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Phantoms’ Mountain Manor Chapter 12

CSI

Chapter 12 – Panic in the Haunted Mansion

The fifth of the fourth month. Clear sky.

Lu Xiaofeng was facing a very clear bronze mirror with a smile on his face.

Seeing the reflection in the mirror was not his own, although it was kind of strange, it was very interesting.

Naturally the old man in the mirror was not as handsome as his original face, yet it was a dignified and lordly old man, not at all like a lecherous, alcoholic old man whose one of his feet had already stepped into the coffin.

This minor point has no doubt made him very happy. His only regret was that he could not wash his face.

Therefore, all he could do was just perfunctorily wiping his face with a dry cloth and joyfully rinse his mouth with water, before finally turned around to look at the old granny on the bed.

He shook his head and sigh, “Canine Master really should make you a bit younger,” he said, “Now it simply looks like you are my mother.”

Liu Qingqing gnashed her teeth and hatefully said, “For you, you don’t care what other people turn you into, you can always admire and enjoy yourself.”

Lu Xiaofeng laughed; a big hearty laugh.

At that moment, the obedient dog walked in, wagging its tail, followed by the filial son who came to kowtow and pay his respect.

Lu Xiaofeng was even more cheerful; he said with a laugh, “You are all very good today, I’ll take you to ‘San Liu Jiu’ [lit. 369] to eat ham, dried bean curd and some steamed meat buns.”

San Liu Jiu’s steamed meat buns were dainty and delicate, one bamboo basket contained twenty buns, each bun was bite-size. Eating three or five baskets could not be considered too much.

Even Old Master Lu’s dog ate three baskets; but his housekeeper and housemaid could only stand in the back, waiting.

Becoming high-ranking officials in the Capital, these Big Masters always followed a bit stricter protocol compared to other people.

The restaurant waiter was standing on the side, watching; he shook his head and then using a half-baked Suzhou’s ‘officialese’ accent he tried to strike a conversation, “Looks like becoming a dog in Da Laoye’s [big old master] home is luckier than most people.”

Lu Xiaofeng was picking his teeth using the silver toothpick that he brought along; he made loud clicking noise with his tongue. Suddenly he said, “Since you like the dog, why don’t you take it out for a walk, let it do its business. When you are back, Laoye [master] will give you a reward.”

The waiter hesitated. He looked at the housekeeper and housemaid, “Aren’t these master housekeepers not coming?”

“He does not like the dog,” Lu Xiaofeng replied, “Hence the dog likes to bite him.”

The waiter was scared, “Does this master dog like to bite other people?”

Lu Xiaofeng snorted, “Even if others want it to bite them, it may not necessarily be eager to open its mouth.”

Old Master’s wife also offered her opinion, “Although this dog of ours does not bite people, it does not like to gnaw on bones either; it only loves to eat a bit of sh1t. You can at most let it lick a little bit, but you must never let it eat it, otherwise it will have an upset stomach.”

The waiter could only force a laugh while pulling the dog’s leather leash, and gently and cautiously took this ‘master dog’ out for a walk.

The housekeeper looked at the housemaid, the housemaid looked at the filial son, the filial son looked at the Old Madame, the Old Madame smiled and said, “Don’t you worry, your Old Man’s dog is a precious, obedient dog, it won’t run away. Besides, even if it wants to run away, it cannot.”

“Why?” the filial son could not help asking.

“Because you are going out with him,” the Old Madame said, “When it goes poo, you are going to wait on the side.”

Cousin was indeed very obedient. He simply stood up and left.

Lu Xiaofeng laughed. “Looks like our son is indeed a filial son,” he said with a smile.

Lu Xiaofeng had a shortcoming: every day after breakfast, he seemed to have to go to the bathroom. He drank too much wine, hence his stomach was not too well.

Although the Old Madame was a jumbo-size vinegar jar [see Chapter 11], and she could watch other people like a hawk, but when the Old Master was going to the bathroom, she could not stare at him.

But if a dog wanted to watch someone, it did not have too much of a scruple. It doesn’t matter if you are going to the bathroom or not, the dog can always follow you.

Therefore, every time Lu Xiaofeng wanted to go to the bathroom, Canine Master would follow him while wagging his tail.

Today was no exception.

As soon as Lu Xiaofeng squatted down, Canine Master immediately said in low voice, “That waiter is definitely not a real waiter.”

There was no response. Practically Lu Xiaofeng was ignoring him.

Canine Master continued, “His qinggong must be very high, I can hear it from his steps.”

Still no response.

Just like most people, when he was going to the bathroom, Lu Xiaofeng liked to concentrate, he liked to focus his attention on the task at hands.

Canine Master continued, “Moreover, I can tell than he is an expert in disguise, so much so that his skill is higher than mine.”

Lu Xiaofeng suddenly said, “Do you know what you are? You are a demon.”

Canine Master was startled, “A demon?”

“A dog who can speak human language, what is it if not a demon?” Lu Xiaofeng said.

“But …” Canine Master started.

But Lu Xiaofeng did not let him continue, “Do you know how people deal with a demon?” he asked.

Canine Master shook his head.

Lu Xiaofeng coldly said, “If not burning you to death, then they will beat you to death.”

Canine Master did not dare to utter even a single word; he obediently left with his tail between his legs.

Finally Lu Xiaofeng was able to enjoy a moment of peace. To him, if a man can enjoy a moment of peace, even if that means he had to sit on a chamber pot, then it was already a pleasure in life. Not only that, it was a pleasure that was hard to come by, because he suddenly had a wife who watched over him constantly.

When he went out, he discovered that Liu Qingqing was already outside, waiting for him; worse yet, it seemed like she had been waiting for a long time, because there was a big pile of fava bean shells on the floor.

Lu Xiaofeng could not resist asking, “You love to see a man going to the bathroom? Or you love to smell the stench in here?”

Liu Qingqing said, “I was just a little suspicious, that’s all.”

“Suspicious about what?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“Suspicious that you did not really go to the bathroom, but was simply trying to avoid me, while whispering sweet nothings with your dog friend,” Liu Qingqing replied.

“Hence you sat out here to listen if I am really going to the bathroom,” Lu Xiaofeng said.

Liu Qingqing laughed. “Now I know,” she said, “That kind of noise is really not pleasant to the ears.”

Lu Xiaofeng sighed. With a strained smile he said, “Fortunately he is a male dog; if he were a female dog, what would happen then?”

Liu Qingqing flatly said, “If he were a female dog, he would have been dead by now.”

The sixth day of the fourth month, cloudy, but no rain.

An entry in Housekeeper’s journal: “Light breakfast at the Kui Yuan Guan of the eastern city. During the meal, there was someone else who took the dog for a walk; from start to finish it took about half a sichen [i.e. about an hour, 1 sichen is 2 hours].”

“The waiter who took the dog for a walk is surnamed Wang, locally born and bred here, has been a waiter for fourteen years, has a wife, a son and a daughter.”

“This man has been investigated, but no suspicion is found on him.”

Naturally this journal would be handed over to Old Sabre Honcho later. But Hai Qikuo had an objection, “Can’t do, you must not write it like that.”

“Why not?” Housekeeper asked.

Hai Qikuo said, “We shouldn’t have taken this dog along, we shouldn’t have let him get someone else to walk the dog even more; when Old Sabre Honcho read this, he will think there are problems.”

“What do you think we should do?” Housekeeper asked.

With a cold laugh Hai Qikuo said, “If the dog is a dead dog, it will be like the (grain) rice has been cooked into (cooked) rice; what can he do to me?”

Housekeeper exhaled and said, “I just don’t know how long will it be before the living dog turns into a dead dog.”

“Soon,” Hai Qikuo said.

“Are you going to take the dog out for a walk tomorrow?” Housekeeper asked.

Hai Qikuo sighed and said, “It looks like this is the first time in my life I have to do such thing.”

“Won’t it be the last as well?” Housekeeper asked.

“That’s right,” Hai Qikuo said, “Absolutely correct.”

The seventh day of the fourth month, clear.

Hai Qikuo had already taken the dog out very far, as if he had no intention of coming back.

Cousin was following behind, he couldn’t help asking, “Since when do you like walking like this?”

“Just now,” Hai Qikuo replied.

“And where are you heading now?” Cousin asked.

“Outside the city wall,” Hai Qikuo replied.

“What are you going to do outside the city wall?” Cousin asked.

Hai Qikuo replied, “Although a dead dog on the street is a very common thing, but if suddenly a man appeared from inside the dog’s skin, it will be a different thing altogether.”

Cousin agreed, “Of course something like this must not be seen by anybody else.”

“Hence we are going out of the city wall,” Hai Qikuo said.

He held on the dog’s leash tightly; Cousin also held on to the sword hilt under his clothes. Not only this dog understood human language, he was also a secret projectile expert. If the dog did not die under human hands, but the human died under the dog’s hands, it would really be a joke.

Who would have thought that the dog did not show any reaction at all?

“Do you know what kind of trick this dog has in his belly?” Cousin asked.

“I only know that there seems to be no one else around here,” Hai Qikuo replied.

“Not even half a shadow,” Cousin agreed.

Hai Qikuo suddenly stopped. Looking at the dog, he sighed and said, “Quan Xiong, Quan Xiong [lit. ‘brother dog’], we have eaten together, we have drunk together; in short, we are friends. If you have any last wish, there is no harm in telling us. As long as we can do it, we will surely do it for you.”

The dog wagged its tail. “Woof, woof!” it barked.

“Even if you wag your tail, it’s useless, we still have to kill you,” Hai Qikuo said.

Cousin added, “But we can guarantee that we won’t sell you to the dog meat shop.”

Hai Qikuo sighed again. His vinegar-bowl size fist struck down. As soon as the fist hit the dog’s head, a sound of breaking bones was heard.

The dog howled, unexpectedly it was still able to stand. Cousin’s sword quickly pierced its neck.

Blood splashed, Hai Qikuo leaped high to evade; by the time he landed on the ground, the living dog has turned into a dead dog.

Hai Qikuo heaved a sigh; he said with a laugh, “Apparently killing dog is much easier than killing people.”

But Cousin’s countenance sank; suddenly he said with a cold laugh, “I am afraid we really killed a dog.”

Hai Qikuo was stunned; immediately he stooped down, trying to peel the dog’s skin to take a look.

Inside the dog’s skin, it was still a dog; this dog was not Canine Master.

Hai Qikuo’s countenance changed. “I clearly saw it,” he said.

“Saw what?” Cousin asked.

“I saw Canine Master got into a dog skin like this, and became a dog like this,” Hai Qikuo replied.

“There are many kinds of dogs,” Cousin coldly said, “Dogs of the same breed look more or less alike.”

“Where is Canine Master then?” Hai Qikuo asked, “Where did this dog come from?”

“Why don’t you go ask Lu Xiaofeng?” Cousin said.

Unexpectedly there was someone waiting outside the lavatory. Lu Xiaofeng has just reached the door, he has not even tied his belt yet, and he had already seen Hai Qikuo.

Hai Qikuo’s appearance was like someone who could not hold on anymore, perhaps a piece of sh1t was already falling into the crouch of his pants.

Lu Xiaofeng sighed and mumbled to himself, “Why is it that each time I go poo there is someone waiting in line outside? Could it be that everybody ate the wrong medicine and are having diarrhea?”

Hai Qikuo clenched his teeth and said hatefully, “I did not take the wrong medicine, just killed the wrong person.”

Lu Xiaofeng appeared shocked. “Whom did you kill?” he asked.

“I killed a dog,” Hai Qikuo said.

“Wait, did you kill a person? Or a dog?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

Hai Qikuo replied, “The dog I killed was supposed to be a person; who would have thought that it was a real dog? There was nobody inside the dog skin.”

Lu Xiaofeng sighed. He said, “Dog is dog, inside the dog skin there is naturally dog meat, dog bones; naturally, there is no person!”

He sighed again while patting Hai Qikuo’s shoulder, “You must be too tired lately. If you don’t take a good rest, you might really go crazy.”

Hai Qikuo looked like he really was going to go crazy from rage. “Where is Canine Master?” he suddenly roared.

Lu Xiaofeng was indifferent. “He is not my son, nor is he my housekeeper; how do I know where he is?”

“But the one insisted to bring him down the mountain was you,” Hai Qikuo said.

“I just wanted to bring a dog down the mountain,” Lu Xiaofeng said, “I never said I wanted to bring Canine Master.”

He patted Hai Qikuo’s shoulder again and said with a laugh, “Now, although you killed my dog, I don’t want you to pay it with your life at all. No matter what, a good housekeeper is a lot more useful than a dog. Besides, I can’t bear to have Housemaid become a widow.”

Hai Qikuo was so angry that he could not say anything.

Finally Lu Xiaofeng was able to tie his belt. He started to walk away leisurely, but after only a few steps he looked back and said with a laugh, “You must report this matter to Old Sabre Honcho, I am sure he will find it very interesting. Maybe he will reward you heavily with something.”

There was a hint of malicious intention in his laughter, “Can you think of what he is going to reward you?”

Hai Qikuo could. No matter what it was, it would be something very, very heavy. Could it be a very heavy punch? Or perhaps a very heavy chop?

Hai Qikuo suddenly laughed aloud. “I finally got it,” he said.

“You got what?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

Hai Qikuo said, “Since the one I killed was a dog, the one died was also a dog. It doesn’t matter what kind of dog, in the end it is a dead dog now.”

He winked, and then said with a smile, “Even dead people are all the same, much less dogs?”

Lu Xiaofeng also laughed heartily, “Looks like this fellow really gets it,” he said.

The eighth day of the fourth month. It was cloudy with occasional shower.

The entry in Housekeeper’s journal was very succinct, “Traveled four hundred li [1 li is approx. 1/2km], the dog died suddenly.”

The ninth of the fourth month. Overcast.

No rain, only dark clouds. Thick layers of cloud hung low overhead, the sky turned dark fairly early.

“How did we get here?”

“Because the driver was afraid of getting into the lodging too late, so he took a shortcut.”

“This is a shortcut?”

“Should have been. But now …” Housekeeper sighed, and then with a bitter smile he continued, “Now it looks like we are lost.”

It was dinnertime. They should have been eating, they should have been washing their face, rinsing their mouth, putting on clean clothes, and sitting under the bright light of the inn, eating some snacks and cold plate.

Yet the fact was that they have lost and were in an unfamiliar place.

“I am hungry, hungry as hell.” Liu Qingqing was clearly not a woman who was accustomed to hardship. “I must eat something, my stomach does not feel well.”

“If you really want to eat something, just eat some grass like a sheep.”

Liu Qingqing frowned, “Isn’t there anything to eat in the carriage?”

“Not only there is nothing to eat, we don’t even have anything to drink.”

“So what do we do?”

“Only one thing.”

“What is it?”

“Go hungry.”

Liu Qingqing suddenly pushed the door open and jumped down the carriage, “I don’t believe there is nothing else we could do; I am going looking.”

“What are you looking for?”

“No matter what kind of place this is, there must be people around, there must be a house nearby.” Liu Qingqing sounded very sure, but in her heart she was actually not sure at all.

But she was willing to look.

Because she could not endure hardship, she could not go hungry.

It doesn’t matter what you are looking for, only those who are willing to look will find it.

There are a lot of things like this in the world – the first person to invent a vehicle must be someone who was disinclined to walk. Exactly because people did not want to endure hardships that humanity has made some progress.

She was willing to look, hence she found it.

Just beyond the col down the hill, unexpectedly there was really a house. A very big house.

In fact, no matter where you are, it would be difficult to find such a big house like this.

In the dark, the slopes of the roof looked like layers upon layers of dark cloud being piled up together. The main gate was expansive, so wide that at least six horses could enter in side-by-side.

But the vermillion paint on the door was peeling off, and the door was shut. The strangest thing was, such a big house, but there was no light in sight.

It is often said that sometimes a haunted house will appear in an uninhabited wilderness. Could it be that this place is a haunted house?

“Even if this is really a haunted house, I still want to take a look inside.” Liu Qingqing was afraid of hunger, she was not afraid of ghosts.

She was already knocking on the door. The copper ring door-knocker was more resounding than a gong, yet there was no response from the inside at all.

She was about to give up, but the door suddenly opened. It was opened just a slit, hence a slit of lantern light shone out. A man was standing in the dark, with his back toward the light. He was staring at her with cold eyes.

Although the lantern light was dim, it was glaring to her eyes. By the time her eyes had adjusted, she looked at the man, and instantly did not dare to look the second time.

This man simply did not look like a human, but he did not look like a ghost either. If we say that he was a human, he must be a mud-man. If we say that he was a ghost, then he was a ghost that was formed of clay.

From top to bottom his body was covered in mud; his face, his nose, his eyebrows, even his mouth looked like it was stuffed with mud.

Luckily he could laugh.

Looking at Liu Qingqing’s expression, he suddenly roared in laughter; he laughed so hard that the dried mud on his face flaked off and ‘plop, plop’, it fell to the ground.

Whether he was a human or a ghost, as long as he was able to laugh, he would not look too scary anymore.

Finally Liu Qingqing put on a brave face and with a forced laugh she said, “We are lost …”

She only said one sentence, the man already cut her off, “I know you are lost; otherwise, how could you get to this ghost place?”

His laughter was even more cheerful, “But Old Lady, you need not be afraid, although this place is a ghost place, I am not a ghost; not only I am a human, I am a good human.”

Liu Qingqing could not resist asking, “If you are a good human, how come there are so much mud on you?”

The man replied, “Anybody who dug earthworms for several days would have so much mud on him.”

Liu Qingqing was stunned, “You dig earthworms?” she asked.

The man nodded. He said, “I have already dug 783 big earthworms.”

Liu Qingqing was even more shocked, “What are you going to do with so many worms?” she asked.

“That many worms is still not enough,” the man replied, “I still need to dig 713 to have enough.”

“Why?” Liu Qingqing asked.

The man replied, “Because I made a bet with someone, whoever loses will have to dig 1500 earthworms, mustn’t be less even one.”

“And you lost?” Liu Qingqing asked.

The man sighed and said, “Although I haven’t lost yet, I know that I will lose for sure.”

Liu Qingqing looked at him; she stared straight into his eyes, “This kind of bet is very unusual, the person who made a bet with you must be a strange man.”

“Not only he is a strange man,” the man said, “He is also an a$$h01e [orig. muddled egg]. Not only he is an a$$h01e, he is a big a$$h01e.”

Lu Xiaofeng has been standing afar off, suddenly he interrupted, “Not only he is a big a$$h01e, he is an especially big a$$h01e.”

The man readily agreed, “Totally correct.”

“If he is an a$$h01e,” Lu Xiaofeng continued, “What about you?”

The man sighed. “It seems like I am too,” he admitted.

Lu Xiaofeng was going to say something else, Liu Qingqing was already screaming, “You are not an a$$h01e, you are a good man. I know you will definitely let us stay for the night here.”

“You want to stay overnight in this place?” the man asked in disbelief.

“Uh huh,” Liu Qingqing said.

“You really want to?” the man asked again.

“Of course I really want to,” Liu Qingqing replied.

The man looked at her in shock, as if it was more shocking than seeing someone digging earthworms from the dirt.

Liu Qingqing could not help asking, “We are lost, there are no other houses around here, we want to stay here for the night, what is so strange about that?”

The man nodded, and then he shook his head, finally he muttered under his breath, “Not strange, not strange at all.”

Although his mouth said ‘not strange’, his expression looked very strange indeed.

Liu Qingqing could not help but ask, “Is this place haunted?”

“No, it’s not,” the man replied, “Not a single ghost in here.”

“In that case, would you let us stay one night in here?” Liu Qingqing asked.

The man chuckled. He said, “As long as you really want to, you can stay here as long as you wish.”

He turned around and walked into the gloomy and desolate courtyard, while still mumbling to himself, as if he was saying, “I am just afraid that you might not even stay for half a sichen, because so far there has never been anybody who can stay here for long.”

Across the courtyard there were seven rooms, and there were quite a few lanterns in each room.

Surprisingly, there was still oil in the lanterns.

And surprisingly, the man lighted every single one of the lanterns in the room. And then he sighed in contentment, “No matter what kind of ghost place, as long as there are lighted lanterns around, it will look a lot better.”

Actually, the place did not look too bad. Although there was thick layer of dust accumulated everywhere, the beautiful and expensive looking decoration and furnishing did not look worn-out at all. In fact, it could be said that they were of the contemporary style.

Liu Qingqing tried to sound out the man, “Did you say that there has never been anybody who are able to stay here?”

The man admitted.

It was only natural that Liu Qingqing probed further, “Why?”

The man replied, “Because there is something here that no one has ever been able to stand.”

“What is it?” Liu Qingqing asked, “And where is it?”

The man pointed with his finger, “Right there.”

He was pointing to a crystal case, which was on the sacrificial table right in the middle of the main hall.

The crystal was polished and ground that it was extremely thin, it was almost completely transparent. Inside the case there was something that looked like a withered flower petal.

“What flower is that?”

“That’s not flower; it’s not anything you can think of.”

“What is it then?”

“It’s a human eyeball.”

Liu Qingqing’s eyes grew big, but the pupil of her eyes shrank; she could not help taking two steps back in fright.

“Whose eyeball?”

“A woman’s, a very famous woman. This woman’s most famous feature was precisely her eyes.”

“Why was it famous?”

“Because she was the Divine Eyes. It was said that not only she could do embroidery in the dark, she could even hit a mosquito’s head with a needle from thirty steps away.”

“Are you talking about the Divine Eyes, Third Mistress Shen?”

“Other than she, who else?”

“Who put her eyeball in here?”

“Other than her husband, who else?”

“Wasn’t her husband the Jade Forest Swordsman Ye Lingfeng?”

“That’s right. There is also only one Ye Lingfeng in Jianghu. Fortunately there is only one.”

Liu Qingqing clasped her hands together tightly, the palm of her hands were wet.

Did she know the web of gratitude and grudges between Ye Lingfeng and Old Sabre Honcho? They reached this place, was it a coincidence? Or some unseen people secretly arranged all these?

The man who dug earthworms had his face completely covered with mud, nobody could see the expression on his face.

But his voice was rather hoarse, as he continued his narration, “There are a total of ninety-three rooms in this building, each room has a crystal case just like this.”

Each room had one? Liu Qingqing immediately burst into the second room. Sure enough, she saw an identical crystal case in it.

But the object inside the case was a withered ear.

Like a specter the man who dug earthworms followed behind her, “When Third Mistress Shen died, Ye Lingfeng cut her off into ninety-three pieces …”

Liu Qingqing could not help crying out, “Why did he do that?”

The man who dug earthworms sighed and said, “Because he loved her too much, he wanted to see her all the time, no matter where he was or where he went, he wanted to see her. Even though he could only see one eye, one ear, he was satisfied.”

Liu Qingqing bit her lower lip, she nearly could not refrain from throwing up.

Lu Xiaofeng suddenly asked, “I heard that Third Mistress Shen’s cousin [orig. maternal older male cousin] is Wudang’s famous swordsman Wooden Taoist.”

The man who dug earthworms nodded.

Lu Xiaofeng continued, “I heard that the two of them got married, it was Wooden Taoist who became the matchmaker.”

“That’s right,” the man who dug earthworms said.

Lu Xiaofeng said, “Ye Lingfeng did that, wasn’t he afraid Wooden Taoist would deal with him?”

The man who dug earthworms said, “By the time Wooden Taoist wanted to deal with him, it was already too late. In less than three months after Third Mistress Shen died, he went insane, he crashed his own head against the rock garden at the back of his house, his head was thoroughly mashed.”

“If someone had his head thoroughly mashed, naturally nobody would recognize his true identity, hence nobody can prove whether the man who died was really him.”

All along Liu Qingqing was holding her breath, finally she started breathing again, and immediately asked, “After he died, why didn’t anybody move these cases away?”

The man who dug earthworms said, “Because the people who wanted to move these cases away are now lying inside cases.”

“What kind of cases?” Liu Qingqing asked.

The man who dug earthworms replied, “Something long, made of wood, usually designed to contain dead people. Most people, when they are dead, will be lying in a case like these.”

Liu Qingqing forced a chuckle and then said, “At least it is much better than being inside a crystal case like this.”

The man who dug earthworms said, “Unfortunately, not too much.”

“Why?” Liu Qingqing asked.

The man who dug earthworms replied, “Because being strangled alive by a pair of ghost’s hands did not feel pleasant at all.”

Liu Qingqing said, “But you said it yourself a moment ago that there is not a single ghost in this place.”

The man who dug earthworms said, “Indeed there is not a single ghost in here, but this place has at least forty-nine ghosts. Moreover, they all are ghosts who died of injustice.”

“How many people were here originally?” Liu Qingqing asked.

“Forty-nine,” the earthworm-digger man replied.

“And now all these people have died?” Liu Qingqing asked.

“If there is an eyeball inside a crystal case staring at you every day, can you stand it?” the man who dug earthworms asked.

“I can’t stand it,” Liu Qingqing replied, “I will definitely go crazy.”

“If you can’t stand it, others won’t be able to stand it either,” the earthworm-digger said, “Therefore, everybody wanted to remove these cases. However, no matter who, as soon as he touched the case, his tongue would stuck out half a chi [Chinese foot, approx. 1 foot or 1/3 of a meter] long, and instantly his breathing would stop. Just like this.”

He stuck his own tongue out, and it was very long indeed. His face was completely covered in black mud, but his tongue was as red as blood. Only someone who was strangled to death would have that kind of appearance.

Liu Qingqing looked away immediately, she did not dare to even take a glance; yet she still could not resist asking, “What about you? Have you tried to move these cases?”

The man who dug earthworms shook his head, and then nodded. His tongue was still stuck out, basically he could not speak.

“All the people in here have died,” Liu Qingqing said, “How come you are still alive? You are not ghost, are you?”

The earthworm-digger suddenly took out his hand from his bosom, and tossed something full of blackish-green stuffs toward Liu Qingqing. These stuffs were surprisingly alive, they were warm, soft, and slippery. They were live earthworms!

Liu Qingqing screamed; she was so scared that she almost fainted.

She was actually not a kind of woman who get easily scared, but these moist, soft and slippery earthworms were just too much.

By the time she was dodging these worms, the earthworm-digger has already disappeared. The light flickered a couple of times, all the lanterns in the room suddenly went out.

She turned around. Lu Xiaofeng and the others were gone, she was all alone.

Fortunately, there was still light in the room next door. She rushed over, but the lantern in that room suddenly went out as well.

Although there were still lights in the rooms ahead, but by the time she rushed over, the lanterns went out one after another. In this way, all seven rooms she saw earlier had turned into complete darkness. Suddenly she could not see anything, not even the hand she stretched out in front of her eyes.

— Was the eyeball in the crystal case still staring at her?

— How about those forty-nine people who died in injustice, whose tongues were sticking out? Were they also staring at her in the dark?

She could not see them.

She was not the Divine Eyes.

— That damned Lu Xiaofeng, where did he die?

“Hey old man, dead old man, the old man surnamed Lu, aren’t you going to come out?” She shouted, but there was no response.

There was not a single response; Housekeeper, Hook, Cousin, wonder where they went?

— Have they all been strangled to death by a pair of invisible ghost hands?

— Could it be that this was all a deathly trap?

She wanted to rush out, but three times she tried, she always hit the wall. Her entire body was drenched in cold sweats.

Her last attempt resulted in she tripped and fell down. Her legs went weak, she nearly did not have any strength to crawl back up.

Suddenly a hand was reaching out to her in the dark, pulling her up.

— Was it Lu Xiaofeng?

It wasn’t.

Ice-cold and dry hand, with nails at least a cun [1 cun is approx. 1 inch] long.

She couldn’t help screaming at the top of her lungs, “Who are you?”

“You can’t see me, but I can see you,” a voice was sort of laughing in the dark, “I am the Divine Eyes.”

It was a female voice.

Was this hand reaching out from inside a crystal case?

The laughter continued, she tried with all her strength to grope forward. She pounced an empty space.

That ice-cold and dry hand reached out from behind her and caressed her neck lightly.

She really was not the kind of woman who got scared so easily to the point of passing out, but right now she fainted for real.

The tenth day of the fourth month. Clear.

When Liu Qingqing woke up, the sun was shining outside her window.

The window was moving, the trees outside were also moving – as if they were flying backwards.

She rubbed her eyes, and suddenly found herself to be in the carriage again. Lu Xiaofeng was sitting opposite her, he was staring at her with a wide grin on his face.

She bit her lower lip. It hurt, very much.

It was not a dream.

She sprang up, and glowered at Lu Xiaofeng.

Lu Xiaofeng smiled. “Morning,” he said.

“Morning?” Liu Qingqing said, “Is it morning?”

Lu Xiaofeng laughed, “Actually, it can’t be considered morning anymore. Last night you slept like a dead person.”

Liu Qingqing clenched her teeth, “What about you?” she asked.

“I also slept a bit,” Lu Xiaofeng said.

Liu Qingqing suddenly jumped up and pounced; she pounced on him, and strangled him on the neck, while saying ferociously, “Speak up, speak up quickly, what is this all about?”

“What it’s all about?” Lu Xiaofeng asked back.

“About last night,” Liu Qingqing replied.

Lu Xiaofeng sighed. “I was about to ask you,” he said, “What’s the matter with you? Why did you bump your head against the wall without any good reason and passed out just like that?”

Liu Qingqing shrieked; she said, “I am not crazy, why would I want to bump my own head against the wall?”

With a bitter laugh Lu Xiaofeng said, “If you yourself did not know, how in the world would I know?”

“I ask you,” Liu Qingqing said, “Those lanterns in the room, how could they go out together like that?”

“The lanterns ran out of oil,” Lu Xiaofeng replied, “Naturally they went out.”

“What about that man who dug earthworms?” Liu Qingqing asked.

Lu Xiaofeng said, “When the lanterns went out, naturally he wanted to find more oil.”

“Did he find some?” Liu Qingqing asked.

“It was precisely because he found some oil that we were able to find you,” Lu Xiaofeng replied.

“Is he really a human?” Liu Qingqing asked.

“Not only he is a human, he is also a good human,” Lu Xiaofeng replied, “Not only he found oil for the lanterns, he cooked a big pot of rice porridge, each of us had eaten several bowls.”

Liu Qingqing stared blankly; she stared blankly for half a day before asking, “When the lanterns went out, where were you?”

“In the back,” Lu Xiaofeng replied.

“I was at the front,” Liu Qingqing said, “What did you do in the back?”

Lu Xiaofeng said, “You were at the front, why must we also be at the front? We are not your shadow [orig. bum beetle], why can’t we go to the back to look around?”

Liu Qingqing suddenly shouted, “Housekeeper, Housemaid, Good Son, all of you, come in!”

The carriage stopped, all the people she called came over. She asked them the same question she had just asked Lu Xiaofeng, but their answer was the same. They did not understand why she bumped her head against the wall with no good reason and passed out.

Liu Qingqing was so mad that she almost passed out again, yet she could not resist asking, “Didn’t you all see the hand?”

“What hand?” Housekeeper asked.

“The ghost hand strangling my neck,” Liu Qingqing said.

Lu Xiaofeng suddenly laughed. “Yes, I saw that,” he said.

His smile was very mysterious, “Not only I saw it, I brought it with me,” he said.

Immediately Liu Qingqing’s eyes brightened, “Where is it?” she asked.

“Right here,” Lu Xiaofeng said.

He smiled, and from his pocket he took a hanging curtains cord, on the cord there were several cun-long hooks, the hooks looked like fingernails. “Aren’t these the ghost hand that wrapped around your neck?”

Liu Qingqing was speechless.

Hai Qikuo suddenly roared in laughter and said, “I can’t believe the Jiangnan Heroine with grand reputation Liu Qingqing could be scared and fainted by a string of window curtain cord.”

“Actually, you should have thought about it,” Lu Xiaofeng said.

“Why?” Hai Qikuo asked.

Lu Xiaofeng said, “Because she is a woman, plus her age cannot be considered young.”

He sighed, and then with a wry smile said, “If a woman reaches her age, it is often very difficult not to be paranoid.”

The eleventh day of the fourth month. Clear.

Dusk.

From yesterday morning until now, the number of sentences Liu Qingqing spoke put together was still less than what she usually said during one mealtime.

Her countenance was also very unsightly. It was unclear whether it was because she was still scared and her heart has not calmed down, or whether it was because the D-day was getting closer?

At the moment they were only half a day away from Mount Wudang. Old Sabre Honcho did not leave any message, nor did he give them any final instructions. Therefore, not only she changed, others were a bit nervous and tense as well.

Nobody knew what their chance of success would be in this operation.

Shi He (sic), Tie Jian, Wang Shidai, Gao Xingkong … these people could be considered the elites, the very top of Wulin experts. [Translator’s note: I could have sworn earlier it was Shi Yan …]

Moreover, in addition to those seven people, nobody knew for sure how many more martial art experts have arrived on Mount Wudang.

“Do you think Ximen Chuixue would come too?”

“He wouldn’t.”

“Why?”

“Because the one he is looking for is Lu Xiaofeng, he can’t possibly think that Lu Xiaofeng is on Mount Wudang.”

Naturally the one who said those words was Lu Xiaofeng.

Perhaps the reason he said it was because in his heart he himself was hoping it was so.

Evenings was the time when the city was most bustling with activities. Their carriage was passing through the city center.

“Even if Ximen Chuixue is not coming, Wooden Taoist will definitely be there. Although for the last several years he has almost completely retired, but in such an important event of Sect Leader inauguration like this, he can’t possibly not get involved.”

“Of course.”

“If Wooden Taoist is here, then presumably Ancient Pine Hermit will also be here. Just these two, it’s already not easy to deal with.”

“I think Old Sabre Honcho must have had a way to deal with them, otherwise, why didn’t he include these two in the list?”

“No matter what, we shouldn’t even think about this matter now,” Lu Xiaofeng opened his mouth.

“What should we think about then?”

“We should think about where are we going to eat?”

At the moment Cousin, Housekeeper, Hai Qikuo were all riding in the carriage. They seemed to be about to open their mouth, but suddenly all of them shut up at the same time. Six eyes were looking at the doorway of a restaurant across the street.

The carriage was traveling very slowly, by the time they passed, there were three people entering the restaurant.

One man had red face and bald head, his gaze was sharp like an eagle’s. Another man was as tall like a bamboo pole, and he was as thin as a bamboo pole. He swayed to the left and wobbled to the right, as if a gust of wind would be able to knock him down.

The third person was holding on these two people’s shoulders, as if he was drunk; yet he dressed as a Taoist priest whose hair was completely white.

Lu Xiaofeng knew all these three; Cousin, Housekeeper and Hai Qikuo also knew them.

The one with the eagle’s eyes was Ying Yan Laoqi [lit. Hawk Eye the seventh], the Zongpiaobazi [head honcho/big boss] of the Twelve-Dock Alliance.

The one that looked like his walk was unsteady was actually the Yandang Mountain Lord, Gao Xingkong, whose qinggong had shaken both sides of the Yangtze River.

The old Taoist priest who looked totally drunk was the person they were just talking about, the famous senior of Wudang, Wooden Taoist.

Although Cousin’s eyes were fixed on these three, in his heart he was hoping the carriage would travel a little faster.

Who would have thought that suddenly Lu Xiaofeng said, “Order the driver to stop.”

Cousin jumped in fright. “Why?” he asked.

“Because we are going to eat at this restaurant,” Lu Xiaofeng replied.

Cousin was even more shocked, “Don’t you recognize those three people?”

“I recognize them,” Lu Xiaofeng replied, “But they don’t recognize me.”

“In case they recognize you?” Cousin asked.

“If they can recognize us right now, then when we arrived at Wudang, they will also recognize us,” Lu Xiaofeng replied.

Cousin pondered over it. Finally he understood what he meant, “You want to test whether they could recognize us?”

Lu Xiaofeng nonchalantly said, “In any case we need to take a risk of being recognized by them. If we are being recognized here, at least it would be much better than if we are being recognized in Wudang.”

He had just finished speaking, Liu Qingqing had already knocked the carriage loudly and called out, “Stop the carriage.”

Until then, everybody thought Lu Xiaofeng’s plan was obviously a great idea, hence nobody raised any objection.

Because by that time they had not entered the restaurant yet.

But when they went up, it was already too late to regret. And the one who regretted his decision the most was, unexpectedly, Lu Xiaofeng.

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