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Thread: Adventures of Lu Xiao Feng, Book 3, Before and After the Duel

  1. #21

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    Thanks for the kind words you guys.

    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 Dragon Tiger Mountain 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."
    春花秋月几时了,
    往事知多少?
    小楼昨夜又东风,
    故国不堪回首明月中.
    雕栏玉砌应犹在,
    只是朱颜改.
    问君能有几多愁,
    恰似一江春水向东流.
    --南唐后主,李煜.

  2. #22
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    thank you so much, I love this story

  3. #23
    Senior Member ClayPoT's Avatar
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    thanks for the update
    Never believe anything in politics until it has been officially denied.

  4. #24

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    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!"
    春花秋月几时了,
    往事知多少?
    小楼昨夜又东风,
    故国不堪回首明月中.
    雕栏玉砌应犹在,
    只是朱颜改.
    问君能有几多愁,
    恰似一江春水向东流.
    --南唐后主,李煜.

  5. #25
    Member LiarLiar's Avatar
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    What a great fight! Short, but to the point. It is always great to see LXF in action.

  6. #26
    Senior Member xJadedx's Avatar
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    Wow, I love the speed you're translating at, Moin. *Bows* Kudos to that!
    Because I'm somewhere in between,
    My love and my agony.

  7. #27
    Senior Member charbydis's Avatar
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    May I ask what is "Autumn water"?
    "Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self."
    Cyril Connolly

  8. #28

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    Originally posted by charbydis
    May I ask what is "Autumn water"?
    A river. In Chinese poetry, sometimes rivers aren't just referred to as simply rivers but also takes on seasonal qualities as well to convey some connotation that comes with that season. Like in the poem in my signature, Li Hou Zhu compares his troubles to a "river of spring water flowing to the east". Just think of that phrase as a river flood of water, but in the fall (and all of the connotations of that season). That's the best I can explain it. I also can't exactly describe how it makes a sword strike different to be compared to Autumn instead of Spring or Summer or Winter (although I get a feeling that Xi Men Chui Xue's strikes are all Wintery). Sorry if it's still confusing as hell, maybe someone else can explain it better.
    Last edited by Moinllieon; 07-31-04 at 06:13 AM.
    春花秋月几时了,
    往事知多少?
    小楼昨夜又东风,
    故国不堪回首明月中.
    雕栏玉砌应犹在,
    只是朱颜改.
    问君能有几多愁,
    恰似一江春水向东流.
    --南唐后主,李煜.

  9. #29
    Junior Member Kage_Wah's Avatar
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    Hi, I'm new to the forum.

    I read the first chapter of Moin's DGSD translation and thought it
    was great, do you intend to translate any more of DGSD at all?

    I read the prologue for LXF and I'm looking forward to getting into the first book.

    So anyway you've gained yourself a new follower and I hope to read your latest translations when I've caught up.

  10. #30
    Senior Member patricia n's Avatar
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    haven't gotten around to reading the more recent updates but just wanted to yell out a big fat THANK YOU for helping all of us chinese illiterate readers enjoy LXF (or slow vietnamese readers such as myself)!
    if you have the time and enthusiasm, please join in on the new and fabulous wuxia rpg fic /rpg discussion. (<--- click here)

  11. #31
    Junior Member gigglypuff103's Avatar
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    Love your translations! Lu Xiao Feng is one of my favorite characters!

  12. #32
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    Default Duel of the Century!

    The obvious quality of the book makes it even sadder that Liu Yung was mis-cast as LXF. Would anybody emdorse my view that David Chiang Dai-wei might have been a good choice?

  13. #33

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    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 Imperial Palace, 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 orning 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 thsee 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!"
    春花秋月几时了,
    往事知多少?
    小楼昨夜又东风,
    故国不堪回首明月中.
    雕栏玉砌应犹在,
    只是朱颜改.
    问君能有几多愁,
    恰似一江春水向东流.
    --南唐后主,李煜.

  14. #34

    Default

    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 Imperial Palace 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 Imperial Palace, 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.
    春花秋月几时了,
    往事知多少?
    小楼昨夜又东风,
    故国不堪回首明月中.
    雕栏玉砌应犹在,
    只是朱颜改.
    问君能有几多愁,
    恰似一江春水向东流.
    --南唐后主,李煜.

  15. #35

    Default

    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 Fobidden City 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 Imperial Palace," 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 Forbidden Palace!" 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!"
    春花秋月几时了,
    往事知多少?
    小楼昨夜又东风,
    故国不堪回首明月中.
    雕栏玉砌应犹在,
    只是朱颜改.
    问君能有几多愁,
    恰似一江春水向东流.
    --南唐后主,李煜.

  16. #36

    Default

    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 comfortale 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?"

    "Becaues 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!"
    春花秋月几时了,
    往事知多少?
    小楼昨夜又东风,
    故国不堪回首明月中.
    雕栏玉砌应犹在,
    只是朱颜改.
    问君能有几多愁,
    恰似一江春水向东流.
    --南唐后主,李煜.

  17. #37

    Default

    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."
    春花秋月几时了,
    往事知多少?
    小楼昨夜又东风,
    故国不堪回首明月中.
    雕栏玉砌应犹在,
    只是朱颜改.
    问君能有几多愁,
    恰似一江春水向东流.
    --南唐后主,李煜.

  18. #38

    Default

    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 eys, 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.
    春花秋月几时了,
    往事知多少?
    小楼昨夜又东风,
    故国不堪回首明月中.
    雕栏玉砌应犹在,
    只是朱颜改.
    问君能有几多愁,
    恰似一江春水向东流.
    --南唐后主,李煜.

  19. #39

    Default

    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 Forbidden Palace!"

    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 appearence, 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.
    春花秋月几时了,
    往事知多少?
    小楼昨夜又东风,
    故国不堪回首明月中.
    雕栏玉砌应犹在,
    只是朱颜改.
    问君能有几多愁,
    恰似一江春水向东流.
    --南唐后主,李煜.

  20. #40

    Default 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 *******, you've showed up as well?" He said in a low voice.

    "Well, since even a big ******* like you have showed up, why can't a little ******* 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 concorted 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.

    --In the end, he still fooled this little *******. 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 ******* 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 Enteral Joy Mansion 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 Eternal Joy Mansion. 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 Eternal Joy Mansion." 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." She gently placed her hand 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 Moinllieon; 03-30-05 at 02:37 PM.
    春花秋月几时了,
    往事知多少?
    小楼昨夜又东风,
    故国不堪回首明月中.
    雕栏玉砌应犹在,
    只是朱颜改.
    问君能有几多愁,
    恰似一江春水向东流.
    --南唐后主,李煜.

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