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Phantoms’ Mountain Manor Chapter 13

CSI

Chapter 13 – Success is the only option

The style of this restaurant was very exquisite, the size was also very big, but the business was not so good. Although right now was dinner time, there were only three occupied tables in that spacious restaurant floor. [Translator’s note: the original character indicates second floor.]

Gao Xingkong and the others’ party did not consist of only three people, there was already someone waiting for them in one of the tables.

This person was tall and majestic, with grand appearance. Looking at his imposing manner and his attire, he must be a famous Wulin character.

But Lu Xiaofeng obviously did not recognize him; so much so that he did not even remember seeing this person.

The number of well-known Wulin characters that Lu Xiaofeng had never seen was indeed not many.

The table with the most number of people was also the table with most wine on it; it had men and women sitting around it.

The men were wearing gorgeous and expensive looking clothes; they must be either rich salt merchants from Yangzhou, or off-duty minor government officials in civilian clothes. The women were wearing provocative dress, they acted in loose and coquettish manner; undoubtedly they were women of windblown dust [i.e. prostitute].

The table with the least number of people only had one person sitting on it.

A man wearing white clothes, as white as snow.

Seeing this person, Lu Xiaofeng immediately felt the palm of his hands wet with cold sweats. He really never expected that he would see this person in this place. Otherwise, even if there was someone behind him with a whip in his hand, he would never want to climb up the stairs.

Yet since he was already upstairs, he could not go back down.

Lu Xiaofeng could only brace himself and find a place to sit. Liu Qingqing was looking at him with cold eyes; she could almost see the beads of perspiration behind his human-skin mask were ready to pop out.

But the man in white did not look at them, not even a sidelong glance with the corner of his eyes.

His face was ashen.

His sword was lying on the table.

He drank only water. Plain clear water. Not wine.

Evidently he was always ready to kill.

Wooden Taoist greeted him, but he acted as if he did not see him. This senior character from Wudang, whose reputation in Jianghu was resounding, seemed like an invisible character in his eyes.

The fact is: he had never considered anybody worthy to look at.

But Wooden Taoist simply laughed; he shook his head while muttering with a smile, “I don’t blame him. No matter how rude he is, I simply cannot blame him.”

The big and tall, majestic looking old man could not help asking, “Why?”

Wooden Taoist said, “Because he is Ximen Chuixue.”

The heaven above, the earth below, the one and only Ximen Chuixue!

The heaven above, the earth below, the unique and unmatched sword!

As long as there was a sword in his hand, he had the right not to consider anybody worthy to look at!

Perhaps right now he had his eyes on Lu Xiaofeng alone.

Hatred is like some kind of exotic poisonous weeds. Although its nature is to inflict harm, it can also bring out one’s full potential, so that his willpower will be more staunch, his reaction more keen.

Moreover, once this kind of sword attacked, it would not miss even a hundredth of hair width, it had the sharpness of a pair of eagle or falcon eyes.

Right now it never occurred to him that Lu Xiaofeng was right in front of him, but if Lu Xiaofeng exposed the least bit of flaw, he would never be able to escape this pair of sharp eyes.

The dishes have been served, the waiter was asking, “Master guests, which wine would you like to drink?”

Liu Qingqing immediately said, “We don’t drink wine today, not the least bit of wine.”

Wine could easily make people to be careless, and the smallest negligence could be fatal.

However, wine could also make people relax; it could calm people’s nerve.

Lu Xiaofeng laughed and said, “Today we do not drink a bit of wine, we will drink a lot.”

He smiled while patting Cousin’s shoulder, “Today is my son’s birthday; how can a propitious day be without any wine? Give us a jar of Green Bamboo Leaf first.”

Liu Qingqing shot a malicious look at him, but he seemed to be completely oblivious; he continued with a smile, “By nature men and wine are fated together, cautious words of a woman, we must not listen. Come, you two also sit down and accompany me several cups.”

Housekeeper and Hai Qikuo had no choice but to sit down.

Listening from the side, Wooden Taoist laughed aloud while stroking his beard, “Good one! Cautious words of a woman, we must not listen; if we listen, it’s superfluous and the words belong to the three great vanities[1].”

The wine was really fine, they drank it even faster. After three cups of wine entered his belly, Lu Xiaofeng’s countenance naturally became brighter, his eyes were shining.

Finally he has come out of Ximen Chuixue’s shadow; in fact, he seemed to forget that there was such person in that restaurant right now.

Suddenly Ximen Chuixue fixed his blade-sharp gaze on him. Wooden Taoist was also staring at him. Suddenly he raised his cup and laughed, “Friend who is fated to be with wine, could the old Taoist toast you one cup?”

Lu Xiaofeng laughed and said, “Deference is no substitute for obedience, this old man [orig. ‘old rotten’, a humble way to refer to self] must also toast Priest three cups.”

Wooden Taoist roared in laughter. Suddenly he came over; his razor-like eyes were also fixed on Lu Xiaofeng as he said, “What’s your respected surname?”

“It’s Xiong,” Lu Xiaofeng replied, “Xiong from ‘bear and tiger’ [xiong means bear].”

Wooden Taoist said, “Strangers coming together by chance, I should have not bothered you, but the heroic way Xiong Xiong [brother bear] drinks his wine reminds me a lot of a friend of mine.”

Liu Qingqing’s heart skipped a beat. Unexpectedly Lu Xiaofeng was still able to laugh very cheerfully; he said, “And where is this friend of the Priest?”

Wooden Taoist replied, “Far away at the ends of the earth, yet so close in front of my eyes.”

Liu Qingqing’s heart almost jumped out of her throat. Lu Xiaofeng almost spilled the wine in his cup as well.

But Wooden Taoist looked up and heaved a deep sigh; he continued, “Heaven is jealous of the braves and the talented. Although this friend of mine has gone far away to the Western Paradise (i.e. dead), but here we have wine, and we have old friends, perhaps his brave soul has returned in front of my eyes.”

Liu Qingqing relaxed, Lu Xiaofeng also felt relieved, because they did not look at Ximen Chuixue.

Ximen Chuixue’s pale face grew even paler that it almost appeared transparent; his hand already rested on the hilt of his sword.

Suddenly there was a clear ringing sound from outside the window, clear like the sound of dragon cry.

Only a very sharp sword being pulled out of its scabbard would make such a clear and resonant sound like a dragon cry.

The pupil of Ximen Chuixue’s eyes contracted immediately.

In that same split second, there seemed to be a flash of lightning in the night sky, a streak of cold ray flashed through the window, straight toward Ximen Chuixue.

Ximen Chuixue’s sword was still on the table, it was still inside the sheath. But a cup containing fresh water sitting next to the sword scabbard suddenly shot out to meet the sword ray.

‘Ding!’ the cup shattered into a million pieces, with millions of water droplets, like cold mist filling the air.

The sword ray disappeared, but a man appeared in the midst of the cold mist.

A man wearing black, even his face was covered in black cloth, only his eyes were visible, a pair of luminous and bright eyes.

On the table there was no more sword, the sword was already in hand.

The man in black stared at him and said, “Draw your sword.”

Ximen Chuixue coldly said, “Seven people is too little, why do you have to die?”

The men in black did not understand, “Seven people?”

Ximen Chuixue said, “Under the heavens, the number people who are fit to use sword is only seven, including you. Mastering sword like this is not easy at all.”

He waved his hand, “Go.”

“And if I don’t go I die?” the man in black said.

“Yes,” Ximen Chuixue replied.

The man in black let out a cold laugh, “I am afraid the one to die is not me, it’s you!”

His sword flew again.

Wooden Taoist knitted his brows, “This sword is not inferior to Ye Gucheng’s Immortal Flying to the Outer Heaven; who is this man?”

Only Lu Xiaofeng knew who this man was.

He remembered the steel rope bridge bordering life and death outside the Mansion of Spirits, the sword that was able to penetrate the rock.

Shi He, the man with no face.

He was bent on deciding superiority between Ximen Chuixue and him.

Another clear ringing dragon cry sound, Ximen Chuixue’s sword was out of its sheath.

Nobody could describe the changes and the speed of these two swords.

Nobody could describe the battle between these two men.

Sword aura criss-crossing the air, all cups, bowls and plates in the restaurant were shattered, the sword wind split the air, forcing everybody present to hold their breath.

Surprisingly the countenance of the four richly dressed old men did not change, while the women accompanying them scrambled away like flying orioles, scattering swallows; their heavily made-up faces turned deathly pale.

Suddenly a sword ray flew up and struck down from the sky, the man in black slanted his body sideways to evade, but he happened to fall onto the old men’s table.

Ximen Chuixue’s sword continued striking down from above, the man in black was completely enveloped by the sword.

He had lost the crucial momentum, while there was no way to retreat.

Who would have thought that right that moment the restaurant floor suddenly gave up?

— The table fell down, the man in black fell down along with the table, the four richly dressed old men, who were sitting motionless around the table, also fell down.

A large gaping hole suddenly appeared on the restaurant floor. It was like the earth suddenly split up,

Ximen Chuixue’s sword flitted pass above the hole, clearly he had never anticipated this change.

He was thinking of going down the hole to pursue, who would have thought that this piece of floor suddenly flew back up. ‘Crack!’ it just happened to restore the hole on the floor.

The table was still standing on this piece of floor, the four richly dressed old men were still sitting motionless around the table.

It appeared that these four men had used the soles of their feet to ‘suck’ the floor back up, but the man in black has disappeared from the table!

Sword ray has also disappeared, the sword has returned to its sheath.

Ximen Chuixue stared at them with his cold eyes, but in his cold gaze there was a hint of surprise and amazement.

Gao Xingkong, Ying Yan Laoqi, Wooden Taoist, also could not refrain from looking at each other, their smiles faded.

Obviously by now they had seen clearly that these four richly dressed old men were not salt merchants with ten thousand strings of cash in their money belt, neither were they off-duty government officials in civilian clothes, but they were martial art experts of the Wulin world whose power was unfathomably deep.

They had used their internal power to break the piece of the floor, and again used their internal energy to suck the floor back to its original place. Just how many people in Wulin had skill that has reached this level?

“Three people,” Ximen Chuixue suddenly said.

The richly dressed old men looked at him calmly and quietly, waiting for him to continue.

Ximen Chuixue continued, “Those who are able to receive the forty-nine sword strike of mine, there are only three people.”

That was because in just a short battle a moment ago, he had thrust his sword seven by seven, forty nine times.

Indeed he had never used forty-nine strikes to kill anybody before.

The oldest among the four richly dressed old men finally opened his mouth, “What do you say, which one is he?”

“Neither one,” Ximen Chuixue said.

“Oh?” the richly dressed old man said.

Ximen Chuixue coldly said, “Those three people have already reached the status of leaders of a sect or a school, even if their blood splashes under the sword, they would never run away.”

The richly dressed old man said indifferently, “In that case he must have been the fourth person.”

“There is no fourth person!” Ximen Chuixue stated.

The richly dressed old man said, “Sire still have a sword in your hand, why not try it, see if we can receive forty-nine strike of Sire’s sword?”

Ximen Chuixue said, “Even if you can receive it, I am afraid from the four of you, only three will be left alive.”

“What about you?” the richly dressed old man asked.

Ximen Chuixue shut his mouth up.

Dealing with these four men, he really did not have any confidence.

The richly dressed old men also shut their mouths. Because dealing with Ximen Chuixue, they did not have any confidence either.

From among the four young women in fancy dress who accompanied the old men, one girl wearing emerald green colored light gown suddenly called out, “Jiujiu [maternal uncle]!” She was calling out to Lu Xiaofeng, while rushing toward him, “I finally found you, I’ve been looking for you everywhere.”

Lu Xiaofeng was stunned.

He has always been a bachelor, an official single man; but now, not only he had a son, he had also suddenly become someone else’s maternal uncle.

The young woman had already kneeled in front of him with tears streaming down her cheeks, “Uncle, don’t you recognize me? I am Xiao Cui, your own sister’s daughter, Xiao Cui.”

Lu Xiaofeng suddenly wrapped his arms around her, “How could I not recognize you? Where is your Mom?”

Xiao Cui said, “I … I had no choice, they … they …” Before she could finish, she has already burst into tears again.

Lu Xiaofeng suddenly sprang up and charged toward the richly dressed old men, and cursed them, “You must have bullied her; otherwise, why would she cry in such a grief-stricken manner?”

He grabbed the lapel of an old man’s clothes, “You look older than I am, yet you bullied a lone and poor little girl; aren’t you human? I’ll stake my life against you.”

He forcefully pulled the old man. Xiao Cui rushed over as well, and pulled him from behind.

Suddenly, ‘crash!’ the floor gave up again, the three of them fell one upon another.

Ximen Chuixue was stunned.

The ones he was about to deal with just now, they were most probably the most terrifying adversaries he had ever faced in his life.

But now all of a sudden what he was facing was no more than a big gaping hole.

He could only walk away.

When he passed Wooden Taoist’s table, he suddenly paused and said, “How are you?”

Wooden Taoist was taken aback. He then laughed heartily and said, “Good, I am very good. I did not expect you to know me.”

“Have you seen Lu Xiaofeng?” Ximen Chuixue asked.

Wooden Taoist stopped laughing; he sighed and said, “I haven’t. Nobody has ever seen him.”

Ximen Chuixue let out a cold laugh.

Wooden Taoist changed the subject, “Are you going to Wudang?” he asked.

“No,” Ximen Chuixue replied.

“Why?” Wooden Taoist asked.

“Because I have sword,” Ximen Chuixue replied, “And Wudang has the Shedding-sword Rock.”

“You never want to part with your sword?” Wooden Taoist asked.

“That’s right,” Ximen Chuixue replied.

The big and tall, majestic looking old man suddenly let out a cold laugh and said, “You don’t dare to bring a sword up to Wudang?”

Ximen Chuixue replied coldly, “I only dare to kill. If you say another word, I am going to kill you!”

Nobody said another word.

Ximen Chuixue still had a sword in his hand.

He took his sword and headed down the stairs, and walked out without ever looking back.

Lu Xiaofeng was still bickering with the richly dressed old men, he did not even cast them a single glance.

The city center was still bright from the lanterns.

Watching him walking toward the brightly lit street, watching him walking far away, the big and tall, majestic looking old man sighed. “Is it true that there are only three people in the world who can take his forty-nine sword strikes?”

“It is,” Wooden Taoist replied.

“Nobody else can take his sword?” the old man asked.

“Nobody,” Wooden Taoist replied.

“Is he really unequalled under the heavens?” Gao Xingkong asked.

The big and tall old man suddenly laughed and said, “Maybe there is nobody who can take his sword, but there is somebody who can kill him!”

“Who?” Gao Xingkong and Yingyan Laoqi asked simultaneously.

The big and tall, majestic looking old man laughed. His laughter seemed very mysterious, as he said slowly, “As long as you have the patience to wait, sooner or later this person will appear.”

Conflict that occurs suddenly oftentimes also ends abruptly. Others seemed to be baffled by it, although in their hearts they have their own outlook.

As soon as Ximen Chuixue left, Lu Xiaofeng also walked away. Naturally the richly-dressed old men could not stop him. Everybody acted like all these things had never happened.

Right now Lu Xiaofeng was sitting comfortably in his carriage, and the carriage was beginning to move forward.

His ‘niece’, who was wearing emerald green colored light gown, who looked very attractive and cute, was sitting right in front of him. Although her face still had tears that have not dried out yet, there was no grief-stricken expression on it at all; instead, there was a hint of smile in her eyes, as if she found that all these things were quite amusing.

Lu Xiaofeng himself also appeared to be amused. He suddenly asked, “So, you are my niece?”

“Uh huh,” Xiao Cui said.

“Your Mama is my (younger) sister?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“Uh huh,” Xiao Cui said.

“And she is already dead?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“Uh huh,” Xiao Cui said.

“Are you going to take us to your home now?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“Uh huh,” Xiao Cui said.

“Who else is going to be at your house?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

Xiao Cui suddenly giggled, “Some people that I am sure you’ll like,” she said.

“How do you know what kind of people I like?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

Xiao Cui winked, “Naturally I know,” she said.

“How many people are ‘some’?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“Not a few,” Xiao Cui replied.

Her smile appeared to be very mysterious. Suddenly she stuck her head out the window and ordered the driver in loud voice, “Turn left on the alley just ahead, the third house on the right with red door.”

The alley was paved with dark green flagstones, with high walls on either side; inside the wall, the red apricot trees were just blooming. The color of springs was so thick that even the high walls could not contain it.

The red third door on the right was already open, over the door quite a few pink palace-style lanterns were hung.

As soon as Xiao Cui stepped over the door, she called out loudly, “Everybody, come out quickly, our Jiujiu is here.”

Before she even finished shouting, there were seventeen, eighteen girls thronged out into the courtyard. They were all young, and were as graceful and beautiful as swallows, and as noisy as sparrows, chirping ‘zhi zhi cha cha’ incessantly.

Which young girl did not like their (maternal) uncle? They swarmed toward Lu Xiaofeng, some pulled his hands, some tugged on his sleeves, everybody greeted him, “Jiujiu.”

Lu Xiaofeng was stunned again, “They are all my nieces?”

Xiao Cui nodded. “Don’t you like them?” she asked.

“I do,” Lu Xiaofeng could only admit, “I like every single one of them.”

Xiao Cui laughed, “I knew you’d like all of them,” she said.

Turning to the girls, Xiao Cui said, “You all must be a bit more careful, our Jiujiu is good in everything, it’s just that he is a bit dishonest; when he hugs you, he’d hug you so tight that you can’t even breathe.”

The girls’ laughter became even more endearing, their chatter became even more intense. “You have been hugged by him?” “Jiujiu is not fair, you hugged her, why don’t you hug me?” “I want to be hugged by Jiujiu too.” “Me too, me too …”

Lu Xiaofeng looked to the left with interest; he looked to the right with longing. In fact, he really wanted to reach to the left and embrace to the right.

Liu Qingqing was standing on the side, staring at him with cold eyes; she was thinking of a way to wake him up, to warn him so that this extreme joy would not turn into sorrow.

Who would have thought that Xiao Cui was moving faster than she? She already pulled Lu Xiaofeng’s hand and had him out of the girls.

“You called us out, telling Jiujiu is here, why did you take him away now?” the girls protested loudly, “He is not just your Jiujiu, you know.”

Lu Xiaofeng agreed instantly, “Since everybody here is my niece, I ought to spend time with them too.”

Xiao Cui ignored him, she kept pulling him toward the promenade at the back. Only then did she let him go, and then with a barely perceptible smile, she looked at him with the corner of her eye and said, “Looks like your wild schemes are really not small, those peasant girls are all as fierce as tigers; aren’t you afraid they might break your old bones?”

It was definitely not the way a niece would talk to her uncle. Who was she, actually? Why did she call Lu Xiaofeng her uncle? Why did she bring Lu Xiaofeng to this place?

Lu Xiaofeng blinked. He pretended ignorance, “So you want to be alone with me?”

Xiao Cui laughed. She giggled tenderly and said, “I don’t have such big guts, just now you nearly broke all my bones. If I am alone with you, won’t I be finished?”

“Sometimes I can be very gentle,” Lu Xiaofeng said, “Especially when there’s nobody else around.”

Xiao Cui sighed theatrically, “No wonder people call you an old wolf [i.e. lecher], even with your own niece you still have ideas.”

“Who said I am an old wolf?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“Someone did,” Xiao Cui replied.

“Who?” Lu Xiaofeng pressed.

“Naturally someone that you will also like,” Xiao Cui said, “I guarantee that as soon as you see him, you will forget everybody else.”

Lu Xiaofeng’s eyes brightened. “Where is he now?” he asked.

Xiao Cui pointed to a door at the end of the long corridor. “He is waiting for you inside that room,” she said, “He has been waiting for a long time, why don’t you go quickly?”

“What about you?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

Xiao Cui giggled tenderly again; she said, “I am the matchmaker who just delivered the letter; it’s not my job to bring anyone into the bridal chamber.”

[Translator’s note: it would be more exciting if Xiao Cui was saying ‘she’ and ‘her’, but one, in Chinese, ‘he’ and ‘she’ are of the same pronunciation, ‘ta’; two, in my source, the original Chinese text indicate masculine ‘he’, not feminine ‘she’. Besides, the ‘bridal chamber’ above can also be translated as ‘secret inner room’.]

Quite a few pink palace-style lanterns were also hanging along the corridor, the lanterns were gentler and softer than the moonlight. Surprisingly none of those peasant girls came after him; unexpectedly Liu Qingqing did not come after him either.

The door was plain.

He could hear nothing from behind the door, no noise, no voices.

— Who was waiting for him inside? Would there be a gentle and soft trap inside the door? Or would it be a deadly trap?

Lu Xiaofeng was hesitant. Xiao Cui gave him a push on his back, forcing him to enter the door.

The lantern inside was even gentler and softer, the embroidered curtain was drooping, the beads on the hanging curtain were flickering under the light. The atmosphere did indeed resemble that of a bridal chamber.

Now the groom has entered the chamber, but where was the bride?

There was no sound from behind the bed curtain either, as if there was no one in bed. But there were dishes arranged on the table, plus a pot of wine.

All the dishes were Lu Xiaofeng’s favorites; the wine was also his preferred drink, the Green Bamboo Leaf.

This person was undoubtedly someone who knew him; more than that, this person understood him very well.

— Could it be that Ye Ling had rushed ahead of him and was trying to scare him out of his wits?

— If not Ye Ling, who else would know that he was Lu Xiaofeng?

He tried to recall all the women he could think of, but he felt it couldn’t be any of them.

Therefore, he simply stopped thinking and just sat down to finish the dinner he started at the restaurant.

Suddenly there was a voice from behind the bed curtain. “There is no harm in you drinking to your heart’s content today; you may also have whoever you wish to accompany you drinking. There is also no harm even if you really get drunk tonight, because we have nothing going on tomorrow.”

Lu Xiaofeng sighed. All those ‘pink’ fantasies just now had all of a sudden turned into grey ones. Ash grey plain and simple clothing, ash grey plain and simple voice.

The voice of the Old Sabre Honcho.

Lu Xiaofeng sighed and said with a bitter smile, “Obviously there are many ways with which you could see me, but why did you choose to give me a vain hope?”

“Because what I am going to say to you, there is absolutely no second person who can hear it,” Old Sabre Honcho replied.

At last he appeared, wearing the same ash grey plain and simple clothes, the same deep-basket like bamboo rain hat, so that he looked completely out of place in this room.

Lu Xiaofeng could not even finish his drink. With a bitter laugh he said, “Aren’t you going to lambast me? [orig. ‘pour dogs blood on me’]”

“What you did just now was indeed very dangerous,” Old Sabre Honcho said, “If I did not prepare it well in advance, not only there is a good possibility that Wooden Taoist would recognize you, I am afraid Ximen Chuixue would also recognize you.”

Unexpectedly, the tone of his voice was very relaxed, “But that’s all in the past, on the whole it did not adversely affect our endeavor.”

Lu Xiaofeng could not resist asking, “You already know about all that happened just now? Were you there?”

“I wasn’t,” Old Sabre Honcho said, “But I know.”

Lu Xiaofeng sighed again, “The thing that I admire you the most is not because you know everything,” he said.

“So what do you admire the most?” Old Sabre Honcho asked.

Lu Xiaofeng said, “To my surprise, you could think about getting Wu Hu, Wu Bao, those old monks to drink wine with women. Just based on this fact alone, I don’t have any choice but to admire you.”

Acting like big boss, drinking with prostitutes, wearing fancy clothes, were actually the habit of those senior Shaolin monks in the olden days. Other than Old Sabre Honcho, who would have thought about this?

As a result, although Ximen Chuixue and the others might think that their martial art movements were suspicious, they would never suspect that those old men were Wu Hu brothers, who had died but came back to live.

After all, in Jianghu, there were so many talented individuals in the vicissitudes of life who mastered supreme feats, yet were deeply hidden away and were never spoken of by others.

Old Sabre Honcho said nonchalantly, “Exactly because nobody suspected anything that it did not adversely affect our endeavor.”

Lu Xiaofeng said, “But on the thirteenth of the fourth month, when they reappeared in Wudang …”

“By that time they will turn into Taoist priests from faraway place who go up Mount Wudang on pilgrimage,” Old Sabre Honcho said, “Nobody would pay them any attention.”

“What about me?” Lu Xiaofeng asked, “What will I turn to that day?”

“You will be a Taoist priest, a kitchen helper who will be able to come and go the main hall to serve the distinguished guests from everywhere,” Old Sabre Honcho replied.

“That will be a good assignment indeed,” Lu Xiaofeng said with a wry smile.

Old Sabre Honcho said, “That day Mount Wudang will be teeming with dignitaries, absolutely no one will pay any attention to a Taoist kitchen helper.”

“What is my real assignment?” Lu Xiaofeng asked, “Is it to deal with Shi Yan? Or Wooden Taoist?”

“Not at all,” Old Sabre Honcho replied, “I have already prepared other people to deal with them.”

“What about me then?” Lu Xiaofeng asked, “You have me come here, it can’t be for the sole purpose of serving those distinguished guests, can it?”

“Of course you have other things to do,” Old Sabre Honcho said, “In fact, the success or failure of this project is resting on your shoulders.”

Lu Xiaofeng could not help drinking a cup of wine. Thinking that such a heavy responsibility was resting on his shoulders, he could not help but drinking another cup of wine.

The fact was that he was a bit nervous.

Unexpectedly, Old Sabre Honcho also poured a cup of wine, which he sipped slowly before continuing, just as slowly, “What I want you to do is not to kill, I just want you get an account book for me.”

“Whose account book?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“Originally it belonged to Mei Zhenren,” Old Sabre Honcho replied, “After his death, it was passed on to Shi Yan.”

Lu Xiaofeng did not understand, “Those magnificent Wudang Sect Leaders, did they do their own bookkeeping?”

“Every single pen stroke was personally written by them,” Old Sabre Honcho confirmed.

Lu Xiaofeng tried to probe him further, “The account they are writing, naturally it’s not about firewood, rice, oil and salt [fig. life’s daily necessities], is it?”

“Of course not,” Old Sabre Honcho replied.

Lu Xiaofeng was more curious, “What is it about then?”

To his surprise, Old Sabre Honcho raised his cup and finished the wine in one gulp before replying in gloomy tone, “Written on it are the lives of hundreds and thousands of people!”

“Who are they?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

Old Sabre Honcho replied, “They are all people with status, famous people, wealthy people.”

Lu Xiaofeng was more confused than ever, “What do their lives have to do with Shi Yan’s account book?”

Old Sabre Honcho explained, “The things written on the account book are those people’s private businesses and secrets.”

“Shameful secrets?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

Old Sabre Honcho nodded. “If Shi Yan ever reveals these secrets to the public, not only henceforth those people cannot stand in Jianghu anymore, I am afraid they would have their reputation swept away immediately, and they would die without burial site!”

Lu Xiaofeng heaved a very deep sigh. “Magnificent Wudang Sect Leader ought not to blackmail anybody,” he said.

“They really shouldn’t,” Old Sabre Honcho coldly said, “Yet they clearly did.”

His voice was suddenly filled with grievance and hatred, “If not because they blackmailed people by holding on to their secret, how could Shi He destroy his own face on the eve of his inauguration as Wudang Sect Leader? Gu Feiyun, Gao Tao, Liu Qingqing, Zhong Wugu and the others; how could their secrets be publicly known?”

Lu Xiaofeng could not help exhaling. “Those secrets are revealed by Mei Zhenren and Shi Yan,” he said.

Old Sabre Honcho hatefully said, “Because they failed to blackmail these people, they forced these people to their death; even if that individual has washed his heart and renewed his face, and wanted to make a fresh start, they did not want to give him the opportunity.”

“But you gave them the opportunity,” Lu Xiaofeng said.

“I only give them one chance,” Old Sabre Honcho said, “Not an opportunity.”

“What’s the difference?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“They want to make a fresh start, not to be dead,” Old Sabre Honcho replied.

— What’s the difference between living in the Mansion of Spirits and being dead?

— Only by destroying that account book would those people really have the opportunity of making a fresh start.

Old Sabre Honcho clenched both fists and said, “This is the main objective of this operation. We can only succeed, we must not fail!”

‘Crack!’ the wine cup in his hand was crushed, a streak of blood flowed out from between his fingers.

Looking at the bright red blood, Lu Xiaofeng suddenly became silent.

Because in his heart he was asking himself …

Was Old Sabre Honcho doing the right thing?

If he was, should a righteous man help him accomplish his goal with all his might?

Wudang was a famous orthodox school, Mei Zhenren and Shi Yan have always been respected by others; he had never doubted their integrity.

But now he had to reconsider everything.

Old Sabre Honcho fixed his gaze on him, as if he was able to penetrate the deepest thought in his heart.

Actually, what was in Lu Xiaofeng’s mind? Who would know?

Old Sabre Honcho slowly said, “I understand very well, if you don’t really want to do something, nobody can force you. That’s the reason I wanted you to know the truth of the matter.”

Lu Xiaofeng suddenly asked, “If your intention is to save lives, why must you kill?”

Old Sabre Honcho replied, “Those I want to kill are people who must be killed!”

Lu Xiaofeng said, “Wang Shidai, Gao Xingkong, Shuishang Fei, these men have to be killed?”

With a cold laugh Old Sabre Honcho replied, “Let me ask you, just relying on Mei Zhenren and Shi Yan’s disciples and trusted aides, would they be able to find out that many secrets?”

Lu Xiaofeng said, “Are you saying that those people you want to kill are their spies?”

Old Sabre Honcho nodded. “Because these people also have secrets, so they are also under their grip,” he said.

Lu Xiaofeng also clenched his fists. Finally he asked, “So where’s the book?”

“It’s hidden inside the Taoist crown that Shi Yan is wearing,” Old Sabre Honcho replied.

Lu Xiaofeng’s heart sank.

When he was young, Shi Yan of Wudang already had reputation as top swordsman in Jianghu. For the past few years he had trained hard that his skill has progressed tremendously. Although very seldom did he personally fight, it was estimated that his sword skill was already above Wooden Taoist’s.

The three people Ximen Chuixue mentioned, he was undoubtedly one of those three.

The Taoist crown of Wudang Sect Leader, not only it was the symbol of Wudang’s honor, it was also a priceless treasure, not to mention such a great secret was hidden inside the Taoist crown?

“I also realize that taking the crown from his head is not an easy matter at all,” Old Sabre Honcho continued, “In fact, it is a lot more than ‘not easy’; it is practically more difficult than ascending the heaven to pick the moon.”

“Why do we have to make our move while he is wearing the crown on his head?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“Because it is our only chance,” Old Sabre Honcho replied.

He had a very good reason, “Because other than he himself, nobody else knows where he usually hides the Taoist crown.”

Lu Xiaofeng heaved a very deep sigh, “I don’t think I can do it,” he said.

On that day, the main hall of Wudang Monastery would be brightly lit, martial art experts would be as abundant as the cloud. Snatching the Taoist crown from Wudang Sect Leader Zhenren’s head under the stares of those people, who could possibly accomplish that?

Old Sabre Honcho said, “Only you, you can do it!”

Lu Xiaofeng said, “Let’s say I can snatch it off, there is absolutely no way I can escape with it under those people’s stare.”

“Not under those people’s stare,” Old Sabre Honcho said, “When you are making your move, nobody will be able to see you.”

“Why can’t they see me?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

Old Sabre Honcho replied, “Because at that time all seventy-two altar lamps, inside and outside the main hall, will be extinguished at the same time.”

— When the oil in the lamp is dry, naturally the lamp will be extinguished.

“We have conducted the experiment at least 800 times,” Old Sabre Honcho said, “We calculated that if the lamp only have one tael and three qian [1 tael ~ 50g, 1 qian = 1/10 of a tael], it will run out of oil right when he is announcing his successor. Our mole in Wudang will make sure that every lamp will only have one tael and three qian that night.”

It was a well-thought plan indeed. “But there must be some lit candles in the main hall.”

“Hua Kui is responsible for that,” Old Sabre Honcho said, “Nobody can surpass his secret projectile skill ‘Rain of Flowers Filling the Sky’.”

Looked like the plan was almost flawless.

When the lanterns went out, the main hall would be in total darkness, everybody must be thrown into confusion, in that moment, Lu Xiaofeng would make his move to snatch the Taoist crown, Shi He would kill Shi Yan, Wu Hu brothers would kill Tie Jian, Cousin killed Priest Xiao Gu, Housekeeper killed Yingyan Laoqi, Hai Qikuo killed Shuishang Fei, Guan Tianwu killed Gao Xingkong, Du Tiexin killed Wang Shidai!

Old Sabre Honcho said, “Whether they will succeed or not, by the time the lanterns are lighted again, they will have to withdraw.”

Just one strike, and then withdraw immediately!

“Same thing with you,” Old Sabre Honcho continued, “If you fail to get the Taoist crown, you must leave immediately. Because in that kind of situation, there won’t be any second chance for anybody.”

He added an explanation, “Whether you succeed or not, you must immediately withdraw to this place. Because when the lamps are lighted, everybody will definitely try to look after their injured colleagues and fellow disciples of their schools; nobody will pay any attention if there are a few people less in the main hall, hence even less chance they will pursue you.”

Not to mention at that time there would not be anybody who knew how this thing happened!

Lu Xiaofeng could not refrain from letting out a long sigh. “I admire you!” he said.

In all his life, he had been involved in many conspiracies, so many that he lost track; yet absolutely none of those plots could match this one.

This plan was almost completely foolproof.

But he still had several questions to ask, “Why don’t we kill Shi Yan first, and then take the Taoist crown from his head?”

Old Sabre Honcho said, “Because we don’t have any confidence that we will succeed in one strike!”

This plan simply had to succeed, failure was not an option! To plan this, he had indeed used up his life’s heart and blood.

Lu Xiaofeng asked again, “If you didn’t have me, who would do my job?”

“Ye Xue!” Old Sabre Honcho replied.

Lu Xiaofeng forced a laugh, “Why her?” he asked.

Old Sabre Honcho said, “Her qinggong is extremely high, plus she was born with a pair of night eyes. If Shi Yan is caught by surprise, she has at least seventy-percent chance of success.”

He suddenly reached out and gripped Lu Xiaofeng’s hand, “But you have ninety-percent chance of success, I can even say that your chance is more than ninety-percent. I know that you also have the skill to see clearly the downy feather of autumn[2] in the dark. Plus you have a pair of hands that is unequalled in the world!”

The way he held Lu Xiaofeng’s hands was like he was holding priceless treasure.

Yet Lu Xiaofeng took this opportunity to examine Old Sabre Honcho’s hands.

His hands were slim, steady, and dry. His fingers were long and powerful. If this hand was holding a suitable sword, could this hand be more terrifying than Ximen Chuixue’s hand?

Who was he, actually?

If right now Lu Xiaofeng flipped his hand and grabbed the main artery in his wrist, and then snatched away the bamboo rain hat from his head, he would immediately find out who he really was.

Although the chance was indeed slim, at least he ought to try.

But Lu Xiaofeng did not try.

This had made him so angry with himself; he suddenly asked in a loud voice, “Don’t you even care if she is dead or alive?”

“Who are you talking about?” Old Sabre Honcho asked.

“You daughter, Ye Xue,” Lu Xiaofeng replied.

“Even if I care, it’s no use,” Old Sabre Honcho said matter-of-factly, “Why bother thinking about it?”

Lu Xiaofeng said, “Do you know that after her death, her mother was still …”

Immediately Old Sabre Honcho cut him off, with a blade-like stare he glowered at Lu Xiaofeng from behind the bamboo rain hat, “You can ask me to do anything for you, but from now on you must never mention this woman in front of me.”

— Why?

— Third Mistress Shen was Ye Lingfeng’s wife, but she bore him a daughter; the one she offended was Ye Lingfeng, it was not him at all.

— Why did he hate her like that?

Lu Xiaofeng did not get it. He pondered for a long time, but he still did not get it.

Old Sabre Honcho quickly suppressed his anger, “Nothing is planned during the day tomorrow, whatever you want to do is fine. Before dawn the day after tomorrow, I will make arrangement for you to go to Wudang.”

He stood up, apparently he was ready to end the discussion, “The priest in charge of burning incense in the monastery over there is Peng Changjing, when you get to the back of the mountain, he will be able to help you with anything you need.”

“And then what?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“And then you only have to wait there,” Old Sabre Honcho replied.

“Waiting for the lamps to go out?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“That’s right,” Old Sabre Honcho replied, “Waiting for the lamps to go out.”

He walked out. But then he looked back, “Starting from now, you will move alone, there is no need to make any contact with anyone, and there won’t be anybody contacting you either.”

With a bitter smile Lu Xiaofeng said, “Starting from now, I can’t even see my wife and son.”

“But you won’t be lonely,” Old Sabre Honcho said, “You still have a lot of nieces.”

[1] Three great vanities: It is a Chinese idiom that implies a penalty for losing a bet – 3 cups of wine. There is a long story behind the words 大白 being related to wine drinking.
My rough translation: “One should not listen to the advice (or words) of a woman heedlessly; if you so much as to listen to only one word, you should punish yourself with 3 cups of wine.” (Courtesy of Lu DongBin)

[2] An idiom form Mencius, meaning ‘sensitive to the finest detail’ or ‘distinguishing right and wrong with acuity’.

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