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Phantoms’ Mountain Manor Chapter 16


Chapter 16 – To be one step ahead of the opponent

The last one descending the stone steps was not Ximen Chuixue at all, it was Wooden Taoist. He was the actual person who entered last; obviously Old Sabre Honcho did not expect anybody else behind Shi Yan. The mantis stalks the cicada, unaware of the oriole behind [idiom from Taoist classic Zhuangzi]; indeed there are many things in the world just like that.

Lu Xiaofeng did not seem to think that he would come either; he looked at him in shock, and then he turned his gaze toward the Old Sabre Honcho, who was lying in a pool of blood. Suddenly he asked, “Why did you kill him? Why didn’t you leave him alive to get information from him?”

“We already found out his secret,” Wooden Taoist replied, “Even if we asked again, we won’t get anything more. Although my hand was a bit too heavy, we definitely got rid of future trouble.”

“But we have not seen his true identity,” Lu Xiaofeng objected.

Wooden Taoist chuckled and said, “After he died, we can still see his true identity.”

Lu Xiaofeng was taken aback, and then he laughed, “The past few days I am indeed too tired; my head is also so tired that I cannot even think.”

Wooden Taoist laughed and said, “There are times when we all cannot think. What I am afraid of is having no head with which to think.”

— When anybody dies, his true identity can still be seen.

— What we are afraid of is if the dead man has no face to be seen.

Lu Xiaofeng turned Old Sabre Honcho over to look at his face. He was stunned again.

Because what he saw was a head without a face. The black holes where the eyes were carried an indescribeable mockery, as if he was saying, “No one will ever see my face again, never …”

Everybody was stunned, even Liu Qingqing was stunned.

Shi Yan let out a long breath; he said, “Although he has no face, I still recognize him.”

“Of course you recognize him,” Wooden Taoist said, “I recognize him too.”

He looked up. In that instant, he seemed to be aging a lot, “This man was our School’s renegade, Shi He.”

“Wrong,” Lu Xiaofeng said, “Not Shi He.”

His voice was firm and full of confidence; he seemed to be very sure of what he had just said.

If he was not, he would not say it in front of these people in that room.

It was an elegant and quiet study room, located in a very secure and secret place.

Anybody who wished to enter this study room must go through seven tightly guarded doors.

Nearly every one of the men who guarded the room was a top-ranking Wulin expert, they consisted of the most outstanding disciples of Wudang, Shaolin, Yandang, and Mount Ba schools, plus several most astute, capable and experienced helm-masters of the Yangtze River’s Water Fort and the Twelve-dock Alliance.

Without these people’s permission, absolutely no one could burst into the room.

Even the news of their presence in the building was a completely guarded information.

They called this place ‘the Eagle’s Nest’. The plan to deal with ‘the Mansion of Spirits’ this time was decided just three months ago in this ‘Eagle’s Nest’.

It was a top secret plan.

The first step of the plan was to convince Ximen Chuixue to create a conflict and hatred between he and Lu Xiaofeng, so that Jianghu people would think that he simply must kill Lu Xiaofeng.

It was not an easy task, Ximen Chuixue was not a man who could be easily persuaded.

Who would have thought that this time Ximen Chuixue did not refuse at all? Obviously he thought that hunting and killing Lu Xiaofeng would be interesting. His only condition was …

“You must run away for real, because I am going to pursue you for real too. If I overtake you, I might kill you for real.”

Therefore, when he was running away, Lu Xiaofeng was running in cold sweat all the time.

The second step of the plan was to arrange Lu Xiaofeng’s escape route; he must ‘unintentionally’ make contact with people from the ‘Mansion of Spirits’, and he must not be suspected at all.

During his flight, he still had to cope with all difficulties on his own, and must not make any contact with anybody else.

Whether Lu Xiaofeng could really sneak into the Mansion of Spirits, they did not have any confidence at all.

But he was willing to take this risk.

Actually, they had learned about this Mansion of Spirits organization for quite some time, but all along they failed to grab the least bit of clue. Except that from the mouth of a dying stranger they learned that this organization was going to do some earth-shattering thing very soon.

So they did not have any choice but to start their own operation.

Because they found out that this dying stranger was the real Gu Feiyun, who was supposed to die under Ximen Chuixue’s sword many years ago.

He escaped from the Mansion of Spirits, and was forced by Shi He to jump into ten-thousand zhang deep ravine. Although luckily he did not die, both his legs were broken. Relying only on his pair of hands and a strong will, he crawled out of the valley for five days and four nights, before by chance he met a Taoist priest who was out to gather herbs deep in the mountains.

The Taoist priest happened to be a Wudang disciple. Gu Feiyun managed to live to tell the Mansion of Spirits’ secret. Too bad his knowledge was really limited, plus he was at his last breath.

Therefore, Lu Xiaofeng had already known from the start that ‘Cousin’ was not Gu Feiyun.

Actually, Shi Yan of Wudang was the initiator of this plan. The first person he looked for was precisely Lu Xiaofeng.

— If there was one person in the world able to accomplish this arduous task, that person was, without a doubt, Lu Xiaofeng.

But Lu Xiaofeng also realized that relying on his strength alone, he would definitely fail. Hence he insisted on getting a few good men to help him. And he believed that among these few, he simply could not lack Sikong Zhaixing.

To convince Sikong Zhaixing was more difficult than persuading Ximen Chuixue. Luckily he had a weakness.

He loved to bet. Especially betting against Lu Xiaofeng; he did not care what it was that he was betting, as long as it was against Lu Xiaofeng.

So Lu Xiaofeng told him, “If I fail, you must dig earthworms for me.”

By the time Sikong Zhaixing realized it was a trap, it was already too late. Hence, in order not to lose, he simply must help Lu Xiaofeng to succeed with all his might.

He had always been a man of his word.

But he also insisted to have another helper that they must not go without; he wanted Lu Xiaofeng to find Hua Manlou for him.

Nobody could surpass Hua Manlou’s meticulous thought; maybe exactly because he could not see that he spent more time in thought than anyone else.

The original plan was for the four of them to reach decision in the ‘Eagle’s nest’.

But four people’s power was naturally still not enough; therefore, they pulled in six more people.

They were Tie Jian of Shaolin, Wang Shidai of Beggar Clan, Shuishang Fei of Yangtze River, Gao Xingkong of Yandang, Xiao Gu of Mount Ba, and Yingyan Laoqi of the Twelve-dock Alliance.

Because each one of all these six people had a disciple of their school in the Mansion of Spirits.

Their territories also happened to be spread out between Mansion of Spirits and Wudang.

But the most important factor was that they all men who absolutely guarded their mouth like a closed bottle, they would never leak the secret of this operation to anybody.

From the outside, this building was a very ordinary-looking two-story building in the downtown area. It was bought using the name of a helm master under Yingyan Laoqi’s command. The three storefronts downstairs were used to open a drugstore, a wine shop, and a coffin shop.

The three shops’ proprietors were naturally the most loyal, as well as capable and experienced, disciples of their schools.

The number of people who were privy of this plan was only ten. The rest of the people merely took orders from these ten.

Right now, out of ten people, eight were present.

Lu Xiaofeng looked at them, and repeated what he just said with a renewed emphasis, “Not Shi He. Definitely not him.”

Shi Yan was not present, apparently his illness was serious. The only other person who had seen Shi He was Tie Jian.

That day when Wudang was about to inaugurate a new sect leader, when Shi He destroyed his own face, this senior monk from Shaolin was also present.

He had seen this ‘face without a face’. Anybody who had seen it once will never forget.

Therefore, he objected, “I have seen his face, I am absolutely sure that he was Shi He.”

“The one died under Wooden Taoist’s hand was of course Shi He,” Lu Xiaofeng said, “But Shi He was not Old Sabre Honcho. Absolutely not.”

“How can you be so sure?” Sikong Zhaixing asked.

“Because I know who Old Sabre Honcho really is,” Lu Xiaofeng replied.

“Who?” Sikong Zhaixing asked.

“Wooden Taoist,” Lu Xiaofeng replied.

Sikong Zhaixing was shocked, and so was everyone else there.

After a long time, Tie Jian slowly shook his head and said, “No, it can’t be him.”

“Why?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

Tie Jian replied, “Many years ago he could have become Wudang Sect Leader, but he gave the Sect Leader position to his Shidi [martial (younger) brother] Mei Zhenren. From this, it can be seen that he did not regard fame and profit, power and position as important at all; how could he do such thing?”

“At first I did not believe it either,” Lu Xiaofeng said, “At first I also wanted to pull him into the Eagle’s nest.”

“Coud it be that someone opposed?” Tie Jian asked.

Lu Xiaofeng nodded. “Shi Yan opposed,” he said, “Hua Manlou also disapproved.”

“Why?” Tie Jian asked.

This time he asked Hua Manlou.

Hua Manlou hesitated, and then he said slowly, “At that time I did not suspect him at all, I just felt that he was too close to Ancient Pine Hermit; it would be very difficult for him to keep secret from Ancient Pine.”

“Did you suspect Ancient Pine?” Tie Jian asked.

Hua Manlou said, “His martial art skill is extremely high, but about his school and family history, there has never been anybody with any knowledge of it.”

“He is a hermit,” Tie Jian said, “Hermits are usually like that.”

Hua Manlou said, “Before becoming a hermit, one ought to have a past, but he did not. It was as if as soon as he was born he has already become a hermit.”

“Why did Shi Yan oppose Wooden Taoist?” Tie Jian hesitantly asked.

“Because he knew that Wooden Taoist did not yield to Mei Zhenren willingly,” Lu Xiaofeng replied.

Tie Jian frowned, “Could it be that he was just like Shi He, that he did something contrary to the religious rules and hence was forced to step aside?”

“Probably yes,” Lu Xiaofeng said.

“What did he do?” Tie Jian asked.

“Shi Yan refused to say,” Lu Xiaofeng replied.

Family shames must not be spread abroad; no matter what, Wooden Taoist was his martial uncle, plus he was an elder of Wudang, one of the few great Wudang disiples.

Lu Xiaofeng continued, “Although Shi Yan is unwilling to explain, but now I can guess more or less what had happened.”

Xiao Gu of Mount Ba could not resist asking, “What did Wooden Taoist do in the past that was contrary to the religious rules?”

Lu Xiaofeng said, “Not only he took a wife on the outside, he also sire a child.”

Tie Jian’s countenance fell; he said, “Hearsay must not be trusted. This matter concerns his reputation and integrity, it must not be easily trusted even more, and must not be easily spoken out either.”

“Yes,” Lu Xiaofeng said.

“But since he already spoke out, he must be sure of it,” Sikong Zhaixing interrupted.

“Not only he must be sure, he must have evidence,” Tie Jian said.

Lu Xiaofeng did not have any evidence.

But his analysis and conclusion, even Grand Master Tie Jian could not not admit that it made a lot of sense.

— Third Mistress Shen was Ye Lingfeng’s wife, yet she gave birth to Old Sabre Honcho’s daughter. The one she let down was Ye Lingfeng, not Old Sabre Honcho at all; why did he hate her instead? Moreover, he murdered Ye Lingfeng.

Because Old Sabre Honcho was Wooden Taoist, he was the (older male) cousin of Third Mistress Shen, but also Third Mistress Shen’s real husband.

Lu Xiaofeng said, “At that time Wooden Taoist was at the prime of his life, Third Mistress Shen was also a budding beauty …”

In front of Grand Master Tie Jian, he spoke in a very reserved manner, but his meaning was very clear.

No doubt there was an affair happening between these two [maternal] cousins. But at that time Wooden Taoist was already a prominent Wudang disciple, naturally he could not become husband and wife with her formally and openly.

“Hence he came up with a substituting scheme [orig. the plum tree withers in place of the peach tree], he had Third Mistress Shen marry Ye Lingfeng, and had Ye Lingfeng be the father of his child.”

“Why did he pick Ye Lingfeng?”

“Because Ye Lingfeng had trained swordsmanship in Wudang; moreover, it was he who personally trained him. In order to repay the master’s benevolence, the disciple naturally cannot refuse to sacrifice himself.”

But then Wooden Taoist grew old, plus he wandered outside all year long, Third Mistress Shen had nothing to do and was lonely, hence the pretense had turned into reality, she had an affair with Ye Lingfeng.

When Wooden Taoist discovered that she had given birth to a daughter, whom she was not supposed to have, plus he discovered that they were having an affair, it was only natural that he hated them to the bone.

“But he hated Wudang even more, because his disciple Shi He had also suffered similar fate, i.e. he was forced to give up the Sect Leader position.”

Originally he put his hope on Shi He, but now all hopes had become a pie in the sky. Therefore, he could only take one path.

‘Revenge’ and ‘power’; either one of these two things was enough to make people go with total abandon, disregarding risk and danger, by hook or by crook, to accomplish it.

“But this is not enough proof that Wooden Taoist is Old Sabre Honcho.”

“I can still enumerate several facts as a proof.”

When the ceremony was in progress, only he could stay and come close to Shi Yan, and only he knew the secret inside the sword hilt.

“There’s great possibility that the secret is concerning why he was forced to step down that year, hence the reason he was determined to get it.”

Concerning Wudang’s internal situation, only he was most familiar with it; hence he was able to arrange safe passage for the people to retreat after the operation was completed. Moreover, he had the authority to keep the crowd of heroes inside the main hall, so that even if they wanted to pursue, they simply were not able to.

Changjing and Changqing were both disciples under his direct supervision, only he could buy them.

Shi He had always been reclusive and arrogant, again, only he would be able to control him.

Although these several points were no more than just speculation, but they were enough to be strung together into clues.

What’s more, Lu Xiaofeng still hold an important link in his hands, “Although I have already known that Cousin is not Gu Feiyun, but all along I was not able to figure out his true identity.”

Tie Jian could not help asking, “And now you have figured it out?”

Lu Xiaofeng nodded, “Cousin is Ancient Pine.”

As soon as he said those words, everybody was stunned.

“For the past few years,” Lu Xiaofeng continued, “Wooden Taoist and Ancient Pine were as inseparable as form and shadow, they often wandered together and their whereabouts was uncertain; it’s because they often had to go back to the Mansion of Spirits.”

Xiao Gu of Mount Ba said, “In the big event at Wudang this time, everybody thought Ancient Pine would certainly come, but he just did not show up.”

“That’s because he has been imprisoned in the cellar of the Ye Family Mansion,” Lu Xiaofeng said.

“Do you have evidence to prove that he is Ancient Pine?” Tie Jian asked.

“I have seen his hands,” Lu Xiaofeng said, “His swordsmanship is not only very fine, it is also very profound; very close to Ancient Pine’s swordsmanship. His stature and facial features are even more similar to Ancient Pine’s. Just add a little beard, a few strands of grey hair, add a yellowish complexion, he would look exactly the same as Ancient Pine.”

Sikong Zhaixing said, “No wonder I always felt that Ancient Pine’s appearance is a little mystifying, turns out he never really reveal his true colors to the public.”

Tie Jian was deep in thought. He suddenly said, “There is one hole in your arguments.”

“Which one?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

Tie Jian said, “If Wooden Taoist is really Old Sabre Honcho, why didn’t he keep his promise to meet up with you all at the House of Blues?”

Lu Xiaofeng sighed and said, “It’s because he knew that things had changed, somebody has leaked our secret.”

“Who leaked our secret?” Tie Jian asked.

Lu Xiaofeng let out a bitter laugh, “Without a doubt it’s that extra man who came from the empty sky.”

The extra man was, naturally, that big, tall, majestic looking old man.

Lu Xiaofeng said, “This matter is an absolute secret that is known only to the ten of us, why did you all bring an extra person in?”

Xiao Gu of Mount Ba asked him back, “Do you know who that man is?”

Lu Xiaofeng did not know.

Xiao Gu of Mount Ba said, “Do you know that I have a martial uncle, the Cave Master of the Thirty-Six Caves of Miao [ethnic group of southwest China] Mountain at the edge of Yunnan? He is also a hereditary tribal chieftain of Miao people.”

Lu Xiaofeng suddenly sprang up. “Are you talking about Long Meng the flying lion?” [Other than a surname, ‘long’ also means dragon, while ‘meng’ means fierce or ferocious.]

Xiao Gu of Mount Ba smiled and said, “He has not set foot on the Central Plains for a long time, no wonder even you did not recognize him.”

“And you let him in into our secret?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

Xiao Gu of Mount Ba said, “For generations he had been overseeing the southern sky, his nobility is comparable to kings and marquis[1]; in terms of wealth, honor and glory, no one in Jianghu could surpass him. You think he would betray us? He would leak our secret?”

Lu Xiaofeng closed his mouth.

But he finally remembered who this man was; he also remembered why he always had a feeling that he had seen this man somewhere before.

He suddenly felt his mouth tasted sour and bitter, as if he had just eaten a big pot of rotten meat.

Tie Jian said, “Now we only have one way to prove whether your theory is correct.”

“Which way?” Xiao Gu of Mount Ba asked.

Tie Jian said, “Ask Shi Yan to tell us the secret in the sword hilt.”

Everybody agreed. “If Wooden Taoist really stepped down because of his affair with Third Mistress Shen, it would also be the proof that he is Old Sabre Honcho.”

Tie Jian said, “Even if Shi Yan is reluctant to divulge his elder’s private business, under the circumstances, he cannot refuse to speak anymore.”

“Has he gone back to Wudang?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“He left before dawn,” Tie Jian replied.

“Isn’t Wooden Taoist still at Wudang?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

Tie Jian said, “We figured as well that there might be people who mean to harm him, hence we have Wang Shidai coming with him.”

Xiao Gu of Mount Ba said, “In that case, we must hurry to Wudang and ask him to explain everything clearly.”

Lu Xiaofeng sighed. He muttered as if he was talking to himself, “I just hope that we won’t be too late.”

Suddenly there was a voice outside answering him, “Now it is too late.”

Wang Shidai sat down first, wiped the perspiration from his face, caught his breath, and then slowly said, “Wudang’s thirteenth generation Sect Leader Shi Yan has passed away a moment before noon today, the fourteenth of the fourth month, at the age of forty-seven.”

Nobody moved, nobody talked.

Everyone’s heart sank. After a long time, someone asked, “How did he die?”

Wang Shidai said, “He had a chronic ailment, and it was very serious.”

“What was it?” Tie Jian asked.

Wang Shidai replied, “It was an infection in his liver. Wooden Taoist has already figured out that he only had about a hundred days left of his life.”

Lu Xiaofeng was emotionally touched. “So Wooden Taoist examined him?” he asked.

Wang Shidai said, “Wooden Taoist’s medical knowledge is quite profound, I also have a bit of medical expertise.”

Lu Xiaofeng asked, “In your opinion, did he really die because of his illness?”

“I have no doubt,” Wang Shidai replied.

Lu Xiaofeng slowly sat down again, he seemed to be unable to stand.

Tie Jian’s countenance looked very heavy as well, “Did he leave any last message, any will as for who would succeed him as Wudang Sect Leader?”

Wang Shidai said, “We originally thought that he would leave any posthumous writing, but found none.”

Tie Jian’s countenance looked even heavier.

He was well aware that according to Wudang’s bylaws, when the Sect Leader died due to particular accident and did not leave any will, the Sect Leader position would be assumed by the most senior person of the School.

And the most senior person in Wudang right now was Wooden Taoist.

Tie Jian heaved a long sigh. “I can’t believe that thirty years later, he can still become Wudang Sect Leader,” he said.

With a rueful smile Lu Xiaofeng responded, “I am afraid he had already expected it.”

In their hearts they all understood that without a definite proof, there was nothing they could do to him.

Wudang Sect Leader was not someone who could be easily offended.

Now that they did not even have the least bit of evidence, even if Wooden Taoist was indeed Old Sabre Honcho, they were powerless to deal with him.

Wang Shidai dejectedly said, “Even though Shi Yan himself knew that his days were numbered, he had never expected that things would happened so suddenly like this.”

“He did not even say anything before his death?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“He only said one sentence,” Wang Shidai replied.

“What did he say?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

Wang Shidai said, “He wanted me to tell you, your guess was not incorrect.”

Lu Xiaofeng suddenly sprang up, but then he slowly sat back down. “It’s no use,” he muttered, “Even if my guess was correct, it’s no use.”

He had asked Shi Yan whether Wooden Taoist was forced to step aside that year because of personal affair.

At that time Shi Yan did not answer. Now he gave his answer, but it was already too late.

The secret inside the sword hilt has, undoubtedly, fallen into the hands of Wooden Taoist, and they had no way of obtaining the evidence.

“Although your guess was not wrong, you did something wrong,” Tie Jian said.

“What did I do wrong?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

Tie Jian said, “Since you knew that someone was going to snatch the sword away, you shouldn’t let Shi Yan kept that secret inside the sword hilt.”

Lu Xiaofeng said, “We did what we did, because we wanted to lure him to keep the appointment at the House of Blues, so that we could unmask him there. If the secret in the sword hilt was not the original, he would have seen it right away and would be suspicious.”

He sighed again before continuing, “How could he know that at that time the secret has already leaked and he suddenly changed his mind?”

Tie Jian also sighed and said, “No matter who he is, he is really an extraordinary man. Although his plans failed and wiped over the floor, until the last minute he is not defeated yet.”

They all sat in silence, feeling very depressed.

Despite the ingenuity and the meticulous plan, they did not expect their operation to fail at the last moment.

“Are we really powerless against him right now?” Xiao Gu of Mount Ba asked no one in particular.

In an uncertain tone Lu Xiaofeng said slowly, “Perhaps I can still think of a way or two.”

“What is it?” Xiao Gu of Mount Ba asked.

“Isn’t your Shishu [martial uncle] still at Wudang?” Lu Xiaofeng asked him back.

“No, he isn’t,” Xiao Gu of Mount Ba replied.

“Do you know where he is?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

Xiao Gu of Mount Ba said, “All I know is the owner of Lucky Plaza is an old friend of his; he butchered a fat cow especially for him to gorge himself. He wouldn’t miss this kind of opportunity.” [Again, it’s a stretch, my tribute to my Singaporean readers. The original was ‘quan fu lou’, quan – complete, fu – happiness/luck, lou – two-story building.]

Lu Xiaofeng’s eyes brightened. “Does he like to eat meat?” he asked.

“Practically he cannot miss one day without eating meat,” Xiao Gu of Mount Ba replied.

“Does he eat a lot?” Lu Xiaofeng asked again.

“Like the devil,” Xiao Gu of Mount Ba replied.

Fourteenth day of the fourth month, afternoon.

A piece of red paper was pasted on the door of Lucky Plaza, “Closed for the day, private party with distinguished guest.”

Although it was closed for business, the door was not closed. As soon as he entered, he saw the big and tall, majestic looking Long Meng, Long the flying lion, eating an entire cow.

Three tables were put together, with a large cauldron full of meat sitting on top of it.

He did not like to eat his meat finely chopped or thinly sliced, or even garnished with anything. When he ate meat, he ate it a large chunk by a large chunk.

In such a big hall, there was only one waiter, who was standing afar off, to serve him. Even the owner was not there. When he ate meat, he did not like to be disturbed, he did not like to talk either.

But he did not ask anybody to stop Lu Xiaofeng.

Lu Xiaofeng strode over, dragged a chair, sat down in front of him, and said with a smile, “How are you?”

“Good,” Long Meng replied.

“I know you,” Lu Xiaofeng said.

“I also know you,” Long Meng replied, “You are Lu Xiaofeng.”

“But I don’t know Long Meng,” Lu Xiaofeng said, “I just know you.”

Long Meng laughed heartily, “Am I not Long Meng?”

Lu Xiaofeng said, “You are Tribal Chief Flying Lion, but aren’t you also the meat-eating General?”

Long Meng stopped laughing. His pair of big, round eyes shot arrows at Lu Xiaofeng.

Lu Xiaofeng continued, “General did not die at all, General still eats meat.”

“Meat is delicious,” Long Meng said.

Lu Xiaofeng said, “If Canine Master could disguise you as General, naturally he could also disguise other people the same way. Much less when people die, their appearance will be more or less the same.”

“How could General die?” Long Meng said.

“Because I came there,” Lu Xiaofeng said.

“You came and General had to die?” Long Meng asked.

Lu Xiaofeng said, “Because General mattered a great deal; other than Old Sabre Honcho, nobody else is allowed to see his real face. The earlier he died, the safer it would be.”

“That’s right,” Long Meng said, “Dead person is always the safest, no one would ever suspect a dead person.”

“Too bad lately dead people often came back alive,” Lu Xiaofeng said.

Long Meng held out a ladle of meat in front of him; suddenly he asked, “You eat meat?”

“Eat,” Lu Xiaofeng replied.

“Eat a lot?” Long Meng asked.

“Lots,” Lu Xiaofeng replied.

“Good, you eat!” Long Meng said.

He put a ladle of meat inside his mouth first, and then he handed over the wooden ladle to Lu Xiaofeng, “Quickly eat, eat a lot, meat is delicious.”

Lu Xiaofeng also scooped out a ladle of meat, “Meat is indeed delicious, extremely delicious; too bad sometimes it is so delicious that it really take someone’s life.” [Translator’s note: play of words here. The phrase I translated as ‘extremely’ was 要命 – yaoming, lit. wants (someone’s) life; it could also mean annoying, desperate, awful, terrible, etc. (See also Chapter 9)]?”

Long Meng said, “General eats meat, you also eat meat, everybody eats meat, those who eat meat are not necessarily General.”

Lu Xiaofeng concurred.

Long Meng’s eyes shone with some kind of weird expression. Suddenly he lowered his voice and said, “Therefore, you can never prove that I am General.” He roared in laughter, “Therefore, you can only eat meat.”

Lu Xiaofeng wanted to laugh, but he simply could not laugh.

He could only eat meat.

It was indeed a hearty meat stew, but he only took a bit, his countenance immediately changed.

Long Meng laughed and said, “Today you seem to eat slowly, you don’t eat much either.”

“How much did you eat?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“A lot,” Long Meng replied, “Extremely [‘yaoming’] a lot.” [See my note above.]

Lu Xiaofeng let out a bitter laugh and said, “I am afraid this time it will really take a life.”

“Whose life?” Long Meng asked.

“Yours,” Lu Xiaofeng replied.

His pressed the table lightly, his body flitted across the table, as fast as lightning he sealed the acupoints around Long Meng’s heart.

Too bad he forgot that there was a pot of meat in the middle. A ‘life-killing’ [yaoming] pot of meat.

General’s movement was also very fast. Suddenly he lifted this pot of meat, the meat soup splashed; it was still scalding hot.

Lu Xiaofeng only dodged sideways. “Sit down, don’t move!” he shouted.

Naturally Long Meng did not want to listen to him; his body leaped up, he wanted to flee outside.

Not only he did move, he moved very fast, very strenuous.

Hence the poison that had already been hiding inside his stomach and intestine immediately rushed toward his heart.

He fell instantly.

Lu Xiaofeng called out, “There is poison in the meat, as soon as you move …”

He did not continue, because he had seen that Long Meng could no longer hear him.

This pot of meat really took his life [again, yaoming].

When he went down, his face turned black; and as his face turned black, he had already turned into dead person.

The dead person was no longer Chief Flying Lion; he was not General either.

A dead person is a dead person.

Who cooked this pot of meat? Who was the owner of this place?

The waiter who was standing afar off was so scared that he stood there as if his feet were nailed to the floor. Lu Xiaofeng grabbed him and said, “Take me to the kitchen.”

The person cooking the meat ought to be in the kitchen.

But there was only meat in the kitchen; there was nobody there.

A large pot of meat was still cooking on the stove, a very large pot, like the one on Mount Wudang, the large pot that was used to cook a large amount of food. The pot was full with meat that has not been fully cooked.

Lu Xiaofeng’s countenance changed again; he could not help wanting to vomit.

He suddenly discovered a very terrifying thing.

— The meat was inside the pot; could it be that the cook was also inside the pot?

Right now from among those who could still bear witness to Lu Xiaofeng, quite probably only one person left.

It does not matter whether he was Cousin or Ancient Pine, Lu Xiaofeng only hoped that he was still alive.

Where was that man now? Luckily, only Lu Xiaofeng knew.

Naturally the basement of the Ye Family Manor was not the safest place. He had already moved them to a secret place where nobody would ever guess.

— The game was about to end, this was his last trump card. Naturally he wanted to leave himself a little secret.

Late spring afternoon, the sun was still shining brightly; he walked slowly along the long street, as if he did not have any purpose at all.

All kinds of shops lined up both sides of the street, all kinds of people were inside those shops. He could see them, and they could see him as well, but he did not know how many of those people were actually watching him in secret.

At the end of the street suddenly there was a carriage came galloping and almost knocked him down. There seemed to be someone in the carriage sticking out his head out of the window and gave him a quick glance, he seemed to have a pair of very bright eyes.

If he were able to take a closer look, he was sure he could recognize that person; unfortunately as he looked up, the carriage was already too far.

But even after he left this long street, he seemed to be thinking about those bright eyes still, so much so that he seemed to be troubled by it.

A hurried glance from a stranger, why did he let it troubled him and sent him on edge?

Could it be that the person was not a stranger at all?

He tried hard to chase this matter out of his mind. When he walked past a fruit stand at the corner of the street, he bought two pears. He gave one to a kid who was standing next to the fruit stand and was staring blankly at the distance, and slowly nibbled the one in his hand.

Right now he only wanted to grab Wooden Taoist’s fatal point, but didn’t Wooden Taoist also want to kill him right now?

The pot of meat just now, although he only had two bites, up to this moment he still felt his stomach was a bit unwell.

Luckily the dose of poison in the meat was not heavy at all. If the dose were too heavy, it would be easier to detect.

Long Meng was not a slow-witted man, it’s just that the amount of meat he ate was a bit too much.

Too much that it took his life! [yaoming]

If he also ate a few more pieces of the meat, by this time Wooden Taoist would not have to worry about anything anymore, he himself would not have to worry about anything either.

— The person behind that carriage window just now seemed to be a woman; the mouth of the horses pulling the carriage was foamy. It seemed like they have been traveling far, and in such haste.

— Who was she? Where did she come from?

Although Lu Xiaofeng was trying hard not to think about it, he just couldn’t keep this matter out of his mind.

He seemed to have a strange premonition in his heart, a feeling that this person was very important to him.

But the person who was really important to him right now was, naturally, not her; it was Ancient Pine.

When the lights went out that day, it was he who personally subdued him; and he had Hai Qikuo and Gao Tao imprisoned in the basement at the back.

Right now all the people who had come from the Mansion of Spirits have been imprisoned in that basement. The first day they went down the mountain, Lu Xiaofeng had already handed the drawing of these people’s appearance to the ‘waiter who took the dog out for a walk’. The people of the Eagle’s nest immediately sprang into action; they caught everybody in one net. And then Canine Master, Sikong Zhaixing and Wang Shidai had their own people disguised to assume their appearance.

Lu Xiaofeng was not overly concerned about their life or death; they would never know ‘Old Sabre Honcho’s’ true identity anyway, they were people who ought to be dead long ago anyway.

But what about ‘Cousin’?

Where did he send Cousin? How did he send him out? Practically he did not seem to have any opportunity to bring along such a big, living human being.

Lu Xiaofeng could not help chuckling at himself as he passed through an alley kitty-cornered from the street, leading back to the inn – the inn where they stayed when they first arrived in this town on the eleventh of the fourth month.

They unloaded their luggage first, arranged for a place for the carriage and horses, and then they went out for a drink. It was when they were having a drink that he met his niece, and was subsequently brought to the House of Blues. The horses and the carriage, as well as their luggage, were still in this inn. Even the driver whom they hired along the way was still waiting here for the money.

He seemed to have forgotten about it, and did not remember it until now.

After paying double, he still seemed to feel a bit bad; hence he instructed the driver to harness the horses, “The weather is so good today, I am thinking of taking a tour around this area. Why don’t you take me around for the last time, I’ll buy you a drink.”

The weather was indeed very good, the man driving the carriage, as well as the horses pulling the carriage, were in good spirit, they walked along the street with vigor.

Not only this town was on the road one must follow to go to Wudang, it was also the town closest to Mount Wudang. As soon as they left the downtown area, the scenery was fresh and green, the world-famous Mount Wudang seemed to be right in front of their eyes.

They stopped in a forest at the foot of the hill. Lu Xiaofeng suddenly remembered that they forgot to bring the wine.

“I promised to buy you a drink.” He gave the driver an ingot of silver, “Go buy some. Buy a bit more, you can have the rest.”

Naturally this place was quite far from the place that sold wine, but looking at the silver, the driver happily took the money and walked away.

By this time it was already late afternoon, the light of the setting sun filled the sky, the sunset glow was gorgeous. Under the setting sun, this famous Taoist mountain, the wonder place of the Wulin world, looked even more elegant, grand, and wonderful.

It’s just that there was no road going up the mountain from here, the Taoist monastery and scenic spots were far away. Therefore, no matter which direction he looked, he did not see a single person. Lu Xiaofeng suddenly crawled under the carriage.

There was nothing to see under the carriage, why did he crawl into it? Could it be he wanted to get some sleep under there?

But he did not close his eyes at all, instead, it looked like he was muttering to himself, “Going hungry for just two, three days, nobody will die of starvation; not to mention hermits usually don’t eat too much.”

But he did not seem to be mumbling to himself either. Could it be that there was someone else underneath the carriage?

Where is it?

He knocked the baseboard of the carriage, it sounded like the inside was empty. Turned out there was a space between the boards.

When government officials from the Capital announced old age and returned home, they usually brought quite a bit of things, naturally the big carriages they hired would be especially big. If the carriage had a storage room under the baseboard, naturally it would not be small either; putting a person inside would not be a very difficult thing to do.

That day at the Ye Family Mansion, before Liu Qingqing awoke and the others were busy with changing their appearance, he took ‘Cousin’ and hid him in here.

Although sealing his acupoint and stuffing him into this place was a bit cruel, Lu Xiaofeng thought that some people deserved to be treated like that for their crime.

“Although you have to suffer right now, but as long as you are willing to help me out, I guarantee that I won’t give you any trouble; you may continue being a hermit.”

He removed the wooden board covering the storage space. Someone fell from the inside.

A living person.

You do not need to check his pulse and breathing to know that the person was still alive.

Because as soon as he fell down, his whole body moved. Not only that, the changes of his movement were quite a lot.

After the person fell, another person fell from the inside, and then another.

Lu Xiaofeng was pretty sure he only hid one person inside, how could it suddenly become three?

All three people were alive, and all three people were moving. Their move was very fast, and the changes were a lot.

The space underneath the carriage was not big, the range of motion was even smaller. With Lu Xiaofeng alone in there, he already felt cramped, and now there were three more people crowding onto him.

His entire body was already unable to move, because these three people, like three octopuses, were pinning him down and were tightly wrapped themselves around him, while five hands simulatenously sealed his acupoints.

How could three people only have five hands? Was it because one of them only had one hand?

Could this one-handed man be Hai Qikuo?

Lu Xiaofeng could not even see their faces, because he was immediately lifted up and heavily thrown into the carriage, just like a dead fish was thrown into a deep fryer.

[1] Kings and marquis – referring to nobility rank in imperial China, namely Wang (king), Gong (duke), Hou (marquis), Bo (count), Zi (viscount) and Nan (baron).

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