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Phantoms’ Mountain Manor Chapter 4

CSI

Chapter 4 – Mansion of Spirits[1]

The sound came from a small wooden hut.

One must be very observant to pick out a small greyish-white wooden hut among all that fog-like clouds.

Lu Xiaofeng finally saw it – only the hut, but no person.

The moaning hadn’t stopped, and Lu Xiaofeng couldn’t help asking: “Are you hurt?”

“Not hurt, but dying soon.” It was a young lady’s voice: “Dying from your singing.”

“Since you’re here, you must be a dead person too, so what’s the harm in dying again?”

“Not even a living ghost can take your singing, what more dead people?”

Lu Xiaofeng roared with laughter.

From the hut, the voice asked again: “Do you know who saved you just now?”

“It was you?”

“That’s correct, it’s me.” Her laughter was very sweet. “My surname is Ye, I’m Ye Ling. Every one calls me Little Leaf[2].”

“Good name.”

“Your name isn’t too bad, but I don’t understand how a big man like you is called little phoenix?”

Lu Xiaofeng’s laughter became forced as he said: “My name is Lu Xiaofeng, not little phoenix.”

“What’s the difference?” Ye Ling asked.

“Phoenixes (feng huang) come in pairs – ‘feng’ refers to the male, while ‘huang’ refers to the female’.”

He crossed over slowly, but silence suddenly filled the hut. After a long while, he could hear Ye Ling sigh gently: “I’m just a little leaf and not part of a pair, don’t even know whether it’s male or female.”

Lu Xiaofeng said: “That you don’t have to worry. I only need to take one look at you to know whether you’re male or female.”

He thrust the door open suddenly and burst into the hut.

From the outside, this hut already seemed small and miserable, and it was like walking into a dove’s cage.

However, doves despite their size had everything necessary and this hut was no different. It had seemingly everything that could be found in other houses, even a golden night stool.

Lu Xiaofeng was not someone overly interested in night stools, but he noticed this one because when he walked in, this young lady dressed in red was sitting on it.

Neatly dressed and sitting on the night stool, she was gazing at Lu Xiaofeng with large black eyes.

Lu Xiaofeng could feel his face turning a little red.

No matter the circumstances, men should not force their way in when a girl is sitting on the night stool.

Still he’d come in and wouldn’t it be more embarrassing if he’d slipped out now?

Lu Xiaofeng decided to take the offensive and suddenly smiled. “Do you always sit on night stools to greet your visitors?”

Ye Ling shook her head primly. “I’d only do that in two situations.”

The first situation didn’t need elaborating, of course, but what about the other one?

Ye Ling said: “That’s when something is trying to wiggle out of the night stool.”

Lu Xiaofeng almost lost his smile.

Would there still be something wanting to get out of the night stool? Other than a horrible stench, what else could come out?

“Do you want to have a look at what’s inside?” Ye Ling asked.

Lu Xiaofeng shook his head immediately. “No.”

“You still have to look even if you don’t want to,” Ye Ling said.

“Why?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“Because everything in here is for you,” Ye Ling replied.

“Even if I don’t want them?”

“Of course.”

As he watched her stand up and lift the lid from the night stool, Lu Xiaofeng almost wanted to bolt out the door and flee.

He didn’t flee.

Not only was the smell from the night stool not horrible, it was rather fragrant.

Following the fragrant aroma were a pair of swallows and a pair of butterflies.

The swallows and butterflies flew out of the little window and Ye Ling, as though performing some magic tricks, retrieved a new set of attire from the night stool, a pair of soft socks, a small jar of wine, two wine cups, two pairs of chopsticks, a large earthen jar, a large spoon, four or five buns and a bouquet of fresh flowers.

Lu Xiaofeng was stunned.

Nobody could have imagined that so many things could be retrieved from a night stool.

Ye Ling said: “The swallows and butterflies are our welcome to you, the clothes and socks should fit you, the wine is vintage ‘zhuyeqing’[3], the earthen jar contains flavored braised chicken and the buns are freshly steamed.”

She raised her head and gazed at Lu Xiaofeng, continued lightly: “Do you like them?”

Lu Xiaofeng expelled a breath and replied: “I totally love them.”

“Do you want them?” she asked.

“If I don’t, I’m an idiot.”

Ye Ling smiled, like a flower, a candy, a little fox.

A fox that could harm or charm people.

Lu Xiaofeng looked at her and couldn’t help another sigh, said: “You’re female, definitely female.”

The flowers were just put in the vase, but the wine was already in Lu Xiaofeng’s tummy.

Little Leaf gazed at him pouring the cool ‘zhuyeqing’ down his throat as he would water, surprised and feeling that it was rather a waste. Suddenly she sighed and said: “There’s just something not quite right.”

Lu Xiaofeng didn’t understand.

Little Leaf explained: “Someone said that very few people can match your intelligence, martial arts, drinking ability, thick-skinned and lascivious nature.”

Lu Xiaofeng set down the empty wine jar and laughed. “Now you’ve seen my drinking ability.”

“I have seen your skills too,” Ye Ling said. “You didn’t fall off just now, I almost wanted to take my hat off you.”

“However, I’m not lascivious, so that’s wrong,” Lu Xiaofeng said.

“That’s not wrong,” Ye Ling said.

Lu Xiaofeng was angry. “Have I ever been improper towards you?”

“No, until now no,” Ye Ling said. “But when you look at me, your eyes…”

Lu Xiaofeng hurriedly cut her off: “What did you say was not quite right?”

Ye Ling chuckled. “You’re not very thick-skinned, you blush too.”

“Did you think I’ve never blushed in my life?” Lu Xiaofeng said. “Do you believe everything that person tells you?”

Ye Ling batted her eyelids and countered: “Do you know who said all that?”

“Who?”

“Old Sabre Honcho.”

This man, this name… why did it exert so much influence?

Lu Xiaofeng tried testing the waters: “He’s the leader around here?”

“Not only that, he’s our boss, our old man.”

“What’s he like?”

“A man who can make everyone willingly regard him as their old man, what kind of a person do you think he is?”

“I don’t know,” Lu Xiaofeng said. “I haven’t got anyone who wants to be my son, and I’ve never wanted to be someone else’s son.”

“You just want to know his name and background, that’s all,” Ye Ling said.

Lu Xiaofeng couldn’t deny. “Of course I want to know, desperately want to know.”

Ye Ling said coldly: “If you really want to know, it could cost you your life.”

Her expression became very stern. “If you want to live comfortably here, don’t ever sniff out anything about other people, or…”

“Or what?”

“Or you’d vanish, no matter how highly skilled you may be.”

“Vanish?”

“That means you suddenly disappear without a trace, and nobody knows where you’ve gone!”

“Do people around here disappear often?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“Frequently,” Ye Ling said.

Lu Xiaofeng sighed, gave a forced smile. “I thought this was a very safe and regulated place.”

“This place is regulated. In fact we have three main rules.”

“What are they?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“No checking out people’s pasts, no offending Old Sabre Honcho, and no disobeying his orders.”

“So whatever he wants me to do, I have to do it?”

Ye Ling nodded her head and said: “Even if he wants you to eat shit, you’ll have to eat it.”

Lu Xiaofeng’s smile was forced.

“Do you know why I wanted to come here and tell you all these?” Ye Ling asked again.

Lu Xiaofeng’s smile suddenly turned cheerful and said: “That’s because you like me.”

Ye Ling smiled too. “Looks like he wasn’t wrong after all. Your skin is so thick that even the tip of a spear couldn’t pierce through it.”

Her smile was more beautiful than a flower and sweeter than candy, as she continued lightly: “But if you break my rules, I will skin your face off and use it to make slippers for me.”

Lu Xiaofeng’s smile turned forced again and said: “You should at least let me know what sort of rules you have.”

“I only have two rules: don’t offend Big Leaf, and don’t let women into Lu Residence.”

“Who is Big Leaf?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“Big Leaf is Little Leaf’s sister, and Lu Residence is Lu Xiaofeng’s residence.”

“Where’s Lu Residence?”

“Right here,” Ye Ling said. “From now on, this is your home. You must sleep here at night and stay here quietly in the daytime. I will make spot-checks.”

Lu Xiaofeng was laughing again, but it sounded rather odd.

Ye Ling’s brows rose. “You’re laughing at me?”

“Not at you, just at myself.”

His laughter sounded not only strange, but a little grieved too, as he said: “I’ve lived thirty years, but this is the first time I have a home of my own, my own place…”

He didn’t continue, because Ye Ling had shut his mouth – used her own lips to shut his mouth.

Her lips were soft and icy cold.

Their lips had barely brushed each other’s before she suddenly aimed a punch at Lu Xiaofeng’s tummy.

Her punch was hard and heavy.

Lu Xiaofeng was almost bent double by the blow, but she merely gurgled with laughter before slipping out.

“Remember, don’t let any women in.” Her voice was already outside. “Especially not the Flower Widow.”

“And what kind of a person is the Flower Widow?”

“She’s not a person, but a female dog, a man-eating b!tch.”

Lu Xiaofeng had four eyebrows, but only two hands.

He used his left hand to massage his stomach, and his right to finger his lip – he didn’t know whether to cry or laugh.

He’d muddled through all this to find himself turned from a living person into a dead one, and now with a home to boot.

He still had his two legs, but he couldn’t go anywhere.

He was suddenly asleep and began dreaming soon after; he dreamt he was being enveloped by an icy cold giant leaf, then dreamt of a flower-covered b!tch crunching his bones, and he could hear the crunching sounds very distinctly.

Then he realized that there was indeed someone in the hut crunching bones.

Not his bones, but chicken bones.

And it wasn’t a b!tch sitting there chewing bones, but a person.

The moment Lu Xiaofeng came awake, this person was suddenly on the alert, just like the instinctive alertness of wild beasts.

He twisted his head and stared at Lu Xiaofeng, his eyes full of hostility.

But he was still gnawing at chicken bones.

Lu Xiaofeng had never seen anyone take such an interest in chicken bones, nor had he seen such a skinny person before.

In truth, the flesh on this person’s body would not be any more than the meat on the chicken bones he was chewing.

However, the clothes he wore were magnificent and he definitely didn’t look poor enough to have to resort to chewing chicken bones.

Lu Xiaofeng couldn’t resist probing a little. “Are you ill?” he asked.

“You’re the one who’s sick!”

This person spat out the bones in his mouth all over the floor, revealing a row of shiny white teeth as he glared at Lu Xiaofeng.

“What illness did you think I was suffering from? Hunger?”

“You aren’t hungry?”

“I eat three meals a day, sometimes supper too.”

“What do you eat?”

“I eat rice, noodles, meet, vegetables… whatever is edible, I will eat it.”

“So what did you eat today?”

“At noon, I had northern dishes, one was braised pork shanks, one was yellow lamb stew, one was Sanxian duck, one was fried tofu dumplings, one was prawns in black ginseng, one was five-plum pigeon, and another was a bowl of cucumber and meatball soup.”

Lu Xiaofeng laughed.

This person glared at him again. “You don’t believe me?”

“I’m merely curious why anyone would want to barge into another’s home to chew chicken bones.”

“Because I feel like it.”

Lu Xiaofeng laughed again. “If you like, you’re welcome to drop by whenever I have chicken bones here.”

There was however a hint of wariness on this person’s eyes as he said: “You welcome me here? Why?”

“That’s because this is the first time I have a home,” Lu Xiaofeng said. “You’re my new home’s first guest, and I like having friends.”

This person’s expression grew fiercer. “I am not your friend.”

“Maybe not now, but definitely in the future,” Lu Xiaofeng said.

This person was still glaring at him, but seemed to have calmed down somewhat.

It couldn’t be denied that Lu Xiaofeng was very good at making friends, and people generally liked him. Male or female, they were all the same.

Lu Xiaofeng had already sat up and suddenly gave a sigh and said: “It’s a pity there’s no more wine now, or I’d have a drink or two with you.”

This person’s eyes immediately shone. “There’s no wine here, but can’t you go outside and find some?”

“I haven’t been here for more than half a day,” Lu Xiaofeng said, “and I’m not familiar with the area. But I guarantee that within three days, I’d be able to find whatever you want to drink.”

This person gazed at him for a long while and finally expelled a breath, his whole body relaxing. “I’m a wandering soul and may barge anytime. You really don’t mind?”

“I don’t mind,” Lu Xiaofeng said. He really didn’t.

Often, he would drag friends out in the middle of the night to drink with him, and his friends didn’t mind either.

Every one knew that he would be only too happy if people came to find him in the middle of the night.

Darkness had fallen and the night breeze carried with it the sound of a bell.

“That’s the dinner bell.”

Lu Xiaofeng didn’t understand, so the Wandering Soul explained: “The dinner bell summons every one to the hall for dinner.”

“Every one must go?”

“Mm.”

“Every day?”

“About four or five days a month.”

“On what days?”

“On the first and fifteenth, during festivals, and when a famous person arrives here for the first day.”

He gave Lu Xiaofeng the once over and said: “You must be a famous person, don’t tell me you’re that Lu Xiaofeng with four eyebrows?”

Lu Xiaofeng offered a forced smile. “Unfortunately the Lu Xiaofeng now is no longer the Lu Xiaofeng of yesteryear.”

Wandering Soul looked about to speak but restrained himself. Suddenly he stood up. “There will be someone here soon to lead you to dinner, so I have to go. You’d best not tell anyone I have been by.”

Lu Xiaofeng didn’t ask why.

If someone had a favor to ask of him, he would not ask the reason so long as he was prepared to agree to it.

Just on that, he should have many friends.

Wandering Soul also seemed pleased on that score, then suddenly lowered his voice and said: “When you reach the hall tonight, they will try and scare you into submission.”

“Oh?”

“At least half the people here are loonies, and their only hobby is to torture people and watch others suffer. There are six or seven who are even more terrible.”

“Which seven?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

Wandering Soul said: “One is called Housekeeper, one is General, one is Cousin, one is Hook…”

He’d only said these four names before suddenly leaping out.

The hut’s window was very small, but he managed to shimmy out by grabbing the top ledge and inserting himself through.

It looked as though his qinggong was not only very high, he could shrink himself.

These two skills were exclusively Sikong Zhaixing’s areas of expertise, so how was he related to Sikong Zhaixing?

Lu Xiaofeng didn’t think further because he’d heard footsteps outside.

The footsteps were very light, and only animals with padded paws would be able to tread so lightly.

Only very highly-skilled veterans of the martial arts fraternity would be able to walk like such beasts.

Were there so many highly-skilled martial artists in the Mansion of Spirits?

Just when Lu Xiaofeng was still feeling shocked, he heard a knock on the door.

He really wanted to see who this person is and what he looked like. Immediately he went to open the door.

He was even more stunned.

The knocker was not a person, but really an animal with padded paws!

It was a dog!

A big black dog so shiny that he looked just like a leopard in the fading light.

But it wasn’t hostile to people, as long-term, strict training had already defused its animosity towards humans.

It wasn’t barking either, because it held a piece of paper in its mouth.

On the paper were these words: “Please follow me.”

This dog was here to lead Lu Xiaofeng to dinner.

Lu Xiaofeng laughed.

No matter what, being able to eat is always a pleasant thing, especially now when he was really craving for a sumptuous, delicious dinner.

“Braised pork shanks, yellow lamb stew, Sanxian duck…”

When he recalled the names of these lovely dishes Wandering Soul mentioned, he almost started salivating.

The dog was waving its tail at him and he patted its head, smiling. “You know, I’d rather you guide me around, because the dogs here are definitely more adorable than the humans.”

It was night but the fog had not dissipated. There were flickering lights in the distance, but they merely served to make the darkness even darker.

The dog was walking ahead with Lu Xiaofeng following. When his eyes finally adjusted to the darkness, he realized he was walking on a winding path.

On either side of the path were trees of varying types and some unknown flora.

In the daytime, this must have been a beautiful valley.

But who knows whether the sun’s rays would chance to shine here?

Lu Xiaofeng suddenly found that what he truly desired wasn’t a dish of red-hot braised pork shanks, but sunshine.

He had once been like the others, had once cursed the sunshine.

Whenever he perspired and panted under the blazing hot sun, he would feel the urge to curse the scorching rays.

But what he most wanted now was that kind of sunshine.

There are many things like that in this world, only when you lose them do you realize their value.

Lu Xiaofeng was sighing in his heart when he suddenly heard someone else sighing nearby, and a voice spoke: “Lu Xiaofeng, I knew you would come, I’ve been here waiting for you.”

This was the Mansion of Spirits and there were possibly many spirits lurking in the darkness. This voice sounded sinister and thready like a ghost’s.

Lu Xiaofeng’s palms began perspiring.

He was certain the voice was nearby, but he just couldn’t see anyone around.

“You can’t see me,” the voice began again. “When a vengeful ghost wants to take a life as repayment, it would never let itself be seen.”

“I owe you a life?” Lu Xiaofeng asked cautiously.

“Mm.”

“Whose life?”

“Mine.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m the Blue Beard who died at your hands.”

Lu Xiaofeng laughed uproariously.

When a person is truly fearful, he sometimes starts laughing for no rhyme or reason.

His laughter was loud but short.

He suddenly realized that it was not a human or ghost speaking, but the dog.

The dog, which had been walking in front of him, had turned its head and was staring at him with a pair of eyes that resembled dead fish.

“I’m the Blue Beard who died at your hands.”

How could a dog utter human speech?

Could Blue Beard’s ghost have possessed this dog?

No matter how brave Lu Xiaofeng might be, he still shivered. Just then, the dog lunged at him.

He made a grab for the dog’s front paw, but a hand snaked out from the dog’s stomach.

It was a human hand holding a knife; a raise of the hand and the knife flew out, aimed right at Lu Xiaofeng’s lower abdomen.

This was a complete surprise. How many could avoid such an attack?

At least one.

Lu Xiaofeng’s lower abdomen suddenly contracted as he stuck out two fingers and caught the blade neatly.

The dog, however, had somersaulted and backtracked ten meters, whereby it vanished into the darkness.

It was impossible to see anything in the darkness.

Lu Xiaofeng raised his head and gazed into the night, then looked down at the blade he held in his hand, a forced smile on his lips.

This was supposed to be a nightmare, but it wasn’t a dream.

In this dreamscape-like Mansion of Spirits, was any one thing a dream or reality? It was difficult to tell.

However, he had finally understood one thing: “The dogs here aren’t really more adorable than the people.”

Another voice floated over in the darkness: “So are you now finally willing to let a human guide you along?”

This time, he actually saw a person.

He saw Ye Ling.

In the foggy light, Ye Ling was still smiling sweetly.

“Now you should understand whether the people or dogs here are more adorable.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You still don’t?”

“I only know one thing,” Lu Xiaofeng said. “Sometimes the dogs here are people, and the people here are dogs.”

The Flower Widow might not be a real b!tch, but that black dog was a human.

Lu Xiaofeng continued: “Although few in the martial arts world are willing to be dogs, there is only one who can actually do it to a T.”

“You know who that is?” Ye Ling asked.

“Mister Dog.”

“You already knew?”

Lu Xiaofeng laughed and said: “I at least know that Blue Beard did not die by my hand. He knew that too, so even if he turned into a vengeful ghost, he wouldn’t come after me.”

Ye Ling laughed, batting her eyelids. “Even if vengeful ghosts don’t come after you, hungry ones would.”

“Hungry ghosts?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“That means the people who will die of hunger while waiting for you to turn up for dinner,” Ye Ling said. “If you don’t hurry over, there will be thirty-seven hungry ghosts tonight.”

“Even if I don’t go, there will only be one hungry ghost.”

“Who?”

“Me.”

[1] The title for this chapter (in my book, that is) is “Ye Guhong’s Suicide” but there are some sites that have labelled it as “Mansion of Spirits”, which is more reflective of the chapter’s contents if you read on, and is what I will use here.

[2] Ye Ling – written as 叶灵, the character 叶 (Ye) is the same whether it is used as a surname or for the word “leaf”.

[3] zhuyeqing – 竹叶青, a kind of tea leaf. Can be used to make tea and wine, which is what Lu Xiaofeng drinks here.

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