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Phantoms’ Mountain Manor Chapter 10

CSI

Chapter 10 – Taking chances in scaling the peak of the pavilion

The banquet had not started yet, because everybody was still waiting for someone, someone who could not be absent.

Lu Xiaofeng walked in quietly, Ye Ling followed behind him with a smile on her face; her smile was very cheerful, but Lu Xiaofeng was wearing a sour look on his face. He was hoping that nobody would notice him, but obviously everybody noticed him, all eyes were on him, their expression looked a bit strange.

Old Sabre Honcho stared at him and said, “You are late.”

Lu Xiaofeng said, “I was lost, I …”

Basically Old Sabre Honcho did not hear whatever he said, because he continued, “But I know that you would come as soon as you heard the bell; hence everybody is waiting for you, and we have been waiting for a long time.”

Lu Xiaofeng forced a laugh and said, “Actually, you need not wait for me.”

“But today we simply must wait,” Old Sabre Honcho said.

“Why?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“Because today is a celebration day,” Old Sabre Honcho said.

“Whose celebration?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“Yours,” Old Sabre Honcho replied.

Lu Xiaofeng was dumbfounded. He really did not know how Old Sabre Honcho could find out about this matter. Could it be that Old Sabre Honcho sent Ye Ling to do this?

Ye Ling did not say anything, he did not turn to look at her either; even more, he did not dare to look at Ye Xue, who was sitting right next to Old Sabre Honcho.

All along Ye Xue was looking down, unexpectedly she did not look at Lu Xiaofeng either.

Old Sabre Honcho said, “This place has always seen funerals, but after you came here, at long last you have given us a reason to celebrate.”

His tone gradually relaxed as he continued, “Everybody here is also very much in favor of this matter. You and Ah Xue are indeed a very good pair.”

Lu Xiaofeng was shocked. “Ah Xue?”

Old Sabre Honcho nodded. “I have asked her,” he said, “She obeys me completely, and I am sure you would not object.”

Lu Xiaofeng was stunned again.

Ye Ling, who sat behind him, suddenly cried out, “I object!”

Everybody’s countenance changed dramatically. Nobody has ever imagined that someone actually dared to go against the Old Sabre Honcho.

Ye Xue lifted up her head; she looked at her younger sister in shock.

Ye Ling stood up and said loudly, “I strongly object, even if I have to die I will object!”

Old Sabre Honcho angrily said, “In that case you’d better die quickly!”

Ye Ling was unfazed. “If I die, Lu Xiaofeng will die with me.”

“Says who?” Old Sabre Honcho said sternly.

“I don’t care who said that,” Ye Ling replied, “Because he and I are already husband and wife who live together and die together.”

This last sentence shocked everybody even more. Ye Xue’s face was suddenly drained of any color. “You married him?” she asked.

Ye Ling raised her head high and said with a cold laugh, “That’s right, I have married him, I have given everything to him. This time I am one step ahead of you. He does not want you, he wants me.”

Ye Xue’s entire body shook. “You … you are lying!” she said.

Ye Ling pulled Lu Xiaofeng’s arm. “Why don’t you tell her?” she said, “Everything I said is the truth.”

Each word she said was like a needle. Lu Xiaofeng did not need to speak up, everybody knew that she was not lying.

Ye Xue suddenly stood up, threw the table in front of her, and stormed out without ever looking back.

Ye Ling’s confidence soared; pulling Lu Xiaofeng’s arm, she went straight toward Old Sabre Honcho and said, “Ah Xue is your goddaughter, and I am too; why aren’t you willing to support me?”

Old Sabre Honcho stared at her; from underneath the bamboo rain hat, his eyes seemed to shoot arrows. He said coldly, “Have the two of you really made an oath to become man and wife for the rest of your life?”

“Of course we have,” Ye Ling replied.

“Very well,” Old Sabre Honcho said, “I will support you. After three months, I will personally officiate your wedding.”

“Why do we have to wait for three months?” Ye Ling asked.

Old Sabre Honcho’s voice was stern, “Because I said so. Do you dare not to obey my words?”

Ye Ling did not dare.

Old Sabre Honcho said, “In these three months, I forbid you to see each other. After three months, if you have not changed your mind, I will let you get married.”

Without giving Ye Ling any opportunity to talk, he ordered Liu Qingqing, “These three months, I am handing Lu Xiaofeng to you!”

Ye Ling bit her lip. Suddenly she stomped her foot and stormed out; but as she reached the door, she looked back and gave Lu Xiaofeng a venomous gaze, “You listen to me, if you ever dare to touch another woman, I will steal a hundred men for you to see, I want you to wear a hundred green hats.” [Wearing green hat: a man whose spouse cheated on him, a cuckold.]

The banquet in the main hall was over, the people dispersed. Liu Qingqing had her small kitchen staff to prepare several kinds of dishes.

The dishes were exquisite, the wine was of top-quality; she was a woman of a very good taste. And she seemed to understand men very well.

Lu Xiaofeng did not talk, she simply sat quietly by his side, keeping him company. Whenever Lu Xiaofeng’s cup was empty, she immediately poured more wine.

The dishes were not touched, but the wine was nearly gone.

Finally Lu Xiaofeng looked up and fixed his gaze on her. Suddenly he said, “Why don’t you yell at me?”

Liu Qingqing said, “Why would I want to yell at you?”

Lu Xiaofeng said, “Because I am a jerk [orig. hun dan, muddled-egg], because I …”

Liu Qingqing did not let him continue; she said in tender voice, “You don’t need to feel sorry for me. I am older than you are, I have never had any ambition to marry you, I just want to be your friend.”

She smiled. A very coquettish smile. “If you agree,” she added, “I could be your mistress.”

Lu Xiaofeng could only let out a wry smile.

If she really yelled at him, perhaps he would feel a bit better. Even if she slapped him several times, he would not care.

Liu Qingqing continued, “But I know you will never take such a risk.”

“Take what risk?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“The risk of wearing green hat,” Liu Qingqing said. “That little demon is capable of doing whatever she dares to say.”

She chuckled again and said, “Actually, she cannot be considered little demon anymore, she is already seventeen. When I was seventeen, I was already married.”

Lu Xiaofeng started to drink again.

Liu Qingqing watched as he drank several more bowls. Suddenly she asked, “Are you thinking about Ah Xue right now?”

Lu Xiaofeng shook his head right away.

Liu Qingqing said, “You are not thinking about her, but I am a bit concerned about her. She has always been stubborn, someone who is most concerned about her dignity, but today she lost such a big face in front of everybody, I am afraid …”

Lu Xiaofeng could not help asking, “What are you afraid of?”

Liu Qingqing started to speak, but she stopped herself. Actually, she did not need to speak, because what she was about to say, no one would not not understand it.

Lu Xiaofeng suddenly laughed coldly and said, “If you are afraid that she was going to kill herself, you are wrong.”

“Oh?” Liu Qingqing said.

Lu Xiaofeng said, “She is definitely not a woman who is unable to take a lighter view, plus she and I don’t have that kind of relationship.”

Liu Qingqing did not argue, she could see that Lu Xiaofeng had a bit of drunkenness and a bit of remorse in him.

But what did he regret? Was it what he did to Ximen Chuixue? Or was it about Ye Xue?

Anybody who rejected that kind of girl would inevitably feel some kind of regret.

Perhaps he regretted marrying Ye Ling. In reality, they could not be considered a perfect couple.

Liu Qingqing sighed inwardly as she poured another cup of wine for him. The night was deep, being sober might be too painful instead, he might as well be drunk.

Therefore, she poured another cup for herself. Suddenly from the outside someone said, “Leave a cup for me.”

The visitor was, unexpectedly, Cousin. Liu Qingqing coldly said, “Since when did you start to think that I’ll invite you for a drink?”

Cousin’s expression was very peculiar; he was short of breath. Forcing a laugh, he said, “Originally, I did not come here to drink wine.”

“What did you come here for?” Liu Qingqing asked.

“I am here to deliver news,” Cousin replied.

“And now you want to drink?” Liu Qingqing asked.

Cousin sighed and said, “Because the news is actually very bad.”

Bad news always makes people wanted to drink. The person who hears it wants to drink, the person who delivers it wants to drink even more.

Liu Qingqing immediately handed over the cup in her hand. As soon as he finished drinking, she asked, “What news?”

Cousin said, “Ye Xue has entered Skyway Pavilion.”

Instantly Liu Qingqing’s expression became very peculiar as well.

A long time afterwards, she slowly turned around to face Lu Xiaofeng, and slowly said, “Looks like you are the one who is wrong, not me.”

“What kind of place is this Skyway Pavilion?”

“It’s a log cabin, located on the Skyway Cliff. Skyway Cliff is that towering cliff at the back of the mountain.”

“I don’t think I’ve seen that cliff.”

“Of course you haven’t, this log cabin is temporarily closed.”

“What’s inside?”

“Nothing, only a coffin with a dead person inside.”

In the Mansion of Spirits, there was only one dead person.

“That closed log cabin is used to store Ye Guhong’s coffin.”

“Not to store it, to cremate it.”

Lu Xiaofeng’s heart sank.

Cousin said, “Ah Xue went there, obviously she wants to be buried together with her [older] brother, to be cremated together!”

A gloomy night, a dark cliff. In the dark night, that lone log cabin looked like a deathly grey object.

Three men were standing under the platform-like rock: Hai Qikuo, Housekeeper, and Old Sabre Honcho.

In the strong mountain breeze, the three people’s expression was as dark as the night.

Dry branches have already been piled up around the log cabin.

Lu Xiaofeng let Cousin and Liu Qingqing went forward to join them, while he halted his steps quite some distance away.

His heart was a mess; he needed to calm down first.

Liu Qingqing already asked, “How long has she been there?”

“Too long,” Old Sabre Honcho replied.

“Who first saw her there?” Liu Qingqing asked.

“Nobody,” Old Sabre Honcho replied, “She told me to come here. She had the night guard on duty come to me, saying that she has last words she wanted to tell me.”

“And what did she say?” Liu Qingqing asked.

Old Sabre Honcho clenched his fists. “She wanted me to find the real killer, and wanted me to avenge his brother!” he said.

“That was her last words?” Liu Qingqing asked.

Old Sabre Honcho nodded. His countenance grew heavier, “She is ready to die,” he said grimly.

“Why don’t you go talk to her?” Liu Qingqing asked.

Old Sabre Honcho replied, “She said that as soon as I come, she would immediately die in front of me.”

Liu Qingqing no longer asked questions; she certainly knew that Ye Xue was someone who meant what she says, and she has never been known as someone who easily changed her mind for whatever reason.

The wind grew colder. Vaguely they seemed to hear the sound of weeping.

Liu Qingqing could not help shivering. She said, “Are we going to watch her die just like that?”

Lowering his voice, Old Sabre Honcho said, “I was just waiting for you two, perhaps you could save her.”

“You want us to sneak up there?” Liu Qingqing asked.

“The two of you have the highest qinggong,” Old Sabre Honcho said, “When the wind is strongest, go up there, Ah Xue will never find out.”

“And then what?” Liu Qingqing asked.

Old Sabre Honcho said, “Cousin go around to the back first, break through the wall and charge inside, I will be waiting outside the front door. When she sees Cousin, even if she won’t fight, she will definitely argue for a bit, you then rush in and hold her.”

Liu Qingqing hesitated, “That doesn’t sound like a good plan,” she mumbled.

Old Sabre Honcho coldly said, “Can you think of a better way?”

Liu Qingqing could not, hence she went up.

Her qinggong was indeed not bad, Cousin was not necessarily inferior to her either. In fact, the two of them could be considered top-notch experts. Five, six zhang-high cliff, they were able to climb easily.

The log cabin was still dark and deathly quiet; Ye Xue indeed did not detect their action.

Liu Qingqing quietly made a hand signal, Cousin immediately winded around to the back, and then there was a loud ‘bang!’

It was a wooden structure made of flammable material, to break into it was not difficult at all.

But that loud ‘bang’ was immediately followed by a miserable scream. In this cold midnight wind, the scream sounded extremely mournful.

There seemed to be a faint sword flash in the dark as well, and then somebody fell down from the cliff, and landed heavily on the ground; half of his body was drenched with blood. It was none other than Cousin.

And then they heard Ye Xue’s voice carried by the wind, “Widow Hua, if you are not leaving, I will have you accompany me in death.” Her voice was shrill and impatient.

“Tell Old Sabre Honcho, if he does not want more people getting hurt, it would be best if he does not send anybody up anymore. In any case, I will not walk out of here alive.”

There was no need for Liu Qingqing to pass on the message, everybody has heard what she said; they heard every word clearly.

With both hands clenched into fists, Old Sabre Honcho’s gaze looked as sharp as blade, as he stared at Cousin from beneath the bamboo rain hat and said in stern voice, “You are [Taoist] Priest Gu of Mount Ba’s disciple, you have always thought that your martial art skill is not bad, why are you this useless?”

Cousin’s hand was pressing onto the wound on his shoulder, blood was still pouring from his fingers, while the cold sweats on his forehead were as big as soya beans. This sword wound was undoubtedly very serious.

It took a long time before he was finally able to speak, “She seemed to be ready for me. As soon as I broke in, her sword was waiting for me right there.”

Old Sabre Honcho suddenly threw his head back and heaved a deep sigh, “I have told you that she is better than all of you. Wandering Soul is dead, General is seriously hurt, I lost two experts already. If I also lose her …” He stomped his foot, the rock underneath his foot immediately shattered into small pieces.

Right this moment, suddenly a voice coming from the darkness, “Maybe I still have a way to save her.”

The newcomer was Dugu Mei.

“You have a way?” Old Sabre Honcho asked, “What way?”

Dugu Mei chuckled and said, “Too bad I don’t recognize my own family [see Junny’s note in Chapter 2]; naturally I won’t try to save anybody with no cause, no reason.”

His laughter was so despicable, so crafty.

Old Sabre Honcho stared at him for a very long time before asking, “What’s your condition?”

“My condition is very simple,” Dugu Mei replied, “I want a wife.”

“Whom do you want?” Old Sabre Honcho asked.

Dugu Mei said, “The Ye sisters, Widow Hua, I don’t care.”

“As long as you promise that it will be effective,” Old Sabre Honcho said.

“And if it is effective, I agree,” Old Sabre Honcho said.

Dugu Mei laughed again. “My method is very simple,” he said, “Tie Lu Xiaofeng up and bring him up there. I can testify that he is the real killer who murdered Ye Guhong, because I was there at that time. When Miss Ye hears me, she would definitely rush forward to avenge her brother. After she personally kills Lu Xiaofeng, naturally she won’t think about killing herself.”

Old Sabre Honcho was listening quietly. He suddenly asked, “Wasn’t it you who brought Lu Xiaofeng here?”

Dugu Mei laughed. “That was one of the times when occasionally I did not guard against finding my conscience; nothing more. The number of times I have conscience is really not many.”

Old Sabre Honcho was deep in thought for a long time. Finally he nodded slowly and said, “Your method indeed sounds not so bad.”

He had just finished talking when he suddenly made his move; a light slap sent Dugu Mei splaying on the ground like a pile of mud.

Dugu Mei shouted, “Since my method is not so bad, why did you hit me?”

Old Sabre Honcho coldly said, “The method is not bad, the person is.”

The second time he made his move, Dugu Mei was unable to shout anymore. His hand was not only too fast, it was not too heavy, but was absolutely accurate and effective.

Lu Xiaofeng was still standing on a distance, Old Sabre Honcho suddenly came over and patted his shoulder, “Come with me!” he said.

The depression behind the mountain was even darker, Old Sabre Honcho took Lu Xiaofeng to the darkest part before stopping and turning around to face him. He said slowly, “Dugu Mei’s method is indeed very effective, why didn’t I use it?”

“Because you knew I am not the real killer,” Lu Xiaofeng replied.

“Wrong,” Old Sabre Honcho said.

“Because you need me as well?” Lu Xiaofeng guessed.

“Correct,” Old Sabre Honcho replied.

They both knew that they need not lie in front of the other, because they both were men who would not be easily deceived by others. This mutual understanding has elevated the relationship between them to almost close friendship.

“I am already old,” Old Sabre Honcho began, “I know when an opportunity is lost, it will never come back; therefore …”

Lu Xiaofeng completed the sentence for him, “Therefore you need me, because your opportunity will come very soon!”

Old Sabre Honcho looked straight at him; he slowly said, “I also need Ye Xue. Because the thing I am about to do is a big thing, and all of you are parts of my plan that I cannot afford to lose.”

“You want me to save her?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

Old Sabre Honcho nodded slowly and said, “If there is one person in the world who can keep her alive, that person would be you.”

“Very well,” Lu Xiaofeng said, “I’ll go. But I also have one condition.”

“Speak,” Old Sabre Honcho said.

Lu Xiaofeng said, “I want you to give me twenty-four sichen [1 sichen equals to 2 hours]. During this period, no matter what I do, you must not interfere.”

Old Sabre Honcho said, “I know that you always like to do things your own way.”

Lu Xiaofeng said, “Starting now, I don’t want anybody to see where I am or where I am going. As long as you promise, after two days, I will definitely bring her back to see you.”

“Alive?” Old Sabre Honcho asked.

“I guarantee,” Lu Xiaofeng said.

Old Sabre Honcho did not even blink, “I promise.”

Everybody else has left, the sky above the cliff was eerily dark, the death-grey wooden cabin stood alone on the cliff like a lonely ghost.

Facing the wind, Lu Xiaofeng went over to the peak. The mountain breeze was moist and cold. Why was this ghost place always foggy?

Before he got too close to the log cabin, Ye Xue’s moist and cold voice has already greeted him from the inside, “Who’s there?”

“You should know who I am,” Lu Xiaofeng said, “I can’t see you, but I am sure you can see me.”

After a very long silence, the answer was only one word, “Get lost!” [OK, two words, but the Chinese is only one, 滚 – lit. roll.]

“You don’t want to see me?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

The answer was still one word, “Get lost!”

“If you don’t want to see me, why all along you were waiting for me?” Lu Xiaofeng said.

Another silence in the log cabin.

Lu Xiaofeng continued, “You knew that sooner or later I would come here, that’s the reason you are not dead yet.”

He spoke very slowly, yet he walked very fast. Very soon he had already reached the door of the log cabin. “Hence I am going to push the door open and come in. I guarantee that this time there is no second person around.” And then he pushed the door open.

Inside the log cabin, it was even darker and gloomier; but he could see a pair of shining eyes, the eyes carried some kind of indescribable emotion. Was it sorrow? Was it heartache? Or was it hatred?

Lu Xiaofeng stopped some distance away, “Don’t you have anything to say to me?” he asked.

The weeping has long stopped, but the eyes were still wet.

Lu Xiaofeng said, “Actually, even if you don’t tell me, I know. You did all these things, it was not entirely because of me. It’s just that you have never had something that you wanted taken away from you before.”

Another cold ray flashed in the dark, just like the flash of a sword blade.

Was she trying to kill Lu Xiaofeng? Or was she trying to die in Lu Xiaofeng’s presence?

The palm of Lu Xiaofeng’s hands was already wet with cold sweats. This was the most critical juncture. If he committed the smallest error, at least one of them would definitely die in here.

He must not do one wrong thing, and he must not say one wrong word.

Ye Xue’s voice suddenly echoed in the dark, “I am doing this, because there is no one in the world worth living.”

“There is one,” Lu Xiaofeng said, “At least there is one.”

Naturally Ye Xue could not help asking, “Who?”

“Your father,” Lu Xiaofeng replied.

He did not let Ye Xue open her mouth; he continued quickly, “Your father is not dead, I saw him last night.”

Ye Xue suddenly laughed coldly, “Give me one good reason why I should believe your nonsense,” she said.

“This is not nonsense,” Lu Xiaofeng said, “I can take you to see him right now.”

Ye Xue was hesitant, “You really can find him?” she asked.

Lu Xiaofeng said, “If within twelve sichen we can’t find him, I’ll take you back here and let you die in peace and quiet.”

Finally Ye Xue was convinced, “Very well,” she said, “I believe you this time.”

Lu Xiaofeng let out a relieved breath. “You won’t regret it,” he said.

Suddenly, there was a cold flash, the sword’s blade was already pressed on Lu Xiaofeng’s eyelashes, Ye Xue’s voice was even colder than the sword’s blade, “This time you deceive me again, we will die together!”

Dark valley, secluded and secret forest, but to Lu Xiaofeng, the place was not unfamiliar. Just like the woman by his side; although sometimes she was terrifying, other times Lu Xiaofeng could not deny the irresistible attraction he felt toward her.

This time he did not get lost. When he returned from this place, he was already prepared that he would be back here.

Ye Xue walked beside him silently, her face was still pale, her eyes cold; apparently she was determined to keep her distance from him.

But in such a deep and dark secret forest on the mountain, anything could change.

They have traveled for a very long time, the breeze was beginning to bring the smell of swamp in it. Lu Xiaofeng suddenly came to a halt; turning to face her, he said, “I saw him around here yesterday.”

“Where is he now?” Ye Xue asked.

“I don’t know,” Lu Xiaofeng replied.

Ye Xue’s hands tightened.

Lu Xiaofeng said, “All I know is that he is in the swamp ahead, but we have to wait until dawn to look for him.”

He sat down and said, “Let’s wait here.”

Ye Xue looked at him with cold eyes, she said in cold voice, “I told you, if you lie to me again this time …”

Lu Xiaofeng cut her off, “I have never lied to you. Perhaps it was precisely because I never lied to you that you hate me.”

Ye Xue looked away from him, her cold and beautiful eyes suddenly showed weariness.

She was indeed very tired, physically and mentally, yet she adamantly refused to sit down, she forced herself to stay awake.

But Lu Xiaofeng lay down on the soft leaves and closed his eyes.

After he closed his eyes, Ye Xue turned her gaze toward him. Quite some time later, her lips began to tremble, and then her entire body shook, as if she suddenly remembered something dreadful.

She bit her lip, hard, and struggled to control herself, but this place was really too quiet, the kind of quietness that can drive people crazy, and the thing that she remembered happened to be something that no woman can endure.

Suddenly she rushed toward Lu Xiaofeng and kicked him on the ribs, while hissing, “I hate you, I hate you.”

Lu Xiaofeng opened his eyes in shock.

Gasping for breath, Ye Xue said, “You must be here with my sister last night, and today you brought me here. You … you …”

Her voice cracked, her eyes were fiery with madness, all of a sudden she pounced to clutch Lu Xiaofeng’s throat.

Lu Xiaofeng caught her hand. She pressed down hard, he had to resist even harder. The two of them rolled around on the soft leaves, fighting each other. Suddenly Lu Xiaofeng found himself on top of her.

Her breathing was intense, but her body was softer than the dead leaves; she had exhausted all her strength.

Then suddenly she quieted down. She had given up all her will to struggle and to resist. When she opened her eyes to look at Lu Xiaofeng, her eyes were full of tears.

The heaven and the earth were so quiet, so dark; the distance between them was so close. Lu Xiaofeng’s heart suddenly softened like the fruit inside a honey candy. In this instant, all the pain, suffering and hatred were forgotten.

The tears streamed down her pale cheeks, he really wanted to suck the tear dry with his lips.

Just then, a cold breeze was blowing from the swamp, carrying with it the sound of singing. A sad song; sad enough to evoke all the suffering and hatred in people’s heart.

Ye Xue held her breath, “Is it him?”

Lu Xiaofeng sighed inwardly, “Looks like it,” he said.

Ye Xue bit her lip again, “Maybe he knew that we are here,” she said, “Maybe he is calling us.”

Lu Xiaofeng stood up quietly; he pulled Ye Xue’s hand along, just like pulling someone who was nearly drowning from the water.

Only this time he felt that the one was nearly drowning was not Ye Xue, but he himself.

Other than mud, what else is there in a swamp? Rotting leaves, poisonous weeds, crumbling rocks, countless insects and snakes, which names he did not even know, blood sucking mosquitoes and leeches.

In this nothing-is-too-bizarre swamp, you may even be able to find hundreds of kinds of bizarre things, and I can guarantee that not a single one is not foul.

But in the dark, this foul swamp has suddenly become some kind of indescribable beauty; other than the stench that even the dark was unable to conceal, it exuded beauty that it almost felt like a mystical and tranquil lake.

The sad song had stopped, Lu Xiaofeng did not continue moving forward either, he had no choice but to stop his steps; because just now one of his feet had already stepped onto the mud, he had narrowly escaped being sucked into the swamp.

Just like sin, the swamp seemed to have a demonic, depraved attraction; as soon as you step into it, you will sink to the bottom.

Ye Xue’s face became even paler, “Are you saying that all these years he had been hiding in here?”

Lu Xiaofeng nodded.

“How could he survive in this place?” Ye Xue asked.

“Because he did not want to die,” Lu Xiaofeng replied. There was sadness in his voice, “When one really wants to survive, any pain and suffering, no matter how big, will be endurable.”

It was a very simple, yet very complex and profound truth. Only people who have endured bitter pain and suffering can understand it.

There was a sigh in the dark, “You are right, but you have done wrong; you shouldn’t have brought anybody else here.”

The rasping and bitter voice did not sound unfamiliar. Ye Xue’s hands felt ice-cold.

Lu Xiaofeng held her hand tight; he said, “This is not somebody else, this is your daughter.”

Seeing no one and hearing no response, he faced the dark swamp and continued in a loud voice, “Even if you won’t let her see you, at least you ought to see her, she has already grown up.”

The voice suddenly cut him off, “Isn’t she still like before, loves to hide alone in a dark room, so that others cannot find her?”

It was her secret; she was born with a pair of eyes that can see in the dark. She loved to hide in the dark, because she knew that others could not see her, yet she could see others.

Those who knew this secret were indeed not many; suddenly her body tensed.

Lu Xiaofeng asked, “Have you heard clearly who he is?”

Ye Xue nodded. Suddenly she shouted, “If you won’t let me see you, I’ll die in here.”

Another bout of silence.

At last a shadow emerged from the dark; unexpectedly it was a strange looking houseboat. Not only it could float on the swamp, it could also move around.

“You really have to see me?”

“I must,” Ye Xue’s answer was firm.

“Lu Xiaofeng, you shouldn’t have brought her here, you really shouldn’t.”

The shadow sighed. No one could understand his daughter’s pride and obstinate character better than he.

“I may let you see me one time, but you will regret it, because I am not what I used to be …”

Ye Xue loudly said, “I don’t care what you have become, you are still my Dad; in my heart, you won’t change forever, you will always be the most handsome man in the world, the man who always treat me the best.”

The floating houseboat was getting closer. When it was only two zhang away, Ye Xue leaped over.

Lu Xiaofeng did not stop her, he could tell that there must be a deep emotional ties between them in the past. He suddenly thought about his own parents, he thought about his loneliness being without any family in the world.

A scream interrupted his train of thought.

The scream came from the houseboat, it was Ye Xue’s voice; while the houseboat floated away, gradually disappearing in the dark.

Lu Xiaofeng’s voice cracked, “You must not take her away!”

The shadow laughed, “Since she is my daughter, why can’t I take her away?” The laughter was full of mocking and malice intention.

Lu Xiaofeng’s entire body turned cold; he suddenly discovered something terrible has happened, “You are not her father!”

The shadow talked in slow, drawn voice, almost like chanting, “Wei River in the east, Jade Forest facing the wind …”

“I know who you are,” Lu Xiaofeng said, “You are Jade Forest Swordsman, Ye Lingfeng, but you are not her father.”

The shadow laughed heartily, “It doesn’t matter whatever I am to her, I am taking her away. Go back and tell Old Sabre Honcho, if he wants her back, tell him to come to me personally.”

The laughter gradually diminished, the houseboat also disappeared in the dark. Once again the mysterious swamp regained its darkness and tranquility.

Like a wooden statue Lu Xiaofeng stood in the dark. After a long, long time, he heaved a deep sigh and said, “I don’t need to go back and tell you, because everything he said, you ought to be able to hear each word very clearly.”

He was not talking to himself, because it was only after the houseboat has gone far away did he find out that Old Sabre Honcho was already behind him.

He did not need to turn back to know that.

Old Sabre Honcho has indeed arrived; he also heaved a deep sigh and said, “Every word he said, I indeed heard everything, but I always kept quite a bit of distance from you, I did not want to interfere with your action.”

“I know you are a man of his word,” Lu Xiaofeng said.

“What else do you know?” Old Sabre Honcho asked.

Lu Xiaofeng suddenly turned around; he stared at him and said, “Ah Xue is not Ye Lingfeng’s daughter; she is yours.”

Old Sabre Honcho did not deny, but he did not confirm either.

Lu Xiaofeng continued, “It was because Ye Lingfeng also knew this that you killed him.”

Old Sabre Honcho laughed. But his laugh was difficult to understand. “I never thought that he didn’t die.”

Lu Xiaofeng said, “Although he is alive, it is more painful than death; all along he has to clench his teeth to endure.”

“Because he wants revenge,” Old Sabre Honcho said.

“But he does not dare to come to you,” Lu Xiaofeng said, “This is the only way you would look for him. He is more familiar to this area than you are, plus he has Ah Xue as a hostage, his chance is far better than yours.”

Old Sabre Honcho coldly said, “I thought that you’d never fallen into his trap, unexpectedly in the end he could still exploit you.”

“Fortunately my time limit has not expired,” Lu Xiaofeng said.

“Do you have confidence that you would be able to get her back before the time is up?” Old Sabre Honcho asked.

“I don’t,” Lu Xiaofeng replied, “But I must go.”

“How are you going to do that?” Old Sabre Honcho asked, “Are you going to dig into the mud like a loach?”

“I can make a raft,” Lu Xiaofeng said.

Old Sabre Honcho hesitated. “Can your raft take two people?” he asked.

“Only two people working together can make a raft that can take two people,” Lu Xiaofeng replied.

Old Sabre Honcho laughed, “Looks like this man never wants to suffer any loss.”

There was a forest by the swamp, with the two of them working together, in short period of time they were able to cut down seventeen, eighteen tree trunks – not with saber, just by hands.

Old Sabre Honcho said, “You go get rid of the branches and leaves, I’ll go to find rope.”

Lu Xiaofeng laughed wryly and said, “Doing business with someone like you, even if I don’t want to suffer loss, I can’t.”

Although he was fully aware that his job was comparatively harder, he knew that he had no choice; because he simply did not know where to go to find rope.

Actually, Old Sabre Honcho was not trying to find ropes either. Lu Xiaofeng had just stooped down, the edge of Old Sabre Honcho’s palm struck the back of his neck, and he fell down just like a tree.

The sky was overcast and dark, it was still foggy too.

When Lu Xiaofeng woke up, he found out that he was lying on Liu Qingqing’s bed.

There was nobody else in the room. On the small bedside table, he saw a pot of wine, with a small wine cup next to it. Underneath the cup there was a note saying, “My hand slipped and accidentally hurt your respected neck. For the time being, here’s some wine to alleviate your shock. When you wake up, there is no harm in enjoying a bit of drink, around noon tomorrow we’ll meet again.”

It was not until he finished reading the note that Lu Xiaofeng found the pain on his neck, that it was very difficult for him to even turning his head.

Naturally he knew that Old Sabre Honcho’s hand did not slip and accidentally injuring him. But why did Old Sabre Honcho plot against him? Why did he prevent him from rescuing Ye Xue? What kind of skeleton did he hide in his closet?

Lu Xiaofeng did not understand, therefore, he might as well not think about it. Picking up the wine pot, he poured the wine directly into his mouth.

When half a bottle had entered his belly, suddenly there was a dog barking outside. At first it was only one dog, but very soon it became seven, eight dogs: big dogs, small dogs, male dogs, female dogs, everything. The barking was extremely noisy.

How could there be that many dogs in this secluded and secret valley?

Lu Xiaofeng could not resist going out to look. As soon as he pushed the door open, he could not help but was stunned.

There was not a single dog outside, there was only one person. A thin and withered man in black clothes, his face sickly yellow like wax, but his eyes were brilliantly bright.

Lu Xiaofeng sighed. With a wry smile he said, “What are you? A man, or a dog?”

“I am neither a person nor a dog,” Canine Master[1] replied.

“So, what ‘thing’ are you?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“I am not a ‘thing’ either,” Canine Master replied, “Therefore, I am coming to you.”

“What for?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“If you promise me one thing, I’ll give you two news,” Canine Master said.

“Is it good news, or bad news?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

Canine Master laughed; he said, “Coming out from my mouth, how can there be good news?”

Lu Xiaofeng also laughed. Suddenly, as fast as lightning, he made his move; his two fingers pinched Canine Master’s nose.

The two most valuable fingers in Wulin, the most famous unique skill in Jianghu. Canine Master was practically helpless to evade. Even if he could plainly see that these two fingers were about to pinch his nose, he would still be helpless to evade.

Lu Xiaofeng smiled and said, “I hear that dogs’ nose is the sharpest, it must be difficult for a dog to pass his days without a nose.”

Canine Master’s yellowish face turned deep red; he couldn’t even breathe.

Lu Xiaofeng let go of his hand and said, “Let’s hear your news first.”

Canine Master took a deep breath and said, “What news?”

Lu Xiaofeng laughed again. Suddenly, as fast as lightning, his two fingers pinched Canine Master’s nose again.

Canine Master still could not evade it.

Lu Xiaofeng let go of his hand again, and then smiled and said, “What do you think the news is?”

This time Canine Master could only tell the truth, because he understood one thing – as soon as Lu Xiaofeng made his move, he could easily pinch his nose, just as easy as an old beggar caught lice.

“General is dying, Little Leaf disappeared.”

Those were the news coming out of his mouth, the news were indeed not good news.

“Nobody knew where Little Leaf went?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

With a wry laugh Canine Master said, “Not even a dog knew; much less a human?”

“What about the General?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“General is just waiting to die,” Canine Master replied.

Lu Xiaofeng said, “I know my own strength when I made my move, I did not wish for him to die at all.”

“Other than you,” Canine Master said, “There are other people in here.”

Lu Xiaofeng said, “If somebody else killed him, the debt would be put on my head.”

“Hence you should understand my good intention,” Canine Master said, “General has always been good friends with Old Sabre Honcho.”

“Hence I ought to agree to your condition,” Lu Xiaofeng said.

Canine Master said, “I just want you to take me along when you go.”

“That’s it?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“To you, it’s a small thing, to me, it’s a big thing,” Canine Master said.

“Alright,” Lu Xiaofeng said, “I promise.”

Canine Master suddenly kneeled down and knocked his head heavily on the ground. Looking up, he let out a relieved sigh and said, “Too bad I don’t have a tail, otherwise I will wag my tail at least three times whenever I see you.”

“Where is General?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“General is naturally at the General’s Mansion,” Canine Master replied.

There was a forest outside the General’s Mansion, Canine Master has left, but there was someone panting like a dog in the forest.

To be able to pant was a good thing, because General’s breathing had stopped.

Someone, panting like a dog, was riding astride his body, strangling his throat with both hands.

This man was, unexpectedly, Dugu Mei.

Lu Xiaofeng rushed over and slapped him with the back of his palm, sending him flying outside. General’s face looked like ‘golden paper’ [used in funeral ceremony], his heart still seemed to be beating, his eyes had not closed; he looked at Lu Xiaofeng with eyes that were begging for pity, as if he wanted to say something.

When at the brink of death someone wanted to say something, usually it was a big secret. Too bad he could not even speak a single word. When Lu Xiaofeng leaned over, his heart had stopped beating.

Dugu Mei was still panting for breath. Lu Xiaofeng grabbed him and said, “Did the two of you have any enmity?”

Dugu Mei shook his head.

“Was he going to kill you?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

Again Dugu Mei shook his head.

“Then why did you kill him?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

Dugu Mei stared at him. His breathing gradually calmed, while his eyes gradually became sharp. Suddenly he asked back, “Do you really think that I am the ‘Cold-Blooded’ Dugu Mei?”

Anybody would ever dream of him suddenly asking that question. Lu Xiaofeng was no exception, “You are not?”

Dugu Mei sighed. Suddenly he said some more shocking words, “Take my pants off.”

Lu Xiaofeng stared at him for a very long time. Suddenly he laughed and said, “I have never taken a man’s pants off, but this time I am making an exception.”

Dugu Mei was an old man, but his buttocks still looked firm and youthful.

“Do you see a tumor there?”

Naturally Lu Xiaofeng could not miss it. The tumor was big enough to be seen clearly from a li [1 li is approx. 1/2km or 1/3mile] away.

Dugu Mei said, “Use this blade to cut it open.” He handed over a knife, the blade was razor sharp.

In all his life, Lu Xiaofeng has done countless bizarre things, but as he received the knife, he could not help hesitating for a long time before he finally cut the tumor open.

Blood splashed, a golden ball, mixed with blood, burst out of the slit. “Cut the ball,” Dugu Mei said.

Once it was cut, Lu Xiaofeng found out that this golden ball was made of wax, wrapped in golden paper. Inside was a piece of yellow thin, tough silk fabric, with this note written on it:

‘Wudang’s Fourth Disciple, Sun Bubian, in disguise under the Sect Leader’s order on mission to investigate the whereabouts of a renegade. Signed.”

Underneath it, not only there was the official seal of Wudang Sect Leader, there was also Sect Leader Shi Zhenren’s [Taoist Spiritual Master] personal signature in grass-style writing.

Dugu Mei said, “This is Sect Leader Master’s proof of identity for me to be used in emergency.”

Lu Xiaofeng looked at him in shock; finally he sighed and said, “Looks like you really are not Dugu Mei.”

Sun Bubian said, “Before entering Wudang, I was a disciple of Hua’s Four-Nun School. Hua Xiang’s disguising skill is world-renown. But just to be safe, I also spent some time as a slave in Dugu Mei’s school. It took me the whole ten months to learn his voice, appearance and mannerism. I did not make any move until I felt absolutely safe.”

“You killed him?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

Sun Bubian nodded. “I simply cannot let anybody find another Dugu Mei,” he said.

“Who is this renegade you are investigating?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“The first one is Shi He,” Sun Bubian replied.

“And now you have found him?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“That is also thanks to you,” Sun Bubian said.

“Did Zhong Wugu die in your hands?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“He was also Wudang’s renegade,” Sun Bubian replied, “I simply cannot let him live.”

Lu Xiaofeng’s eyes flashed; he said, “Wasn’t Jade Forest Swordsman Ye Lingfeng also Wudang disciple in the early days?”

“Both he and Zhong Wugu were layman-disciples of Wudang,” Sun Bubian replied, “Both were driven out of school by Grand Master Mei Zhenren.”

Mei Zhenren was Wooden Taoist’s older martial brother; after wielding power in Wudang Sect for seventeen years, he passed on the leadership to the current Sect Leader, Shi Yan.

Sun Bubian continued, “We investigated for a long time, and we all believed that using Dugu Mei’s identity as a cover was the safest way; too bad …”

“Too bad your secret was discovered by General,” Lu Xiaofeng said.

With a bitter laugh Sun Bubian said, “Everybody thought that he was seriously injured, I was nearly deceived as well, who would have thought that the man hiding in General’s Mansion to recover was not him; all along he had been watching me.”

“What made him see your secret?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

Sun Bubian said, “He was actually an old friend of Dugu Mei, he knew many secrets of Dugu Mei’s early years, but I did not. He trapped me using words, I had no choice but to kill him to silence him.”

“Why did you tell this secret to me?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“This is an emergency,” Sun Bubian replied, “I cannot stay silent, not only I want you to guard this secret, I also want you to help me. I cannot stay in this place much longer, I must go back to Wudang right away.”

With a barely perceptible smile he said, “Naturally I have found out long ago that you are not the type of man who’d sell his friend. From the beginning I never believe that you really seduced Ximen Chuixue’s wife. That must be a ruse you guys concocted because you also want to uncover the secret of the Mansion of Spirits.”

Lu Xiaofeng stared at him for a very long time. Suddenly he heaved a deep sigh and said, “Pity, pity … what a pity …”

“What do you mean, pity?” Sun Bubian asked.

“Pity that you are wrong,” Lu Xiaofeng said.

Sun Bubian’s countenance changed. With a harsh tone he said, “Did you forget who brought you here?”

“I did not forget,” Lu Xiaofeng coldly said, “And I haven’t forgotten that in these two days you have harmed me three times. If it was not for Old Sabre Honcho, I would have died in your hands.”

“Are you saying that you did not see that I deliberately did all those things as a show in front of them?” Sun Bubian asked.

“I could not see it,” Lu Xiaofeng said.

Sun Bubian stared at him. Suddenly he also heaved a deep sigh and said, “Good, you are very good.”

“Not good, I am not good at all,” Lu Xiaofeng said.

Sun Bubian said, “In that case, you deserve to die!” While shouting, his body had already pounced. His fingertips were still half a chi [Chinese foot, approx. 1ft or 1/3m], the hollow of his palm suddenly stuck out forward to strike Lu Xiaofeng’s xuanji [lit. mysterious principle] acupoint. It was indeed the Little Celestial Star Palm technique from Wudang; moreover, his aim was amazingly accurate.

Too bad that by the time his palm arrived, Lu Xiaofeng’s xuanji acupoint has already gone, along with his entire body.

Sun Bubian flipped his palm and launched ‘Mysterious Bird Scattering the Sand’, ‘Goose Fall onto Flat Sand’, and ‘Northern Goose Flying South’, one move three styles. In his hand, not only this kind of light but tightly knit Wudang Palm Technique appeared powerful, the changes also happened very fast.

Lu Xiaofeng sighed and said, “Priest Shi’s disciple indeed performs as expected.”

The sentence completed, all Sun Bubian’s moves hit empty space. No matter how fast he moved, Lu Xiaofeng seemed to be always one step ahead of him. In term of Wudang Palm Technique, Lu Xiaofeng’s knowledge did not seem to be less than his.

Suddenly he stopped. Staring at Lu Xiaofeng he said, “Did you train Wudang’s martial art as well?”

Lu Xiaofeng chuckled. “I did not train Wudang’s martial art,” he said, “But I do have a lot of Wudang friends.”

A glimmer of hope appeared in Sun Bubian’s eyes. “In that case, you have to help me escape even more,” he said.

“Too bad you are not my friend,” Lu Xiaofeng replied, “You helped me once, you harmed me three times, and just now I yielded to you for eight moves; our books have been settled long ago.”

Lu Xiaofeng added, “And now I am ready to make my move!”

The move he used was, unexpectedly, also Wudang’s Little Celestial Star Palm technique; his palm facing out, the acupoint he struck was also xuanji acupoint.

Sun Bubian pulled his arm and turned around, trying to evade this palm strike, but Lu Xiaofeng’s left palm struck the major artery on the back of his neck. As he fell down, he looked at Lu Xiaofeng with surprise in his eyes.

Lu Xiaofeng smiled and said, “Don’t you know that I have two palms?”

Naturally Sun Bubian did, but he never imagined that a human hand could move that fast.

Old Sabre Honcho was sitting on his old, spacious wooden chair, watching Lu Xiaofeng; he seemed to enjoy the show very much.

Old chair is just like an old friend, it always make people feel very comfortable, very pleasant. Too bad Lu Xiaofeng still could not see his face.

Sun Bubian was right in front of him, but he did not even cast him a single glance; apparently his interest in Lu Xiaofeng was greater than his interest in anybody else.

“This man is a spy,” Lu Xiaofeng said, “A spy from Wudang.”

“Why didn’t you kill him?” Old Sabre Honcho asked.

“I have no right to kill people, I don’t wish to kill either,” Lu Xiaofeng replied.

“In that case, you ought to let him go,” Old Sabre Honcho said.

Lu Xiaofeng was caught by surprise, “Let him go?” he asked.

Old Sabre Honcho flatly said, “All real spies have already died long ago, no one has ever survived more than three days in here.”

“So he is not?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“He is indeed a spy,” Old Sabre Honcho said, “But not Wudang’s spy; he is mine. Many years ago I sent him to go undercover at Wudang.”

Lu Xiaofeng was stumped.

Old Sabre Honcho laughed again; a very cheerful laugh. “No matter what, you should thank him.”

“Why would I want to thank him?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“Because of him, I trust you completely,” Old Sabre Honcho replied.

“So you also sent him to test me?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

Old Sabre Honcho smiled, “Some people are just born as spies, you can only send them out to do spy thing, and they never disappoint you.”

“So this man is a natural born spy?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“From head to toes,” Old Sabre Honcho replied.

Lu Xiaofeng sighed. Suddenly he kicked Sun Bubian, just like kicking a ball, sending him rolling away.

Old Sabre Honcho also sighed; he said, “Being a spy, there is only one disadvantage: these kinds of people are just like donkeys, oftentimes people give them a couple of kicks.”

“I just kicked him once,” Lu Xiaofeng said.

“Who else are you going to kick?” Old Sabre Honcho asked.

“Kick myself,” Lu Xiaofeng replied.

“Are you also a spy?” Old Sabre Honcho asked.

“I am not a spy,” Lu Xiaofeng replied, “I am just a donkey, a stupid dumb ass.” He looked furious, “Because with all my heart I was going to rescue someone else’s daughter, but in return I got a slap; not only that, the slap happened to land on my neck.”

Old Sabre Honcho sighed again and said, “You ought to know that I will never let you go to rescue her.”

“But I don’t,” Lu Xiaofeng said.

Old Sabre Honcho said, “Not only that swamp has deathly traps everywhere, it also has quicksand; once you are going down, not even your skeleton will survive. How could I put you at risk?”

“Why not?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“Because I need you,” Old Sabre Honcho said, “General and Zhong Wugu are dead, right now you are my right arm. If I lose this arm, I am afraid the big plan I prepared for some time might vanish into thin air.”

“Are you saying that right now you can’t do without me?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

His question was very unusual, and he worded it very cautiously. Actually, he could ask the same question using only six words, but this time he was using sixteen words. [Trust me, Lu Xiaofeng’s question above consists of 16 Chinese characters.]

But Old Sabre Honcho’s answer was simple and blunt, “Yes.”

Lu Xiaofeng laughed.

Just as he started to laugh, like an eagle his body soared, his hands were the claws. The prey of these claws was the bamboo rain hat on Old Sabre Honcho’s head.

Old Sabre Honcho was still sitting, unmoving, but the claws caught an empty spot.

Even the quickest and craftiest fox or rabbit would have difficulty escaping eagle’s claw, and Lu Xiaofeng’s movement was faster and more accurate than eagle claw.

But he caught an empty spot, because Old Sabre Honcho, along with his chair, suddenly slipped out of the way, just like a kayak suddenly swept away by the torrent. The heavy wooden chair seemed to be one entity with his body.

Lu Xiaofeng sighed, his body landed down slowly. He knew that since this first strike failed, the second one would be even more difficult to succeed.

“You wanted to see me?” Old Sabre Honcho asked.

With a wry laugh Lu Xiaofeng replied, “You want me to die for you, at least you ought to let me see who you are.”

“I don’t look good,” Old Sabre Honcho replied, “And I don’t want you to die for me either. If this matter succeeds, it will be advantageous to everybody.”

“What if it doesn’t succeed?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

Old Sabre Honcho said matter-of-factly, “You will die, which is not a big deal, since you are supposed to be dead anyway.”

Lu Xiaofeng asked, “Did you establish this Mansion of Spirits just to get people in here to take risks for you?”

Old Sabre Honcho replied, “People who came here are people who had already died once; what’s the harm in dying one more time?”

“Perhaps people who had already died once are more afraid to die,” Lu Xiaofeng noted.

Old Sabre Honcho agreed with him on this point, “But what’s the difference between hiding in this place and death?”

Lu Xiaofeng sighed. He admitted that the difference was indeed not much.

Old Sabre Honcho’s dagger-like gaze looked at Lu Xiaofeng from behind the bamboo rain hat, “Would you stay here forever?” he asked.

Immediately Lu Xiaofeng shook his head.

“Other than the two of us, there are thirty-seven other residents, and you seem to have met them all,” Old Sabre Honcho said, “What did you see?”

With a wry smile Lu Xiaofeng said, “I can’t see anything.”

Old Sabre Honcho seemed to be very pleased, “Of course you can’t see anything, because all edges and sharp corners have been ground smooth, they all look like very ordinary, mediocre people.”

“While the fact is?” Lu Xiaofeng prompted.

Old Sabre Honcho said, “Those who are able to come here, every single one of them is a martial art expert, everyone had a glorious history. Just like you, no one is willing to be left out. No one wishes to stay here for the rest of their life.”

His voice was very cheerful, “As long as everybody can have the hope of seeing the light again, we can make this endeavor successful.”

Finally Lu Xiaofeng could not bear not to ask, “When all is said and done, what is this endeavor, actually?”

“You’ll find out very soon,” Old Sabre Honcho said.

“When is very soon?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“Like, right now,” Old Sabre Honcho replied.

He had just finished speaking, the bell was ringing outside. Old Sabre Honcho stood up, his voice was even more cheerful, “But we must eat first,” he said, “I guarantee that you will be very satisfied with our lunch.”

The food was abundant, but the wine was very sparse; evidently Old Sabre Honcho wanted everybody to stay clear-headed.

But he himself drunk more than half ornamented golden goblet of Persian grape wine; and then surprisingly he poured another half a goblet.

It was the very first time Lu Xiaofeng saw him drinking wine. “It must be a very big day for him,” Lu Xiaofeng thought, “He must have been waiting for this day for a very long time.”

Everybody was eating silently with their heads down; they all ate very little, and most did not even drink. Therefore, Lu Xiaofeng could drink a bit more wine. It was only after he had had his fill that he leisurely sizing up these people.

Although everybody was wearing oversized, conservative long gown, under the dim light in the hall, there were still several people who appeared comparatively more eye-catching.

There was a big man with ringworms on his face about the size of golden coin; after drinking two cups of wine, each ringworm on his face appeared to shine like copper coins.

Another man had a purple face with long beard, he looked somewhat like the Guan Gong on the stage. And then there was a man with fat all over his face, his belly was sticking out like a ball. One man wore a serious expression, as if he was sitting in a torture chamber. And then there was an old granny whose teeth were nearly gone, yet she ate more than anybody else in the hall.

Still there were a few old, thin men who were exceptionally quiet. They were eye-catching, perhaps precisely because they were so quiet.

Other than Liu Qingqing, the youngest one had a round face like a pot, he appeared to be a midget who looked like a kid. The oldest were those quiet old men wearing black clothes.

As Lu Xiaofeng looked around, he tried to figure out the origin of these people from his memory. The first one that came to his mind was the ‘Leopard’ Hua Kui. [Translator’s note: the first two characters of the word ‘leopard’金钱豹 are the same word as ‘gold coin’ above.]

This man was tall, the amount of wine he consumed was not less than that of Lu Xiaofeng’s. His movements seemed slow; the ringworms on his face made him look a bit comical.

But when he shot his secret projectiles, nobody would ever think that he was comical. The Hua family of Jiangnan was the Jianghu’s most prestigious secret projectile family.

And Hua Kui was a direct descendant of Hua family. Some even said that in term of secret projectile skill, he could be ranked among the top three experts in the world.

Lu Xiaofeng has also noted that although he had drunk a lot of wine, his pair of hands still looked very steady.

That man with a solemn expression like a government official, could he be the torture chamber’s Hall Master of the Seventy-two Strongholds of the Criminal Underworld of the yesteryear, the ‘Pungent Hand Soul Chaser’ Du Tiexin?

And that old granny; could she be the ‘Mother Ape’ of the ‘Twin Apes of Qinling’ [mountain range in Shaanxi]? Just because of several banner peaches that according to legend could promise longevity, she did not hesitate to cut her husband’s neck, the ‘Divine Physician Immortal Ape’ Lou Dasheng.

Who were those old men in black who never talk? And that round-faced, big-headed dwarf?

Lu Xiaofeng was unable to continue his musing because right that moment Liu Qingqing was quietly pulling the corner of his clothes, and was quietly asking, “Where’s your wife?”

Lu Xiaofeng was taken aback, and then he realized that she was talking about Ye Ling. “I heard she disappeared.”

“Don’t you want to know where she went?” Liu Qingqing asked.

“I don’t,” Lu Xiaofeng replied.

Liu Qingqing pouted her mouth, and then with a deliberate sigh said, “Indeed there is not one good thing among men. But I simply must tell you.”

She lowered her voice even more, “She must be underwater right now.”

Lu Xiaofeng did not understand, “How could she be underwater? How do you know she is underwater?”

Liu Qingqing said, “Because, before leaving she stole other people’s fish skin-like wetsuit, and four pairs of ‘parting water flying fish harpoon’.”

Lu Xiaofeng was even more surprised. There were two things that surprised him more:

— Wetsuit and harpoon do not have to be used only underwater; these objects were equally useful in the miry water of the swamp. Could it be that Ye Ling was looking for her older sister? How did she know what happened at the swamp?

— The fish skin-like wetsuit and flying fish harpoons were very famous underwater weapons in Jianghu, belonging to a very famous character.

Not only the name of ‘Master of the Flying Fish Island’ shook the seven seas, he was also very famous within the Wulin world of the Central Plains. Not only his water skill was extremely high, his swordsmanship was not weak either.

If this person had not died, if he was in here, he should also be very eye-catching. Yet Lu Xiaofeng had not found him.

Liu Qingqing was still waiting for his response, hence all along she did not open her mouth.

Lu Xiaofeng was lost in thought for a while; finally he asked, “Did Old Sabre Honcho know about it?”

Liu Qingqing chuckled and said, “It seems to me that there is nothing in here that Old Sabre Honcho did not know about.”

— Ye Ling went out to look for her sister, could it be that it was Old Sabre Honcho who incited her? Otherwise, how could she know Ye Xue’s whereabouts?

Lu Xiaofeng did not ask about anything else, because he suddenly discovered that there was someone, without word without any noise, standing behind them.

When he looked back, he immediately saw a faceless face; unexpectedly it was the Soul Collector, who had never made any appearance before.

The atmosphere in the hall grew heavier and more serious. Everybody seemed to be a bit frightened by this faceless man.

He did not sit down; he merely stood motionless behind Old Sabre Honcho.

He wore a sword on his waist.

On the antique looking, yet elegant sword sheathe, there were seven marks that looked like they were made by blade. It was obvious that originally there were pearls, jades and jewels embedded above the marks.

If it was in Wudang, only the Sect Leader could wear the Seven-Star Treasured Sword on his waist!

Just then, Hai Qikuo suddenly stood up, and with a thunderous voice announced, “Operation Thunder has begun!”

[1] Orig. Quan Langjun: quan – dog, langjun – husband/master/playboy of rich family/pimp. Anybody has a better idea on how to translate this into English?

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