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Phantoms’ Mountain Manor Chapter 1

CSI

Chapter 1 – Lu Xiaofeng on the run

Underneath the shiny antique bronze paperweights rested twelve white paper cards, around the elegant Eight Immortals Table sat seven people.

Seven people whose reputations and fame shook through the martial arts world.

Ancient Pine Hermit, Wooden Taoist, Monk Bittergourd, Second Master Tang, Swordsman Xiaoxiang, Sikong Zhaixing, Hua Manlou.

These seven people had unusual statuses and distinctive backgrounds; among them were monks, hermits, wandering swordsmen, highly-skilled imperial guards, disciples of esteemed sects, and elders of the martial arts world who had seen it all.

They had gathered here because they shared something in common.

They were Lu Xiaofeng’s friends.

Now they had something else in common – all seven had grave expressions and heavy hearts.

Especially the Wooden Taoist.

Every one was watching him, waiting for him to speak.

They had all come here at his bidding; this was no simple matter, and of course he had the most important of reasons.

There were food and wine on the table, but nobody had lifted their cups or touched their food.

A breeze was blowing and the pavilion was filled with the fragrance of flowers, spirits should have been high during such a beautiful season.

They were originally carefree, unrestrained characters, why would they be so troubled?

Hua Manlou was blind, and the blind do not light lamps, but the one who had lit the hexagonal lamp on the table was precisely he.

There are many things in the world that are just like this – they should not have happened, but they did.

The Wooden Taoist sighed and finally opened his mouth: “Every one has made mistakes, but so long as he repents, that is a good thing.” He was trying very hard to restrain himself, but his voice still sounded rather agitated: “However, there are some things where you absolutely cannot do wrong, once you have made a mistake, you only have one path to go!”

“A dead end?” Sikong Zhaixing asked.

The Wooden Taoist nodded and picked up the antique bronze paperweight on the table; twelve paper cards, with twelve names written on it.

Twelve famous names!

“They shouldn’t have died, whoever wanted to kill them wouldn’t have had it easy. A pity they had all committed a fatal mistake!”

He retrieved four from the pile of paper cards: “Especially these four, I’m sure you have heard of them.”

Four paper cards, four names.

Gao Tao: Phoenix Tail Sect’s third section chief
Crime: Turncoat
Bounty hunter: Ximen Chuixue
Fate: On the run for thirteen days, died in the marshes.

Gu Feiyun: True successor to Bashan Swordsman
Crime: Killed friend’s son and seduced friend’s wife
Bounty hunter: Ximen Chuixue
Fate: On the run for fifteen days, died in the busy downtown.

Liu Qingqing: Famed swordswoman of Huainan, wife of Diancang swordsman Xie Jian
Crime: Adultery, murdered husband
Bounty hunter: Ximen Chuixue
Fate: On the run for nineteen days, died in the wilderness.

“One-armed Divine Dragon” Hai Qikuo
Crime: Indiscriminately killing innocent people
Bounty hunter: Ximen Chuixue
Fate: On the run for nineteen days, died at sea after boat capsized.

Every one had heard of these four names, but the one name they were most familiar with was Ximen Chuixue’s!

Which self-respecting martial artist had not heard of Ximen Chuixue? Who would dare say his swordplay was not unparalleled?

Swordsman Xiaoxiang suddenly said: “I’ve seen Ximen Chuixue.”

Since that duel at the Forbidden City, even this number one imperial guard had to concede that Ximen Chuixue’s skill was unmatched: “But I am not able to see how he enjoys poking his nose into other people’s business.”

“This isn’t frivolous business,” said Hua Manlou.

Sikong Zhaixing immediately added: “He rarely makes new friends, but hates people who betray their friends.”

Swordsman Xiaoxiang shut his mouth, but Second Master Tang began to speak.

The Tang family of Sichuan was famous for its use of poisoned hidden weapons, equally well-known was Second Master Tang’s dislike of talking, but he suddenly asked: “You think their fatal mistake was to have betrayed their friends?”

“Isn’t that the case?” Sikong Zhaixing asked.

Second Master Tang shook his head and did not say another word, because he knew someone else would understand the point he was trying to put across.

Indeed, another person understood: “Their crimes were different, but the fatal mistake was the same.”

“Which is?”

“Ximen Chuixue!” the Wooden Taoist slowly said: “Should Ximen Chuixue decide to kill someone, nobody would be able to escape.”

Even if one could, one couldn’t live beyond nineteen days.

“These twelve people all died by Ximen Chuixue’s sword.” The Wooden Taoist’s expression was even graver: “And now there’s another person who has committed the same fatal mistake, and the crime is even more serious.”

“Oh?”

“He not only betrayed a friend, the one he betrayed is Ximen Chuixue!”

“Who is this person?”

“Lu Xiaofeng!”

A while of heavy silence, so heavy that it was suffocating.

The first to break that silence was Swordsman Xiaoxiang: “I know Lu Xiaofeng is not only Ximen Chuixue’s friend, he’s also his benefactor.”

The Wooden Taoist sighed: “It’s a pity that gratitude has been repaid, but vengeance has not been redressed!”

“For what?” Swordsman Xiaoxiang asked.

“Stealing his wife,” the Wooden Taoist said.

Swordsman Xiaoxiang was startled and asked: “Is there proof?”

“Yes.”

“What proof?”

“He saw them in bed with his own eyes.”

Swordsman Xiaoxiang suddenly lifted the cup in front of him and downed his wine; Sikong Zhaixing was even quicker.

The only one who could still maintain his composure was Hua Manlou; his cup of wine was still full, he had only had a sip: “Lu Xiaofeng is not that kind of person, there must be something more to this.”

Sikong Zhaixing agreed immediately: “Maybe he was drunk, maybe he was drugged, or maybe they were not doing anything on the bed at all.”

These excuses were not very good, and he was not very pleased with them, so he drank another cup.

Those who draw conclusions are always the ones who speak the least.

“I do not know Lu Xiaofeng, but I do know he has done the Tang family a good turn.” Second Master Tang delivered the conclusion: “Regardless of whether there is more to this matter, we must find him and clarify this personally.”

The Wooden Taoist, however, was shaking his head.

“You don’t want to find him?” Sikong Zhaixing asked.

“It’s not that I don’t want to find, it’s that I can’t,” Wooden Taoist replied.

Lu Xiaofeng had been on the run the moment this matter broke out, nobody knew where he’d escaped to.

The Wooden Taoist spread out the twelve cards, said: “That is why I have invited you all here to look at these…”

Sikong Zhaixing interrupted him, saying: “Lu Xiaofeng is neither Gao Tao nor One-armed Divine Dragon, what have these bastards’ affairs got to do with us?”

“There is some connection,” Wooden Taoist said.

“What connection?”

“Their escape route.”

If they hoped to find Lu Xiaofeng, they would have to deduce which route he had chosen to use.

The Wooden Taoist continued: “These were highly skilled, experienced, wily and smart members of the martial arts fraternity. When they chose to be on the run, they must have had very elaborate plans, and the escape routes that they had chosen would not have been too bad.”

“Unfortunately they still couldn’t escape their fate,” Sikong Zhaixing said coldly.

“Even then, we can still use them as reference,” Wooden Taoist said.

The escape plans of these twelve men could roughly be divided into four main routes –

Buy a boat and escape via the sea

Leave the city and enter the desert

Infiltrate into the busy downtown

Flee into the barren hills and treacherous rapids

The Wooden Taoist said: “You are all Lu Xiaofeng’s old friends and know him very well, which route do you think he would take?”

No one could answer him.

No one wanted to be certain that his prediction was right.

Hua Manlou slowly said: “He wouldn’t flee to the sea or enter the desert.”

Nobody asked him how he could be so certain of that, because every one knew he had some sort of special ability and touch.

Sikong Zhaixing had finished his eighth cup of wine and said: “I am also sure of one thing.”

Every one was listening.

“Lu Xiaofeng definitely will not die.”

Someone doubted that prediction: “Why?”

Sikong Zhaixing said: “I know Lu Xiaofeng’s skills, and have seen Ximen Chuixue’s swordplay.”

Of course, he could not deny the speed and accuracy of Ximen Chuixue’s skills: “However, since his marriage and the birth of his child, his swordplay has weakened, because his heart has softened.”

Because he was no longer the god of sword, he had gradually become more human.

“I had thought so as well, but now I know we have all been wrong,” Wooden Taoist said.

“We are not wrong,” Sikong Zhaixing insisted.

The Wooden Taoist shook his head, said: “Before the duel at the Forbidden City, his sword had indeed lost its edge, because what he felt for his wife had surpassed his intense passion for the sword.”

Swordsman Xiaoxiang had evidently understood the meaning of the sentence: “But things were different after he defeated the Master of White Cloud Castle.”

Whoever had defeated such a skilled martial arts exponent as the Master of White Cloud Castle would naturally be in high spirits and want to move to the next level.

The duel at the Forbidden City had evidently reignited his passion for the sword, which once again exceeded the love he had for his wife.

Perhaps it was his neglect of his wife that had aroused Lu Xiaofeng’s sympathy and caused all this mess.

Every one had thought of this point, but no one wanted to voice it out.

The Wooden Taoist said: “I saw Lu Xiaofeng recently and he told me himself that Ximen Chuixue’s skill had reached the ‘sword-less’ state.”

What does it mean to be in a “sword-less” state?

– Although one holds no sword in his hand, his sword remains, is everywhere.

– Man and sword are one, he is the sword; so long as he exists, anything in the world can be his sword!

– Such a state means one has almost reached the pinnacle of swordplay, and very few can surpass him!

The Wooden Taoist sighed again and said: “Lu Xiaofeng was drunk when I saw him, he told me that if there were still one person who could kill him, that person would be Ximen Chuixue!”

Another silence, as they all came to the conclusion – if Ximen Chuixue caught up with Lu Xiaofeng, the latter would definitely die by his sword.

The question was – where had Lu Xiaofeng escaped to? How long could he stay away?

“Even if he didn’t take the sea or desert routes, he could have lost himself in the crowded downtown or vanished among the barren hills and treacherous rapids.”

The options had narrowed: “But then who would know how many busy cities or barren hills there are in the world?”

Second Master Tang suddenly stood up and walked out.

Cup in hand, Sikong Zhaixing hollered: “Are you leaving?”

“I’m not here to drink,” Second Master Tang said coldly.

“You can’t be bothered with this anymore?”

“It isn’t that I can’t be bothered, but I can’t do anything about it.”

Ancient Pine Hermit suddenly let out a long sigh as well, said: “Indeed we can’t do anything about it.”

Monk Bittergourd immediately nodded his head and agreed: “Indeed, indeed, indeed…”

By the time the third “Indeed” was out of his mouth, the three of them had already left.

Swordsman Xiaoxiang wasn’t any slower than the trio.

Sikong Zhaixing looked at the wine in his cup, suddenly set it down heavily, and said loudly: “I’m not here to drink either, don’t know who’s the bastard who came to drink.” He too strode out.

There were only two people left, but the one who could still maintain his composure was only Hua Manlou.

The cup in the Wooden Taoist’s hands had been crushed into smithereens.

Hua Manlou laughed instead, saying: “Do you know where they have gone?”

“Who the hell knows[1].”

“I know.” He was still smiling. “I’m not a ghost, but I know.”

“Where did you say they’d gone?” Wooden Taoist couldn’t resist asking.

“If we rush to Ximen Villa right now, we’d definitely find them, and not one less.”

Wooden Taoist did not understand.

Hua Manlou continued: “They have gone there because they want to know one thing –”

– If I were Lu Xiaofeng and I wanted to begin my escape from this place, which route would I take?

Hua Manlou said: “When they have thought about it, they will definitely continue their pursuit along that route.”

“Why didn’t they say so?” Wooden Taoist asked.

“They were afraid of being wrong and letting their error affect others.”

“You are certain?”

Hua Manlou nodded and smiled: “I am, because I know they are all Lu Xiaofeng’s friends.”

His face was radiant and his smile was bright; he loved life and was always confident of the positive side of human nature.

Wooden Taoist finally gave a long sigh and said: “To have as many friends as Lu Xiaofeng does is indeed a good thing. Unfortunately this time he himself has made a mistake.”

He patted Hua Manlou’s shoulder and added: “Let’s go. If there is still one person who can find Lu Xiaofeng, that would be you.”

“Not me.”

“Who else but you?”

“Lu Xiaofeng himself.”

If one has lost his self, then who else can find him other than the man himself?

[1] The literal sentence in Chinese is 鬼知道, which means “only a ghost would know”, and is meant to be said in as much the same tone as “who the hell knows” (basically sarcastic). That’s why Hua Manlou’s reply was that he’s not a ghost, but he still knows (where everyone else has gone).

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