel that way are you?”

    Lu Xiao Feng could not deny that either.

    “You really are a freak,” 13th Mistress sighed. “No matter who your foe is, that person is really in trouble!”

    “But this time it’s very likely that I’m the one that’s in trouble!” An almost defeated smile appeared on Lu Xiao Feng’s face.

    “So where is First Madame Gong Sun?” Li Yan Bei asked another question.

    “Dead!”

    “And that kid?....” 13th Mistress asked.

    “Still lying where he fainted!”

    “You didn’t bring him back to save him?”

    “I left him there precisely in order to save him!”

    13th Mistress did not understand.

    “You think that kid was an accomplice?” Li Yan Bei asked instead.

    “A 10 year old kid would never go to that kind of place by himself at this time of night. Also the whistle was very strangely designed, a person who had not cultivated internal energy could never hope to make it make sound!” Lu Xiao Feng then smiled. “Besides, he didn’t really faint anyways!”

    “Then why didn’t you bring him back here to interrogate?” asked Li Yan Bei.

    “He wouldn’t say anything, and I won’t be able to interrogate a kid!”

    “Then you should have at least secretly followed him, maybe he would have led you to the real killer!”

    “If I followed him, then he’s dead for sure!” Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

    “You think the real mastermind would kill him to shut him up?”

    “Mm.”

    “My heart can no longer be considered cold, but I didn’t expect that you would be even softer than me!” Li Yan bei sighed.

    Again, Lu Xiao Feng was silent for a long time.

    “Someone said to me before that even though my temper was like the stones in an outhouse, hard and stinky, my heart was as soft as tofu.” He said slowly.

    “Forget tofu, it’s almost like butter soaked snails!” 13th Mistress sighed before suddenly breaking out a smile. “That plate of butter soaked snails is still out, she made it especially for you, you should at least eat one.”

    “I’ll eat them when I get back!”

    “You’re going out? Where to?” Li Yan Bei asked.

    “To find a person!”

    “Who?”

    “Ye Gu Cheng!”

    Li Yan Bei was speechless once again.

    “If he could cure the Tang Family Poison Sands and save himself, maybe he could save Ou Yang Qing as well!” Lu Xiao Feng explained.

    A frightening shade of pale white had appeared on Ou Yang Qing’s face and the left side of her face was starting to swell somewhat. Li Yan Bei’s pressure point hitting techniques were not very refined, the poison’s progress had not been completely halted.

    “Would a person like Ye Gu Cheng be willing to save other people?” 13th Mistress frowned.

    “Even if he isn’t, I still have to go, even if I have to get on my knees and beg, I will make him come here!”

    Staring at Ou Yang Qing’s face, Lu Xiao Feng slowly continued, emphasizing each word: “No matter what, I will find a way to save her!”

    The night was even deeper. Even in the busiest, most late closing night spot, the Bright Vernal Tea House, guests were starting to file out. From the looks of it, the house would have to close shop for the night soon. But Lu Xiao Feng was still sitting there, staring idlely at a freshly prepared flask of tea.

    He had already walked all over the city and visited many a hotels, yet he could not even find a hint of Ye Gu Cheng’s shadow. A person with as conspicuous and famous as Ye Gu Cheng should have been a very easy person to find because no matter where he goes, he would always attract attention.

    But ever since that meeting at Oriental Spring Pavilion, he seemed to have disappeared into the city like Xi Men Chui Xue. There was not a single evidence that he was around afterwards.

    Lu Xiao Feng could not figure out the reason behind this. There was no reason for Ye Gu Cheng to go into hiding. Even Tang Tian Rong, the man whose collarbone he cut in half and would probably go through the rest of his life as a cripple, did not go into hiding.

    Tang Tian Rong was staying at a huge hotel by the name of “All Fortune Inn” off one of the major cities on the east side of the city. Rumours had it that a great number of doctors who specialized in bone injuries and other famous osteopaths. The reason that he was still staying in the city was not because of his injury, but because all of the masters of the Tang family were already poured out of their nest and have descended upon the city overnight to avenge their brothers.

    Of course, this would be yet another event that shakes the martial world to its very core. The other one was that even though Yan Ren Ying did not find Xi Men Chui Xue, he did find several very powerful helpers.

    Supposedly, among them were not only a lhama from Tibet, but also two mysterious swordsmen who trained for many years in the shadows of Mt.Goddess’s Water. For some odd reason or another, these people were all willing to help out Yan Ren Ying.

    Neither of these developments would help Xi Men Chui Xue or Ye Gu Cheng. The first group of people wanted to find Ye Gu Cheng, the second was after Xi Men Chui Xue. So no matter what happens in the duel, neither one of them would have a comfortable life afterwards, whichever one of them survives, or if indeed both survives. Lu Xiao Fend did dig up quite a lot of news and information, but none of them was what he wanted to find. He could not even find the Wooden Taoist or Ancient Pine Hermit.

    The customers continued to file out. The man who made the tea had already put down the big flask of water in his hand and was endlessly shooting looks over at Lu Xiao Feng, obviously telling him to leave. The only thing Lu Xiao Feng could do was pretend to not see, he really did not have anywhere else to go.

    How could he go back to face Ou Yang Qing without finding Ye Gu Cheng? The newly made tea was already cold, the night was even colder.

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed and lifted the cup up to his lips. But before the tea could touch his lips -- “Crash!” Suddenly, with a cold flash, the cup in his hand shattered.

    When the flash died down, it turned out to be a rather large three-pointed bone piercing dart! There was a lantern just out the door, holding it was a monk wearing a green robe, white sox, and shoes made from the awns of wheat. He was coldly snickering at Lu Xiao Feng. Of the martial artist in the north, northeast, almost none use this type of dart.

    Yet this monk’s throw was accurate and fast. From this one throw Lu Xiao Feng could tell he was unquestionably one of the best in the world in this practice. Yet he did not recognize the monk, nor could he figure out why he would suddenly attack. The strangest thing, however, was that even though he misfired, he did not run away but instead remained standing outside.

    Lu Xiao Feng smiled. Not only did he not chase the monk, he actually smiled towards him. He already had enough problems to deal with and was not in the mood for anymore. Unfortunately, the monk would not let it go at that and, with a flick of his arm, launched two more darts. The little bit of cloth tied as tal to the dars flapped loudly as it pierced through the air; obviously, the power behind these darts were very strong.

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed again. He had already figured out that this monk was determined to cause him some problems. Now, even if he did not want to go outside, he still had to.

    Even before the darts arrived, he was already outside. But unexpectedly, the monk, as soon as saw he was coming out, turned around and began to run. And when Lu Xiao Feng stopped chasing him, this monk would actually stop and wave back.

    The strange happenings were coming fast and furious now, and it seemed like Lu Xiao Feng had ran into every single one of them.

    He did not want to continue chasing, yet he could not stop chasing either. After passing two more streets, the monk suddenly stopped at the entrance of a dark alley.

    “Lu Xiao Feng, do you dare come in here?” He mocked.

    Of course Lu Xiao Feng dared, there was not that many things in the world he did not dare to do. Even though he knew that he was walking into a dark alley, that the monk could attack at any time, that there could very well be countless traps that he could not see in the alley, or that this monk could very well have a killer move that he had not heard about.

    But he still walked in. Incredibly, as soon as he walked in, the monk suddenly dropped onto his knees and kowtowed to him three times!

    Lu Xiao Feng was shocked once again.

    Smiling, the monk looked up at him.

    “Do you recognize me?”

    Lu Xiao Feng shook his head, he had never seen the monk before in his life.

    “Then do you recognize the 3 pointed bone piercing dart?”

    Lu Xiao Feng’s eyes lit up.

    “You are one the ‘Flying Dart’ Sheng’s from central China?”

    “I am none other than Sheng Tong.”

    Lu Xiao Feng was not familiar with the name either. The Flying Dart Sheng’s was not among the most famous families in the martial world.

    “I am here to repay a debt!” Sheng Tong continued.

    “Repay a debt?” Lu Xiao Feng was caught even more off guard.

    “The entire Sheng family owes the Great Hero Lu a huge debt!”

    “You must be mistaken, I never owe anyone else anything, nor does anybody ever owe anything to me!”

    “I’m not mistaken.” Sheng Tong seemed very sure of his claim as his spirit turned more solemn as well. “Six years ago, all 11 people of our family lost in the hands of Huo Tian Qing as our entire family was chased out from our home. Even since then, my parents have been separated, my brothers have lost contact with each other, and I was forced to become a monk. Even though the debt was written in blood, Huo Tian Qing’s martial arts was so strong that I could not hope to avenge it!”

    “You think that I killed Huo Tian Qing and avenged for you, so you are here to repay that debt?”

    “Correct!”

    All Lu Xiao Feng could do was laugh at his own misery. Huo Tian Qing did not die in his hands, nor did Du Gu Yi He and Su Shao Ying. Yet people still seemed to hold him responsible for their deaths, be it those who came for revenge or to repay him. Could it really be this difficult to sort out the web of revenge and debt in the martial world?

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

    “Huo Tian Qing did not....”

    Sheng Tong seemed completely disinterested in hearing his explanation and cut him off: “No matter what, had the Great Hero Lu not been there, Huo Tian Qing would probably be enjoying a life of endless fame and fortune and in the Pearl and Diamond Pavilion instead of where he is now!”

    That statement was not necessarily wrong. Again, all Lu Xiao Feng could do was laugh at his own misery.

    “Ok, let’s just say that you did owe me, you already repaid it just then!”

    “Kowtows are only a show of respect, how could that count as repaying a debt?”

    “It doesn’t count?”

    “Absolutely not!”

    “Then what does count?”

    Sheng Tong suddenly took out a bundle of very finely wrapped oil cloth and held it up with both hands.

    “This is what I’ve come all the way here to give to the Great Hero Lu!”

    All Lu Xiao Feng could do was to accept it. He suddenly realized that being forced to accept repayment did not feel much better than being forced to accept revenge.

    He had never thought much about this before, but even more unthinkable for him, was the fact that inside this bundle was actually just a piece of white cloth with streaks of blood and yellow puss all over it. As soon as he opened it, a unbearable stench filled the air.

    Now Lu Xiao Feng could not even force himself to laugh.

    “You came here to give me this piece of cloth?”

    “Yes.”

    “And you are giving me this to repay a debt you owe me?”

    “Correct.”

    Lu Xiao Feng stared at the mixture of puss and blood on the cloth, not quite sure if he wanted to laugh or cry. This monk fired off 5 darts at him before giving him this stinking piece of cloth, all in the name of repaying a debt. This had to be the first time he had ever heard this being called that!

    --Luckily, he came to repay a debt, what would Lu Xiao Feng had done if he was here for revenge?

    Lu Xiao Feng’s only wish right now was to get rid of this monk as quick as possible.

    “Well, now I guess you have indeed repaid your debt!”

    Amazingly, Sheng Tong did not refute this claim. But he was still reluctant to leave.

    “This piece of cloth might look normal, maybe even worthless, but at this moment, it’s worth cities!” He quietly whispered.

    Nobody would agree that this cloth was some priceless treasure, no matter how they look at it. Yet when this monk said it, he was as solemn as can be, not a trace of humour could be found in his voice.

    Even Lu Xiao Feng’s interest became piqued.

    “Does this cloth has anything special about it?”

    “Only one thing.”

    “What one thing?”

    Sheng Tong’s expression became even more cautious as he lowered his voice even more.

    “This cloth was taken off of Ye Gu Cheng’s body!”

    Lu Xiao Feng’s eyes immediately lit up. This filthy and stinky cloth, in his eyes, was indeed a treasure that worthed more than solid gold and diamonds.

    “In trying to hide from Huo Tian Qing as well as being too shamed to see the world, I settled down in an ignored and neglected monastery. After the old monk there died, I became the only one who lived there!”

    “Is Ye Gu Cheng there too?”

    “He came in today afternoon, there’s only two bedrooms in the entire monastery. Nobody had stayed in the old monk’s room after the old monk died and forget about alms givers or pilgrimagers. So the arrival of some people today was a great surprise to me!”

    “He was alone?”

    Sheng Tong nodded: “When he arrived, I had no idea that he could have been the world famous Master of White Cloud Castle!”

    “Then how did you find out?”

    “Since he arrived, he locked himself in his room and asked me for a tub of clean water to be deliever into his room every hour, on the hour....”

    He was originally a man of the martial world as well, when he ran into someone behaving suspiciously, he would naturally pay him extra attention.

    “Other than the clean water, he also asked me to go and buy a roll of white fabric and gave me this bundle, instructing me to bury it.”

    Of course, there was no way that Ye Gu Cheng could have suspected that in this broken down monastery lived a man of the martial world. So he was not nearly as careful.

    “It was when I went into the city to buy the fabric that I heard the news of Ye Gu Cheng’s injury by the Tang Family Poison Sands at Zhang Jia Kou only to return and severely injure Tang Tian Rong at Oriental Spring Pavilion.”

    Therefore he immediately asking for a description of what this Master of White Cloud Castle looked like.

    “It was only after comparing the descriptions did I know that this strange guest in my monastery was none other than the Master of White Cloud Castle that had shook the capital to its foundations!”

    Lu Xiao Feng let out a long, exhausted sigh. He had finally figured out two puzzles that had stumped him this entire time.

    -- Ye Gu Cheng, who did not like flowers and never bothered with women, had beautiful girls paving a carpet of flowers for him to walk on was only doing so to cover up the stench eminating from his wound.

    -- Lu Xiao Feng could not find him inside the city because he simply did not stay in the city and actually settled down in a neglected monastery.

    -- Of course, he could not let others find out that not only had his injuries not healed, but have worsened.

    -- When a lion is hurt, he would naturally hide out in the mountains by himself, for fears that the wild dogs might start coming after him.

    Lu Xiao Feng’s heart sank. He had hoped that Ye Gu Cheng would be able to help with the poison in Ou Yang Qing’s body. But now he had just found out that Ye Gu Cheng might not even be able to save himself, nevermind somebody else.

    “When I entered the city, about 8 or 9 out of 10 people were betting in favor of Ye Gu Cheng,” Sheng Tong continued. “They are even taking on odds as high as 7 to 1 in his favour.”

    That one demonstration of Outer Heaven Angels at Oriental Spring Pavilion had already rocked the city to its core.

    “If somebody, anybody, was to come across this news, to see this cloth, there could be....” Sheng Tong did not finish.

    If somebody was to find out about this, what would happen within the city was not only something that he could not say, but something that he could not even imagine.

    “You are right, this cloth is truly a priceless treasure,” Lu Xiao Feng sighed. “I truly am not worthy to receive such a valuable gift.”

    “Even though I’m a nobody, I also don’t like owing people anything, just like the Great Hero Lu,” a smile finally appeared on Sheng Tong’s face. “As long as the Great Hero Lu accept this humble little gift, I will be more than satisfied.”

    Instead of answering, Lu Xiao Feng quietly thought to himself for a second.

    “Where’s your monastery?” He suddenly asked.

    “Does the Great Hero Lu want to come and meet the Master of White Cloud Castle?”

    Lu Xiao Feng smiled.

    “It’s not that I don’t trust you, I really would like to go meet him.” There was a hint of sadness and loneliness in his smile, slowly, he continued. “Even though we’ve only met twice briefly, I still think of him as a friend....”

    He understood that Ye Gu Cheng must be in need of friends at this moment, and he also knew that Ye Gu Cheng did not have that many friends. At this moment, to Ye Gu Cheng, a true friend might have been even harder to come by than antitodes.

    The room was dark and damp. Even though the room was not small, it only had a bed, a table, and a stool, making the room feel even more empty and desolate than it was. There was only one small lamp in the room providing a dim glow. The wall was covered with dust and spiderwebs dots the ceiling. There were scrolls of manuscripts beside the lone lamp, but they looked like they have not been touched for a long time.

    -- How lonely a life must the old monk who resided here before have led?

    -- To him, could death be seen as an escape? Ye Gu Cheng lied on his side on the that cold and hard bed. Even though he had started feeling exhausted a long time ago, he could not fall asleep no matter how much he tossed and turned.

    He had gotten used to loneliness a long time ago. Swordsmen like him are destined to be cut off from the world, just like wandering monks, unable to enjoy all of the joys of the mortal world.

    Throughout his entire life, loneliness had been his companion, his only companion. But he could not bear to suffer this type of coldness and neglect that was more frightening than any type of loneliness. Because before, even though his days were filled with loneliness, they were also filled with fame and glory.

    But now... The wind blew in through the window, causing the ripped and torn curtain to flap loudly like the falling leafs. The room was still filled with a stench that not even the wind could disperse. He knew by now that his wound had completely festered, as if it was a maggot-filled piece of meat.

    He was a proud man, but now he was hiding in some hole somewhere like a wild dog. This kind of torture and humiliation was something that he would rather die than face, but face it he must.

    Because he must live until September 15th! The wind breezed by, the night sounded cold. How could he possibly make it through these long nights?

    If he had a relative or a friend with him right now, the situation might be a lot better. But pity he was fated to be alone in his life, to always reject other people’s overture for friendship. He suddenly discovered that this was the first time in his life he realized that he needed a friend too.

    He thought about a lot of stuff he never did before. He thought about how he would always train non-stop in the morning, the blood of his foes flowing out from underneath his sword, but he also thought of the ocean colored sky, the spectacularly bright sun, the beautiful, jade like clouds....

    He wanted to die, and at the same time did not want to die. Why must there be so much unresolvable conflicts in a person’s life?

    Puss oozed out of his wounds again, as the stench intensified some more. He thought about getting up and cleaning the wound off a little and switch the bandage once again.

    Even though he knew that doing this would not help his wound, almost to the point of exacerbating it, but it was all he could do.

    -- Such powerful weapons, such frightening poisons. He finally got off the bed, as soon as his feet touched the ground, a gust of wind blew by outside the window -- it could not have been natural.

    The sword was on the table; with just a flick of the wrist, it was in his hands. His reaction was still fast, his movements were still quick.

    “No need to pull out your sword,” A person said, smiling, from outside the window. “But if you have some wine, don’t hesitate to pour a cup or two.”

    The grip that Ye Gu Cheng had on his sword slowly relaxed. He recognized that voice: “Lu Xiao Feng?”

    Of course it was Lu Xiao Feng. Ye Gu Cheng struggled to stand up, stand up straight. He adjusted his shirt, wiped the frown off of his face, walked over to the door, and pulled it open.

    Lu Xiao Feng was smiling at him.

    “Didn’t think I was going to show up?”

    Ye Gu Cheng did not answer, instead he turned around and sat down on the only stool.

    “You shouldn’t have come, there’s no wine here!” Only then did he slowly reply.

    “But there’s a friend here.”

    Friend! That word was like wine, a cup of warm, hot wine, as it poured into Ye Gu Cheng’s throat, into his chest.

    He suddenly realized that the blood in his chest had turned warm, but his face remained cold and emotionless.

    “There is no friend here either, only a killer swordsman!”

    “Killer swordsman could still be a friend.”

    The only stool was taken, but Lu Xiao Feng did not remain standing.

    He moved aside that kerosene lamp, also the scrolls and sword beside it, and sat down on the table.

    “If you didn’t see me as a friend, then how could you have put your sword back down onto the table?”

    Ye Gu Cheng did not say anything and just stared back at Lu Xiao Feng. The frost on his face seemed to have melted a little. When a man come to the end of his rope and suddenly finds out that he still has a friend, it is a feeling that nothing else could hope to compare, maybe not even love.

    Ye Gu Cheng did not say anything for a long time.

    “I don’t seem to recall you making friend with me before.” He said slowly.

    “Because before you were the world famous, utterly matchless Master of White Cloud Castle!”

    “And now?” The corner of Ye Gu Cheng’s mouth stiffened.

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

    “Before a duel like that, you really shouldn’t have gone up against a person like Tang Tian Yi, you should know that there’s no antidote for their poison.”

    Ye Gu Cheng’s expression changed.

    “How much do you know?”

    “Maybe already too much!”

    Once again, Ye Gu Cheng did not say anthing for a long time.

    “I didn’t want to get into it with him either!”

    “But you....”

    “But he came up to me and forced me to unsheath my sword.” Ye Gu Cheng cut Lu Xiao Feng off. “He said that I... he claimed I tried to seduce his wife while he was away!”

    “Of course you didn’t.”

    Ye Gu Cheng smirked.

    “Since you didn’t, then why didn’t you try and explain it?”

    “If you were me, would you have tried to explain it?”

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed again. He had to admit he would not have bothered to explain anything if he ran into a situation like this. Because type of thing was not worth the trouble, nor could it be explained away.

    “So the only thing you could do was fight!”

    “All I could do was fight!”

    “But I still don’t understand, with your skills, Tang Tian Yi shouldn’t even have had the chance to move!”

    Again, Ye Gu Cheng did not say anything as his fist tightened.

    “I didn’t want to say this, but the only reason he was able to make a move was because, just as I was about to unsheath my sword, I heard a strange whistle.”

    Lu Xiao Feng’s expression changed as well.

    “And then you immediately found a snake?....”

    “How did you know?” Ye Gu Cheng stood up in rage.

    “Just today, I’ve had two friends die from that type of snake, and another in bed, life hanging in the balance.” Lu Xiao Feng’s fist tightened as well.

    Ye Gu Cheng’s pupil dilated as he slowly sat back down. Both men understood that there was somebody behind the scenes for all of this. But who could it be? And for what purpose?

    “The person who would benefit most from your injuries is Xi Men Chui Xue.” Lu Xiao Feng observed, after a long period of silence.

    “But the person who did this to you could not be Xi Men Chui Xue!”

    “I know, I don’t believe he is that low of a person!”

    “Do you really?”

    “A person as despicable as that could not possibly be able to attain such a high level of mastery of the sword!”

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

    “Didn’t think you would understand Xi Men Chui Xue so well!”

    Ye Gu Cheng stared down at the sword on the table.

    “I don’t understand him, only his sword!” He slowly explianed.

    Lu Xiao Feng stared into his face.

    “Maybe because you two are the same type of person as well!”

    Although Ye Gu Cheng did not agree to that, he did not deny it either.

    Two unmatched swords, two peerless men, how could they not understand each other?

    “Looks like not only truly devoted friends who understands each other, but also truly devoted enemies who understand each other.” Lu Xiao Feng sighed. Of course there is, just that the latter is so much harder to find than the former.

    “Supposedly a lot of people have placed bets for me to win!” Ye Gu Cheng suddenly said.

    “The odds at this moment is 7 to 1 for you!” Lu Xiao Feng said with a slightly condescending smile.”But still, that means there are still some who put money on Xi Men Chui Xue to win!”

    “Yes.”

    “If I should lose, then wouldn’t those men make a killing?”

    “You think that the person who sabotaged you is one of those who placed bets on Xi Men Chui Xue?”

    “Don’t you think so?”

    Lu Xiao Feng did not reply.

    Even though he did not say so, he knew in his heart that was not the case. Because that person not only injured Ye Gu Cheng, but also killed Big Shot Sun and First Madame Gong Sun as well as injured Ou Yang Qing. There must be an even bigger conspiracy, an even bigger targe behind all of this than just winning a huge bet.

    Ye Gu Cheng stood up again. He walked over to the window and pushed it open.

    “It’s September 14th now....” He mumbled as he stared into the moonlight.

    “Are you still planning on going through with the duel?”

    “Do I look like someone who would go back on his words?” Ye Gu Cheng coldly answered.

    “But your wounds....”

    Ye Gu Cheng smiled, it was a sad and lonely smile.

    “Nobody can heal the wound, so the man is dead. If death is comign anyways, wouldn’t dying under Xi Men Chui Xue’s sword an honour in and of itself?”

    “You... you could postpone the duel again!”

    “No! Not possible!” Ye Gu Cheng dismissed that suggestion.

    “Why not?”

    “Because, in my life, I have never gone back on my word yet!”

    “Don’t forget that you two have already changed the date once!”

    “There was a special reason!”

    “What reason is that?”

    “You don’t need to know!” Ye Gu Cheng’s face darkened.

    “I must know!”

    Ye Gu Cheng snickered coldly at that remark.

    “Not only am I Xi Men Chui Xue’s friend, I’m also your friend. I have the right to know!” Lu Xiao Feng demanded.

    Ye Gu Cheng slowly closed the window only to push it open again. The moonlight poured in like before.

    He did not turn around, as if he did not want Lu Xiao Feng to see the expression on his face. The two men stayed like that for a long time.

    “Did you know that he has a child?” He suddenly said.

    “What did you say?” Lu Xiao Feng jumped off of the table.

    Ye Gu Cheng did not say any more, he knew that Lu Xiao Feng heard perfectly well the first time.

    Of course Lu Xiao Feng did, he just could not really believe it.

    “Are you telling me that Xi Men Chui Xue has a child now?”

    Ye Gu Cheng nodded.

    “You mean that Sun Xiu Qing is pregnant?” Lu Xiao Feng asked again. Again, Ye Gu Cheng nodded.

    Lu Xiao Feng did not say anymore. If a man, just before he was going into a life-or-death duel, suddenly discover that his love was pregnant, what should he do?

    “So it was he who went to you to ask for a postponement, because he had to make sure that Sun Xiu Qing was taken care off afterwards. Becuase he was not sure that he could beat you!” Lu Xiao Feng finally understood.

    “He’s a responsible man, he knows that he has made too many enemies!”

    “And if he was to die in your hands, his enemies would not want his wife or child to live either!”

    “He never begged in his life, so even if he dies, he still does not want to beg other people to protect his wife!”

    “And that was why he asked you to postpone the duel for one month, so he could make sure that his family is taken care of!”

    “If you were me, would you have agreed to it?”

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed. Finally, he understood why Xi Men Chui Xue had suddenly disappeared. Of course he was going to find a secretive place where his wife could settle down so that she could give birth to the baby in peace. This kind of place was somewhere that nobody could know about.

    Ye Gu Cheng stared into the moon, it was already full: “Night of full moon, peak of Mt. Zi Jin....”

    “‘Night of full moon’ is still ‘Night of full moon’, but what did ‘peak of Mt. Zi Jin’ get changed to?” Lu Xiao Feng could not resist asking.

    “To just ‘peak of Zi Jin’!” Ye Gu Cheng slowly replied after another long pause.

    “‘Peak of Zi Jin’? As in Zi Jin Cheng? As in the Forbidden City?” Lu Xiao Feng was shocked.

    “Yes!”

    “You two are going to duel inside the Forbidden City, on the roof of the Hall of Supreme Harmony?” Even Lu Xiao Feng was having a hard time believing the location that was chosen.

    The Hall of Supreme Harmony was the biggest hall inside of the Forbidden City, so the peak of the Forbidden City was none other than on the roof of the Hall. The roof of the Hall was 27 meters high and covered with very slippery glass tiles, making just standing on it almost impossible, but not nearly as impossible as actually climbing to the top. On top of all of that, was the fact that this was where the Emperor himself holds court and conducts his business, making it the most highly guarded place within the world. And yet these two men had to pick this place for their duel.

    Even Lu Xiao Feng had to take a deep breath when he realized this.

    “Aren’t you two getting a little too brave for your own good here?” He had to laugh.

    “If you are afraid, then don’t come!” Ye Gu Cheng casually dismissed his concerns.

    “You picked this place because you knew that there would not be many spectators, if any?” Lu Xiao Feng suddenly realized.

    “To say the least, this duel is not for others to see!”

    “Then what is it for?” Lu Xiao Feng had to ask.

    “Because he is Xi Men Chui Xue, and I am Ye Gu Cheng!”

    This was not a real answer, but it was enough. Xi Men Chui Xue and Ye Gu Cheng were destined to meet in their life to determine who was the best. No other reason is needed! Two unmatched, peerless swords masters are like two meteors, if they meet, they would surely result the most spectacular and explosive display. This explosion might disappear in an instant, but would pass down in legend forever!

    The moon was so bright that in its luster, only a few stars could be seen. The night deepened some more.

    “What you wanted to know, you have found out, so why aren’t you leaving?” Ye Gu Cheng slowly asked.

    “Other than me, does anybody else know where the duel will take place?” Lu Xiao Feng was not quite ready to leave yet.

    “I didn’t tell anybody else,” Ye Gu Cheng coldly answered. “I don’t have any other friends!”

    His voice might be cold, but his words were warm. He actually admitted that Lu Xiao Feng was his friend, his only friend.

  9. #29
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Posts
    3,036

    Default Book 3 - Chapter 4

    Chapter 4 - Someone to Care for

    September 14th, morning. Li Yan Bei came out of the 13th out of his 30 residences and began walking down the mist covered fog. Even though his stride was still that long, they also seemed very heavy. Even though he was still standing as tall as he was, his eyes belied a tiredness. He did not sleep last night.

    In the last 11 years, there would be a huge entourage following him on these daily morning walks amid the mists. But today was different. Not a single person was there.

    The Sun had not risen yet, frost covered the leaves and trees. Today was even colder than yesterday, it would not be too long until snow flakes begin to fill the sky.

    The winter in the northern countries would always come early, especially to Li Yan Bei. To him, winter had already arrived in his heart.

    In the thick mist, a person came walking up to him on the street. Before Li Yan Bei saw his face, he noticed that pair of shining eyes.

    “Lu Xiao Feng?”

    “It’s me.” Lu Xiao Feng had stopped underneath a withered tree, waiting for him. “If someone could have a morning walk everyday, he would be assured of good health and a long life.”

    He was smiling, but it was not exactly a cheerful smile.

    “How long have you been walking around out here?” Li Yan Bei asked.

    “It felt like around an hour or so!”

    “Why didn’t you come in?”

    Lu Xiao Feng smiled again, this time even more forced.

    “I’m scared!”

    Li Yan Bei looked at him in shock.

    “You’re scared? You get scared too?”

    “Of course, and very often.”

    “What are you scared of?” Li Yan Bei did not wait for Lu Xiao Feng to reply before asking another question. “Are you scared to see Ou Yang?”

    Lu Xiao Feng nodded.

    “She’s still alive,” Li Yan Bei patted him on the shoulder. “It seems like the poison was not as deadly as it looks on the surface!”

    Lu Xiao Feng let out a long, relieved, sigh.

    “Just you today?” He suddenly asked.

    Li Yan Bei nodded, suddenly looking very tired.

    “They all have something to take care of today!”

    “Then you shouldn’t have come out!”

    Li Yan Bei let out a little laugh, his laugh was not exactly cheerful either.

    “After what happened yesterday, you should be more careful.”

    Li Yan Bei walked along by Lu Xiao Feng’s side, not saying anything.

    “In the last 11 years, I would always take a walk around this area in the morning,” he suddenly stated after they walked a good distance. “Three hundred and sixty-five days a year, rain or snow, I’ve never missed a day.”

    This area was his. Whenever he walked through these old but wide streets, his heart would always be filled with pride and satisfaction, just like a general inspecting his troops, or an Emperor looking over his land.

    “If I were you, I would probably take walks like that everyday as well.” Lu Xiao Feng understood how he must have felt.

    “You absolutely would have!”

    “Nevertheless, I would make an exception today!”

    “You absolutely would not!”

    “But today....”

    “Especially today, you would not have missed it!”

    “Why not?”

    Li Yan Bei hesitated, scanning the old but refined shops that lined both side of the street, his eyes seemingly filled sadness and nostalgia. After a long pause, he finally answered.

    “Because today would be the last time for me!”

    “Last time?” Lu Xiao Feng looked at him in shock. “Why would it be the last time?”

    Li Yan Bei did not answer this question, instead he remained quiet for a long time before asking a question of his own: “Have you ever met my sons?”

    Lu Xiao Feng shook his head. He never had, nor did he understand why Li Yan Bei would suddenly ask this question.

    “I have 19 sons, the youngest is only 2.” Li Yan Bei slowly continued. “They are all my sons, my very own flesh and blood.”

    Lu Xiao Feng did not say anything and listened to what he had to say.

    “I turn 50 this year, even though I look strong, in reality, I’m an old man.”

    “You are not old,” Lu Xiao Feng tried to force a laugh. “Some people say that men only really start living after they turn 50!”

    “But I can’t afford to lose it.” Li Yan Bei tried to force a laugh as well, but failed miserably. “Because I would not be able to stand seeing my children suffer.”

    “Did you actually sold off all this land?” Lu Xiao Feng finally understood what he meant.

    “I didn’t want to do it,” Li Yan Bei hung his head as he gravely replied. “But they gave me too good of a deal to pass up!”

    “What deal is that?”

    “Not only are they willing to assume the responsibility for the debt, they also guaranteed the safety for my entire family to move to the South!” He finally laughed, but it was a melancholy laugh. “I know that the South of the Yangtze is a great place. Every spring, the birds would fill the sky, the peaches would be ripe for the picking, the willows would sway. If the childrens grew up there, they would never grow up to be an old ruffians like me.”

    Lu Xiao Feng looked at him.

    “You really are an old ruffian!” He sighed.

    “You don’t have kids, so maybe you don’t understand what it feels like to be a father!” Li Yan Bei smiled exasperatingly.

    “I understand.”

    “If you do, then you should know why I would do something like this!”

    “I know.”

    “If Xi Men Chui Xue should lose, then I would immediately have no where and no place to go, and there’s nothing I could do about it.”

    Lu Xiao Feng also knew this. Nobody with 19 sons has that many things he can do to begin with.

    “After I saw Ye Gu Cheng yesterday, I knew I did not have a chance to win.”

    “Not you, Xi Men Chui Xue!”

    “But if he does lose, I would actually lose more than him!”

    “I know.”

    “Then you shouldn’t blame me for doing this.”

    “I’m not blaming you,” Lu Xiao Feng answered. “I’m just feeling that it’s quite a shame for you.”

    “Quite a shame? What do you mean?”

    Lu Xiao Feng did not answer this question, but asked another question: “Who did you sell your land to?”

    “Gu Qing Feng.”

    “Who is Gu Qing Feng?”

    “A Taoist monk.”

    “Taoist Monk?” Lu Xiao Feng was shocked at the answer.

    “There are many different kinds of Taoist monks.”

    “What kind is he?”

    “The rich and powerful kind.” Li Yan Bei went on to explain. “There are two sects of Taoism, the leader of the Southern Sect is Father Zhang of DragonTigerMountain and the leader of the Northern Sect is the Master of White Cloud Outlook!”

    “He is Master of White Cloud Outlook?”

    Li Yan Bei nodded: “White Cloud Outlook is just outside of the city. Many of the officials are frequent guests of the outlook, some even had become his disciple!”

    “So even though he is a Taoist monk in name, he’s actually just the richest and most powerful landlord around here.” Lu Xiao Feng sneered.

    “If he wasn’t someone like that, would I have gave him my land?” Li Yan Bei smiled miserably.

    “Could you stil reneg on this?”

    “I have already accepted his offer and have given all my deeds to him.”

    “Are all those people who were under your command now also his?”

    “The real control of these territories is not in my hands but in the Commission.”

    “Is he already the head of the Commission now?”

    “The head position of the Commision is his too now,” Li Yan Bei sighed. “I have already handed him the Dragon Flag Tally that was handed to me by the previous head in front of several witnesses!”

    “Who found these witnesses?”

    “He did, but they are all martial art masters and statesmen that I have always respected.”

    “Who?”

    “One was the Wooden Taoist from Wutang, another was Ancient Pine Hermit from Mt.Huang, and the last was Honest Monk!”

    Lu Xiao Feng was shocked. So shocked that he stopped walking.

    “No wonder I couldn’t find them!” His facial color seemed to have changed as well. “I left and they came!”

    “I didn’t mention you to them!”

    “Well, if they are the witnesses, then you really can’t go back on this anymore!”

    “I didn’t want to go back on the deal, I had made this decision myself!” He stared at Lu Xiao Feng’s face. “But you seem like you want to say something.”

    Lu Xiao Feng was silent for a long time.

    “I do have something to tell you.” He finally nodded ever so slightly.

    “What?”

    “The South of the Yangtze is not only a great place, but also just crawling with beautiful women. You better behave once you get down there.” He laughed. “There’s only 30 days in a month, if you marry another 30 women, your head would get split open!”

    Li Yan Bei laughed too, patting Lu Xiao Feng’s shoulder and laughing: “Don’t worry. I was going to leave all those pretty gals there to you anyways!”

    Lu Xiao Feng threw his head back and laughed.

    “Then I better come visit you soon, lest you change your mind!”

    He did not say anything about Ye Gu Cheng. He had wanted to several times, but decided against it everytime. Li Yan Bei was his friend. If a friend was leaving, why not let him leave smiling? If a friend could be smiling, then never make him suffer or regret. -- This was another principle of Lu Xiao Feng’s. But he must clearly distinguish who was a friend and who was a foe first.

    “What do you plan to leave?” He suddenly asked.

    “Probably after tomorrow.” Facing this ancient but endearing city, Li Yan Bei’s eyes was suddenly filled with an indescribable sadness and nostalgia. “Even though I’m already an unconcerned spectator, I would still like to know the result of this duel.”

    Lu Xiao Feng slowly nodded, he understood what Li Yan Bei felt at this moment.

    “When you leave, I might not be able to send you on your way. But if you were to come again, no matter how hard the rain, how bad the wind, I will definitely be there to welcome you!” He forced a smile onto his face. “I never liked goodbyes.”

    Goodbyes always made people sad, even though he did not care much for life or death, he placed great importance to goodbyes.

    “I know.” Li Yan Bei also forced a smile onto his face. “Even though I’m never going to return once I leave, I would always welcome you whenever you come venture south.”

    Lu Xiao Feng did not say anything more and just simply walked along with him for a while.

    “The Wooden Taoist and the gang, did they leave with Gu Qing Feng?”

    “Yes.”

    “Where do you think they went?”

    “White Cloud Outlook. Their vegetable dishes and wine are famous.”

    White Cloud Outlook felt like it was really in the clouds. Its golden rooftop shimmered in the sun as it stood tall and majestic a top the mountain. The mist had not faded, so from afar, the outlook looked like a palace drifting amongst the clouds. The huge black, ebony doors with knockers shaped like animal heads carved out of bronze were already open, but nobody could be seen. The morning breeze brought along with it a faint echo of the murmur of chants. The Taoist monks were obviously in the middle of their morning meditation.

    But there was nobody in the main hall either, only a number of freshly fallen leaves dancing to the wind just outside.

    Lu Xiao Feng made his way through the yard, through the incense filled main hall, and exited out of a small door in the back. There he ran into a Taoist monk wearing a green robe and a yellow hat standing underneath a Chinese parasol tree, looking at him with an icy stare. Even though the leaves on the tree had not fallen off, the color of Autumn in the yard was even more intense.

    “Is Father Gu Qing Feng here?” Lu Xiao Feng tried to ask a question.

    The Taoist did not reply. His glowings eyes looked like daggers piercing through the mist. A gust of wind breezed by as the yellow cape on the monk’s back danced. Lu Xiao Feng suddenly realized that on his back was a sword in a black sheath.

    “Is Father none other than Father Gu?”

    Still no answer from the monk, his face remained completely expressionless.

    Lu Xiao Feng laughed awkwardly to try and break the tension.

    “Looks like this monk is deaf, guess I asked the wrong person.”

    But this monk was not deaf, he suddenly let out a cold snicker: “You didn’t ask the wrong person, but you came to the wrong place”

    “Isn’t this White Cloud Outlook?”

    “Yes.”

    “People can’t come here?”

    “Other people can, only you can’t!”

    “You know who I am?” Lu Xiao Feng could not help but ask.

    The monk only sneered as he suddenly took a step to the side. The bark on the side of the tree had been peeled off and in its place 8 words were written in black chalk.

    “Little Phoenix Flew By, Dies Under Thy Tree!”

    “You do know who I am!” Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

    “The phoenix dies under the Chinese parasol, this tree will mark your tomb!”

    “Have we met before?” Lu Xiao Feng suddenly asked.

    “No.”

    “Are there any past misgivings between us?”

    “None.”

    “How about new misgivings?”

    “Also none.”

    “Well, since we’ve never met before, and there are no misgivings between us, why would you want to kill me?” An exasperated laugh appeared on Lu Xiao Feng’s face.

    “Because you are Lu Xiao Feng!”

    “That seems to be reason enough!” Lu Xiao Feng’s smile became even more miserable.

    “It is!” With a simple flick of his arm, he pulled out his sword!

    “Beautiful sword!” The sword shone like a flood of Autumn water. The monk flicked the blade of the sword with his finger, causing it to make a loud, reverberating sound. Upon hearing the sound, 6 more Taoist monks dressed in the same fashion as he suddenly appeared on all four sides. Six men, 6 swords, all were the same kind of the finest made ancient swords.

    The yellow tassles at the end of their swords fluttered in the wind. Suddenly, all 7 struck at the same time, using none other than the Northern Taoist Sect’s origin, the Quanzhen Sect’s world famous Big Dipper Formation. That wooden faced monk was obviously the person responsible for springing the formation.

    His techniques were ingenius and flowing, even though he was still not in the same class as Xi Men Chui Xue and Ye Gu Cheng, his sword was agile and moving at his will, making him a master swordsman in the martial world.

    Not to mention the structure of the Big Dipper Formation, with the right teamwork, these 7 swords would seem to have the power of 70 swords. Even Lu Xiao Feng was finding it hard to counterattack. The swords were like a net around him. He felt like a fish that fell into the net, jumping up and down, left and right inside the net, yet he could still not get out. The net slowly began to close in.

    “The swords are great, the sword techniques are great, but pity the people is wrong!” Lu Xiao Feng suddenly sighed.

    Nobody asked him: “Wrong where?” Even if somebody wanted to ask, he did not have the chance. In that instant, Lu Xiao Feng made him move. With just a simple slither of his body, his hand had grabbed a hold of the lead monk’s right wrist and gave it a light push. What followed was a cacophany of metal banging against each other as the swords met and sparks flew. Lu Xiao Feng, with another simple move, broke free of the traps of the net.

    But also in that instant, an icy laugh could be heard as a streak of light came flying in like a rainbow. This strike’s power and speed was far beyond that of the monk. Lu Xiao Feng had just escaped the clutches of the formation and the streak of light had already arrived within inches of his throat.

    The freezing cold aura of the sword had already entered his skin. Instead, Lu Xiao Feng laughed as he suddenly reached up and clamped his fingers together.

    His foe did not even hear his laughter before his sword was caught. His hands were actually faster than sound!

    The aura disappeared. With two fingers on the blade, Lu Xiao Feng smiled at the man in front of him -- a middle-age man with a white face a bit of a beard dressed in elegant silk. This man was staring back at him, in shock.

    Nobody could believe that there was actually somebody this fast in the world, this man certainly did not believe it. He trusted that his sword skills was on par with that of Ye Gu Cheng and Xi Men Chui Xue, trusted that last strike of his would never fail. Only now did he realize that he was wrong.

    It was at this moment that the sound of laughter could be heard coming from the building just behind the Chinese parasol: “I told you before! Ye Gu Cheng’s Outter Heaven Angel and Lu Xiao Feng’s fingers are martial art skills that’s unmatched in this world! Now do you believe me?”

    “We are lucky to see such a display, I am in awe!” Another person sighed.

    The middle-age man suddenly sighed as well: “Lu Xiao Feng really is Lu Xiao Feng!”

    The laugh came from the Wooden Taoist and Lu Xiao Feng figured that the person who was sighing was none other than Gu Qing Feng. Some people always seemed to have a smile on their face and Gu Qing Feng was one of them. He was already a clean and pleasant looking person to begin with, when he smiled it made him look even more warm and friendly.

    Smiling, he approached and gently wiped the writings off of the tree: “Master Lu probably already deduced by now that all of this is just....”

    “Just a joke.” Lu Xiao Feng finished for him.

    “You knew?” Gu Qing Feng seemed surprised.

    Lu Xiao Feng nodded.

    “Because quite of number of people have played this joke on me before.”

    “It’s not a very good joke really,” an apologetic look appeared in Gu Qing Feng’s eyes.

    “No, not a very good one, but not a bad one either!” Lu Xiao Feng reassured him. “At least every time someone plays this joke on me, I always come out feeling pretty lucky.”

    “Why?”

    “If I’m not lucky, then this joke won’t be a joke anymore!” Lu Xiao Feng matter of factly replied as he gently and slowly put down the blade between his fingers, as if he was somehow afraid that the blade would cut his finger.

    The silk-wearing middle aged man also smiled, it was an apologetic smile as well: “I originally didn’t want to go through with this joke, but they all guaranteed that nobody in the world could hit Lu Xiao Feng’s throat with one stroke of his sword, so I had....”

    “So you had to test that claim?” Lu Xiao Feng finished his thought for him as well. He let out a little laugh and continued. “Even if I want to get angry, I won’t dare get mad in front of His Majesty’s Imperial Warden!”

    “You know who I am?” The man seemed surprised.

    Lu Xiao Feng smiled.

    “Other than the ‘Divine Sword Aristocrat’ Third Master Yin Xian, who else in the world can pull of that ‘Maiden Threads the Shuttle’ move?”

    The Wooden Taoist burst out laughing again.

    “Didn’t I tell you before? Not only is his hands incredible, his eyes are something else as well!”

    Everybody in the martial world knew there were four martial arts masters acting as Chief Wardens inside the ImperialPalace, but only a handful of people have actually seen them.

    “You eyes are something else!” Laughing heartily, Yin Xian patted Lu Xiao Feng on the shoulder. “I haven’t walked in the martial world for more than a decade, I didn’t expect you would know who I am!”

    “There are quite a few people who could pull off ‘Maiden Threads the Shuttle’, but to truly be able to extract all the power and force of that move, there is only one in the world!” Lu Xiao Feng added with a smile, this person was leaving a good impression on him.

    In his imagination, the Imperial Wardens would surely be the type of people who have their eyes on top of their heads. At least this person seemed friendly and had a very pure and pleasing laugh that made people happy. So Lu Xiao Feng had hoped to cheer him up a bit too.

    Yin Xian’s eyes immediately lit up as he suddenly grabbed Lu Xiao Feng’s hand.

    “Are you telling the truth?”

    “I never lie.”

    “Then you have to tell me, how does my Maiden Threading the Shuttle compare to Ye Gu Cheng’s Outter Heaven Angel?”

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed. The truth is not always what people wanted to hear.

    “Are you sure you want me to tell you?”

    “I know you’ve also parried his Outter Heaven Angel once before, so you are the only one in the world qualified to judge!”

    “When I caught his strike, there was a wall at my back,” Lu Xiao Feng thoughtfully replied. “I didn’t have to worry about my back. When I caught your strike, there was still 7 swords behind me!”

    The shine in Yin Xian’s eyes dimmed down once again.

    “So I’m not as good as he is?”

    “Honestly, no!”

    “At least I have finally witnessed you in action, but his Outter Heaven Angel....”

    Gu Qing Feng’s laughter suddenly interrupted them.

    “You’ll witness his Outter Heaven Angel very soon as well!”

    “I will?”

    “Most certainly!”

    Yin Xian’s eyes lit up once again.”

    “For tomorrow night has a full moon!”

    “And the ‘Atop Zi Jing’ is now just ‘Atop Zi Jin’!” Gu Qing Feng smiled. “So even if others won’t witness it, you most certainly will.”

    Yin Xian’s fist tightened around his sword. “‘On top of the Forbidden’, they actually chose a place like that... where did they get the nerve!” He murmured.

    “Without such breathtaking skills, where else would the guts come from?” Gu Qing Feng replied.

    Yin Xian paused for a second.

    “You shouldn’t have told me that.” He suddenly declared.

    “Why not?”

    “Don’t forget that I am a Warden of the Imperial Guard, how can I possibly allow them to trespass into the Palace?”

    “You can make an exception!”

    “Why should I make an exception?”

    “Because I know you must really want to witness the peerless Outter Heaven Angel!”

    Yin Xian sighed as a resigned smile appeared on his face.

    “You know what your biggest problem is? You know too much!”

    “Truly way too much!” Lu Xiao Feng sighed as well.

    “I guess you didn’t expect I would know about this did you?”

    “It is a secret, after all!”

    “It was a secret,” Gu Qing Feng smiled. “Inside the capital, there are no real secrets!”

    “So you knew I was coming ahead of time?”

    “You are Li Yan Bei’s friend, after all. If not for you, he’s probably dead at Du Tong Xuan’s hands!”

    “Actually, we were going to go look for you,” the Wooden Taoist suddenly cut in. “But instead we ended up being witnesses to the transaction!”

    “What about Honest Monk?”

    “I dragged him along. I knew you were looking for him.”

    “Shame we got there too late,” Gu Qing Feng added. “Didn’t get a taste of the 13th Mistress’s famed lamb chops!”

    “A monk can eat lamb chops?”

    Gu Qing Feng laughed.

    “If a monk can’t eat lamb chops, why would he be willing to spend one million nine hundred and fifty thousand taels of silver to buy out Li Yan Bei?”

    “Could it be because he pretty sure that he won’t lose?” Lu Xiao Feng’s stare could burn a hole in Gu Qing Feng’s face.

    “If it is an unwinnable bet, would you be willing to pay for it?” Gu Qing Feng casually countered.

    “No.”

    “And if you did agree to assume the bet, wouldn’t that mean you are at least somewhat sure?”

    Lu Xiao Feng laughed.

    “Looks like you are just like me, don’t know how to tell a lie!”

    “How can a monk lie?”

    “Too bad it seems just as difficult to get you to tell the truth!”

    “A monk has to master the art of equivocation,” Gu Qing Feng joked. “One has to be able to toe the line between honesty and deception. Not true, not quite a lie!”

    Yin Xian suddenly patted Lu Xiao Feng on the shoulder again.

    “Actually, you’d do well to learn a little something from him,” he joked. “Tell a couple of half truths once in a while, maybe even lie once or twice.”

    “Pity that every time I lie I get cramps and gas.” Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

    Yin Xian stared at him incredulously.

    “Really?”

    “No!”

    ***

    The meditation chamber was actually filled with people. Everyone of them sitting neatly, quietly, and solemnly in their rows, like a room of nice and obedient students waiting for the class bell. Of course, they were not children, nor were they particularly nice.

    Lu Xiao Feng have seen them before, every single one of them. These people have followed Li Yan Bei on his hour long morning walk every day since the day “Golden Sabre” Feng Kun was tossed into the frozen river, no one dared to miss one session. But from this day forth, none of them will have to ever take that walk again.

    --Just you today?

    --They all have their own business to take care of today!

    Turned out this was what they had to take care of.

    “Well sitting here is definitely more comfortable than walking around,” Lu Xiao Feng let out a little laugh and declared. “But be careful, sit around too much and you’ll get a belly, and that’s not necessarily a sign of good fortune.”

    Every one of their heads lowered in shame, one in particular was lower than everybody else.

    “Gan’er Zhao,” Gan Zheng Wo. Seeing him, Lu Xiao Feng was immediately reminded of that white horse, that corpse on the horse, and that proud youth Yan Ren Ying.

    “How did he die? Where did the horse come from?” Lu Xiao Feng wanted to ask, but could not. This was not the right time, nor the right place.

    If it was anybody else, the best thing would be to completely ignore him and pretend as if nothing was happening. But Lu Xiao Feng was not anybody else.

    Gu Qing Feng was just enjoying his wine when Lu Xiao Feng suddenly charged out and grabbed Gan’er Zhao by his collar.

    “Now I got you! I finally found you!” He shouted. “Let’s see how you are going to get away now!”

    Everybody was shocked, nobody had a clue what was happening. The person who was most shocked was, of course, Gan’er Zhao. He could not figure out for the life of him what was going on.

    Gu Qing Feng wanted to step in and mediate, the Wooden Taoist was just about to speak up to calm everyone down. But Lu Xiao Feng pre-empted any such attempts from them by declaring with a stone face: “I have a score to settle with this guy, a score that I have to settle. When I’m done, I’ll be back to enjoy the wine with everyone. If anyone should try and stop me....”

    He did not finish his sentence, nor did he need to finish. Nobody wanted to get on the wrong side of Lu Xiao Feng over someone like Gan’er Zhao. In front of all these people, Lu Xiao Feng was actually able to drag Gan’er Zhao out the door, out of the Outlook, and all the way into a nearby wood.

    The sun had already risen, risen high in the sky, today was another good day. But it was still dark inside the woods. Sunlight peered through the canopy and straight down onto Gan’er Zhao’s face.

    Gan’er Zhao’s face was already pale as death from fear.

    “What... what could I have possibly done to offend the Great Hero Lu?” He stammered.

    “Nothing,” Lu Xiao Feng suddenly let go and smiled. “And no old scores either, none what so ever.”

    Gan’er Zhao was shocked for the second time. But at least a little color had returned to his face.

    “So all of this was just a joke?”

    “It’s not a very good joke I’m afraid; actually, it’s probably worse than the joke they just played on me.”

    “No, not a very good joke,” Gan’er Zhao sighed in relief and laughed along. “But at least it’s better than ‘not a joke’!”

    Lu Xiao Feng’s demeanor suddenly darkened again.

    “Although sometimes jokes can turn into something deadly serious!” He coldly observed.

    Gan’er Zhao wiped some of the cold sweat off of his forehead.

    “If I have found some information that the Great Hero Lu has instructed me to find, would the joke change?”

    “No,” Lu Xiao Feng laughed. “Not a chance!”

  10. #30
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Posts
    3,036

    Default Book 3 - Chapter 5

    Chapter 5 - Honest Monk

    Fourteenth of September, morning. The sunlight beared down upon the northwest corner of the Forbidden City. Even though the Sun was shining down, this corner was dark and run down. If one had not actually been here, one could have never imagined that within the walls of this splendid and magnificent Forbidden City, there existed such a dark and unkept corner. At least, Lu Xiao Feng never did.

    Underneath this spectacular and grand City Wall, was, amazingly, a shanty town with poor and simple little buildings made of small wooden boards and dirt bricks. The streets of this “town” was narrow and potted with one little smoke blacked restaurant after another on each side, alongside little tea shops that sound like chicken coups and little stores whose grounds were covered with eggs and soy sauce.

    The air was filled with the stench of smoke, of alcohol, of salted fish, and of stinky tofu, not to mention a whole assortment of other weird smells that one could not place, plus the perfumed fragrance women put in their hair, as well as the strange mouth-watering smell of barbecued ribs and roasted dog meat. All of this was mixed together to form an indescribable and unimaginable attack on one’s nostrils.

    Lu Xiao Feng could not have dreamed in his wildest dreams that this kind of smell actually existed in the world, he simply could not believe that this place was actually inside the Forbidden City.

    But he really was inside the Forbidden City. It was a eunuch friend of Gan’er Zhao’s that led them in.

    Gan’er Zhao was really quite well acquianted guy, he really had all kinds of colorful and interesting friends.

    “The northwest corner of the Forbidden City is a strange place. I can guarantee that even you, Master Lu, would never go there. Even if one wants to go, it’ll probably be impossible most of the time.”

    “Why?”

    “Because that’s where the eunuch’s houses are. It is very difficult for an eunuch in the ImperialPalace to get out of the City. So whenever they have time to waste, they would go there. So there are all kinds of wacky and crazy stuff going on there.”

    “You want to go there to investigate?”

    “I know this eunuch named An-Fu that can let us in.”

    “But why would we want to go to a place like that?”

    “Because, from the information that I’ve gathered, that horse came from around there.”

    “Then what are you waiting for? Go find An-Fu!”

    “There is one more thing that I have to say!”

    “What? Say it!”

    “Eunuchs are all freaks, not only do they have weird temperaments, they have this stink on them!”

    “Where did the stink come from?”

    “Because even though there are one less thing on them, they actually get alot more headache. Bathing, especially, is a headache. So they often go months without bathing.”

    {I don’t know, I don’t want to know, I don’t want to think about it}

    “Are you telling me to just grin and bear it for a bit?”

    “Precisely because they are freaks, they are especially paranoid of others looking down on them. So if that Little An’zi does anything that might offend the Great Hero Lu, I’d kindly ask the Great Hero Lu to just let it slide.”

    “Don’t worry, as long as I can find Xi Men Chui Xue, I wouldn’t even care if that little eunuch tries to ride around my head.”

    When he said that, Lu Xiao Feng was laughing. Not only did he find this whole situation funny, it was somewhat interesting to him in a sense.

    But he was not laughing now. He had suddenly discoverd that not only was this whole situation not funny, it was not that interesting either.

    This eunuch that went by “Little An’zi” might have been riding around on his head, but he had been holding on to his hand pretty tightly, as if to show some affection, going as far as to actually stroke his mustache a little in fun. Lu Xiao Feng could feel his entire buddy almost imperceptibly shudder.

    Nobody could imagine what it felt like to be touched by an eunuch unless it had happened to them before.

    “And exactly how many people in the world have been touched by an eunuch?”

    Lu Xiao Feng suddenly felt his entire mouth get flooded by a sourness and bitterness that almost made him puke. The fact that he had not puked by now was quite a feat in and of itself.

    The last time, after he had spent 10 days digging up earthworms, he had thought that he had to have been the worst smelling human being in the world. Only now did he realize that, compared to a eunuch, he was smelled positively like a scented candle. And it seemed as if Little An’zi was certainly thinking about treating him like a scented candle. Not only was he holding his hand, it looked like he wanted to get a little whif here or there. Not only was he touching his mustache, it looked like he could barely hold back from trying to get a little feel of some other places on his body.

    Seeing the look on Lu Xiao Feng’s face, Gan’er Zhao could just barely hold back his laughter. The fact that he had not burst out laughing by now was also quite a feat in and of itself.

    The stench inside the tea house seemed to be even worse than it was outside. The waiter was also a weird, androgynous, looking kind of a guy, always sneaking a peek at Lu Xiao Feng or giving a wink to Little An’zi. Lu Xiao Feng was having a hard time with this guy as well.

    He came into this tea house entirely because Little An’zi steadfastly invited him to have some tea together. No matter what, drinking a cup of tea had got to be better than being dragged around by a eunuch all over the place. Besides, the tea turned out to be truly high class good tea. That and Little An’zi finally let go of his hand.

    “I smuggled this tea out from inside the Palace myself, you can’t possibly get this on the outside.”

    “I truly have not tasted such good tea!” Lu Xiao Feng conceded.

    “If you want, you can come back whenever you like to drink it.” Little An’zi smiled so hard that his eyes narrowed to a slit. “Maybe this is fate, the moment I saw you I felt like we could become good friends.”

    “I... I will... I’ll be sure to visit often in the future!” Lu Xiao Feng suddenly discovered that he was having problems enounciating, for a moment he felt like a stutterer.

    Luckily, for Lu Xiao Feng, an old eunuch came strolling in at that moment, forcing Little An’zi to let go of his hand once again and go over to greet him. Eunuchs have an odd gait, their legs always spread further apart than they should be.

    That old eunuch’s gait was even worse than the rest of them, but his attire was much fancier. He kept making this gesture with his hand whenever he talked to someone where he put the his thumb and middle finger together like a dancer would. Only with him, it made him look like an old maid. Lu Xiao Feng had to look away to gather himself.

    “That’s our boss, Manager Wang,” Little An’zi suddenly returned. “Now that Manager Wang is back, Sixth Brother Ma’s gambling games is going to start soon, want to play?”

    Lu Xiao Feng immediately shook his head furiously.

    “I actually have a favour to trouble you with!” He managed to force a smile onto his face.

    “Anything, just ask!” Little An’zi looked like he was going to make a go at grabbing Lu Xiao Feng’s hand again. “No matter what, as long as you ask, I’ll do it!”

    “I was wondering if you could possibly ask around a little and see if there have been other people visiting here recently!”

    “Sure! I’m going to ask around right now!” Little An’zi smiled and added. “I can take this opportunity to go and visit my wife too.”

    And with that, he finally left, but not without grabbing Lu Xiao Feng’s hand for just a moment. Gan’er Zhao kept his eyes down and hid his face and miraculously held off bursting out laughing again.

    Lu Xiao Feng shot him a mean look.

    “How did a eunuch get a wife?” He could not help but quietly ask though.

    “It’s all fake and show, obviously.” Gan’er Zhao answered. “But there are realy quite a number of eunuch wives!”

    “Oh?”

    “There’s not much for the eunuchs and the maids to do in the ImperialPalace, so they sometimes pair off. Some of the more ‘resourceful’ eunuchs would actually spend some money and buy some girl from the outside to be their wives.”

    “Being a eunuch’s wife can’t exactly be a pleasant life.” Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

    “Not pleasant at all,” Gan’er Zhao let out a sigh as well. “Actually, the eunuchs themselves lead sad and pitiful lives as well. It’s not like their days are anymore pleasant either.”

    Lu Xiao Feng was suddenly feeling very uncomfortable inside his heart.

    “I don’t think there is a chance that Xi Men Chui Xue would be hiding here.” He immediately changed the subject.

    “Maybe he is counting on the fact that nobody would think he could live here!”

    “At first, I was thinking that as well, but now...” Lu Xiao Feng let out a defeated smile. “Now that I’ve seen this place. I know I’d go crazy if I have to stay here one day, nevermind Xi Men Chui Xue!”

    He had always been much less picky and neat than Xi Men Chui Xue.

    “But that white horse really did come from around here!”

    Lu Xiao Feng paused.

    “And Zhang Ying Feng probably did die around here too!” He speculated. Looking out into the narrow street and small buildings outside. “It’s nearly impossible to hide a body here after you kill someone!”

    “So the only thing to do is to ship it out on the back of a horse.”

    Lu Xiao Feng nodded, but immediately frowned.

    “Still, if Xi Men Chui Xue isn’t here, then who killed Zhang Ying Feng? Who else would have such a fast of a strike?”

    That was a question that Gan’er Zhao could not answer.

    The two of them drank their tea and stared blankly at nothing for a while before Little An’zi returned, with some real information as well.

    “Two nights ago, Sixth Brother Ma did bring someone here, a pretty proud young man.”

    Lu Xiao Feng’s spirit immediately took a jolt.

    “What was his name? Was it Zhang Ying Feng?”

    “That I didn’t hear anything about!”

    “Where is he now?” Lu Xiao Feng followed up.

    “Who cares!” Little An’zi laughed. “Sixth Brother Ma is an old rascal, he’s probably already hid that strong and spirited that young man somewhere secret already.”

    His eyes narrowed as he looked Lu Xiao Feng once over again, as if he was planning to somehow hide Lu Xiao Feng somewhere as well. These kind of people, this kind of place, anything seemed possible.

    “So where is Sixth Brother Ma’s gambling place?” Lu Xiao Feng suddenly stood up. “I’ve suddenly got an itch to give it a go!”

    “Sure, I’ll take you!” Little An’zi smiled and grabbed a hold of his hand again. “If you don’t have enough on you to play with, I’ll lend some. All you have to do is ask.”

    Lu Xiao Feng suddenly sighed.

    “I really would like to borrow something from you, but I don’t think there is any chance you would have it.” He mumbled under his breath.

    The only thing he wanted at that moment was a pair of handcuffs to keep this guy’s hands away from his.

    ***

    Sixth Brother Ma’s surname was not Ma, nor was he an eunuch. He was a tall, burly, and muslce-bound man with a chestful of hair and a pockmarked face. On that face of his was always this unseasonably arrogant and proud smile.

    Standing in a crowd of eunuchs, he positively resembled a rooster strutting amongst a group of hens, proud and satisfied.

    The eunuchs that surround also look up at him like a harem look up at their masters, with a look that was part respect, part fear, and part admiration.

    Lu Xiao Feng could not help but think of them as funny, sad, and sickening.

    --The saddest and most pitiful people would always have a little bit of them that was a bit sickening.

    The room was like a nest or a cave, its air filled with smoke and its stench stinking up to the high heavens. Of the people that had gathered around the betting table, 9 out of every 10 was a eunuch, grabbing the dies, twisting their ears, pinching their feet, sniffing their fingers after pinching their feet, pinching their feet after they finish sniffing their fingers, and once in a while grabbing this or touching that.

    The House was, of course, Sixth Brother Ma. Standing in the middle of it all, exuding so much pride that it seemed like there was a red light shining out of each of the pockmarks on his face. Gan’er Zhao did not come in. As soon as he got to the door, he slipped out of there.

    “I’m going to see if I can find some more information else where, be back in a bit.”

    He was quite a master of slipping away, not even Lu Xiao Feng could stop him. So Lu Xiao Feng had to go in all by his lonesome.

    Little An’zi was actually escorting him by opening up a path in front of him.

    “Make way, make way! Step a side for a bit would you? I have a friend here who wants to give it a try!”

    As soon as he saw Lu Xiao Feng, Sixth Brother Ma’s eyes bulged out. They were filled with animosity, as if a rooster had suddenly discovered that another rooster had trespassed into his coup.

    He sized Lu Xiao Feng several times over with those beady eyes of his before finally, and coldy, speaking up: “What do you want to play? Are you going to play for something big or some small potatos? Something real or just pretend?”

    The eunuchs all laughed, their laughs sounded like the group of hens chirping, giving Lu Xiao Feng goosebumps all over his entire body.

    {Note: “Goosebumps” in Chinese is “ji pi”, which, literally translated, means “chicken skin”. So with this final play on words, Gu Long have brought this entire analogy/metaphor full circle. But alas, it does not translate over into English.}

    “My friend is the real thing, of course he wants to play big, the bigger the better!” Little An’zi declared before Lu Xiao Feng could.

    “You want to play big?” Sixth Brother Ma glared at Lu Xiao Feng. “How much do you have on you?”

    “Not much, not too little either!”

    “So how much do you really have?” Sixth Brother Ma snickered. “Let’s see it before we go further.”

    Lu Xiao Feng laughed too. When he had absorbed enough psychological punishment, he would laugh too.

    “Would this be enough?” He casually grabbed a crumpled up bank note from his inner shirt pocket and tossed it onto the table.

    Everybody in the room burst out laughing again. This banknote looked like a piece of toilet paper. One of the smaller eunuchs, laughing, began to uncrumple the banknote with his that pair of fingers he had just used to pinch his feet. He flattened the banknote out and read the note. His eyes almost leapt out of their sockets.

    “Ten thousand taels!”

    Incredibly, this toilet paper looking piece of banknote was worth ten thousand taels of silver. Not only that, but it was from the “Four Great Eternals” that guarantees to pay out.

    Now it was Little An’zi’s turn to laugh.

    “Like I said before, this friend of mine is the real deal.” He puffed his chest out in pride.

    Sixth Brother Ma’s presence had been cut in half, his temper as well.

    “Such a huge banknote, how can we divide that up into chips?” A forced smile appeared on his face.

    “No need,” Lu Xiao Feng casaully answered. “I’ll put it all down on one toss.”

    “Ten thousand taels on one toss?” Sweat began appearing on Sixth Brother Ma’s face, a sweat drop for every pockmark on his face.

    “Just one.”

    Sixth Brother Ma hesitated and looked down at the several dozen taels of silver in front of him.

    “We don’t play hands that big around here!” He muttered.

    “I know you won’t be able to cover the bet, so if you lose, I’ll only demand two sentences from you.”

    “And what if you lost?”

    “If I lose, this ten-thousand tael banknote is yours!”

    Sixth Brother Ma’s eyes regained the light they had.

    “Which two sentences do you want from me?”

    Lu Xiao Feng gazed right back into his eyes, and slowly said, emphasizing each word: “Was the man you brought back here two nights ago Zhang Ying Feng? How did he die?”

    Sixth Brother Ma’s expression changed, the collective expression on the eunuch’s faces changed as well.

    “This little bastard isn’t here to gamble, he’s here to cause trouble, take him down for me!” A voice suddenly and coldly declared from the door.

    This voice was high and effiminant, belonging to none other than that of that old maid look-alike, Manager Wang.

    “Kill this little bastard!” Sixth Brother Ma was the first to jump into the foray, but the eunuchs all followed him in, biting, scratching, beating, tearing.

    Of course, Lu Xiao Feng would not allow himself to get bitten by them, but he was not about to start really beating down these sad creatures either.

    His only option was to go after one person--when catching thieves, go for the head, if he could subdue Sixth Brother Ma, maybe it would scare the other eunuchs away.

    But surprisingly, this Sixth Brother Ma really knew a thing or two. Not only had he learned the Northern Sects’ Dragon’s Lair Leg and Flood Fist, he was pretty good with them too. His fist strikes were rather vicious and forceful. Pity for him the person he ran into was Lu Xiao Feng.

    With a gentle push of his left palm, Lu Xiao Feng was able to parry his strike and, very gently with his right fist, struck him in the chest. Just like that, that almost huge, bulky body of his tumbled backwards. By this time, the room was overflowing with people.

    So when he fell backwards, he still landed on some people. By the time he got back onto his feet, his face was pale as death and there was a hint of blood at the corner of his mouth.

    This stopped Lu Xiao Feng in his track. He did not put much force into that punch just now, it certainly should not have hurt him to this degree.

    How could this be? Sixth Brother Ma’s throat was making all kinds of croaking sounds and his eyes were beginning to bulge out.

    Lu Xiao Feng suddenly realized what had happened.

    --Someone had stabbed him just below his ribs on the left side. The blade was still in him with just the handle sticking out of his side.

    Nobody could survive after being stabbed like that. Who did it? The room was so crowded and so chaotic that not even Lu Xiao Feng saw who did it. The only evidence he had now was the sabre itself.

    He rushed over and pulled the knife out, causing blood to spew out onto everything. Once again, Sixth Brother Ma fell back. It looked as if he wanted to say something as he fell, but nobody could make out what it was.

    The eunuchs were already in a panic.

    “Help! Help! Killer! There’s a killer here!” They screamed as they rushed out of the door in chaos.

    Even though Lu Xiao Feng would never have allowed himself to be captured by these eunuchs, he had no idea as to what they planned to do with him.

    Nor did he want to dwell too deeply into that topic. “Thirty six strategems, leaving is the best”. With a quick shrug of his shoulders, he literally took off.

    {Note: The phrase: “Thirty six strategems, leaving is the best,” is a common Chinese saying referring to the 36 strategms that commonly linked to Sun Tzu. In it, it is stated that if all else fails, retreat and regroup. In popular saying, it is often used, as it is in this case, in a tongue-in-cheek manner to disguise running away as something of a strategy than what it truly is.}

    “Bang!” With a loud crash, he smashed through the roof.

    As he leapt out through the roof, he could see that people were gathering around the building from every direction, some carrying sticks, others carrying knives.

    His only option for escape was to scale the wall. But these walls were the walls of the Forbidden. They looked to be at least 40 meters tall. Nobody in the world could hope to scale over them. Even if the man who shocked the world with his lightness kungfu, Chu Liu Xiang, was reborn, he would not be able to do it either.

    {Note: Chu Liu Xiang is a reference to, arguably, Gu Long’s most famous character. He was a master thief that Gu Long featured in several mysteries similiar to, but generally shorter than, Lu Xiao Feng’s mysteries. More than a few critics have noted the similiarities between Chu Liu Xiang and Lu Xiao Feng, both in terms of character and plot. A big difference, however, is that Chu Liu Xiang was a much smoother operator and would never find himself in such an embarrasing predicament such as the one Lu Xiao Feng found himself in at the beginning of this chapter.}

    Luckily for Lu Xiao Feng, he still had that sabre in his hand. He suddenly took off again. As his body came to a stop about 15 meters up, he brought the sabre above his head and stabbed down hard as the blade disappeared into the wall.

    His body was now completely flat against the wall. He pulled the sabre out as he slid up the wall like a gecko. When he got close to the top of the wall, he tapped his toe and somersaulted in midair. With a simple “Narrow Chested Clever Tumble Through the Clouds”, he gently landed on top of the wall.

    Suddenly, from the top of the wall came a cold chuckle.

    “Still trying to get away? You can run but you can’t hide!”

    Lu Xiao Feng had only heard the voice, but could not see the person, nor could he tell if this person was already attacking.

    So with another flick of his toe, he took off and somersaulted again. Only now did he spot the person. Amazingly, this person was sunbathing among the battlements on the castle wall. He was wearing a dirty and torn green robe, a pair of completely worn through straw sandals, and he was so bald his head was literally sparkling under the Sun.

    This guy was a monk.

    “Honest Monk!” Lu Xiao Feng almost shouted, and almost missed his landing and fell off the wall.

    Honest Monk burst out laughing, a big and hearty laugh.

    “Calm down, monk isn’t trying to catch you, I’m talking about this little guy.” He brought up two of his fingers, between them was a small flea. He let out another laugh and continued. “These two fingers of mine might not be as powerful as yours, but no flea in the world could hope to escape them.”

    With a little extra force, he crushed the flea.

    “The Heavens favours life,” Lu Xiao Feng coldly mocked, “why did you have to kill?”

    “If I don’t kill, then the flea would eat me alive.”

    “An enlightened monk would gladly sacrifice his own body to feed the eagle, so what’s the harm in letting the fleas feed on you?”

    {Note: Lu Xiao Feng is referring to a well known buddhist fable. In the fable, a monk came saved a crane from an eagle. But the eagle complained to the monk that he will die of starvation now because of the monk. The monk the proceeded to cut off an amount of meat from his body that is equivalent to the weight of the crane. This, of course, killed the monk, but the eagle survived.}

    “Pity that I only have so much blood and can’t afford to feed it to the flea.”

    “So you would kill instead?”

    Honest Monk did not reply.

    “And if you have killed, then you probably have killed people before as well.”

    Honest Monk still did not respond.

    “Why aren’t you talking?” Lu Xiao Feng mocked.

    “I can’t lie, so I’m not going to talk.” Honest Monk sighed.

    Lu Xiao Feng’s glare was like a knife as he looked down upon Honest Monk: “You’ve never lied?”

    “At least I’ve never lied to a sad and pitiful person.”

    “I’m sad and pitiful?”

    “You’ve been busting your tail running this way and that all day,” Honest Monk sighed, “how can you compared to this relaxed and laid back existence?”

    “I heard you’ve been quite busy as well!” Lu Xiao Feng coldly declared.

    “Who said that?”

    “I just did.” Lu Xiao Feng let out a little bitter laugh and continued. “Two days ago you were at Zhang Jia Kou, you arrived at the capital only yesterday. Since you’ve arrived you have been busy spreading rumours and news for Ye Gu Cheng, standing in as witnesses for business transactions, and now you’ve enetered the Forbidden City.” A monk like that doesn’t seem to be leading a relaxed and laid back existence.”

    Honest Monk laughed.

    “Well, I may not have nothing to do, but at least I heart and mind is worry free.” He countered.

    “Well you might not been troubled, but you have been a bit surreptitious.”

    “I have never been surreptitious or sneaky!”

    “Then what are you doing in a place like this?”

    “Because I know there is someone here looking for a white horse that only the dead ride!”

    “Looks like not only are your sources all working, you like to meddle in other’s business as well!” Lu Xiao Feng bitterly chuckleed.

    “I have to mind this matter!”

    “Why?”

    “Because even though I don’t have any sons, I have a nephew!”

    “You mean Zhang Ying Feng is your nephew?”

    Honest Monk nodded.

    “Now I don’t even have a nephew anymore.” He sighed.

    Lu Xiao Feng had nothing more to say, because he was caught quite off guard by that revelation. This whole day has been filled with crazy events, every event seemed to have some kind of connection with the every other event, but just not on one thread. Ye Gu Cheng, First Madame Gong Sun, Big Shot Sun, Ou Yang Qing, Li Yan Bei, Zhang Ying Feng, these were all the victims and from the surface, there was nothing connecting them at all.

    But Lu Xiao Feng could not help but feel that there has to be one common thread, one common connection between all of them. The person that got to Ye Gu Cheng, Ou Yang Qing, and Big Shot Sun was obviously the same person, even using the same method. Yet there was no earthly reason those three would be connected in anything.

    “Zhang Ying Feng really did die here!” Lu Xiao Feng broke the silence.

    “Is that what your findings have led you to believe?”

    Lu Xiao Feng nodded.

    “His death has some kind of close connection with a guy from around here that goes by ‘Sixth Brother Ma’!”

    “Have you talked to Sixth Brother Ma?”

    “Just as I was about to, someone killed him to shut him up!”

    “But you don’t know who killed him!”

    “All I know is that his death is very closely related to one Manager Wang!”

    “And who is Manager Wang?”

    “An old eunuch that looks like an old maid.”

    “Why would they want to kill Zhang Ying Feng?”

    “I never said they killed Zhang Ying Feng.” Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

    “Then who did kill him?”

    “No matter who it may be, it’s not Xi Men Chui Xue.”

    “Why not?”

    “Because I can guarantee you Xi Men Chui Xue is not here, and have never been here!”

    Even though he sound very sure of himself, in his heart he had more than his fair share of doubt. Other than Xi Men Chui Xue, there did not seem to be reason for anybody else to kill Zhang Ying Feng. Other than Xi Men Chui Xue, who else could have had such a sharp and fast blade?

    Honest Monk suddenly sighed again.

    “So now that you have talked for a while, I’ve finally came to a realization.”

    “And what would that be?” Lu Xiao Feng certainly did not share in the realization.

    “That, at this moment, I’m a completely confused out of my mind monk, and you are a completely confused out of your mind Lu Xiao Feng!”

    Lu Xiao Feng laughed at that remark, a tired and exasperrated laugh. The Sun had slowly risen even higher in the sky, shining down directly upon Honest Monk’s bald head.

    Lu Xiao Feng stared at him, started at him for a long time.

    “I seem to keep running into Buddhist and Taoist monks all over the place these last two days!”

    “You are a fortunate person, only fortunate people run into Buddhist and Taoist monks all the time!”

    “How did I suddenly turn into such a fortunate person?”

    “You just do, you don’t even know it!”

    “I actually know,” Lu Xiao Feng laughed coldly. “Because I’m once against meddling in this business, that’s how I became such a fortunate person.”

    “Oh?”

    “Monks are suppose to stay in monasteries and cut themselves off from the outside world, from the events of the outside world. But this matter seemed to have attracted an unusually high a number of monks!”

    Honest Monk, the Wooden Taoist, Gu Qing Feng, and Sheng Tong from that little temple, all seemed to be closely related to this whole matter.

    “Monks all wear white socks,” Lu Xiao Feng continued. “If there are societies based on green shirts and red shoes, there could very well be one based on White Socks.”

    Honest Monk laughed again.

    “You might be confused out of your mind, but your imagination is still working fine.” He shook his head and mused.

    “Nevertheless, I keep getting the feeling that there is a monk behind all of this, doing something that would be best to not ever see the light of day.” Lu Xiao Feng coldly countered.

    “Oh?”

    “You are a monk.”

    Honest Monk suddenly put his mud covered feet in the air.

    “Too bad this particular monk don’t wear white socks, but meat socks!” He joked.

    “Meat socks is still white socks.”

    “But my skin isn’t white!”

    Once again, Lu Xiao Feng had nothing more to say.

    --Of course, there was much talk he was not ready to say just yet. So he was getting ready to leave. But only when he was getting ready to leave did he realize that he could no long leave.

    If he was to head East, there two men on the battlements, with their hands behind their backs, slowly heading his way. If he was to head South, there were two men heading his way in that direction as well. If he was to jump off of the wall, on one wide was eunuch central, and on the other side a dozen or so rows of archers and soldiers waiting for him.

    A resigned smile appeared on his face.

    “From the looks of it, the Forbidden City isn’t exactly the best place to chat up monks.”

    ***

    The battlements were exceptionally wide, enough to allow two men to walk side by side without crowding into each other. Of the two men coming from the east, one was an old man with a thin and bright face that had an air of pride and sophistocation; the other man had a deathly pale face and a cold sneer on his face. Of the two men approaching from the south, one had eyes that pierced the air like an eagle, even his nose was curved like an eagle’s beak; and the other was none other than Yin Xian.

    All four of them was adorned in the most expensive of attire, and carried themselves in a proud, stately way that seemed befitting of their stations. Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

    “Well, the Chief Wardens of the Imperial Guard is all here, what do you think we should do?”

    Honest Monk laughed.

    “Lucky for me, I didn’t kill anyone, nor am I a suspect,” he leapt to his feat and, still laughing, suddenly asked, “May I inquire as to who among you is the ‘Hunan Swordsman’ Master Wei Zi Yun?”

    “That would be me.” The thin, bright faced old man replied.

    “And who among you is the ‘Divine Eagle of the Steppe’ Master Tu Fang?”

    “Me.” The eagle-eyed middle aged man curtly answered.

    “The one besides Boss Wei over there would be ‘Star Plucking Hand’ Ding Ao. My name is Yin Xian.” Yin Xian cut in. “Good day, Master Monk!”

    “I’m no Master Monk, just a plain old monk, an honest to goodness monk.” Honest Monk pointed over at Lu Xiao Feng and continued. “This guy, however, isn’t honest at all. He’s the guy you are all looking for, not me!”

    “We were looking for him anyways.” Ding Ao coldly replied.

    “Are you guys going to invite me for a drink?” Lu Xiao Feng actually joked.

    “You trespass into the Forbidden City, commit a murder, and still have the nerve to want a drink?” Du Fang’s face turned a shade more grave.

    He was never one with much sense of humour, when confront with this kind of men, all Lu Xiao Feng could do was force a silly smile.

    “Trespassing into the Forbidden City, that part is true. But that committing a murder part is not.”

    “That sabre in your hand is quite real!” Ding Ao chuckleed.

    “The one with the knife in his hand isn’t necessarily the killer, and the killer doesn’t necessarily have the knife in his hands!”

    “You weren’t the killer?” Du Fang demanded.

    “No.”

    “If he says he didn’t, then he didn’t.” Yin Xian abruptly stated. “I know for a fact this man would never tell a lie!”

    “I have never met anybody who would never tell a lie before!” Ding Ao coldly dismissed.

    “In that case it seemed like you ran into two today!” Wei Zi Yun smiled.

    Ding Ao had nothing more to say.

    “If Yin Xian says he would never lie, then he isn’t the killer!” Wei Zi Yun matter of factly concluded.

    Du Fang wanted to say something, but eventually decided against it.

    “Besides, even if ten more Sixth Ma was killed, it still has nothing to do with us,” he added. “Master Lu has probably figured out that is not what we are here for!”

    “As for the crime of trespassing into the Forbidden City, you can be forgiven this time, because you still have to break that law again tomorrow night!” Yin Xian added with a smile.

    “The Master of White Cloud Castle and Xi Men Chui Xue are both eternal and incomparable swordsmen,” Wei Zi Yun said. “Their duel tomorrow night are sure to be a world shakingly spectacular event.”

    “I don’t believe any who practices martial arts would want to miss this duel!” Yin Xian added.

    “Even though we are here among royalties, we are still martial arts practioners. We want to see these two generation defining swordsmen in all their glories as well, to see their unmatched sword skills.”

    “In truth, now that we know about this, we should be doubling up security and placing ambushes to prevent them from entering!” Yin Xian offered.

    “But we don’t want to be that kind of kill joy and spoiling everybody’s plans. Nor do we want to offend all the heroes of the martial worl!” Wei Zi Yun methodically explained. “If a man came out of the martial world, then he’d do well not to forget his humble origins. I trust Master Lu understand that point perfectly!”

    “I do.” Lu Xiao Feng’s demeanor suddenly turned very serious and respectful as well, because he just discovered that this Hunan Swordsman was truly an earnest and sincere gentleman.

    “Nevertheless, we still have some responsibilities and cannot be lax in our protection of His Majesty, nor can the FobiddenCity become the playground of the martial world where people come and go as they pleased.”

    “I understand that point perfectly as well!”

    “To be honest, the purpose of our meeting right now is to let Master Lu fully understand this point.”

    Even Lu Xiao Feng had to concede this point. Below them, at the foot of the wall, the blades of the axes and sabres were glistening in the sun, the arrows were tightened on the fully pulled bows; on top of the wall, there were 4 men whose abilities and fame moved and shook the martial world ten years ago. If they were to attack all at once, nobody in the world would be able to fend off even the first wave!

    “All this talk leads to basically one thing, we sincerely hope that Master Lu would do us a favour!” Wei Zi Yun concluded.

    “Please don’t hesitate to ask!”

    “We just hope that not too many people show up tomorrow night; preferably no more than eight in numbers!”

    Lu Xiao Feng finally understood their point. They had probably already calculated, with the power and the abilities of the Imperial Guard, even if trouble was to take place, they would still be able to quell the situation if only 8 people had shown up.

    But there was still one point that had Lu Xiao Feng tripped up.

    “But why would this be a favour from me? I can’t decide for other people, nor could I possibly know how many people are coming.”

    “We want Master Lu to decide for others!”

    Lu Xiao Feng was even more confused.

    “Other than Master of White Cloud Castle and Xi Men Chui Xue, we would like Master Lu to be responsible in picking the other six.” Wei Zi Yun explained further before Lu Xiao Feng could ask.

    “You mean, come tomorrow night, only the 6 people I pick will be able to enter?”

    “That’s exactly what we mean!”

    Lu Xiao Feng smiled, it was a pained, resigned, and exhausted smile. He suddenly discovered that not only was this Hunan Swordsman a true and earnest gentleman, he was also a calculating and cunning old fox. If he picked who could enter, then if some trouble should happen, he would, obviously, have some responsibility and would be compelled to help deal with the situation.

    “Here is 6 satin belts,” Wei Zi Yun continued. “If Master Lu should want someone to be able to attend the duel, then give one to him and tell him to wear it on him when he shows up!”

    “This satin were imported from Persia and is one of the treasures of the ImperialPalace,” Yin Xian further explained. “Under the moonlight it would change colours, so it’s impossible to fake!”

    “We’ve already instructed people to start spreading this information to our friends in the martial world!” Wei Zi Yun continued.

    “Those without that belt on their bodies, with absolute no regard as to who they are, will be executed on the spot if caught trespassing within the ForbiddenPalace!” Ding Ao coldly emphasized.

    “With that said, we humbly ask Master Lu please accept these.” Wei Zi Yun took out a bundle of satin belts and brought them over to Lu Xiao Feng.

    Lu Xiao Feng looked down on these satin belts, which were glowing in the sun, like they were a pile a red hot burning coal. He knew better than anyone else that accepting these belts would bring untold amount of worry and trouble onto himself.

    Obviously, Wei Zi Yun saw the hesitation on his face.

    “If Master Lu does not want go along with this, we won’t force you, it’s just that....” He calmly declared.

    “It’s just that?”

    “It’s just that with our responsibility to the safety of His Majesty, we will have to close down the Forbidden Palace and humbly ask Master of White Cloud Castle and Xi Men Chui Xue to kindly have their duel somewhere else.”

    “In that case I accept this responsibility, that way if others whine, at least they’ll only be whining about me!”

    “So we humbly request that Master Lu would consider this some more.” Wei Zi Yun casually offered.

    “Looks to me like I don’t have much of a choice.” Lu Xiao Feng sighed and let out a little laugh at his own predicament.

    Wei Zi Yun did not say anything and just smiled.

    “Why is all everytime there is some terribly trouble some thing to do, it always falls to me?” Lu Xiao Feng sighed again and mumbled to himself.

    Honest Monk suddenly laughed.

    “Because you are Lu Xiao Feng.”

    And that seemed to be reason enough.

    ***

    With the belts resting comfortably on his shoulders, Lu Xiao Feng slowly made his way down the wall. The army of soldiers that was waiting below the walls had suddenly disappeared with the same efficiency with which they appeared. The Imperial Guards of the Forbidden City were, of course, some of the best trained troops in the world.

    Although their individual martial arts skills might not be great, but their strong bows and sharp blades, along with their tactical placement and movement, would make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a martial art master of any kind to be able to fend them off. On top of that, other than Wei Zi Yun and the other Chief Wardens, there were probably many more masters amongst the Imperial Guards.

    “Other than the 6 people you picked, anyone else caught trespassing inside the Forbidden City would be executed on the spot without exception!”

    “Do you believe what they said?” He suddenly asked.

    Honest Monk was walking in front of him, his head snapped back at the question.

    “Which part?”

    “If you didn’t have a belt, would you dare enter the Forbidden City tomorrow night?”

    Honest Monk smiled.

    “I don’t have the courage, but I do have a belt.”

    “You have a belt? Where?”

    “Over there on your shoulder.”

    Lu Xiao Feng smiled as well.

    “Why must I give you a belt?”

    “Because I’m a monk, an honest to goodness monk.”

    “That seems like a good enough reason,” Lu Xiao Feng nodded with a laugh.

    “More than enough.”

    Lu Xiao Feng picked out one belt and placed it on Honest Monk’s shoulder.

    “You should probably change your outfit!” He mused.

    “Why?”

    “This belt’s color doesn’t match your outfit!”

    “No matter, we monks don’t care about that. Besides, this belt’s color is going to change anyways!”

    “I just want to remind you that while you can change your outfit, you can’t change that belt.” Lu Xiao Feng matter of factly observed.

    Honest Monk laughed again.

    “You give me something, I’ll give you something back,” he suddenly offered. “Because you gave me this belt, I’ll give you something as well.”

    “What?”

    “A sentence.”

    “I’m listening.”

    Honest Monk gave Lu Xiao Feng one quick look over and began: “Your eyes are dark, the color of your face is like dirt, my advice to you is quickly go find a place to get some sleep, preferably sleep all the way until tomorrow night. Else....”

    “Else what?”

    Honest Monk sighed.

    “Even if a dead man has 5 belts on him, he still won’t get in the Forbidden City.”

    “Is that a threat? Or a warning?”

    “It’s just the honest truth, everything I say is just the honest truth.”

    Honest Monk went off. Lu Xiao Feng suddenly realized that his gait was very odd as well, odd like those eunuchs.

    --Are monks not that different from eunuchs?

    --But monks could still secretly go and visit prostitutes!

    --If eunuchs could have wives, why could monks not go visit prostitutes?

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed and decided not to think about that matter anymore, he still had much more pressing matter to ponder.

    The Wooden Taoist, Gu Qing Feng, Ancient Pine Hermit, Li Yan Bei, Hua Man Lou, Yan Ren Ying, the Tang brothers, the lamas, those mysterious swordsmen, not to mention all the other masters from the 7 main sword sects.

    None of them would probably want to miss out on tomorrow night’s duel, yet there were only 5 belts left. What would be the right way to distribute these belts? Maybe there was no right way to distribute them.

    Lu Xiao Feng could not help but sigh again.

    “Those who didn’t get a belt might come for my life,” he mumbled to himself. “Looks like I really should just sleep all the way until tomorrow night!”

  11. #31
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Posts
    3,036

    Default Book 3 - Chapter 6

    Chapter 6 - Escape from Death’s Door

    There are only two kind of people who can sleep for some 40 straight hours -- those who are lucky and those who are ill. Lu Xiao Feng was not ill, nor was he that lucky. By now, Ou Yang Qing had been in a coma for a day and a night. Once he saw the color on her face, it became even more impossible for Lu Xiao Feng to fall asleep.

    The 13th Mistress was very worried as well.

    “Since last night, she’s only woken up once, and only said one sentence!” She whispered.

    “What did she say?”

    A strained smile appeared on the 13th Mistress’ face.

    “She asked me if you liked her butter soaked snail shells.”

    Lu Xiao Feng’s heart shrunk. Looking over at that plate of butter soaked snail shells on the table, he suddenly could not help but feel like he was truly a unsentimental bastard.

    “I’m sure I’d like them,” he also force a strained smile onto his face. “I’m sure I’d eat all of them.”

    “Once these cool down they won’t be crisp anymore, let me go and warm them up for you.”

    “No need, she made these, I’ll eat them like this!”

    The 13th Mistress sighed.

    “Finally, you show some signs of having a heart.”

    Lu Xiao Feng sat down and, in one motion, toss two in his mouth.

    “Where’s Li Yan Bei?” He abruptly asked.

    “He left.”

    “Where did he go?”

    “Don’t know,” her smile became even more strained. “He has more than one house.”

    Lu Xiao Feng was left to stuffed another snail shell in his mouth. He suddenly noticed that the expensive make up on the 13th Mistress’ face seemed to be hiding an untold amount of tears and sadness.

    The loneliness of a woman who had to spend 29 nights a month alone could not possibly be easy to bear.

    Yet she did, because she had to. This was her fate, most women have the ability and perseverance to accept their fate. In this way, they are much stronger than men. He understood 13th Mistress, but he could not understand Ou Yang Qing.

    “I shouldn’t ask this,” he hesitated before continuing. “But I have to ask!”

    “Then ask.”

    “You and Ou Yang Qing are great friends, and there shouldn’t be any secrets among friends, besides....”

    “Besides we are women, there are even less secrets amongst women.” 13th Mistress finished for him.

    Lu Xiao Feng forced another strained smile onto his face.

    “So you probably know alot about her private matters!”

    “What is it do you really want to ask?”

    “I heard First Madame Gong Sun say once, that she was still a virgin,” Lu Xiao Feng finally gathered enough courage to ask, “is she really?”

    “She is.” 13th Mistress did not even pause before answering.

    “She’s in that business, how could she still be a virgin?”

    “There are plenty of good women in that business,” 13th Mistress coldly snickered. “Not only is she a good woman, she’s a very special one!”

    Lu Xiao Feng stuff his mouth full of snail shells again to excuse himself. By now, he had obviously figured out that the 13th Mistress was in that business as well. That was how they became good friends.

    Women like them would very rarely make friends with those “good and proper” family women. Not because they look down on others, but because they are deathly afraid of being looked down upon.

    Lu Xiao Feng finished the entire plate of snail shells, as if he could not face himself if he had left just one uneaten.

    The 13th Mistress watched him finish before suddenly inquiring: “Why are you so concerned about that? Whether or not she’s a virgin? Does it have anything to do with someone else?”

    Lu Xiao Feng nodded.

    “Four or 5 months ago, I ran into Honest Monk one day.” He slowly explained. “He said he spent the night before with Ou Yang....”

    He did not finish his sentence. Abruptly, he collapsed and passed out. How could the 13th Mistress so coldly watch him collapse like that? Was that really a hint of a sinister smile on her face?

    In truth, Lu Xiao Feng did not remotely understand women, understood the kind of women like 13th Mistress even less. He only thought he knew alot about women.

    No matter who, if a man thinks he really understood women, then he is doomed to a bad fate. Even if he was Lu Xiao Feng.

    ***

    The strange thing is, some people just seemed to be favoured by the Heavens. Even if they get unlucky, they do not stay that way for long. Obviously, Lu Xiao Feng was one of these kind of people. Incredibly, he did not die. When he woke up, not only did he find that he had the control of all of his limbs and that his facilities were all in order, he found himself lying on a very comfortable and clean bed.

    The room was very clean as well, and the smell of chrysanthemums and osmanthus permeated throughout the room. The lantern was already lit on the table. Outside the window the moonlight was pure like water. A person quietly stood outside the window, facing the Autumn moon, his attire was white as snow.

    “Xi Men Chui Xue!”

    Lu Xiao Feng almost literally wore through his soles searching for Xi Men Chui Xue, so how did he suddenly appear here and now? He leapt to his feet. Amazingly, he could still leap to his feat, it was just that his legs were still slightly weak. Obviously his strength still had not fully returned.

    “You little bastard, which hole did you just crawl out of?” Lu Xiao Feng shouted, standing there barefoot. “Where have you been hiding these last couple of days?”

    “A person shouldn’t talk to his savior like that!” Xi Men Chui Xue coldly countered.

    “Savior?” He was still shouting. “You saved my life?”

    “If not for me, you’d probably end up just like Li Yan Bei, burned to ash!”

    “Li Yan Bei died?” Lu Xiao Feng shouted.

    “His luck isn’t as good as yours, you seemed have just been born was exceptional luck.”

    He finally turned around and looked back into Lu Xiao Feng’s eyes. His face was still that same pale and cold face, his voice was still that cold voice, but his eyes had a hint of warmth. The kind of warmth that one could only find in the eyes of a long lost friend.

    Lu Xiao Feng was staring right back into his eyes.

    “You luck doesn’t seem to be too bad recently either.”

    “Seems like the only person with truly bad luck is Li Yan Bei.”

    “Do you know how he died?”

    Xi Men Chui Xue nodded.

    “But I don’t know when you started trusting that type of women!”

    “Which type of women?” Lu Xiao Feng laid back down, because his stomach suddenly began to feel very uncomfortable. “The type of women like Ou Yang Qing?”

    “Not Ou Yang Qing.”

    “Not her? 13th Mistress?”

    “The butter soaked snail shells were made by Ou Yang Qing, but the poison was applied by 13th Mistress.” Xi Men Chui Xue looked down at Lu Xiao Feng, a hint of smile seemingly appearing in his eyes. “Does that new make you feel a bit better?”

    Lu Xiao Feng really did feel a lot better, but he was still a bit confused.

    “Since when did you know anything about the feelings between men and women?”

    Xi Men Chui Xue did not answer his question, instead he just turned to once again face the moon. The moonlight washed down from the Heavens like spring water. It was now the night of September 14th.

    “I must have slept for a long time!” Lu Xiao Feng deduced.

    “The 13th Mistress is quite the expert when it comes to applying sleeping potions, she did not apply much in those butter soaked snail shells!”

    “Because she knew if she put in too much I would notice.”

    “And because she knew you would surely eat that entire plate of it.”

    Lu Xiao Feng let out a defeated laugh. Obviously, the 13th Mistress was much more of an expert than he was about these things.

    “But how would you know about this?” He asked. “How did you just happen to save me?”

    “When you collapsed, I was watching from outside the window.”

    “You saw me collapse?”

    “I didn’t expect you to collapse, nor did I know there was something in those snail shells!”

    “Because you were just coming to talk to me?”

    “But I did not want anybody else to see me. I had planned on waiting until the 13th Mistress left to enter. But as soon as you collapsed, she pulled out a dagger.”

    “Did Li Yan Bei die from the same dagger?”

    Xi Men Chui Xue nodded.

    “Did you interrogate her? Are you sure she told the truth?”

    “Very few people dare to tell a lie to my face!” Xi Men Chui Xue coldly observed.

    Everybody knew that Xi Men Chui Xue would never take back his words once he threatened to kill. His hands had only touched his sword before 13th Mistress began spilling the truth.

    “I really did not think a woman like her was capable of really killing a person!” Lu Xiao Feng sighed and smiled at his bad judgement.

    “Why aren’t you asking me why she would do that?”

    “Because I know why she did it,” Lu Xiao Feng sighed. “I still remember something she told me.”

    “What did she tell you?”

    “Li Yan Bei had more women than her. She isn’t a women who can suffer through a lonely life. She can’t go on living like that, nor could she run away, so she had to kill Li Yan Bei.” With a sad smile, he continued. “She was afraid that I might try and get to the bottom to what happened to him, that’s why she did it.”

    “You forgot one thing!”

    “Oh?”

    “A one million nine hundred and fifty thousand tael banknote.” He snickered. “Without that banknote, she wouldn’t have gone through with it, nor would she have dared!”

    But, with that banknote, there was not many places in the world a woman like her could not go, and not many things she would not dare do.

    “She had planned on leaving with that banknote as soon as she killed you, she even already packed.”

    “Of course, a person with a one million nine hundred and fifty thousand tael banknote doesn’t need to pack too much stuff.” Lu Xiao Feng let out a defeated laugh.

    “Why aren’t you asking me what happened to her?”

    “Do I need to ask?”

    Nobody like this had ever been able to walk away alive from a meeting with Xi Men Chui Xue’s sword.

    “You are wrong,” Xi Men Chui Xue casually replied. “I didn’t kill her.”

    Lu Xiao Feng’s head snapped up in surprise.

    “You didn’t kill her? Why not?”

    Xi Men Chui Xue did not answer, nor did he need to.

    And Lu Xiao Feng already knew the answer as well: “You have changed... and changed quite a bit!”

    He stared at Xi Men Chui Xue with a smile in his eyes.

    “How did you change? Changing a person like you isn’t easy.”

    “And you still haven’t changed.” Xi Men Chui Xue coldly responded. “Not asking any of the questions you should be asking and asking every single one of those you shouldn’t!”

    Lu Xiao Feng laughed.

    “I really do have some question that I want to ask you.” He had to admit.

    “Then you better start asking them.”

    “Where’s Ou Yang Qing?”

    “She’s here, someone is taking care of her right now.”

    “Miss Sun?”

    “No.” That warmth reappeared in Xi Men Chui Xue’s eyes. “Madame Xi Men.”

    Lu Xiao Feng could barely contain his joy.

    “Congrats. Congrats. Congrats....” He congratulated Xi Men Chui Xue about seven or eight times in a row. He was truly happy for Xi Men Chui Xue, for Sun Xiu Qing. The happiness and good fortune of one’s friends will always feel the same as the happiness and good fortune of one’s self.

    --Lu Xiao Feng was truly a lovable guy. Even Xi Men Chui Xue could not help but let out a little laugh and smile. He rarely ever smile, but when he did, it felt like the Spring breeze descending upon the land.

    “You didn’t expect I would start a family?”

    “I really didn’t.” Lu Xiao Feng was still having a hard time wiping that smile off his face. “Not in my wildest dreams.”

    But he had already figured out this was the reason behind all these changes to Xi Men Chui Xue.

    “How about you? When do you plan on starting your own family?” Xi Men Chui Xue asked with a smile.

    Lu Xiao Feng’s smile was immediately shrouded by a shadow -- Xue Bing’s shadow, and also Ou Yang Qing’s shadow.

    “Why would you go search for me there?” He immediately changed the topic.

    “I knew you were Li Yan Bei’s friend, and I also knew he had a few trusted underlings!”

    “They didn’t dare to tell you lies either?”

    “Not a chance!”

    “And they didn’t dare leak your whereabouts?”

    “I found them, nobody knows I’m living here.”

    And this was the question that Lu Xiao Feng most wanted to ask.

    “So where is here exactly?”

    “Why don’t you go out and take a look?”

    Across the delicate and classy garden, there was actually a bakery. On the front door, which was a double door, was carved some very delicate designs. Above the door, written in gold coloured characters, was written: “Delicious Fragrant Vegetarians.” Lu Xiao Feng took one look and returned. He was still laughing when he got back.

    “This is a very old bakery, and the people who work and frequent here are all from my hometown.” Xi Men Chui Xue said with a measure of pride on his face. “Did you ever expect me to be the owner of a bakery?”

    “Never.”

    “Have you ever seen anyone from the martial world buy flour?”

    “Never.”

    “That why even if you searched through every city in the land, you still wouldn’t find me!” Xi Men Chui Xue smiled.

    “I won’t find you even if you smashed open my head!” Lu Xiao Feng conceded.

    “Do you already know why I’ve done this?”

    “I do.” Lu Xiao Feng smiled. “That’s why not only am I going to drink your toast, I’m going to wait to eat your red egg!”

    {Note: Here Lu Xiao Feng is referring to Xi Men Chui Xue’s wedding and the birth of his child. Inviting someone over to drink “Xi Jiu”, or literally “Happiness Wine”, is a catch-all saying for inviting someone to celebrate one’s wedding. Just as “Hong Dan”, or “Red Egg”, applies to the birth of one’s child among men.}

    But a shadow appeared in Xi Men Chui Xue’s smile as well.

    “I went looking for you because I have a favour to ask of you.” After a long pause, he finally and slowly said. Why would he change the topic? Could it be because he was afraid to think too far into the future? Because he was scared that he might not live until that day?

    “Anything, just ask. I owe you.”

    “I want you to accompany me to the Forbidden City tomorrow.” Xi Men Chui Xue’s fists tightened. “If I should lose, I want you to bring my body back here.”

    Lu Xiao Feng’s smiled turned very strained.

    “Even if you lose, that doesn’t necessarily mean death.”

    “In defeat, there is only death!” Xi Men Chui Xue’s expression was both proud, cruel, and resolute. He could accept death, but could not accept defeat!

    Lu Xiao Feng hesitated. He did not want to reveal Ye Gu Cheng’s secret to Xi Men Chui Xue, for Ye Gu Cheng was his friend as well.

    But even if he did not say it, the fact would still not change. Sooner or later, Xi Men Chui Xue would find out.

    “You won’t lose!” He finally blurted out.

    “Why not?”

    “Because Ye Gu Cheng’s wounds are pretty serious.”

    Xi Men Chui Xue was shocked.

    “But I heard that only yesterday he had severely wounded Tang Tian Rong at Oriental Spring Pavilion.”

    “Tang Tian Rong is not Xi Men Chui Xue.”

    “So his injuries are real?”

    “Yes.”

    The color on Xi Men Chui Xue’s changed. If anybody else found out that their only foe had suffered heavy injuries would surely feel fortunate and happy. But Xi Men Chui Xue was not anybody else!

    Not only did the color on his face change, it changed dramatically to a sickening shade.

    “If it wasn’t because of me, we would have already dueled on the 15th of August, and maybe I would have already died under his sword. But now....”

    “Now he must die?”

    Xi Men Chui Xue nodded.

    “Can’t you not kill him?”

    “Even if I don’t kill him, he will still die without a doubt!” Xi Men Chui Xue somberly replied.

    “But....”

    “Maybe you don’t under people like us,” Xi Men Chui Xue cut him off. “We can die, we can’t lose!”

    Lu Xiao Feng let out a long, drawn out sigh. It was not that he did not understand them, he had known a long time ago that they were the same type of men. The type of men that you might not like, but have to respect! A type of almost divine, god-like men.

    No matter what kind of art, be it sword, chess, or music, to really be able to reach the very pinnacle of the skill, one has to be that type of men. Because that is the nature of art, because it demands one’s entire life as sacrifice.

    “But you have changed!” Lu Xiao Feng objected. “I had thought you were some half-crazy half-inspired god, but now you have some humanity in you.”

    “Maybe I really did change. If so then it’s very likely that I won’t be able to match Ye Gu Cheng, if he was not injured.” Xi Men Chui Xue’s demeanor turned even more somber. “But now he doesn’t even have the slightest change of beating me. This isn’t fair.”

    “So you plan to....”

    “I plan to go to him.”

    “To do what?”

    “Do you really think that I only know how to kill?” Xi Men Chui Xue coldly laughed.

    Lu Xiao Feng’s eyes lit up. He suddenly remembered that Xi Men Chui Xue seemed to have been hit by the Tang Family Poison Sand in the past. But he was obviously still alive and well right now.

    “I’ll take you.” Lu Xiao Feng leapt to his feat. “If there was only one man who can cure Ye Gu Cheng’s wound, it’s you!”

    The quiet suburbs, the cold moon. The moon was already full. The cold moonlight shone down upon the dark and sinister yard. The light was already lit inside the meditation room.

    “The Master of White Cloud Castle would stay here?”

    “He’s like you, he doesn’t want people to find him either!”

    “So how did you find him?”

    “The monk that lives here used to go by the name of Sheng Tong.”

    “He led you here?”

    “I’ve done some good things too, I’ve saved a couple of lives.” Lu Xiao Feng smiled. “You never know when a guy would pay you back for saving his life.”

    This might not be the most enjoyable aspects of saving a life, but it was at least one enjoyable aspect of it.

    “Brother Ye, it’s me.” He knocked on the door. “Lu Xiao Feng.”

    No answer. Even if Ye Gu Cheng was asleep, he would never be this deep in his sleep. Could the room be empty? Lu Xiao Feng frowned. Xi Men Chui Xue was already breaking in through the door. There was a man in the room, a dead man! A man who was choked to death!

    It was not Ye Gu Cheng.: “This is Sheng Tong.”

    “Who killed him? Why would he kill him?”

    “Looks like he owed something to more than just me.” Lu Xiao Feng shook his head. “He led someone else here, but Ye Gu Cheng had already left. That person thought he had leaked their movements on purpose, so he killed him out of frustration!”

    Not only did this explanation seem logical, it was probably the only possible explanation.

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed again.

    “This is the second person I’ve seen choked to death!”

    “Who was the first?”

    “First Madame Gong Sun.”

    “Did they die in the same hands?”

    “Very possible.”

    Although Sheng Tong was not choked to death by a red silk sash, the method with which it was carried out looked very similar.

    “What does First Madame Gong Sun have to do with this matter?”

    “She should,” Lu Xiao Feng let out a little exasperated laugh. “But I haven’t figured out just how yet. I haven’t found a thread!”

    “What thread?”

    “A thread that connects everything together.”

    “What else do you know?”

    “Ye Gu Cheng was injured because someone ambushed him, or else Tang Tian Yi would have never had the chance to strike.”

    “Who ambushed him?”

    “Someone who can charm snakes with a bamboo flute.”

    “The poison that Ou Yang Qing suffered was snake poison as well.”

    “Not only did this person injure Ye Gu Cheng and Ou Yang Qing, he also killed Big Shot Sun, Sheng Tong, and First Madame Gong Sun!”

    “Are you sure?”

    Lu Xiao Feng nodded.

    “Because I have already confirmed that the one who choked First Madame Gong Sun to death was none other than that snake charmer. He had planned to distract me and place the blame on First Madame Gong Sun.”

    “There doesn’t seem to be any connection at all between those 5 people.”

    “And that’s why I can’t figure out why someone would want to get rid of them!”

    “Have you found any suspicious persons yet?”

    “Only one person has been acting suspicious.”

    “Who?”

    “Honest Monk!”

    Honest Monk would ambush and kill people? Who would believe that?

    “I know nobody will believe me, but he really has been the most suspicious person!”

    “When did you start getting suspicious of him?”

    “Since that one sentence.”

    “Which sentence?”

    “Ou Yang Qing is a virgin.”

    “What does Ou Yang Qing’s virginity have to do with Honest Monk?”

    “It does.”

    Xi Men Chui Xue did not understand, nobody would.

    “When I was dealing with that Princess Dan Feng matter, I went looking for Big Shot Sun. That day Big Shot Sun just happened to be at the same brothel as Ou Yang Qing. And on the way there I just happened to run into Honest Monk as well.”

    Xi Men Chui Xue still could not figure out where this was going.

    “So I asked him, where did come from? Where was he going?”

    “What did he say?”

    “He said he was coming from Ou Yang Qing’s bed!”

    “But Ou Yang Qing is a virgin.”

    “Based on that, you can see that Honest Monk wasn’t completely honest.”

    “That doesn’t mean he killed!”

    “Everybody lies for a reason, what was his reason?”

    “So you think he must have done something unspeakable the night before so he had to give you some lie as an alibi?”

    “Of course, he could not have expected that I would get to know Ou Yang Qing!”

    “Why wouldn’t he use just anybody else? Why did he use Ou Yang Qing?”

    “Because Ou Yang Qing was in the same business as him!”

    Xi Men Chui Xue was stumped again.

    “After I brought down the Green Shirt Pavilion, I discovered that there was another secret society in the martial world called ‘Red Shoes’. Also, they seemed to be controlling Green Shirt Pavilion behind the scenes.”

    “I heard about that.”

    Lu Xiao Feng was a legendary character, after all. His bringing down of Green Shirt Pavilion, subjugation of Huo Xiu, capture of the Embroidery Bandit, and entrapment of Jin Jiu Ling with First Madame Gong Sun to induce out his confession have spread throughout the entire martial world long ago.

    “Only after I found out about Red Shoes did I finally realize that they were also being controlled behind the scenes as well!”

    “Controlling them behind the scenes is another secret society?”

    Lu Xiao Feng nodded.

    “Green Shirt Pavilion was a society of men, Red Shoes consisted entirely of women, this other secret society could very well be made up entirely of monks and might be called White Socks!”

    “And you think that the head of this organization is none other than Honest Monk?”

    Lu Xiao Feng nodded again.

    “Very rarely do I ever run into him, yet when I was dealing with Green Shirt Pavilion, he suddenly appeared. Then when I was searching for Red Shoes, he showed up again. That’s just too much of a coincidence.”

    “But he didn’t stop you from bringing down Green Shirt Pavilion, nor did he prevent you from finding Red Shoes!”

    “Because he knew very well that I was committed by then. Even if he had tried, he would not have stopped me.”

    Even Xi Men Chui Xue had to concede that it was almost impossible for anyone to prevent Lu Xiao Feng from doing what he wanted.

    Lu Xiao Feng let out a cold chuckle and continued: “Monks all wear white socks. He said that the socks he’s wearing are actually meat socks, I pointed out that his meat socks are still white, he claimed that his skin isn’t white.”

    “His skin isn’t white!”

    “If there were some mud on your white socks, are they still white socks?” Lu Xiao Feng sneered.

    “Yes,” Xi Men Chui Xue had to concede the point. “So you suspect that he wanted to kill First Madame Gong Sun and Ou Yang Qing to shut them up?”

    “Because not only do I know them, I’ve become their friends. So he was afraid that they might let leak his secret.”

    “That night, Big Shot Sun was at that brothel as well.”

    “Besides, Big Shot Sun really knew way too much.”

    If a man really knew too much, his hope for a long life will probably go unfulfilled.

    Xi Men Chui Xue pondered for a while before concluding: “No matter what, all of this is merely your own deduction. You have no evidence.”

    “My deductions are very rarely wrong!”

    “So that’s how you’ve found a single strand, a thread, to connect together Big Shot Sun, Ou Yang Qing, and First Madame Gong Sun.”

    “Yes.”

    “What about Ye Gu Cheng? Why would Honest Monk go after Ye Gu Cheng?”

    “Because he wanted to use this opportunity to expand his power to the Capital.”

    Xi Men Chui Xue was stumped again.

    “He knew Li Yan Bei and Du Tong Xuan had placed heavy bets down on you two because both men wanted to use this opportunity to expand their territory as well.”

    “Li Yan Bei betted on me?”

    “So that’s why he tried to buy out Li Yan Bei first.”

    “Using that banknote?”

    Lu Xiao Feng nodded.

    “It was a monk who bought him out, Gu Qing Feng.”

    “Because he thinks Ye Gu Cheng will surely lose, so all there’s left for Du Tong Xuan to do is lose?”

    “This way he’ll be able to wipe out the two big powers inside the capital city in one fell swoop, and with a minimun amount of effort as well.”

    “Such a complicated plan, only you two could dream up something like this.” Xi Men Chui Xue sighed.

    “I didn’t come up with it, he did!”

    “But you are the one who deduced it,” Xi Men Chui Xue coldly countered. “Doesn’t that make you better than him?”

    “You don’t think my deductions are right?”

    “I didn’t say that.”

    “But you must think that, I can tell.” A rather exasperated smile appeared on Lu Xiao Feng’s face. Suddenly, he sighed and added. “Besides, that’s what I think as well!”

    “You don’t think these deductions aren’t exactly logical either?”

    “That’s why I said I still haven’t found that thread!”

    “Didn’t you already find one?”

    “Not good enough.”

    Of course, they were not having this chat standing in that room.

    Nobody likes to stay in a dark and damp room with a corpse any long than they have to. The cold breeze of the suburbs, on the other hand, seemed to clear one’s mind, making it even sharper. They were slowly strolling along a small path, underneath the September moon. The Autumn wind gently rustled the yellow grass on the side of the path, the world seemed quiet and lonely. They had already walked quite a distance.

    “This thread still can’t explain everything,” Lu Xiao Feng suddenly spoke up again. “There’s still one more unexplained death.”

    “Who?”

    “Zhang Ying Feng.”

    Xi Men Chui Xue knew of him. “Three Valiants and Four Beauties” were all from one sect. That means that Yan Ren Ying’s elder martial brother was none other than Sun Xiu Qing’s elder martial brother. Now that Sun Xiu Qing was Madame Xi Men, Xi Men Chui Xue would have to deal with this Zhang Ying Feng matter.

    “He died?”

    “He died yesterday.” Then Lu Xiao Feng felt compelled to re-iterate his original point. “A very strange death.”

    “Who killed him?”

    “Should be you.”

    “Should be me?” Xi Men Chui Xue frowned. “I should have killed him?”

    Lu Xiao Feng nodded.

    “Because the purpose of his arrival here in the city is none other than revenge!”

    “So that’s my reason for killing him?” Xi Men Chui Xue coldly replied.

    “The fatal wound was on his throat, there was just one single drop of blood.”

    Of course, Xi Men Chui Xue understood what this meant.

    Only an incredibly sharp, extraordinarily frightening, and amazingly fast strike could make such a wound. And it was just one single, solitary blow! Other than Xi Men Chui Xue, who else would have such a quick strike?

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

    “Too bad I know now that you weren’t his killer!”

    “Do you already know who is?”

    “There are two main suspects, a eunuch and a pockface.”

    “To die at the hands of two people like that is quite an accomplishment.” Xi Men Chui Xue was not without a sense of humour.

    “Too bad Zhang Ying Feng could not have died in their hands.” Lu Xiao Feng was laughing at this whole predicament again. “First of all, I still can’t find a motive as to why they would want to kill Zhang Ying Feng. Second of all, they could not possibly be able to match up against Zhang Ying Feng.”

    “So the two people that should be the killers could not possibly be the killers!”

    “So my head hurts.”

    “Who is the killer?”

    “That’s what I want to know as well. I can’t help but suspect Zhang Ying Feng’s death is somehow connected with this as well!”

    “Why?”

    “Because you can count eunuch as monks as well. And they also wear white socks.”

    Xi Men Chui Xue silently pondered the situation.

    “Yan Ren Ying is the one who recovered Zhang Ying Feng’s body?” He suddenly asked.

    “Yes.”

    “Where is he now?”

    “You want to see him?”

    “I want to see that fatal wound on Zhang Ying Feng’s throat, maybe I’d be able to figure out whose sword it came from!”

    “I have already inspected the wound, inspected it very closely.”

    “I know your martial arts skill isn’t bad, your eyes and expertise isn’t shabby either.” Xi Men Chui Xue coldly refuted. “But when it comes to the sword, your knowledge isn’t much better than that of an old maid!”

    All that was left for Lu Xiao Feng to do was to let out a little laugh at himself. He had no ground to argue. Nobody could argue anything to do with swords with Xi Men Chui Xue.

    “If you insist on going, I’ll take you there.” He continued, the tired smile still on his face. “But you better be careful.”

    “Why?”

    “Because Yan Ren Ying has already found a helpers, among them were not only 2 lamas from Tibet, but also two mysterious swordsmen who trained for many years from some mysterious sword sect a top Mt.Water of Goddess.”

    “Do they wield swords?”

    No matter how mysterious a sword sect might be, in the end, they would still be wielding swords.

    “As long as they wield sword, they should be careful when they run into me!” Xi Men Chui Xue coldly commented.

    “So the ones who should be careful is them, not you.” Lu Xiao Feng smiled.

    “Of course.”

    “What about those two lamas?”

    “The lamas are yours.”

    Buddhist and Taoist monks were already giving Lu Xiao Feng a headache, now the lamas were his as well.

    “Some seek fame, some power, others seek fortune, you know what I seek?” He mumbled.

    “Trouble.”

    “Absolutely. No matter where I go and where I look, all I find is trouble!”

    “So where are you going to go look next?”

    “All Fortune Inn.”

    All Fortune Inn was located on the main street on the eastern part of the city. Supposedly, it was the oldest and biggest hotel in the capital. By the time they arrived, it was already deep into the night, but Yan Ren Ying and company were not there.

    “Master Yan wanted to bury his martial brother,” the hotel clerk explained. “He left not so long ago with two lama masters!”

    “Where were they headed?”

    “Altar of Heavenly Cacoons.”

    Altar of Heavenly Cacoons was located outside of the Gate of Lasting Peace.

    “Why are they taking him there?”

    “Because the altar has already fell out of use, so the lamas use it as a crematorium.”

    “Cremation?”

    “Traditionally, the farmers and shepards of the outter regions have always been cremated by lamas when they die. Although some of them have moved into the heartland, they’ve kept that tradition, going so far as importing special grass from the outter regions.”

    “Is there something special about these grass?”

    “Yes, not only are they especially soft, they stay green even after they have dried.”

    “What do they do with this grass?”

    “They pad the boxes with them!”

    “What boxes?”

    “Sort of like coffins, except it’s just until the cremation.”

    “Why?”

    “Because lamas charge a fee, if the fee isn’t paid in full, then you have to wait. I’ve seen it once, the entire hall would be filled with these half-meter wide, one meter high boxes.”

    “The boxes are only half a meter wide, one meter high?”

    Lu Xiao Feng nodded, looking like he was about to puke.

    “So they dead can’t lie down or stand up but have to be squating in the box.”

    Even Xi Men Chui Xue frowned.

    “Not only will the main hall be filled with these boxes, yellow cloth sacks will be hanging from the ceiling.”

    “What’s in the sacks?”

    “Ashes of the dead. They only ship the ashes back to their homeland once a year. So before they are shipped out, they hang them on the ceiling of the main hall.”

    “We can’t allow them to put Zhang Ying Feng into one of those sacks.”

    “So we better hurry.”

  12. #32
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Posts
    3,036

    Default Book 3 - Chapter 7

    Chapter 7 - Rescue at the Crematorium

    Deeper into the night. The light in the hall was dim, contributing to make the hall look even more like the inside of a tomb. The September night air was suppose to be cool and refreshing, but in here, it carried with it an unspeakable stench.

    The stench at eunuch headquarters was enough to make a man puke, but this stench was different. This stench was strange and terrifying. Because this was the stench of rotten flesh. Some boxes had blood on them, a dark and crimson shade of blood that slowly leaked out from the in between the pieces of wood.

    “Bang!” Suddenly, one piece of wood snapped as a crack appeared on it. It almost seemed like there was somebody alive in the box, struggling to get out. Could the dead really be revived? Even Xi Men Chui Xue felt his back go cold.

    “Don’t worry,” Lu Xiao Feng patted him on the shoulder and forced a brave smile onto his face. “The dead can’t come back to life.”

    Xi Men Chui Xue chuckled at that remark.

    “But the dead will rot, and they will become bloated, bloated to the point of bursting out of the box!”

    “Nobody asked you for an explanation.” Xi Men Chui Xue coldly dismissed him.

    “I was worried that you might be frightened.”

    “I’m only frightened of one kind of men!”

    “What kind?”

    “The kind that won’t shut up.”

    Lu Xiao Feng laughed, though it was not a very joyous laugh. Nobody could get very joyous at a place like this.

    “Strange, none of them are here.” Lu Xiao Feng mumbled as he paced back and forth among the boxes.

    He much rather be cursed by others for not shutting up than to actually shut up. At a place like this, one would go crazy before long if one did not talk. Not only would talking help him relax, it also lets him temporarily forget about this frightening stench.

    “Maybe they are in the back cremating Zhang Ying Feng’s body, the only oven in this place is right behind the hall.”

    “The only oven?”

    “There’s only one oven here, and it doesn’t produce smoke.”

    “You know quite alot.”

    “There is one thing he doesn’t know.” Someone mocked from behind the hall. “That oven can cremate up to 4 people at once. It’ll burn all 4 of you to ash.”

    Strange voice, strange accent, strange men!

    Lamas were not all odd or strange, but these two lamas were not only distorted, but grotesque as well. Nobody could describe their face, for they looked like two demonic masks made from a green tinted copper.

    They were dressed in yellow robes, but the robe only covered half of their upper body as their left shoulders were left bare. On their left arm were 9 green copper rings that matched the one that hung around their ears. The weapons in their hands were green tinted copper rings as well. Other than where they gripped the rings, the rings were shapened to form an edge. Anybody, upon seeing two men like this at a place like this, would be covered in cold sweat out of fear. Instead, Lu Xiao Feng laughed.

    “Turns out lamas can’t count,” he joked. “There’s only two of us here, not four.”

    “Two in the front, plus two more in the back.” One of the lamas suddenly broke into a hideous smile, bringing his sinister teeth into view. The other lama’s face, however, was frozen like a corpse’s face.

    “Who are the two in the back?” Lu Xiao Feng did not quite understand him.

    “Two people waiting to accompany you two to the Western Paradise.”

    Lu Xiao Feng laughed again.

    “I don’t want to go there, I don’t have any friends there.”

    “Kill!” The unsmiling lama abruptly ordered. The copper rings shook as the two lamas prepared to pounce.

    “Both of them are lamas.” Xi Men Chui Xue coldly observed.

    “There’s only two of them.”

    “The lamas are yours.”

    “So what are you going to do?”

    Xi Men Chui Xue chuckleed. Suddenly, he drew his sword. With a flash, the sword flew towards a wooden box to the side. Nobody could imagine the speed with which he unsheathed his sword and struck, nor could anybody expect him to attack the box, his sword did not kill dead men.

    “Bang!” At that exactly instant, another box suddenly cracked as a snake-like sword came flying out, aimed directly at Lu Xiao Feng’s groin. This strike was truly too fast and too devious, nevermind that it was completely unexpected.

    The dead can still kill? If Lu Xiao Feng was not Lu Xiao Feng, he would have already died by this sword! But Lu Xiao Feng was Lu Xiao Feng. He suddenly reached out and, with his index and middle fingers, caught the blade!

    It did not matter if the strike was from a man or a ghost, as long as he tries, he will always catch that sword, be it a human sword or a demonic sword.

    This was indeed a singular skill in the world and never failed.

    “Tzz!” And it was at this same exact instant when Xi Men Chui Xue’s sword penetrated into the box. Suddenly, a blood curdling howl screamed out from within the box as pieces of wood exploded and a person leapt out.

    A dark and skinny man with a dark sword in his hand. His face was covered with blood, bright red blood.

    “Turns out there’s four of them as well!” Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

    “Four of them, 7 eyes.” Xi Men Chui Xue coldly commented.

    The left eye of the man dressed in black who jumped out from inside the box had, amazingly, been pried out by the tip of the sword. Like a mad man, he swung the black snake like sword of his as he, with the speed of lightning, made 9 strikes. His techniques were odd yet effective, strange yet vicious. Pity he was using a sword. Pity he ran into Xi Men Chui Xue!

    “I wasn’t planning to kill.” Xi Men Chui Xue coldly stated.

    His sword flashed once again, and only once! The man in black’s howls suddenly abated as his entire body suddenly froze as he stood there like a mannequin. The blood was still gushing out, but he collapsed like a punctured balloon.

    Blade pinched between his fingers, LU Xiao Feng looked down at the box in front of him. Incredibly, there was not the slightest movement or noise coming from the box.

    “This definitely isn’t a lama inside this box.” He suddenly concluded.

    “Mm.”

    “I caught a sword for you, how about you catch a lama for me and we’ll call it even?”

    “Deal.” Xi Men Chui Xue suddenly took off as the flashes of his sword rained down upon that smiling lama like a lightning storm. He did not like the look on the lama’s face when he smiled.

    The lama’s rings began to spin and encircle himself. His moves were also odd yet effective, strange yet vicious. Twin rings were a rather strange pair of weapons to begin with anyways, if any kind of sword or sabre gets ensnared within its circles, it would be at least taken away, if not completely broken.

    The flash of the sword flickered as it entered within the circles of the twin rings like a moth throwing itself into the flame. The hideous smile appeared on the lama’s face again as he suddenly twisted the twin rings as he tried to break that sword of Xi Men Chui Xue’s in half!

    “Break!” That word did not make it out of his throat, because just as he was about to open his mouth and speak, he suddenly discovered that the blade had already arrived in front of his throat. Such an icy cold blade! He could almost actually feel its coldness as it seemed to slowly enter his blood. Then he did not feel anything anymore, nor did he smile anymore. Xi Men Chui Xue did not like the look on his face when he smiled.

    Even though the unsmiling lama’s face was already deathily pale, he still gritted his teeth and was about to pounce.

    But Xi Men Chui Xue just pointed at Lu Xiao Feng instead.

    “You are his.” He slowly brought up his hand and gently blew off the singular drop of blood on the edge of his blade and did not even look at this lama anymore. The lama took a step back in surprise and saw that drop of blood fell onto the ground. Finally, he stomped his feet on the ground and threw himself at Lu Xiao Feng.

    Lu Xiao Feng still had the sword that came from the box pinched between his fingers. An ironic smile appeared on his face

    “This guy really doesn’t like to be put at a disadvantage for anything....”

    “Ding!” The sound cut him off. The 9 rings on the lama’s left arm suddenly all came twirling towards him at great speed. The lama himself also left at great speed.

    As soon as the copper rings left his hand, he threw himself through a window and ran away. Xi Men Chui Xue had already put his sword back into its sheath and was standing there, watching unperturbed, with his hands behind his back, as if all of this had absolutely nothing to do with him.

    “Ding! Ding! Ding!” Another series of ringing, like pearls landing on a jade plate, could be heard as, with several gentle flicks of his finger, Lu Xiao Feng knocked all of the copper rings out of the air.

    This kind of rings was actually a very dangerous and hard to handle type of projectile, but to him, they seemed to have turned into some child’s toy.

    “Ever thought of selling that finger of yours?” Xi Men Chui Xue suddenly asked.

    “That depends on what you plan to buy it with.”

    “Sometimes I’m almost willing to trade one of my fingers for it.”

    Lu Xiao Feng laughed.

    “I know your sword skills are decent and are pretty quick to strike. But one of your fingers would, at best, be worth about one of my toes.” He jested.

    The box was still completely quiet and skill. This sword could not have just thrusted itself out. Where was the guy?

    Lu Xiao Feng knocked on the box.

    “Do you plan on hiding in there for the rest of your life?”

    No answer was forthcoming.

    “If you don’t come out, we are going to be forced to tear down your house.”

    Still, no answer.

    “This guy probably still haven’t figured out that as long as I said it, I’d always be willing to go through it.” Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

    He lifted his hand up and slapped it down. The box split open. The man was still in the box, squating in the box, not moving one bit. Tears, drool, and his noses were all running freely, not to mention there was a stench on his body. He was literally scared to death.

    This startled Lu Xiao Feng. Mt.Water of Goddess, mysterious sword sect, all these names sounded somewhat scary, but who would expect that he would not be able to take a scare?

    “This man did not come from Mt.Water of Goddess.” Xi Men Chui Xue suddenly declared.

    “How do you know?”

    “I recognize their sword techniques.”

    “What are they?”

    “That move is Sea South Sword Sect’s Cyclone.”

    “They are the disciples of the Southern Seas Sword Sect?”

    “Without a doubt.”

    “Why would they masquerade as swordsmen from Mt.Water of Goddess?”

    “That’s a question you should ask him.”

    “Pity that he doesn’t seem to be able to talk anymore.”

    “Don’t forget there were still two people in the back.”

    Who were these two people in the back? A dead man and a live one!

    Of course, the dead man could not move, but the live man could not move either. The dead one was Zhang Ying Feng, the live one was Yan Ren Ying. This proud and defiant young man, was currently lying on the ground like a dead man, as if they were next in line waiting to be cremated.

    Lu Xiao Feng recognized that he merely had his pressure point sealed and helped him sit up. With a quick flick of his hand, Xi Men Chui Xue unsealed his pressure points and glared with an icy stare.

    He also noticed Xi Men Chui Xue’s pale and icy face as he tried to stand up.

    “Who are you?”

    “Xi Men Chui Xue.”

    A gnarl appeared on Yan Ren Ying’s face as he fell down again.

    “Kill me!” He sighed.

    Xi Men Chui Xue coldly laughed.

    “Why didn’t you kill me?” Yan Ren Ying demanded through gritted teeth. “Why did you save me instead?”

    “Because he never wanted to kill you.” Li Xiao Feng sighed as well. “It’s you who wanted to kill him.”

    Yan Ren Ying lowered his head, looking as if he would rather be dead instead of feeling what he was feeling.

    “The way they sealed his pressure points are also that of the Southern Seas Sect.” Xi Men Chui Xue suddenly said.

    “They were his invited helpers, why would they turn on him?” Lu Xiao Feng frowned.

    “That’s a question you should ask him yourself!” Xi Men Chui Xue coldly responded.

    “They aren’t invited.” Lu Xiao Feng did not ask before Yan Ren Ying answered. Gritting his teeth, he explained. “They came looking for me.”

    “The volunteered to help you get your revenge?”

    Yan Ren Ying nodded.

    “They said they were friends of my master.”

    “And you believed them?”

    Once again, Yan Ren Ying’s head lowered in shame. He was truly too young, still unfamiliar and susceptible to all the lies and traps that the martial world had to offer.

    All Lu Xiao Feng could do was put up a sympathetic smile.

    “Do you know why they wanted to get rid of you?”

    Yan Ren Ying paused.

    “They attacked me as soon as we got here. But I did seem to hear them say one thing.”

    “What?”

    “It’s not us that killed you, it’s the 3 wax figurines that killed you.” That was what they said as Yan Ren Ying collapsed.

    “What wax figurines?”

    “The ones that my martial brother molded.”

    “Between the 7 of us, he was always the smartest, and he had a pair of truly skillful hands.” He went on to explain. “Once he sees your face, he could very quickly mold a figurine of you in his sleeves that looks just like you.”

    “Could he a relative of ‘Clay Man Zhang’ in the Capital?”

    “The capital city was his home town. He is very familiar with the people on the ground.”

    --That explained how he knew Sixth Brother Ma.

    “When we parted way, he did not have any figurines on him. But when I was inspecting his body, 3 figurines fell out of his shirt.”

    “Where are those figurines now?” Lu Xiao Feng immediately inquired.

    “Right here with me. But I don’t recognize any of the 3 people.”

    But Lu Xiao Feng did; at least, he recognized two of them. He pretty much recognized them the moment he laid eyes on them.

    “This is Manager Wang and Sixth Brother Ma.”

    Zhang Ying Feng’s skill was truly incredible, but it was a shame that the third wax figuring had already been smushed flat.

    “He must have molded these 3 figurines just before he died, because he knew these 3 men were going to kill him.”

    “You think that these 3 men are his real killers?” Xi Men Chui Xue wondered.

    “Without a doubt.”

    “So just before he died, he was still thinking of ways to let his martial brother avenge him and molded the faces of his true killers?”

    “That’s right.”

    “But at such a crucial life or death moment, where did he go to find wax?”

    “He didn’t have to.” Yan Ren Ying answered this question. “He would always carry a slab of wax with him. Whenever he has nothing to do, he would around play with the wax.”

    “Looks like that clever pair of hands of his didn’t come about naturally, but was trained.” Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

    In reality, not only was hard training required, but it had to be coupled with a fiery and irrepressible passion that other people could not fathom. It is like that with anything, any skill. If your goal is perfection, then you have to have a kind of fiery passion towards it. The same type of passion that Xi Men Chui Xue had toward swords.

    A touched looked seemed to have appeared on Xi Men Chui Xue’s face, because he understood this passion. Nobody knew and understood this passion as clearly as he did. During his youth, no matter where he went, he had his sword with him at all times, even when he took baths or fell asleep.

    “Zhang Ying Feng had Sixth Brother Ma to take him to that eunuch nest looking for you!” Lu Xiao Feng observed.

    “But instead he stumbled upon Manager Wang and Sixth Brother Ma’s secret!” Xi Men Chui Xue deduced.

    “So they killed him.”

    “Manager Wang and Sixth Brother Ma might be utterly useless, but this third person was a master.”

    “He knew before hand that he was no match against this guy and that he was doomed to die. So he secretly molded these figurines so as to let others know who his killers are!”

    Because he had concluded that others would never suspect this third man to be the real murderer. If so, that means the secret the 3 men were discussing must have been a truly Earth shattering secret.

    “The buildings there are small and narrow, and it’s always crowded.” Lu Xiao Feng continued. “They couldn’t find anywhere to hide the body nor could they figure out a way to destroy the body.”

    “So they threw the body on the back of a horse and shipped him out.” Xi Men Chui Xue concluded.

    “They had planned to place the blame on you, to put you up against the E’Mei Sect. Two birds with one stone.”

    Although the truth was revealed, they still did not know the most important piece of information -- the third figurine had been flattened.

    Xi Men Chui Xue closely inspected the flattened figurine.

    “No matter what, this man cannot be Honest Monk!”

    This man had hair. Not only could Zhang Ying Feng make a likeness, he could go as far as replicating one’s hair.

    “He seems to be very fat.”

    “No, his face is flattened, that’s why it looks so fat.”

    “He has a beard, but not too long.”

    “So he isn’t very old.”

    “His face looks green.”

    “That’s the color of the wax, not of his face.”

    “So now we know he’s a bearded man, not too fat, not too thin.” Lu Xiao Feng sighed and another weary smile appeared on his face.

    There were tens of thousands of men who fit that description in the city, where do they start looking?

    The fire in the oven was already lit. The lamas seemed to have planned to cremate Yan Ren Ying and Zhang Ying Feng together for a long time.

    “They were probably all under Manager Wang’s command and came here to kill Yan Ren Ying to shut him up. So they probably didn’t expect us get here!”

    “Or maybe they weren’t ordered here by Manager Wang, maybe that ‘third guy’ is the real mastermind behind all of this.”

    “Doesn’t matter, lamas are monks too, they also wear white socks.”

    “There are quite a number of Taoist monks within the Southern Seas Sect.”

    The fire flickered and shoned onto Zhang Ying Feng’s face, shoned onto that fatal wound on his neck as well.

    “Can you tell who made that strike?”

    “No. But there are people other than me who are capable of such a strike!”

    “Other than you, how many?”

    “Not many, not more than 5 who are alive.”

    “Which five?”

    “Ye Gu Cheng, the Wooden Taoist, and 2 or 3 more swordsmen you wouldn’t know about even if I told you their names. One of them is a hermit living on Mt.Water of Goddess.”

    “You know him?”

    “Even if I didn’t know him,” Xi Men Chui Xue sneered, “I know his sword.”

    “How about Hunan Swordsman Wei Zi Yun?”

    “His techniques aren’t steady or quick enough,” Xi Men Chui Xue shook his head, “and forget Yin Xian.”

    Lu Xiao Feng mulled it over for a bit.

    “Maybe there are some whose sword skills might be high, but very rarely wield a sword.”

    “That might not be likely, but it’s still not impossible.”

    “If Honest Monk would use a sword, I’m sure he would be amazing. I’ve always felt that his level of understanding mastery of martial arts was immeasurably deep and broad.”

    “Honest Monk doesn’t have any hair, or a beard.”

    Lu Xiao Feng laughed.

    “There are such things as fake men, nevermind fake beards.” He seemed dead set on Honest Monk.

    Yan Ren Ying had been standing off to the side in awe all this while; abruptly, he walked closer and bowed to Xi Men Chui Xue.

    “No need to thank me, the one who saved you isn’t me, it’s Lu Xiao Feng.” Xi Men Chui Xue briskly told him.

    “I’m not thanking you, the debt I owe you for saving my life could not possibly be encompassed by a mere thanks.” A weird look appeared on his face, in the flickering light of the fire, it was hard to discern whether he wanted to laugh or cry.

    “I would like to humbly ask you to take that bow back to my younger martial sister.”

    “Why?”

    “Because I’ve misunderstood her this entire time. I looked down on her. I thought she shouldn’t be together with the nemesis of our sect.” Yan Ren Ying hesitated before finally summoning up enough courage to continue. “But now I finally understand, vengence isn’t nearly as important as I had thought....”

    --Vengence is not something that had to be delievered. There are far too many emotions and feelings that are much more intense and noble than hate. He did not say those words, because he could not bring himself to say it. But he finally understood in his heart. Because at this very moment, the hatred in his heart could not possibly compare to the intensity of the gratitude. He suddenly bent down, picked up his martial brother’s body, and began to walk away with his head held high. The distance was covered in darkness, but the brightness of light was approaching.

    Lu Xiao Feng watched him leave before finally sighing: “He still is a young man, every time I see a young man like him, I can’t help but feel that this world isn’t too bad. It’s not bad to be alive.”

    How precious is life? Life will always be filled with hope. Xi Men Chui Xue’s eyes were flickering with that warmth once again. This was not the reflection of the flickering flames his eyes, but the reflection of the molten glacier in his heart.

    Lu Xiao Feng looked at him and suddenly patted him on the shoulder.

    “You finally saved a life today, how does it feel?”

    “Better than taking a life!”

    ***

    Under the flickering fire, “the third man”‘s face looked contorted and grotesque. Nobody would look very nice with their face flattened.

    “Now that Sixth Brother Ma died, there’s only one person who knows his identity!”

    “Manager Wang?”

    “Mm.”

    “Do you want to go find him?”

    “No.” Lu Xiao Feng sighed. “He’s probably deep within the Forbidden City by now, I won’t be able to find him even if I tried.”

    “And even if you did find him, he would never reveal the secret.”

    Lu Xiao Feng intently stared at the figurine in his hand, his eyes seemingly lit up again.

    “There is still another way for me to find out who he is.”

    “What way?”

    “I can go find Clay Man Zhang, I’m sure he’d know of a way to restore this figurine back to its original state.”

    Xi Men Chui Xue looked into his eyes with a hint of smile.

    “You really are quite smart.”

    “I was never stupid.” Lu Xiao Feng laughed.

    “Are you going now?”

    Lu Xiao Feng shook his head, a gentle and soft warmth appeared in his eyes as well.

    “Right now I just want to see one person....”

    He did not say that person’s name, but Xi Men Chui Xue already knew who that person was.

    The stars slowly dispersed, the boundless and winding night was finally over. The brightness of light was approaching.

  13. #33
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Posts
    3,036

    Default Book 3 - Chapter 8

    Chapter 8 - Initial Skirmishes

    The 15th of September, morning. Lu Xiao Feng came walking out from a door in the back corner of the yard behind the bakery, turned out of the yard, and strode along the morning fog covered street. Although he did not sleep the night before, he was not tired. After a cold bath, he felt ever more awake and energetic, his entire body even more ready to face the day.

    He had already made a promise to himself that he would get to the bottom of this conspiracy and find the mastermind behind it all. The wax figurine was still in the pocket inside his shirt. He swore to flatten this man’s face like the face on this figurine.

    “Clay Man Zhang lives on the Goldfish Alley behind Cherry Street. The front door is lacquered black and has a business sign in the front, very easy to find.”

    He had already seen Ou Yang Qing. Even though she did not say anything, the colour on her face had changed to a much healthier shade, she had obviously made it through the danger zone.

    --Not only did Xi Men Chui Xue have a killer sword strike, he also have life saving antitodes.

    “Saving lives really does seem to be more enjoyable than taking lives.”

    Lu Xiao Feng was smiling. He could only hope that a man who killed could turn into a man who saved others’ lives.

    He had also seen Sun Xiu Qing. The talkative and frank Sun Xiu Qing of yesterday had also changed, changed into a gentle and patient woman. Because no longer was she the female swordsman that was slashing her way through the martial world, she was a soon to be mother.

    “You two forgot to invite me to your toast, you better not forget to invite me for the red eggs!”

    “When are you going to invite us to drink your toast?”

    Lu Xiao Feng saw the warmth and gentleness in Ou Yang Qing’s eyes and was asking himself on the inside: “Is it really about time I start my own family?”

    Of course, it was still too early. But if there was such a thought in a man’s heart, the day when it finally comes true could not be far off.

    Leaves do not fall far from the root, people will always eventually settle down. Besides, he really have wandered for far too long. The life of an unattached bachelor might contain quite alot of good times, but the emptiness and loneliness after the good times is not something that many people could bear.

    And also something very few people would understand. Those long sleepless nights, that loneliness after the music has stopped and the people have left, those tears and regret after waking up from a drunken night.... How does that really feel? Only in their hearts do they really know the truth.

    Clay Man Zhang was an old man. He seemed to have already forgotten that he ever had such a prodigal son like Zhang Ying Feng.

    In the minds of the elders, all those youths who would go out and wander the world instead of settling down and devoting themselves in the family business are prodigal sons.

    Of course, Lu Xiao Feng did not bring up Zhang Ying Feng’s death. Age, in and of itself, is a kind of sadness. He did not want to add another layer of sadness to this old man’s life. But as soon as the subject of his expertise came up, this hunched over old man almost seemed to have straightened up and the gleam his eyes flickered in pride.

    “Of course I can restore this wax figurine to its original form. It doesn’t matter what it was like before, I can make it exactly as it was before.” The old man proudly declared. “You’ve come to the right place young man.”

    “How much time do you need?” Lu Xiao Feng’s eyes lit up as well.

    “Two hours at most.” The old man was very sure of himself. “Come back and pick this up in two hours.”

    “Can’t I just wait here?”

    “No.” The old man showed his authority within the field. “I don’t let other people watch me work.”

    This was his rule. When doing this, his word was the law, because Lu Xiao Feng could not do what he could. So Lu Xiao Feng had to leave.

    Besides, two hours with nothing to do would be perfect for going to get some tea at the tea house on the street ahead.

    House of Heavenly Peace was a large tea house. It opened for business right at the crack of dawn, and it was full of customers the moment it opened. Because the tea houses in the capital was not as simple as the tea houses in other places, nor were their costumers there to simply drink tea.

    Especially in the morning, most of the people here were actually waiting to either be dispatched or be contracted. The masons, the carpenters, the caterers, the tailors, and all kinds of other craftsmen and merchants would come around tea houses on the morning of the day after winning a big contract or job to find workers. If they show up late, they might end up with unskilled workers.

    The inside of the tea house might look chaotic, but in reality every profession has its own little territory within it. The carpenters would never sit with the masons, because sitting at the wrong place meant no jobs.

    There were called “pits”. Every profession had several tables that made up of its own “pit” and there was no mistaking it. This was not the first time Lu Xiao Feng had visited the capital, and he was fully aware of these rules. So he picked out a seat by the door and poured himself a cup of “Eight-Hundred-a-Bag” tea.

    The tea here was not sold according to weight, instead, it was sold by bags. One flask of tea, one bag of tea leaves. There were “Two-Hundred-a-Bag”, “Four-Hundred-a-Bag”, and the best, “Eight-Hundred-a-Bag”. Eight hundred actually meant eight taels of silver a bag.

    Of course, the upper crust of the Capital liked to sound more impressive than anywhere else, and of course, eight taels did not nearly have the same ring to it as eight hundred. Lu Xiao Feng took two sips out of his cup and was just getting ready to call over the waiter to order some sesame roasted peanuts when two people sat down at the table facing him.

    Sharing a table in a tea house was pretty common. But the expression on the two men’s face were very strange, the look in their eyes was even stranger. Between the two of them, all four of their eyes were unblinkingly staring at his face.

    They were dressed in fine clothes, there was a bright gleam in their eyes, and their temples were bulged out. Obviously, they were both martial art masters.

    One of them was relatively older, he was extremely big and tall with an intimidating presence, and even though he was not carrying any weapons on him, he had a pair of vein covered hands with huge, protruding knuckles that looked like they could crush rocks. The younger one was dressed in even fancier cloth, he looked, literally, high browed and seemed to have even more of an aura than the older man. Those bright eyes of his were totally blood shot, as if he had not slept the entire night, as if they were filled with hate and anger.

    They were staring at Lu Xiao Feng, but Lu Xiao Feng just simply would not even look at them.

    The two of them shot at look at each other. The older man suddenly took out a little wooden box and placed it on the table.

    “Sir, are you Lu Xiao Feng?”

    Lu Xiao Feng had to nod, and involuntarily persed his lips a little. Those two mustache of his that he liked to keep sure have brought an untold amount of unwanted trouble.

    “I am Bu Ju.”

    “Hello.” Lu Xiao Feng replied without showing the slightest expression, as if he had never heard of this name before. In reality, of course he had.

    There were probably not that many people in the world that had not heard of this name. “Heaven Splitting Palm” Bu Ju’s name controlled the land from Sichuan to Hunan. He was the Master Helmsman of over 36 different clans of pirates and bandits in that area! The corner of Bu Ju’s eyes flinched.

    Normally, whenever the corner of his eyes flinch, it meant he was about to kill. But this time he had to endure it.

    “Have you heard of me, sir?” He suppressed his indignation.

    “No.”

    “Well then you should have heard what’s in this box.” Bu Ju mocked.

    He opened the box. Inside was three huge, shiny, polished, completely flawless jade rings. Lu Xiao Feng was someone who knew what was what. He easily discerned that each of these 3 jade rings were priceless treasures.

    Yet he shook his head again.

    “Never seen these things before in my life.”

    “I know you never seem them, not many have truly laid eyes on this kind of treasure.” Bu Ju coldly retorted before suddenly pushing the box to Lu Xiao Feng’s side of the table. “But if you do me one favor, they are all yours!”

    “What favor?” Lu Xiao Feng pretended not to know.

    “These three jade rings in exchange for three of those belts.”

    “What belts?”

    “No point in playing games, is it a deal or not?” Bu Ju coldy answered, cutting to the chase.

    Lu Xiao Feng smiled. He had figured out what they were after the moment they sat down.

    --”We’ve already instructed people to start spreading this information to our friends in the martial world!” “Those without that belt on their bodies, with absolute no regard as to who they are, will be executed on the spot if caught trespassing within the ForbiddenPalace!”

    He knew it was trouble the moment he heard those two sentences.

    “Yes or no?” Bu Ju viciously demanded, he was slowly losing his temper.

    “No!” His answer was simple and direct. He was not the type who was scared of trouble.

    Bu Ju almost jumped to his feet as his knuckles cracked like falling rocks, the expression on his face was not friendly anymore either. But he did not make a move, because that young man grabbed a hold of him with one hand and took out another object with his other hand and placed it on the table. It was a poisonous prickly vine. None other than the Tang family’s world famous Poison Vine, its poison would literally seal up a man’s throat the moment it touched any of his blood.

    In the sunlight, it was obvious that not only was this Poison Vine made of the purest steel, it was very intricately designed, on every single leaf was hidden 7 fine steel needles. Upon impact, the needles would fly out so it did not matter if the vine struck bone or flesh, the person was doomed to death.

    These kind of weapons were not usually placed on tables to be seen by others, and very few men could inspect it in such detail. Even Lu Xiao Feng had to concede to himself that this weapon had with it an incomprehensible power. Even lying there on the table, he could still feel it.

    “My surname is Tang.” The young man abruptly broke the silence.

    “Tang Tian Zong?”

    “Yes!” The young man proudly affirmed. He really should be proud of himself. His skill was the best among the brothers and disciples of the Tang family despite being the youngest.

    “Are you planning to exchange your projectile here for my satin belt?”

    “The weapon is dead, if you don’t know how to use it, I can give you the entire sack of projectiles and it would still be completely useless!” Tang Tian Zong coldly commented.

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

    “Turns out you are just planning on letting me see it.”

    “Not many people get to lay their eyes on this kind of a projectile.”

    “Well I can also take out those satin belts for you to see, not many people get to lay their eyes on those either!”

    “Pity they can’t be used to kill.”

    “Well that depends on whose hands they are in doesn’t it? In the right hands, even a rice straw can kill.”

    Tang Tian Zong’s expression darkened as he glared into Lu Xiao Feng’s eyes. Suddenly, he pressed down using the hand that was laying on the table and the Poison Vine immediately bounced into the air.

    “Chi!” With only a hiss, the projectile traveled shot up more than 6 meters.

    “Dong!” He nailed itself onto one of the beams on the ceiling. Not just onto the ceiling, but all the way buried within the wood. Not only was this young man’s weapons ingeniously designed, his hand skills were shocking as well. But Lu Xiao Feng seemed to not have noticed at all.

    The look on Tang Tian Zong’s face became even more sinister.

    “That is a real weapon capable of killing.”

    “Oh!”

    Three jade rings plus a life, do you agree to the exchange?”

    “Whose life?”

    “Yours.”

    Lu Xiao Feng smiled again.

    “If I refuse, you’ll take my life?”

    A smirk appeared on Tang Tian Zong’s face when Lu Xiao Feng asked that question. Slowly, Lu Xiao Feng took two more sips from his cup before he suddenly realized a very crucial point. If Tang Tian Zong and Bu Ju could find him, then others must have been able to keep track of his activities as well.

    If Clay Man Zhang could really restore that figurine to its original form, then there would surely be people who would want to kill him and take care of that loose end. Lu Xiao Feng put down his cup of tea, he had decided to stop playing games with these two men. This was his last bit of evidence, Clay Man Zhang could not die.

    “Have you made up your mind?” Tang Tian Zong demanded.

    Lu Xiao Feng let out a little laugh as he slowly stood up, picked up the 3 jade rings from the table, and put them in his pocket.

    “You are agreeing to the trade?” Bu Ju broke out in a smile.

    “No.”

    Bu Ju’s smile immediately changed to a frown.

    “Then why did you take my jade rings?”

    “I chatted and kept you two company for a while, so I should get something in return.” Lu Xiao Feng casually explained. “My time has always been very precious.”

    Once again, Bu Ju jumped to his feet. This time Tang Tian Zong did not pull him back down, for both of his hands were already inside the leopard skin pouches at his side.

    But Lu Xiao Feng did not seem to notice any of this.

    “If you really want the satin belts, there is still a way, but I have just one condition.” He said with a smile.

    “What condition?” Bu Ju demanded, barely able to contain his anger.

    “That each of you would get on your knees right now and kowtow to me three times.”

    With a furious howl, Bu Ju attacked. Tang Tian Zong’s hand shot out as well.

    “Crash!” A flask suddenly appeared in Bu Ju’s hand as he crushed the flask to smithereens, spilling its content all over the purple satin robe he was wearing. Amazingly, he did not see how the flask got into his hand.

    He had wanted to grab a hold of Lu Xiao Feng’s shoulder, but somehow he grabbed this tea flask instead. Tang Tian Zong had one hand out of his pouch with a projectile in hand, but, for some inexplicable reason, he held on to it.

    Lu Xiao Feng was already across the street, jovially waving to them.

    “You broke the flask, so you pay. I’ll let you guys pick up the bill as well. Thank you very much.”

    Bu Ju was just about to give chase when he suddenly noticed some hissing sounds coming from Tang Tian Zong’s mouth. His face was pale as sheet, but then quickly turned to a sickly green before changing again to blood red as cold sweat came rolling down his forehead. His pressure points had been sealed. When did Lu Xiao Feng make his move? Bu Ju’s steely face suddenly turned ghostly pale as he let out a long sigh and fell back into his chair.

    “I told you, if you wanted Lu Xiao Feng to listen to you, you have to make your move first.” Suddenly, from outside the door, came a laugh. “As long as he can still make his move, you are going to have to listen to him.”

    A person strolled in as he spoke, his head was bald and when he smiled he looked like a statue of Buddha: “I’m honest, I always tell the truth. Do you believe me now?”

    Lu Xiao Feng did not see Honest Monk. If he did he would be even more anxious. But though he did not see Honest Monk, he was feel as if he was about to die from apprehension. Not only was he filled with anxiety, he was filled with regret as well.

    He should not have left Clay Man Zhang there by himself. He should have at least sit there and guarded the door. Pity that if Lu Xiao Feng could sit down and drink a cup of tea, he would never stand outside and wait for others.

    Right now he could only hope that “third man” has not found Clay Man Zhang. He even went so far as to swear that if Clay Man Zhang was still alive and could give the wax figurine back to him, he would swear off all kinds of tea for the next 3 months, no matter how good the tea might be.

    Clay Man Zhang was alive, and from the looks of him much happier than he had been before. Because the wax figurine has been restored, that meant he was about to get paid. As one gets older, he would have less and less chance to spend his money, yet his interest in earning money would increase and increase.

    Earning and spending money always seemed to be inversely proportional to each other, a rather odd coincidence don’t you think? Only after he entered and saw Clay Man Zhang did Lu Xiao Feng finally sighed in relief. Amazingly, he did not forget to remind himself.

    --No tea for the next 3 months, no matter how good the tea might be. Tea could be addicting too. Those who liked to drink would find it very difficult to not be able to drink tea. Luckily for him he did not forget to remind himself one more thing: he could still drink wine, lots of wine.

    Clay Man Zhang held out both hands, the figurine in one hand, nothing in the other. Lu Xiao Feng understood exactly what he meant.

    Those with real skill always wanted to get paid as soon as they accomplished what they have been asked to do, or else they would be very unhappy even if you are late for just one bit. In reality, the fact that he did not ask Lu Xiao Feng to pay beforehand was already quite remarkable. Only when the empty hand was filled with banknotes did Clay Man Zhang relax his grip on the wax figurine in the other hand. Only then did a smile appear on his face. But Lu Xiao Feng found it impossible to smile. The face on this wax figurine was none other than Xi Men Chui Xue’s face.

    Goldfish Alley was a very quiet and peaceful alley. The September sun shining down on one’s back felt neither too cold nor too hot. To be able to walk down an alley like this on a day like this was supposed to be a pretty enjoyable thing.

    But Lu Xiao Feng did not feel any joy in his heart. He absolutely did not believe Xi Men Chui Xue killed Zhang Ying Feng, nor did he believe Xi Men Chui Xue would work with those eunuchs. Most importantly, he did not believe Xi Men Chui Xue would tell a lie, nevermind tell him a lie. Yet this wax figurine’s face just had to be that of Xi Men Chui Xue’s.

    “Did you make a mistake?” He had wanted to ask Clay Man Zhang, but did not.

    He had always been respectful of others skills and position. In this area, Clay Man Zhang had unquestioned authority. If he had implied that Clay Man Zhang had made a mistake, it would have been more insulting than a real slap to his cheek.

    Lu Xiao Feng never liked to make others feel miserable, yet at this moment he was feeling miserable. This figurine had been his most promising lead, yet now that he got his lead, he was even more confused than he was before. How did this happen? He could not figure it out.

    The not too cold and not too hot sunlight bathed down on his face, and also the face of the wax figurine in his hand. Staring at the figurine, he continued to walk. However, as soon as he walked out of the alley and onto the street, he suddenly, and literally, jumped in place, immediately turned around, and ran back as if someone had whipped him from behind. What did he just discover?

    Where Clay Man Zhang meet his costumers was also where he worked. Windows covered three sides of the room. There was a huge table with all manners of pottery, dirt, paint, carving knives, and brushes. Other than making wax figures, he was also in the business of carving out maps and painting some good luck charms that scare away demons.

    The third time Lu Xiao Feng entered here, the old man was bent over the table carving. He did not even lift his head up upon this unexpected entrance.

    Even with all the windows, it was still somewhat dark in the room. The old man’s eye sight, of course, was not what it once was, his face was almost touching the table.

    Lu Xiao Feng cleared his throat a couple of times, no reaction from the old man. He cleared his throat some more, louder this time. Still no reaction. Not even the slightest movement, not even the knife in his hand. How could he carve the map without moving the knife?

    Could someone have gotten to this old man? Lu Xiao Feng’s heart sank, but he actually jumped as he scrambled up behind Clay Man Zhang and was just about to pull him up to see what was going on.

    “It’s windy outside, go close the door!” The old man suddenly ordered.

    Lu Xiao Feng’s heart skipped another beat with that start as he back up and, laughing at his own silliness, gently closed the door. He felt positively like a paranoid old maid.

    “What do you want?”

    “I’m here to exchange this wax figurine!”

    “Exchange what wax figurine?”

    “The one you just gave me is the wrong one, so I want the one I gave you back!”

    It was only when he walked out of the alley did he realize that this wax figurine that Clay Man Zhang just gave him was a shade yellow while the one that Yan Ren Ying gave him was light green. They had obviously been switched by this old man to frame Xi Men Chui Xue as the killer once again. If this old man was not one of them, he had at least been bought out.

    “I had asked you to restore the wax figurine to its original form, not to mold another one for me altogether.”

    Slowly, he approached the old man again, not taking his eyes off of the knife in his hand. A knife used for carving maps could be used to kill as well, he did not want to be treated like the map and have someone carve out a couple of ridges on his throat.

    Surprisingly, Clay Man Zhang put the knife in his hand down before he slowly turned around.

    “What are you talking about? I don’t understand.”

    Neither did Lu Xiao Feng, for he saw this old man’s face. This Clay Man Zhang was not the same Clay Man Zhang he had just met.

    He almost swallowed his tongue. It took him a while to regain his breath and then he looked the old man over several more times.

    “You are Clay Man Zhang?” He finally got around to asking.

    The old man cracked a yellow toothed smile.

    “There are real and fake Pockmark Wang barbers, but there is only one real Clay Man Zhang, no other shops!”

    “Then who was that before?”

    Clay Man Zhang squinted his eyes and looked around the room.

    “Who are you talking about? I just came back, there wasn’t even a shadow here.”

    Lu Xiao Feng felt as if somebody had stuffed a whole mouthful of rotting peaches down his throat.

    So the Clay Man Zhang he met before was a fake. It seemed easier to trick him than to steal candy from a baby.

    Clay Man Zhang looked down at the wax figurine in his hand.

    “But I did mold this figurine, how did you get your hand on it?” He suddenly said.

    “Have you seen this man before?” Lu Xiao Feng immediately followed up.

    “No.”

    “How did you make his likeness without ever meeting him before?”

    Clay Man Zhang smiled.

    “I have never met Guan Yu either, but I can make a likeness of him too!”

    “Did someone bring you a painting of him and asked him to mold his likeness for him?”

    “Finally you seem to be getting it.”

    “Who asked you to make this?”

    “This guy.” He turned around and picked a clay figurine from the table. “When he came, I just happened to have a piece of clay in my hand, so I just kind of naturally made one of him as well. But I forgot to give it to him.”

    Lu Xiao Feng’s eyes lit up. But the old man’s hand just happened to have grabbed the figurine by the head, so he could not see what he most wanted to see, that face. Clay Man Zhang sighed and shook his head.

    “When you get old your mind just doesn’t work that well anymore, if you don’t forget this one thing you forget that other thing.” He mumbled.

    “Maybe your mind doesn’t work that well anymore, but your luck is still working great.” Lu Xiao Feng suddenly joked.

    “What luck?”

    “If you hadn’t forgotten to give him this figurine, you wouldn’t have made an extra 500 taels of silver.”

    Clay Man Zhang’s eyes lit up as well: “You are willing to pay me 500 taels of silver?”

    “As long as you give me that clay figurine, these 500 taels will be yours!”

    Clay Man Zhang could hardly contain himself as he immediately brought the clay figurine right up to Lu Xiao Feng’s face. Lu Xiao Feng was just about to reach out and grab it when “bang!”, the figurine’s head burst open as seven or eight tiny, icy, shooting stars streaked toward his throat. Inside this clay figurine was hidden a spring action trap and it had been set off not even half a meter away from Lu Xiao Feng’s throat!

    Not even half a meter, incredible, lightning-like speed, an attack that nobody could have expected, and seven poison needles that would kill a man as soon as it touchs his blood.

    Looks like this time Lu Xiao Feng is doomed! Anybody would be doomed under these circumstances! This kind of distance, this kind of speed, this kind of weapon, nothing up in the Heavens or in the depth of Hell would be able to dodge this attack.

    This ambush had clearly been meticulously planned out to the smallest details, not only should it work, it almost could not not work!

    Not even Lu Xiao Feng could have dodged this attack. But he did not die, because there was still a wax figurine in his hand. When the springs sprang into action with that “bang,” his hand flicked and the wax figurine jumped off of his hand and perfectly met the seven needles.

    Even after impacting on the figurine, the force of the poison needles had not completely dissipated and the figurine still hit Lu Xiao Feng’s throat. Even though the wax figurine could not kill, it still startled him. In that moment of confusion, Clay Man Zhang had already took off and jumped through one of the windows. By the time Lu Xiao Feng realized what was going on, he was already outside.

    This “Clay Man Zhang’s” reaction was quite quick as well, as soon as he saw his ambush failed, he bailed.

    But as soon as he flew out of the window, there came a series of yelp followed by a loud and rather dull “thud”, as if something heavy just collided with some piece of wood.

    After the thud, the yelp stopped. By the time Lu Xiao Feng made his way out of the room, he was already lying on the ground in the middle of the yard, seemingly having fainted. Another man was standing beside his body and holding his head between his arms, it was a bald head.

    “Honest Monk!” Lu Xiao Feng nearly yelled.

    Tenderly holding his head, Honest Monk tried to put up a brave smile.

    “Looks like I should change my name, change it to Unlucky Monk.”

    “When did you become unlucky?”

    “If I’m not unlucky, then why would people smash their head into my head for no reason?”

    By now, a huge and black colored bruise was visible on “Clay Man Zhang’s” head. Lu Xiao Feng did not know whether he should be laughing or puzzled. He knew better than anyone that there was no way the two heads collided by accident, nor could he figure out why Honest Monk would want to help him out.

    “Luckily I have a pretty hard head.” Honest Monk mumbled as he gingerly continued to rub his head.

    “That’s why you might be unlucky, but Clay Man Zhang here has much worse luck.” Lu Xiao Feng joked.

    “Are you saying he is Clay Man Zhang?”

    “He isn’t?”

    “If he is Clay Man Zhang, then I am Lu Xiao Feng.”

    Of course Lu Xiao Feng knew this Clay Man Zhang was not the real one, yet he could not understand why the first, real Clay Man Zhang would want to switch the wax figurines to fool him.

    “I might not be pretty, but I’ve came here and asked Clay Man Zhang make a likeness of me as well.”

    “So you knew Clay Man Zhang?”

    Honest Monk nodded.

    “Did you come here to get Clay Man Zhang to make a likeness of yourself too?”

    “Don’t know if he’ll be able to get my four eye brows right.” Lu Xiao Feng laughed.

    “Even if you had 8 eye brows, he would get them all exactly right, down to every single strand of hair. Shame that all he can do is wait for others to mold a likeness of him now!”

    “Why?” Lu Xiao Feng frowned.

    “I came around the back, there’s a well in the back.”

    “What’s in the well?”

    Honest Monk sighed.

    “It’s probably best for you to take a look yourself!”

    Of course there was water in the well. But in this well, besides water, also had blood. Clay Man Zhang’s blood!

    “I wandered over here because I caught a whiff of the smell of blood coming from this well.” With a frown on his face, Honest Monk put his hands together and bowed. “Twas better to not have seen than to have seen. Amida Buddha, Merciful Buddha.”

    What he saw was four dead people, and now Lu Xiao Feng has seen them too. All four members of Clay Man Zhang’s family was dead at the bottom of the well.

    Lu Xiao Feng did not speak or even open his mouth, he did not want to puke in front of Honest Monk. His entire stomach was turning.

    Only now did he realize that the two Clay Man Zhang’s he had met today were both fakes. The first one was solely responsible for switching the figurine and framing Xi Men Chui Xue. And in case Lu Xiao Feng did not fall for that trick, he would have surely returned with the second fake waiting here to take his life!

    Such a venomous and devious trap, if one trap failed then there was another trap within that one waiting to be sprung. Lu Xiao Feng suddenly sighed. He suddenly realized that his luck was pretty good, he had survived until now.

    Honest Monk sighed along with him.

    “I told you a long time ago, you are just entirely engulfed in this aura of bad luck and will surely run into bad luck!”

    “What kind of bad luck did I run into now?”

    “What were you doing? You were coming to ask a dead man to mold a likeness of yourself. How is that not bad luck?”

    Lu Xiao Feng gazed back at Honest Monk.

    “Even if I came here to ask a dead man to mold a likeness of myself, what are you doing here?”

    That question seemed to have stumped Honest Monk. Luckily for him, at this exact moment, that “Clay Man Zhang” with a bruise on his head suddenly let out a groan. When they came around back, they did not leave laying there and brought him with them.

    “Looks like he’s about to wake up,” Honest Monk sighed in relief. “Thank goodness I didn’t headbutt him to death!”

    “Were you planning to headbutt him to death?” Lu Xiao Feng stared at him.

    Honest Monk immediately brought his hands together again in prayer: “Amida Buddha, wrong, wrong. The Heavens favours life, if I have such designs, would I not be thrown down into the 18th level of Hell?”

    Lu Xiao Feng laughed.

    “It’s not that bad there, would at least run into a couple of old buddies. Besides, if you don’t enter Hell, then who shall enter Hell?”

    {Note: Lu Xiao Feng’s phrase “if you don’t enter Hell, the who shall enter Hell?” is a paraphrasing of a well known Buddhist scripture which reads: “If I don’t enter Hell, then who shall enter Hell?” meant to urge all true believers to take on all hardships, necessary and unnecessary, to better the lives of those whom they touch.}

    Honest Monk shook his head furiously and began to mumble to himself: “Must remember to never argue with this man. Must remember to never argue with this man. Must remember....”

    “Are you reciting some scripture?” Lu Xiao Feng could not help but crack a smile.

    “I’m just merely reminding myself so I won’t have to enter argument Hell in the future.” Honest Monk sighed.

    Lu Xiao Feng had something to say, but held it back. He noticed that the man on the ground had finally regained his consciousness and was struggling to sit up while gingerly holding his head. Lu Xiao Feng looked down at him, and when he noticed Lu Xiao Feng too, his eyes were immediately filled with the look of fear. When he noticed Honest Monk, he appeared to be even more shocked. He seemed to recognize this monk.

    But there was no expression on Honest Monk’s face, nor did Lu Xiao Feng even open his mouth. The two of them silently stood over him, staring down at him. He might not have been the real Clay Man Zhang, but he was really an old man. Lu Xiao Feng knew there was no need for him to speak, he should know what this situation implies.

    The old man sighed: “I know you must have questions to ask of me, and what you want to ask of me.”

    Of course, he should know. Anybody, after being ambushed, would want to inquire as to where his attacker came from and who planned the ambush. A man was more than 50 years old, how could he not know?

    “But whatever you ask, there is one sentence I can’t say, because once I do, I will die for sure.”

    “You are scared of death?” Lu Xiao Feng asked.

    “I might be an old man, I might know that I won’t live much longer, but I’m more afraid of death now than I was as a young man!” He said with a strained smile. That was the truth. The older one becomes, the less one wants to die. That is why the ones who are foolishly brave with no regards for their own lives are all young, that is why all those who leaps off buildings are also all young -- when was the last time you saw an old man commit suicide?

    “If you are so frightened of death, aren’t you afraid that we will kill you?” Lu Xiao Feng asked with a blank face.

    “No, I’m not!”

    “Why not?” Lu Xiao Feng was puzzled.

    “Because from your appearance, I can tell you don’t like to kill, and you don’t look like you are planning to kill me either.”

    “You can tell?”

    “I’ve lived to this age, if I can’t tell that, then what have been spending my life doing?” He actually started laughing, laughing like an old fox.

    “You are wrong!” Lu Xiao Feng shot him a vicious look and abruptly cut off his laugh.

    “Oh?”

    “You weren’t wrong about me, I won’t kill you. But you are wrong about the man who sent you here. You didn’t kill me, so it doesn’t matter if you told me the secret or not, he will kill you.”

    The smile on the old man’s face froze as fear reappeared in his eyes.

    “I’m sure you know how he operates, if you want to leave, I won’t stop you. But I won’t care if you die or not either!”

    The old man got up to his feet, but he did not move from that spot.

    “I’ve never killed that many, but I’ve saved quite a few!” Lu Xiao Feng continued.

    “You... you are willing to save me?”

    “You are willing to spill the secret?”

    The old man hesitated, not able to make up his mind just yet.

    “Take your time and think about it, I....”

    He suddenly stopped talking, almost stopped breathing. He suddenly noticed that the whites of the old man’s eyes had turned to a deathly green color. But within those deathly green eyes was a solitary drop of blood, ready to ooze out. By the time he ran to the old man’s side, the corner of his eyes had already cracked open, yet he did not seem to feel any pain at all.

    Lu Xiao Feng grabbed his hand, it was cold as ice. Lu Xiao Feng was shocked.

    “Quickly, just tell me his name!”

    The old man’s lips moved slightly as a strange and unsettling smiled appeared on his face. The smile had just appeared moments before it was frozen. His entire body had turned stiff and all of his skin had already dried to the point of resembling cow hide. Lu Xiao Feng reached out and touched him.

    “Boom!” His skin resonated like a drum.

    “Wooden Mummy Powder!” Honest Monk almost yelled, he was shocked too.

    Lu Xiao Feng lightly sighed.

    “Poison in blood, man to mummy.”

    “Could he have been poisoned the entire time and only now did the poison take effect?”

    “If you hadn’t knocked him out, he might have turned into a mummy as soon as he flew out of the yard.”

    “So no matter if the trap worked or not, he was doomed from the get go.”

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

    “Such an elaborate plan, so many lives lost, all for what?”

    “For killing you!”

    A disbelieving look appeared on Lu Xiao Feng’s face: “If it was all for killing me, the price they were willing to pay may have been way too much!”

    “And you may be under estimating your own worth quite a bit!”

    “They want to kill me only because they are afraid that I might get in their way!”

    “You think they have some other goal?”

    “Mm.”

    “What would that goal be?”

    “With the heavy price they have been willing to pay so far, it must be something huge!”

    “But what could it be?”

    “Why don’t you go ask your Bodhisattva of Compassion, the Goddess of Mercy?”

    “Bodhisattvas will only listen to monks’ prayers, and monks can’t hear Bodhisattva’s words.”

    “Then why did you become a monk?”

    Honest Monk smiled.

    “Because being a monk is better than being Lu Xiao Feng, Lu Xiao Feng has lots of worries and troubles, monks have very little!”

    He suddenly began to loudly sing and clap: “You are troubled, I’m not troubled. How much trouble, all self induced. You want to go find more, then I am going to leave!”

    The singing had not stopped, but he really did leave.

    “How much trouble, all self induced.”

    Lu Xiao Feng watched his sillhouette disappeared with a tired smile: “Too bad for me that even if I stop looking for trouble, they start to come looking for me.”

    The sky was high, the weather was refreshing. Autumn had truly arrived in full force. Lu Xiao Feng walked out of the alley to find a man standing at the mouth waiting for him. His attire was fancy, but his face was pale. It was none other than the number one fighter within the Tang family, Tang Tian Zong.

    Why would he be waiting here? Was trouble about to find Lu Xiao Feng once again?

    Lu Xiao Feng cracked a smile: “Where’s your friend? Did he pay for that flask of tea?”

    Tang Tian Zong silently glared at him with those bloodshot eyes of his. Suddenly, he fell to his knees and kowtowed three time to Lu Xiao Feng, taking Lu Xiao Feng by absolute surprise.

    --”That each of you would get on your knees right now and kowtow to me three times.”

    Lu Xiao Feng had proposed that condition himself, but he never expected Tang Tian Zong would go through with it.

    A proud young man such as him would usually rather have his head chopped off than to kowtow down to someone, anyone.

    But Tang Tian Zong nevertheless did, and not only were they real kowtows, they were pretty loud ones too.

    This vain and cocky young man was willing to put himself through such humiliation, all for what?

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

    “Must you go after Ye Gu Cheng? You might not get your revenge even if you do catch up to him!”

    Tang Tian Zong stood back up and returned to silently staring at Lu Xiao Feng. He did not say one word or utter one sound.

    All that was left for Lu Xiao Feng to do was to untie one of the satin belts from around his waist and hand it over. Tang Tian Zong took the belt in his hand, turned, and walked away.

  14. #34
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Posts
    3,036

    Default Book 3 - Chapter 9

    Chapter 9 - Belt Troubles

    September 15th, noon. The sunlight was resplendent as it shone down on the city. Lu Xiao Feng walked out of the Goldfish Alley and began walking down this ancient yet still bustling street. Despite the fact he did not sleep at all the night before, he still looked to be full of energy and spirit.

    Men and women were wandering up and down the street as the big and small vendors on either side of the street were flourishing. Even though he had somehow gotten himself into more trouble than he could count, his heart was still filled with joy. Because he liked people.

    He liked women, he liked children, he liked friends, he would always have a heart overflowing with warmth for all people. Most people liked him in return. The cloth on his back might be slightly dirty, but his eyes still had that gleam in them, he was still standing as tall and as proud as he ever did. Any woman from 14 up to 40, once they laid eyes on him, would surely secretly take a second look his way.

    He had take off the belts he had tied around his waist and placed them on his shoulder. Of the 6 belts, he had already given out 2, one to Honest Monk, another to Tang Tian Zong.

    Now he was only hoping to get rid of these 4 belts as soon as possible. The only question stopping him was that he had not figured out who to give these to yet. Up ahead was a little trained monkey show about to get started as children immediately crowded around it.

    An old man with a headful of silver hair, supported by a cane, came slowly walking out from a pharmacy and was almost knocked over by two of the children trying to make it over to the monkey show.

    Lu Xiao Feng immediately ran over and caught him, preventing him from falling over.

    “How do you do sir?” He smiled.

    The old man was bent over, trying to catch his breath. Suddenly, he turned his head towards Lu Xiao Feng, winked, stucked out his tongue, and made a face.

    Lu Xiao Feng was flabbergasted. He had seen quite a few odd occurences, but he had never had any old men make any faces at him.

    When he finally took a good look at the old man’s eyes, he almost screamed. Si Kong Zhai Xing! Turned out this old man was actually that peerless and matchless “King of Thieves” in disguise.

    Although he managed to not scream, he put some force into his hand and gave his upper arm a nice little squeeze.

    “You little a$$h01e, you’ve showed up as well?” He said in a low voice.

    “Well, since even a big a$$h01e like you have showed up, why can’t a little a$$h01e like me be here?”

    Lu Xiao Feng put in a little more strength into his squeeze: “Are you planning to steal one of my satin belts?”

    Si Kong Zhai Xing’s face contorted in pain as he furiously shook his head.

    “You aren’t?”

    “No, I really am not.”

    Seeing the look on his face, Lu Xiao Feng finally let go and smiled.

    “Did you switch professions?”

    “No!” Si Kong Zhai Xing answered as he sighed and rubbed his shoulder.

    “If you haven’t changed professions, then why aren’t you going to steal?”

    “I already have one, why would I still need to steal another one?”

    “What do you already have?”

    “A satin belt.”

    Lu Xiao Feng paused for a second.

    “You already have a satin belt?”

    “Yes.”

    “Where did you get it?”

    Si Kong Zhai Xing smiled.

    “I just took it off of a friend.”

    “And that friend would be me?”

    Si Kong Zhai Xing sighed: “You know I don’t have that many friends.”

    Lu Xiao Feng gnarled and reached out, trying to grab him again.

    But Si Kong Zhai Xing was not about to let him grab him again as he ran far far away.

    “Of the four satin belts on you, I only took one, that’s already pretty big of me, aren’t you satisfied?” He asked in between laughs.

    Lu Xiao Feng glared at him, but then suddenly broke out into a laugh as well.

    “I had assumed you were an intelligent guy, but it turns out you are an idiot!”

    Si Kong Zhai Xing blinked, waiting for what he was going to say next.

    “Have you asked yourself why would I just carry these satin belts so casually if they were the real satin belts?”

    “Could this satin belt be fake?” Si Kong Zhai Xing almost yelled.

    Lu Xiao Feng gave him a little wink, stuck out his tongue, and made a face to him in return.

    Si Kong Zhai Xing stood there dumbfounded for a long time and then seemingly magically pulled the satin belt out from inside his sleeve.

    “It really does look a little fake.” He mumbled.

    Lu Xiao Feng laughed.

    “I know you claim to never steal anything fake, but who would have expected that today would be the day you would be fooled.”

    “Please don’t tell anybody about this, you’ll destroy my reputation.”

    “You stole from me, and I can’t even tell others about it?” Lu Xiao Feng mused.

    “What if I give it back?”

    “If you give it back, I’ll still talk. The King of Thieves actually stole the wrong article! All those thief underlings of yours would probably laugh off all of their teeth when they hear about this!”

    “What if I give the satin belt back to you and then take you out to a huge meal?”

    Lu Xiao Feng hesitated and pretended to weigh his options.

    “This could be worth considering, it’ll depend on what kind of food you are going to get me.”

    “Fish fins braised in soy sauce, plus two big fat ducks, what do you say?”

    {Note: Since they are in Beijing, the two ducks Si Kong Zhai Xing is referring to is, of course, Peking Ducks}

    Lu Xiao Feng did not seem too convinced, finally, with much hesitation, he nodded. In reality, he was almost about to burst on the inside and roll around on the ground, dying in laughter.

    --I have still fooled this little a$$h01le. Seeing Si Kong Zhai Xing presenting satin belt back to him with such respect and decorum, he found it even harder to suppress his urge to laugh. Not only did he want to just roll around in laughter, he felt like doing somersaults.

    But then, unexpectedly, Si Kong Zhai Xing suddenly withdrew the satin belt.

    “No, can’t do!” He shook his head.

    “What can’t you do?” Lu Xiao Feng immediately asked.

    “The ducks would be too fattening, and the fish fins would be way too greasy. If you eat too much you’ll get diarrhea. We are old friends, I can’t do that to an old friend!”

    Lu Xiao Feng was dumbfounded once again.

    Si Kong Zhai Xing blinked.

    “Besides, I’ve just had an epiphany. Having a fake belt is still better than have no belt, wouldn’t you say?” He also looked like he was trying very hard to resist bursting out in laughter before finally giving in as he did three somersaults and jumped up onto the roof of a building. Still laughing, he waved goodbye to Lu Xiao Feng and suddenly disappeared.

    Lu Xiao Feng’s belly almost exploded in anger.

    “I swear, that little a$$h01e is my nemesis. I get nothing but bad luck every time I ran into him.” He mumbled through clenched teeth.

    He did not even finish before he suddenly realized that all those little children that had been watching the monkey show had surrounded him. Every single one of their eyes looking up at him, as if they all found him even more interesting than that little monkey show.

    “Why aren’t you guys watching the monkey over there?” Lu Xiao Feng could barely keep a straight face, realizing the irony of his remark.

    One particular kid shook his head.

    “The monkey isn’t any fun, you are fun.”

    Lu Xiao Feng did not know if he should laugh or get angry.

    “What’s so fun about me?” He had to ask.

    “You are friends with that gramps, so you definitely know how to fly as well.”

    Lu Xiao Feng finally figured it out, these kids were gathered around waiting to see him fly.

    The kids all began shouting and begging: “Mister, can you fly for us? Please?”

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed, but then suddenly let out a little laugh at his own genius.

    “I’ll teach you all a little song, and if you sing it for me, I’ll fly for you guys ok?”

    Every single one of the kids immediately clapped in excitement.

    “Yes, we’ll sing, we’ll sing it every day from now on!”

    Lu Xiao Feng immediately got down to teaching the kids the song:

    “Si Kong Zhai Xing, is a monkey faerie.
    Naughty faerie, is a rotten rascal.
    Bad bad rascal, deserves a big spanking.”

    These kids were such good learners, they picked the song up right away and began singing it at the top of their lungs, singing non-stop.

    The more Lu Xiao Feng listened to this song, the funnier he thought it was. Soon he was doubled over in laughter. Then, he also did three somersaults, landed on the roof of a building, and waved goodbye to the kids.

    “If you sing this song whenever you can, I’ll come back and fly for you guys whenever I can!” He said in between fits of laughter.

    ***

    There really was one less belt from the 4 that was supposed to be on his shoulder. Even Lu Xiao Feng had to concede that Si Kong Zhai Xing really was something else, that little monkey faerie was actually able to steal something away from Lu Xiao Feng right there in front of him.

    First he felt like his belly would burst in anger, then almost burst in laughter, but now he only felt the emptyness inside his belly. He was starving. Lucky for him, it was lunch time. Enmanating from all of the restaurants, big or small, was a cacophany of cleavers and kitchen utensils as they prepared all manners of food. Even those who were not hungry would get hungry just from listening to them. If he does not get a big meal right now, this belly of his that almost exploded in anger and then almost burst in laughter would probably just implode out of hunger.

    “Bring me a big dish of fish fins braised in soy sauce, a roasted duck, an entire kilogram worth of biscuits, and on top of that, give me one and half kilogram worth of Bamboo Green and 4 more dishes that goes down with wine.”

    He went into the closest restaurant, grabbed the nearest table, order 8 or so dishes off the top of his head, and waited.

    None of the eight or so dishes had arrived yet, but in strolled either or so people from the outside. The man in front was dressed in the finest silk and carried himself owned the place. Even though there was some slight hint of white in his sideburns, he was still dressed like a young bachelor. Around his waist was a jade belt that was studded huge crystals and some even bigger emeralds. That belt alone was priceless, but the sword tied to that belt was far more invaluable than the belt.

    Following behind him was a group of seemingly insufferably arrogant young men, each one of them dressed fancier than the other and they all seemed to got their eyes on top of their heads. But every single one of them moved with an agility and nimbleness that seemed to prove that they were all quick skilled in martial arts.

    These men walked in, shot one look over at Lu Xiao Feng, and sat down as a group at the biggest table Though they did not even bother looking anybody else, as if they were somehow unworthy of being noticed by them, they at least all shot Lu Xiao Feng a look.

    Lu Xiao Feng could not be bothered to pay attention to them, but he did still recognize that sword that was tied to that jade belt.

    A sword, sheathed in a black fish skin with a platinum mouth, was a very strangely shaped and unusually long sword. Along with the blood red tassel was two fish figurines carved out of pure white jade. Anybody who recognize this sword would also recognize the person with the sword.

    This silk clothed middle aged man was, of course, none other than the master of Eternal Joy Mansion of Double Fish Pound of Tiger Mound from South of the Yangtze, “Peace and Tranquility Swordsman” Si Ma Zi Yi. “Nan Gong Gold, Ou Yang Silver, Si Ma Jade.” That saying was referring specifically to the three biggest ancient and aristocratic families of the martial world.

    Jade had always been the most precious among the three, so EnteralJoyMansion was, without a doubt, the richest and most extravagant of the them all. Besides the family martial arts that he inherited, Si Ma Zi Yi was the lone disciple of the “Mister Iron Sword” of yesteryears. He was a handsome young man that excelled in both the academic and the martial aspects of life, add that on top of his famous family legacy, and the result was that he was reknowned throughout the world before he turned twenty. Even though he was now entering middle age, his still had his youthful arrogance and temper as well as his still handsome appearence.

    To be able to see such a man in his full glory was supposed to be a very enjoyable occurrence, but Lu Xiao Feng would much rather lay his eyes on a dish of well cooked fish fins braised in soy sauce.

    The fish fins were cooked just right, and the wine was just the right temperature. Lu Xiao Feng picked up his chopsticks and was just about to start eating when he noticed a young man dressed in purple with pair of fish made of white jade hanging from his sword walking towards him.

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed to himself. Trouble had found him once again. So he immediately, before the young man got too close, stuffed his mouth full of fish fins.

    With his hand on his sword, the young man coldly sized Lu Xiao Feng up and down a couple of times before finally cupping his fist in a salute: “You, sir, must be Lu Xiao Feng.”

    Lu Xiao Feng nodded.

    “I am Hu Qing, I’m from Suzhou, Tiger Mound, Double Fish Pound’s EternalJoyMansion. Sitting over there is my Master. I think you, sir, knew that already.”

    Lu Xiao Feng nodded again.

    “No point in beating about the bush, Master ordered me to come here to ask you to lend the belts on your shoulder and also invite you, sir, over for a drink.”

    This time Lu Xiao Feng did not nod, not did he shake his head, instead he merely pointed at his mouth. He had not swallowed that mouthful of fish fins yet, so there was no way for him to speak.

    Hu Qing frowned. Even though it was obvious he was losing his patience, all he could do was to stand there and wait for Lu Xiao Feng to finish chewing.

    “You, sir, can just give me the belts now if you want. If you, sir, want to keep one for youself, that’s ok too.” He proposed as soon as he Lu Xiao Feng swallowed that mouthful of fish finsHe mad.

    He made sound like it was nothing, as if the fact that he had opened his mouth was already giving Lu Xiao Feng a tremendous amount of face.

    Lu Xiao Feng took his time swallowing the fish fins, then took some more time taking a sip of wine before letting out a little satisfied sigh. Then he flashed a smile at Hu Qing.

    “I have long admired Master Si Ma’s famed name and reputation, and I’m very thankful for Master Si Ma’s good intentions and kindess. As for the belts....”

    “What about the belts?”

    “You can’t borrow them.” Lu Xiao Feng rather casually dismissed the offer.

    Hu Qing’s expression dropped as he immediately grabbed the sword. But Lu Xiao Feng did not even look at him as he picked up another fish fin and began to meticulously chew it over in his mouth, savouring its flavor.

    Hu Qing was almost scowling at him as the blood vessels on the back of his hand were pulsing, as if he was just about to pull out his sword. Suddenly, someone let out a couple of coughs behind him.

    “You should not have used that word: ‘lend’, nobody is willing to lend this kind of a thing.”

    Si Ma Zi Yi actually lowered himself to come over as well, but he still stopped quite a distance off, as if he was expecting Lu Xiao Feng to get up and greet him.

    Lu Xiao Feng did not notice. He was obviously much more engrossed in the plate of fish fins in front of him than anything or anyone else.

    So Si Ma Zi Yi had to walk over all by himself and, with that well groomed hand of his, pointed at the table. Hu Qing immediately took a banknote out and placed it down on the table.

    Using that same well groomed hand of his, Si Ma Zi Yi stroked his equally well groomed beard: “Jade rings might be nice, but aren’t nearly as useful as money. Bu Ju doesn’t understand people, so of course he was turned down.”

    News really did travel fast in the Capital, even someone like him found out about that in just two hours.

    “I believe you, sir, feel the same way about this.” Si Ma Zi Yi concluded.

    Lu Xiao Feng nodded, conveying that, indeed, he did.

    “This is a banknote worth fifty thousand taels that could be cashed immediately. With that amount of money, a normal person would be able to live the rest of his life without any worry.”

    Lu Xiao Feng concurred with that as well.

    “Fifty thousand taels of silver is more than enough for any two satins belts, any time, anywhere.”

    Lu Xiao Feng completely agreed with that as well. A smile appeared on Si Ma Zi Yi’s face as he got ready to leave, as if the deal had just been sealed.

    But it was Lu Xiao Feng who suddenly spoke up.

    “Why aren’t you, sir, taking this banknote with you?”

    “Take it where with me?”

    “To a tailor shop.”

    Si Ma Zi Yi did not understand.

    “There’s quite a number of tailor shops out there. You, sir, can go make the deal with any of them, it would much simpler.”

    Si Ma Zi Yi’s expression dropped as well.

    “I want to trade this banknote for your belt.”

    Lu Xiao Feng laughed.

    “This belt isn’t available for trade.”

    Si Ma Zi Yi’s seemingly always shining face had turned to a shade of green.

    “Don’t forget, this is fifty thousand taels of silver.” He snapped.

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

    “If you will let me eat this entire dish of fish fins in peace, I’ll pay you fifty thousand taels!”

    Si Ma Zi Yi’s steely green face turned crimson. Someone sitting at the table to the side could not control himself and let out a little laugh.

    As soon as the laughing started, there was a sword flash.

    “Ping!” The tip of the sword had been caught by a pair of chopsticks.

    The person who laughed was a half drunk merchant, the sword belonged to Hu Qing. With a mere flip of his wrist, the long sword around his waist flew out. But Lu Xiao Feng was even faster, as he suddenly, and casually, reached out with his chopsticks and caught the tip of the blade, like a snake charmer grabbed a snake. Hu Qing’s face froze as he dumbfoundedly looked at Lu Xiao Feng.

    “He’s drunk.” Lu Xiao Feng said.

    Hu Qing bite down and tried to pull the sword out, but this sword seemed to have merged with the chopsticks.

    “There isn’t any rules against laughing here, this isn’t EternalJoyMansion.” Lu Xiao Feng casually observed.

    Sweat appeared on Hu Qing’s forehead.

    “Bang!” Suddenly, another swordflash struck as the sword in his hand broke in half!

    Si Ma Zi Yi’s sword had left its sheath, but now it had returned there.

    “Back off,” He callously ordered. “From this day forth, you are forbaded from wielding a sword.”

    With his head held low in shame as he looked down at the broken sword in his hand, Hu Qing begin to slowly back up. After 7 or 8 steps, tears suddenly appeared on his face.

    “Shame, what a waste!” Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

    “Waste?”

    “Shame about this sword, shame about that young man too. His techniques aren’t too bad, and this sword wasn’t too bad either.”

    Si Ma Zi Yi’s expression was still that dark as he coldly declared: “A sword that could be cut in half is not a good sword!”

    “Maybe the only reason his sword was cut in half was because somebody was holding on to the tip of the blade.”

    “If the sword could be caught, there’s no point in keeping it either.”

    Lu Xiao Feng shot him a look.

    “So your sword would never be caught if your attacked with your sword?”

    “Never.”

    Lu Xiao Feng smiled, suddenly smiled.

    “My belt isn’t available for borrowing, trading, nevermind selling!”

    “Are you daring me to take it by force?” Si Ma Zi Yi mocked.

    “Or we could bet for it.”

    “What kind of bet?”

    “A bet on your sword.”

    Si Ma Zi Yi did not understand.

    “If it’s true nobody could catch your sword, then you win. And then not only can you walk away with my satin belt, you can come and take my head any time you want as well.”

    “I don’t want your head.”

    “But you do want one of my satin belts.”

    Si Ma Zi Yi glared. “Other than that, is there no other way?”

    “No.”

    Si Ma Zi Yi did not say anything for a long time.

    “I’m going to aim for your left shoulder, get ready.” He suddenly said.

    With a smile, Lu Xiao Feng patted his left shoulder: “My shirt isn’t too clean, I haven’t washed it for two days. So you should probably pull out as quickly as you can so it doesn’t get too dirty.”

    “As long as there’s blood to wash with, it doesn’t matter if blade gets dirty.” Si Ma Zi Yi coldly humourlessly dismissed.

    “I wonder if my blood is clean or not?”

    “You are about to find out.”

    By the time the word “out” was heard, the sword was already out of its sheath. Like lightning, the flash of the sword fell towards Lu Xiao Feng’s left shoulder. The sword was much longer than swords usually are, so it should be somewhat more difficult to unsheath quicklyu. But he utilized a special technique to pull out his sword so that once it was out of its sheath, it was already almost at Lu Xiao Feng’s shoulder.

    Lu Xiao Feng reached out and pinched his two fingers together! This was supposed to be a very simple move, but his precision and speed was something that nobody could imagine, nevermind describe.

    This move might be simple, but he forged through countless trials to turn it into, literally, the cream of the crop. Si Ma Zi Yi could feel his heart sink, he could also feel his blood sink. His sword has been caught!

    He started practicing with bamboo swords at the age of four. At 7, he began using real swords forged with pure steel. By now, he had studied sword for more than 40 years. Even just on the subject of how to unsheath a sword, he had studied more than 130 different types of maneuvers. At this point, he was capable of, in one motion, unsheath his sword and thread the tip of his blade through the loop hole in the middle of 12 free-falling bronze coins.

    Yet now, his sword has been caught. In that instant, he almost could not believe this was true. He gawked at Lu Xiao Feng hand, having a hard time believing that it was a real hand made out of flesh and blood.

    Lu Xiao Feng was looking at his own hand as well.

    “You didn’t use full force on that strike,” He suddenly observed. “Looks like you really aren’t after my head.”

    “You....”

    Lu Xiao Feng cut him off with a smile.

    “I’m not a good man, but you are not a bad one either. For not wanting my head, I’ll give you a satin belt!”

    He untied a belt and hung it at the tip of his sword before getting up and walking out without looking back even once. He was afraid he might change his mind if he did.

    Even though he was not full, Lu Xiao Feng still felt good in his heart. Because he knew that, now, Si Ma Zi Yi most surely have come to understand two things. Anybody’s sword could be caught, and the soft approach works much better than the hard approach on some people.

    He believed that after learning those two things from this lesson, Si Ma Zi Yi would undoubtly change that arrogant and intimidating air with which he carried himself.

    But what was in all of this for him? He did not even think about that. Whatever he did, Lu Xiao Feng never thought for himself.

    But his stomach was fiercely objecting. He might not have much of an apetite normally, but two mouthful of fish fins could not nearly be enough to satisfy it. To him, to be able to comfortably eat a quiet and full meal had turned into a nearly impossible proposition.

    As long as he had these satin belts with him, no matter where he go, trouble would undoubtly quickly come looking for him.

    How should he give out these last two satin belts? Who should he give them to? He was prepared to give one of them to the Wooden Taoist, yet the Wooden Taoist was nowhere in sight. Those who should not show up all showed up, but of those who should, none did.

    Because some people never show up when they are suppose to and always does when they are not suppose to. Lu Xiao Feng seemed to be always running into this kind of people, this kind of things. He sighed. Suddenly, he noticed Honest Monk walking up in the other direction, biting into a huge steamed bun in his hand. As soon as he saw Lu Xiao Feng, he reacted as if he had just saw a ghost and was immediately trying to find a way to get away.

    But Lu Xiao Feng had already caught up to him and pulled him to a stop.

    “Leaving so soon? Where are you going?”

    Honest Monk rolled his eyes and replied: “I didn’t bother you, I wasn’t breaking any laws, why are you grabbing me?”

    Lu Xiao Feng blinked, and then broke out into a smile.

    “Because I want to make a deal with you.”

    “I don’t want to make a deal with you, I don’t want to get robbed.”

    “I guarantee you won’t get robbed.”

    Honest Monk looked at him and hesitated.

    “Let me hear what kind of deal you have in mind first.”

    “I’ll trade you these two satin belts for that steamed bun in your hand.”

    “No deal.”

    “Why not?” Lu Xiao Feng yelled.

    “Because I know there isn’t this good of a deal in the world.” He rolled his eyes again. “Bu Ju tried to trade you jade rings, you refused. Si Ma proposed fifty taels of silver, you refused. Now you want to trade it for my steamed bun, and you are not insane.”

    “Are you afraid that I’m laying down a trap for you?”

    “I don’t care if you are or aren’t, I’m not going to fall for it.”

    “So you’ve made up your mind?”

    “I have.”

    “No regrets?”

    “No regrets.”

    “Alright, no deal. But when I want to talk, you can’t stop me from talking.”

    “Talking about what?” Honest Monk had to ask.

    “Talk about this story about a monk who went to a brothel to visit a prostitute.”

    Honest Monk suddenly forced the steamed bun into Lu Xiao Feng’s hand, grabbed the satin belts, and took off walking in the other direction.

    “Don’t forget, one of them is for the Wooden Taoist, you have to save one for him. Or else I’ll still talk.” Lu Xiao Feng shouted at his fading silhouette.

    Honest Monk did not even bother to turn around as he disappeared faster than a whipped stallion. Lu Xiao Feng laughed. He did not remember his body ever feeling this light, as if he had never been this happy and relaxed in his life.

    He had finally pushed those pieces of hot coal onto somebody else. It was as if a one ton weight off had been just lifted off of his back.

    The steamed bun had not completely cooled off yet, biting into it, he could almost swear that this steamed bun was better than those fish fins.

    He had been suspecting Honest Monk was the mastermind behind this entire conspiracy, but now he seemed to have forgotten it. Is he stupid? Or really smart?

    The sun was slowly sliding towards the west. It was now two hours after Lu Xiao Feng handed those satin belts off to Honest Monk. Nobody knew what he had been up to in those two hours.

    He seemed to have just walked around town several times. Even if there were some people following him, he had lost them by now. Of course, he could not risk leading anybody back to Delicious Fragrant Vegetarians.

    He entered through the backdoor, there was nary a sound in the backyard. The air was filled with an ever changing mixture of frangrances of chrysanthemum and osmanthus. Even the little goldfishes in the pond underneath the pomegranate tree seemed to be too intoxicated to move.

    Through the chrysanthemum brush, a person could be seen sitting inside the little gazebo. Seemingly entranced, sitting there on the rail.

    The chrysanthemums were yellow, the rails were red, but her cloth was vivid green in color as it wrapped around her willowy frame. The signs of illness had not completely disappeared on her pale face but new troubles could already been discerned. She looked barely strong enough to hold up her cloth.

    The colors of Autumn in this yard might be beautiful, but it could not compare to her beauty. It seemed that only now did Lu Xiao Feng realize just how beautiful Ou Yang Qing really was. Could it be because only now did he know that she has been secretly loving him?

    The wind breezed by the bush of chrysanthemums by the rails. There were already several fallen leaves on the path. Quietly, he walked over. Suddenly, he noticed Ou Yang Qing’s gleaming eyes were looking straight at him.

    They did not meet too many times. In reality, they have not exchanged more than 10 sentences in conversation.

    But now there was indescribable feeling subtlely tugging at Lu Xiao Feng’s heart, causing it to beat faster. He seemed to be totally at a loss as to what to do.

    What was she feeling in her heart? At least, Lu Xiao Feng was not able to discern anything different on her face. She was looking at him the same way she always looked at him. Either she was just a very calm person, or she was very good at playing games. And how many women are there in the world that are not very good at playing games?

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed under his breath and walked into the gazebo.

    “Are you feeling better?” He asked with a awkward smile.

    Ou Yang Qing nodded and pointed to the stone stool opposite of her.

    “Sit.”

    Lu Xiao Feng had planned on sitting down next to her, but if she was going to behave so coldly, he could not exactly act too warm either.

    --Why do women enjoy playing games so much?”

    Could it be because they all know this type of women was precisely what men likes? If Ou Yang Qing was truly nice and warm towards Lu Xiao Feng, he might have been scared away a long time ago.

    So instead, he obediently sat down on that stone stool.

    “Where is Xi Men Chui Xue?” There was a lot in his heart he wanted to say, yet he could even say any of them, so he had to settle for that filler.

    “He’s in the house with his wife, I figured they must have a lot to say to each other.”

    Lu Xiao Feng stood up, but then sat right back down. He had wanted to go in and talk to Xi Men Chui Xue, but he did not want Ou Yang Qing to think of him as unempathetic. The duel was looming, the outcome was still in doubt, this goodbye could very well be the very last one.

    He really should let the two of them peacefully spend this entire afternoon together, let them say all those things that nobody else should hear.

    The garden seemed to have engulfed them, the fragrance of flowers permeated throughout the air, the scene that surrounded them felt like a dream. Was there not just the two of them as well? Did they not also have very much to talk about?

    Yet he could not, for the life of him, think of what to say! He seemed to have turned into a little boy going on his first date.

    “Do you know him?” Ou Yang Qing suddenly broke the silence.

    “Who?”

    Ou Yang Qing pointed to her side, only then did Lu Xiao Feng notice the little wax figurine sitting on the rail. It was Manager Wang’s figurine.

    He could not understand why she would suddenly be so interested in the likeness of this eunuch: “Do you recognize him?”

    “I’ve seen him before, he came to our place once.”

    “Our place” was, of course, the brothel she worked at.

    Lu Xiao Feng was even more puzzled.

    “Do you know that this man is a eunuch?” He could not help but ask.

    “We have all kinds of clients at our place,” Ou Yang Qing nonchalantly replied. “Not only eunuchs, but monks too.”

    She still seemed to remember what happened that day, still remembered that Lu Xiao Feng had wronged her. But Lu Xiao Feng seemed to have completely forgotten it, there were way too many much more important questions for him to ponder.

    “He isn’t the first eunuch to come to our place, and on that day, he didn’t come alone!” Ou Yang Qing continued.

    “Who else was with him?” Lu Xiao Feng immediately followed up.

    “When he arrived, it was just him, but afterwards two swordsman from the Southern Sea Sect showed up looking for him, as if they had prearranged a meeting.”

    “How do you know they are from the Southern Sea Sect?”

    “I recognized their swords.” The Southern Sea Sect’s sword was not only particularly long and narrow, but had a distinct shape as well.

    “I could also tell this old man was a eunuch. No matter how he disguises it, I could always tell.”

    “Big Shot Sun was there that day too?”

    “Mm.”

    Lu Xiao Feng’s eyes glowed. Manager Wang had undoubtly arranged that meeting with those two swordmen from the Southern Sea Sect at the brothel to discuss some secret plan.

    When they found out that Ou Yang Qing and Big Shot Sun had arrived in the Capital, they feared either one of them would recognize them, so they went after the two of them to shut them up. First Madame Gong Sun’s death undoubtly had something to do with this as well. Those two Southern Sea Sect swordsmen would logically be the same two swords men that perished at the crematorium.

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed deeply. He had finally found that thread. Now all he had to do was find the thread that could connect this thread with the other threads he had found, then he would be able to solve this case. Did he find several other threads just now? There was alot one could accomplish in two hours.

    “If any eunuch visits our place, I would always make sure to take him to my room!” Ou Yang Qing suddenly stated.

    “Why?”

    “Because they are not men,” she coldly explained. “The more useless the men are, the more liked to show off how manly they are. So even if I force them to sleep on the floor, they wouldn’t dare complain and would actually pay extra. Because they are deathly afraid others find out about this weakness of theirs.”

    “That night, when Honest Monk spent the night in your room, did he sleep on the floor?” Lu Xiao Feng had to ask.

    Ou Yang Qing nodded.

    “Could he be a eunuch too?”

    “He might not be a eunuch, but he isn’t a man either.”

    Lu Xiao Feng let out another deep breath. Finally, he had found out why Honest Monk lied to him. “Impotent” was a word that all men viewed as an unimaginable shame. That was why some men would rather be spending money to sleep on the floor of a woman’s bedroom than to let other find out that he was “impotent.”

    Honest Monk was a man. Even monks could not avoid retaining that little bit of vanity.

    Ou Yang Qing looked down at the little figurine: “That night, thi sold man didn’t even have the nerve to touch me at all because he was so scared that I might find out he was a eunuch.” She said with a mocking smile. “He could have never suspected that the only reason I let him stay was because I could tell he was a eunuch.”

    A strange look suddenly appeared on her face.

    “Do you know why no man has ever touched me?” She suddenly asked.

    Lu Xiao Feng shook his head.

    “Because I detest men.”

    “Do you detest me as well?” Lu Xiao Feng could not help but ask.

    Ou Yang Qing shot a cold look at him. Although she did not refute it, she did not concede the point either. Lu Xiao Feng began to laugh. He suddenly came to a realization -- Ou Yang Qing was not in love with him, not even a little inkling of feeling.

    If the 13th Mistress did not tell him, Lu Xiao Feng would have never thought so himself. But it was just that all of those things were said by the 13th Mistress, maybe she purposefully tried to make Lu Xiao Feng believe Ou Yang Qing loved him to make him eat that entire plate of butter soaked snail shells. Not only did Ou Yang Qing not said a word about it herself, she had never even showed any signs of feeling that way.

    After getting to the bottom of this, even though there was a little bit of sour taste in his heart, he could not help but let out another sigh, as if he had just been relieved of another burden. His demeanor all of the suddenly turned much more natural. He never believed in love at first sight anyways.

    “What are you laughing at?” Ou Yang Qing could not help but wonder.

    “I... I’m laughing at Honest Monk. I just passed off two burning hot pieces of coal to him!”

    “Hot pieces of coal?”

    “Satin belts.”

    “What satin belts?” Ou Yang Qing did not understand.

    Lu Xiao Feng immediately explain all that had happened. When he was telling her about Si Kong Zhai Xing stealing a belt, he almost got angry again; when he got to Honest Monk, he was doubled over in laughter, acting in general like a little kid.

    Ou Yang Qing stared at his face, a strange look appeared in her eyes once again. This man had just traded away two priceless satin belts for one single steamed bun, and still felt as if he had robbed the other party. She really have never met any one like this.

    “Shame you haven’t completely recovered, else I would have saved one belt for you so you can see the show.”

    “You don’t have one single belt with you now?”

    “Not even half of a belt.”

    “Are you going to the duel tonight?”

    “Of course.”

    “Where’s your belt?”

    Lu Xiao Feng was dumbstruck. Only now did he realized that he had completely forgot to save a belt from himself. Could that possibly be the reason why Honest Monk ran away so quickly as soon as he got his hands on the belt, he was afraid that Lu Xiao Feng would suddenly remember?

    “Tehehe!” Seeing the look on his face, Ou Yang Qing could not help but let out a little laugh. Running into such a fool did not happen very often. Lu Xiao Feng sat there with a dumbstruck look on his face for a long time, completely speechless. Suddenly he leapt to his feet and flew out of the gazebo.

    Coincidentally, Xi Men Chui Xue and Sun Xiu Qing were just walking up the flower path when they were greeted by him. Lu Xiao Feng did not even have time to wave hello to them as he flew by right in front of them, as if somebody was chasing him away with a broom.

    Sun Xiu Qing looked up at Ou Yang Qing, sitting up there on the rail.

    “Did you just piss him off?” She asked.

    Ou Yang Qing shook her head with a smile on her face. Such a sweet smile she had, nobody would believe she could actually piss anybody off.

    “Then did you bully him?”

    “He doesn’t need anybody else bully him, he does a pretty good job of beating himself up.” Ou Yang Qing answered rather playfully.

    Sun Xiu Qing looked her up and down a couple of times and smiled: “You seemed to have gotten to know him pretty quickly.”

    “I only know he’s a big buffoon.”

    “But he is the smartest buffoon.”

    “He’s smart?”

    “When it comes to himself, he really is a buffoon, because he has never ever given himself a second thought. But if anyone should take him to be a real buffoon and try to trick him, then that someone is going to run into some bad luck.”

    “It doesn’t matter if he’s a genius or a buffoon, it has nothing to do with me.” Ou Yang Qing matter of factly announced.

    Sun Xiu Qing blinked: “Don’t you like him?”

    “Do you think every woman in the world should like him or something?” Ou Yang Qing mocked.

    “I’m not talking about every woman, I’m talking about you!”

    “Why don’t you talk about something else?”

    “You aren’t interested in him at all?”

    “No.”

    Sun Xiu Qing smiled again.

    “You can’t fool me, I can see right through you.” He placed her hand gently on her belly as a joyous and proud gleam flashed in her eyes. “Not only am I another woman, I’m going to be a mother soon. A little girl like you can’t put anything past me.”

    Ou Yang Qing did not reply, but her pale face blushed to a crimson red.

    “You women are weird.” Xi Men Chui Xue abrubtly declared.

    “What’s so weird?”

    “The more you like a man in your heart, the less interested you act on the surface. I really don’t understand why you would do that.”

    “What do you want us to do? Leap into the men’s arms the moment we lay our eyes on them?”

    “Well you could at least be a little bit nicer and warmer to him and not scare him away.”

    “When we first met, was a nice to you?”

    “No.”

    “Yet you were not scared away either.”

    Xi Men Chui Xue gazed at her, that warmth returning to his eyes once again.

    “A man like me can’t be scared away by anything or anyone!”

    “That’s right,” Sun Xiu Qing playfully affirmed. “Men like you are exactly what we women like.”

    She walked over and took his hand in hers.

    “Because women are like sheeps sometimes, we need to be chased down.” She gently explained. “If you aren’t brave enough to chase her down and just watch her run around back and forth in front of your eyes. Then you would never be able to get your hands on her precious horns.”

    Xi Men Chui Xue smiled.

    “Have you given your horns to me?”

    Sun Xiu Qing gently sighed: “I’ve given you my horns, skin, bones, everything.”

    In each other’s arms, they silently stood there under the setting sun. They seemed to have completely forgotten there was someone else there with them, to have completely forgotten this entire world. The setting sun might be beautiful, but soon it would be dusk. How much longer could they spend in each other’s arms?

    Ou Yang Qing watched them from afar. Even though, in her heart, she was joyous over their happiness, she was also feeling an indescribable fear, a fear for their happiness.

    Because she understood what kind of man Xi Men Chui Xue was, because understood Xi Men Chui Xue’s sword. His sword was not that of men.

    A real, feeling, flesh and blood person could have never been able to employ such an unfeeling sword. That sword was literally approaching that of the “divine.”

    Xi Men Chui Xue was not a normal, real, feeling, flesh and blood person. His life had long ago been sacrificed for his sword, to his sword. It was as if he had merged with his sword into one, and was also literally approaching that of the “divine.”

    But now he had changed into a normal, real man, now he was also made of flesh and blood, he also had feelings. Would he still be able to wield such the same unfeeling sword? Could he possibly defeat Ye Gu Cheng?

    The setting sun might be beautiful, but it was almost over and soon the moon would rise. Tonight’s blood seemed destined to be stained red by one man’s blood. But whose blood would it be?
    Last edited by foxs; 04-01-14 at 09:01 PM.

  15. #35
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Posts
    3,036

    Default Book 3 - Chapter 10

    Chapter 10 - The Seventh Satin Belt

    September 15th, dusk. The spectacular colors of the setting sun filled the sky. Lu Xiao Feng came flying out of the bakery and began speeding down along the already stained red street.

    He must find one satin belt before the moon rises. He could not miss tonight’s duel. Absolutely not!

    Because both Ye Gu Cheng and Xi Men Chui Xue were his friends, because he had discovered that, under the full moon, during their duel, something Earth shattering would happen, something even more shocking than the duel itself.

    Of course, he could not get back those satin belts that he had given out. But a stolen satin belt was different. Not only could you demand what was stolen from you back, you could steal it back, or even take it back by force. He had decided to do whatever it took. The only problem was how was he going to find Si Kong Zhai Xing?

    This man was like the wind, maybe even harder to keep track of than wind. Those who did not want to find would often run into him, but those who want to find him would never find him.

    Luckily for Lu Xiao Feng, he still had one lead. He still remembered the name of that pharmacy that Si Kong Zhai Xing stumbled out of.

    Si Kong Zhai Xing was much healthier than most of the people he had victimized, there was no way he was actually purchasing some medicine at the shop. So if he had actually walked out from the pharmacy, then that particular pharmacy surely had at least a little bit of relationship with him.

    The gold letters of the pharmacy glistened in the sunlight. There was one kid at the front door kicking a little shuttlecock around. When he saw Lu Xiao Feng approach, he immediately put to fingers in his mouth and whistled.

    All of the sudden, up and down the street, left and right, a dozen or so giggling kids came streaming out onto the street and gathered in front of Lu Xiao Feng.

    They still recognized Lu Xiao Feng, and of course, still remember that little song that could kill a man by either making him explode with anger or asphyxiate from laughter.

    Lu Xiao Feng was practically giggling as well, he was sure these kids were about to sing “Si Kong Zhai Xing, is a monkey faerie” again.

    But instead the kids began to sing at the top of their lungs:

    “Xiao Feng is no bird, is a big stink bug,
    Pointy headed stink bug, just dig holes all day,
    Dog craps in the hole, so he eats the crap,
    One big stinking pile of dog poo, even stink bugs can fly after it.”

    What kind of lines were those? That was almost not language at all.

    Lu Xiao Feng could not decide if he should laugh or get pissed. He seemed to have forgotten that the lines he came up with were not particularly poetic either.

    Of course, he knew those came up with those lines, Si Kong Zhai Xing had been back to this place.

    After much effort, he finally got those kids to stop.

    “Did that white haired old man come back?” He immediately asked, not taking any risks.

    The kids nodded.

    “He taught us that song, he said that’s your favorite song and if we sang it good, you would buy us all candy!” They all shouted.

    Lu Xiao Feng felt like he was about to burst again, who would want to buy others candy after being insulted?

    The kids blinked as they looked up at him expectantly.

    “How did we do?”

    “Good, very good.” Lu Xiao Feng nodded.

    “Are you going to buy us candy?”

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed and laughed defeatedly: “Yes, of course I will.”

    Anything that others would not be willing to do Lu Xiao Feng often would be willing to do. How could he disappoint all these kids? He immediately went and bought candies, lots and lots of candies. Watching all the kids cheer, his heart melted.

    Candy in mouth, a couple of the kids tugged at his shirt.

    “The gramps is right, your are a good person, Mister!” They cheered.

    “He actually said I was a good person?” Lu Xiao Feng seemed skeptical.

    “He said you were very obedient even when you were a baby.”

    Lu Xiao Feng was even more incredulous: “How does he know what I was like when I was a baby?”

    “He saw you grow up, he even used to hold you when you peed, of course he would know.”

    Lu Xiao Feng gnarled involuntarily, at the moment, there was nothing he wanted to do more than to tie that little monkey faerie up and cane a couple of times, maybe more.

    “The gramps was just here, if you had showed up just a little earlier, Mister, you would have run into him.”

    “Where did he go?”

    “He flew off again, and he got so high! Mister, can you fly higher than him?”

    Lu Xiao Feng fixed his collar and his sleeves: “I’m not too sure, why don’t you guys pay attention and see?”

    Since Si Kong Zhai Xing was not here, there was no point for him to stay here any longer either.

    But the kids immediately stopped him: “Wait a second Mister, we have one more thing to tell you.”

    “What’s that?”

    “That gramps left a little bundle for you. He told us we should give it to you if you buy us candy and throw it in the sewer ditch if you don’t.”

    The fastest kid had already ran back into the pharmacy and walked out with a bundle in his hand. Not in his wildest dreams could Lu Xiao Feng have suspected that inside the bundle was two satin belts.

    In the setting sun, the satin belts have already turned red in color. Other than the belts, there was also a slip of paper in the bundle: “Steal one from you, give you two back. I’m a monkey faerie, you are a stink bug. You want to beat my ***? I’ll make you eat sh1t.”

    Lu Xiao Feng laughed, laughed out loud: “The little bastard really can’t ever stand being on the short end of anything can he?”

    Why would he give him back two more satin belts after stealing one? Where did the other one come from?

    Lu Xiao Feng did not bother dwelling on those questions. Now that these two satin belts are in his hands without so much of an effort, he was positively giddier than those kids when they saw how much candy he got them: “Pay attention now, tell me who flies higher ok?”

    Still laughing, he somersaulted three times and landed, again, on the rooftops.

    “You were higher! You were higher than the gramps!” The kids cheered.

    With their bright eyes and innocence, they would never lie. Lu Xiao Feng felt even better, if that was possible. He felt as if he was floating, as if a pair of wings just grew out of his body and was about to fly to the moon. The moon might have have risen yet, but the setting sun have disappeared beyond the horizon.

    The night slowly descended. Lu Xiao Feng returned to Delicious Fragrant Vegetarian through the back door. Through the window, he could tell the lamp had been lit. The soft and gentle lamp light made it easier for him to spot Sun Xiu Qing and Ou Yang Qing through the open window even as far as the flower bushes.

    Both of them were beautiful, and under the lamp light, they seemed somehow even more beautiful. But their faces were covered with an unspeakable anguish, somehow, even the lamp light seemed morose. Did Xi Men Chui Xue already leave?

    Of course he did. There was only this lone lantern keeping them company in this room. The door was not completely closed. Lu Xiao Feng completely forgot to knock for his heart was heavy as well. When did Xi Men Chui Xue leave?

    He wanted to ask, but did not. He did not dare, nor could he bear the thought. There were three empty cups on the table and one flask of wine. He poured a cup for himself and slowly drank the entire cup before pouring another cup and quickly emptying its contents again.

    “He left.” Sun Xiu Qing abruptly stated.

    “I know.”

    “He said he wanted to leave a bit early so he could leave the city and enter again so people wouldn’t think that he’s been inside the city this whole time!”

    “I figured.”

    “I hoped that you would get there early too, because... because he doesn’t have any other friends.”

    Lu Xiao Feng could not say anything and Sun Xiu Qing did not say anymore. She turned away and stared out into the night through the window. Night was slowly descending upon the land, a full moon had already slowly climbed its way up onto the sky. The wind was slowly getting colder as well.

    After an untold amount of time, Su Xiu Qing quietly spoke up again.

    “Tonight’s dusk is very pretty, much more beautiful than it ususally is. But soon it will be gone.” She closed her eyes as tears rolled down her cheek. After another long pause, she continued. “Why must everything good and beautiful be so fleeting? Why can’t they remain in this world just a little bit longer?”

    Was she asking the Heavens? Or was she asking Lu Xiao Feng? Lu Xiao Feng was at a lost as to how he should respond. Nobody knows how to respond to this question.

    He finished another cup of wine before he could force a smile onto his face: “I’m leaving too. I promise I’ll bring him back!”

    He did not dare say anything more, nor did he dare to look at Ou Yang Qing. He was ready to give that extra satin belt to her so she could witness this duel of the century.

    But he did not even bring the subject up. He knew Ou Yang Qing would undoubtly stay here to keep Sun Xiu Qing company instead. He understood how Sun Xiu Qing felt, it was not anxiety, fear, anguish.... Those words could not possibly be adequate. At this moment, he just hoped to really be able to bring Xi Men Chui Xue back.

    Just as he got up and was about to leave, Ou Yang Qing suddenly grabbed his hand, making him turn around and saw her eyes. There was tears in her eyes as well. Even a fool could see her concern and affection. Of course, Lu Xiao Feng saw it too, although he was having a hard time believing it. --How could the Ou Yang Qing who was looking at him now be the same Ou Yang Qing before who was cold as ice?

    Why did she suddenly change? Only then did Lu Xiao Feng truly discover how little he really understand about women.

    Luckily, he understood enough to know that a woman would never look at him this way if she truly detested him, nor would she grab his hand. Her hand was freezing, but it was tightly holding onto his hand. Only now did she truly understand how painful it it would be for a woman if she was to lose the man she loved.

    The two of them stared into each others eyes for a long time.

    “Are you coming back too?” She finally asked in almost a whisper.

    “I will!”

    “You promise?”

    “I promise!”

    Ou Yang Qing slowly looked away as she slowly let go of his hand: “I’ll be waiting for you.”

    “I’ll be waiting for you.” That feeling inside of a man when he knows there is a woman is waiting is something that could not be replaced by any other feeling.

    “I’ll be waiting for you.” What a beautiful, warm, and wonderful phrase. Lu Xiao Feng felt intoxicated, he was not drunk off of alcohol.

    The bright moon was in the sky, and Lu Xiao Feng was facing yet another conundrum -- There was one extra satin belt on him to give away, but who should he give it to? None of those who deserves to have the satin belts were anywhere to be seen.

    The streets were quite crowded, even more so inside of the restaurants and bars. All manners of people are sitting at the tables, discussing whatever their business of the night might be.

    Lu Xiao Feng did not need to hear what them to know that they were waiting for the result of tonight’s duel. Without a doubt, many among them have money riding on either Xi Men Chui Xue or Ye Gu Cheng.

    Not only has this duel shaken the martial world, it had penetrated into the depth of the Capital’s society. Never have duels had this kind of effect before.

    Lu Xiao Feng found it all very humorous. He was sure that if Xi Men Chui Xue and Ye Gu Cheng knew of this, they would find it all very humorous as well.

    At this moment, he noticed a man walking out of a tea house across the way. This man was very tall and very skinny, well groomed, carried himself in a very cultured way, and wore a very sophistocated blue robe. There were streaks of silver in his sideburns. It was none other than “Master of South City”, Du Tong Xuan.

    This might not be Li Yan Bei’s territory anymore, but it was still a rival of Du Tong Xuan’s. Why would he suddenly appear here? And without even one bodyguard?

    Lu Xiao Feng immediately chased up to him and patted him on the shoulder.

    “Scholar Du, how are you?”

    Du Tong Xuan was completely caught off guard as he snapped his head around. When he realized it was Lu Xiao Feng, he forced a fake smile: “Not bad, thanks you!”

    “Where’s your bodyguard?” He asked, referring to that mysterious man dressed in black from earlier.

    “He left!”

    “Why did he leave?”

    “Small ponds can’t keep big fishes alive, of course he left!”

    Lu Xiao Feng looked around rather secretively before purposefully lowering his voice: “I got to hand it to you, coming here to Li Yan Bei’s territory all by yourself?”

    Du Tong Xuan smiled.

    “This doesn’t seem to be Li Yan Bei’s territory anymore.” He casually replied.

    “He might be dead, but he still has a band of brothers!”

    “After a man dies, even his wives can remarry, nevermind his ‘brothers’!”

    Even Lu Xiao Feng had to chuckle: “Looks like not only do you know Boss Li is dead, but you also know that his people have been swallowed up by White Cloud Outlook!”

    Du Tong Xuan’s face, however, remained emotionless. “In this business of ours, those who can’t get their news fast doesn’t last long.” He coldly observed.

    “Could Gu Qing Feng be a friend of yours?”

    “He might not be a friend, but at least he isn’t a nemesis either!”

    “No wonder you are here by yourself.” Lu Xiao Feng smiled.

    “If you, sir, have time, you are always welcomed to come visit my part of town. And you can bring however many people you like.”

    Lu Xiao Feng’s eyes rolled around as another idea hit him: “Since you’ve already put so much down on Ye Gu Cheng, I bet you really would like to witness tonight’s duel first hand!”

    Du Tong Xuan did not agree nor refute that.

    “I have one extra satin belt with me, if you are interested, I can give it to you!”

    Du Tong Xuan did not answer for a long time, as if he was considering the offer.

    “Boss Bu Ju is in that tea house as well.”

    “Oh?”

    “Why don’t you give him that extra satin belt?”

    Lu Xiao Feng was speechless. Other people tried everything to get this satin belts, yet now that he was just offering it to Du Tong Xuan for nothing, unbelievably, hrefused it.

    Du Tong Xuan cupped one hand in another and gave a slight salute to Lu Xiao Feng.

    “If there is nothing else, sir, I must be leaving. Fare thee well.”

    And just like that, he left, not even showing the slightest trace of wanting to stay.

    Mystified, Lu Xiao Feng stood there like an idiot for a long time before suddenly looking up and noticing that Bu Ju had just walked out of the tea house. Bu Ju noticed him too as well as the satin belt on his shoulder. Suddenly, he broke out into a smile.

    “Did you not sell off all of your belts?” It was a very odd looking smile, there seemed to be an indescribable hint of sarcasm in it.

    “This satin belt isn’t up for sell, but could be given away. If you still want it, I’ll give it to you!”

    Bu Ju shot another look at him, his smile becoming even more odd: “Pity I don’t like to kowtow!”

    “No need to kowtow.”

    “Really?”

    “Of course.”

    “And I really don’t want it either!” His expression suddenly dropped as he dismissively flicked his sleeve at Lu Xiao Feng and walked away, not even looking back at Lu Xiao Feng again.

    Once again, Lu Xiao Feng was speechless. This was the same person who, earlier in the day, was willing to trade 3 huge pieces of jade rings for one satin belt, but now he did not even want it for free.

    Lu Xiao Feng could not understand what was going on, but he did not have time to ponder either. The full moon has risen and he has to make it to the Forbidden City as soon as possible. He could not afford to be late.

    The Hall of Supreme Harmony was inside the Gate of Supreme Harmony. Outside the Gate of Supreme Harmony was GoldenJadeBeltRiver which, under the moonlight, looked just like a golden jade belt.

    Lu Xiao Feng made his way through East Gate, Grand Forefather Gate, and the Meridian Gate located underneath the Dragon and Phoenix Watchtower before finally arriving at the most forbidden part of this Forbidden City, the city within the city.

    On the way here, there were platoons and stations of guards every few steps or so. It would be extremely difficult for anybody to get here without the satin belt on them, and even if they did get here, it was impossible for them to get any further in this literal mine field.

    Even if there was not a shadow of a soul to be seen at the moment, there could be a martial art master within the Imperial Guards waiting to ambush you around every dark corner.

    There were all kinds of hidden dragons and crouching tigers among the Imperial Guard, some were real martial art masters who inherited their family skills, some were ambitious and brave young heroes, and some were also criminals who are trying hide from their enemies. In the end, nobody in the world dared to underestimate their ability. Under the moonlight, there was one person sitting on the bridge over the moat. The top of his head still shining.

    “Honest Monk.” Lu Xiao Feng immediately ran up to him.

    “You got here early.” He smiled.

    Honest Monk was biting into another steamed bun when he saw Lu Xiao Feng ran up. Hurriedly, he tucked the steamed bun away and made some vague sound to acknowledge Lu Xiao Feng, hoping that he did not see the steamed bun.

    Lu Xiao Feng laughed: “Seeing that in your hands, I suddenly realized something.”

    “What?”

    “I realized that I forgot to eat dinner again.”

    Honest Monk rolled his eyes: “Are you going to try and trick this steamed bun from me again?”

    Lu Xiao Feng glared back: “When did I ever lie to you? I traded you two satin belts for one steamed bun. Do you actually feel robbed?”

    Honest Monk looked around for a bit before suddenly breaking out into a smile as well: “I’ll be honest, I have three more steamed buns on me, plus another half of one. Are you interested in a trade?”

    “Yes.”

    “What are you going to use in the exchange?”

    “Everything I have, I have on me. Whatever you want, I’ll give it to you!”

    Honest Monk sized him up a couple of times.

    “Looks like you don’t have much more than me!” He laughed, as much at his own sorry state as at Lu Xiao Feng.

    Lu Xiao Feng laughed as well.

    “At least I have one more mustache than you, not to mention several thousand strands of hair.”

    “I don’t want your hair or your mustache, I just want you to promise me one thing, then half of food is yours.”

    “And what’s that?”

    “That the next time you see me, you pretend you don’t know me. That way, at last, I would be able to spend my days in peace.”

    Lu Xiao Feng threw his head back in laughter and patted Honest Monk on the shoulder as he sat down next to him, still not able to control this fit of laughter.

    “So what do you say?”

    “No.”

    “Don’t you want my steamed buns?”

    “Yes.”

    “Then why not?”

    “Because I already have a steamed bun.”

    Honest Monk was befuddled.

    “Where did you get your it from?”

    “From Si Kong Zhai Xing!”

    “Si Kong Zhai Xing?” Honest Monk was even more confused.

    Lu Xiao Feng smiled.

    “If it wasn’t because of the little bit I picked up from him, how could I have possibly taken your steamed bun? So of course it came from him!”

    Honest Monk did not say anything more, by now, he had realized there was one less steamed bun on him. It was already in Lu Xiao Feng’s hand, it somehow appeared, as if by magic.

    Honest Monk sighed.

    “He doesn’t learn anything else, he has to learn how to steal.” He mumbled.

    “At least thieves don’t starve.” Lu Xiao Feng laughed as he stuffed half of the steamed bun into his mouth. “What are you waiting for here?”

    “For the Emperor to go to bed.” Honest Monk replied with a straight face.

    “So we can’t go in just yet?”

    “No.”

    “How long do we have to wait?”

    “We’ll know when the time comes!”

    Lu Xiao Feng stood back up and looked around more closely.

    “Has Xi Men Chui Xue and Ye Gu Cheng arrived yet?”

    “I don’t know.”

    “How about the others?”

    “I don’t know.”

    “Did you see anyone?”

    “I saw one and a half men.”

    “One and a half?”

    “One was Yin Xian, he was the one who told me to wait here!”

    “Who is the half a man?”

    “You, at most, you can only count as half a man.”

    Once again, Lu Xiao Feng laughed. Suddenly, from the darkness, a shadow appeared. It flew through the air, giving a definitive display of the orthodoxed “Eight Step Cicada Chase”. After just a few consecutive hops, the shadow was in front of them. Dressed in green, silver hair flowing, it was none other than the leader of the Wu Dang Sect, the Wooden Taoist.

    “You really are quite honest.” Lu Xiao Feng observed with a smile. “So you didn’t end up swallowing what belonged to your fellow monk.”

    “I only know how to swallow steamed buns, shame that the steamed buns could be stolen.”

    The Wooden Taoist shot a look at Lu Xiao Feng and pretended to frown: “What kind of a man would stoop so low as to steal a monk’s steamed bun?”

    “When I have the chance, I’m going to steal from a Taoist monk too.”

    The Wooden Taoist smiled.

    “At least this guy is honest, he confessed without even the slightest force being applied.”

    As he said that, another shadow appeared.

    Lu Xiao Feng took one look and frowned: “Who did you give the other satin belt to?”

    “Yan Ren Ying.”

    “This man isn’t Yan Ren Ying.” The Wooden Taoist immediately concluded.

    “Nor is it Tang Tian Zong, nevermind Si Ma Zi Yi.”

    This person’s movement was very unique, as he approached with his sleeves flapped in the wind. It seemed as if he was floating in with the breeze without using the slightest bit of effort.

    Yan Ren Ying, Tang Tian Zong, and Si Ma Zi Yi were not capable of such effortless movements. In truth, counting Lu Xiao Feng, there was not more than three to five men in the martial world capable of this.

    “Who is this?” Honest Monk wondered.

    “He’s not a person, not even half a person. He is a monkey faerie.” Lu Xiao Feng answered.

    Before he finished, the shadow shot towards them like a rocket, the clothes howling in the wind, as if he was about to run smack into Lu Xiao Feng. But just before it did run into Lu Xiao Feng, it suddenly somersaulted backwards three times in midair and gently floated down on the ground. It was a white haired old man, hunched over coughing up a storm.

    “Do you two know who this monkey faerie is?” Lu Xiao Feng said with a straight face.

    “‘Si Kong Zhai Xin, is a monkey faerie.’ I heard that song earlier this afternoon.” The Wooden Taoist said with a smile.

    “Looks like my disguise is completely wasted!” Si Kong Zhai Xing sighed.

    “You shouldn’t have showed off your lightness kungfu, other than Si Kong Zhai Xing, who else was capable of that?” The Wooden Taoist pointed out.

    “Me.” Lu Xiao Feng declared.

    “‘One big stinking pile of dog poo, even stink bugs can fly after it.’“ Si Kong Zhai Xing sang with a smile.

    Lu Xiao Feng pretended not to hear him and, instead, stared at the satin belt on him: “You stole one of my belts, and gave me back two.”

    “Well, you know me, always looking out for my friends. When I found out you forgot to leave one for yourself, I went and found two for you.”

    “Where did you find them”

    “Don’t forget that I’m the King of Thieves!”

    “Did you steal the ones on Si Ma Zi Yi and Tang Tian Zong?”

    Si Kong Zhai Xing just laughed and suddenly pointed in the distance: “Why don’t you go look at who is coming?”

    Two more streaks of shadows approached from the distance. The person on the left seemed to always be shrugging his shoulders in midair, as if he was already just about to let loose a whole host of projectiles, using a lightness kungfu skill unique to the Tang Family. The person on the right, however, seemed very awkward and cumbersome, as if he had spent too much time in strength training. If Tang Tian Zong did not slow down for him, he would have been trailing far far behind him.

    “Looks like the young master of the Tang Family is here!” Honest Monk observed.

    “Who is the other person?” The Wooden Taoist inquired.

    “Bu Ju!” Honest Monk answered. It really was Bu Ju. Once again, that mocking smile appeared on his face as he noticed Lu Xiao Feng was present, as if he was saying to Lu Xiao Feng: “You didn’t give me a belt, I’m still here anyways.”

    Incredibly, there was a satin belt tied around his waist. In the moonlight, the belt’s color would fluctuate from light purple to silver depending on the angle. Obviously, it was made from the same material as the other satin belts. There were only 6 belts. But, with the two on Lu Xiao Feng, one each on Honest Monk, the Wooden Taoist, and Si Kong Zhai Xing, plus the two belts on them, there were 7 belts.

    How did 6 belts turn into 7? Where did the extra one come from? Bu Ju’s face was filled with pride as proudly strode onto the bridge, but Tang Tian Zong’s face was stone colored as he did not even look in Lu Xiao Feng’s general direction. Lu Xiao Feng knew they would not tell hiim even if he asked; besides, he did not have any time to ask.

    A shadow has shot out from within the Gate of Supreme Harmony. There was a long sword carried sidelong along his back and he was dressed in a uniform of an armed Imperial Guard. The uniform looked a little snug on him, obviously he had been enjoying himself a bit recently. But his movement was still agile. It was none other than one of the four Chief Wardens of the Imperial Guard, Yin Xian.

    His face was also stone colored and his expression was grim.

    “I know everyone here is the creme de la creme of the martial world, but I hope everyone realize what kind of a place this is. This isn’t a tea house, if you want to chat, then you have come to the wrong place.” He was talking like an official down to commoners, but everyone had to listen. They were taking a huge amount of risk and responsibility for this, so it was not unexpected that they would get somewhat testy. Besides, this really was not the place for a chat.

    After that initial rant, Yin Xian’s expression softened a bit as he looked over the 6 people present: “Well, now that everyone is here, please come in. Once you get past the big platform, there’s a huge hall. That would be the Hall of Supreme Harmony.”

    “Is that also throne room?”

    Yin Xian nodded.

    “The tallest building in the ImperialPalace is the Hall of Grand Harmony. If those two masters must duel atop the Forbidden City, it’s probably best for everyone to wait there.” He took a look at Bu Ju, and then looked over at the hunched over old man and coldly continued. “Since you’ve made it this far, your lightness kungfu is undoubtly pretty good. But I should still remind everyone, that isn’t just any normal rooftop. It’s difficult enough to get on it, but the roof tiles are all slippery glass tiles. So everyone should be careful with every step because all of us are going to suffer the consequences should one of us fall off the roof.”

    Bu Ju’s expression had turned grim, that smile nowhere to be seen. Even Si Kong Zhai Xing seemed to quietly take a little deep breath. To this point, Lu Xiao Feng did not even have a chance to speak up.

    He was just about to speak up when Yin Xian cut him off: “Don’t get on the roof right away, there is somone waiting for you.”

    “Who?”

    “If you want to see him, follow me.”

    With a simple shrug of his shoulders, he took off, as if he wanted to show off his abilities a little bit in front of all these people.

    He was pretty fast, with just one simple hop, he shot out about 8 meters. Lu Xiao Feng followed him at a distance, not wanting to show him up. So Yin Xian tried even harder to show off as he did a somersault and unleashed “Swallow Parting the Cloud.”

    But as soon as he made this move, a person quite gently and effortlessly past him with a small hiss as he pierced through the air. It was none other than that hunched over old man.

    As soon as they passed through the Gate of Grand Harmony, Lu Xiao Feng’s attitude and demeanor changed completely. Not only could he not smile anymore, even his breathing became quieter. The authority and power of the Emperor was still something that these heroes of the martial world did not dare to infringe upon.

    Not even Lu Xiao Feng dared to. The two flights of stairs just in front of the Hall looked just like any other staircase made of several dozen slabs of stone. But just imagining the scene when the Emperor holds court with the top officials and generals solemnly standing on either side of the stairway waiting to answer to the Emperor’s every beck and whim made even Lu Xiao Feng’s body temperature rise in excitement.

    All of the geniuses, prodigies, heroes, and leaders would wrack their brain, sacrifice their body, and some would even sacrifice their lives in hopes of just being able to stand on these stairs for a little bit.

    The Hall of Grand Harmony was even more breathtaking. Looking up, the gleaming roof seemed to be in the clouds. Besides the Hall of Grand Harmony was the Hall of Secure Harmony. Besides the Hall of Secure Harmony, just west of the stairs outside the Pure Heaven Gate, up against the northern wall, was three flat roofed buildings. The black lacquered doors were shut tight and through the windows, a dim flickering of a lamp could be seen. The dim light illuminated a white plaque hanging on top of the door. On the plaque were 6 words that would stop any man in his track: “Those Who Enter Shall Be Executed!”

    Yin Xian had led Lu Xiao Feng here and stopped in front of that particular door: “Someone’s waiting for you inside, go in!”

    Lu Xiao Feng immediately shook his head.

    “I can still read you know.” He said with a rather weak smile. “I don’t want to lose my head.”

    Yin Xian smiled as well.

    “I’m the one who is telling you to go in, whatever happens, I’ll take care of it. What are you scared of?”

    Lu Xiao Feng looked at him and decided that he did not look like the type that was sending him into a trap. But here, at such a important and solemn place, even Lu Xiao Feng could not help but be especially careful. He would much rather just stand outside.

    Yin Xian smiled again: “Can you figure out who is inside waiting for you?”

    Lu Xiao Feng shook his head.

    “Who?”

    “Xi Men Chui Xue.”

    Lu Xiao Feng was momentarily flabbergasted.

    “How did he get in?”

    Yin Xian looked around to make sure nobody was around before moving closer.

    “We all put money down on him.” He whispered. “So of course we are going to treat him nicely and let him get a good rest so he would have the energy to take on that Outter Heaven Angel.”

    Lu Xiao Feng smiled as well.

    “This place might be a restricted area, but His Majesty has gone to bed and it is long time until the morning court. So other than we Chief Wardens, nobody would come here!” Still smiling, he gave Lu Xiao Feng a pat on the shoulder. “So stop worrying and just go in. If you have a couple of secret moves that counters Ye Gu Cheng’s moves, then give him a couple of pointers. We are all on his side anyways!”

    He might have been pulling rank just a bit earlier, but now he seemed to be a completely different person. Even his smile seemed friendlier, he even went so far as pushing the door open for Lu Xiao Feng.

    With a smile, Lu Xiao Feng gave him a pat on the shoulder as well.

    “When you have time to take some leave, I’ll take you out for some drinks.”

    The room was not big, nor were there any fancy furnitures, but it still possessed a natural austere and final feel, the livelihood and fortunes of tens of hundreds of thousands of lives have been decided here with a mere stroke of a pen.

    The moment that a person, any person, first enters this room would undoubtly be the most nervous and most excited moment of his life. As Lu Xiao Feng silently walked in, his heart seemed to be beating must faster than normal as well.

    With his hands behind his back, Xi Men Chui Xue was quietly standing next to a little window, his clothes white as snow. Of course, he heard someone open the door and enter, but he did not turn around, as if he already knew that the person must be Lu Xiao Feng. Lu Xiao Feng did not speak up either.

    The door had been closed and the lamp light dimly flickered in the dark and humid room. He suddenly noticed how cold his hands and feet were. He really wanted a cup of wine. Of course, there was no wine in this room, but how much blood, tear, and sweat have been spent here?

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed in his heart. He finally understood that he was not the most troubled man in the world, that the people who come to this room everyday were much much more troubled than he would ever be.

    Xi Men Chui Xue still did not turn around, but he suddenly broke the silence: “Did you go back to my place?”

    “I just came from there.”

    “Did you see her?”

    “Mm.

    “How... how is she holding up?”

    Lu Xiao Feng weakly smiled.

    “You should know better than me she isn’t some weak willed woman, the Three Valiants and Four Beauties aren’t much less famous than we are.”

    He might be smiling on his face, but his heart was sinking. At such a crucial juncture before the duel, when the life or death moment was so close upon him, this man was still thinking about his wife, he was not even holding his sword.

    Lu Xiao Feng was finding it almost impossible to believe that this was the same Xi Men Chui Xue he knew before. But he could not help but be somewhat comforted, because finally, Xi Men Chui Xue has turned into a flesh and blood human being.

    Abruptly, Xi Men Chui Xue snapped around. “Are we friends?” He asked, looking Lu Xiao Feng in the eyes.

    “Yes.”

    “If I die, will you take care of her?”

    “No.”

    Xi Men Chui Xue’s face turned deathly pale: “You won’t?”

    “I won’t, only because you are not acting like my friend anymore. My friend is a real men’s man and would never hope for death instead of hoping to live.”

    “I’m not hoping for death.”

    “But the only thing in your mind and your heart is death.” Lu Xiao Feng coldly observed. “Why aren’t you thinking about your past glories? Why aren’t you thinking of ways to defeat Ye Gu Cheng?”

    Xi Men Chui Xue glared at him, glared at him for a long time before he looked down and stared at the sword laying on the table. He suddenly grabbed the sword and pulled it out of its sheath.

    The motion of his hands as he pulled out his sword was still that fast, still that elegant, there was absolutely no way anyone in the world could match him.

    Si Ma Zi Yi’s technique for pulling out his sword might be also very quick and clever, but compared to Xi Men Chui Xue, he looked like a butcher pulling his cleaver out of a dead pig.

    “Are you my friend?” Lu Xiao Feng suddenly asked back.

    Xi Men Chui Xue paused before finally nodding.

    “Do you believe what I tell you?”

    Again, Xi Men Chui Xue nodded.

    “Then I’m going tell you, I’m almost sure I can handle an attack from any of the swordsman in the world, save one man.” He stared straight into Xi Men Chui Xue’s eyes, not blinking once, slowly continued. “That man is you!”

    Xi Men Chui Xue stared down at the sword in his hand, a strange shade of crimson suddenly appeared on his pale face. The lamp light seemed brighter, the shine on the sword seemed brighter as well.

    Immediately, Lu Xiao Feng felt the forboding aura of the sword, so forboding was the aura that it made him squint. He knew Xi Men Chui Xue’s confidence has returned.

    To a dispirited man, one word of encouragement from a friend could be much more powerful than all of the medicine in the world combined.

    The hint of a smile appeared on Lu Xiao Feng’s face. Without saying another word, he quietly turned and walked out of the room.

    Outside, the moon hung in the sky like a mirror.

  16. #36
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Posts
    3,036

    Default Book 3 - Chapter 11

    Chapter 11 - Rescue at the Palace

    September 15th, night.

    The moon was clear as the water.

    Lu Xiao Feng walked out of the ebony colored door of that meant death to its trespassers and made his way towards the Hall of Supreme Harmony under the shadow of the walls. He was in the middle of finding a good place to make his way up when he noticed a person standing there, alone in the shadows of the great hall, not moving an inch but in obvious distress and trouble.

    He did not need to look a second time to know this person was Bu Ju. He noticed long ago that Bu Ju's lightness kungfu was tip top; getting to the golden, almost cloud covered, summit of this great hall, however, takes top level skills.

    He had not forgotten the smile that Bu Ju had just given him, so he wanted to go over and return that smile back to Bu Ju. But once he made his way over, the only expression on his face was sympathy.

    Sometimes sympathy can hurt as much as ridicule.

    Bu Ju only saw him for an instant before quickly looking away.

    'There once was this sparrow that fancied itself quite accomplished," Lu Xiao Feng suddenly said. "Because it could fly. So when he saw a tiger, he challenged the tiger to see who can fly higher. Do you know what the tiger did?"

    Bu Ju shook his head.

    He was going to leave, but stayed because he could not figure out why Lu Xiao Feng was telling him this story. Curiosity is something that everybody has.

    "Obviously, the tiger couldn't fly, so it just took a deep breath and swallowed the sparrow," Lu Xiao Feng let out a small laugh before continuing. "Ever since then, no sparrow ever challenged a tiger to a flying contest again. Because sparrows finally understood that being able to fly high doesn't make you anything special."

    Bu Ju laughed. His laughter was filled with gratefulness, his heart was filled with warmth. Suddenly, he discovered this Lu Xiao Feng was not quite the a$$h01e he had imagined him to be.

    "Have you ever seen a tiger climb rope?" Lu Xiao Feng asked, patting Bu Ju on the shoulder.

    "No."

    "Me neither, but I've always wanted to see it."

    "Have you ever seen a tiger that carried a rope with him?"

    "No."

    "Well now you have."
    He had brought a rope with him all along, but was too embarrassed to take it out. He would rather die than to lose face.

    With a smile on his face, Lu Xiao Feng took the rope in his hand and looked up.

    "I'm not even sure if a sparrow can get up that high." He sighed with a miserable look on his face.

    From below, the upturned eaves on the Hall of Supreme Harmony looked like hooks. Even the moon was hooked.

    Nobody could jump that high in one leap, not even Lu Xiao Feng.

    But he had other ways.

    To Bu Ju, looking on from below, he resembled a gecko one moment and a chimp the next as he made several quick hops before disappearing from sight.

    The others had gone up from the front, but he did not see because by then, he had already snuck his way to the back of the hall. But he was sure that none of them were as swift or agile as Lu Xiao Feng.

    Because he already thought of Lu Xiao Feng as a friend.

    A rope had already dropped down from over the upturned eaves. His heart felt even warmer. - To have someone like Lu Xiao Feng as a friend is quite nice indeed.

    The roof of the hall was covered with gold colored glass tiles. Under the bright moon, it looked as if they were standing in a golden world.

    Lu Xiao Feng secured the rope on one of the upturned eaves and turned around. He froze.

    There should have been only 5 people up here, but the moment he turned around, he saw there was at least a dozen, each with a color-changing satin belt. And that did not include the 5 people he knew. Honest Monk and company were on the other side of the roof.

    He did not get a clear look at these men's faces before another person came bounding over the top of the roof, white faced and sneering, none other than Fourth Warden of the Imperial Guards, Ding Ao.

    "What is going on here?" Lu Xiao Feng had to ask.

    "I was about to ask you the same thing." Ding Ao sneered back.

    "Me?"

    "How many satin belts did we give you?"

    "Six."

    "But now we have 21 men here, where did they get their satin belts from?"

    "I was about to ask you the same thing." Lu Xiao Feng answered with an exasperated sigh.
    Two more men came walking over the spine of the roof, Yin Xian in the front with "Hunan Swordsman" Wei Zi Yun following behind him.

    Yin Xian was walking very fast, obviously very nervous, but Wei Zi Yun was a picture of calm, his pace much more leisure and composed.

    On a surface as steep and slippery as glass tiles, a slow pace was much more difficult to maintain than a quick one. Never mind the circumstances made it even more difficult to keep one's composure.

    At this moment, Lu Xiao Feng understood that this Chief Warden of the Imperial Guard was fully deserving of his fame. His martial prowess and composure was not below that of any master out there in the martial world.

    Yin Xian quickly charged over.

    "Did you two get anywhere?" He demanded.

    Lu Xiao Feng shook his head, not knowing what else to do.

    "This isn't something that can be figured out with a word or two," Wei Zi Yun offered. "Now isn't the time for thorough investigations either."

    "Then what should we be doing?" Yin Xian asked.

    "Put up extra guards and be ready for any sudden changes." Wei Zi Yun paused for a bit before continuing. "Send out the order, I want the security level of this area to turn up a notch, and nobody is allowed to move about without permission."

    "Yes, sir." Yin Xian acknowledged.

    "Fourth brother, you transfer over some off duty guards from Pure Heaven Gate, we might need them when the time comes. But from this point on, we only allow people to leave, not enter."

    "Yes, sir!" Ding Ao took his leave as well. They had obviously developed a special set of skills and was able to make their ways up and down the hall with just one somersault.
    Only now did Wei Zi Yun look over towards Lu Xiao Feng, he smiled.

    "Why don't we take a look around?"

    "Great!"

    This was not a place one can see all at once. It almost did not look like a roof, more like a town square, but with the spine of the roof in the middle, it also looked like a hill side.

    There were 13 men on this side, most of them standing alone on the far side of the slope, not chatting with anyone, instead quietly waiting for the duel to begin.

    They were not carrying any weapons with them, but they were their hats extremely low and there appeared to some very delicate disguises on some of their faces. They obviously did not want to be recognized.

    They did not seem to notice Wei Zi Yu and Lu Xiao Feng walked by right in front of them at all.

    Where did they come from? Why are they being so mysterious?

    Wei Zi Yun's pace was still that slow, his voice was still that quiet.

    "Have you figured out who they are, where they are from?" He slowly asked.

    "Oh?"

    "These last couple of days, quite a number of underground people have arrived here at the capital. Rumor has it among them were several retired masters of the previous generation, not to mention some famed fugitives with very powerful enemies still looking for revenge."

    "No wonder they didn't want to be recognized."

    "These men may be secretive, but it doesn't seem like they are up to no good. Maybe it is just because they want to remain unknown but still see the two foremost swordsman in the world duel."

    "I hope so." Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

    "What I can't figure out is how did they get their hands on those satin belts?"

    "Is it possible to get those belts outside the Palace?"

    "Absolutely not," He explained. "These belts were tributes to the last emperor from Persia, so there wasn't much to begin with. In the last couple of years, we are down to the last roll or two. Even the royal concubines treasure these belts to no end."

    Lu Xiao Feng did not say anything for Si Kong Zhai Xing suddenly popped into his head.

    "I do know that the 'King of Thieves' has also arrived in the capital, and is even here." Wei Zi Yun had saw through Lu Xiao Feng's expression.

    "Do you think he stole these satin belts?" Lu Xiao Feng had to ask.

    Wei Zi Yun smiled.

    "We had just decided on this plan yesterday morning. Before that decision, these satin belts would have been completely worthless to him. He would not have taken that much risk to steal them."

    "But last night...."

    "The 4 of us did not sleep last night," Wei Zi Yun casually cut him off. "Even if a fly got in here, we wouldn't have let him got out."

    His voice was full of confidence, just what Lu Xiao Feng needed to hear.

    "So he's not a suspect in your mind." He asked after letting out a sigh of relief.

    "No."

    "Then who is?"

    "There are only 4 men who could have stolen the satin belts." Wei Zi Yun lowered his voice even more.

    "Four?"

    "The four of us."

    Lu Xiao Feng let out another sigh of relief. He had wanted to say precisely just that, but instead it was Wei Zi Yun who did. It seemed not only was this Hunan Swordsman thorough in his logic, but fair too.

    "You probably have thought about this too. I have heard that people were offering 50,000 taels of silver to buy one of these satin belts. Money comes even easier to those men in the criminal world, so they were probably offering even more."

    "Greed kills men, for greed tempts men's heart," Lu Xiao Feng sighed. "Money can literally make some people do anything."

    Wei Zi Yun sighed as well.

    "Yin Xian has traveled everywhere, has friends from all over, throws money around like it's dirt. Ding Ao is still young, can't help but be a bit wild. Du Fang might be steady and reliable, but he is still quite ambitious and have long had the urge to start his own sect, creating his own legacy. So he has always kept contact with his friends from the outside. These are all very costly habits, something a salary of a 6th level imperial guard can't possibly afford."

    {Translator's Note: Gu Long has proven to be wildly inconsistent with the name of the 4th warden of the Imperial Guard, at first it was Du Fang, but after this one last usage, he switches over to Du Wan for the rest of the book. I guess I'll make the correction in the copy-editing process and just stick with one name, but at least for now, please keep in mind that Du Fang and Du Wan are the same person.}

    He turned and looked into Lu Xiao Feng's eyes.

    "But they are all my brothers, without tangible evidence, I can't say anything, no matter what I think. Because I can't risk damaging our relationship."

    "Are you asking me to find some tangible evidence for you?"

    A smile appeared on Wei Zi Yun's face.

    "You are already knee deep in this matter, don't you think figuring out the truth would be good for everybody involved?"

    A different kind of smile appeared on Lu Xiao Feng's face.

    He suddenly discovered he was right about this man, he really was an old fox.

    Fewer men were on the other side of the rooftop. Other than Honest monk, Si Kong Zhai Xing, the Wooden Taoist, Tang Tian Zong, and the newly arrived Bu Ju, there were just Yan Ren Ying and the Ancient Hermit.

    Si Ma Zi Yi, amazingly, was not here.

    "Master Si Ma had an emergency and had to return down south and let me have his satin belt instead." The Ancient Hermit would later explain.

    Lu Xiao Feng understood how Si Ma Zi Yi felt. A person like him had to go back home.

    He did not feel worthy enough to meet Lu Xiao Feng face to face again.

    Some older sect masters in the martial world loved the pomp and circumstance, the fluff of it all, and would never offer to buy some mysterious satin belts from nowhere, and people would never try to sell it off onto them.

    That was why some people never bothered to show up.

    "I have ordered all 4 gates to the Forbidden City closed. From this moment on, nobody will be able to enter." Wei Zi Yun informed Lu Xiao Feng.

    "What about Ye Gu Cheng?"

    "The Master of White Cloud Castle had arrived long ago."

    "Where is he?"

    "They had agreed to duel at midnight, so I have already arranged that they be given a room to rest in one of the dwellings outside of Grand Legacy Gate. From the looks of it...."

    "What? How does he look?"

    "He looks very ill," Wei Zi Yun sighed. "Looks like the stories about him not fully recovered from his injuries were not unfounded."

    He did not say anymore but instead suddenly broke out into a smile.

    "Seems like those friends over there are waiting for you to go over, if you please."

    There really was several pairs of eyes staring at Lu Xiao Feng over there. -Si Kong Zhai Xing's eyes were smiling. Honest Monk's eyes were angry. Bu Ju and Yan Ren Ying's eyes were grateful.

    Lu Xiao Feng walked over and patted Yan Ren Ying's shoulder and smiled: "How come you were late?"

    "I... I was actually too scared to come."

    "Scared? Why were you scared?"

    Yan Ren Ying seemed to blush.

    "If it wasn't for Master Honest's help, I would probably be standing down below anyways."

    "Master Honest?" Lu Xiao Feng cackled. "That's the first time I've ever heard anybody call him that."

    He wandered over to Honest Monk, smile still on his face, as if he was going over to pick on Honest Monk.

    Who knew that he had just taken two steps before suddenly reaching out and, quick as lightning, grabbed Si Kong Zhai Xing's wrist.

    The person most shocked was Si Kong Zhai Xing himself.

    "I already returned those satin belts to you, what more do you want from me?" He almost yelped.

    "That's exactly what I want to ask you." Lu Xiao Feng coldly demanded. "Where did you get those 2 satin belts?"

    "Do I have to tell you?"

    "If you don't, then this hand of yours will never steal anything ever again."

    The sounds of bones grinding were already enminating from Si Kong Zhai Xing's hand.

    "Even if I told you, you wouldn't believe me." Si Kong Zhai Xing sighed and put up a brave smile.

    "Try me!"

    "I didn't steal those two satin belts, somebody bought them for me, because that person owed me."

    "Who is this person?"

    "Look, this person went through all that trouble, not to mention spent tens of thousands of taels of silver to buy me those belts. And all this person wanted in return was for me to keep a secret. Even if I'm not a good friend, you can't expect me to sell out this quickly can you?"

    "How quickly can you sell out?"

    "Two or three days, at least."

    By then, this whole matter would have already settled, by then this piece of information would not mean anything anymore.

    Lu Xiao Feng's eyes glowed.

    "Did that person just ask you to keep a secret for two or three days?"

    Si Kong Zhai Xing did not answer yes, nor did he say no.

    "So there is no way you'll tell me right now?"

    "Go ahead and crush my hand, it won't make a difference." Si Kong Zhai Xing casually replied. "I've been thinking about going into a different line of work anyways."

    Lu Xiao Feng knew full well that while he might be completely shameless when it comes to thievery, he would never betray a friend. So he suddenly broke out into a smile.

    "Actually, even if you don't tell me, I already know."

    "You do?" Si Kong Zhai Xing smiled back. "Why don't you tell me?"

    Lu Xiao Feng whispered a name into Si Kong Zhai Xing's ear.

    Si Kong Zhai Xing suddenly found it impossible to smile, but Lu Xiao Feng's eyes remained aglow. He knew his guess was correct.

    All these small, seemingly unconnected threads were finally starting to come together, but there was still one final piece missing.

    Si Kong Zhai Xing sighed again.

    "And he accuses me of being a monkey demon," he mumbled to nobody in particular, "if you ask me, he...."

    He was suddenly interruped as Yin Xian flew onto the roof.

    "The Master of White Cloud Castle has arrived!"

    Under the moonlight, a white shadow appeared, shifting and floating with the wind. His lightness kungfu was not beneath that of Si Kong Zhai Xing.

    Si Kong Zhai Xing sighed again.

    "I didn't know Ye Gu Cheng was this agile and fast as well."

    A strange emotion appeared in Lu Xiao Feng's eyes, only after a long pause did he finally let out a sigh.

    "If he wasn't this fast, how could he possibly execute that Outer Heaven Angel?"

    The moon hung overhead.

    The spine of the roof was filled to capacity. Beside those 13 mystery men of unknown origins, there were 8 or so sabre carrying men in Imperial Guard uniform as well. They were obviously highly skilled practioners within the guard who were interested in catching a glimpse of these two famed swordsmen.

    It was actually a much better view from above up there on the spine of the roof.

    In the moonlight, it was obvious that Ye Gu Cheng's complexion was very pale. But Xi Men Chui Xue's complexion was just as pale, and seemingly a little angry too.

    The two men both wore white, white as the snow, not a spec of dirt on them, and their faces were completely devoid of emotions as well.

    At this moment, it was as if the two of them have turned into their swords: cold, cruel, and sharp. Completely devoid of human emotion.

    As they look into each others eyes, their eyes seemingly began to glow.

    Everybody stood a fair distance away. Even though their swords were still sheathed, the aura of their swords were suffocating.

    -Such strong auras were actually eminating from their bodies.

    -The source of the fear was them, not the swords in their hands.

    "Many years since last we met, how have you been?" Ye Gu Cheng suddenly said.

    "Fortunately, everything is fine, thank you for the help."

    "The past is the past, why bring it up again? Both of us have to give our all in today's duel."

    "Yes."

    "Very well."

    His voice had already seemed weak, but after an exchange or two, even his breathing began to get labored.

    But there was still no emotion on Xi Men Chui Xue's face, as if he did not notice, instead he presented his sword.

    "This sword is a world class weapon, the blade is one meter and 24 centimeters long and it weighs exactly 4.3125 kilograms."

    "Good sword."

    "Very good sword."

    "This sword is the pinnacle of sword making knowledge and skill from over the seas." Ye Gu Cheng presented his sword too. "Slices through floating hair. Blade 1.1 meters, weight 3.25 kilograms."

    "Good sword."

    "Always has been."

    Even though the swords were in front of them, neither sword has been unsheathed. -The drawing of ones sword is an essential part of a sword skill. The two of them were obviously about to duel in that as well.

    "Both of you gentlemen are famed sword masters of our times. I am certain there is no poison on the blades, nor will there be any hidden weapons present." Wei Zi Yun suddenly piped up.

    Not a sound was heard, only the sound of men breathing hung on the air. Everybody waited for him to continue.

    "But because the unprecedented nature and level of this duel, I humbly ask if the two participants can mutually inspect each others sword, for the sake of everybody else present."

    "My sentiments exactly." Ye Gu Cheng immediately concurred.

    Xi Men Chui Xue did not. Only after a long pause did he finally gave a little nod.

    A month ago, he would have never agreed to this. How could he part with his weapon this close to the moment of life and death?

    But he has changed.

    "I will only hand my sword over to one man." He slowly declared.

    "Would that someone be Master Lu Xiao Feng?" Wei Zi Yun inquired.

    "Yes."

    "And you, Master Ye?"

    "No point in having two men do the job of one. Master Lu have my deepest trust as well."

    Si Kong Zhai Xing nearly scoffed.

    "This is the same guy who would even steal steamed buns off of a monk, and there are still people who trust him? Strange world indeed."

    He was mumbling quietly to himself, but at this moment, everybody heard every word.

    While the Wooden Taoist tried hard to keep himself from laughing out loud, Bu Ju suddenly spoke up.

    "Hero Lu is kind and chivalrous. I would gladly place my life in his hands, never mind a sword."

    Yan Ren Ying immediately followed: "I, Yan Ren Ying, might be a small nobody, but my admiration for Master Lu is as great as Chief Bu's."

    Of course, Yan Ren Ying was not a simple nobody, and Heaven Splitting Palms Bu Ju's thunderous voice was even louder than the fame of his name. The way the two of them immediately spoke up made it seem as if the two of them were afraid others might get the wrong impression of Lu Xiao Feng.

    What could Si Kong Zhai Xing do but laugh?

    "Don't forget everybody is here to watch Xi Men Chui Xue and Ye Gu Cheng."

    "I know."

    "But right now, it seems like everyone is looking at you."

    Lu Xiao Feng let out a little laugh at that remark before making his way over to where Xi Men Chui Xue stood. Without a word, he took Xi Men Chui Xue's sword in hand before turning towards Ye Gu Cheng and doing the same.

    "Really are quite a pair of swords." He mumbled to himself.

    "Will Master Lu please exchange the sword so that the two gentlemen may inspect each others sword?" Wei Zi Yun said.

    "You want me to hand Xi Men Chui Xue's sword to Ye Gu Cheng and Ye Gu Cheng's sword to Xi Men Chui Xue?"

    "Precisely."

    "No."

    "Why not?" Wei Zi Yun was a bit taken aback at the reply.

    "I just got my hands on these two priceless swords, how do you expect me to be willing to give them up that easily?" Lu Xiao Feng explained.

    Wei Zi Yun was dumbfounded.

    Everybody was dumbfounded.

    Lu Xiao Feng held both swords under his arm. With a simple move, both swords were drawn. The aura of the swords were blinding. Even the full moon hanging overhead seemed to lost some of its luster.

    Everybody was asking themselves the same question: "If I got my hands on those two swords, would I be willing to give them up that easily?"

    "Only the worthy can wield divine tools, I trust everyone hear has heard of such a saying?" Lu Xiao Feng asked rhetorically.

    Nobody replied. Nobody knew what to do.

    "Well I have, and I can tell right now there is nothing fishy about either of these swords." Lu Xiao Feng answered himself.

    By the time he finished, the swords were sheathed once again. With quick flicks of his arm, Lu Xiao Feng tossed a sword back to Xi Men Chui Xue and the other back to Ye Gu Cheng before calmly strolling back to his old spot on the roof.

    "What the hell did you just do all that for?" Si Kong Zhai Xing demanded out of curiosity.

    "I just wanted to make it clear to all fo them, next time you got something like this, don't look at me." Lu Xiao Feng casually explained. "I have enough headaches already, I can't be bothered with this kind of pointless exercises anymore."

    "This is pointless?"

    "There is no past, no history between these two men. Yet at this moment neither would like nothing better than to stab their sword through the other's throat. If this isn't pointless, then what is?"

    Si Kong Zhai Xing understood. He was hoping that Xi Men Chui Xue and Ye Gu Cheng would show some restraint and not go for the fatal blow. A contest of skills does not have to end in death.

    Of course, others understood as well. Wei Zi Yun humphed a couple of times to himself before proceeding: "The midnight hour has passed and there is an early morning session scheduled at the court tomorrow. So it is my hope that the duel be limited to one hour in duration and past that a draw will be declared. When two masters meet, the difference really comes down to one single move, so I believe a one hour time limit is more than enough."

    He did not bring up the sword exchange again, so the duel was finally about to commence. Once again, everyone steadied themselves in anticipation.

    Xi Men Chui Xue held the sword in his left hand and let his right hand drop down naturally, as he seemed completely oblivious to what had just happened. To observers, he reminded them of an unsheathed sword, cold, piercing, cruel.

    Ye Gu Cheng, on the other hand, looked even worse for wear. He moved the sword so that he held it flush against his back, but his movement was seemingly sluggish and was coughing non-stop, but very lightly.

    Compared to Xi Men Chui Xue, he looked positively ancient and weathered. Sympathy had appeared in many eyes among the observers for the outcome of the battle could already be predicted.

    But Xi Men Chui Xue's face the same, as if he did not see any of this at all. He had always been a passionless man.

    His sword was even more passionless!

    Finally, Ye Gu Cheng was able to stop his cough and hold his head high to stare back at the sword in his hand.

    "Swords are bringers of death," he began, "in the 30 years since I started training as a boy, I could have died at any moment under the blade of a sword or any other weapon of death."

    Xi Men Chui Xue listened in silence.

    Ye Gu Cheng took a minute to catch his breath before continuing: "So for tonight's duel, neither you nor I need to hold anything back. For a student of the sword, to die beneath the blade of a master swordsman is a death to be desired, a death without regret."

    "Yes." Xi Men Chui Xue replied.

    Some in the audience were silently cheering. They had shown up to watch two of the greatest swordsmen of all time duel to the best of their abilities. If they held back, then what was the point?

    Ye Gu Cheng took a deep breath: "En garde!"

    "Wait." Xi Men Chui Xue suddenly said.

    "Wait? How much longer do we still have to wait?"

    "Until the wound stops bleeding."

    "What bleeding? Who is wounded?"

    "You!"

    Ye Gu Cheng let out a deep sigh and looked down at his chest, suddenly, he looked on the verge of following over.

    Following his eyes, everybody suddenly noticed that his snow white shirt was stained with the bright red colors of blood.

    So he was wounded after all, and the wound have not healed. Yet this proud person gritted his teeth and showed up anyways, not willing to back down despite certain death.

    "My sword might be a bringer of death, but it would never kill anybody with a deathwish." Xi Men Chui Xue coldly mocked.

    "Are you saying I came here to die?" Ye Gu Cheng fiercely demanded.

    "If you aren't, then come back here next month, I'll wait one month for you as well."

    He suddenly leapt into the air and flew off the roof.

    Ye Gu Cheng tried to chase him down.

    "You...." Was all he could yell out before blood filled his mouth. His body could not hold up any longer.

    Right now, not only could he not chased down Xi Men Chui Xue, even a small child might give him trouble.

    Looking at each, once again, everybody was dumbfounded.

    From the very beginning, the circumstances of this duel was in flux, and now, at the last critical moment, it took the strangest turn of all.

    Si Kong Zhai Xing suddenly burst out laughing, almost doubling over.

    "What are you laughing at?" Honest Monk shot him a look.

    "I'm laughing at those guys that spent tens of thousands of taels of silver to get their hands on those satin belts." Si Kong Zhai Xing managed to spit out between chuckles.

    But he had laughed to early, for at this precise moment, Lu Xiao Feng suddenly took off, shouting at the top of his lungs.

    "Stop!"

    Si Kong Zhai Xing might have laughed a moment too soon, but Lu Xiao Feng was a moment too late.

    Tang Tian Zong had already dove behind Ye Gu Cheng and, with a quick flick of his hands, threw up a dark mist of sands into the air.

    The same Ye Gu Cheng who was having trouble standing upright suddenly, in shock, took off in a somersault with the elegance and agility that did not seem possible for a man in his condition.

    Pity his move was a moment too late too.

    The sons and disciples of the Tang family rarely ever miss once they make their move, not to mention Tang Tian Zong had prepared ahead of time and chosen his moment carefully, making it almost impossible to defend against his move.

    "Ah!" With a sickening scream and a thud, Ye Gu Cheng's body fell back onto the roof midsomersault. On that snow white robe of his, there appeared another mist of black.

    This was precisely the famed "Soul Chasing Sands" of the Tang family. When released in close proximity, it was even more powerful than the Poison Bamboo Darts.

    Everyone in the martial world knew, if one pellet of the poison lands on your face, then you had to slice away that half of your face, if it landed on your hand, then you chop off that hand.

    But now countless number of them have landed on Ye Gu Cheng's body. He suddenly rolled over to Tang Tian Zong's feet. and screamed: "The antidote, give me the antidote!"

    "My two eldest brothers have all been crippled for life by your hands," Tang Tian Zong coldy replied through his gritted teeth. "With this much enmity between you and my family, why would I give you the antidote?"

    "That... that's between you and Ye Gu Cheng, it has nothing to do with me!"

    "And you are not Ye Gu Cheng?" Tang Tian Zong mocked.

    Struggling to control himself, Ye Gu Cheng shook his head and suddenly ripped a layer of skin off of his face. It was a mask made out of human skin.

    His face was ugly and thin, his eye sockets were extraordinarily sunken. It was none other than that mysterious black clothed man who was Du Tong Xuan's bodyguard.

    Lu Xiao Feng had met him twice, once in the bath, and another time was at the Oriental Spring Pavilion.

    From his skills and agility, Lu Xiao Feng could tell he had not come to the capital just to be Du Tong Xuan's bodyguard, but never would he have dreamt that he would become Ye Gu Cheng's double.

    Even with the full moon overhead, moonlight was no match for lamp light, and Lu Xiao Feng knew Ye Gu Cheng was wounded, so his face would be sickly. Not to mention he was never that familiar with Ye Gu Cheng's voice nor his various mannerisms.

    Add on top of that Ye Gu Cheng was new in the martial world, so there was not that many people who had seen him to begin with.

    If not for all of that, this disguise would have never fooled everyone present, no matter how ingenius and perfect it was.

    "Who the hell are you?" Eyes red with fury, Tang Tian Zong demanded. "Where is Ye Gu Cheng?"

    The pretender opened his mouth to answer, but no sound came out. Even his tongue was cramping, making it impossible for him to speak.

    The Soul Chasing Sands of the Tang family was truly capable of chasing your soul away in a blink of the eye!

    Tang Tian Zong immediately produced a wooden flask and poured its entire contents down the man's throat. If he wanted to find Ye Gu Cheng, he must save this man's life.

    For other than him, nobody knew where Ye Gu Cheng was, nor did anybody knew why this peerless and world famous swordsman sent a stand in to this duel.

    "What in the world is happening?" Si Kong Zhai Xing wondered out loud. "Even I'm confused out of my mind."

    "You might be confused, but I'm not." Lu Xiao Feng replied coldly.

    "You know why Ye Gu Cheng didn't show up? Then where is he?"

    Lu Xiao Feng's eyes were aglow, but he did not answer. Instead he suddenly jumped over to Wei Zi Yun's side: "Do you know of a eunuch in the palace that goes by the name of Wang?"

    "Manager Wang?"

    "Yes! Him! Does he have access to those satin belts?"

    "He was a reading pal of the current Emperor while His Majesty was studying in the South Library. After His Majesty ascended to the throne, he really solidified his position as His Majesty's favorite...."

    "I'm just asking you this: other than the 4 of you, could he get his hands on those satin belts?"

    "Yes!"

    The glow in Lu Xiao Feng's eyes turned even brighter: "Has His Majesty turned in for the night?"

    "His Majesty is very diligent in his duties and never misses morning court. So His Majesty turns in very early every night."

    "Where?"

    "Even though His Majesty's ascension was long ago, His Majesty retained the love of books from His Majesty's days as the crowned prince. So His Majesty often spends the night in the South Library."

    "Where is the South Library? Take me there."

    Yin Xian had heard enough: "You want us to take you to see His Majesty the Emperor? Are you insane?"

    "I'm not insane, but if you don't take me there, you will soon all be."

    "He really is insane," Yin Xian concluded. "Not only is he spewing all that crazy talk, he want to help the rest of us literally lose our heads."

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed: "I don't want you to lose your heads, I want to help you guys save your heads."

    Wei Zi Yun was silent in thought the entire time: "I guess I'll trust you one more time."

    "Are you actually going to take him to the Emperor?" Yin Xian almost yelled.

    Wei Zi Yun simply nodded.

    "Come with me, all of you...."

    "Thump! Thump! Thump!" Suddenly, they were interrupted by the sound of a human head rolling down from the top of the roof.

    A headless corpse wearing the uniform of the Imperial Guards quickly followed the head down.

    Shocked, Wei Zi Yun turned to see the other 6 Imperial Guards were already accosted by 12 of the mysterious men. In the hand of the 13th man was a bright and curved sabre. A bright, curved, and bloodstained sabre.

    Just a moment ago, these 13 men did not seem to know each other, but now it turned they were together all along.

    "How dare you commit murder here?" Yin Xian shouted in fury. "Do you know that this is punishable by death?"

    "As long as the head that rolls isn't mine, why should I care if a few more rolls?" The man retorted.

    Hand on sword, Yin Xian prepared to strike.

    "If you move a muscle, then there will be one less head attached to a body on this roof."

    Yin Xian did not move, but that did not stop him from unleashing a torrent of curses. Curses so vulgar, nobody could believe it was possible for a person of his stature to utter such words.

    "Shut up!" The 13th man shouted.

    "I can't move, now I can't even curse?" Yin Xian mocked.

    "Who are you cursing?"

    "If you can't figure it out, let me curse some more to help you out."

    The more he cursed, the more vulgar he got. The mysterious man was driven to such fury that he lifted his sabre to strike.

    "Psh!"

    Half a sword suddenly popped out from the front of his chest, spraying blood everywhere.
    As a voice behind him mocked: "He's in charge of the cursing, I'm in charge of the killing...."

    The mysterious man could not make out what was said afterwards as at that instant, Ding Ao, who was standing behind him, had drawn his sword and, in front of him, Yin Xian, Wei Zi Yun, and Lu Xiao Feng all made their move.

    The last thing he heard in his life was the sound of bones breaking.

    The sound of a lot of bones breaking.

    The moon remains clear and silent overhead.

    Along the gold colored glass roof tiles of the Hall of Supreme Harmony, blood flowed quickly down the crevices.

    Those 13 mysterious men in black had all fallen. Nobody cared who they were anymore.

    The only thing on everyone's mind now was something even more mysterious, even more important--

    Why did Lu Xiao Feng force Wei Zi Yun to take him to the Emperor in the South Library?

    Why did the always careful and deliberate Wei Zi Yun acquiesce to his request?

    This duel between Xi Men Chui Xue and Yu Gu Cheng might be a huge deal in the martial world, but it still only concerned those of the martial world. Why disturb the Emperor over it?

    What kind of secret was behind all of these questions?

    Si Kong Zhai Xing looked over at the star gazing Xi Men Chui Xue for a moment, then turned to Honest Monk, who was staring down at him.

    "Monk, do you know what is going on here?"

    Honest Monk shook his head.

    "I'm not the person you should pose that question to."

    "Then who should I ask?"

    "Ye Gu Cheng."

    ***

    September 15th, late night.

    The moon was round like a mirror.

    When the young emperor stirred from his dream, the moon was shining directly through his window and onto the jade colored bed curtains.

    Under the moonlight, the fluttering bed curtains looked like a cloud or a mist. But within the mist, there seemed to be a shadow of a person.

    This was the Forbidden City. The emperor was still young and never needed to be attended to at night. So what kind of a person would dare to spy at the emperor's bedside at this time of the night?

    The emperor immediately leapt up. Not only was he able to keep his composure, but his moves were quite agile too.

    "Who is there?"

    "You humble servant Wang An, here to serve tea for Your Majesty."

    The emperor has treated Wang An as a confidant ever since he was a young prince, so while he did not order tea tonight, he did not want to make his loyal servant look back either.

    "No need for your services right now, you may leave." He dismissed the servant with a wave of his hand.

    "Yes, sire."

    Every sentence uttered from the emperor's mouth must be obeyed. If the emperor ordered someone to leave, even if both of his legs were broken, that man would still have to leave, by crawling if necessary.

    The strange thing was this time Wang An did not leave. In fact, he did not even budge, as if he did not have any intention to leave.

    "You haven't left?" The emperor frowned.

    "Your humble servant has something to report."

    "Speak."

    "Your humble servant would like for Your Majesty to meet someone."

    He dared to wake the current Emperor in the middle of the night to meet someone?

    Did he forget who he was, that what he has done so far was already punishable by death?

    Since becoming an eunuch at 7 and entering the palace at 9, he had always been a quiet and prudent man. Now that he turned 60, why would he suddenly change and do something like this?

    Even though his face dropped, the Emperor was still able to remain calm.

    "Where is this person?" He finally asked after a long pause.

    "Right here." Wang An made a gesture with his hand and 2 lamps outside of the curtains were quickly lit.

    Another man appeared along with the lamp light.

    A proud and strong young man, wearing a yellow robe.

    Even though the lamps were lit, the man still seemed to be standing in a mist.

    The Emperor could not see clearly, so he parted the bed curtains aside and walked out. His expression suddenly changed. Changed to one of unspeakable horror.

    For standing in front of him was a mirror image of himself - the same build, the same face, and even wearing the same clothes.

    "Bright yellow robe, collar and cuffs in black but golden trim, on which sewn 12 silk dragons flying amidst five colored clouds. One each in front and back, one each on either side of waist, one each on the cuffs, one each on the shoulder, and four on the collar. The bottom of the robe opens in the center."

    This was the Dragon Robe the Emperor wears to morning court.

    There is only one Emperor, the Son of Heaven, Master of Everything and Everyone. Nobody would ever be allowed to passed off as his double.

    Who is this young man? How could he have the same face and build as we, the Emperor?
    What is going on here?

    Wang An silent stared at the 2 men in front of him, on his face was an indescribale smirk.

    The young Emperor shook his head. Even though even his finger nails have turned cold, he was still able to gather himself.

    He had the feeling that beneath Wang An's smile there hid a terrible secret.

    "This is a close relation of the Emperor," Wang An patted the young man on the shoulder. "He is the son of the Southern Prince, and is the first cousin of his father's side to His Royal Majesty the Emperor."

    {Translator's note: This title actually excludes the Ming dynasty as a possible setting for the Lu Xiao Feng story. Brothers of the Emperor were not given any titles during the Ming dynasty. Meaning the Lu Xiao Feng stories either takes place during the Qing dynasty, or isn't historically accurate.}

    The Emperor could not help but give the young man another look up and down.

    "Were you summoned to come?"

    "No." The son of the Southern Prince's eyes were downcast.

    "Do you know the penalty for entering the Forbidden City without summon?"

    The son of the Southern Prince's eyes were even more downcast.

    "Royal descendants are subject to the same laws and penalties as all royal subjects. Even though we are merciful, we still...."

    "Still cannot grant clemency to such a crime." The prince's head suddenly snapped up and stared back at the Emperor.

    "Correct."

    "If you knew the law, then why did you break it?" The prince demanded.

    "You..." The Emperor was angered.

    But the prince would not allow the Emperor to finish his sentence.

    "Knowing breaking the law makes the act even worse. Even though we are of heart to save you, but the rules our forefathers laid down would not allow it..."

    "Who are you?" The Emperor shouted in anger. "How dare you treat us with such disrespect?"

    "We are subject to the Mandate of Heaven, named by the past Emperor, none other than Son of Heaven and the Emperor."

    By now, the Emperor's fists were clenched tight, but his entire body had turned ice cold.

    He had finally realized how terrible of a conspiracy this was, but even now, he was having trouble believing it.

    The prince continued: "Manager Wang."

    Wang An immediately bowed: "Your servant."

    "Take him away and execute him at dawn."

    "Yes, sire."

    "On the account he shares the blood of our fathers, grant him a complete corpse and then ship him back to the Palace of the Southern Prince."

    "Yes, sire."

    The prince then shot a look at the Emperor and sighed.

    "I really can't understand it, passing up a life of luxury as a little prince and coming to the capital to die. Why?" He mumbled to himself.

    The Emperor let out a cold laugh. By now, he had obviously realized the full scope of the conspiracy.

    ""Royal descendants are subject to the same laws and penalties as all royal subjects," Wang An spoke up. "Since you already know that, what more do you have to say for yourself?"

    "Just one sentence."

    "Well go ahead, I'm listening."

    "Such a preposterous idea, how did you guys come up with it?"

    Wang An blinked a couple of times before breaking out in laughter.

    "I didn't want to tell you, but I can't keep quiet anymore."

    "Go ahead."

    "To be honest, this whole thing has been in the plans ever since the old prince visited the capital and I discovered that the young prince looks just like you."

    "He bought you?"

    "Not only do I live to gamble, I like to visit prostitutes."

    When he got to here, that tired and worn face of his suddenly lit up in a proud smile. But then he purposely sighed a bit: "So I have quite alot of expenses and is always looking for an avenue to make money."

    "You have quite a lot of guts too."

    "No, almost none at all. If something wasn't a sure thing, I would never do it."

    "And this is a sure thing?"

    "I was originally very worried about Wei Zi Yun and those little rat bastards, but now I've found a way to distract them."

    "Oh?"

    "If a chess player hears there were two chess masters playing outside in the yard, would he stay inside?"

    The answer is obviously no.

    "Same with those who studies the sword. If they found out two world famous swordsmen were dueling out front at the Hall of Supreme Harmony, they wouldn't be able to stay inside either."

    "Are you talking about Xi Men Chui Xue and Ye Gu Cheng?" The Emperor suddenly asked.

    Wang An was quite taken aback by the question: "You know about these two men?"

    "With their fame and skills, you can't really blame Wei Zi Yun and rest of them for getting tempted." The Emperor casually observed.

    "Everyone is human." Wang An nonchalantly observed.

    "Luckily, there are some around us that are almost not human."

    Just as he finished the sentence, there was a quick crack on the 4 corner pillars as 4 secret doors slid open and 4 men stepped out.

    These 4 men were all not even one meter in height, their face, build, and cloth were all the same.

    Especially their faces, the small eyes, big nose, protruding forehead, and shrunken mouth came together to form a rather comical face.

    But there was nothing comical about the swords in their hands.

    Half a meter long, the reflections of the swords were blinding. Three of them had 2 swords and the fourth with just one sword. The seven swords flickered and filled the room with flashes that made it almost impossible for anyone in the room to see anything.

    But even if you were blind, you would still know who these men were - Mount Heaven's Hate, Seven Star Pond, Flying Fish Fort's Yu Brothers.

    These four brothers were quadruplets and even though they were not tall, their swords skills were top notch made even more formidable by a seemingly telepathic ability that they share. While it might not be the best 7 seven formation in the world, there were not many in the world who could defeat them when using their family's Flying Fish Seven Star Swords.

    Not only were their styles were strange, but their personalities were even weirder. So it was quite a shock that they would actually enter the palace and become the Emperor's personal bodyguards.

    The reflections shone onto the Emperor's face.

    "Kill!"

    The reflections immediately began to move like shooting stars and fell upon the son of the Southern Prince and Wang An.

    But Wang An's expression remain unchanged as the young prince calmly waved his hand: "Break."

    As soon as he said that, a streak of sword flashed across the room like lightning, but shone like the rainbow.

    The flashes intersect and "bang", "bang", "bang", "bang", sparks joined the flashes before everything disappeared into one flash.

    Only one singular flash remained, because only one single sword remained in tact.

    A long and ancient sword.

    Of course, this sword did not belong to the Yu Brothers.

    The Yu Brothers' swords were already shattered, and the Yu Brothers themselves have already collapsed onto the floor.

    This sword was in the hand of a man dressed in white. Snow white robe, pale white face, ice cold stare. This man's had an aura of pride about him, an aura that was even more suffocating than that of his sword.

    This was the Fobidden City, the Emperor was standing in front of him.

    Yet it seemed as if even the Emperor was but a spec in his eye.

    The Emperor's matched him in calmness.

    "Ye Gu Cheng?" He casually observed.

    "Didn't expect the Heavens to have heard of such an average citizen from the wilderness like myself."

    "Outer Heaven Angel, one strike breaks seven stars, quite a skill."

    "Always has been."

    "You were a good man, why turn to crime?"

    "Those who win are king, those who lose are the thugs."

    "Thugs are thugs."

    Ye Gu Cheng let out a cold snicker and brought his sword up to his chest.

    "En garde."

    "En garde?"

    "Your Majesty's knowledge and composure already has few equals in the martial world. Your Majesty would undoubtly be amongst the top ten masters if Your Majesty enters the martial world."

    The Emperor laughed.

    "Good eye."

    "Right now, let the king not be king and the thug not be thug, between king and thug, let the stronger be the victor."

    "Quite a 'let the stronger be the victor.'"

    "My sword is in hand."

    "Pity there's a sword in your hand, but none in your heart."

    "No sword in heart?"

    "The sword is straight, the sword is direct, the sword is strong. How could an evil heart hold a sword?"

    The expression on Ye Gu Cheng's face changed a bit.

    "In this moment, in this place, the sword in my hand is enough."

    "Oh?"

    "The sword in hand can injure others, the sword in heart can only hurt yourself."

    The Emperor laughed, it was a loud and hearty laugh.

    "Draw your sword."

    "We have no sword in hand."

    "Are you afraid to fight?"

    The Emperor smiled: "Our skill is Son of Heaven's Sword, bringing peace to all under Heaven, calming the populous, ensuring good fortunes for one and all, and guaranteeing victories within a thousand miles. Our body is our sword. No blood dared to be spilled within 5 steps of the Son of Heaven."

    He paused and stared straight into Ye Gu Cheng's eyes. "You should understand our meaning by now."

    The pale white face of Ye Gu Cheng has turned green as his hand clenched his sword tightly.

    "Are you not putting up a fight?"

    "We are only subject to the Mandate of Heaven, dare you to make a move!"

    The veins on Ye Gu Cheng's hand looked like they were about to pop as cold sweat gathered on the tip of his nose.

    "With things at this stage, if you don't kill him, he will kill you!" Wang An could not keep quiet any longer and to coax Ye Gu Cheng to make his move.

    "Don't worry," the young prince chimed in. "The world famous Master White Cloud Castle will not succumb to the weakness of a woman."

    Ye Gu Cheng's face fluctuated between green and white before he finally stumped his feet and shouted: "I've never killed an unarmed man before, but I'll make an exception tonight."

    "Why?" The Emperor replied.

    "Because even though you have no sword in hand, there is a sword in your heart."

    The Emperor did not reply.

    "Like I said, the sword in hand can injure others, the sword in heart can only hurt yourself."

    The sword in his head took off.

    The full moon hung mid sky.

    It seemed even rounder than usual.

    Within the autumn breeze, the pure fragrance of the sweet olives floated. But carried within the fragrance was a murderous intent.

    The wind breezed in through the window, the moonlight shone in through the window. Both wind and moon were cold.

    But the sword was even colder.

    Once the cold sword was unleashed, red hot blood must surely spill soon after.

    But at the precise moment, a person suddenly flew in through the window.

    His body seemed lighter than the breeze, ligther than the moonlight itself. But his name was as heavy as Mount Tai in the martial world.

    Only one person can stop Ye Gu Cheng's poised strike.

    Only one person can shock Ye Gu Cheng.

    "Lu Xiao Feng!"

    Ye Gu Cheng shouted. "What are you doing here?"

    "Because you are here."

    Ye Gu Cheng suddenly let out a long and tired sigh. "Why did I come here? Why did you also come here?"

    Lu Xiao Feng replied with a sigh of his own. "You shouldn't have come here, I didn't need to come here. Pity both of us are here now."

    "Pity."

    "A real pity."

    Ye Gu Cheng sighed again, but the sword in his hand once again turned to flash.

    A sword from the west, an angel from the outer heavens.

    But this sword flash was not directed towards Lu Xiao Feng.

    As Lu Xiao Feng braced himself, the flash of the sword had already broken the window as the man followed closed behind, as if his sword and his body had turned into one.

    Speed isn't just a stimulus, it is a very enjoyable rush.

    Fast horses, fast boats, fast cars, and flying can all give a person this type of incredible pleasure.

    But when you are running for your life, you would not be able to enjoy this rush.

    Ye Gu Cheng loved speed. At White Cloud Castle, on nights when the moon was bright and the breeze fresh, he always enjoyed throwing his body against the wind as he flew underneath the moonlight.

    It was always at those moments that he felt the most at peace in his heart and mind.

    At this moment, the moon was bright and the breeze fresh, and, surrounded by golden pavilions and jade bricks, he was running at his fastest, yet his heart was a mess.

    He was running. And there was so much he did not understand--

    Where did this plan go wrong? Where was the flaw?

    How did Lu xiao Feng discover the secret? Why did he show up?

    Nobody could answer those questions for him, just like nobody knew where the wind that was blowing by his face came from.

    The moonlight looked wretched and lost, as if in a mist. Ahead, in the shadows of the imperial city, a person stood, as if clothed in white snow.

    Ye Gu Cheng did not get a clear view of this person, all he really saw as a shadow of a person that was whiter than the mist, whiter than even the moonlight.

    But he already knew who this person was.

    Because he suddenly felt an irrepressable sense of aura, as if an invisible mountain had just crashed down upon his shoulders.

    His pupils dilated, his muscles tensed.

    Other than Xi Men Chui Xue, no other human being could possibly made him feel such pressure.

    By the time he clearly saw Xi men Chui Xue's face, he had stopped.

    Xi Men Chui Xue had his hand on his sword, but his sword was still in its sheath. The sword aura did not emanated from the sword in the first place.

    He was far sharper than his sword, far more lethal.

    When their gaze met, it was like two swords meeting point to point.

    Neither one moved, for this type motionless pressure was far stronger and more frightening.

    A falling leaf drifted into the scene with the wind. It floated between the two men and immediatel fell straight to the ground, for not even wind could move between them.

    This pressure and intensity might be invisible, but it is far from immaterial.

    "Do you study the sword?" Xi Men Chui Xue suddenly broke the silence.

    "I am the sword."

    "Do you know where the essence of the sword lay?"

    "Do tell!"

    "Sincerity."

    "Sincerity?"

    "Only when your heart is sincere and just can you scale the summit of the sword. The insincere are noth worthy to study the sword."

    Ye Gu Cheng's pupils dilated once more.

    But Xi Men Chui Xue held his gaze.

    "You are not sincere."

    Ye Gu Cheng did not say anything for a long time.

    "Do you study the sword?" He suddenly asked.

    "Study has no limits, the sword even more limitless."

    "Then you should know that those who study the sword need only be sincere to the sword and not to other men."

    Xi Men Chui Xue did not say any more, for all that had to be said was said.

    At the land's end is Tian Ya, at the word's end is the sword.

    {Translator's note:Tian Ya literally means Heaven's Limit (or End). It's the proper name in Chinese for the end of the world. I left it in Chinese because the phrase would sound redundant in English. If there are any suggestions for how to translate this phrase better, please don't hold it back.}

    The sword was in hand, ready to be unsheathed.

    At this moment, there was a sword flash, but not their swords.

    Ye Gu Cheng looked up. Only now did he realize that he had been surrounded on all side by a veritable human wall. Several dozens of cold and unfeeling swords flashed about, literally creating the links in this net.

    Not only was there a sword net, but there was a forest of lances and a mountain of sabres.

    Moonlight reflected off of the polished blades and shone cold light onto the metal armours. The power and intimidation of the Forbidden City was something unimaginable for any ordinary human.

    Even the ever calm and collected Wei Zi Yun had drops of visible cold sweat on his nose. With long sword in hand, he directed the troops into formation, eyes lever leaving Ye Gu Cheng.

    "Master of White Cloud Castle?" He demanded, gravely.

    Ye Gu Cheng nodded in reply.

    "Master resides outside of the clouds, your sword was divine, you were divine, why must you soil thyself with greed for the dirt of this world and do such an unwise thing?"

    "You don't understand?"

    "I don't."

    "No, you wouldn't understand." Ye Gu Cheng coldly replied.

    "Perhaps I never would, but...."

    "But we do understand that the treason you committed means death to you and your family." Eyes beaming like a hawk, Tu Fang, "the Divine Eagle of the Steppe", shouted out from his position behind Wei Zi Yun.

    Even though he made his name as a youth with his lightness kungfu and the eagle claws, he had been a swordsman since turning fourty.

    His sword was long but narrow, thus looking very similar to the swords used by the Southern Seas Sword Sect, but in reality, his moves came from the true teachings of the Kun Lun Sect.

    Ye Gu Cheng shot a look at his sword out of the corner of his eyes.

    "Do you know what your crimes are?" He sneered.

    Tu Fang did not understand the question.

    "You didn't make it studying the sabre, isn't good enough with the sword, and yet you dare to treat me with such disrespect. That crime also carries th epunishment of death."

    Tu Fang's face dropped as the tip of his sword quivered in anticipation as he prepared to charge forth.

    Once he charged force, others would surely follow. Ye Gu Cheng's unparalleled sword skill would matter little as he would surely be cut down in a bloodbath.

    But before Tu Fang could charge forth, someone had already stopped him.

    "Wait!"

    Xi Men Chui Xue suddenly interjected.

    "Wait for what?"

    "I want to say something."

    At this moment, at this place, even though the swords have been drawn and the bows have been pulled, if Xi Men Chui Xue wanted to say something, nobody could say no.

    Wei Zi Yun nodded ever so slightly and Tu Fang put his charge on hold.

    "If I joined forces with Master Ye, is there anybody in the world who can stop us?"

    Nobody!

    And there was nobody who did not know the answer either.

    Wei Zi Yun took a deep breath as sweat drops appeared on his nose again.

    Xi Men Chui Xue maintained his gaze at Wei Zi Yun.

    "Do you understand my meaning?"

    Wei Zi Yun shook his head in reply.

    Of course, he understood what Xi Men Chui Xue was saying, but he would much rather pretend to not understand. He had to buy some time to think of a plan.

    "I began studying the sword at the age of seven, and made my bones in seven years. I've yet to meet a worthy foe." Xi Men Chui Xue continued.

    Ye Gu Cheng suddenly sighed and interrupted Xi Men Chui Xue. "'Only I fear in porphyry towers, under jade eaves, in those high places the cold wind would be more than I could bear'.... The loneliness that one knows at the top, how could these men understand it? And why do you bother trying to explain it to them?"

    {Translator's Note: Ye Gu Cheng quotes a famous Chinese poem here written by Su Shi (aka Su Dongpo). The poemm is about the loneliness he felt as he drank by himself on August 15th, the Mid-Autumn's Festival, with only the full Harvest Moon to keep him company. He starts off by asking whimsical questions at the moon and concluding that he would love to fly up to the moon, only he was afraid that it would be too cold up that high. A most appropriate lament for this occasion. The poem have been converted into song and sang by both Teresa Teng and Faye Wong. Full Chinese text with English translations here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shui_diao_ge_tou.}

    Xi Men Chui Xue's gaze returned onto Ye Gu Cheng. His face froze in an indescribable expression. Only after a long time did he speak again: "Tonight is also a night with a full moon."

    "Yes."

    "You are Ye Gu Cheng."

    "Yes."

    "You have a sword in hand, as do I."

    "Yes."

    "So I finally have found a worthy foe."

    Wei Zi Yun spoke up: "So you aren't willing to let him be executed according to the law?"

    "Are you a subject to the Mandate of Heaven, to His Majesty the Emperor?"

    "At this moment, I only wish for a duel with Master Ye. Life, death, fame, and shame means nothing to me."

    "In your eyes, this duel isn't just more important than the law, but life itself." Wei Zi Yun concluded.

    Xi Men Chui Xue's gaze shifted once more, this time to something far away.

    "'What's to celebrate about life? What's to fear about death?' If I find someone who truly understands me, then I can die without regrets. To have a foe like the Master of White Cloud Castle here, it would be even more so."

    {Translator's note: The questions Xi Men Chui Xue poses here is taken directly from Liu Tang of the Heroes of the Water Margins fame.}

    To a person like him, a true foe really was more desirable and even harder to come by than a true friend.

    Seeing the deep and faraway loneliness on his face, an indescribale expression appeared on Wei Zi Yun's face as well.

    "Life and death might be light as the feather of a swan, but the law is as heavy and unmoving as the mountains." He sighed. "Even though I understand your meaning, I..."

    "Are you going to force me to help him fight our way out before having our duel?"

    Wei Zi Yun's fists clenched has sweat began to drip off the tip of his nose.

    "This duel is going to happen, so you better make up your mind soon." Xi Men Chui Xue stated matter-of-factly.

    But Wei Zi Yun could not possibly make up his mind under these circumstances.

    He had always been calculating and decisive, never a step behind, never a moment of hesitation. But this time he simply could not take the risk.

    Suddenly, out of the forest of humanity, someone walked forward. And it seemed everyone was able to let out a little sigh of relief upon seeing this person.

    For if there was anybody who could solve this matter, then that person would have to be Lu Xiao Feng.

    There seemed to be a mist, yet there was no mist.

    The bright moon was slowly setting to the west, yet the fog had not appeared.

    Lu Xiao Feng walked into the scene with the moon hanging over head, his eyes locked squarely on Xi Men Chui Xue.

    Xi Men Chui Xue's eyes were not looking back at him.

    Lu Xiao Feng suddenly broke the silence: "So this duel really must happen?"

    "Mm."

    "And afterwards?"

    "And nothing afterwards."

    "So you are saying that, no matter if you win or lose, you won't meddle with this matter anymore?"

    "Yes."

    Lu Xiao Feng suddenly broke out into smile, turned around, and patted Wei Zi Yun on the shoulder.

    "Still can't make up your mind?"

    "I...."

    "If I were you, I would be begging for them to get the duel started as soon as possible."

    "Explain."

    "Because no matter which one of them win or lose this duel, there's only good in it for you guys. What are you still waiting for?"

    Wei Zi Yun was still mulling it over.

    "The good I'm talking about here is good that happened to the old fisherman."

    {Translator's Note:Lots of allusions in this portion of the story. What Lu Xiao Feng is referring to here is a famous folk tale about a clam and a snipe (a type of bird) had each other within their respective shells and beaks and refused to let go until an old fisherman came by and caught both.}

    Lifting his head, Wei Zi Yun looked at Ye Gu Cheng, then at Xi Men Chui Xue, finally at Lu Xiao Feng, and let out a long and tired sigh.

    "Tonight might have a full moon, but this isn't atop of the Forbidden City."

    "Are you saying you are going to allow them to go back to the Hall of Supreme Harmony?"

    Wei Zi Yun actually smiled.

    "If this duel is going to happen, then why let those who went through all the trouble to come here go back empty handed?"

    Lu Xiao Feng smiled too.

    "'The Hunan Swordsman' indeed! So very free and easy-going."

    Wei Zi Yun patted Lu Xiao Feng on his shoulder and smile.

    "And Lu Xiao Feng really is Lu Xiao Feng."
    Last edited by foxs; 04-03-14 at 08:25 AM.

  17. #37
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Posts
    3,036

    Default Book 3 - Chapter 12

    Chapter 12 - The Death of the Nemesis

    Even though the moon was slowly setting in the west, it looked even rounder.

    As if the moon was a bright and round lantern hanging below the upturned eaves of the Hall of Supreme Harmony. The men were above the upturned eaves.

    A lot of men, but nary a sound.

    Even Si Kong Zhai Xing and the Honest Monk had shut their mouths. Because they were able to feel that suffocating pressure and intensity as well.

    Suddenly, with a sound like a dragon howling, sword aura filled the air.

    Ye Gu Cheng's sword had been unsheathed.

    In the moonlight, the sword looked pale white as well.

    The pale white mooon, the pale white sword, the pale white face.

    Ye Gu Cheng stared the tip of his blade.

    "En garde!"

    He did not look at Xi Men Chui Xue, not even a glance, nor did he look at the sword in Xi Men Cui Xue's hand, never mind Xi Men Chui Xue's eyes.

    This was a huge mistake in swordsmanship.

    Duels between masters are like battles between armies, only when one gain a full knowledge thyself and the enemy can victory be in reach.

    Thus one must pay careful attention and analysis to the foe's every move, every glance, every expression, even every reflex of muscle. Not even the slightest of details could afford to be lost.

    Because any slight detail could be the key in deciding the duel.

    How could an experienced and undefeated master like Ye Gu Cheng not understand this principle?

    This was a mistake he would never have made under normal circumstances.

    Xi Men Chui Xue's gaze cut, like a blade, through not only his hands, but his face, and seemingly his heart.

    "En garde!" Ye Gu Cheng repeated.

    "Not now." Xi Men Chui Xue surprisingly replied.

    "Why?"

    "Because your heart has not calmed yet."

    Ye Gu Cheng did not reply.

    "If a man's heart is in chaos, his sword will be too." Xi Men Chui Xue continued. "If a man's sword is chaotic, then he will die."

    "Are you saying that I've already lost?" Ye Gu Cheng coldly sneered back.

    "At this moment, if you lose, it's not because of skill."

    "And that's why you don't want to fight at this moment?"

    Xi Men Chui Xue did not deny the conclusion.

    "Because you don't want to take advantage of the situation?"

    Xi Men Chui Xue did not deny this either.

    "But this duel must go on."

    "I'm willing to wait."

    "Until my heart and mind calm down?"

    Xi Men Chui Xue nodded: "I trust I shall not have to wait for too long."

    Ye Gu Cheng suddenly looked up and stared at him. A grateful color seemed to appear within his gaze, but it was quickly dissipated by the gaze of the sword in his hand.

    Feeling grateful towards your foe is also a fatal mistake.

    "I won't make you wait long either. But while you wait, can I have a talk with someone?"

    "Talking calms you down?"

    "Only talking to one particular person can calm my heart and mind."

    "Who?"

    This was a question he did not need to ask.

    Of course, Ye Gu Cheng was referring to Lu Xiao Feng, because only Lu Xiao Feng could possibly answer the questions boiling within him.

    Lu Xiao Feng simply sat down, sat down atop the Forbidden City, upon the glass tiles so slippery that one could barely keep one's footing.

    The bright moon was behind him and framed his head, like the halo that shone forth from the head of the divine.

    Ye Gu Cheng silently stared at him for a long time.

    "You are not a god." He suddenly concluded.

    "No, I'm not."

    "So I just can't figure out how you came to know so many secrets."

    Lu Xiao Feng smiled: "Did you really believe there are secrets in this world that nobody can figure out?"

    "Maybe not, but this plan of ours...."

    "Your conspiracy really was quite something, very meticulously planned. Pity no matter how careful and perfect a plan is, there are always miscalculations that leave clues.

    "Where did we make our mistake? And how did you figure it out?"

    Lu Xiao Feng answered in deep thought: "I really don't know exactly how I figured it out either. But I kept thinking that the people who should not have died were dying."

    "Are you referring to Zhang Ying Feng, First Madame Gong Sun, and Ou Yang Qing?"

    "And 'Mr. Big Shot Grandson of a Turtle'."

    "Were you puzzled as to why someone would try to kill him?"

    "Not anymore."

    "Oh?"

    "This conspiracy has been in the works for a long time. Manager Wang had been in contact with the people from the Southern Prince's palace for a long time too. And the place they chose to have their meetings was none other than the brothel where Ou Yang Qing works."

    "Because they were certain that nobody would suspect eunuchs and lamas would be at a brothel."

    {Translator's Note: This refers to events that happened in Chapter 4 of Book 1. Not to mention this sounds like the setup to a bad joke. So an eunuch and a lama walked into a brothel...(feel free to supply the punchline).}

    "But you were not so certain. Because you knew that Big Shot Sun and Ou Yang Qing were not normal people, so you were always worried that they might have somehow figured out this conspiracy, so you had to kill them to be sure."

    "In truth, I didn't have to kill them."

    "You really didn't."

    "But this was too big of a deal for me to not take that risk."

    "And it was precisely because of that, I knew there was a huge secret hidden behind this duel. And it could not have possibly just been because of Li Yan Bei and Old Man Du's bet."

    Ye Gu Cheng sighed: "You should also know by now why Zhang Ying Feng had to die too."

    "Because Zhang Ying Feng, desperate to find Xi Men Chui Xue, wandered into that eunuch nest and unwittingly discovered you were there as well. So he had to die."

    "So you must know that the third wax figurine he made was of me."

    "And because of that wax figurine, Clay Man Zhang died too."

    "You were just a moment too late that day."

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

    "Because I wandered into quite a number of distractions along the way."

    "I killed First Madame Gong Sun with the intentions of blaming it all on her."

    "And you also wanted to shift my suspicions towards Honest Monk."

    Ye Gu Cheng let out a cold laugh at the thought.

    "Do you really truly believes he's all that honest?"

    Lu Xiao Feng suddenly let out a little laugh in reply.

    "I might often misjudge people, do the wrong things, or wander down the wrong paths, but sometimes those mistakes leads me straight to the answer."

    "How so?"

    "Had I not suspected Honest Monk, I would have never asked Ou Yang Qing, and would have never discovered that Manager Wang and the lamas of the Southern Prince's Palace were there on that day as well."

    "Did you begin to suspect me when you discovered this?"

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

    "To be honest, I never suspected it was you. Even though I never believed that you could have been ambushed, and even more sure nobody in the Tang family could hurt you, I still never suspected you. Because...." He turned and stared into Ye Gu Cheng's eyes. "Because I had always thought that you were my friend."

    Ye Gu Cheng looked away. Was it because he felt that he could no longer face Lu Xiao Feng?

    "Using the bet between Li Yan Bei and Du Tong Xuan as a smoke screen and this duel as the reason, you planted a man alongside Du Tong Xuan who will act as your double." Lu Xiao Feng continued. "When you appeared, you were literally covered with flower petals, not because you were afraid that people could smell your festering wound, but because you were afraid that people would notice there was no odor."

    Lu Xiao Feng sighed again: "Amazing plan, quite ingenius indeed."

    Ye Gu Cheng did not turn around.

    "But the most ingenius part was the satin belts."

    "Oh?"

    "Wei Zi Yun had intended to use the belts to limit the number of people from the martial world entering the Forbidden City. Yet you got Manager Wang to steal another bundle of the color shifting satin to make into a whole bunch of belts of your own and gave them to the Master of White Cloud Outlook to distribute. Once more people showed up, Wei Zi Yun had no choice but to shift all security to the area surrounding the Hall of Supreme Harmony. That's why it was so easy for you to enter the Imperial Palace to carry out your conspiracy."

    Ye Gu Cheng was staring up at the stars, not saying a word.

    "Best laid plans. Even if you knew Xi Men Chui Xue would never fight an already wounded man, but you forgot about Tang Tian Zong, still set on avenging his brothers."

    "Tang Tian Zong."

    "If Tang Tian Zong hadn't suddenly ambushed of your double, my suspicions probably still would not have shifted to you."

    "Oh?"

    "When I discovered that secret, I immediately thought of the Southern Prince, and then Manager Wang. Only then did I fully comprehend your conspiracy, and how frightening of a conspiracy it really was."

    Ye Gu Cheng suddenly broke into a laugh.

    "Why are you laughing?"

    "I shouldn't laugh?"

    Gazing at him, Lu Xiao Feng slowly nodded: "As long as a man can still laugh, he should take every opportunity to laugh some more."

    But there are many different kinds of laughter, some are joyous, some are forced, some are seductive, and some are bitter.

    What kind of laughter was Ye Gu Cheng's?

    It did not matter which kind of laughter it was, as long as he could still laugh, at this moment, at this place, then he was still an extraordinary hero.

    Suddenly, he gave Lu Xiao Feng a pat on the shoudlers: "I'm going now."

    "You don't have anything more to say?"

    Ye Gu Cheng paused.

    "Only one more sentence."

    "What is it?"

    Ye Gu Cheng turned away.

    "No matter what happens, you will always be my friend."

    Looking at him walking away with assured steps towards Xi Men Chui Xue, Lu Xiao Feng suddenly noticed the autumn winds had turned freezing like the winds of dead winter....

    By now, the moonlight had begun to fade, fade like the stars.

    The stars faintly glittered like a dream, lovers' dream.

    A lover will forever be the most adored. Sometimes, a person would be more adored than a lover, but those things happen very rarely.

    Hatred is not an absolute emotion either, for within that hate, there might be found a certain amount empathy and respect.

    Pity there are not too many nemesis who deserves love, and even less who deserves respect.

    Resentment is different.

    Hatred is for the past, but resentment is for the future. Hatred is passive, but resentment is active.

    Could you say that Xi men Chui Xue hated Ye Gu Cheng? Could you say Ye Gu Cheng hated Xi Men Chui Xue.

    There was no resentment between them, only hatred. A type of innate and instinctive, wonderful but foolish, foolish yet wonderful hatred.

    Perhaps, what Ye Gu Cheng really hated was -- If there was already a Ye Gu Cheng, why must there be a Xi Men Chui Xue?

    Maybe what Xi Men Chui Xue hated was the same.

    Why must the distance between love and hate always be so difficult for people to measure?

    But, at long last, the time for the duel has arrived.

    Truly arrived. For at this moment, there was not a single person, not a single event, in this world and the next, that could stop this duel.

    This moment might be fleeting, but for this fleeting moment, quite a number of people have already lost their everything.

    Thinking about those people, Lu Xiao Feng suddenly felt an indescrible pinge of bitterness in his heart.

    Was this duel worth it?

    Was the wait worth it for those people?

    Nobody could answer, nobody could explain, nobody could decide.

    Not even Lu Xiao Feng.

    But he also felt that pressing and menacing sword aura. But he might have felt more pressure than anybody else.

    Because Xi Men Chui Xue was his friend, and so was Ye Gu Cheng.

    --Once a person is thought of as a friend, then that person forever will be a friend.

    That was why Lu Xiao Feng's gaze never left Xi Men Chui Xue and Ye Gu Cheng's swords. He made careful and meticulous analysis to their every move, every glance, every expression, even every reflex of muscle.

    He was afraid for Xi Men Chui Xue--

    Xi Men Chui Xue's sword was a sword of a god, a god of swords. But at this moment, he was no longer a god, he was a man.

    Because he has felt human love, human emotions.

    Humans are weak and soft, and will always have weak points, will always be vulnerable, it is for this very reason that humans are really human.

    Has Ye Gu Cheng already grasped Xi Men Chui Xue's weak point?

    Lu Xiao Feng was afraid, for he knew it matters little how many weak points exist, for any one of them could be fatal.

    For he knew, even if Ye Gu Cheng went easy Xi Men Chui Xue, Xi Men Chui Xue would never allow that for himself.

    Victory means life, defeat means death. For people like Xi Men Chui Xue and Ye Gu Cheng, there was no wiggle room at all to these absolutes.

    But the strangest thing of all was that he was also afraid for Ye Gu Cheng.

    He never felt Ye Gu Cheng had experienced human love or emotions.

    Ye Gu Cheng's life was the sword, and the sword was Ye Gu Cheng's life. After all, life itself is a war full of various type of battles, big and small.

    But no matter what kind of battle, there is usually just one goal--victory.

    Victory meant glory, it meant honour.

    But now, to Ye Gu Cheng, victory had lost its meaning. Because while defeat meant death to him, victory also meant death.

    Because no matter if he wins or loses, he would never be able to get back the honour he had lost. And everybody knew there was no way he could leave the Forbidden City alive tonight.

    So even though both men had reasons why he should win, both had factors saying he must lose.

    In the end, who really wins and who really loses in this duel?

    Moonlight and starlight faded even more as all the brilliance in the world concentrated and those two swords.

    Two flawless and untarnishable swords.

    Two unleashed swords!

    The momentums were not very quick and the distance between Xi Men Chui Xue and Ye Gu Cheng were still quite large.

    Though their blades have not met, their moves had began to change. Though their bodies were moving quite slowly, their blades were moving extremely quick. For even before they exchanged one blow, their swords were already responding to each other.

    To others, this duel did not look the least bit spectacular or impressive, but Wei Zi Yun, Ding Ao, Yin Xian, and Du Fang all have begun to sweat.

    For all four were among the best swordsmen of this era, and could tell that this type of swordplay have reached the relm of absolute connection with the heart, the absolute pinnacle of martial arts.

    Had his oppoent been anyone other than Xi Men Chui Xue, every change, every deception, every variation would have spelt certain death for his foe.

    It was as if they had become one with their swords, as if they were moving the swords not with their arms or minds, but their hearts.

    Suddenly, Lu Xiao Feng's fists were wet with cold sweat as well. For he suddenly realized that dispite how quick his variation looked, Xi Men Chui Xue's moves were rather stiff and mannered; at least, they were not up to par the free flowing nature of Ye Gu Cheng's moves.

    Ye Gu Cheng's sword were like a breeze on the outer edges of a cloud.

    But Xi Men Chui Xue's sword felt almost as if there was an invisible thread tugging at its very tip - his wife, his family, his feelings - an invisible thread.

    Lu Xiao Feng could also tell, in the next 20 variations or so, Ye Gu Cheng's sword would undoubtly pierce Xi Men Chui Xue's throat.

    At this speed, twenty variation passes in a blink of an eye.

    Even Lu Xiao Feng's finger tips felt as cold as ice.

    By now, nobody in the world could change Xi Men Chui Xue's fate, not Lu Xiao Feng, not even Xi Men Chui Xue himself.

    The distance between the two men had closed to mere meters.

    The two swords have been thrusted out at full strength.

    This was the final strike, the deciding strike.

    It was only at this moment did Xi Men Chui Xue realize his strike was ever so slightly slow, by the time the tip of his sword touches Ye Gu Cheng's chest, Ye Gu Cheng's sword would surely have pierced through his own throat.

    This fate was one that he could no long accept.

    But he suddenly also discovered that Ye Gu Cheng's strike was slightly off target, maybe by no more than a centimeter or two, but that was the difference between life and death.

    How could this error have happened?

    Was it because Ye Gu Cheng knew that for him, there was no difference between life and death?

    The blade of the sword is ice cold.

    The ice cold blade of the sword pierced through Ye Gu Cheng's chest, he could almost feel the sword tip touching his heart.

    Soon after, he felt a strange pain, like the pain he felt when he watched his first love die of sickness on her bed.

    It was not just pain, but also horror, disappointment, and hopelessness.

    Because he knew, everything joyous and beautiful in his life was about to end in this one instant.

    But he felt no hatred towards Xi Men Chui Xue, only an unexplainable gratefulness.

    For at this last instant, Xi Men Chui Xue's sword slowed down too. He was prepared to retract this fatal strike.

    Ye Gu Cheng could tell.

    He could tell that Xi Men Chui Xue did not want to kill him, but nevertheless did. For Xi Men Chui Xue knew that he wanted to die under this blade.

    - If death is certain, then why not die under Xi Men Chui Xue's blade?

    - To be able to die under Xi Men Chui Xue's blade is, at least, so much more honourable than dying under the blade of others.

    Xi Men Chui Xue understood how he felt, so he granted his wish.

    That was why he was grateful.

    This was the kind understanding and empathy could only occur among the heroes of the world.

    At that instant, the two men looked into each others eyes, and Ye Gu Cheng let out one final breath from the deepest regions of his heart.

    "Thanks."

    He never said that word, but his eyes said it all too clearly.

    He knew that Xi Men Chui Xue would understand.

    He fell.

    The bright moon has disappeared, the stars have disappeared as well. Disappeared within the approaching dawn.

    This peerless swordmaster finally fell.

    But would his fame and honor disappear as well?

    From of edge of the sky, a puff of white cloud floated over. Was it coming to carry his soul back to the outter heavens? Or did it come by to pay one last special respect to this unparalleled swordsman?

    The dawn might be approaching, but the world felt even colder, even darker.

    The color on Ye Gu Cheng's face was like the colors of the coming dawn: cold, lost, and mysterious.

    There was still one last drop of blood on the sword.

    Xi Men Chui Xue gently blew the blood off the tip of his sword and looked around at the world, the slow and unstirred world. A wave of unspeakable loneliness suddenly washed over him.

    He put his sword away, bent over, and picked up Ye Gu Cheng's body. The sword was cold, the body was even colder.

    But the coldest place of all was within Xi Men Chui Xue's heart.

    The earth shattering duel had come and passed, and the foe who was even more worthy of respect than a friend had died under his blade.

    Would there be anything in this world that stirs his heart once again? Stirs his blood?

    Has he decided to lay down his sword forever, just like he will lay down Ye Gu Cheng's body into his grave?

    No matter what though, he could never allow anyone to disgrace either one of these two things.

    Because the respect he felt for both were one and the same.

    Suddenly, Ding Ao lunged forth and, sword in hand, blocked his path.

    "You can't take him with you, dead or alive, you can't take him with you." He threatened.

    Xi Men Chui Xue did not even seem to see him.

    "This man is a guilty of high treason, thus those who pay homage and respect to him are guilty by association." Ding Ao continued.

    "Are you going to stop me?" Xi Men Chui Xue asked point blank.

    "Are you saying I can't?"

    The veins on Xi Men Chui Xue's temple began to bulge out.

    "Perhaps it is true that nothing in the world can Xi Men Chui Xue and Ye Gu Cheng, but pity now Ye Gu Cheng is nothing more than a corpse now and there are still 3000 imperial guards alive and well here."

    Ding Ao had just finished before he heard someone laughing behind him.

    "Ye Gu Cheng might be dead, but Lu Xiao Feng is still alive and well too." The voice pointed out.

    Lu Xiao Feng again.

    Ding Ao snapped around: "What do you intend do?"

    "I just want to merely remind you that both Xi Men Chui Xue and Ye Gu Cheng are friends of mine." Lu Xiao Feng matter-of-factly replied.

    "Are you going to protect these traitors? Do you know what kind of crime that is in and of itself?"

    "I know one thing for certain."

    "And what's that?"

    "I know that I would never do things I shouldn't do. But I don't care if I lose my head, I will go until the end to do the right thing."

    Ding Ao's expression changed noticeably.

    Du Fang and Yin Xian both arrived with the imperial guards. The bows were drawn, the sabres and swords have been unsheathed. Once again, everything was teetering on the knife's edge.

    Suddenly, another man lunged forth.

    "You guys might have 3000 imperial guards, but at least Lu Xiao Feng has one more friend, a friend who isn't afraid of losing his head either!" He shouted.

    This man was none other than Bu Ju.

    "This humble Taoist might have placed himself outside of the politics and society," the Wooden Taoist immediately followed, "but even those on the outside make friends on the outside."

    He turned towards Honest Monk: "How about Buddhist monks?"

    Honest Monk shot the Wooden Taoist a rather aggressive look: "If Taoist monks can have friends, why can't Buddhist monks have them?"

    In the middle of answering, he turned and shot a similar look at Si Kong Zhai Xing.

    "How about you?"

    Si Kong Zhai Xing sighed rather ruefully.

    "Not only are all the guards here master martial artists, but they are officials of law. I'm a mere thief, and you know the thing that thieves fear the most are officials. So..."

    "So?" The Wooden Taoist asked.

    "So I really don't want to admit Lu Xiao Feng is my friend, but pity I don't have a choice but to admit he is." Si Kong Zhai Xing replied with a exasperated laugh.

    "Very good." The Wooden Taoist commented.

    "Very bad." Si Kong Zhai Xing corrected.

    "Bad?"

    "If they want to keep Xi Men Chui Xue here, do you think Lu Xiao Feng would allow that?"

    "Never."

    "And if they were to go up against Lu Xiao Feng, do you think we would allow that?"

    "Never."

    "Then, by that logic, aren't we going to have to go up against them?"

    The Wooden Taoist's silence admitted as much."

    "So, I just did a quick calculation, if we were going to fight. Then each one of us would have to take down at least 317 of them."

    He took a deep breath and continued: "The saying goes 'two fists can't beat four hands'. So I guess taking on 600 plus hands with my own two hands must not be a good feeling."

    The Wooden Taoist suddenly broke out into a smile.

    "Are you forgetting that you have 3 hands?"

    Si Kong Zhai Xing smiled in response.

    Their smiles were very relaxed. Here, in the shadows of the Son of Heaven, inside the Forbidden City, facing the glittering mountain of sabres and spears, they somehow was still able to look relaxed and at ease.

    But Ding Ao and his martial brothers were beginning to get nervous, the guards were even more in awe of the task that might be facing them.

    Should this fight occur, its carnage and repercussion would be unimaginable.

    But it seemed as if this fight was destined to take place.

    Wei Zi Yun's face was as grave as death. Fist clenched, he slowly began to speak: "Everyone here is a master that I have humbly admired for a long time. I dare not disrespect any of you, but duty...."

    Lu Xiao Feng interrupted him.

    "We appreciate your situation, but I hope you appreciate the temperament and disposition of people like us."

    "Please continue."

    "People like us, some are greedy, some are womanizing, some are avarice, and some are even quite cowardly. But when push comes to shove, at the crucial moment, we put friendship above everything else."

    Wei Zi Yun pondered silently for a long time before letting out a sigh and nod: "I understand."

    "I know you would."

    "But there is one more thing you should appreciate."

    "Oh?"

    "The repercussion of this savage fight would undoubtly be grave and crippling for both sides, on whose shoulders will the fault and the responsibility fall upon?"

    Lu Xiao Feng did not reply. His heart just as heavy and Wei Zi Yun.

    Wei Zi Yun's eyes scanned around at the situation surrounding him. He sighed tiredly.

    "No matter who the responsibility falls upon, looks like this battle can't be stopped by anything or anyone."

    "Maybe there is still one person who could." Lu Xiao Feng hesitated before slowly answering.

    "Who?"

    With a strange expression on his face, Lu Xiao Feng stared far into the distance, into the depth of the Forbidden City.

    At this precise moment, someone in the great hall beneath them shouted: "Imperial Edict!"

    An eunuch, dressed in yellow, scroll in hand, hurriedly came scrampering this way.

    There, atop of the very spine of the great hall, everybody kneeled in preparation for the reading of the edict.

    "By the Mandate of Heaven, the Son of Heaven decrees. Summons Lu Xiao Feng to the South Library. All other non-palace personnel are to leave the Forbidden City immediately."

    The infallible words of the Son of Heaven cannot be defied.

    All other non-palace personnel, of course also includes the dead. Thus before this battle even occurred, it was resolved.

  18. #38
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Posts
    3,036

    Default Book 3 - Epilogue

    Epilogue

    September 16th. Dusk. The moon was about to rise once more. This night's moon would surely be even rounder than that of the 15th.

    Si Kong Zhai Xing had walked up and down the entire length of the Inner Golden Water River in the yard. He had meant to count, once and for all, the total number of railings on either side of the river, but he always lost count. He had something else on his mind-

    Why has Lu Xiao Feng still not come out?

    What was the Emperor keeping him for?

    "Circa Regna Tonat" Having a laid back and carefree person like Lu Xiao Feng at the Emperor's side was just asking for trouble. One misspoken word, one mistaken action, and he would be hard pressed to keep his head.

    {Translator's note: I figured I throw in some extra cultural reference. The phrase "Circa Regna Tonat", Latin for "around the throne, the thunder roars," was written by Thomas Wyatt as he watched Henry VIII kill Anne Boleyn.}

    This point did not just make Si Kong Zhai Xing worry, but all of Lu Xiao Feng's friends. Lu Xiao Feng had quite alot of friends.

    Wei Zi Yun had gone in to check the situation many times, but nothing seemed to be happening inside the South Library.

    Without summons, nobody dared to enter the South Library on his own, even Wei Zi Yun. Every time he came back out without any news, everyone worried that much more.

    So by the 6th time he came out, some people were practically jumping out of their own skin with worry. But this time, Wei Zi Yun did not seem as upset or disappointed as before. Instead his eyes seemed aglow.

    Seeing the look in his eye, Si Kong Zhai Xing immediately ran over to his side: "Do you have any news?"

    Wei Zi Yun simply nodded.

    "Has little bastard come out of there?"

    Wei Zi Yun shook his head.

    "Did you see him?"

    Once again, Wei Zi Yun shook his head.

    "In what world does this qualify as news?" Si Kong Zhai Xing was practically shouting at this point.

    "I might not have seen him, but I did hear his voice."

    "Voice? What type of voice."

    "Laughter, of course."

    Wei Zi Yun paused and began to laugh himself as well. "Other than laughter, have you ever heard his voice in do anything else?"

    Si Kong Zhai Xing's eyes were huge at this point.

    "Was the laugher really loud?"

    "I trust you know much better than I what his laughter sounds like."

    Si Kong Zhai Xing's eyes got even bigger.

    "In front of the Emperor, he was still laughing as usual?"

    "Do you think there is anything left in this world this guy isn't capable of?"

    "No, I really can't." Si Kong Zhai Xing sighed.

    "Neither can I."

    "What's even more puzzling for me though, is what made him laugh so hard in the South Library."

    "I hear they are having a drink. "Wei Zi Yun whispered.

    "Who are they?"

    "They are none other than the Emperor and Lu Xiao Feng." Wei Zi Yun's whisper was even quieter.

    By now, Si Kong Zhai Xing's eyes looked like they were about to jump out of their sockets.

    "Where did you hear this from?"

    "When I went in, I just so happened to run into a young eunuch in the middle of taking some wine inside."

    "And you asked him to take a look at what was going on inside while he's at it?"

    Wei Zi Yun sighed.

    "I had to promise to buy him an house outside the palace before he said ok."

    "So what did he hear?"

    "He only heard one sentence."

    "A house for one sentence? Quite an expensive price on that sentence don't you think?"

    "No, not expensive at all."

    "Not expensive?"

    "That single sentence might be worth more than a whole myriad of houses."

    He was truly quite something else at holding his calm. Even at this point, he was still unwilling to just say what that sentence was straight out.

    But Si Kong Zhai Xing's was frustrated to the point where steam seemed to be enmanating from his head.

    "So who the hell said that sentence? What the hell was that sentence anyhow?" He was beginning to lose it.

    "His Majesty the Emperor said that sentence, and he promised Lu Xiao Feng one thing."

    "What?"

    "Whatever he wants."

    "So whatever Lu Xiao Feng wants, the Emperor has promised to give him?"

    "The Son of Heaven does not utter words he does not mean. And there is absolutely nothing in this world that the Son of Heaven cannot do."

    Si Kong Zhai Xing was dumbfounded, truly dumbfounded.

    During this entire conversation, he might have been the only one asking the questions, but he was by no means the only one listening to the answers. At this point, everyone was dumbfounded.

    To everyday world and people, the words of the Son of Heaven was literally like the magical wand of those legendary demons or gods. They could turn iron into gold, turn the poor and dispicable to the rich and famous, turn the backward and barbaric to the future and vanguard. The silence seemed to drag on forever until Si Kong Zhai Xing finally broke it with a huge sigh.

    "So what did that little bastard ask for?"

    "I don't know, the little eunuch only heard that one sentence."

    "Actually, I don't need to ask to know what that little bastard asked for."

    "Oh?"

    "Within the Forbidden City, there must be all kinds of rare and delicious wine."

    "So you think he'll ask for wine?"

    "Are there people who don't want to live?"

    "Even if there are, there aren't many of them."

    "Well, wine is that little bastard's life, what would he want if not wine?"

    "His livelihood!" Honest Monk suddenly pipped up.

    "His livelihood?" Si Kong Zhai Xing did not understand.

    "Wine might be his life, but women are his livelihood." Honest Monk observed.

    "So you think he asked the Emperor to grant him a woman?" The Wooden Taoist queried.

    "Maybe not one, maybe three hundred sixty five!"

    The Wooden Taoist burst out with laughter.

    "So this is what the Buddhist Monk thinks? This monk must have gone crazy thinking about women. We must not use monk logic to guess what Lu Xiao Feng feels or wants."

    {Translator's note: Honest Monk is a dirty dirty monk.}

    "So what does the Taoist think?" Honest Monk demanded.

    "That little bastard might be a slave to both wine and women, but he's not an idiot. He should realize as long as he has money, he'll never be short of either wine or women. Not to mention his uncontrolled spending habit always leaves him want of money."

    Honest Monk sighed.

    "No wonder people say: 'the older you get the greedier you get'. The old Taoist here is a miser, a moneygrubber!"

    Bu Ju had been wanting to speak up since the beginning and finally could not hold back any longer. "If I were him. I would surely ask the Emperor to make me a Marshall of the Empire. So I can lead armies to the west to conquer in the name of the Emperor and the Empire. To make my name known throughout the world and history."

    Wei Zi Yun immediately agreed with this guess.

    Fame, forture, women, power, are they not all a man fantasizes about? Other than these, what could he possibly ask for?

    "Maybe what he asked for wasn't just one thing." Si Kong Zhai Xing suddenly suggested. "That little bastard's heart has always been quite black."

    "No matter what though, the thing he asked for must have been one of the things we guessed." Honest Monk concluded.

    "Wrong." A voice suddenly replied from beneath the Gate of Everlasting Calm.

    {Translator's note: This is another instance where I think Gu Long has got his geography wrong. The Gate of Everlasting Calm, or Yongdingmen, is/was the front gate to the city of Beijing itself. I highly doubt the Emperor not only kicked those men out of the Forbidden City, but the entire city of Beijing as well.}

    A man walked forth from within the gate, a proud and positively glowing man -- Lu Xiao Feng had finally reappeared. Immediately, everyone ran over to his side.

    "Did all of us get it wrong?"

    Lu Xiao Feng nodded.

    "So what did you ask for?" Honest Monk demanded.

    "I can't tell you, I just can't."

    He parted the gathering of men in front of him and began walking away. No matter what the people around him said, he refused to open his mouth.

    He seemed to have his heart set on killing these men with suspense.

    Pity, for these men were not the type who gave up that easily. As Lu Xiao Feng walked along in big, casual steps, they followed closely behind.

    Honest Monk gave Si Kong Zhai Xing's sleeve a little tug to get his attention.

    "You are this little bastard's nemesis, if there was one person in the world who can make him talk, it's you." He whispered.

    Si Kong Zhai Xing batted his eyes a couple of times.

    "Damn right!" He answered as he casually stroded up to Lu Xiao Feng and gave his sleeve a little tug to get his attention.

    "Are you sure you don't want to tell?"

    "Yes."

    "Good."

    "Why is that good?"

    "Because if you don't tell, then I will... I will...."

    He whispered a couple words into Lu Xiao Feng's ear. Lu Xiao Feng's foot steps came to a sudden halt as he stood there, dumbfounded for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, he let out a long sigh and whispered a couple of words into Si Kong Zhai Xing's ear.

    Si Kong Zhai Xing was immediately dumbstruck. His expression looking like he had just, simultaneously, swallowed whole 3 chicken eggs, 2 duck eggs, and 4 very large steamed buns.

    Lu Xiao Feng resumed his old leisure pace.

    Si Kong Zhai Xing blanked followed and resumed walking as well. But within the first step, he began to laugh, laugh uncontrollably, laugh to the point of tears.

    Honest Monk tugged at his sleeves again.

    "So what did he tell you?"

    Still unable to stop laughing, Si Kong Zhai Xing shook his head and replied between bouts of laughter: "I can't tell you, I just can't."

    "Don't you forget who was the one who told you to go ask him? Besides, if you don't tell me, then I will...."

    He also whispered a couple of words into Si Kong Zhai Xing's ear.

    Si Kong Zhai Xing's foot steps also came to immediate halt as he stood there, dumbfounded for what seemed like another eternity before finally whispering something into Honest Monk's ear.

    Honest Monk was dumbstruck as well. Then he began to laugh too, laugh uncontrollably, laughing as if Buddha himself suddenly appeared an granted him three big nuns, two small nuns, and four not-so-big-and-not-so-small-but-just-right nuns.

    {Translator's note: Like I said, the Honest Monk is a dirty dirty man.}

    There after, the Wooden Taoist forced him to tell him as well, then Wei Zi Yun got the information from the Wooden Taoist. Eventually, Ding Ao, Du Fang, Yin Xian, and Bu Ju all knew.

    Then everyone began to laugh, laugh uncontrollably....

    September 16th. Night. The moonlight shone from the edge of the Heavens like pure water. Lu Xiao Feng walked assuredly along the moonlit bridge that was glowing like ice, full of energy and life, absolutely certain of himself and his purpose.

    He was not laughing. But behind him everybody was laughing, laughing uncontrollably. Laughing so hard that they were either doubled over or leaning back in laughter. Laughing like a group of little children. Still laughing, they made their way off the bridge and onto the street glittering in the lamp light. Everywhere they walk, by their side on the streets, out of the windows of their houses, from the front doors of their shops, people gawked at them in shock. None of them could ever possibly imagine that these men were all the greatest martial arts masters of their era. And none of them could ever possibly guess why they were laughing so heartily, absolutely none. Maybe nobody ever will....

  19. #39
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Posts
    3,036

    Default Book 4 - Chapter 1

    Lu Xiaofeng Book 4: Silver Hook Casino Alley
    [银钩赌坊 Yingou Dufang]
    A Gu Long's work
    Translated by Foxs
    Edited by Eliza Bennet


    Chapter 1 – The Night of Saving-a-Beauty Kindness


    Autumn night. End of autumn.

    The dark and long alley was quiet and lonesome; there was only one solitary lamp.

    The old and worn out white lantern had turned almost grey, it hung slanting above a narrow door at the very end of the long alley. Dangling below the lantern was a shiny silver hook, an ordinary hook, just like the one used by an old fisherman.

    The silver hook kept swaying in the autumn wind. The autumn wind seemed to sigh, sighing over why would there be so many people in this world who were willing to let themselves being caught by this silver hook?

    From the damp, gloomy and cold fog Fang Yufei entered the brilliantly illuminated Silver Hook Casino. Taking off his dark colored cloak, he revealed an extremely well-fitting, specially tailored, exquisite silver-colored satin garment.

    Every day, he was happiest around this time, especially today.

    Because Lu Xiaofeng was standing right next to him. Lu Xiaofeng had always been a friend he was most fond of, a friend he respected the most.

    Lu Xiaofeng was also in very high spirits, just because he was Lu Xiaofeng.

    The luxuriously decorated hall was brimming with warmness and gaiety. The aroma of wine mixed with the fragrance of high-quality cosmetics; the intermittent jingling of silver coins was pleasant to the ears, no music in this world was more melodious than this kind of noise.
    He liked to hear this kind of noise, just like the majority of people in the world, he also liked luxury and enjoyed life to the fullest.

    But actually, the Silver Hook Casino was a very luxurious place. At any time you would find all kinds of extravagant people, prepared to enjoy all kinds of extravagant enjoyments.

    And the most extravagant enjoyment naturally was the gambling.

    Everybody was gambling, everybody’s concentration was on their stakes on the gambling table, but when Lu Xiaofeng and Fang Yufei walked in, everybody could not help but raised their heads to look.

    Some people were indeed like a magnet among a bunch of nails. Lu Xiaofeng and Fang Yufei were undoubtedly this kind of people.

    “Who in the world are these two exceptional young men?”

    “The one in silver satin garment is the brother-in-law of this gambling establishment’s big boss.” The one answering was a wiry thin man, a typical true gambler.

    “Are you saying he is the younger brother of Blue Beard’s new wife?”

    “Her flesh and blood younger brother!”

    “Isn’t he the Silver Sparrowhawk Fang Yufei?”

    “The one and only.”

    “They say he is a very famous playboy, proficient in eating, drinking, women and gambling; his qinggong was not bad.”

    “That’s why a lot of people say that he is a ‘flower picking bandit’!” the true gambler said with a laugh, “Actually, if he wants a girl, he only needs to do is just beckon with his finger, there is no need for him to go ‘pick flower’ in the middle of the night.”

    “I heard his sister, Fang Yuxiang is also a very well-known pretty woman.”

    “More beautiful than flower, more exquisite than jade,” another man sighed with his eyes closed, “That woman simply cannot be described with these two words, ‘pretty woman’; she is simply ‘the-cause-of-downfall-of-a-nation’ kind of rarity!”

    “Who’s that young fellow next to Fang Yufei? How come his eyebrows slant down just like his moustache?”

    “If I am not mistaken, he must be that Four-eyebrow Lu Xiaofeng!”

    Lu Xiaofeng.

    Some people have become legendary characters when they are still alive. Without a doubt, Lu Xiaofeng was this kind of person.

    At the mention of his name, everybody’s gaze was immediately fixed on him, except for one person.

    This person was, unexpectedly, a woman.

    She was wearing light-as-a-feather, soft silk gown in apple green. So soft that it looked like a second layer of skin hugging her slender and mature body. Her skin was as delicate and smooth as a white jade; sometimes it almost looked translucent, just like an ice statue. Her beautiful face was completely devoid of any makeup. Her pair of clear and bright eyes was the best decoration any woman would dream of in vain. The corner of her eyes did not even look at Lu Xiaofeng, but with all his heart and soul, Lu Xiaofeng’s stare was fixated on her.

    Fang Yufei laughed and shook his head, “There are at least seven, eight good-looking women in this room, why do you have to look at her?”

    Lu Xiaofeng: “Because she is ignoring me.”

    Fang Yufei laughed, “Do you think that all women will kneel down and kiss your foot as soon as they see you?”

    Lu Xiaofeng sighed, “At the very least she should give me a glance. I am not the very least the most ugly man.”

    Fang Yufei: “If you want to look at her, it is best if you keep your distance.”

    Lu Xiaofeng: “Why?”

    Lowering his voice, Fang Yufei said, “This woman is an iceberg, if you want to move her, be careful, your hand will catch frostbite!”

    Lu Xiaofeng also smiled.

    But as he smiled, he walked straight toward the iceberg. No matter how many high mountain ridges he had climbed, right now he only wanted to climb this iceberg.

    This iceberg smelled good. It was definitely not the fragrance of the perfume, it was not even the aroma of the wine. Some women were just like fresh flowers; not only were they beautiful, they even radiate fresh fragrance. Undoubtedly, she was this kind of woman.

    Right now Lu Xiaofeng was like a honeybee; as he smelled the flower fragrance, he wanted to fly and land on the stamen of this flower.

    Fortunately he was not drunk yet; he stopped right behind her.

    The iceberg did not turn her head. In her beautiful and delicate hands she was holding some chips. She was pondering whether she should place her bet on ‘big’? Or should she place it on ‘small’?

    The dealer started to roll the dice, and then ‘Bang!’ he slapped the dice box on the table. “Place your bet, now!” he shouted.

    The iceberg was still thinking. Lu Xiaofeng blinked and with an exaggerated movement he stepped closer and softly whispered on her ear, “This time you should bet on ‘small’.”

    Immediately the delicate hand placed the chips down, but she placed her bet on ‘big’.

    “Open!”

    As the dice box was opened, the number of dots on three dice amount to only ‘seven’.

    “Seven dots, small! Eat ‘big’, pay up ‘small’.”

    The iceberg’s countenance paled. She turned her head around and shot Lu Xiaofeng a malicious look then she turned and walked away.

    Lu Xiaofeng could only force a bitter smile.

    Some women were born with a rebellious character in their blood; particularly rebellious against men. Lu Xiaofeng should have thought that she might be this kind of woman.

    The iceberg had already walked through the crowd toward the door. As she walked, she maintained a peculiarly graceful bearing.

    “There won’t be one woman of this temperament among a hundred thousand; it will be a pity to miss her. If you don’t pursue her, you will regret it!” Lu Xiaofeng was admonishing himself in his heart.

    He was always a man who listened to his own advice, therefore, he immediately walked after her.

    Fang Yufei met him and slowly said, “Must you really climb this iceberg?”

    Lu Xiaofeng: “I am not afraid of frostbite.”

    Fang Yufei patted his shoulder, “But you must be careful nonetheless; icebergs are very slippery, you might slip down and fall.”

    Lu Xiaofeng: “How many times have you slipped down and fall?”

    Fang Yufei smiled. Of course it was a forced smile. It was not until Lu Xiaofeng had walked out the door did he mutter to himself, “Falling down from this iceberg, at the most, you can only fall down once, because this one time you will plunge yourself to your death.”

    The dark long alley was still dark. The night had been very deep. The carriages and horses were parked outside the alley. It did not matter what kind of people, whoever wanted to visit the Silver Hook Casino must walk through this dark alley. This had made the Silver Hook Casino several degrees more mysterious and wasn’t it mystery which has always been most appealing to human beings since time immemorial?

    The silver hook was still swaying in the wind. Perhaps the number of people hooked by this silver hook was a hundred times higher than the number of fish caught by the old fisherman.

    The night was desolate, the lantern grew dim.

    The iceberg walked in front, a dull green cloak was added to the number of clothes she was wearing.

    Lu Xiaofeng followed behind her. The dull green cloak rose and fell gently under the dim lantern light. He was like a lovely little child who chases after floating clouds in his dream.

    There was nobody else in that dark alley; the alley was very long.

    Suddenly the iceberg turned around and stared at Lu Xiaofeng. Her pair of eyes seemed colder than the autumn star.

    Lu Xiaofeng had no choice but halt his steps; he looked at her and smiled.

    “Why are you following me?” the iceberg suddenly said.

    Lu Xiaofeng laughed, “I have made you lose some money, I feel very bad in my heart; and so …”

    “And so you want to compensate me?” the iceberg said.

    Lu Xiaofeng nodded immediately.

    Iceberg: “And how do think you will compensate me?”

    Lu Xiaofeng: "I know a diner in the city for night-time snacks, they are open all night, the food and wine are not bad at all. The night is now very deep, you must be a little bit hungry!"

    The iceberg rolled her eyes. "That's not a good idea. I have an even better one."

    Lu Xiaofeng: "What is it?"

    Unexpectedly, the iceberg smiled. "Come closer, I'll tell you."

    Of course Lu Xiaofeng came closer.

    He did not expect there would be time when this iceberg would melt, which made him not able to think. Suddenly a blow landed on the left side of his face, followed by another blow on the right side of his face.

    The iceberg's hand was truly fast; not only it was fast, it was heavy too.

    Perhaps Lu Xiaofeng deliberately did not evade, perhaps he did not expect she would slap him this hard. Whatever it was, he had indeed suffered two palm strikes, and was speechless.

    The iceberg laughed again, but this time it was a cold laugh, colder than ice. "I have seen too many men just like you, men like flies and stinky bugs, always make me want to puke."

    When she turned around to leave this time, Lu Xiaofeng had no way of following her even if his face were thicker; he could only look helplessly as this beautiful cloud floated away from him.

    The alley was very long, her walking speed was not fast at all. Suddenly from the darkness appeared four men; two men twisted her hands, the other two grabbed her legs.

    She cried out in fear and tried to slap these men several times, but it was too bad that these men were unlike Lu Xiaofeng who had compassion toward the fragrant and would yield to the jade; who would head-over-heels place her on a pedestal.

    Lu Xiaofeng's face was still hurt, actually, he did not want to get involved in the commotion. It was a pity that his inborn character was one who loves to meddle in other people's business. To see four men bully one woman in front of him was simply too difficult for him to bear.

    The four men had just finished their business when they discovered that a man whose moustache looked just like his eyebrows suddenly appear in front of them and coldly said, "First, release her, then crawl out of here. Whoever does not obey, I will break his nose."

    These men were definitely not the obedient type, but when two of them were really hit until their noses were crooked, the disobedient became obedient. Thereupon four men meekly dropped down on their knees and crawled along the alley. Blood was dripping down on the ground from the two men's noses!

    Afterwards, whenever anybody would ask them, "Why is your nose crooked?"

    Their answer would be, "I don't know." They really did not know, simply because they could not see clearly how Lu Xiaofeng made his move.

    By this time the iceberg seemed to start melting; she had turned soft because some people had just given her a fright, so much so that she asked for help from Lu Xiaofeng, "I live nearby. Can you walk me home?"

    Her home was definitely not near, but Lu Xiaofeng did not complain; in fact, he was hoping that she lived as far away as possible. Because along the way she collapsed into Lu Xiaofeng's bosom, as if she was too weak to sit up straight by herself. Luckily the carriage's shutters were closed, the curtain was very thick.

    The carriage went on for almost an hour, yet so far they only exchanged a few words.
    "I am not a fly, I am also not a bedbug; I am surnamed Lu, called Lu Xiaofeng." It was only natural that he would be the one who had to strike the conversation.

    The iceberg smiled. This time it was a real smile. "I am surnamed Leng [cold], called Leng Ruoshuang [lit. as cold as frost]."

    Lu Xiaofeng also smiled; he thought the name fit her very well.

    "Do you know those four men?"

    Leng Ruoshuang shook her head.

    "Why did they bully you?" Lu Xiaofeng asked.

    Leng Ruoshuang started to open her mouth, but then she blushed and hung her head.

    Lu Xiaofeng did not ask anymore. Men bully women, sometimes they do not need any reason. Much less a young woman like her, whose look could move men's hearts, herself was a very good reason, enough to have many men to want to 'bully' her.

    The carriage did not go fast at all, the compartment was very comfortable. Sitting inside was probably as comfortable as sleeping in the cradle.

    The fragrance coming out from Leng Ruoshuang's body smelled like orchid, or perhaps smelled like the sweet-scented osmanthus; simple, elegant, and enchanting. Even if this carriage had to go for three days and nights, Lu Xiaogfeng would not have any reason to complain that the journey was too long.

    Suddenly Leng Ruoshuang said, "My house is at the Yongle Lane, right next to the first house on the left."

    [Note: Yongle was the reign name of the third Ming Emperor Chengzu; which leads me to believe that this story happened during the Ming Dynasty.]

    Lu Xiaofeng: "Where is Yongle Lane?"

    Leng Ruoshuang: "We passed it just a moment ago!"

    Lu Xiaofeng said, "But you ..."

    Leng Ruoshuang: "I did not order this carriage to stop, because I don't want to go home tonight!"

    Suddenly Lu Xiaofeng felt his heart was beating two, three times faster than usual.

    If there is a girl like her leaning by your side, telling you that she does not want to go home tonight, I guarantee that your heart will be beating faster than Lu Xiaofeng's.

    Leng Ruoshuang said, "I have suffered a losing streak tonight, I am thinking of going to a different casino and turn my luck."

    Lu Xiaofeng's heart turned cold instantly. Since a long time ago he had repeatedly warned himself never to be conceited, but it was a weakness that just would not go away.

    Actually, how many men have the ability to overcome this weakness?

    Leng Ruoshuang: "Do you know that there is a place called Golden Hook Casino around here?"

    Lu Xiaofeng did not know; he had not even heard about this place.

    Leng Ruoshuang: "You are not from around here, of course you do not know!"

    Lu Xiaofeng: "That place is a secret?"

    Leng Ruoshuang's clear eyes cast him a glance. "Do you have other matter to attend tonight?" she suddenly asked.

    The answer of course was, "No."

    Leng Ruoshuang: "Do you want me to take you there and take a look?"

    Lu Xiaofeng: "I do!"

    Leng Ruoshuang said, "But I have promised the Boss there not to take any stranger in. If you really want to go, you must agree to my condition."

    Lu Xiaofeng: "Tell me."

    Leng Ruoshuang: "You must let me cover your eyes, and you must promise not to peek."

    Lu Xiaofeng did want to go to begin with, now he wanted to go even more. His natural character was very curious, he always liked the excitement this kind of mystery brings. Therefore, without even thinking, he immediately said, "I promise."

    Staring at the light gauze gown she was wearing, which was as thin as cicada's wings, he smiled and said, "You'd better use a thicker cloth to cover my eyes. Sometimes my eyes can see through the cover."

    What is darkness?

    If days and nights, year after year, month after month, one has to be in an infinite darkness, how would his heart feel?

    Suddenly Lu Xiaofeng remembered Hua Manlou. He thought that although the Heaven had bestowed upon him such a cruel suffering, not only Hua Manlou did not utter a single complain, toward all mankind and all creatures he was still brimming with kindness, compassion and love.

    To reach this point was not easy at all.

    Lu Xiaofeng sighed; his eyes were covered but a short moment, but he had already felt it was unbearable.

    The carriage seemed to go through a night market then passed through running water. He heard voices like the noise of running water.

    Now the carriage stopped. Leng Ruoshuang pulled his hand and softly said, "Walk slowly, follow me. I guarantee this place will not disappoint you."

    Her hand was slender and smooth.

    Now it felt like they were walking downward. The wind transmitted the sound of night creatures, obviously they were in the wilderness. Then Lu Xiaofeng heard knocks on door, and the sound of a door opening.

    Entering the room, it felt like they were walking along a corridor; the corridor was not very long. At the other end of the corridor, he vaguely heard the noise of people talking and shouting, the sound of dice falling into the bowl, silver coins jingling on the table, and the laughter of both men and women.

    Leng Ruoshuang: “We’re here!”

    Lu Xiaofeng sighed in relief: “Thank heavens!”

    Another knock on a door ahead, and then the door opened. The noise inside got louder and clearer as the door opened.

    Leng Ruoshuang pulled his hand to enter the door, and softly said, “Stand and wait here, I am going to get the Boss to come over.”

    When she let his hand go, the intoxicating fragrance also left him, going farther and farther away. Suddenly there was a loud ‘Bang!’, someone slammed the door shut. The sound of people, the laughter, the dice, everything disappeared as if by magic. All around him was nothing but silence, as if the world suddenly turned dead.

    Lu Xiaofeng felt as if he had just fallen from the bustling place into the grave. What was it all about?

    "Miss Leng, Leng Ruoshuang!"

    He could not help but calling out, but no answer came. Could it be that so many people in the room suddenly had their mouths stitched shut?

    Finally Lu Xiaofeng took off the cloth covering his eyes. Then his whole body turned cold. The room was empty, not even one human being was there. Where did all those people go?

    It was absolutely impossible for all of them to go out the room together in just a split second like that.

    This kind of absolute impossibility, how did it happen?

    The room was not too big. There was a bed and a table. There was food and wine on the table. The food and wine was fresh.

    Lu Xiaofeng could not stop goose bumps from appearing on his whole body. He suddenly realized that it was impossible for this room to house that many people.

    As a matter of fact, anybody could see that there was no one else in the room; not now, not then.

    But Lu Xiaofeng clearly heard voices of many people just a moment ago.

    If he believed his eyes, then he could not believe his ears. But his ears had always been keen, he had never had any hearing problem. What was it all about?

    If the room was indeed empty, yet it was even more impossible for it to produce all kinds of noise without anybody inside.

    But this kind of impossibility did indeed happen, not only that, it happened to Lu Xiaofeng.
    Could it be that this was a haunted house?

    Could it be that the Heaven felt that Lu Xiaofeng had not met enough strange affairs, that this time he had to meet a ghost?

    Suddenly Lu Xiaofeng laughed.

    He decided that since he could not penetrate this mystery anyway, he might as well try to find a way out before giving this matter further consideration.

    But he could not go out.

    This room did not have any window. The four walls and the door were all made of several cun [unit of length, equivalent to approximately 1 inch] thick of iron panels.

    Lu Xiaofeng laughed again.

    Whenever he met a dead end, he would always laugh. He always thought that among his limited number of good traits, his ability to laugh was one of them. Laughing not only can make other people happy, it can also help oneself to relax.

    But how could he relax right now?

    Of the four dishes on the table, one was pine nut chicken rice (?), one was crab cake in thick sauce, one was goose feet salad, and the other was a dish of hot-plate. Not only these dishes were exquisitely prepared, they were also Lu Xiaofeng's favorite dishes.

    It seemed like whoever set this trap was very familiar with Lu Xiaofeng's day-to-day habits and what he liked.

    The wine was Jiangnan's aged Young Maiden's Blush. The pot was still sealed. There was a piece of paper pressed down by the pot:

    'Sire is invited to drink a cup of wine. This message was prepared by Sire's old friend.'

    This 'old friend' must be indeed his friend, for only someone who had known him for a long time would understand him well.

    But Lu Xiaofeng could not remember who among his old friends would fix this for him.

    On the margin there were two more rows of very delicate writings:

    'Sire may stay for three days and have a little rest in here. After three days, I will promptly come again.'

    Although there was no signature on the bottom, it was obvious that this message was written by that iceberg, Leng Ruoshuang.

    It seemed like she had already predicted that Lu Xiaofeng would certainly fall into this trick.

    So they had prepared such a deliberate and intricate trick, just to detain Lu Xiaofeng in here for three days?

    Lu Xiaofeng did not believe it, yet he could not guess what other motive they have. Therefore, he sat down, picked up the chopstick, took the hotplate and shoved it into his mouth.

    The chopsticks were silver, so there was no poison in the food. Obviously they also knew that it was not that easy to kill Lu Xiaofeng by poison.

    Thereupon Lu Xiaofeng picked up the wine pot and patted the seal with his palm. Suddenly ‘Pop!’ a whiff of green smoke puffed out from the clay seal, followed by ‘Crash!’ the wine pot fell down to the floor and broke.

    Lu Xiaofeng looked at the wine spilled on the floor. He wanted to laugh, but he couldn’t. He passed out.

    The fog had dispersed, the stars filled the sky, the wind transmitted the intermittent cry of cicadas, the soil had been moistened by the dew. Lu Xiaofeng’s clothes were entirely soaked.

    Incidentally, when he woke up, he saw streaks of white on the dark blue sky toward the eastern horizon. When he woke up, the earth also woke up.

    When he stood up, the gray and dark far-away mountain had already turned dark green. The air also carried the delicate fragrance of the distant woods.

    There were smokes coming out from chimneys all over the hill, but he did not see any farmhouses around him. If this was the place where he alighted from the carriage last night, where was the iron-paneled house? If it was not the place he went last night, how did he come to this place?

    With great trouble those people set up a trap and deceived him, just so that they could take him to spend the night in this open wilderness?

    It was harder for Lu Xiaofeng to believe, but he was not able to tell if they had any other motive.

    Therefore, he took off his drenched coat, slung it over his shoulder, and started to stride back to the city.

    He was staying at the Five Blessing Inn within the city wall. Right now he was thinking of taking a hot bath, eat some breakfast, take a nap, and only then will he give this impenetrable puzzle a thought.

    The Five Blessing Inn’s meat-stuffed steamed bun was very good, the chicken noodle soup was also very good, and the bed sheet was probably changed only yesterday.

    Off in the distance he saw the golden lettering of the Five Blessing Inn’s signboard; very soon he would forget the unpleasant experience he had just gone through, because all kinds of pleasant things were waiting for him in there.

    Who would have thought that the things that were waiting for him were two swords, four sabers, seven spears with red tassels, and a string of shackle chain?

    As soon as he stepped over the gate, he heard a shout and thirteen men surrounded him in the middle, followed by a clanking noise as the iron chain was wrapped around his neck.

    The chain was thick and heavy, the person wrapping it around his neck was very deft; obviously he was very proficient in using the chain.

    Lu Xiaofeng immediately stretched out his two fingers and pinched; a string of iron chain instantly clamped down into two strings of chain. ‘Ding!’ half of the chain fell down to the ground.

    The man holding the other half of the chain was shaken that his knees buckled and he was pushed several steps back. His countenance turned green from the fright. Pointing one shaky finger to Lu Xiaofeng, he stammered, “You … you dare to resist arrest?”

    “Resist arrest?”

    Lu Xiaofeng looked around and noticed that these people were wearing red tasseled cap. He frowned, “Are you from the Yamen [government office in feudal China]?”

    The man nodded. Someone on the side shouted, “This is Chief Yang of the police department. You dare to resist arrest; that means you are rebelling.”

    Lu Xiaofeng: “You are here to arrest me? What crime have I committed?”

    Chief Yang sneered, “Do not rub sand on clear eyes, do not tell lies in front of a Sage. Witness and material evidence are all here, and you are still playing dumb?”

    Lu Xiaofeng: “Where is the witness? Where is the evidence?”

    There were seven, eight people sitting behind the counter; although they all dressed handsomely, their countenances were very unsightly. One after another they pointed their fingers to Lu Xiaofeng and shouted in succession: “It’s him!” “Last night it was this evil thief with four eyebrows on his face who raped my wife.”

    Lu Xiaofeng was dumbfounded.

    In a stern voice Chief Yang said, “Last night, in just one night you have committed eight major crimes. These people are the witnesses.”

    Another man in red-tasseled cap pointed toward a pile of bundles behind the counter: “Those were found in your room. That is the evidence.”

    Lu Xiaofeng laughed: “If I really stole people’s belongings, would I store everything in my room? Do I look that stupid to you?”

    “Just listen to you,” Chief Yang said with a cold laugh, “Are you saying that someone else robbed these many things and simply deliver them all to you? Perhaps you are his beloved ancestor?”

    Lu Xiaofeng was not able to refute.

    Suddenly someone coldly said, “Killing, plundering, and raping women, all are trivial matters. As long as we do not care, the criminal would be beyond the law.”

    There was a square table on the far side corner, on the table was a dish of vegetable and a pot of wine. There were three old men, wearing very dark green embroidered robes, with tall hats adorned in white jade and yellow gold, sitting around the table gloomily. Two were drinking tea, the other was drinking wine.

    The man talking was the one drinking wine. Isn’t it true that those who drink wine are always more talkative than those who don’t?

    Lu Xiaofeng laughed again: “Killing, plundering, and raping women, all are trivial matters? Then what matter is important?”

    The old man drinking wine turned around and looked at him. His eyes shot a piercing gaze as he stared at Lu Xiaofeng. “It doesn’t matter what trivial matters you did, you shouldn’t have provoked us,” he said coldly.

    Lu Xiaofeng: “What religious organization do you belong to?”

    The old man in green: “You don’t recognize us?”

    Lu Xiaofeng: “I don’t.”

    The old man in green picked the wine cup, he brought it to his mouth and slowly sipped the wine. The hand holding the cup was thin and withered like a crow’s claw, with finger nails about four, five cun long; very dark green finger nails.

    Lu Xiaofeng acted as if he did not see.

    The old man in green: “Do you recognize us now?”

    Lu Xiaofeng: “I don’t.”

    The old man in green let out a cold laugh and slowly stood up. Everybody could see that the picture embroidered on the chest of his clothes was a face, its eyebrows clear and its eyes elegant, the face was graceful, like one belonged to an outstandingly beautiful young woman. But when he had stood straight, everybody could see that what embroidered on his clothes was actually a monster with a body like a snake, claws like a bird, and wings like a bat.

    Although nobody knew the origin of this monster, although the monster was only an embroidered image on the robe, seeing its fearsomeness, everybody immediately felt chilliness creeping into their hearts; without realizing it, they all wanted to close the lapel of their clothes.

    Lu Xiaofeng still acted as if he did not see.

    The old man in green: “Do you recognize us now?”

    Lu Xiaofeng: “Still not.”

    The withered thin face of the old man in green seemed to turn very dark green; he stretched out his hand suddenly and pierced the table.

    With a loud ‘thunk!’ his five bird-claw like fingernails went into the table. When he pulled back the hand, five holes appeared on the two, three cun thick of wooden plank.

    ‘Crash, bang!’ the half section of the iron chain fell down to the ground as Chief Yang’s limbs suddenly turned weak.

    There was also unspeakable stench appeared in the room as three constables rushed out of the door; their pants looked wet.

    Lu Xiaofeng could not pretend not to recognize anymore, he finally sighed, “Good skill.”

    The old man in green with cold laugh: “You can also recognize this as a good skill?”

    Lu Xiaofeng smiled and nodded.

    Actually, he had early on recognized the origin of these three strange old men; although his face was smiling, his palms were sweating cold sweats.

    The old man in green suddenly closed his eyes; with his face toward the sky he slowly recited, “Nine heavens ten earths, all deities and ghosts, all enter our school in fear, absolutely must listen to our command!”

    Lu Xiaofeng sighed: “Now I finally know who you are."

    The old man in green sneered.

    With a bitter laugh Lu Xiaofeng said, "But I still do not know, how did I offend you?"

    The old man in green stared hard at him; suddenly he waved his hand.

    Immediately from the rear courtyard came a weird sound of bamboo whistle; it sounded like the wailing of a mourning woman, or the sobbing of a ghost with unresolved grievance in the night.

    Then came four large bare-chested men, their chests were full with large needles, carrying a very large wooden board, with dark green chrysanthemums piled up on the board.

    The eyes of these large men stared blankly as if they were drunk; although their bodies were pierced with sharp needles, not even a single drop of blood came out, they also did not seem to be in pain, their faces showed mysterious and scary smiles instead.

    The old men who drank tea also stood up. The three of them walked toward the pile of dark green chrysanthemums on the board, clasping their palms in respect, and softly murmured, "Nine heavens ten earths, all deities and ghosts, all come to protect thee, together ascend to the pinnacle of happiness!”

    Lu Xiaofeng could not restrain himself from drawing near and picked up a chrysanthemum from the board. Suddenly his hand froze, because underneath this chrysanthemum flower there was an eye staring at him.

    This eye had more white than black, the eyeball bulged out completely; perhaps this person died of extreme fright.

    Lu Xiaofeng retreated several steps backward. He heaved a long sigh and said, "Who is this person?"

    The old man in green coldly said, "Now he is a dead man."

    Lu Xiaofeng: "Who was he when he was still alive?"

    The old man in green closed his eyes again; with his face toward the sky he slowly recited, “Nine heavens ten earths, the son of all deities met misfortune and perished, all deities and ghosts sob in fear.”

    Lu Xiaofeng's countenance changed. "Could it be that he was your Jiaozhu's [Cult Leader] son?"

    "Humph," the old man in green snorted.

    Lu Xiaofeng: "Could it be that he died under my hands?"

    The old man in green coldly said, "The killer must die!"

    Lu Xiaofeng took two more steps backward. He took another deep breath and suddenly laughed. "Some people want to arrest me and bring me to justice, some people want me dead, there is only one of me, what shall I do?"

    The old man in green shot a cold look toward Chief Yang: "Are you sure you are going to bring him to justice?"

    Chief Yang: "No ... no ... I am not sure!"

    He had just said a few words when suddenly 'thud, crash!' he was so scared that his knees gave up and he fell kneeling down on the ground.

    Lu Xiaofeng sighed: "It looks like I cannot avoid death."

    The old man in green: "But I also know that before death you will fight with everything you have."

    Lu Xiaofeng: "Absolutely correct!"

    He suddenly made his move by snatching a sword and a saber; left hand saber, right hand sword, left hacked down, right thrust forward, he attacked the old man in green for three stances in succession. Not only his style was weird, but the more amazing thing is that he was able to split his mind to do two things at the same time.

    The old man in green sneered: "You are playing the axe before the carpenter."

    Using two different kinds of skill together was precisely their Cult's unique secret. When Lu Xiaofeng attacked for three stances, he had already seen a way to break it; therefore, he was confident that in three more moves he would be able to disarm Lu Xiaofeng from the saber and the sword.

    But right this moment suddenly a ‘clang’ was heard, Lu Xiaofeng unexpectedly chopped the sword in his right hand with the saber in his left. The saber and sword collided and both broke.

    The old man in green did not understand what kind of diversion Lu Xiaofeng was playing; suddenly he saw the pieces of sword and saber flew toward him.

    Lu Xiaofeng himself flew high to the sky. He exerted his strength to throw the broken saber and the snapped sword, but he himself leaped backward to escape.

    Nobody can describe this kind of speed; even Lu Xiaofeng could not have thought that he can move with this kind of speed.

    When one was fighting for his life, oftentimes one would display a potential, which others would find it hard to imagine.

    It was windy outside.

    Lu Xiaofeng turned around so that the wind was on his back. Riding the wind, he flew toward the roof ridge on the opposite side.

    Nobody pursued him yet, but he could hear the sad and shrill voice of the old man in green transmitted by the wind: “You have killed the son of the deities. Even if you are ascending to the sky or entering the earth, it still is difficult for you to run away from death.”

    Lu Xiaofeng did not ascend to the sky, nor did he enter the earth, but he had arrived at the long alley outside the Silver Hook Casino. He hired a carriage, and returned to the place he awoke this morning.

    Finally it was somewhat clear to him what actually was going on.

    Those people wanted him to spend the night in the open air of the wilderness so that they could lay the blame on him, they wanted to make him the scapegoat.

    He also realized that if he was to tell the experience he encountered the previous night, nobody would believe him.

    That iceberg-like beautiful woman certainly would not testify on his behalf; much less right now her fragrance, her foot prints and her shadow had already vanished without a trace.

    He must find the evidence himself to wash clean the criminal charge, which even if he had a hundred mouths it would still be difficult for him to refute.

    The carriage went through a section of the street and sure enough, they went through the location of a night market, and then passed through a running water, before finally arrived at the place he woke up this morning.

    Did he really go through the same road last night? Was this really the place Leng Ruoshuang took him off the carriage last night?

    But this place was obviously in the middle of the wilderness; not even a single thatched hut was to be seen, let alone the Golden Hook Casino building.

    Lu Xiaofeng laid down on a pile of dry leaves underneath a big tree. He watched the dry leaves blown by the autumn wind and land on his body.

    The ground was still damp; it was cold and moist.

    Lu Xiaofeng was also calm and cool-headed.

    I definitely went through the same road and arrived at the Golden Hook Casino, but there was no building in here.

    I definitely heard the voices of people, but there was not even a single shadow in the room.

    The note clearly said I was to stay for three days, but I was sent away.

    The more he thought about it, the more he was at a loss. This kind of unthinkable matter, even he himself did not believe it, much less others?

    Since he could not come out with an alibi, would he have to bear this injustice forever?

    Lu Xiaofeng sighed. In reality, he could not laugh even if he wanted to.

    'Tweet, tweet, chirp, chirp!' There seemed to be a little bird singing incessantly behind the tree. Lu Xiaofeng frowned, he tapped the bough. Dry leaves fell down like rain, but surprisingly the little bird was still singing. It did not fly away.

    This little bird's courage was really not small.

    Lu Xiaofeng could not refrain from using his hand to prop up his head and looked back. Who would have thought that the 'Tweet, tweet, chirp, chirp!' of the little bird suddenly turned into 'Bark! Bark! Bark!' of a dog?

    How could a little bird turn into a big dog? It was impossible!

    Feeling strange, suddenly Lu Xiaofeng saw a boy's head appeared from behind the tree. He stuck his tongue toward Lu Xiaofeng and made faces.

    Turned out the dog's bark and the bird's chirp were all made by this little boy. Obviously he was a clever boy. His imitation sounded very much like the original.

    The boy squinted his eyes toward Lu Xiaofeng: "I can also imitate the sound of a male dog and a b**ch fighting. If you give me two wen [currency, copper coins], I'll let you hear it."

    Suddenly Lu Xiaofeng's eyes brightened; he sprang up and hugged and kissed this little boy, he also shove a silver coin in the little boy's bosom, while did not stop saying, "Thank you, thank you!"

    The boy was puzzled. He blinked and asked, "You gave me this much money, yet you thank me?"

    Lu Xiaofeng: "Because you have saved my life."

    He laughed and kissed the boy's face again before barking twice and then he made a somersault two zhang [unit of length, 1 zhang is approximately 10 ft of 3 meters] away.

    The boy looked at him in disbelief. After many, many years later, this little boy grew up to be an adult and often mentioned this matter to his friends. He was certain that he had met a lunatic that day.

    "But that sort of lunatic is very rare," he convinced his friends, "Not only he was very rich, he was very happy as well. I guarantee you will never see a happy lunatic like him."

    If somebody would tell him that this 'happy lunatic' had just gone through a bizarre experience, also had just received grievous injustice, so much so that his life was difficult to protect, the boy would certainly not believe it.

    If you want others to continually spend money, not only you must let him spend it happily, you must also give him time to earn money.

    The Blue Beard was always a principled man; this was his principle.

    Therefore, the Silver Hook Casino was not the kind of establishment which open 24 hours a day. It would not open its door before dark, and it would close its door before daybreak, all gambling activity must cease.

    The daytime is the time to earn money. If people earn money, only then would they have the money to spend in the evening.

    Right now it was not dark yet.

    Lu Xiaofeng walked along the quiet and lonely long alley. By the time he reached the Silver Hook Casino, the gambling tables were not open yet.

    But the door was actually open. Before dark, no one has ever broken through. Well-mannered frequent visitors all knew the rule here.

    Infrequent visitors would not be welcomed in this place.

    Lu Xiaofeng pushed the door and walked in. He had barely time to take off the black cloak he just bought and the large hat he had pressed low on his head, covering his eyebrows, when two big and burly men came over and blocked him.

    Gambling establishments everywhere must hire a lot of thugs. The Silver Hook Casino was not an exception. Daniu and Xiazi [lit. big ox and blind guy] were the two most fearsome ones among more than a few of thugs.

    Blind Guy was actually not blind. Right now, his pair of eyes, which have more white than black, was looking up and down Lu Xiaofeng's body to size him up. "Have you been to this place before?" he asked coldly.

    Lu Xiaofeng: "I have."

    Blind Guy: "Then you must know the rule here!"

    Lu Xiaofeng: "Casino also have rules?"

    Blind Guy: "Not only it has rules, the rules are stricter than the Yamen."

    Lu Xiaofeng smiled.

    Big Ox stared at him: "Before dark, even if the Emperor of Heaven came, we would also ask him to get out of here."

    Lu Xiaofeng: "I cannot even come in to look around?"

    Big Ox: "Cannot."

    Lu Xiaofeng sighed. Carrying the cloak in his arm, he walked out, but suddenly he turned around and said, "I bet you five hundred taels of silver that you won't be able to lift this stone bench."

    One side of the corridor inside the door was adorned with four stone benches. Their weight was indeed not light.

    Big Ox sneered and lifted one bench with only one hand. How could others call him 'Da Niu' [big ox] if he was not as strong as an ox?

    Lu Xiaofeng laughed again and with a bitter smile said, "Looks like I lost. This five hundred taels of silver is yours."

    He really took out five banknotes, worth one hundred taels of silver each and held them out, pinched between his two fingers.

    Five hundred taels of silver was not a small amount of money. It would not take them more than twenty taels for the two of them to spend the night at the Apricot Blossoms Pavilion, drinking wine and having fun with women.

    Big Ox hesitated, but Blind Guy had already taken the money on his behalf. Even the blind would be able to see the money. Without a doubt the banknotes were genuine.

    Blind Guy was smiling ear to ear: "It will soon be dark. You may take a stroll out there for a while and come back here. I might be able to find some thick-pocketed gamblers to accompany you having a good time."

    Lu Xiaofeng smiled: "Can't I just take a stroll in here for a moment?"

    Big Ox quickly said, "You can't!"

    Lu Xiaofeng's face dropped. "Since before dark no gambling is allowed in here, why did you swindle me by betting with me just now?"

    Big Ox: "I did not."

    Lu Xiaofeng coldly said, "If you did not gamble with me, why did you take my five hundred taels of silver?"

    Immediately Big Ox's face turned red, even his neck was blushing. He really had no way to deny.

    When you lose an argument with others, use your fists.

    Big Ox had just curled his fist when he saw this guy, who seemed to have four eyebrows on his face, suddenly push the stone bench he had just put down with his finger, and to his surprise, a hole appeared on the bench.

    Big Ox's face from red turned to green. His curled fist also slowly relaxed.

    Blind Guy coughed twice and nudged Big Ox with his elbow. Smiling widely, he said, "It will soon be dark. This honored guest has made a special trip to visit; if we drive people out, we might look too discourteous."

    Big Ox nodded immediately: "We do not have any lead-filled dice in here, also there is no woman hiding cards in her buttocks. There is no harm in letting him looking around in here!"

    Although he looked like a dumb ox, he was actually not stupid at all.

    Lu Xiaofeng laughed. "Good, you are a good friend," he patted his shoulder, "When I am done gambling tonight, I am going to take you two to the Apricot Blossoms Pavilion and have some drinks."

    Apricot Blossoms Pavilion was the most expensive brothel in town, but its style was actually far inferior to this place, its decor was also not as magnificent as this place.

    As far as eyes can see, this casino hall was resplendent in gold and jade, rich and beautiful in its majestic splendor. Even the candlesticks were made of sterling silver. Nobody would give further thought of losing a thousand or two taels of silver in this kind of place.

    The large hall was full of gambling equipments, large and small. You name it and you will find it here.

    All sides the walls were painted white that it looked like a snow cave, with paintings of famous ancient and contemporary artists and scholars hanging from the ceiling.

    The largest scenery painting adorned the middle of the hall, but it was the handiwork of an unknown artist. The painting of dreary and fuzzy clouds and mist covered the distant mountain looked like spilled ink.

    It was all right if the painting was hanging someplace else, but hanging in this hall among the famous experts’ masterpieces, it looked so out of place that no one usually wanted to look at it.

    But Lu Xiaofeng seemed to find this painting to be very interesting. He stood in front of the painting and looked at it from left and right, top to bottom, and seemed to be so fixated that he did not want to move away from it.

    Big Ox and Blind Guy looked at each other with a very weird look on their faces.

    Blind Guy rolled his eyes until even more white was visible. He suddenly said, “This painting was the handiwork of our Boss’ former brother-in-law; the way he painted was worse than me. On that side is the landscape painting by Jiangnan’s number one scholar, Tang Xieyuan. Now that is a landscape painting!”

    Big Ox immediately caught on: “Let me show you the painting then you’ll know this painting is just a dog’s fart!”

    Lu Xiaofeng: “I’d rather look at the dog’s fart painting.”

    Big Ox: “Why?”

    Lu Xiaofeng laughed: “Landscape paintings are everywhere, but dog’s fart painting is very rare!”

    Big Ox was dumbstruck, his face turned deep red.

    Others looked at another’s dog’s fart painting, why was he so anxious?

    Blind Guy quietly signaled him with his eyes. The two of them quietly stepped toward Lu Xiaofeng’s back. Suddenly they made their move; one on the left the other on the right, they grabbed Lu Xiaofeng together.

    Surprisingly, Lu Xiaofeng did not fight back.

    Blind Guy sneered: “This kid is sneaky. I can tell as soon as I looked at him. He must not be spared.”

    Big Ox: “Right, let us take him out first then cripple his arms before we talk again!”

    Because with just one strike they were successful, the two men were self-satisfied. They felt like a woman who had just snatched a fat sheep.

    Only it was a pity that this sheep was not fat, moreover, it was not a real sheep, but actually a tiger who was wearing a sheepskin.

    They wanted to take Lu Xiaofeng out, but suddenly they felt this man weighed more than a thousand catties; instead of lifting him up, they felt they were being raised up.

    Lu Xiaofeng raised his arms, and 'Thud!' with equal force he struck Big Ox's head to Blind Guy's. Since their heads were probably quite hard, they both passed out instantly.

    Lu Xiaofeng laid these two men down and looked up at the scenery painting on the wall again. He shook his head and sighed. "You are right," he mumbled softly, "This painting is indeed a dog's fart."

    Suddenly he reached out and pulled this more than a zhang long, four or five chi scenery painting [about 10 feet long by 4 or 5 feet wide] down, revealing a secret door behind it.

    Lu Xiaofeng's eyes shone. He smiled: "Although the painting looks like a dog's fart, the real dog's fart is actually hidden behind it."

    Opening a gambling establishment is naturally not an honest occupation. It is only natural that the people who work in this line of job also lead very abnormal lives. Even their meal time and bedtime are completely different to those of other people.

    Right now was exactly their dinner time; that was the reason why the main hall was left to Big Ox and Blind Guy only. And now those two men were down.

    Lu Xiaofeng rubbed his hands. He closed his eyes and traced his finger up and down along the outline of the door on the wall. After running his finger for a while, suddenly he pushed and shouted in low voice: "Open!"

    Like magic this secret door really opened. Behind the door there were about a dozen steps of stone stairs going down, and beyond the stairs was a strip of passageway!

    The passageway was illuminated by lanterns. Underneath the lanterns was another door. By the door stood two burly men, wielding unsheathed sabers in their hands.

    The eyes of these two men were staring blankly into the distance, they looked exactly like wooden statues. Clearly Lu Xiaofeng was standing right in front of them, but it was as if they did not see him at all.

    Lu Xiaofeng coughed lightly, but these two men seemed to be deaf.

    He heard a soft click as the secret door on top of the stairs closed by itself.

    Lu Xiaofeng tried stepping forward, but these two men were still motionless, they did not shout or even try to stop him. He might as well reached out to push the door, and to his surprise the door immediately open.

    Inside, the room was brightly illuminated. There were three people sitting around a table. Surprisingly, Lu Xiaofeng recognized two of them.

    One was a stunningly beautiful, glamorous like a peach blossom woman, with her hand propping her fragrant cheek, sitting by a crystal wine goblet full of amber colored fragrant wine. With a cold look she stared at Lu Xiaofeng and coldly said, "What took you so long to get here?"
    Last edited by foxs; 04-05-14 at 10:21 AM.

  20. #40
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Posts
    3,036

    Default Book 4 - Chapter 2

    Chapter 2 - Mistakenly Breaking Into a Secret Cave

    “This woman is an iceberg, if you want to move her, be careful, your hand will catch frostbite!”

    The sparkling-like-wine eyes, the transparent-like-crystal, light-as-a-feather, soft silk gown in apple green. This iceberg-like woman did indeed sit here, opposite to Fang Yufei.

    “But you must be careful nonetheless; icebergs are very slippery, you might slip down and fall.”

    Fang Yufei was smiling. He smiled as he raised his cup toward Lu Xiaofeng.

    Lu Xiaofeng also smiled. He laughed hard.

    Fang Yufei: "I heard you can laugh even though you are extremely angry?"

    Lu Xiaofeng did not stop laughing.

    Fang Yufei's smile turned into a forced smile: "I know you are angry with me; but I have warned you!"

    Lu Xiaofeng laughed: "I remember a friend did indeed warn me; he warned me not to climb the iceberg. That friend is called Fang Yufei."

    Fang Yufei's countenance brightened: "I know you will remember."

    Lu Xiaofeng: "You know? Are sure you are that Fang Yufei?"

    Fang Yufei sighed. With a bitter smile he said, "Actually I wanted to disguise myself as someone else, but I am afraid I won't look authentic!"

    Lu Xiaofeng: "At least you can disguise yourself as Lu Xiaofeng!"

    Fang Yufei's countenance changed, even his forced smile had disappeared altogether.

    Lu Xiaofeng turned his head and laughed: "How about you? Are you that Leng Ruoshuang?"

    Fang Yufei suddenly opened his mouth: "She is not surnamed Leng!"

    Lu Xiaofeng: "You know who she is?"

    Fang Yufei: "Nobody knows her better than I do."

    Lu Xiaofeng: "Why?"

    Fang Yufei: "Because I was there when she was born."

    Lu Xiaofeng: "So she is your Meimei."

    Fang Yufei: "She is Fang Yuxiang."

    Lu Xiaofeng laughed again.

    The one sitting in between these brother and sister was wearing a very exquisite outfit; his appearance looked very refined, his demeanor was like a highly educated middle-age scholar. His facial features were delicate; his lips red and his teeth white. In his younger days certainly a lot of people would say that he looked like a child. Now that he had advanced in years, Lu Xiaofeng could still say that he looked like a girl.

    This man was also laughing.

    Lu Xiaofeng was looking at him: "Since she is Fang Yuxiang, you must be the Blue Beard."

    Blue Beard: "Do you have any feng [Phoenix]?"

    Lu Xiaofeng: "I don't."

    Blue Beard: "Since Lu Xiaofeng [little phoenix] can have no phoenix, then the Blue Beard can also have no beard."

    Lu Xiaofeng stared at him for half a day. With a bitter smile he said, "What you said make a lot of sense. But I still don't understand; a man like you, why are you called the Blue Beard?"

    Blue Beard: "Operating a gambling establishment is not an easy matter. You don't want to eat others, but others want to eat you. A man with my look should not have earned his rice from this line of work."

    Lu Xiaofeng: "Because others saw your delicate and refined features, they thought you are an easy target to be bullied, so they wanted to eat you."

    Blue Beard nodded and sighed: "Therefore, I need to find another way."

    Lu Xiaofeng: "What way?"

    Blue Beard did not answer this question right away; he turned his head around and used his long sleeve to cover his face.

    When he turned back, his face had changed, he turned into a dark-faced, bucked-tooth, with thick eyebrows and glowering eyes, man. On top of that, his mouth was covered with a beard, a black with tinge of blue, full beard.

    Lu Xiaofeng was startled, but suddenly he laughed and said, "I understand it now. The Blue Beard actually has two personalities. You really have not disappointed me."

    Blue Beard also laughed and said, "Lu Xiaofeng is truly Lu Xiaofeng. You also have not disappointed me."

    Lu Xiaofeng: "Oh?"

    Blue Beard: "We have calculated before, that sooner or later you will find this place!"

    Lu Xiaofeng sighed: "I did not think that I would be able to find this place."

    Blue Beard: "But you have come."

    Lu Xiaofeng: "That was because my luck was good, I met a boy who can imitate a dog's bark."

    Blue Beard: "Boys who can imitate dogs' bark are many."

    Lu Xiaofeng: "But some people not only can imitate a dog's bark, as soon as they open their mouths, they can produce all kinds of sound!"

    Blue Beard smiled: "I know that kind of people; they can imitate the sound or running water, the sound of a carriage going over the bridge, the voices of many people shopping in the marketplace and haggling over the price. They can imitate all kinds of noise very well."

    Lu Xiaofeng: "It seems to me that this person not only can imitate sounds, he also masters ventriloquism!"

    Blue Beard said with a laugh, "I did not know you are an expert in this matter."

    Lu Xiaofeng: "Out of a hundred different skills, I am an expert in at least 80. It should be easy for a man like me to get rich, it's a pity that I have one weakness!"

    Blue Beard: "Oh?"

    Lu Xiaofeng: "I like women, especially women who I should not like." He sighed and then continued, "Therefore, although I am smart and competent, I often fall under a woman's trickery."

    Blue Beard smiled: "A man who has never fallen under a woman's trickery cannot be considered a true man!"

    Lu Xiaofeng sighed: "It was precisely because I am a genuine-article-and-reasonably-priced man that I volunteered to be your wife's bodyguard, to accompany her sitting in that carriage going around in circle. Just like a fool I obediently let her to cover my eyes."

    Blue Beard: "At that time you did not think that she would bring you back here?"

    Lu Xiaofeng: "It was not until I met that boy that I thought the night market and the running water were all in someone's mouth."

    Blue Beard laughed: "Not only this person knows ventriloquism, he can also drive a carriage."

    Lu Xiaofeng: "The sound in that empty room, certainly also came from his lips!"

    Blue Beard: "No."

    Lu Xiaofeng was startled: "No? An empty room can also produce sounds?"

    Blue Beard: "The empty room is actually located underneath the gambling hall. If the vent is opened, the noise from above will be transmitted down."

    With a bitter smile Lu Xiaofeng said, "No wonder I could not think of how he could get out of that room!"

    Blue Beard: "And now you certainly have figured out why we did this?"

    Lu Xiaofeng said, "You intentionally wanted me to be totally disoriented so that I won't be able to figure out where exactly I was last night, and then you masquerade yourself as me and did all kinds of crime and let me be the scapegoat!"

    Blue Beard: "Wrong!

    Lu Xiaofeng: "Wrong? Really?"

    Blue Beard: "We do not want you to be the scapegoat. Not at all. We only want you to do one thing for us!"

    Fang Yufei joined in: "If you are successful, not only we will immediately wash your name clean, we will also give you anything you care to ask for!"

    With a cold laugh Lu Xiaofeng said, "What if I want to be your brother-in-law? Can I?"

    Blue Beard: "You can." He smiled and continued, "Friends are like hands and feet, wives are like clothes. You can change clothes anytime you like!"

    Lu Xiaofeng: "How many times have you changed?"

    Blue Beard: "Only once. I traded four to get one!"

    Lu Xiaofeng burst out in laughter: "I am surprised someone like you can also make a losing business deal."

    There were several scrolls of paper arranged on the shelf behind them. The Blue Beard took a scroll and handed it over to Lu Xiaofeng.

    Lu Xiaofeng asked: "Who drew this painting?"

    Blue Beard: "Li Shentong!" [lit. divine child, a prodigy]

    Lu Xiaofeng: "What kind of person is Li Shentong?"

    Blue Beard: "He is my former wife's younger brother!"

    Actually, Lu Xiaofeng had received the painting, but as soon as he heard it, he pushed the scroll back. "Other people's paintings, I might be interested in looking. But this fellow's painting, no, thank you."

    Blue Beard smiled: "There is no harm in you looking at this painting. Regardless of how dreadful a painting might be, it won't frighten you to death just by looking at it once or twice."

    With a bitter smile Lu Xiaofeng said, "I am not afraid to be frightened to death, I only afraid I will die of aggravation." However, he took the scroll and unfolded it anyway.

    To his surprise, the painting was about four women. Three of them were younger; they were picking flower or chasing butterfly. The other woman looked considerably older. She bore the air of a respectable madam, sitting straight underneath a gazebo, as if she was watching over the other women.

    Blue Beard: "These four women were all my wives."

    Lu Xiaofeng looked at the four women in the painting, he also looked at Fang Yuxiang. "Looks like your business dealing is not a total loss after all," he muttered.

    Blue beard: "My ex-brother-in-law did not fear neither the Heaven nor the Earth, but he fears his Jiejie. When he drew this painting, obviously he did not dare to draw his Jiejie too ugly, but he drew the other women a bit uglier instead. Just by looking at this painting, although you meet them, you might not necessarily able to recognize them."

    Lu Xiaofeng stared at him: "Why would I want to meet them?"

    Blue Beard: "Because I want you to find them."

    Lu Xiaofeng: "So you want me to find women who you yourself did not want anymore?"

    Blue Beard: "I just want you to ask them and get one thing for me."

    Lu Xiaofeng: "What thing?"

    Blue Beard: "Luocha Tablet." [Luocha is a demon in Buddhism. I haven't read the White Hair Demoness by Liang Yusheng, but I believe this is the same Luocha as in Yu Luocha, the title character.]

    Lu Xiaofeng knitted his eyebrows; his countenance seemed to change a little bit. He had never seen the Luocha Tablet, but he had heard about it.

    The Luocha Tablet was a piece of jade tablet, an ancient jade tablet which was probably thousands of years old. Its worth was said to be comparable to the amount of money paid by the king of Qin in exchange to Yan Kingdom's eighteen fortified cities [not sure about this part].

    The jade tablet was actually not too big. The front surface was engraved with seventy-two demons and twenty-six evil spirits. The opposite side was engraved with Buddhist scripture. It was said that from beginning to the end, there were more than a thousand characters.

    Blue Beard: "Not only the jade tablet itself is already priceless, it is also the treasured object of the Devil Cult of the Western Region. To the Devil Cult disciples all around the world, seeing this jade tablet is the same as seeing their Jiaozhu [Cult Leader] personally."

    Lu Xiaofeng: "I know!"

    Blue Beard: "I am sure you do."

    Lu Xiaofeng: "What I don't know is how did this jade tablet end up in your hand?"

    Blue Beard: "Someone lost to his last penny, so he pawned this thing to me for five hundred thousand taels; but he had lost it all again in one night!"

    Lu Xiaofeng laughed: "This person really knows how to lose!"

    Blue Beard: "In the thirteen years of the Sliver Hook Casino's history, he holds the record as the biggest loser!"

    Lu Xiaofeng: "You did not know who he was at that time?"

    Blue Beard: "I only knew he was surnamed Yu [jade], and called Tianbao [the jewel of heavens]. I have never dreamed that he was the son of Yu Luocha of the Western Region."

    Actually, what kind of person was Yu Luocha of the Western Region? Was he a man or a woman? Was he ugly or handsome?

    Nobody knew.

    Nobody had ever seen his true identity.

    But everybody believed that for the last several years, the most mysterious character of the Wulin world, the most fearsome, was undoubtedly him!

    Not only his personality and martial art skill were mysterious, he was also the founder of the most mysterious, the most fearsome cult of the Western Region, the Devil Cult.

    Lu Xiaofeng: "Was he alone at that time?"

    Blue Beard: "Not only he was alone, he looked like one who visited the Central Plains for the first time!"

    Among the young people who lived for a long time outside the Great Wall, there was no one who did not want to experience the glamorous life of the Central Plains.

    Lu Xiaofeng sighed and said, "Perhaps because it was his first visit that he had fallen just in a short time."

    Blue Beard: "After I recognized his origin, I did not dare to accept his jade tablet, but he insisted that I took it."

    Lu Xiaofeng: "I'm sure he was anxious to win that five hundred thousand taels of gambling capital back."

    Blue Beard: "Actually, he was not anxious to win the money back, he was ready to lose again."

    Lu Xiaofeng: "People who love to gamble would gamble just for the sake of gambling, winning or losing does not make any difference. However, without gambling capital they cannot gamble. Therefore, to acquire gambling capital, a lot of people pawn everything, even their own wives."

    Blue Beard: "It's just that pawning your wife, you may or may not redeem her, but pawning this jade tablet, there is no other option, he must redeem it. That's why after I accepted this jade tablet, I was trembling with fear, not knowing where would be the best place to hide it."

    Lu Xiaofeng: "So where did you hide it?"

    Blue Beard: "Originally it was hidden inside a secret cash box underneath my bed."

    Lu Xiaofeng: "And now?"

    Blue Beard sighed: "Now it's gone!"

    Lu Xiaofeng: "You know who took it?"

    Blue Beard said, "The secret cash box is reinforced with three iron gates on the outside. Only two people can open it."

    Lu Xiaofeng asked, "Other than you, who else can open it?"

    Blue Beard replied, "Li Xia!"

    Lu Xiaofeng: "Is she the one looking at the painting underneath the gazebo?"

    Blue Beard sneered: "She was married to me for more than ten years; I don't think I have ever seen her holding a book!"

    Lu Xiaofeng: "She was married to you for more than ten years; yet you casually sent them away just like that?"

    Blue Beard: "I gave them five hundred thousand taels each."

    Lu Xiaofeng coldly said, "With five hundred thousand taels you bought a woman's several years' worth of youth. Not a bad business deal, actually!"

    Blue Beard sighed: "I also realize that they certainly are not satisfied, hence ..."

    Lu Xiaofeng: "Hence they stole that jade tablet to vent their anger!"

    Blue Beard smiled bitterly: "But she is a bit too harsh. She definitely knew that if I cannot hand the jade tablet over, the people of Western Region's Devil Cult would surely not spare me!"

    Lu Xiaofeng said, "The deeper the love, the more extreme the hatred. Maybe that's why she wanted your life."

    Blue Beard: "But I don't want her life at all, I only want the jade tablet back."

    Lu Xiaofeng: "Do you know her whereabouts?"

    Blue Beard: "She went outside the Great Wall. Probably she just wanted to go north, but for some reason she stopped by Rahasu by the Songhua River [located in Jilin province, through Harbin, a tributary of Heilongjiang] and took residence in that vicinity. I think she is wintering there."

    Lu Xiaofeng: "Now it is already the tenth month, and you really want me to travel tens of thousands li [1 li is approximately 0.5km] to that damned place where one's nose can freeze, to find someone for you?" [Translator's note: previously, the months were translated into Gregorian calendar's months, but since the Chinese calendar differs slightly from the Gregorian's, I decided to keep it as it is, i.e. 'the tenth month' instead of 'October'.]

    Blue Beard: "You can always cover your nose with a piece of sheepskin."

    Lu Xiaofeng was silent.

    Blue Beard: "If you have any thoughts, you might as well speak up so that we can discuss it together."

    Lu Xiaofeng was lost in thought for a moment before saying, "I only want to say one sentence."

    Blue Beard: "Only one sentence?"

    Lu Xiaofeng: "This one sentence has only two words."

    Blue Beard: "Two words?"

    Lu Xiaofeng: "See you!"

    As soon as he said those two words, he stood up and left.

    Unexpectedly, the Blue Beard did not stop him, he smiled instead and said, "You really want to leave? I won't see you out then."

    Even if he wanted to send him off, he would not have enough time, because Lu Xiaofeng had already leaped over the door like a frightened rabbit.

    Outside the door, the two burly men were still standing like a pair of wooden statues. He could still hear Fang Yufei sighed inside the room: "Such a good wine is already prepared, but he walked away without drinking any. It's a pity, really."

    Fang Yuxiang coldly replied, "There are some people who are tramps by nature. Wine offered in toast they do not want, wine they are forced to drink they would seek."

    Lu Xiaofeng could only pretend he did not hear anything. Within the last month he had gotten himself into too many troubles. He had decided he needed some time to recuperate; he did not want to meddle into other people's business any longer.

    Besides, Ouyang Qing was still in Beijing, recovering from her injuries while keeping company the newly-wed Mrs. Ximen Chuixue, who was going to have a baby.

    He had given them his promise that when the snow starts to fall, he would return to Beijing to accompany them eating mutton soup.

    Thinking about those pair of affectionate and loving eyes of Ouyang Qing, he decided that first thing tomorrow he would leave for Beijing.

    He climbed over the eighteen steps of the stone stairs in just a few bounces of his feet. Although the door at the top was closed, he was confident that he could reopen it.

    "The Silver Hook Casino ... beautiful iceberg girl ... empty room with iron panel ... Western Region's Yu Luocha ..."

    He was determined to treat all this as merely a nightmare.

    Too bad he was not dreaming at all.

    He had just pushed the door open when he heard someone was speaking with a laugh outside: "Whatever Seniors want, drinking wine or gambling, just put it in my account."

    A cold voice replied, "Your account? Who do you think you are?"

    This man's voice was so dry and sharp, and very full of himself, as if he was always ready to curse people whenever he opens his mouth.

    Lu Xiaofeng sighed. He did not need to look to know who this person was. But he was still unable to restrain himself from taking a peek. With his finger he pulled the painting hanging over the door a little bit. Immediately he saw that old man in green, whose robe was embroidered with a monster, was standing at the front door with his hands behind his back. With flashing eyes he was looking around the room.

    Behind him, the one who speaks with a laugh, was Chief Yang, who in normal times always shows off his authority as a government official.

    Turning his gaze to the side, Lu Xiaofeng noticed that the other two old men in green had also come. Their expressions were equally cold and indifferent to. Similarly, their eyes were also bright. Both sides of their temples were bulging, just like two meatballs sticking out of their heads. Someone with keen eyesight would immediately realize that internal energy of these men was immeasurably deep.

    Where did these three old monsters come from? Lu Xiaofeng heaved a sigh and gently pulled the door close. With a somersault he landed back at the bottom of the stairs.

    The two wooden-statue-like burly men watched him as he walked back; there was a glint of laughter in their eyes.

    This time Lu Xiaofeng pretended not to see them; he walked back into the room in big strides while calling out loudly, "Hurry up to prepare the wine for me. The one-who-would-rather-drink-forced-wine-over-the-offered-wine-in-toast is coming."

    The wine had already been prepared.

    Lu Xiaofeng quickly downed thirteen cups in just one breath. Fang family's brother and sister, along with the Blue Beard, only watched him drink.

    "We already knew you would come back." They did not say these words; they did not need to say these words.

    Lu Xiaofeng downed three more cups before he stopped and said, "Is it enough?"

    Blue Beard laughed: "Is it true that forced wine is better than offered wine?"

    Lu Xiaofeng also laughed: "As long as it is free, the wine is always good."

    Blue Beard burst out in laughter: "In that case I'll offer you sixteen more cups!"

    Lu Xiaofeng: "You're on!" Unexpectedly he really drank sixteen more cups, then plopped his butts on a chair. His eyes started at Blue Beard. Suddenly he asked, "Are you really afraid of the Western Region's Yu Luocha?"

    Blue Beard: "I am!"

    Lu Xiaofeng: "Yet you have the guts to kill Yu Tianbao?"

    Blue Beard: "I do not have such big guts. He did not die in my hand."

    Lu Xiaofeng: "He did not?"

    Blue Beard shook his head: "But I do know who the real killer is. If you can find the Luocha Tablet for me, I can find the killer for you to be delivered to the Sui Han San You [Three Friends of Eternal Winter]!"

    Lu Xiaofeng: "Sui Han San You? Aren't they the Kunlun Mountains' Great Brightness Mirror, Heavenly Dragon Mountain Cave's Sui Han San You?"

    Blue Beard: "They have lived in seclusion in that place for more than twenty years. I am surprised you still know their name."

    Lu Xiaofeng sighed: "I am also surprised that they are not dead yet."

    Blue Beard: "I am afraid you will be even more surprised to know that they are now the Law Protector Elders of the Yu Luocha Cult of the Western Region.”

    [Translator’s note: for some reason this Cult reminds me a lot of the Ming Cult. The original text of ‘law protector’ is ‘hu fa’, with ‘hu’ – protect, and ‘fa’ – religious law; the same characters Jin Yong used in ‘hu jiao fa wang’, with ‘jiao’ means Cult and ‘wang’ means King.]

    Lu Xiaofeng sighed: “Unexpectedly he is able to subdue these three old freaks; apparently his ability is truly not bad!”

    Blue Beard: “Luckily I have a way to deal with him.”

    Lu Xiaofeng: “What way?”

    Blue Beard: “First, retrieve the Luocha Tablet and return it to him, then find the killer and hand it over to him, afterwards go hiding as far away as possible and never to provoke him anymore.”

    With a bitter smile Lu Xiaofeng said, “Looks like that is the only way.”

    Blue Beard: “Therefore, while the weather is not too cold yet, you’d better leave for Rahasu immediately!”

    Lu Xiaofeng: “Are you sure your Li Xia is over there?”

    Blue Beard: “I am sure she is there!”

    Lu Xiaofeng: “How do you know?”

    Blue Beard: “Naturally I have a way to get the information.”

    Lu Xiaofeng: “When I am there, you are sure I can find her?”

    Blue Beard: “As long as you agree to go, even if you cannot find her, there will be someone who will lead you to her!”

    Lu Xiaofeng: “Who?”

    Blue Beard: “When you get there, someone will make a contact with you.”

    Lu Xiaofeng: “Who?”

    Blue Beard: “Just go and you will find out!”

    Lu Xiaofeng: “Those three old freaks are outside, how am I going to go out?”

    Blue Beard smiled and said, “A smart rabbit’s hole has three way outs; this place naturally cannot have only one outlet!”

    He turned around and pulled open the pear flower shaped cabinet door on the wall behind him. Immediately a secret door appeared.

    Lu Xiaofeng did not wait for anybody to say anything anymore. He stood up and walked away.

    Blue Beard: “You do not need to fear they are going to pursue you. Once they know you are painstakingly looking for the Luocha Tablet, they are not going to bump even a single strand of hair on your body.”

    Lu Xiaofeng walked around the table toward the secret door. Suddenly he turned his head around and said, “I have something I’d like to ask!”

    Blue Beard was listening.

    Lu Xiaofeng: “Since Yu Tianbao was the son of Yu Luocha of the Western Region, certainly he was not stupid.”

    Blue Beard nodded in acknowledgement.

    Lu Xiaofeng: “Then who won his five hundred thousand taels of silver?”

    Fang Yuxiang: “I did.”

    Lu Xiaofeng laughed.

    Fang Yufei sighed: “Too bad easy come easy go. In less than two days, she has lost that hundred thousand taels of silver again.”

    Lu Xiaofeng: “Whom did she lose it to?”

    Blue Beard: “To me!”

    Lu Xiaofeng burst out in laughter. “This is called ‘dragon matches dragon, ‘phoenix matches phoenix, compulsive gambler [orig. ‘du gui’ – gambling ghost] matches compulsive gambler, bedbug matches bedbug’!” He was still laughing hard when he walked out the door. Outside the door there was another multi-paneled door. He reached out and knocked. ‘Ding! Ding!’ It was indeed iron panel.

    After walking through the tunnel again, he climbed about a dozen or so stone steps, and already he saw starlight filled the sky.

    The stars were shining bright. The night was very deep.

    The night breeze was blowing. Suddenly Lu Xiaofeng felt very cold, because he remembered that very soon he would have to take the long journey to the distant place, the eternally freezing Songhua River, the ice-covered Rahasu.

    Suddenly he thought the cold was unbearable.

    Right now it was still autumn. The end of autumn.

Similar Threads

  1. liu xiaofeng's lovers
    By kyss of the sword in forum Wuxia Fiction
    Replies: 13
    Last Post: 11-29-13, 03:06 AM
  2. The XiaoFeng dilemma
    By shortsight in forum Wuxia Fiction
    Replies: 28
    Last Post: 12-15-10, 01:50 PM
  3. Did Yan 13 -love- THIRD MASTER Xie Xiaofeng?
    By PJ in forum Wuxia Fiction
    Replies: 11
    Last Post: 09-16-08, 07:00 PM
  4. Who is your favourite Lu Xiaofeng's friend?
    By Extremer88 in forum Wuxia Fiction
    Replies: 10
    Last Post: 03-22-08, 05:52 PM
  5. how big is the gap between XYP elders and Xiaofeng?
    By wuxianewbie in forum Wuxia Fiction
    Replies: 43
    Last Post: 09-17-05, 08:34 AM

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •