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Thread: Flying Dagger, The Flying Dagger Reappears 《飛刀,又見飛刀》 - Gu Long

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    PART THREE: A FIGHT THAT BEWITCHES THE SOUL




    Chapter 1: Grand Madam Gongsun


    1


      "I can go with you if that's what you want. But you must promise me one thing at least."
      "What is it?"
      "I want wine. And I want to enjoy it to the full."
      "Alright, I'll buy you wine." Tie Yinyi said, "I promise you will have a great time drinking wine."


    2


      Highland. An expansive plateau. An autumn breeze was blowing, yet not a falling leaf could be seen, since there was not even a single tree on this wild plain.
      Yet overnight, this place had seen great changes. There were suddenly more than twenty tents topped with golden tassels, erected around one massive tent with a canopy sewn from 1,128 pieces of calfskin.
      It took place in the morning.
      The herdsmen who were there the day before arrived in the morning. They thought they had come to the wrong place.
      Things became even more surprising at noon. No one could believe their eyes.
      All of a sudden, there was a red carpet over the grassland. Carriages brought in many exquisite wooden vessels, tables, chairs, and bed curtains, which were carried into different tents.
      Wine vessels cast from solid gold and silver were set on the dining table in the main tent.
      Seven or eight large, roomy carriages appeared. Several middle-aged men alighted. They had potbellies protruding slightly and were all big shots, or so it seemed. There was almost a greasiness on their faces that could never be washed off.
      Very few people knew who they were. Someone was heard yelling from a distance,
      "Announcing the arrivals of Master Chen from Heavenly Scent Hall, Master Wang from Deer Bleat Garden, Master Du from Spring Heart Garden, Master Hu from Jade Spring Pavilion, Master Li from Top Graduate House, Master Lin from Great Constellation Restaurant!"


      Another group appeared around dusk, on pliant horses and carriages wafting with fragrance. Gorgeous beauties stepped down from the carriages. They were attended to by maidservants both young and old, pretty page girls and handsome page boys. Each beauty had her own unique grace, style, and charisma.
      They were assigned to different tents.


      Tie Yinyi and Li Huai were, of course, the last to arrive.


    3


      It was past dusk by the time Li Huai arrived. The inside of the tent was already as brightly lit as the day.
      Li Huai squinted his eyes, smiling.
      "What they saythat Chief Steward Tie is the most generous and extravagant man in the worldis surely no exaggeration."
      "I promise to let you enjoy your wine to the full. I'm going to pay for it grandly."
      "Looks like I have no excuse not to get drunk tonight."
      "Then get drunk," Tie Yinyi said. "The two of us aren't friends, but I can be drunk with you tonight."
      "We're not friends? Why not?" Li Huai asked.
      Tie Yinyi stared at him. He had that heavy and solemn expression in his eyes again.
      "Always remember, you're the Second Young Master of the Li family. No one in the world can be your friend, given your status and position."
      He continued, stressing each word. "You must remember this even more: after drinking with me tonight, you'd probably not have another chance to drink like this again."
      "Why not?"
      "Because you're now heir to those peerless flying daggers." Tie Yinyi's face became even more solemn. "And you must pay a painful price to inherit them."
      "Why must I inherit them?"
      "You're born to. You have no choice at all."
      "Can't I live a happier life?"
      "No."
      Li Huai laughed again. "I'm not convinced. I'd have to find a way to."


    4


      No matter how depressed, disillusioned, or despondent a man feels when he becomes sober, he's always happy drinking wineespecially with beautiful women serving him with choice vessels.
      So Li Huai drank.
      Tie Yinyi also drankno less than Li Huai.
      The man had rampaged the world twenty years ago, massacring so many. There was never the slightest emotion on his face. Did this old man have an untangled knot in his heart, that could only be undone by wine?


      It was deep in the night and they were almost drunk.
      In the darkest, deepest, blackest portion of the night, a strange and mysterious noise like that of a buzzing mosquito was heard. It was soft, scrawny, and sharp. Although it sounded far, far away, it was in fact very clear and distinct, like it was close by.
      Tie Yinyi suddenly knitted his thick, silver braid-like brows.
      Li Huai immediately asked:
      "What is it?"
      "Nothing. Just drink."
      As he emptied a large cup of wine down his throat, he saw someone enter the tent from the outside.
      A very strange person, entering with very strange steps and gait.
      Someone who seemed to be dancing in.


    5


      With a waist resembling a snake, although more supple and adept at twisting and turning. A waist that could casually twist into a position in a way no one could imagine. And suddenly twist out from that position in a way no one could imagine. There was a very primitive allure in those gyrating posturesso strange, mysterious, and beautiful.
      With a satin-like skin, but without satin's glaring sheen.
      With a sheen that was soft and gentle, but also with a primitive allure.
      With legs that were straight, long, and slender. With muscles trembling with wild elasticity and rhythm.
      A rhythm that could make every man's heart keep beating.
      Dancing to this beat, that person with the incredible dancing gait sat down in the tent.
      The hearts of everyone started to beat faster. They seemed to be holding their breaths. And even Li Huai was no exception.
      After this, whenever he met a close friend at a drinking session, he would keep expressing his utter admiration.
      "A stunning and peerless beauty. I'm sure that everyone who witnessed the scene would respond," Li Huai said. "I'm sure any man who is still a man will feel his heart stirred."
      "And you? Were you stirred?"
      "No."
      "So you're not a man?"
      "Of course I am. And I'm like every normal man."
      "Then why weren't you stirred?"
      "Because that she was a he."
      So the listeners all collapsed in surprise.


    6


      The man, who looked far more attractive than most women in this world, was twisting and gyrating towards Tie Yinyi and Li Huai. He first gave Li Huai an amorous glance with his utterly bewitching eyes. Next, he put a satin box on the table with his slender, shapely fingers, which resembled bamboo shoots in spring.
      He then gave Li Huai another wink, while not forgetting to give one to Tie Yinyi as well.
      And kept twisting and wriggling his hips in a dance, with his really supple waist.
      Li Huai actually felt his lips go a little dry.
      But Tie Yinyi only watched coldly, without any change in expression.
      The other man gave him a most seductive smile, then wriggled away like a tornado. He was soon out of the tent.
      His smile and dance were enough to put these famous courtesans and beauties to shame. Only Tie Yinyi remained unmoved.
      "Not bad at all," Li Huai said. "You can actually feel indifferent when you see such a woman."
      "I would have allowed that person to stay if he was really a woman. Unfortunately, that she is not a she."
      "She's not a woman?"
      "Neither a man nor a woman."
      "Then what is he?"
      "Only a transvestite," Tie Yinyi said. "One of the Six Transvestites of Kun Province."
      Li Huai wasn't stupid.
      "I get it now, but not entirely. Why did that transvestite come look for you here?"
      "Why don't you first take a look at what's inside the box?"


      Li Huai opened the box. He froze. Everyone would be dumbfounded by the contents of the box.
      In the box, there was only a bean on a red satin lining. A small bean.
      What's so strange about a bean?
      Why make such a fuss about a bean? Why did that weird man bring a bean in here so weirdly?
      Li Huai couldn't quite understand. Which was why he froze.
      "Is this what you so solemnly want me to see?" Li Huai asked Tie Yinyi.
      "Yes."
      "It looks like a bean. Only a bean."
      "Yes." Tie Yinyi still had that grave expression on his face. "It looks like a bean. Only a bean."
      "What's so special about a bean?"
      "A bean, of course, is nothing special," Tie Yinyi said. "If it's only a bean, then of course there's nothing special about it."
      "You mean it's not a real bean?"
      "It's not."
      "What is it then, if not a bean? What is this funny thing?"
      Tie Yinyi's expression turned even more solemn as he put stress on each word. "There's nothing funny about this thing at all."
      "Nothing funny about it?"
      "Yes. If anyone were to take it lightly, he would die, taking the next step."


      Li Huai was stunned again.
      Li Huai was not someone often made dumb by another, but he didn't understand Tie Yinyi's words at all.
      "It's a curse. A curse that can kill in an instant."
      "I remember now!" Li Huai cried. "This is the bean of Wisteria Flower!"
      "Yes."
      "I heard that if Wisteria Flower sends someone a bean, that personwhoever he iswill be considered dead the moment he sees it."
      "Yes," Tie Yinyi said. "That is why I called this bean a deadly curse."
      "Is everyone who has received this bean dead? Each and every one of them?"
      "Yes. So far, no one has survived."
      "I heard that Wisteria Flower is a woman. What sort of a powerful woman is she?"
      Tie Yinyi kept quiet for a long time before he spoke, stressing each word. "You're still young. There are many things you still can't understand. But always remember, there are too many women in this world far more powerful than you can imagine."


      Suddenly, Li Huai kept quiet too.
      He suddenly remembered the Moon Goddess. And Keke.
      Could they be considered powerful women?
      Li Huai didn't want to remember them or think about this question. He only asked Tie Yinyi, "Have you seen Wisteria Flower before?"
      "No."
      Li Huai gave a long sigh, again showing that unique smile no one could decide whether was hateful or adorable.
      "Then this bean must be for someone else," Li Huai said. "Even if it's some deadly curse, it has nothing to do with you at all."
      Tie Yinyi stared at him for a long time. His cold eyes seemed a little warmer, but his voice turned even colder.
      "You think it's for you? Are you going to be responsible for it?"
      Li Huai admitted silently.
      Tie Yinyi smiled coldly. "I've seen many young men who liked to play the hero. And many who weren't afraid of death. But it's a pity, you can't snatch this bean away for yourself."
      "I can't?" Li Huai asked.
      Before Tie Yinyi could say anything, Li Huai had struck like lightning. He snatched the deadly bean from the brocade cloth, giving it a flick. Up it jumped, from the palm into his mouth. He swallowed it whole, like a tipsy drunkard swallowing a peanut. Then he asked Tie Yinyi with a gleeful smile,
      "Now is it me who can't snatch away your bean, or you who can't snatch away mine?"


      Tie Yinyi's face changed color.
      Because that urchin-like smile on Li Huai's face immediately froze after he spoke. His face suddenly turned indescribably and horrendously grotesque, like that of a frozen dead man.
      Unless you have seen a dead man frozen to death, you absolutely cannot imagine the expression on his face.
      Tie Yinyi's pupils contracted. The muscles of his entire body also contracted.
      Unless you have seen Tie Yinyi's expression now, you cannot imagine someone as calm, cold and indifferent as him looking like he was at present.


      That strange mosquito-like noise rang out again at this moment. Although it sounded very distinct, it still seemed to be from very far away.
      Actually, it wasn't that far away now.


    7


      The noise actually came from the strings of a huqin.
      Mosquitoes, of course, cannot play the huqin. Only human beings can.
      A tall, beautiful, busty woman appeared, dressed in opulent clothes, her mature charms still able to flutter most men's hearts. On her arm was the hand of a wan, short, emaciated old man with white hair, dressed in tattered clothes. They had suddenly appeared in the tent.
      Clearly, they had walked in slowly step by step, the one supporting the other.
      Yet by the time everyone noticed them, they were already inside the tent.
      The old man was playing the huqin.
      An old, worn huqin, with bowstrings already black with age. A few strings had snapped. It sounded like a buzzing mosquito, so indescribably irritating to everyone.
      The old man had a completely shriveled face, his aging eyes sunken deep in their sockets. There was no glimmer of light in them. He was blind.


      They came in and stood quietly in a corner by the door, looking neither like beggars nor wandering tavern singers.
      Yet no one could help not noticing them. They seemed so mismatched.
      Even more amazingly, although the huqin was so close to everyone in the tent, it still sounded far away. Very, very far away.
      Only one person ignored them. He didn't even glance at them, treating them like they never existed.
      That person was Tie Yinyi.


      At this moment, Li Huai not only had a stiff, frozen smile on his face, but his whole body also appeared stiff and motionless.
      In fact, although the man wasn't dead yet, everyone could see that he was not far from death.
      Yet strangely, worry seemed to have left Tie Yinyi's face. Li Huai's death seemed to have nothing to do with him at all. Either that, or he had acquired some mysterious charm that could ensure Li Huai's survival.
    Last edited by kychong; 09-25-22 at 03:56 AM. Reason: fix errors

  2. #22
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    Thank you for yr hardwork, jiayou

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    8
      
      The mosquito-like noise of the huqin was no longer audible.
      Suddenly, from outside the tent came a lively, rhythmic, wonderful music, played by some unknown instruments.
      That man with the supple, wriggling, snake-like waist entered again, swaying and gyrating with the same dance steps.
      Although he wasn't alone this time.
      There are seven people this time, six looking as strange and seductive as he did, taking all sorts of strange and seductive dance steps to the beat of the music.1 They were dressed in every bizarre and seductive dance costume imaginable, exposing most parts of their bodies even more daringly than the dancing girls bought by Persian slave traders from the Middle East.
      They were, of course, all men.

      There was an extreme provocative wildness in the music, and they danced even more wildly.
      The music and dance kept those who clearly knew they were men from feeling disgusted.
      Amid these wild dancers wriggling and gyrating their hips and thighs, the spectators suddenly discovered another person.
      In direct contrast to them moving wildly, she remained completely still.
      Their torsos were mostly bare, but the woman was wearing a purple cloak, printed with purple golden flower motifs, draping all the way down to her heels. Her entire body was covered, only showing a face.
      A face no one who glanced once at could ever forget.
      It was so horrendously ugly, but with a kind of indescribable charm. Like she could utterly satisfy every man, anytime and anywhere.

      There are some who claim that ugly women also have their charms. Sometimes, even more than beautiful women, they can flutter a man's heart. An ugly woman's poses, attitude, frowns, smiles, and gestures can stir a man's desires.
      Anyone who had seen this woman could confirm the truth of this statement. And no one would doubt that once he heard her voice.
      Her voice was husky and low.
      She smiled at Tie Yinyi, then slowly walked up to Li Huai. She gazed intently at him for a long time.
      "Is he Li Huai?" she asked Tie Yinyi.
      "Yes."
      "But I don't find him bad at all."
      "Oh?"
      "He's not only not bad, he's quite brave. I've never seen anyone quite like him before."
      "Oh?"
      "He's the first man in the world who dares to swallow my bean in one gulp."
      Tie Yinyi deliberately gave the woman a cold stare and said in a deliberately cold voice:
      "Beans, I believe, are always meant for eating. No one knows how many beans are consumed each day in our world."
      "But my beans aren't meant for eating."
      "Why not?"
      "Because whoever eats my bean must die. He will turn into pus and blood in a day."
      Tie Yinyi smirked.
      "You don't believe me?" The woman asked.
      Tie Yinyi continued to smirk.
      What he meant by his smirk was clear. He was treating her words as bullshit.
      This woman also smiled, even more gently and beguilingly than before.
      "You must have guessed who I am."
      "Yes," Tie Yinyi said coldly. "You're Wisteria Flower."
      "Why don't you believe me, since you know who I am?"
      "Because I also know that Li Huai will not die."
      "You're wrong," Wisteria Flower answered softly. "Anyone who eats my bean, I assure you, will surely die. Mr. Li Huai will be no exception."
      "But Mr. Li Huai will be the exception."
      He sounded so full of confidence. Everyone knew Tie Yinyi wasn't stupid or ignorant, so he must have a reason for saying that. Wisteria Flower was also beginning to find it a little strange.
      "Why? Why will he be the exception?"
      "Because of Grand Madam Gongsun."

      "Grand Madam Gongsun" merely sounded like an old lady's titleat best an old woman just slightly more famous, richer, and older than the other old women.
      But when Wisteria Flower, that cold-blooded murderer, heard her name, even her charming smile faded a little.
      Tie Yinyi continued to speak in that cold, indifferent voice.
      "I believe you must also know who Grand Madam Gongsun is, and what she does."
      Wisteria Flower deliberately spoke in the same cold and indifferent voice:
      "I think I have heard of her. She seems to be only a murderer who kills for any client who is willing to pay her. It's just that her services are a bit more expensive, that's all."
      "Is that all you know about her?"
      "Are you telling me there's more to that woman?"
      "If you really don't know, let me enlighten you," Tie Yinyi said. "Grand Madam Gongsun is the most fearsome killer in the jianghu in the past 170 years. She's also the most senior and expensive assassin working today."
      "There also seems to be a moonlight like blade, the blade-like moonlight' Moon Goddess," Wisteria Flower deliberately asked. "Does she exist in the jianghu too?"
      "Yes."
      "Have you seen her?"
      "No," Tie Yinyi said. "She's like you and Grand Madam Gongsun. One doesn't see her very often."
      Wisteria Flower smiled beguilingly like water. "But you have seen me today."
      Tie Yinyi said, "That's only because you think Li Huai is dead. Everyone here who has seen you will surely also die, since you and the Six Transvestites of Kun Province have arrived."
      Wisteria Flower sighed quietly.
      "You're so thoughtful. So thoughtful on behalf of the others too."
      "Luckily, you're not me," Tie Yinyi said. "There are many things you haven't thought of."
      "Oh?"
      "You, at least, didn't guess that Grand Madam Gongsun would be here today."
      "Oh?"
      "Grand Madam Gongsun is like the Moon Goddess and yourself. She won't strike so easily. But if someone can afford her services and she agrees to kill, she will surely show up."
      Tie Yinyi continued. "As soon as one of you shows up, that assassin will definitely not let another steal her business. She won't let that person she's hired to kill die in another's hands. Nor will you."
      Wisteria Flower agreed.
      "Everyone in the jianghu knows this. I don't actually need to say it," Tie Yinyi said.
      "So why are you saying it now?"
      "Because I suddenly thought of a most interesting question."
      "What question?"
      "A person can only die once. If both of you appeared together, both wanting to kill the same person at the same time, which one of you would end up killing that person?"

      Wisteria Flower undoubtedly also found the question interesting. She thought for a long time before asking Tie Yinyi,
      "What do you think?"
      "I don't claim to have any special insights more than you. I only know one fact."
      "What fact?"
      "Twenty-two years have passed since Grand Madam Gongsun's first assignment, killing the Leader of Mount Lao Sect, Taoist Reverend Yiyan, at Bohai Bay. According to the deductions and assessments of the most experienced and qualified seniors of our martial arts world, she has struck twenty-one times since, once a year on average. Every person she killed was a top martial arts exponent of his time."
      "And how do those old fellows know?"
      "Based on the manner and habits of her strikes."
      "And their conclusion?"
      "In the past twenty-one years, no one can complain about Grand Madam Gongsun's killings. She has never made the slightest mistake. She certainly has not let even one of her targets escape."
      Wisteria Flower smiled again.
      "I've actually heard of her record." Then she asked Tie Yinyi, "But what about mine?"
      "Of course you have killed more than her," Tie Yinyi said. "You have killed sixty-nine more people since you first assassinated Yang Feihuan at Mawei Slope thirteen years ago. Like her, every person you killed was a first-class martial arts exponent. And like her, you have never once let your targets escape."
      "So I fare a little better than Grand Madam Gongsun?" Wisteria Flower was smiling enchantingly.
      "This sort of calculation is quite wrong," Tie Yinyi said. "You fare a little worse than her, and maybe more than a little worse."
      "Why?"
      "Because you made at least thirteen mistakes in those seventy assignments. You didn't time yourself precisely at times, some of your strikes weren't immediately fatal, and you were twice wounded yourself," Tie Yinyi said coldly. "Each time, those thirteen mistakes could have cost you your life."
      He stared at Wisteria Flower coldly and came to a cold conclusion. "So you're absolutely no match for Grand Madam Gongsun."

      Wisteria Flower's smile seemed to have faded in glamor and charm. She asked Tie Yinyi again,
      "You mean if Grand Madam Gongsun were here today and she also wanted Mr. Li dead, she'd be the one who ended up killing him?"
      "You got roughly what I mean," Tie Yinyi said. "If Grand Madam Gongsun won't let you kill the person she wants dead, then you probably can't."
      Wisteria Flower stared at Li Huai for a long time. That irresistible smile slowly surfaced on her face again.
      "I think you probably got it wrong this time. Our Mr. Li seems dead now," Wisteria Flower said. "And you yourself said a man can only die once."

      He was right.
      A man can only die once. Once someone dies in your hands, it is absolutely impossible for him to die again in someone else's hands.
      This is an indisputable fact no one can deny.

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    Chapter 2: The Misty Night


    1

      The snake-like hips were still gyrating, as the music continued to play.
      The violent, noisy, and primitive music sounded like drums, stampeding horses, slaughtering and clashing metallic weapons on the battlefield. No sound between the heavens and the earth, it seemed, could overcome this music and make it stop.
      Yet now, that mosquito-like noise from the huqin had overwhelmed it.
      Only those who had fought in a battle can understand this feeling.
      If you ever fought for one of two opposing armies, with blood streaming like rivers and corpses piling up everywhere, with thunderous drums beating by the side of the rearguard marshal, with comrades and enemies fighting in front with sabers and swords clashing beside you, heads getting sliced off, bones fracturing, blood splattering, screams like ripping cloth...
      If a mosquito were to buzz in your ear at that moment, what would be the most distinct sound you heard then?
      Definitely that mosquito's buzz.

      You can only understand this feeling when you have been to battle and experienced war.
      Everyone in this tent suddenly realized they could hear nothing but the screechy, mosquito-like noise of the huqin at that moment. And nothing else.
      The busty, tall, opulently-dressed lady, with mature charms that could still make most men's heart flutter, left the blind old man playing the incredible huqin music. With unusual gentleness and quiet grace, she slowly walked up to Tie Yinyi from the corner.
      "Thank you."
      She said, "Thank you for your compliments. We will always keep them in mind."
      Tie Yinyi stood up, looking serious and sincere. "I merely told the truth."
      "Then I can assure you what you said will definitely come true." The kind and respectable lady gave a polite curtsy. "I can guarantee Mr. Li Huai will never die before the coming sunrise."

      It was now late in the night, almost close to sunrise. But the blackness was still intense, shrouding the earth. There was still some time before dawn would break in the east under the darkness.
      Standing in the tent's brilliant lights, the graceful, cultured woman not only looked kind and respectable, but also elegant and dignified. No one would doubt any of her words.
      "I believe you," Tie Yinyi said. "I absolutely believe in whatever Grand Madam says."
      Wisteria Flower seemed unable to hold back her laughter. Still, she forced herself to. She asked Tie Yinyi,
      "Is this lady really Grand Madam Gongsun?"
      "Yes, I believe she is."
      "But she doesn't look like her. How could a Grand Madam be so young?" Wisteria Flower asked. "And why would a Grand Madam say something so irresponsible too?"
      The cultured lady smiled enchantingly at her too, also giving her a polite curtsy.
      "I'm young, you say? I won't pretend that I am. And I can't afford to be irresponsible like you say I am too.
      "I've signed a contract to take this man's life at sunrise. Of course I can't let him die before sunrise," Grand Madam Gongsun said. "Even if the man's dead, I can still revive him and make him die in my hands."
      Wisteria Flower sighed softly. Suddenly, the six dancers with snake-like waists completely surrounded Grand Madam Gongsun, arching their waists in six different directions. Twelve hands attacked Grand Madam Gongsun from twelve different directions, all at the same time.
      They attacked from twelve unexpected directions. Other than the six of them, no one else in the jianghu could attack so lethally under those circumstances.
      In that split second, the respectable lady seemed almost like a respectable dead woman.
      The old man playing the huqin was still playing a monotonous tune, his face as colorless and expressionless as before, like he was really blind.
      Tie Yinyi didn't intervene either. He seemed to have decided it was not his business.

      Six strange, bizarre, charming transvestites attacked with their twelve soul-bewitching, lethal hands. Twelve lethal strikes of such infinite varieties.
      But what followed was a single, horrendous shriek.
      Not from one, but from all six of them at the same time.
      The Six Transvestites of Kun Province all fell with a horrendous shriek. Not a wound or scratch could be found on their bodies. They all seemed to have collapsed for some strange unknown reason.
      All of a sudden, someone seemed to have slit a bloody horizontal gash below their foreheads and above their nose bridges, two to three inches long, with an invisible steel saber.
      Those bloody slits were like third eyes connecting their real eyes.
      All of a sudden, all six lost their sight. There was only a bloody furrow in place of their real eyes.
      Their eyes and the nose bridges in between were suddenly replaced by a bloody furrow instead.

    2

      Neither Tie Yinyi nor Wisteria Flower's complexion turned pale. Almost no one in the tent looked pale, since everyone else had either fainted or run off while they still could an hour ago.
      Even that famous courtesan, Song You'er, renowned throughout China for her quiet grace, virtue, decorum, and intelligence, had fled. She didn't look at all graceful and quiet when she ran.
      Running out, she looked more like a wild dog slashed on her butt by a butcher.

      The kind and respectable Grand Madam Gongsun sighed quietly again.
      "Grand Madam Gongsun, I really admire you now. One formless and lethal strike killing all six that was impossible to follow. I believe almost no one has actually seen how you killed those six little freaks of mine."
      "I don't deserve such flattery."
      "Since no one has understood how you struck, we must all admire you," Wisteria Flower said. "When your soul returns to Heaven, I will offer you wine and scented flowers on your death anniversary each year on this day, Grand Madam Gongsun."
      "I don't deserve it."
      Grand Madam Gongsun continued to speak with refined grace. "I'm sorry, I believe I will still be alive on this day in the coming year, just like Mr. Li Huai."
      "You really believe you can save him?"
      "I don't need to. No one can save a dead man."
      "What makes you think he's still alive?"
      Grand Madam Gongsun sighed again.
      "If you think Mr. Li Huai is dead now, then you surely don't know the man."
      "Oh?"
      "He wouldn't be Li Huai if that tiny bean of yours could kill him."

      Suddenly, at this moment, a sudden burst of laughter could be heard by everyone still inside the tent.
      When Wisteria Flower heard the laughter, she could no longer laugh.
      She never thought that person would be laughing now.
      That person who had suddenly burst out laughing was Li Huaiwho really ought to be dead by now.

    3

      Two hours ago, he had turned cold and dead suddenly. Yet Li Huai was laughing right now. And he actually stood up and walked.
      Mr. Li Huai actually walked up to Wisteria Flower, smiling politely at this woman bent on killing him before sunrise. There was a tiny something on his palm, which he offered to her respectfully.
      "Here's your bean," Li Huai said. "You can have it back."
      "Thank you." Wisteria Flower also gave her most charming smile. "I should have known, of course. Someone as smart as Mr. Li wouldn't really eat something so indigestible. It's just that I didn't expect Mr. Li to play dead so well."
      Li Huai smiled.
      "I've been practicing since I was a kid. Every time I stole food and they wanted to beat me to death, I would play dead first," he said. "A wild boy foraging for food must first learn some tricks like this. Unfortunately, I'm stuck with this bad habit. I keep doing it each time I find myself in this kind of trouble."
      "And when that wild boy grows up and cultivates some wonderful internal skill, he will be even better at playing dead."
      "I won't be modest about it. Unless I was good enough, I couldn't have fooled Lady Wisteria, could I?"
      "Mr. Li," Wisteria Flower smiled charmingly, picking up the bean on Li Huai's palm with all ten of her scallion-like fingers. "I admire and like you a lot. You must surely also like me in your heart?"
      Li Huai sighed.
      "I'm honest. It's really hard to dislike a woman like you."
      "Could you do me a favor then?"
      "What favor?"
      "Could you really die once for me?"
      That instant she said this was, they all knew, the best moment for her to strike. Wisteria Flower should have struck the moment just when she was making the request.
      She could have killed him with one strike.
      Yet strangely, for a long time after that, Wisteria Flower didn't look like she would. It would have been the perfect opportunity.
      Once you lose a good opportunity, it's gone forever. Only a fool will miss it.
      Wisteria Flower, of course, was no fool. But she was looking quite dumb at the moment.
      She had always wanted Li Huai dead. Li Huai was also the kind of man who wouldn't let her off. As she stared dumbly at him, it would have been also the best opportunity for Li Huai to strike.
      But like her, Li Huai didn't.
      How did these two incredibly smart people end up as fools, all of a sudden?
      Even more bizarrely, someone beside them was actually applauding these fools.

      Grand Madam Gongsun was clapping her hands.
      "Mr. Li, you're truly remarkable. I can't help but admire you."
      "You flatter me."
      "How exactly did you keep her in check?"
      "I merely used the tip of my little finger to brush that tiny acupoint at the rim of her palm, just when she took the bean from my hand. She didn't detect my light touch."
      "In other words, she can do nothing after saying those words, since her arm has suddenly turned numb? And she can't move the right half of her body now?'' Grand Madam Gongsun asked Li Huai.
      "Something like that."
      "That's why you didn't strike again."
      Li Huai smiled and Grand Madam Gongsun sighed. "I'm not trying to flatter you, Mr. Li. In the present world, I can't find three people to rival the marvelous kungfu of your hand just now."

      Li Huai blinked and smiled. He deliberately asked:
      "You may not be able to find three people, but surely you can find two, Grand Madam? Aren't you one of the two yourself?"
      "You won't believe me if I say yes. You won't believe me if I say no either."
      "That's true," Li Huai answered very earnestly.

    4

      If according to all the information that could be gathered on the jianghu, Grand Madam Gongsun could be ranked in the first or even the supreme tier for her achievements, then Mr. Li Huai could only be ranked in the third tier at best.
      "Failure" was a word never found in Grand Madam Gongsun's records.
      But "failure" was a word that was never obliterated in Li Huai's records.
      So were there really no other ways Li Huai could compare with her?

    5

      After all the murder and rampage that had happened just now, only a few people remained in the tent. Most of those who hadn't fled were surprisingly women. A few ravishing and uniquely charismatic women.
      They might look very different in appearance, age, or how they were dressed, but they all shared a common trait. They always remained calm and collected in the face of ordeals.
      Probably because they had all seen a lot.
      Famous courtesans, like famous chivalrous warriors, were part of the jianghu community. They shared a common personality ordinary people cannot judge with common sense or reason.
      At certain times, famous courtesans can even be like famous chivalrous warriors, putting life, death, honor, and disgrace to one side.

      Spreading out his arms, the silver-haired, opulently-robed Tie Yinyi sat on a gold satin-lined armchair of light poplar wood, purchased by a Persian merchant from foreign royalty. Only now did he get up slowly.
      "Second Young Master, your performance in this act is over. It appears to be my turn now."
      "Your turn?" Li Huai asked. "Your turn to do what?"
      "My turn to kill or be killed."
      "Killing or being killed are like two sides of the same coin. It's the same coin whether it turns up heads or tails."
      Tie Yinyi stood up majestically, his silver hair gleaming. "So my life and death are none of your concern now."
      Li Huai smiled bitterly.
      "Whose concern can it be, if not mine? I'm begging you, please don't meddle in my affairs this time!"
      "I can't."
      Tie Yinyi said, "The Old Master ordered me to take you back. I have to do that. Whoever wants you dead must kill me first."
      "If you're dead, how can you take me back?"
      "Then let me die first. You can die later."

      He wasn't quoting from a play, nor was he playing a part pretentiously.
      He was probably speaking more sincerely than a top three imperial graduate swearing an oath at court, after being ordained as a minister.
      Li Huai didn't laugh. He didn't look like he could.
      Tie Yinyi looked at him and slowly waved him aside. "I'm sure you know what I mean. So could you please step aside for the moment?"

      Someone started to applaud them.
      It was a young lady with faintly drawn eyebrows, otherwise wearing no make-up, dressed in a pure gossamer silk dress of a light teal color.
      She looked so young, chaste, gentle, and vulnerable. No one could guess from her appearance that she was the foremost courtesan here. And they didn't expect her to say this either:
      "Wonderful. I've never seen men like the two of you before. If both of you were to die, I would die with you here."
      Sometimes, the words of a courtesan can be more trustworthy than a great chivalrous warrior's.

      Li Huai laughed again.
      "Why does everyone here want to die? Really, no one needs to."
      He said to Tie Yinyi, "As long as you watch that hand of the old man playing the huqin, I will guarantee that not one of us will have to die."
      Li Huai said, "Without that old gentleman helping her, Grand Madam Gongsun would have died at least seventeen or eighteen times by now."
      The music from the huqin stopped. The blind old man staggered out from his corner, speaking in a voice even huskier and lower in pitch than the sound made by his instrument.
      "Shall we go for a walk?" he was asking Li Huai. "Would you like to take a walk with me?"

    6

      The night had suddenly turned misty, because the fog was misty.
      It was completely beyond the imagination of anyone that there would be a misty fog in such a place and at such a moment. Just like no one could imagine seeing two men like Li Huai and Grand Master Gongsun drink wine on the branch of a withered poplar tree, in such a place and at such a moment.
      The wine wasn't stolen from Tie Yinyi, but fished out by the old man from his own bag.
      This wine didn't smell like wine at all, but one would still feel a scorching sensation in the stomach after drinking it.
      "Don't you find the wine a bit strange?" The old man asked Li Huai.
      "I not only find the wine a bit strange, but I find you even stranger as a person."
      "You mean you didn't expect me to invite you here all of a sudden, drinking shitty wine in this shitty place?"
      "I didn't, but I still came," Li Huai said. "Although I knew you wanted to kill me, I still came."
      The old man guffawed, so hard that the wine almost splashed out from his gourd. A flat wine gourd. And a flat mouth, not showing teeth even when it smiled.
      Luckily, no one kills with the teeth. So Li Huai only needed to rivet his eyes on the man's hands like nails that were nailed in.
      Grand Master Gongsun's hands, which were shaking just now as he laughed, now seemed almost nailed dead.
      The keen light in Li Huai's eyes, which had resembled glittering nails, now seemed much gentler and less intense.
      Very few people in this world were likely to detect this change, other than the two men themselves.

      Victory and defeat, life and death in a duel between true top martial arts exponents are often decided by such fine margins.
      But who ended up alive or dead, who turned out the victor or the defeated--these had not been decided yet.
      Since this was only the first round of their duel which had just begun.

    7

      With his flat mouth, Grand Master Gongsun took a swig of the strange wine from his flat wine gourd.
      "I'm a strange person, but you're more remarkable. Not just remarkable but also remarkably smart," Gongsun said. "So you must understand why I asked you out was because I long knew my old woman isn't your match at all."
      Li Huai admitted it.
      "But I'm sure there's something else you don't know," Gongsun said. "I asked you out for one other very, very special reason."
      "What?"
      Instead, Grand Master Gongsun asked Li Huai, "Do you know my name? Do you know what kind of a person I am?"
      "I don't."
      "My family name is Gongsun. My given name is Bai (Defeat). My pseudonym is Wusheng (Never Win)."
      "Gongsun Bai? Gongsun Wusheng?" Li Huai looked really astonished. "Are those your real names?"
      "Yes. Because I have never won a fight against anyone all my life."
      Li Huai was really surprised.
      Because he had already discovered Grand Master Gongsun's hands making at least three movements while he was laughing and trembling just now.
      Three movements cannot be considered too many. A movement too complex will not be frightening. And sometimes, you can kill someone without making even a single move.
      The scary thing is that each movement of Grand Master Gongsun's hands might prove fatal in an instant.

      "Grand Master Gongsun, Grand Master Gongsun Wusheng," Li Huai asked. "You have really never won even once in your life?"
      "Yes, never."
      "I don't believe you, I won't believe you even if you kill me. Even if you chop off my head and use it as a nightpot, I still won't believe you."
      "Why not?"
      "I'm a rascal, a bastard, a swine. That's why I never eat pork. But I know how a pig walks," Li Huai said. "So at least I can tell this much about you."
      "What about me?"
      "If that Bai Xiaosheng who created the weapons ranking chart sixty years ago were still alive today in the jianghu, and if he were to make another chart, then your pair of hands, Grand Master Gongsun, would surely occupy one of the top five positions," Li Huai said. "So how can it be that you have never won even once?"
      Grand Master Gongsun took a swig of the wine. Then he stared at Li Huai with eyes that seemed completely blind and completely sightless. He let off a long sigh after a long time.
      "You're right, but you're also wrong."
      "Oh?"
      "You got my martial arts right, but me wrong as a person," Grand Master Gongsun said.
      "Oh?"
      "It's true that my martial arts skill isn't too bad, that I can truly rank among the few top exponents of the martial arts world today," Grand Master Gongsun explained. "If I were to challenge any of the twenty-eight top exponents now who claim to have won at least thirty consecutive times, I might not have lost even once."
      "Then why did you keep losing?"
      "Because although my martial arts isn't so bad, I'm wrong as a person."
      "Wrong in what way?"
      Grand Master Gongsun kept quiet for a long time, before asking Li Huai in a very strange voice:
      "Do you know how many times I have fought with others all my life?"
      "How many times?"
      "Four times."
      "Four times?" Li Huai was baffled again. "Grand Master Gongsun, with your martial arts, personality, and temper, you have only fought four times in your life?"
      "Yes," Grand Master Gongsun said. "I fought four times and each time, I lost." Then he asked Li Huai, "If I were to ask you to name the five best martial artists of today, who would you pick as the top five?"
      Li Huai thought for a long time before giving his reply.
      "The esteemed Wudang exponent, Master Zhong'er, and Reverend Wuxu, the Shaolin elder. Although they have retired for years, so no one can really assess their martial arts, I don't believe anyone in the jianghu would deny their supreme expertise."
      "It is so."
      "Mr. Li Manqing, the son of Little Li the bronze imperial graduate, that greatest and most renowned xia of his age. Although Mr. Manqing hasn't fought for twenty years and is now almost a recluse, his family's flying daggers are such that no one would easily dare challenge him in the jianghu."
      "Little Li's flying daggersthey are always dispatched without ever missing their targets. The chivalrous acts of Little Li the bronze imperial graduate still live in people's hearts today," Gongsun said. "I have only the utmost respect and admiration for Mr. Manqing."
      "The Divine Sword Xiaoxiang, the Snow Sword of Kunlun, the grandson of Swordsman FeiYoung Master Huanyu.2 No one can say whose swordsmanship is the best among these three," Li Huai said. "These three are life-and-death friends. They never care to know which one among them is the best. So no one can say for sure which one is the most highly skilled in the sword."
      "You're right," Gongsun said, "If you can defeat even one of the three, you can be sure you have lived your life well."
      "You have seen them all?" Li Huai asked.
      Grand Master Gongsun gave a wry smile. "I not only have seen them all, I have even fought with four of them."
      "Which four?"
      "Xiaoxiang, Zhong'er, Kunlun, and Huanyu."
      Li Huai sighed. "You've picked such great opponents. Why didn't you choose others?"
      Grand Master Gongsun also sighed. "Because I am wrong as a person."

  5. #25
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    Chapter 3: The Most Renowned Xia


    1
      It's boring drinking wine alone.
      As a wine drinker, it's just as boring drinking wine with another man who ends up drunk after just one cup.
      It's so boring talking to yourself. It's even more boring talking with a detestable man whose conversation is insipid.
      This is often the way things are in this world.
      This was something Li Huai could understand.
      "I understand what you mean," he told Grand Master Gongsun. "You fought not to win, but only to find someone worth fighting with. You don't care at all about winning or losing, victory or defeat."
      Li Huai said, "If that person isn't fit to fight you, even if he begs you on bended knees, you won't stretch out a finger against him.."
      Grand Master Gongsun stared at him. There was a shimmer in his eyesthe shimmer of hot tears.
      "I knew you would understand. If even you could not understand, who else in this world could?" Grand Master Gongsun let off a long sigh. "If I don't lose, who else in this world will?"


      He was saying two completely different things, yet they shared the exact same logic.
      Li Huai suddenly stood up, bowing to Grand Master Gongsun with a reverence he never showed before.
      "I am never a bootlicker, but even if I were a mortal enemy who was to die in your hands in an instant, or even if I were to kill you in an instant, there's something I have to say first."
      "Say it."
      "Grand Master Gongsun, although you have always been losing and never won once, you have honor in defeat. I admire you."


      Grand Master Gongsun suddenly did something strange.
      He suddenly leaped up and somersaulted in the air, in a strange posture no one could imagine, making seven or eight such somersaults. He leaped seven to eight yards into the air before landing on that branch he had been sitting on.
      He wasn't mad.
      He did this because he knew hot tears were welling in his eyes.
      Turning somersaults to keep someone from seeing hot tears in one's eyes was definitely not a very good solution, yet undoubtedly a very effective one.


      Li Huai undoubtedly also understood this, so he took a swig of the wine and finished everything in the gourd in one gulp.
      "I'm so grateful you're willing to make me your fifth opponent. I feel very honored indeed."
      "This is really not up to me to decide." Gongsun pretended to be cold and indifferent. "I have already accepted the payment of 30,000 taels of silver to take your life."
      Li Huai laughed again.
      "I never expected my life to be worth that much."
      Grand Master Gongsun didn't laugh. "As a married couple, we always honor our promises. Once we make an agreement, we will honor it no matter what."
      Li Huai wasn't laughing now.
      "I, too, am a very principled person. And I don't wish to die now, so although I admire you a lot, I'm determined to let you taste defeat once again."


      The feelings between friends are always so true and precious.
      Unfortunately, not all friends are true friends. But an enemy is always absolutely real.
      So, if an enemy reveals certain feelings he feels about you, those feelings may be far truer than the feelings experienced between friends.


      You are always intimate with your friends. The closer a friend, the more intimate you will feel with him.
      Unfortunately, intimacy often breeds contempt.
      But not between enemies.
      If you ever feel contempt for your enemy, you will die because of this feeling.
      So, between friends, especially the best of friends, there is very possibly only intimacy and not respect. Between the worst of enemies, there is very possibly only respect and not contempt. Such respect is often more real than the respect between friends.
      This is really something very strange.


      Even stranger is the fact this is how many things are in this world.


    2


      Just like people are always falling in love in this world, in every corner, day, and hour, someone in the jianghu will be risking his or her life in a duel. Such things will happen many times in a day.
      Ever since humanity started recording its history, there must have been millions, maybe even tens of million, of such life-and-death duels decided in a split second. But how many can remain forever in human memories?
      Of them, at least two were truly unforgettable.


      The duel between Master Landa and Xiao Wangsun was fought on a towering mountain peak amidst the clouds. Master Landa wielded a 69-jin iron hammer as his weapon. Xiao Wangsun used the belt around his waist which had earlier girded his silk robes.
      Their stark difference in their choice of weapons was already unprecedented and might never again be repeated.
      Master Landa's martial arts style was hard, brutal, and relentless, unrivaled under the heavens, dazzling ancients and contemporaries alike. His hammer could pulverize rocks. Xiao Wangsun was elusive with unpredictable footwork. The difference between their stylesone hard and the other softwas beyond the imagination of ordinary mortals.
      Although no one had the good fortune to grace and witness that duel, it was widely discussed and exaggerated even now. The duel was regarded as almost mythic by the martial arts community.


      Lu Xiaofeng and Ximen Chuixue fought their duel early in the morning, under a white fog.
      Ximen Chuixue was called the God of Sword. No opponent could escape being slain by his sword. The man was born for the sword, and willing to die for it too.
      The greatest wish of his life was to fight a duel with Lu Xiaofeng, to know who would emerge as the victor. Because Lu Xiaofeng had never been defeated before.
      The other man always had a casual, almost cheeky smile on his face. He didn't look smart or fearsome at all. He was almost like a useless fellow who didn't even want to train hard for his martial arts.
      He had survived too many ordeals in his life and experienced too many dangers of the extremest kind.
      But it was also true he had never been defeated before in his life.
      So, what was the outcome of his duel with Ximen Chuixue?


      Like the duel between Xiao Wangsun and Master Landa, their showdown had a common point just as strange.
      Both duels were intense and heart-shattering. Life and death hanged by a breath, at a moment. Yet in the end, no one in both duels emerged victorious or was killed.
      Although each could have killed the other in a split second, no one executed a lethal move as they all cherished their opponent. In the depths of their hearts, they had regarded the other man as their friend.
      A friend they truly respected from the bottom of their hearts.


      Li Huai and Gongsun weren't friends.
      Although Grand Master Gongsun lost each of his fights, it was only because of his pride and conceit. He had honor in defeat.
      Although Li Huai wasn't well known in the jianghu at the moment, with only a small number who could truly assess his martial arts, a few of them already did.
      A few who never expected themselves to be defeated and who had lost to him.
      So who could predict the outcome of his life-and-death duel with Grand Master Gongsun?
    Last edited by kychong; 09-25-22 at 04:11 AM. Reason: fix errors

  6. #26
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    PART FOUR: THE PRICE


    Chapter 1: One Sword Fluttering Snow


    1

      An ancient mansion, its heavy door firmly locked. Rank weeds at the foot of the walls. Vermilion paint peeling on the door. Like a big withered tree left with just a relic of a shell, everyone could see its glory days were a thing of the past. The mansion was no longer lauded or revered as it once was.
      Yet if you happened to see the three martial artists passing by this mansion, you might find hidden depths and surely feel quite different about this place.
      The three martial artists were dressed in vibrant colors, their long sabers hanging by their hips as they rode on fiery horses, galloping on the snowy ground.
      They looked so high-spirited and intrepid. Like nothing could make them stop in their tracks as they went on their journey.
      Yet a hundred paces away from this long dilapidated mansion, they suddenly dismounted. Ignoring the muddy snow slush, they walked to the house with a look of utmost adulation.
      "Is this really the mansion of Little Li, the bronze imperial graduate?"
      "It is."

       The couplet inscribed in the stone was still visible, on either flank of the huge door peeling vermilion paint:

       Seven jinshis in one family;
       Three bronze graduates: grandfather, father, son.


      The three young martial artists stared at the words with a pilgrim's heart.
      "Little Li's flying daggersthey are always dispatched without ever missing their targets ." The youngest of the three men sighed. "I can never forgive myself for not living in the same era as the man."
      "Would you like to pit your skills against his?"
      "No, it's not that. I wouldn't dare."
      One can imagine the reverence the young man felt when he said the words "I wouldn't dare", although he was at an age of utmost vigor and arrogance.
      But this young man feeling such adoration and reverence suddenly sighed.
      "Sadly, the Li family has no heirs. Although Old Villa Master Li Manqing is kind and loyal, doing his best to salvage his family's fallen prestige, the awesome might of Little Li's Flying Daggers can never be found on him again."
      Tears even glistened in the young man's eyes. "The mighty power of Little Li's flying daggers may never be found in anyone again."

      "There is something I can never understand."
      "What?"
      "They once called Mr. Manqing a child prodigy. Why did he become so despondent in middle age?"
      The other young man, a more ruminative-looking man, remained quiet for a long time. Then he said in a low voice:
      "Famous chivalrous warriors are like famous gentlemen. They are amorous men. Aren't we like them ourselves?"
      "You mean Mr. Manqing is depressed over a woman?"
      There was no answer. There wasn't any need for one.
      Holding on to their horse reins, the three of them stood quietly for a long time in the chilling wind, before silently tugging their horses away.

    2

      Li Huai and Tie Yinyi were also there.
      The two of them saw the three young men and overheard their conversation. It left a deep sadness in their hearts.
      Could anyone revive the glory days of Little Li's Flying Daggers?
      Mr. Manqing was despondent over a woman. What woman?
      Hot tears almost splashed out of Li Huai's eyes.
      He suddenly remembered his motherthat beautiful, intelligent, and pitiful woman.
      All of a sudden, he wanted to go.
      But Tie Yinyi had already caught his arm.
      "You cannot leave. You surely cannot leave now," Tie Yinyi said. "I know what is in your mind right now. But you must also know how much your father needs you. You're his true flesh and blood, no matter what. The flesh of his flesh, the blood of his blood."
      Li Huai clenched his fists tight. Green veins kept throbbing on his arms. Tie Yinyi stared at him, speaking each word slowly:
      "And you must know you're the only one now who can revive your family's glory days."

    3

      A path covered with snow. Empty pavilions, towers. Where were the signs of its rich, glorious past?
      Li Huai's footsteps were as heavy as his heart.
      No matter what, no matter what he had been thinking in his heart, no matter what the others had been sayinghe still had his roots in this place.
      Blood is thicker than water. This is a fact no one can deny.
    He was about to see his father againa father who, even before he had been born, had already abandoned his mother and him.
      But he couldn't abandon his father, just like he could not abandon himself.
      "Do you know why your father wanted so badly to have you back?" Tie Yinyi asked Li Huai.
      "No."
      Li Huai said, "I only know I will do whatever he wants me to."

    4

      Another year.
      Another year of plum blossoms. Another year of snow.
      The old man sat under the porch, staring blankly at the white snow and crimson plum blossoms in his courtyard, like a child staring dumbly at a spinning pinwheel.
      Why must a man grow old?
      Why can't a man die when he wants to?

      There was a blade in the old man's hand.
      A murderous blade, a dagger always dispatched without ever missing its targets. A flying dagger.
      No one knew the dagger's weight, form, and composition. Just like it could not be dodged by anyone in this world.
      But this dagger hadn't appeared in the jianghu for many, many years, since he was no longer confident to make it hit its target when he dispatched it.
      He was a son of the Li family. His father was the peerless Little Li the Flying Dagger. For almost 100 years, the most renowned xia in the jianghu.
      He had been grieving for twenty years. Who could understand the pain in his heart?
      Grieving over what?
      Suddenly, a faint silhouette seemed to appear amidst the white snow and crimson plum blossoms. A lady in snowy-white robes.
      A relationship he could not forget.

      "Villa Master, the Second Young Master's back."
      Mr. Manqing suddenly awoke from that obsessive, sentimental dream of the past. He raised his head and saw his son.
      Son? This smart, adorable young man is really my son? Why didn't I take care of him in the past? Why did I let him roam the streets like a wild dog? Why did I leave his mother?
      Why must a man force himself to do things against his conscience all the time, letting himself suffer until death?
      He looked at his son, at this strong, valiant young man before him, so full of vigor and intelligence. He saw the boy as a replica of his former self.
      "You're back?"
      "Yes."
      "How have you been lately?"
      "I don't find myself good, I don't find myself bad," Li Huai smiled. "I'm still like how I was. I don't care if anyone likes or dislikes who I am."
      "Don't care? Why can't I do the same?"
      The old man's heart was dripping blood. Had he thrown caution to the wind like his son was doing now, he would have lived a much happier life.

      Li Huai's heart was also dripping blood.
      He, too, knew what his father was thinking. His parent's relationship was an open secret in the martial arts world.
      His parents were both very young when they first met each other.
      They met, fell in love, and came together.
      They had him.
      They were both very successful and very famous, young and healthy. Their union should have been the envy of many.
      But this beautiful love song ended up in sobs.

      It wasn't their fault. They could only blame one unalterable facta feud they could never forget.
      With one fling of the dagger, his father's father killed his mother's father.
      His mother had the compound surname Shangguan.
      Little Li's flying daggersthey are always dispatched without ever missing their targets. There would be no exception, not even for the Leader of the Money Sect, the world fearsome Shangguan Jinhong.

      "This was the first wrong I did in my life," the old man said. "I knew it would be unforgivable and would make us both suffer. But I still did it."
      He was downcast and silent for a long time. "Every time I think about it, I can never forgive myself for this act."
      Li Huai could not speak. He had totally lost the ability to.
      He used to feel so indignant and aggrieved over the unfair treatment of his mother. But all of a sudden, he was now discovering an indescribable feeling of sorrow and pity for his father too, deep in his heart.
      In spite of everything, he and his father still had one thing in common.
      They were, after all, both men.

  7. #27
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    5

      The old man said to Li Huai:
      "I asked you here not to give you any explanation. This is something that can never be explained."
      Li Huai kept quiet.
      "I only did two wrong things in my life. They made me suffer so much pain and regret all my life," the old man said. "I asked you here about the other matter."
      One could almost hear the fallen leaves cracking in the melting snowdrift in the quiet courtyard.
      The old man went on slowly.
      "Many years ago, when I first made my appearance as a martial artist, I was eager to prove my good name wasn't reliant on my ancestor's merits," he said. "There used to be a very famous man then who almost defeated the whole martial arts world. He was invincible."
      The old man said, "I'm sure you must have heard of this man before."
      Twenty years ago, bolstered by his awesome string of thirty-one consecutive victories, "One Sword Fluttering Snow" Xue Qingbi went on to defeat the Three Birds of Yandang, the Eagle of Kunlun, and finally Taoist Reverend Baiyan who had just assumed leadership of Diancang Sect. He won each duel in just seven moves. He had such a great reputation, it was unmatched under the heaven.
      But in his final duel, he lost to Mr. Manqing. Three months after that, he died a depressed man.
      Li Huai had, of course, heard of this incident and the man.

      "I defeated a peerless swordsman of great renown in a single duel. I was of course beside myself with joy."
      It should have made a man so proud and happy indeed. Yet, as Mr. Manqing narrated his story, there was an even more downcast look on his face.
      "I only learned something I had not after that," the old man said. "Had I known that earlier, I would not have challenged the man, not even if I died."
      He said, "This became known to many people in the jianghu. I'm sure you must have heard of it too."

      Li Huai had.
      When Li Manqing first challenged Xue Qingbi, the man had already sustained many wounds as a result of his many consecutive duels. He was left with an incurable internal injury. At around this time, his wife also left him.
      His sustained wounds and internal injury turned him into another personsomeone totally unrecognizable from the legendary "One Sword Fluttering Snow".
      But there was still stubborn, haughty blood in Xue Qingbi's veins. Such that the man would not yield.
      So he went to fight Li Manqing, nursing the injuries.
      He didn't tell Li Manqing he couldn't really fight. Even if he were to die, he would not tell his opponent that.
      He wouldn't tell anyone that. Not even if his head was cut off, his veins slashed, his bones crushed.
      So he went happily for the duel.
      And was defeated.
      And he dieddied in his own glory.
      "This is why I still cannot forget that flash of pride and dignity on the man's face, just before his death," the old man said. "I have never seen anyone die with so much pride. And I don't believe I will again either."
      Li Huai looked at his father. All of a sudden, there was indescribable respect in his eyes.
      He was proud of his father too.
      Only a true, hot-blooded man, he knew, could understand the other man's emotions.
      It is hard being an upright person, a true human being. And you can't describe the effort of being a true man as being just "not easy".

      The old man kept quiet for a long time. Almost long enough for snow on the fallen leaves to have melted completely.
      Li Huai couldn't hear the snow melting or the leaves cracking. They were inaudible to the ears. No one could hear them.
      But Li Huai was listening.
      Not with his ears but with his heart.
      Because he was listening to his father's heartfelt confession.
      "I killed a man I shouldn't have. I regretted it, but what's the use?" The old man's voice was hoarse. "There is perhaps only one thing a man can do after he did wrong."
      "What?" Li Huai could not help but ask at last.
      "Pay the price," the old man said. "After doing wrong, everyone must pay the price."
      He went on, stressing each word. "It is now time for me to pay the price."

      Date and Time: Yuanxiao Day. Midnight.
      Venue: Your residence.
      Weapon: My weapons are the flying daggers. You're free to choose your own weapon.
      Victory and defeat: Can be decided in one move. Or at that instant of death.
      Challenger: Xue. Ling Province.


      This didn't read like a very standard challenge letter, yet it was undoubtedly a most terrible one. One could sense the oppressive arrogance between the lines, almost like the challenger was already in full control of the other man's life.
      Li Huai felt his blood boil.
      "Who wrote this letter? What audacity!"
      "I did," Mr. Manqing said.
      "You? How can it be you?"
      "Because it was the exact same letter I wrote to Mr. Xue Qingbi, twenty years ago. Other than the challenger's name, not a single character is different."
      The old man said, "A descendant of Mr. Xue wrote this letter to avenge him. This challenge is what I need to pay as the price."
      Li Huai sneered.
      "Price? What price? What right have the Xues to use their flying daggers against ours?"
      The old man gazed into the distance. He let off a long sigh.
      "You don't have to be a Li to master the flying dagger."
      "Could anyone's flying daggers be more fearsome than ours?"

      Li Huai was responding very naturally with this question. Yet immediately after saying it, his facial muscles began to stiffen. Each word he spoke led to a short paralysis.
      After saying this, there seemed to be a grayish death mask in place of his face.
      Because he suddenly remembered someone, remembered a terrible flash of dagger light.
      Moonlight like blade, the blade-like moonlight.
      It seemed almost as terrifying as the old adage "Little Li's Flying Daggers, they are always dispatched without ever missing their targets" in the contemporary martial arts world.
      The old man asked again:
      "So now you know who it is?"
      Li Huai was already admitting it by not saying anything.
      "This is the price I have to pay," the old man said dejectedly. "I am now just like when I first challenged Mr. Xue. If I accept the challenge and fight, I will surely lose. Then I will die."
      Li Huai kept quiet.
      "Death is not what I fear, what I fear is defeat," the old man said. "I can die, but I cannot lose."

      There was a florid flush on his old, pale, agitated face, like that on the face of a dying man.
      "Since I am a Li, I cannot be defeated by another person's flying daggers. I cannot allow my late ancestors to suffer shame in Hades."
      He stared at Li Huai. "This is why I brought you back, so that you can fight on my behalf. I want you to defeat that Xue."
      Even the old man's voice was hoarse now. "You must survive this fight. You cannot die. You can only win. You cannot lose."

      Li Huai's face was now distorted, after its initial stiffness. No one who had seen him before could expect such a grotesque face.
      His hands clenched tightly, like a drowning man clutching at a drifting log.
      You must survive this fight. You cannot die. You can only win. You cannot lose.
      All of a sudden, Li Huai's voice seemed to have turned completely hoarse too.
      "So you want me to kill that person?"
      "Yes," the old man said. "When there is a need to, you must kill that person. You have no choice."

      Li Huai had been sitting there, motionless like a block of wood. Like a dead body without a soul.
      But he suddenly jumped up, like a dead body now under the control of some strange, wicked spell, reanimated by the spirit of another person.
      No one could describe his expression at the moment.
      When he spoke to his father, his eyes weren't looking at him, but at another world.
      A world full of sorrow and curses.
      "What right have you to make me do this? Why must you make me kill someone I don't hate at all?"
      "Because this concerns the Li family. And you're a son of the Li family."
      "So you're now acknowledging me as the son of your Li family? Why didn't you do that in the past? Why didn't you want me and Mother?" Li Huai's voice was so hoarse that it became almost inaudible. "What about that legitimate elder son who was your rightful heir? Why didn't you get him to go? Why didn't you get him to kill? Why must I? Why must I go on your behalf? Who the hell am I, to be asked to do this?"
      No one saw his tears.
      Because he had already dashed out before his tears could fall.

      The old man didn't stop him.
      There were also tears in his old eyes, but they didn't fall.
      The old man hadn't shed tears for many years. His tears seemed to have dried up.

    6

      It was already the twelfth month. The snowdrift in the courtyard was already freezingly numb, like the heart of a rejected wanderer, so numb that even a piercing awl could not make it feel pain.
      Li Huai stormed out of the door and saw a ravishing woman standing under an old pine tree, gazing intently at him.
      There is a class of women in this world whom everyone will remember afterward in his dream, after taking just a single glance.
      The woman standing under the pine tree, gazing at Li Huai now, belonged to that class.
      She was in her early thirties, but seeing her, no one would have cared about her age.
      She was clad in a silvery-white fox fur coat, complementing her tall slim figure and fair skin. Complementing the lush green of the ancient pine tree. She looked like someone from a painting and not from the mortal realm at all.
      But Li Huai was in no mood to give her another glance.
      Right now, Li Huai only wanted to run far, far away, to a place where no one could see him, and where he could see no one.
      He didn't expect this lady as noble as a fairy to block his way.
      "Second Young Master." She was looking at Li Huai. "You cannot leave now."
      "Why not?"
      "Because there's someone who must meet you, and whom you must also see."
      Someone else was behind the pine tree, also clad in a silvery-white fox fur coat. He was sitting on a large chair covered in fox hide. His pale and totally bloodless face looked like the snow in the courtyard, totally numb in the freezing cold.
      "It's you who wanted to see me?"
      "Yes, it's me."
      "Who are you? Why must you see me?"
      "Because I am that elder son of the Li family you were talking about."
      He said, "I wanted to see you only to let you know why I can't go for the duel."
      Although his complexion was pale, he was only in his early thirties. There was unspeakable melancholy in his shining eyes. Yet they were still clear and bright.
      Hot blood started to surge up Li Huai's chest again.
      This man was his elder brother, the only brother he had in this world.
      Yet it was also thanks to this man and his mother that he and his mother were abandoned by the Li family, leaving Li Huai to roam the streets like a wild dog.
      Li Huai clenched his fists tight, trying to make his voice sound like the most unpleasant, the most grating of sarcasm.
      "Oh, so you're the Elder Young Master of the Li family? It's true that I wanted very much to see you. Because I really want to ask why can't you take up the challenge for the Li family?"
      Li Zheng did not answer this question. Instead, he looked at Li Huai with a very strange expression in his eyes. Then he slowly put out his hands from the inside of his fox fur coat.
      There were only four fingers left on his two hands.
      His thumbs, index fingers, and middle fingers had all been sliced off at the roots.


    7

      "When I was fourteen, I thought I had mastered the Li family's peerless flying daggers.
      "You must have gone through that same stage when you were fourteen. You must have known how a young man thinks at that stage of life.
      "By the time I realized my mistake, it was too late.
      "At that time, I only wanted to do something to help our family's prestige, to win face for our ancestors. I wanted to challenge the top martial arts exponents with the flying daggers I thought I had mastered.
      "So what happened to me in the end?"
      Li Zheng stared at his maimed hands. "This is what happened to me in the end. And this is the price I have to pay for our family."
      He suddenly raised his head and stared at Li Huai. His melancholic eyes suddenly became as keen and intense as flying daggers.
      "And you?" he asked Li Huai, stressing each word. "Should you be now doing something for our Li family?"

  8. #28
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    Chapter 2: The Brocade Pouch


    1
      Li Huai became drunk.
      How could he not get drunk?
      Because when a man is grieving, frustrated, downcast, or defeated, if that man has strong enough willpower, he may not end up drunk. If he has no money to buy wine or doesn't drink at all, he of course won't end up being drunk either.
      But not one of these circumstances applied to Li Huai now.
      Li Huai wasn't grieving, frustrated, downcast, or defeated. He had only encountered a problem he could not resolve.
      Li Huai had money to buy wine. Li Huai loved wine. Li Huai was bad. Li Huai was also somewhat depressed.
      Most importantly, Li Huai's problem was greater than the sum of 8,000 other men's problems.
      So Li Huai got drunk.

      Li Huai got terribly drunkdrunk with a headache, body aches, weak eyes, and a stuffy red nose. This numbness was so lovable, it could make one forget all physical suffering. If it weren't lovable, why would anyone allow himself to be so numbed and intoxicated?
      Unfortunately, such a feeling will not last and is also unreliable.
      This is probably why in our world, past and present drunk men will be most troubled by the fact that everybody will have to turn sober again. A drunk man will surely turn sober again and need to face reality.
      Even more terrible is the fact once a drunk man becomes sober again, the reality confronting him is often the reality he least wants to face.

      Li Huai became sober.
      When he became sober again, the first thing he saw was Han Jun's heartless, faithless, totally expressionless face.

    2

      Li Huai got drunk. Li Huai became sober.
      He forgot how many times he got drunk. The only thing he regretted was becoming sober again after getting himself drunk. At this very moment, he really wanted to remain drunk forever. Because he really didn't want to see Han Jun's face.
      He did not know how he ended up in Han Jun's hands.
      Yet strangely, Han Jun didn't look like he liked seeing Li Huai either. He merely stared at him with cold, indifferent eyes. So cold and indifferent, they seemed almost abnormal.
      Li Huai was highly sensitive to such feelings as this place was very dark. After he became sober again, all he could see were those eyes which he reacted strongly against.
      On top of that, he could hear Han Jun interrogate him in a cold and indifferent voice which didn't sound quite normal.
      "Is your family name Li and your full name Li Huai?"
      "Yes."
      "The Imperial Treasury lost 1,700,000 taels of silver. Did you steal it?"
      "No."
      These are two customary questions used for interrogating a suspect. But Li Huai was rather shocked by them.
      Both questions didn't seem like what Han Jun would ask. Even his voice sounded like another man'smuch less cold and savage than how he used to sound.
      "You mean you have nothing to do with this burglary case at all?" Han Jun asked again.
      "Yes. I have nothing to do with the case at all."
      "Then where did you get the money you were spending so extravagantly these few months?"
      "I don't think the source of my money is any of your business. None of your freakin' business at all."

      Li Huai said this only after summoning great courage. He knew that smart men always trim the sails, but he still said it, unable to hold back.
      After saying it, he prepared himself to get fixed.
      To tell Han Jun that in the face would almost surely mean a brutal beating. Yet strangely, Han Jun seemed to have no reaction at all. Even the look on his face remained the same.
      What on earth was going on? Why was this guy, once more brutal than the King of Hell, now a totally different man? Why was he talking to Li Huai so politely?

      To his surprise, someone else was in the dark.
      "It's alright, Li Huai. Answer truthfully every question Chief Han asks of you." That man was saying to Li Huai. "As long as you tell the truth, we will surely clear your name if you're innocent."
      His voice sounded warm and sincere. There was in it a majestic integrity audible to everyone.
      For some strange reason, Li Huai already felt close to this man. He already trusted this man whose face he had not even seen.
      "Grand Constable Han, ask him again." The man spoke again. "I believe he will tell the truth."
      Han Jun coughed dryly twice and repeated his question. He asked Li Huai how he suddenly came upon such a huge fortune.
      This was really Li Huai's secret.
      But in the darkness and under those peculiar circumstances, he was eager to prove his innocence. So he told them his secret.

    3

      Many years ago, Tie Yinyi found Li Huai only after conducting a series of exhaustive searches. Dragging him from the town's mud, he brought the boy back to see his father. The boy inherited the techniques of those peerless flying daggers.
      But Li Huai still would not stay, not even for a month. Because he never felt himself belonging to the Li family or their world.
      He would rather roll like a wild dog in the mud, than live in this world he didn't belong to, eating choice cuisine and dressed in fine clothes.
      So he ran away.
      On a night without stars, the moon, or the wind, he stole a really huge chunk of stewed beef from the kitchen. It was not entirely cooked, but he still tied it behind his back like a backpack. Then he ran away from this family, the foremost house in the martial arts world.
      He would not be restrained. He couldn't stand his family and servants treating him with a respect that bordered on cold indifference either.
      He did not know that in the households of esteemed noble families, there will always be a little coldness when they treat you with the utmost respect and courtesy. Too much affection and intimacy will mean one cannot really show respect.

      Of course Li Huai couldn't understand this. How could a wild boy understand this, growing up in the mud?
      Even rich tycoons swimming with money do not understand this.
      So Li Huai ran away.
      Unfortunately, he was caught by Tie Yinyi a short distance away after his escape. But Tie Yinyi did not make him go back. Instead, he gave him two items: a booklet and a brocade pouch.
      "These are what your father wants me to give you."

      The booklet contained the flying dagger techniques of Little Li, the bronze imperial graduate, which were once peerless in the world.
      "You must have learned many flying dagger techniques from your father over the past days," Tie Yinyi said. "Their essence is recorded in this manual. You will surely master your family's flying daggers if you train hard. You can do that since you're a Li, and as your blood contains the blood of your Li family."
      What about the brocade pouch?
      "No one knows what is inside this brocade pouch," Tie Yinyi said. "This pouch is from your mother who gave it first to your father, so it hasn't been opened by any one of us."
      There was only a sketchy map inside with a few brief explanatory notes on how to find the map's marked location.
      The map seemed almost like Midas's finger.
      Li Huai found the place and lived alone there for seven years. He mastered the peerless flying dagger techniques and unearthed a treasure that can rival a nation's wealth.

    4

      Although Han Jun was trying his best to control himself while listening to Li Huai's story, his face and even the muscles of his body were all twitching repeatedly and uncontrollably.
      That man sitting quietly in the dark was listening too.
      "How much is that treasure you found worth?" he asked Li Huai.
      "I believe it is definitely worth as much as or more than the silver stolen from the imperial treasury."
      In the darkness, someone had quietly drawn in and then exhaled a breath. Then he said slowly:
      "I believe you're telling the truth."
      "Every word I said is true."
      "Then there is one more thing I must ask you," the man asked Li Huai. "Who is your mother?"
      "My late mother had the compound surname Shangguan."
      "Could your mother be Shangguan Xiaoxian?" This very calm and quiet man suddenly sounded just a little agitated.
      "No," Li Huai answered. "Aunt Xian was my late mother's elder sister. My mother was her younger sister."
      That man in the dark let off a long sigh. "Could that treasure trove you found once belonged to Shangguan Jinhong's Money Sect?"
      Of course, this was a question that now needed no answer.


    5

      A lamp suddenly illuminated this place.
      Li Huai immediately understood why Han Jun wasn't acting like himself.

      The once dark room was in fact a spacious and lavishly furnished hall. There were nine other people in the hall, other than Han Jun and Li Huai.
      All nine were seated and not moving. Although Li Huai did not know them, he could immediately tell they were no ordinary men. Their magnanimous air and expressions were enough to explain their status.
      How would Han Jun dare act presumptuously under the surveillance of nine such men?

      An old, short, and lean man, dressed in a purple robe with a jade belt girding his waist, slowly stood up.
      "I know you haven't seen me before, but you must have heard of my name," the highly cultured old man said. "My family name is Xu, my courtesy name is Jianbai. My self-styled pseudonym is Green Stone."
      His voice was warm and affectionate. This was the man who had just spoken to him in the dark.
      Of course Li Huai knew this man.
      The Xu family and the Li family were old acquainted families with a firm friendship spanning several generations. Elder Green Stone and Mr. Manqing took oaths to be sworn brothers as young men. But Elder Green Stone had to defer to family traditions and took the orthodox career path, rising from a xiucai to a juren and then to an imperial graduate, before ending up a Hanlin Academician.2 He was now a premium-ranked official.
      Why would such a highly esteemed man get involved in such a matter?
      Elder Green Stone seemed to have guessed the question in Li Huai's heart.
      "We stepped in this time simply to clarify matters for you, since we are your father's friends," Elder Green Stone said. "Your father doesn't at all believe you will commit larceny for money. We believe him."
      The eight other old men, all carrying the same cultured and refined air, also smiled with him.
      "This is why we, retired old men, became involved. We were trying to help," Elder Green Stone said. "Now that the truth is out, I only hope you can understand this: a father's concern for his son is something the son can never understand."
      He patted Li Huai on the shoulder. "Really, you ought to feel proud being your father's son."
      Li Huai said nothing.
      He was afraid the moment he opened his mouth, hot tears would trickle down his eyes.
      "There is one more thing I need to tell you," Elder Green Stone said. "There's a young lady from the Fang family who wanted to see you one last time. I agreed. But she later changed her mind."
      She would rather not meet.
      Keke, Keke, I know I have let you down. I only hope you will understand, things were beyond my control too.
      "Right now, all business you have with us is over. From now on, you're a completely free man," Elder Green Stone said. "You may decide what you want to do or must do, entirely on your own."


    6

      Auspicious snow.
      Heavy snowfall, cold enough to freeze a person to death. Yet still seen by many as an auspicious sign.
      Because those people could not see bones freezing in the snow, or children wailing hungrily in the bitter cold.
      Does auspicious snow really presage rich harvest for the year?
      Probably so. Once the spring snow melts, it will surely irrigate the crops. Irrigation helps fertilize the soil. A fertile plot of land will have the best crop yield.
      A sword has two edges. Everything has a positive and negative side. Unfortunately, very few people can see the positive and the negative sides at the same time.

      After the previous night's snowfall, a wind was now blowing the snowdrift away, flake by flake. A northwestern wind, howling and whistling.
      But Li Huai could not hear it.
      Since Li Huai's heart was still reverberating with that voice, he could hear nothing else.
      A father's concern for his son is something the son can never understand.
      You ought to feel proud being your father's son.
      From now on, you're a completely free man. You may decide what you want to do or must do, entirely on your own.

  9. #29
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    PART FIVE: MOONLIGHT LIKE SNOW, MOONLIGHT LIKE BLOOD


    Chapter One: The Small Building


    1

      A room in the bustling heart of the city. On a floor in the bustling heart of the city.
      No one in the city knew this family or this room existed in the small building. They knew even less about the household residing in this room of this building.
      There used to be a silk textile shop on the ground floor. The owners were honest traders, fair and conscientious with their dealings with alleven with children and old folks.
      Which was why the silk textile shop went bust, all of a sudden.
      An armed escort and his young wife used to live in one of the higher-storied rooms. Rumor had it that the man was just a veteran "road parter" for a large armed escort agency. But his escort chiefs trusted him and he was rarely at home.
      As a result, his young wife suddenly vanished after three to four months. They said she eloped with that handsome young waiter from the restaurant just down the street.
      The storeroom was just one story above theirs, used for storing silk and satin fabrics. This storeroom used to be empty. But a month ago, neighbors who couldn't sleep at night would sometimes hear a newborn baby bawling.
      Was anyone staying in the room above theirs? What family was that?
      A few curious people wanted to go up and take a look. They could not curb their curiosity.
      But the officials had already sealed up that huge door of the textile shop.

    2

      There used to be three rooms in the uppermost story of this building. The largest room was a storeroom for storing silk and satin fabrics. The shop workers slept in the other room.
      The proprietor and his wifea hardworking and frugal elderly couplelived in the third room.
      But everything had changed. The rooms were now completely white, untainted by any other color.
      From the back window of this small building, one could see the rear compound of the Li family. Three generations of the Li family had come in third in the imperial examinations.
      There was another small building in the Lis' rear compound. For years, there would be a weak lamplight from that rear garden, often the only light of that small building throughout the night.
      Almost all the long-time residents here knew the building housed the study room of Little Li, the bronze imperial graduate. After he left home, it became the bedroom of his one-time lover, Lin Shiyin. Old Mr. Manqing, the third heir of the Li family, was now convalescing in that room.

      This was once an unknown alley. Curious people started flocking here in adulation, thanks to Little Li's great fame. Over time, it became a busy street.
      The flying daggers were gone. So was the man. But his fame remained.
      As a result, the place was visited by more and more people. But in the past few years, it was beginning to show signs of lassitude.
      Which was why the silk textile shop went bust.
      Why would a family move deliberately into a small building in this district, above a closed-down silk textile shop? And why did they furnish the three rooms like the place was a little ice palace?

    3

      Everything was snowy-white in this room: snowy-white walls, snowy-white ceiling. The bed canopy was spun from pure silk fabric, white as snow. Silvery-white fox hide covered the entire floor. Even the cosmetic items on the dressing table were all silvery-white.
      Each time the lamp under the snowy-white gauze was lit, the light in the room would turn as gentle as moonlight.

      There was no moon outside the window. Only a lady in a long, soft, snowy-white dress, sitting alone by the lamp under the white gauze.
      Her face seemed far more bloodless and pale than the white gauze by the lamp.
      A while ago, a baby seemed to be bawling in this room. But its cries could no longer be heard.
      After a long time, someone quietly called out at the door.
      "Young mistress."
      A girl with two glossy black braids, wearing a long, snowy-white dress like her mistress, pushed the door open quietly and walked in.
      "Young mistress," the girl said. "Our boy's asleep, very sound asleep. I'm here to see how you're doing."
      "See how I am doing?" Her young lady's voice sounded very cold. "Why do you need to see how I am doing? What's there on me to see?"
      There was so much sorrow in the girl's eyes, yet her compassion overwhelmed her sorrow. "I know you're hiding something in your heart all this time, young mistress. You seem to be hiding even more in your heart over the past few months. Why are you doing this? Why must you keep tormenting yourself?"
      Young girls are always sentimental and melancholic. But her young mistress seemed even more sentimental and melancholic than her servant girl.
      The window was open. There was nothing outside the window, only cold wind and chilling stars. Suddenly, firecrackers could be heard crackling in the dark after some timecrackling endlessly, one set resounding after another.
      All of a sudden, the crackling of firecrackers could be heard echoing throughout the land.

      This sad, melancholic young lady, who had been dreaming her beautiful, tragic old dream, now awoke with a start. She suddenly asked the girl beside her with the big braids:
      "Xiaoxing, what day is it today? Why are there so many people setting off firecrackers?"
      "It's the sixth day of the first month today. The day to receive the God of Wealth," Xiaoxing said. "Every household is receiving the God of Wealth tonight. What about us?"
      Her young lady gazed intently at the darkness outside the window. She did not seem to hear those deafening firecrackers and only said quietly after a long time:
      "We're not receiving the God of Wealth."
      "What deity are we receiving, if not the God of Wealth?" Xiaoxing tried hard to wear a happy smile on her face. "Is it the Moon Goddess? Is it the Moon Goddess whose blade is like the moonlight?"

      The young lady dressed in snowy white suddenly stood up. She walked to the window and looked up into the heavens shrouded in the darkness.
      "Yes, I would like to receive the Moon Goddess. Because in some ancient myths, the moon represents death," she said. "The sun means birth, the moon means death."

      There was no moon outside the window.
      Not far away, which yet seemed very far away from this small building in the heart, a lamp was still flickering.
      "I believe now, by that lamp in that small building over there, a man is also awaiting the moon and death." Her voice was cold and merciless. "Because there are only nine more days to the fifteenth day of the first month."

      There suddenly came now again the bawling of a baby.


    Chapter 2: Manqing the Old Man


      This building was already very old.
      All the residents of this small building had left, either because of their loneliness and sorrow, or because of the man's loyalty and arrogance.
      The only one still living in this small building had almost depleted himself completely, both mentally and physically. He felt so lonely, he would prefer a quick death, at any moment and at any place.
      He had not died, not because he didn't want to.
      He had not died, simply because he was a son of the Li family. He could have died. But he couldn't let his family's glory and honor perish in his hands.
      In this world, how many people know that loneliness can sometimes be far more painful than death?
      He once heard a very wise friend told him something he completely believed in, even until now.
      The most detestable thing in this world is loneliness.

      When a happy man has a family, career, children, friends, and health...
      When his wife brings their children back to her maiden home, when he gets a rest from work, when he doesn't want to see his friends and would rather be in idle solitude...
      Picking up a glass of wine, he sits alone in his vast, elegant courtyard, so lonely that the wine can be heard clanging in his glass. Then he sighs quietly to himself and says,
      "Loneliness is such great enjoyment."

      Mr. Manqing was gripping his own hand. There was nothing else but cold sweat in his palm.


    Chapter 3: Life and Death


      Xiaoxing, too, was gazing at the lamplight at the opposite building. She said in a very determined voice:
      "You must surely let me go with you on the fifteenth day of the first month, my lady. I want to see what Li Manqing is like. Why did he push Old Master down the edge?" Xiaoxing said. "I always wanted to see Li Manqing die under your blade, ever since I heard this story from my mother, young mistress."
      Her young lady whose expression was like the moon gave a faint smile.
      "Li Manqing won't die under my blade," she said. "Because on the fifteenth day of the first month, he won't be there to fight me."
      "Why?" Xiaoxing asked. "Is Li Manqing really such a coward?"
      "He's not afraid of death, he's afraid of defeat," the Moon Goddess said. "He is the son of Little Li, the bronze imperial graduate. He cannot lose."
      Xiaoxing suddenly became quiet, her florid face suddenly turning pale. She asked only after a long time:
      "Is Young Master Li Huai really a son of that Li family, young mistress?"
      "He is."
      "Then he surely doesn't know you are the one issuing the challenge?"
      "He knows," the Moon Goddess said quietly. "He's so smart, he must have guessed that by now already."
      Xiaoxing bit her lip, making her speech sound like mumbling.
      "If he really knows he has to fight you on the fifteenth day of the first month, he should just go far, far away," Xiaoxing said. "How can he have the heart to fight you?"
      "Because he has no choice."
      "Why?"
      "Because all things said, he is still a descendant of the Li family. He won't allow his family's dignity and prestige to be destroyed in his hands," the Moon Goddess said. "In the same way, although I know he's surely going to be my opponent, I won't allow the Xues' dignity and prestige to be destroyed in my hands either."
      She continued in a voice so calm that it bordered on cruelty. "There are too many things in this world you will find yourself helpless about. Even if someone knows he or she shouldn't be doing something, he or she may still have to keep doing it under certain circumstances."

      The sound of the firecrackers had died away completely. A deathly silence reigned between the heavens and the earth. Yet there seemed a voice only the two were able to hear, echoing in the air in this voiceless, colorless, wordless silence.
      A baby's bawling.
      "Young mistress," Xiaoxing asked, "why don't you tell him you have given him a child?"
      "Why must I?" the Moon Goddess said. "I bore him a child, not because I wanted the child to be the heir of the Li family. Although I did give him this child, he is a descendant of our Xue family as much as a descendant of the Li family. I did it out of my own free will. Why must I tell him that?"
      "But if you were to tell him that, he might not fight you."
      "If I told him that and he couldn't bear to kill me, I would still have to kill him. Because I must win. Since victory means life, defeat means death."

      Xiaoxing suddenly bit her lip firmly. But she still could not keep tears from flowing down her pale cheeks.
      "Young mistress, I have only one more thing to ask you."
      "Ask it," the Moon Goddess said. "You may ask anything."
      "On the day of your duel, when life and death, victory and defeat, survive and destruction have to be decided in a split secondwould he have the heart to kill you?"
      "I don't know."
      "And in that split second, would you have the heart to kill him?"
      No one knew how long the Moon Goddess remained quiet. Only after a long while did she give the answer:
      "I don't know that either."

  10. #30
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    CONCLUSION


    1

      This is the way many things are in this world. Up until that instant when you have to decide between life and death, victory and defeat, survival and destruction, you wouldn't know the answer.
      Still, what good would it do to know the answer?
      What difference would it make if Li Huai won? What difference would it make if Li Huai lost?
      Life and death, survival and destruction, are instantaneous. But their feelings remain forever.
      Regardless of whether Li Huai lived or died, won or lostfor him, it was all a tragedy.
      Regardless of whether the Moon Goddess lived or died, won or lostfor her, it was also a tragedy.
      Birth, aging, sickness, and deaththese are all tragic. There are already so, so, so many tragedies in this world. For someone who likes only to laugh and not to cry, why must he still write tragedies for others to shed tears over?

    2

      There must be at least one way to avoid every kind of tragedy. I hope everyone who hates shedding tears finds a way to avoid this kind of tragedy.

    (The end)

  11. #31
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    Please note: although the Moon Goddess's weapon has been described as a dao, a close reading of the text reveals that she is using the flying dagger (feidao). To preserve the element of surprise, I have translated dao in some places as "blade".

    The translation is now complete.

  12. #32
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    Nice work! Thanks for completing this.

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