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Before and After the Duel Chapter 7

Chapter 7 – Demoness with Lascivious Heart

Although the lantern had not been lighted, the silver hook kept swaying in the wind.

Lu Xiaofeng walked in big strides toward the Silver Hook Casino, with a feeling that his luck would guarantee his success that day; he almost could not restrain himself from stopping at one of the tables and throwing some money.

He did not stop, because he did not want to waste his luck on a gambling table.

Li Shentong had seen him walk in from afar, so he hastily stole away. Today he seemed to be a bit sick, his face was yellowish, his body thin, and he looked downcast. Perhaps he threw up all night last night.

Lu Xiaofeng smiled as he walked in straight toward the door with a sign that said ‘Important place of accounting office, idle person must not enter’*. Two large men immediately blocked his way.

One of the men pointed to the sign on the door and calmly said, ‘Do you or do you not recognize characters?”*

Lu Xiaofeng smiled: “Characters, I know some, but I am not an idle person, I am a very, very sweet person.”

[Translator’s note: Just to let you know that Eliza and I have given this part some thought. I can simply translate the two sentences with asterisk (*) above as ‘Private, Do Not Enter’, and “Can’t you read?” respectively, but then, Lu Xiaofeng’s reply would not make any sense. Therefore, awkward as it may, we decided to keep it as it is. Additional note (courtesy of Justin13): the character ‘idle’ sounds like ‘salty’, hence the ‘sweet’ joke.]

The man was startled, but before he realized what has happened, Lu Xiaofeng already walked past him. He was thinking of stretching out his arm to block, but suddenly his waist went numb and his entire body went weak that he could not even lift up his finger.

Chen Jingjing was indeed inside the room, as was Li Shentong. Seeing Lu Xiaofeng, both forced a smile.

Lu Xiaofeng also smiled, “Good morning.”

Chen Jingjing: “It’s not morning anymore.”

Lu Xiaofeng: “Since you know it is not morning anymore, why haven’t you sent me any news?”

Chen Jingjing coughed lightly twice: “We are thinking of inviting Master Jia for a simple dinner tonight.”

Lu Xiaofeng: “I have never eaten simple dinner, I only eat full course banquet.”

Chen Jingjing forced a laugh: “Certainly. It will be a full course banquet. When the time comes, Li Dajie [big sister] will also be here.”

Lu Xiaofeng: “But since I am already here, I want to eat now.”

Chen Jingjing: “What can we do, then?”

Lu Xiaofeng: “Simple, you go and tell that Li Dajie of yours to come and see me. If she does not come, I am going to cut her brother’s two ears and one nose.”

Li Shentong’s countenance changed. Chen Jingjing’s smile was even more forced. “It’s too bad that we do not know where she is; how could we go and tell her?”

Lu Xiaofeng: “You don’t know where she is, but I do know a bit, actually.”

Chen Jingjing: “Oh?”

Lu Xiaofeng: “There were originally two giant water barrels in this place, but now only one is left outside, where did the other one go?”

Chen Jingjing’s countenance seemed to change a little bit.

Lu Xiaofeng: “Where that water barrel is, there will Li Xia be.”

Chen Jingjing: “What are you talking about? I do not understand.”

Lu Xiaofeng: “I am sure you do. Unless you are crazy, nobody would sell a house just to make two giant water barrels only to collect rain water to drink.”

Chen Jingjing agreed with this point of his, she could not disagree.

Lu Xiaofeng: “Ding Lao Da was not crazy, obviously he had a different motive.”

Chen Jingjing: “What do you think his motive was?”

Lu Xiaofeng: “Li Xia and he eloped to this place, because they were afraid other people would pursue, they made that kind of water barrels, and were prepared to hide inside the water barrels.”

Chen Jingjing: “People can live inside the water barrel to hide?”

Lu Xiaofeng: “Normally, absolutely not. But if you freeze the water barrel inside the river, you won’t find a better hiding place, because nobody would guess that some people are hiding inside the frozen river.”

Chen Jingjing wanted to smile, but she failed. Li Shentong could not bear not to ask, “Do you know where that water barrel is?”

Lu Xiaofeng nodded, with his foot he tapped the wooden board covering the floor, “In here.”

Chen Jingjing looked at Li Shentong, Li Shentong looked at Chen Jingjing. But before they opened their mouths, someone underneath the board had already replied.

A deep and low, hoarse female voice coldly said, “Since you already know I am here, why haven’t you come down?”

Unexpectedly, the water barrel, which was over two zhang tall, had been divided into two levels. The lower level was completely covered with soft fur, just like a comfortable bed. There was a small ladder connecting this bed with the level above it, which served as the living room. There were a table and a chair, with the wall all around covered with thick carpet in random pattern. There was even an exquisitely made bronze stove.

Lu Xiaofeng sighed. He fantasized that if he could live in here for several days with a girl that he likes, then those days would certainly feel like a dream.

A middle-aged woman, whose appearance could not be considered too ugly, was sitting on the other side, staring at him.

This woman’s hair was very neatly combed, very bright. Her face was square, her cheek bones high, her lips very thick, and her pores were large; plus she maintained a very solemn expression. In short, she did not have even one attractive feature.

Others may feel that she was not ugly, perhaps because of her eyes. When she was staring at other people, her eyes seemed to be covered with a hazy layer of mist. If you have never seen her, you would never guess that this kind of pair of eyes could belong to this kind of face.

“I am Li Xia,” she stared at Lu Xiaofeng, “And you must be Jia Leshan.”

Lu Xiaofeng nodded.

Li Xia: “Do you know that people say that you are an old fox?”

Lu Xiaofeng: “I certainly am.”

Li Xia: “But you don’t look old.”

Lu Xiaofeng laughed, “Because I know a way to make a man always look young.”

Li Xia: “What is it?”

Lu Xiaofeng: “Women.”

Li Xia’s eyes seemed to be gleaming with laughter, “Sounds like your method is not bad at all.”

Lu Xiaofeng also stared at her. He smiled, “You also don’t look old.”

Li Xia: “Oh?”

Lu Xiaofeng: “What method do you use to maintain your looks?”

Li Xia’s countenance fell. With a cold laugh she said, “Do you think I use men?”

Lu Xiaofeng dryly said, “As long as you don’t use me, whatever method you use is none of my business.”

Li Xia started to stare at him again; her eyes revealed a very strange feeling when she suddenly called out loudly, “Get the wine!”

Lu Xiaofeng: “I am not here to drink.”

Li Xia: “But you must drink.”

Lu Xiaofeng: “Why?”

Li Xia: “Because I want you to drink. The thing that you want is in my hands.”

Lu Xiaofeng sighed inwardly, because his nose smelled a very familiar aroma.

The aroma of pickled Chinese cabbage, plain boiled pork, and a dish of intestine hotpot.

He nearly fainted.

The steaming hot hotpot and Green Bamboo Leaf wine, warmed at just the right temperature.

Before Li Xia said anything, Lu Xiaofeng had already opened his mouth, “Naturally you brought this wine from the inland, and so far you always drink it sparingly.” He thought Li Xia would be greatly surprised that he knew exactly what she was going to say.

Who would have thought that Li Xia shook her head and said, “Wrong. This wine was brought by your woman. I have not drunk it, because I am afraid there is poison in the wine.”

Lu Xiaofeng could only force a smile. Everybody makes mistakes. With a bitter smile he said, “And so you want me to drink it first?”

Li Xia did not deny at all. Lu Xiaofeng raised a cup and poured it down his throat.

He was born with a rather strange natural instinct; his feeling was far keener than most people. If the wine was poisonous, as soon as it wet his lips, he could feel it. Otherwise, he would have been dead of poisoning several hundred times.

Li Xia suddenly asked, “I heard your woman is not bad at all. What is her name?”

Lu Xiaofeng: “Chuchu.”

Li Xia coldly said, “You already have such a pretty woman, yet you are still reaching to the east and pulling to the west, that you won’t even let other people’s wives alone?”

Lu Xiaofeng laughed, “Seems to me Hong’er and Little Tang are not other people’s wives anymore. I love women.”

Li Xia suddenly smiled, “Right now I also am no longer another man’s wife, and I am also a woman.”

Lu Xiaofeng bluntly said, “It’s too bad that in my eyes you are no more than someone who is doing business with me.”

Li Xia: “But now our business deal is done.”

Lu Xiaofeng: “Seems to me it is not. Although I have paid you the money, you have not delivered the goods.”

Li Xia: “Don’t worry, you want the goods, tomorrow first thing in the morning I will deliver it to you.”

Lu Xiaofeng: “Why do I have to wait for tomorrow morning?”

Li Xia only poured a cup of wine and slowly drank it. Her eyes revealed that very strange feeling again as she slowly said, “We are both adults, we don’t need to play games like little children do.”

Lu Xiaofeng: “I am not thinking of playing games.”

Li Xia: “The men around here are as stinky and filthy as donkeys, they have not taken a bath in several months. I feel like throwing up just by looking at them. But you … you …”

Lu Xiaofeng: “But I what?”

Li Xia: “Not only you look a lot younger than I imagined, your body seems to be this sturdy, so strong.”

The hazy mist in her eyes was growing denser, her breathing also suddenly became rapid. “What I want, don’t you understand?”

Lu Xiaofeng: “I don’t understand at all.”

Biting her lip, Li Xia said, “I am also a woman, and all women must have men, but I … I haven’t had any man for several months. I …”

She panted hard. Suddenly she leaned this way and her hand grabbed Lu Xiaofeng’s hand.

Her grip was so tight that her nails dug into Lu Xiaofeng’s flesh.

Beads of sweat started to form on her face; her nostrils flared up and down, as she was continuously gasping for breath. The pupil of her eyes gradually grew, sending out warmness like a vast expanse of water …

Lu Xiaofeng did not move.

He had seen this kind of expression before. It was only when a woman was burning with desire that her face would show this kind of expression. But right now she did nothing more than gripping his hand.

In this moment he suddenly understood why she eloped with Ding Lao Da, and why she married the Blue Beard.

Without any doubt she was a woman whose desire was insatiable, and she was at the age where a woman’s desire was the strongest.

Although she was not beautiful, she was the type of woman who created a strange attraction on the opposite sex; especially her thick and meaty lips, would lead a man to associate those lips with some primal lust.

Lu Xiaofeng had not moved.

But even he had to admit that his heart was beginning to move.

His Adam’s apple was moving up and down, his mouth suddenly became dry. He was thinking of leaving, but Li Xia had thrown her body into his, pressing him hard, entangled his body just like an octopus holding him down, never would let him go.

Even Lu Xiaofeng had never seen a woman whose desire was so intense. He nearly could not breathe. Her hand suddenly started to move, she grabbed hard on his …

Suddenly ‘Bang!’ the wooden board above them opened, with a throaty voice someone was shouting, “Let me in, I want to go in! I will kill whoever dares to stop me!”

Lu Xiaofeng was startled, Li Xia sat up, but did not stop her labored breathing. A woman jumped down from above. Her round face was twisted with anger. Lu Xiaofeng almost did not recognize the woman who always stood under the ‘Tai Bai Legacy’ signboard to entice men to be crushed on her butcher block, Tang Keqing.

“It’s you …” Li Xia sprang up and indignantly said, “What are you doing here? Get out!”

Tang Keqing stared at her hatefully and icily said, “I won’t get out. Why can’t I come to this place? You forbid me from touching men, why are you cheating with a man in here?”

Li Xia was even more enraged, she sternly said, “It’s none of your business! Whatever I am doing is none of your business!”

Tang Keqing also shouted, “Who said it’s none of my business? You are mine, and I forbid any man to touch you.”

Li Xia abruptly raised one palm and gave her a hard slap on her face that immediately several purple streaks appeared on her cheek. But suddenly she pounced and wrestled Li Xia, just like Li Xia wrestled Lu Xiaofeng just a moment ago.

“I want you. Even if you beat me to death I still want you.” Like rain Li Xia’s fists were beating on her body, but she still did not let her go. “I am as good as any man, and you know it, why do you …”

Lu Xiaofeng did not want to hear it anymore, he did not want to see even more; to him, what was happening was pitiful, laughable and disgusting.

Quietly he slipped out, while gaining an understanding of why Tang Keqing hated men so much and wanted to abuse them.

He could not help but feeling nauseated recalling that he had held her hand.

All of a sudden it was evening.

Lu Xiaofeng did not even know when the sky was beginning to turn dark. He did not return to the Eternal Heaven Restaurant; he simply stopped by at a wine shop on the street and bought a big pot of wine and sat alone to drink it.

His heart was brimming with sorrow and dismay, he was even more dejected than last night, because although he realized that there was always the dark and ugly side on everybody’s life, he had never wanted to see that side.

It was an uninhabited little wooden hut by the bank of the river. Presumably the inhabitants of that hut had moved to the little town on the frozen river. The door of this hut was almost completely buried under the ice and snow.

The cold wind blew in from the cracks on the window, from the cracks on the door, from the gaps on the wooden planks. The cold wind was as sharp as blade.

But he did not care.

He only hoped Li Xia would keep her promise and delivered the Luocha Tablet early in the morning tomorrow. And he would leave as soon as he got it.

When he first arrived, he felt that this place was glorious and beautiful, with new and wonderful excitement everywhere.

But now he just wanted to leave, the sooner the better.

There was still an oil lamp on the shabby wooden table. There seemed to be a little bit of oil left in the lamp.

But he had no desire whatsoever to light the lamp. Even he himself did not understand why these past two days he was in such a bad mood, so much so that he wished he could find Gu Song to have a drinking competition with him.

Strangely, as soon as they got here, Sui Han San You seemed to suddenly vanish from the surface of the earth.

Viewed from a distance, the little town on the ice was still brilliantly illuminated. Darkness came early in this place. It must still be very early in the evening, which means tomorrow morning was still quite some time away.

How would he spend this long night?

Lu Xiaofeng grabbed the wine pot, but then he put it back down. Suddenly he heard very light footsteps on the ice and snow outside.

At a moment like this, who could have come to a place like this?

Suddenly the window was struck open then someone jumped in. The door was completely blocked by the ice, Lu Xiaofeng also leaped over the window to get in.

By the dim reflection of the light on the snow, he was able to vaguely see that this person was wearing a long and oversized fur coat, carrying a large bundle in her hand. ‘Bang!’ She placed the bundle on the table, and then with hands shaking from the cold, she took a flint and lighted the oil lamp on the table.

Only then did she turned her head around to face Lu Xiaofeng and smiled, “I did not guess wrong. You are indeed in here.”

Her face was frozen white, her nose was frozen red, but her smile was as gentle, tender and beautiful as a spring flower. It was Chen Jingjing.

But Lu Xiaofeng seemed to be unfazed, only he could not bear not to ask, “How did you guess that I am here?”

Chen Jingjing smiled sweetly, “I saw you with a pot of wine walking toward this direction. I know that around here, only this place can be used to take shelter from the cold. Although I am not smart, I am not stupid either.”

Lu Xiaofeng: “Are you especially looking for me?”

Chen Jingjing: “Mmm.”

Lu Xiaofeng: “Why are you looking for me?”

Chen Jingjing pointed toward the bundle on the table: “To deliver this food and wine for you.”

She smiled as she untied the bundle, while continuing, “You are, after all, our guest. Naturally I cannot let you starve.”

Lu Xiaofeng looked coldly at her then frostily said, “You shouldn’t have come.”

Chen Jingjing: “Why not?”

Lu Xiaofeng: “Because I am a sex maniac, aren’t you afraid I …”

Chen Jingjing did not let him finish, she smiled and said, “Why would I come if I was afraid?”

Those few words, if it was Ding Xiangyi, she would have said it enticingly, full of passion. If it was Chuchu, those words would have come out as a challenge.

But her manner was very calm and natural, because she was just stating the fact – I know you are a gentleman, that’s why I come; I also know that you will treat me as a gentleman would.

This matter should be as obvious as ‘two plus two is four’, plain and simple.

Under normal circumstances, when a woman resorts to this kind of approach in dealing with men, she should be considered smart. Too bad Lu Xiaofeng’s circumstance right now was not normal.

Not only he was dejected to the extreme right now, he was very mad. He was mad at Chuchu, mad at Li Xia, mad at Tang Keqing, and even madder at himself. He felt that in the last two days, in everything he did he deserved to get spanked three hundred times with a plank. As a matter of fact, these past few days he seemed to feel uncomfortable all over his body.

Chen Jingjing added: “I specially bring some ‘wind chicken’ and preserved meat for you. You should eat a little bit.”

Lu Xiaofeng’s gaze was fixed at her as he slowly said, “I only want one thing.”

Chen Jingjing: “What do you want to eat?”

Lu Xiaofeng: “Eat you.”

There was no resistance, there was no escaping, nor there was any attempt on her part to push him away. Regardless of what was going to happen, she seemed to be fully prepared to accept her fate.

Her response was not too enthusiastic, but she was not cold either. She was like an ordinary woman under any ordinary circumstance, being approached by her man, as if it was as it should be; such a simple and natural matter.

And now that the excitement had subsided, she slowly got up and tidied up herself. Suddenly she turned toward Lu Xiaofeng, laughed, and said softly, “And now what do you want to eat?”

Lu Xiaofeng also laughed, “Right now I can eat anything. If you have brought an entire cow in here, I might swallow it all down.”

The two of them laughed as the gazed at each other. Something that should have caused remorse and hatred to others had suddenly turned into a joyous and pleasing experience.

Lu Xiaofeng looked at her. Other than peaceful and serene joy, his heart was also brimming with gratitude.

All uncomfortable feelings suddenly disappeared like snow melting under the sun. Suddenly he felt his entire body was very comfortable – oftentimes the change a woman can bring to a man’s body is just like a miracle.

Chen Jingjing’s eyes were gleaming with that kind of radiance, the feeling of joy and amazement. “Finally I understand something.”

Lu Xiaofeng: “What is it?”

Chen Jingjing: “No matter how good the dish is, if you don’t put salt in it, it would certainly be very unpalatable.”

Lu Xiaofeng laughed, “Extremely unpalatable, definitely.”

Chen Jingjing: “Men are just the same.”

Lu Xiaofeng was confused, “How can men be the same?”

Chen Jingjing sweetly said, “No matter how good a man is, if he does not have a woman, he would be spoiled, would be extremely unpalatable.”

Her face still had that kind of blush, which made other’s heart beat faster; her sweet smile was like the sunset glow of early summer night.

Lu Xiaofeng’s heart was also beating faster, and he reached out to pull her hand.

But this time Chen Jingjing deftly evaded his hand, and with a somber expression said, “Actually, I am here to tell you something.”

Lu Xiaofeng: “Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”

Chen Jingjing: “Because I knew you were such in a bad mood that I did not dare to tell you.”

Lu Xiaofeng: “And now you are ready to tell me?”

Chen Jingjing slowly nodded her head. Obviously she was able to see that his emotions were now very stable. “I only hope that you won’t get too upset after hearing it.”

Lu Xiaofeng: “I won’t get upset. Quickly tell me.”

Although in the mouth he said he was not upset, his heart was already anxious.

Finally Chen Jingjing sighed and said, “Little Tang is dead. She died under Li Xia’s hand.”

Lu Xiaofeng frowned. “Li Xia killed her? Why?”

Chen Jingjing: “I don’t know.”

Lu Xiaofeng: “You did not ask her?”

Chen Jingjing: “I did not ask, because Li Xia has disappeared, this time she really disappeared. We have searched for her for a long time, and could not find even her shadow.”

She had not finished speaking, Lu Xiaofeng had already sprang up.

Chen Jingjing: “I knew that when you heard this news, you would jump up, because other than her, nobody else knows where she hid the Luocha Tablet.”

Lu Xiaofeng jumped again, he jumped even higher.

Chen Jingjing: “Those twelve boxes, she personally sent people who packed them off. Nobody knows where she had those boxes delivered to.”

Lu Xiaofeng yelled, “This kind of matter, why did you wait until now to tell me?”

Chen Jingjing smiled ruefully, “I told you just now, and you already jumped eight feet high. If I told you then, I wouldn’t be surprised if you punch my nose till it crooked.”

Lu Xiaofeng sat back down; he did not jump, and he did not yell.

Chen Jingjing: “Was it because of me that you agreed to hand the boxes over?”

Lu Xiaofeng: “Mmm.”

Chen Jingjing: “Now your boxes are gone, she also disappeared. Tell me, what should I do?”

Lu Xiaofeng coldly replied, “You have already found a very good way to shut my mouth.”

Chen Jingjing hung her head down, looking at her own toes, and quietly said, “If you think that I did what I did just to shut your mouth, you are wrong. Do you think I cannot disappear as well if I am afraid you will find me to settle the account?”

Her eyes turned red, her tears were ready to fall.

Lu Xiaofeng’s heart softened. He stood up suddenly and said, “Don’t you worry. She won’t be able to run away.”

Chen Jingjing: “Do you have any confidence that you can find her?”

Lu Xiaofeng: “If I could find her the last time, I can find her again this time.”

Although he said those words with his mouth, he did not have the least bit of confidence in his heart.

He simply wanted to comfort her — if you have a special relationship with a woman, even if she makes a mistake, all you can do is to forgive her, and you would find a way to console her. If she let you down, all you can do is to admit it. — If you maintained some distance with a woman from the start, she would not feel anxious, but you would.

“Why do men always have this many complications?” Lu Xiaofeng groaned inwardly, “Why didn’t I follow Honest Monk’s example, just shave my head clean and forget about everything?”

“After she killed Tang Keqing, unavoidably she would feel a bit scared, thereupon she ran away.”

“Mmm.”

“At that time you were also at the Silver Hook Casino, didn’t you see the direction she took?”

“I did not,” Chen Jingjing replied, “When I heard Little Tang’s miserable cry, I rushed downstairs, but she was already gone.”

“No one else saw her?”

Chen Jingjing shook her head. “As soon as the sky turns dark, everybody in this place would stay inside, much less it was particularly cold tonight. It also happened to be dinner time.”

Lu Xiaofeng was deep in thought. “But I know one person, who would still be strolling outside no matter how cold the weather is.”

Chen Jingjing: “Who are you talking about?”

Lu Xiaofeng: “The Old Goat.”

Chen Jingjing: “Is he the old freak who lives inside the giant water barrel?”

Lu Xiaofeng nodded. “Have you seen that giant water barrel?”

Chen Jingjing: “When I came a while ago, I saw a blazing fire on that direction, like a house is on fire.”

Lu Xiaofeng frowned, “But there is no other building in that direction, and the water barrel is fireproof.”

Chen Jingjing: “That’s why I also did not know what’s going on.”

Lu Xiaofeng: “In that case we’d better go quickly to have a look.”

It was very cold outside, the wind blowing on your body felt like it is penetrating your fur coat and piercing your bones.

Before they even saw the giant water barrel, they had already smelled strong aroma of wine carried by the wind.

Lu Xiaofeng’s nose had already frozen stiff, but he was still able to smell the aroma. He frowned immediately. “Not good.”

Chen Jingjing: “What’s not good?”

Lu Xiaofeng: “I don’t care what kind of wine it is, but if it entered the belly, the aroma will not drift this far.”

Chen Jingjing: “But if the wine is burned, won’t the aroma drift very far?”

Lu Xiaofeng nodded, “But the Old Goat I know will never burn wine, he usually pours the wine into his belly.”

Chen Jingjing also frowned. “Do you think someone is using wine to burn his water barrel?”

Lu Xiaofeng: “Although the water barrel cannot be burned, the person can be burned to death.”

Chen Jingjing: “Who wants to burn him? Why would they want to burn him to death?”

Lu Xiaofeng: “Because he knew too many secrets.”

If someone keeps too many secrets in his belly, he would be like dry firewood soaked with oil, very easy to burn.

Right now the fire was already out.

When they arrived at the giant water barrel, they saw black smoke rising from it. They also saw firewood was piled up high all around it, the firewood had also been scorched black.

The aroma of wine still lingered in the air. Such a high pile of firewood, soaked in wine, the blaze was certainly not small. Even seventy or eighty water buffaloes would definitely well roasted, let alone only an old mountain goat.

Chen Jingjing: “The aroma of wine has not dispersed yet, the fire must have died not too long ago.”

Lu Xiaofeng: “I’ll go in to take a look, you wait outside.”

He leaped up, but suddenly jumped back down.

Chen Jingjing: “What’s the matter?”

Lu Xiaofeng: “I cannot go in.”

Chen Jingjing: “Why?”

Lu Xiaofeng: “Because the inside is full of ice.”

Chen Jingjing: “In this place, even boiling water will turn into ice immediately. Nobody would have a way to fill such a big barrel with water to the brim. How can there be any ice inside?”

Lu Xiaofeng: “Heaven knows …”

His sentence had not finished when suddenly there was a ‘Pop!’ A long strip of crack was formed on the barrel’s wall. Followed by another ‘Pop!’ as the crack split open. In the blink of an eye, this specially manufactured giant water barrel disintegrated into pieces as large as a table, and one by one the pieces fell down and crashed to the ground.

But as the water barrel fell apart, the ice inside did not crumble. Under the dim starlight, it stood straight up like an iceberg. There seemed to be a painting inside the transparent ice.

Lu Xiaofeng: “I thought you have a flint with you?”

Chen Jingjing: “Uh huh.”

She handed the flint over to him. He picked up a dried up branch and lighted it. When the fire brightened, their hearts sank. Chen Jingjing almost could not stand up.

Even Lu Xiaofeng had never seen this kind of strange and dreadful scene in all his life.

Under the glittering torch light, the transparent iceberg looked like a large chunk of jade-white crystal, sparkling brilliantly with fantastic beauty.

In the middle of this sparkling crystal, there were two humans hovering as if they were suspended vertically in the air, unmoving.

Two naked people. One with head on top, the other with feet on top. One was a shriveled and thin old man, which was the Old Goat, the other had a pair of large breasts and ample thighs, which was, to their surprise, Li Xia. Their four eyeballs were bulging out, one pair at the top, the other at the bottom, staring at Chen Jingjing and Lu Xiaofeng.

Finally Chen Jingjing cried out in fear and passed out. When she regained her consciousness, she was back at the Silver Hook Casino, back at her own bedroom.

The decoration in her room was both elegant and unique; each article seemed to be meticulously chosen and was placed at the most appropriate spot. There was a large and thick bearskin draped over the chair, as warm as the ocean wave under the summer sun.

Chen Jingjing had been awake for quite some time, but he seemed to be asleep and was not awake yet.

The fire in the stove was blazing hot, the lantern was also very bright. The scene she had just seen seemed to be a distant memory of her childhood dream.

Chen Jingjing sighed softly, with a bitter smile she muttered, “Luckily I passed out. If I had to look at those two people a bit longer, I might be scared to death.”

Lu Xiaofeng did not answer, he did not even show any reaction.

Chen Jingjing stared at him and continued, “What are you thinking about? What is your concern?”

Finally Lu Xiaofeng said slowly, “There was no water in the water barrel, so it was impossible for it to be filled with ice. Since nobody had any way of filling the barrel with water, where did the ice come from?”

Chen Jingjing: “And now you have figured it out?”

Lu Xiaofeng did not reply directly, he asked again, “When I was there yesterday, there was a large accumulation of snow on the riverbank by the barrel. But today actually I did not see any. Where has that pile of snow gone?”

Chen Jingjing rolled her eyes. “It has gone inside the water barrel?”

Lu Xiaofeng nodded. “If you light up a fire outside the water barrel, won’t the snow inside melt into water?”

Chen Jingjing’s eyes glittered. “As soon as the fire outside was extinguished, the water would quickly turned into ice.”

Lu Xiaofeng: “And just before the water froze, Li Xia and the Old Goat were thrown into barrel.”

Chen Jingjing bit her lip. “After she killed Little Tang, she went to find the Old Goat, because they were old friends. Moreover …”

Moreover, although the Old Goat was old, his body was still strong, while Li Xia was in a desperate need of a man.

Although she did not say these words, and she could not bear to say it, she knew that Lu Xiaofeng also understood this fact.

And sure enough, Lu Xiaofeng sighed and said, “Perhaps it was then that someone killed them.”

Chen Jingjing: “But who killed them? And for what?”

Lu Xiaofeng: “I cannot figure out who this killer is, but I know for certain that it was also because of the Luocha Tablet.”

Chen Jingjing: “But the Luocha Tablet would not necessarily fall into his hand by killing Li Xia.”

Lu Xiaofeng smiled ruefully, “And since he failed to acquire it, he won’t let me have it either.”

Chen Jingjing also sighed. “I still don’t understand. After killing Li Xia, why would he spend so much effort in melting the snow into water and then freezing Li Xia in the ice?”

Lu Xiaofeng: “Perhaps he only wanted to threaten Li Xia to hand the Luocha Tablet over to him before the water froze.”

Chen Jingjing: “But Li Xia was not stupid; she certainly knew that even if she hand over the Luocha Tablet to him, there would only be death to her, therefore …”

Lu Xiaofeng: “Therefore, the Luocha Tablet must still be at its original hiding place.”

Chen Jingjing sighed, “It’s a pity that Li Xia is dead; nobody else knows this secret.”

Lu Xiaofeng got up and stood in front of the stove. He seemed to be very deep in thought for a long time before slowly said, “I have a friend who told me that there are only two people I can trust in this place. One was the Old Goat, the other is you.”

Chen Jingjing appeared to be very surprised. “Who is your friend? Does he know me?”

Lu Xiaofeng: “She is also your friend; not only that, she grew up with you.”

Chen Jingjing’s eyes grew big. “Are you talking about Ding Xiangyi?” she asked in shock, “How did you know her?”

With a forced smile Lu Xiaofeng said, “I only want you to know that she is a friend of mine. About other matter, you’d better not ask too many questions.”

Chen Jingjing stared hard at him, finally she slowly nodded: “I understand. I also want you to know that her friend is my friend.”

Lu Xiaofeng: “And thus you won’t deceive me?”

Chen Jingjing: “I won’t.”

Lu Xiaofeng: “So if you knew where that Luocha Tablet is hidden, you’d certainly tell me.”

Chen Jingjing: “But I really do not know.”

Lu Xiaofeng heaved a deep sigh. “For that reason, actually Li Xia should not die. Moreover, she should not die such a tragic death. I always feel that only a lunatic would be able to invent that kind of method to kill people. But there is only a half-lunatic in this place.”

Chen Jingjing: “Who?”

Lu Xiaofeng: “Li Shentong.”

Chen Jingjing was startled. “Do you think he is able to deal with his own sister with such a violent treachery?”

Before Lu Xiaofeng could answer, suddenly someone rushed in from outside the room, while clapping his hands and laughed, “At long last she agrees to marry me. Finally I have a wife. You must come quickly to drink my wedding wine.”

Obviously, this man was Li Shentong.

He was still wearing the oversized red gown, with the green pointy hat on his head. Unexpectedly, his face was smeared with a layer of red rouge commonly used in wedding ceremony. He seemed to be crazier than before. But was he really crazy? Or was only pretending to be crazy?

Chen Jingjing could not bear not to ask him: “Who agrees to marry you?”

Li Shentong: “Naturally my new bride.”

Chen Jingjing: “And where is your new bride?”

Li Shentong: “Naturally she is in our bridal chamber.”

“Today in my bridal chamber, everybody is radiant with joy, the bride is truly pretty, I so love my bride …” [Translator’s note: this is supposed to be a song, but I can’t make the English translation rhyme. My apologies.]

He insanely clapped his hands and sang loudly, and then dashed out the room.

Chen Jingjing could not help but asking Lu Xiaofeng: “Do you want to see his bride?”

Lu Xiaofeng: “I do.”

Obviously Li Shentong also had his own bedroom. Unexpectedly, he also lighted a pair of red candles in his room, and there really was a bride on his bed, wearing a red skirt and a red veil over her face.

She sat on the bed, leaning against the headboard. Li Shentong stood by her side while incessantly singing a very annoying song.

Chen Jingjing frowned and said, “We are not here to hear you sing. Can’t you shut your mouth up?”

Li Shentong kept giggling madly, “But my bride is very beautiful, don’t you want to see her?”

Chen Jingjing: “I do.”

Immediately Li Shentong reached out to lift the red veil, but suddenly he pulled his hand back, while muttering, “I must ask her first whether she wants to see you.”

He really stooped down with his face close to his bride’s ear, and then whispered some indistinct words.

The bride did not seem to open her mouth; as a matter of fact, she did not seem to react at all, but Li Shentong sprang up and laughed, “She agrees, she even wants you to toast her with a cup of wine.”

Thereupon he reached out and this time he indeed lifted up the red veil covering the bride’s face.

Lu Xiaofeng and Chen Jingjing’s hearts sank again, and they felt their entire body go ice-cold stiff; they felt that this scene was even more nauseating compared to the two-dead-people-in-the-ice scene they had just witnessed earlier, it was even more shocking.

The bride’s face was also smeared with thick red rouge, but her eyes were bulging out.

To their utmost shock, the bride was a dead woman.

“Little Tang,” Chen Jingjing could not help but screaming in terror, “Tang Keqing.”

But Li Shentong was still laughing happily, while preparing four cups of wine, and then, grinning and walking, he handed one cup over to Chen Jingjing: “One cup for you, one cup for me, one cup for him, and one cup for the bride.”

Lu Xiaofeng and Chen Jingjing did not have any choice but to receive the cups, while in their hearts they were feeling very uncomfortable.

It seemed that this man was indeed insane.

Li Shentong had already walked toward the head of the bed. He sat down and gave the cup to his bride, while laughing and saying, “Let’s drink this sweet wine together. After we drink it, I am going to kick them out of here.”

Of course the bride did not lift her hand to receive the cup. He glowered at her, “Why don’t you want to drink the wine? Are you having a second thoughts and do not want to marry me anymore?”

Chen Jingjing really did not want to see it anymore, she was afraid she would cry, she was more afraid she would throw up. Finally she could not bear not to shout, “Can’t you see she is already dead? Why do you still want to …”

Li Shentong leaped up suddenly and hissed, “Who said she is dead? Who said it?”

Chen Jingjing: “I did.”

Li Shentong glowered hatefully at her then sternly said, “Why did you say such words?”

Chen Jingjing: “Because she is really dead. If you truly love her, you should let her rest in peace.”

Suddenly Li Shentong dashed toward her: “She is not dead. She is my new bride, she must not die.”

Forcefully he grabbed Chen Jingjing’s collar and tried as hard as he could to shake her. Chen Jingjing’s face turned green from fear. Without thinking she gave him a heavy slap on his face.

The ringing of the slap, the sound of weeping, the sound of screaming, suddenly stopped. The room became as quiet as a tomb. Li Shentong stood with a blank expression on his face. From his dull looking eyes suddenly appeared two drop of tears, which then slowly rolled down his rouge-covered face.

The tears mixed with the rouge, flowing down like two streams of blood.

His dull eyes were still fixed on Chen Jingjing; the emotion showing in his eyes was that of a deep sorrow, but also with a hint of madness.

Chen Jingjing could not restrain her urge to draw back, she only took two steps back and was not able to stop herself from shuddering.

Li Shentong slowly said, “That’s right, she is dead. But I remember who killed her.”

Chen Jingjing: “Who … who was it?”

Li Shentong: “It was you, it’s you! I saw it. You used a stocking to strangle her.”

Suddenly he turned around and lifted Tang Keqing’s collar to show a strip of purple scar on her neck. “Look, you did it, you cannot deny it even if you want to.”

Chen Jingjing was anxious and angry at the same time that her body did not stop trembling. “You are crazy, you are really crazy. Luckily no one will believe your crazy talk.”

Li Shentong ignored her, he suddenly fell on Tang Keqing’s body and wept loudly, “Do you know why I followed my Jiejie? It was because I am secretly in love with you, all along I was waiting for you to agree to marry me. Although I am penniless, Blue Beard has already promised me thirty thousand taels of silver. Because of these thirty thousand taels of silver, I was willing to sacrifice even my own Jiejie. But you … why must you die?”

Lu Xiaofeng slipped out quietly, if he had to stay any longer, he would probably turn into a madman himself.

A man indeed must not love a woman too much, if his love was too deep, usually he would end up in tragedy.

Why must there be so many tragedies in this life?

Outside, it was dark and cold. As Lu Xiaofeng walked out, he took a very deep breath. Suddenly he bent over and threw up, he was continuously throwing up.

The night had been very deep.

Lu Xiaofeng strolled along the street alone for more than an hour. One by one the bright lanterns went out, one by one the cold stars twinkled in the sky, little by little his low spirit sank even lower.

He did not know how far he had walked, he did not even know when he stopped, but when he raised his head, he discovered that he had stopped right in front of Leng Hong’er’s drugstore.

Surprisingly the light was still visible behind the door. He stared blankly at the closed door for half a day while asking himself in his heart, “Did I really want to see her? If not, why did I coincidentally stop at her door?”

This question, even he was not able to answer.

In the deepest part of one’s heart oftentimes there are some secrets hidden, secrets which even he did not know about, or perhaps it’s not that he did not know, but rather he did not dare to dig them out.

“What the heck. I am already here.”

He knocked on the door.

But nobody answered the door. He gently pushed, the door was unlocked. The room was bright, but there was nobody in sight.

Where was she?

Suddenly Lu Xiaofeng felt an inexplicable bad feeling, he immediately stepped in. There was nobody at the front hall, there was nobody in the bedroom at the back, there was nobody in the kitchen.

The back door of the kitchen was also unlocked and blown by the wind, it was banging against the door frame.

Could it be that sleep had evaded Leng Hong’er again that she slipped out of this small door to watch that black bear pass by?

A cold night full of mystery, a frozen river full of mystery; a black bear that appeared and vanished suddenly.

The boundless darkness seemed to be filled with this kind of unpredictable mysteries and dreadfulness.

Lu Xiaofeng set out in large strides, walking against the wind. What else would he find tonight? Although he was incapable of predicting what would happen, he was determined to find Leng Hong’er. In no way would he let Leng Hong’er also disappear in this mysterious darkness.

But where was Leng Hong’er? Where was the black bear?

He had no idea whatsoever. Only, there were several cold stars in the distance, and he felt like walking toward those stars.

While looking at the twinkling stars, suddenly he heard a scream; the scream came from the direction of the stars, it was so sharp and miserable, obviously, it was a woman’s voice.

He ran at full speed towards the voice. The stars were illuminating the frozen river, adorning the surface of the ice with silvery glitters, it looked impressive against the scarlet bloodstain on the river bank.

There were splotches of blood, blood drips, and blood streaks over the ice from the riverbank toward the river. Following these bloodstains for twenty, thirty more steps, he saw Leng Hong’er crouching motionless some distance away.

Her body was completely stiff like a block of ice, her entire face looked like a clump of meat dripping with blood, with five strips of deep scars that looked like the wound was caused by a claw. It was such a fatal wound that the power behind the claw must be immeasurable.

She must have seen that black bear she was talking about, but this time the black bear did not symbolize her deep desire, but rather a death wish to her.

The strange thing was, why did the hungry bear leave her body alone, and did not even touch her?

There was not a single tooth mark on her, evidently she was not dragged away by the black bear, but rather, she crawled on her own accord – why did she struggle with her last ounce of strength to crawl all the way to this place?

Although her body was twisted, both of her hands were stretched out forward, with her fingers clawing into the hard ice, as if she was trying to dig the ice – what secret could be hidden in the frozen river?

What was it that she was trying to dig?

At last the cold stars vanished one by one. The earth and the frozen river were enveloped in total darkness.

It was the darkest time of the night, but when Lu Xiaofeng raised his head, his eyes shone as if the bright light at the end of the tunnel was already in sight. 

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