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The Deer and the Cauldron Chapter 16


Chapter 16
Sweet talk hidden in musk deer powder’s fragrance, new ghosts wailed in the midst of ornaments.

On the carriage, Wei Xiaobao closed his eyes and took a nap. Towards the evening, he suddenly heard the sound of horse’s hoof, a rider was coming fast from behind. When it came close enough, he heard a man’s voice shouted, “Driver, does your passenger happen to be a child?”

Wei Xiaobao recognized the voice as Liu Yizhou’s; without waiting for the driver to reply, he poked his head out of the carriage and said with a laugh, “Liu Dage, are you looking for me?”

Liu Yizhou’s brow was beaded with sweat, his face was dusty; as soon as he saw Wei Xiaobao he called out, “Good, finally I found you!” From behind the carriage he galloped around to the front and shouted, “Roll out!”

Seeing his ill-expression, Wei Xiaobao was shocked; “Liu Dage,” he asked, “How did I offend you? Why are you so angry?”

Liu Yizhou brandished the horsewhip in his hand and lashed it out forcefully on the head of the mule pulling the carriage. The mule neighed in pain and reared on its hind legs, bringing the carriage up that the driver almost fell down. The driver shouted, “The sky is clear, the sun is shining, are you seeing a ghost? Why are you acting so unreasonably?”

Liu Yizhou shouted, “Laozi wants to act unreasonably!” Brandishing the whip one more time, he wound it around the driver’s whip and pulled it hard, throwing the driver to the ground, and immediately lashed the whip again and again, cursing with every strike, “Laozi wants to act unreasonably! Laozi wants to act unreasonably!”

The carriage driver struggled, but was unable to crawl back up, he could only curse ‘yeye’, ‘naynay’ [(paternal) grandfather and grandmother, respectively] left and right. Liu Yizhou struck heavier and heavier; blood started to splash as the whip went down relentlessly. Wei Xiaobao was greatly taken aback; he mused, “This carriage driver had neither grudge nor enmity with him, yet he beats him this bad, while he is actually rushing to get to me. Laozi is not his match, after he is done with the carriage driver, he will most likely beat me like that; the turn of events would be far from good.” Drawing the dagger from his boot, he lightly poked the mule’s buttocks.

The mule felt pain and was startled, it kicked back and then dashed wildly, pulling the large carriage along the main road. Liu Yizhou left the carriage driver, he slapped his horse’s back to give a chase, while calling out, “Good kid, if you have guts, don’t run!”

From the carriage Wei Xiaobao stuck out his head and called back, “Good kid, if you have guts, don’t pursue!”

Liu Yizhou whipped his horse to rush over. Although the mule was running very fast, it was, after all, pulling a large carriage; after running for a while, Liu Yizhou managed to close the distance. Wei Xiaobao was thinking of throwing the dagger toward Liu Yizhou, but he thought that he would most likely miss, and would lose the dagger with which he protect himself instead. He yelled and shouted wildly, urging the mule to run faster. Suddenly there was a sharp wind by his ear, followed by a burning pain on the right side of his face as Liu Yizhou’s whip struck him. Hastily he pulled his head back into the carriage, from the slit on the carriage cover he could see the head of Liu Yizhou’s horse was already by the carriage’s side, only a few more steps, Liu Yizhou would then be able to jump into the carriage. With an inspiration in a moment of desperation, he put his hand into his pocket and got an ingot of silver, which he hurled out as hard as he could, it happened to hit the horse’s left eye. Blood spurting out of the horse’s left eye as its eyeball disintegrated and blinded instantly. The horse bolted toward the hillside. Liu Yizhou hastily pulled the reins, but the horse was hurt so bad that with a few fierce jumps it threw Liu Yizhou off its back. He rolled on the ground and immediately stood up, but the horse had already entered the forest, neighing repeatedly while galloping away.

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud and called out, “Liu Dage, if you can’t ride a horse, I advise you to catch a turtle and ride it!”

Liu Yizhou was very angry, he raised his chi and ran after the carriage. Wei Xiaobao jumped in fright and quickly urged the mule to run faster. When he turned his head around, he saw that although Liu Yizhou was about twenty, thirty zhang away from the carriage; he did not stop pursuing in large strides, it would not be easy to throw him off. Wei Xiaobao pulled his dagger and lightly poked the mule’s buttocks again. Who would have thought that this time it was not working? The mule jumped up and down several times, suddenly it turned around and ran toward Liu Yizhou.

“Wrong way! Wrong way!” Wei Xiaobao yelled, “You dirty beast, I feed you but you help my enemy[1]. Now you’re really putting laozi in a bad spot!” With all his strength he tried to pull the reins, but the mule was showing its true nature, how could he pull it back? Seeing the situation was far from good, Wei Xiaobao hastily jumped down from the carriage and ran into a forest by the side of the road.

With a big leap Liu Yizhou flew on top of him, while stretching out his left hand to grab the back of Wei Xiaobao’s neck. Wei Xiaobao stabbed the dagger in his right hand backward, Liu Yizhou used his right hand to press Wei Xiaobao’s arm downward, using the move ‘Floating Cloud Running Water’ he grabbed Wei Xiaobao’s wrist and bent it backward toward his own arm so that the tip of the dagger was pointing toward Wei Xiaobao’s throat.

“Little thief!” he shouted, “You still dare to resist me?” ‘Slap! Slap!’ with his left hand he slapped Wei Xiaobao’s ears.

Wei Xiaobao’s wrist was in so much pain; he felt a cool breeze on his throat and knew that his dagger could cut iron like mud, it would shear his throat like cutting a tofu. “Liu Dage,” he said, smiling and giggling, “If you want to say something, just say it; we are on the same side, why play rough?”

Liu Yizhou spat on his face. “Pei! Who’s on the same side with you? You … you … you, little thief, you dare to sweet talk and deceive my Fang Shimei in the Imperial Palace, and … and slept with her on the same bed. This … this … I … I … I must kill you …” The blue veins on his forehead were bulging, his eyes looked like they were about to spout fire, his left hand curled into a fist, which he held in front of Wei Xiaobao’s face.

It was only then did Wei Xiaobao realize why Liu Yizhou was that angry, turned out it was because of Fang Yi; but how did he find out? Right now he was facing a ‘thousand pounds hanging by a thread’ situation, if he let his anger flared up and he increased the strength of his hand by 5%, a hole would immediately appear on his own throat. Thereupon he said with laugh, “Miss Fang is your sweetheart, how could I dare to be rude to her? In Miss Fang’s heart there is only one man, you. From dawn to dusk, she is only thinking about you.”

Liu Yizhou’s anger immediately abated. “How do you know?” he asked. The dagger was pulled back several cun.

Wei Xiaobao said, “It was only because she asked me to save you that I took you out of the Palace. As soon as she learned that you were out of danger, her joy was indescribable.”

Suddenly Liu Yizhou’s anger flared up again; with a clenched teeth he said, “You, little son-of-a-b1tch, laozi does not want to receive your pity! I don’t care if you saved me or not, but why did you deceive my Fang Shimei into agreeing to marry … to become your wife?” The dagger advanced several cun.

“Uh,” Wei Xiaobao said, “How can there be such thing? Who told you that? Miss Fang is a ‘bashful flower obstructing the moon’ type of beautiful woman, only a handsome and established hero like you is fit to marry her!”

Liu Yizhou’s anger diminished thirty more percent, the dagger withdrew several cun back; he said, “You still want to deny? Fang Shimei has agreed to marry you and be your wife, right?” Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud. “What’s so funny?” Liu Yizhou asked.

“Liu Dage,” Wei Xiaobao said with a laugh, “Let me ask you: can a eunuch take a wife?”

Because of his anger, Liu Yizhou had rushed to pursue Wei Xiaobao, without remembering that Wei Xiaobao was a eunuch, and that eunuchs do not marry. Reminded by Wei Xiaobao’s words, his heart was in full bloom, he could not help but burst out in laughter, but he did not release Wei Xiaobao’s wrist. “Then why did you swindle my Fang Shimei into agreeing to marry you?” he asked.

“Where did you hear that from?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

“I heard it with my own ears, Fang Shimei was talking to Xiao Junzhu,” Liu Yizhou said, “Are you saying they are lying?”

“Were they talking to each other, or did they tell you?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Liu Yizhou hesitated before replying, “They were talking to each other.”

What happened was that as Xu Tianchuan, Fang Yi and Mu Jianping set off toward Shijiazhuang, they had not travelled far when they came across Wu Lishen, Ao Biao and Liu Yizhou, three people. In the Qing Palace, Wu Lishen, three people were tortured; although their muscles and bones were not seriously injured, their bodies were beaten that their skin was broken and their flesh burst open. They were also on their way to Shijiazhuang, riding  on a carriage, to recuperate from their wounds. Meeting each other by chance, they were very delighted. But Fang Yi’s expression when she met Liu Yizhou was entirely different from in the past, other than greeted him with a “Liu Shige” when they met, she was totally indifferent, she did not even pay him any attention.

Twice, then three times, Liu Yizhou tried to pull her aside so that they could have a heart-to-heart talk, but Fang Yi was unwilling to leave Mu Jianping’s side. Liu Yizhou was both anxious and angry, he pressed on tighter. Fang Yi said, “Liu Shige, from now on the two of us only share the Shixiong, Shimei sentiment, apart from this, don’t mention anything, don’t think anything.”

Liu Yizhou was startled. “Wh … why?” he asked.

“Nothing,” Fang Yi coldly replied.

Liu Yizhou pulled her hand and anxiously said, “Shimei, you …”

Fang Yi struggled hard to free herself and shouted, “Please show some respect!”

Suffering a major embarrassment, at the inn that night Liu Yizhou was tossing and turning without able to put his head down to rest. His mood surged, he crawled out quietly toward the window of Fang Yi and Mu Jianping’s room. As expected, he heard the two of them were talking to each other in low voice.

Mu Jianping said, “You treated Liu Shige like that, wouldn’t you make him broken-hearted?”

“What can I do?” Fang Yi replied, “The sooner he is broken-hearted, the sooner he will forget me, the sooner he won’t be broken-hearted anymore.”

Mu Jianping said, “Are you really going to marry … marry that little child Wei Xiaobao? He is so young, can you be his wife?”

Fang Yi said, “It is you who want to marry this little monkey, therefore, you urge me to treat Shige well, am I right?”

“No, no, it’s not that!” Mu Jianping hurriedly said, “In that case, you’d better marry Wei Dage sooner.”

Fang Yi sighed and said, “I have made an oath, putting curse on myself; have you already forgotten? That day I said, ‘By the Emperor of Heaven above and the Queen of Earth below, if Gui Gong-gong can rescue Liu Yizhou and bring him to safety, the lowly woman Fang Yi will be willing to be Gui Gong-gong’s wife, and will be loyal and dependable to my husband with singleness of heart for the rest of my life, even if Gui Gong-gong cannot take me as wife for real, I am dead set on taking care of him for a lifetime. If I am double-minded, let me be cut into ten thousand pieces and will not be reincarnated.’ I also said, ‘Xiao Junzhu is my witness.’ I can’t forget this, you must not forget it either.”

“You did say those words,” Mu Jianping said, “But I thought … I thought that he was only joking, you don’t need to take him seriously.”

Fang Yi said, “I don’t care if he was serious or was only joking, but as women, if we have personally agree to give ourselves to him in marriage, we must never go back on our promise, we must be faithful unto death[2]. Much less … much less …”

“Much less what?” Mu Jianping asked.

Fang Yi said, “I have thought carefully, even if I can deny the words I said, but he … he had shared the same bed with the two of us, slept under the same quilt …”

“Pfft!” Mu Jianping stifled her laughter, “Wei Dage is really naughty. He also said that in the ‘Legend of Heroic Deeds’ there is a chapter called something like ‘Mu Wangye subdued Yunnan with three arrows, Gui Gong-gong embraces beautiful women with his pair of hands’. Shijie, he did embrace you and kiss you!” Fang Yi heaved a sigh and no longer said anything.

Listening from outside the window, Liu Yizhou felt as if his five internal organs were burning, as if the sky was spinning and the earth was turning, his knees went weak. He heard Fang Yi continued, “Actually, although he is young, he can talk smooth, and his treatment to the two of us is not bad at all. This time we part, I wonder when we will see him again.”

Mu Jianping stifled another laugh, with a low voice she said, “Shijie, you miss him!”

“If I miss him then I miss him, so what?” Fang Yi said.

“That’s right,” Mu Jianping said, “I miss him too. Several times I tried to invite him to come with us to Shijiazhuang, but he always said that he has an important business to attend. Shijie, do you think he was telling the truth, or was he lying to us?”

Fang Yi said, “When we stopped by for a snack earlier, I overheard him chatting with the carriage driver, he was asking the way to Shanxi. Apparently he is going to Shanxi.”

Mu Jianping said, “He is so young, yet traveling alone to Shanxi; what would happen if he came across bad people along the way?”

Fang Yi sighed and said, “I was thinking of asking Xu Laoyezi not to escort us, but to escort him instead, but I know Xu Laoyezi would not agree.”

Shijie,” Mu Jianping said, “I … I think …”

“What is it?” Fang Yi asked.

Mu Jianping sighed. “Never mind,” she said.

Fang Yi said, “Too bad both of us are injured, otherwise, we can accompany him going to Shanxi. Now that we met Wu Shishu, Liu Shige, we cannot go looking for him.”

Listening to this part, Liu Yizhou’s head was dizzy. ‘Bang!’ his forehead bumped onto the window frame. “What’s that?” Fang Yi and Mu Jianping asked together.

Liu Yizhou’s heart was burning with jealousy, it was as if he turned mad; his only thought was, “I must kill that boy, I must kill that boy!” Rushing toward the front courtyard, he pulled a horse, pushed open the inn’s gate, mounted the horse and rushed off. He thought that since Wei Xiaobao was going to Shanxi, he headed to the west.

Galloping until daybreak, he asked the way to Shanxi, then rushed along the main road in pursuit. Each time he came across a large carriage, he would ask, “Does the one sitting on the carriage happen to be a child?”

Listening to Liu Yizhou, Wei Xiaobao knew that Liu Yizhou’s knowledge came from listening to Xiao Junzhu and Fang Yi’s conversation, presumably he was eavesdropping; therefore, what he knew must be limited. Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Liu Shige, you have fallen into your Shimei‘s trick.”

“What trick?” Liu Yizhou asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Miss Fang told me that she wanted to make you mad, because she put her heart and soul to save you, but you did not have her in your heart at all.”

“How … how can that be?” Liu Yizhou asked anxiously, “How could she say that I do not have her in my heart at all?”

“You gave her a silver hairpin, didn’t you?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “There was a plum blossom on the head of the hairpin.”

“Yes, yes!” Liu Yizhou replied, “How do you know?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “During the tangled battle in the Palace, she dropped the hairpin, and she seemed very anxious about it. She said that it was given by her sweetheart, so whatever happens she must not lose it, even if she has to stake her life, she must find it.”

Liu Yizhou was taken aback. “She … she is that good to me?” he muttered to himself.

“Of course,” Wei Xiaobao said, “How can it be false?”

“And then what happened?” Liu Yizhou asked.

“You twist my hand like this, I am in great pain,” Wei Xiaobao said, “How can I talk?”

“Alright!” Liu Yizhou said. Hearing Fang Yi’s deep affection toward him, his rage had dissipated for the most part; also, he thought that this child could not escape from his palm anyway, thereupon he released his grip and asked, “And then what happened?”

Being grasped by him, Wei Xiaobao’s arm went numb and was hurting bad; he slowly put the dagger back into his boot, and saw that there were some red and swollen finger prints on his wrist. “Mu Palace people love to grab other people’s wrist. You are like this, Bai Hanfeng was also like this. The ‘Turtle Grasping Technique’ of the Mu Family Fist Technique is very well-developed.”

When saying the ‘Turtle Grabbing Technique’, the word ‘turtle’ was spoken very obscurely that Liu Yizhou did not hear it clearly, but he did not take any notice anyway; Liu Yizhou asked, “Fang Shimei lost the silver hairpin I gave her, and then what happened?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “You have gripped me with your ‘Turtle Claw’ that I am unable to breathe easily, I must take a rest before I can tell you anything. In short, whether you can or cannot take Miss Fang as your wife, it involves a great responsibility.”

This time Liu Yizhou could hear the words ‘Turtle Claw’ clearly, but his rage stemmed from the fact that Wei Xiaobao has swindled Fang Yi into agreeing to marry him; he really did not care if Wei Xiaobao took advantage of him orally. Also, hearing Wei Xiaobao said, ‘Whether you can or cannot take Miss Fang as your wife, it involves a great responsibility’, he was quite concerned; therefore, he said urgently, “Tell me quickly, don’t dawdle.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I must sit down first and slowly rest before I’ll have the energy to talk.” Liu Yizhou was helpless; he had no choice but to follow Wei Xiaobao to a big tree by the forest. Seeing Wei Xiaobao sat on the tree roots, he also sat down by his side.

Wei Xiaobao sighed. “What a pity, what a pity,” he said.

Liu Yizhou immediately felt uneasy, “What do you mean ‘what a pity’?” he anxiously asked.

“What a pity your Shimei is not here,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “Otherwise, if she could sit side by side with you like this, discussing passion and talking of love with you, she would be very happy.”

Liu Yizhou was greatly delighted, he could not refrain from laughing as he asked, “How do you know?”

“I heard her personally saying it,” Wei Xiaobao said, “That day when she dropped the silver hairpin, she staked her life and braved enormous danger to rush through three palace gates heavily guarded by the Imperial Bodyguards. Although heavily injured, she managed to kill three Qing Palace’s Imperial Bodyguards, until she was finally able to retrieve that silver hairpin back. I said, ‘Miss Fang, you were very stupid, it’s just a silver hairpin, how many qian does it worth? I’ll give you a thousand taels of silver; in one breath we can easily find three, four thousand silver hairpins just like it. Even if you wear ten pins every day, different pins each day, in one year, three hundred and sixty days, you will wear new hairpins daily.’ Miss Fang said, ‘You are just a kid, what do you know? This is a gift from my dear one, Liu Shige. Even if you give me a thousand pins, ten thousand pins, gold hairpins or pearl hairpins, how can it beat this silver hairpin, or a copper hairpin, or an iron hairpin, which my dear one Liu Shige gave me?’ Liu Dage, tell me, don’t you agree that Miss Fang is muddleheaded?”

Listening to this, Liu Yizhou was beaming from ear to ear that he could not close his mouth. “Then … then why did she say different things when she was talking to Xiao Junzhu in the middle of the night?” he asked.

“You were eavesdropping outside their window in the middle of the night, weren’t you?” Wei Xiaobao asked.

Liu Yizhou blushed slightly, he said, “I wasn’t eavesdropping, I wanted to go pee in the middle of the night, and happened to hear them.”

“Liu Dage,” Wei Xiaobao said, “You are at fault here. Why didn’t you pee anywhere else, but peed outside Miss Fang’s window? Won’t it stink to high heaven and the stench overwhelm the two ‘bashful flower obstructing the moon’ ladies?”

“Yes, yes!” Liu Yizhou said, “And then what did my Fang Shimei say?”

“My tummy is very hungry,” Wei Xiaobao said, “I don’t have the energy to talk. Quickly go and buy something for me to eat. Only after I am full that I will tell you those corny, sickening words your Fang Shimei said.” He was hoping to swindle Liu Yizhou into agreeing to take him into a small town, so that he could slip away in the crowd.

“What corny, sickening words?” Liu Yizhou asked, “Fang Shimei has always been very proper, she has never said any corny, sickening words.”

“Fine, she is very proper, she has never said any corny, sickening words,” Wei Xiaobao said, “She said ‘my dear one Liu Shige’! She also said, ‘my considerate and handsome Liu Shige’. Damn it, you may not find it corny and sickening, but I was embarrassed just listening to it. Humph, she was not ashamed to speak those kinds of words.”

Liu Yizhou’s heart was in full bloom, but he said, “It’s impossible, how can Fang Shimei speak those kinds of words?”

“Fine, fine!” Wei Xiaobao said, “Just consider me speaking incorrectly. Liu Dage, I want to find something to eat, excuse me, I must leave.” While speaking, he stood up.

Listening to his story, Liu Yizhou’s heart was unbearably itchy; how could he let Wei Xiaobao leave? Hastily he gently pushed down Wei Xiaobao’s shoulder and said, “Wei Xiongdi, don’t leave too quickly! I have brought some flat cake with me as my dry rations. Why don’t you eat it first? After you are done talking, when we get to the town ahead, I will invite you to drink wine and eat some noodles to apologize to you.” While saying that, he opened the bundle he carried on his back and took several flat cakes.

Wei Xiaobao took a cake; he tore a piece and chewed it several times before saying, “This flat cake is neither salty nor sour, what kind of goodies is this? Here, try this for me.” And he handed the torn piece of flat cake back to Liu Yizhou.

Liu Yizhou said, “This cake has hardened, naturally the flavor is not too good. We’ll just have to deal with it to allay our hunger, we’ll talk about it later.” While saying that, he tore a piece and ate it.

Wei Xiaobao said, “I wonder how these cakes would taste?” He rummaged through the flat cakes to select one. After flipping around several times, he said, “Damn it, I want to go pee; I will eat later.” He went to a big tree nearby, turned his body around, pulled his pants and peed. Liu Yizhou fixed his gaze on him, he was afraid Wei Xiaobao would suddenly run away. After urinating, Wei Xiaobao returned to Liu Yizhou’s side, flipped around the flat cakes again, before finally he picked one, tore a piece, and ate it.

After pursuing Wei Xiaobao for half a day, Liu Yizhou was very hungry. He also took a piece of flat cake and ate it. While chewing, he said, “Could it be that Fang Shimei and Xiao Junzhu said those things to deliberately annoy me?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I am not the roundworm inside your Fang Shimei‘s belly, how would I know her real intention? You are her dearly beloved Shige, how come you do not know and ask me instead?”

“Alright! Alright!” Liu Yizhou said, “I was hot-headed just now and have offended you. Just tell me, don’t keep me in suspense!”

“Since that’s the case, I will tell you the truth,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your Fang Shimei is very good-looking. If I were not an eunuch, I would love to take her as my wife. It’s just that even if I did not take her as my wife, I am afraid it’s not for you to marry her either.”

“Why? Why?” Liu Yizhou anxiously asked.

“Don’t be impatient,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Eat some more flat cake, I will slowly tell you.”

“Damn it,” Liu Yizhou cursed, “You are always humming and hawing, keeping me in suspense …” Speaking to this point, suddenly his body swayed.

“What is it?” Wei Xiaobao said, “You don’t feel well? I am afraid this flat cake is not too clean.”

“What?” Liu Yizhou asked. He stood up, staggered a circle, and suddenly fell down to the ground.

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud; he kicked Liu Yizhou’s buttocks once and said, “Hey! It’s your own flat cake, how come there is knockout drug inside? It’s very strange.” Liu Yizhou made an “Oh” noise, and then lost his consciousness.

Wei Xiaobao kicked him a couple more times; seeing he was completely motionless, Wei Xiaobao pulled Liu Yizhou’s belt and tied his legs firmly, and then he also tied Liu Yizhou’s hands behind his back. Seeing a large boulder by the big tree, he huffed and puffed to push the boulder away, revealing a hole underneath, with a pile of loose rocks inside. Moving the loose rocks out one by one, he made a hole in the ground about four chi deep. “Laozi will bury you alive today,” he said with a laugh.

Dragging Liu Yizhou to the hole, he stood him up vertically, and then he pushed the dirt and rocks back into the hole. After working steadfastly, he managed to bury Liu Yizhou up to his arm with the dirt, so that only his shoulder and head were exposed. Wei Xiaobao was very proud of himself. He went to a nearby creek, took off his long gown and soaked it in the water, then returning to Liu Yizhou, he wrung the long gown and let the creek water drenched Liu Yizhou’s head.

Aroused by the cold water, Liu Yizhou slowly regained his consciousness. Temporarily he was still at a loss; he wanted to struggle, but he could not move at all. He saw Wei Xiaobao was sitting in front of him, hugging his knees and chuckling while looking at him. A moment later he finally came to his senses and realized what had happened. He struggled again, but still was not able to move the least bit. He said, “Good Xiongdi, don’t play a joke on me!”

Wei Xiaobao cursed, “F*ck your mother, Laozi has many important things to do, why would I want to play a joke with a stinky thief like you?” Heavily he kicked again, Liu Yizhou’s right cheek was immediately drenched with blood. Wei Xiaobao cursed again, “Miss Fang is my wife, you are not fit to even think of her. Stinky thief, you twisted Laozi‘s hand and hurt me real bad, you slapped my face, and used whip to strike me. Laozi will cut your ears first, and then shear your nose; I will deal with you slice by slice.” While saying that, he drew out his dagger, stooped down and run the tip of the blade on Liu Yizhou’s face, twice.

Liu Yizhou was scared out of his wits; he called out, “Good Xiong … Wei … Wei Xiongdi, Wei Xiangzhu, please consider your good relation with the Mu Palace, please raise … please raise your hand.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “From the Palace I saved you and took you out, but you actually repay my kindness with enmity, unexpectedly you wanted to kill me. Humph, humph, based on your meager ability, you want to move the dust from Taisui’s[3] head? You told me to consider my good relation with the Mu Palace; when you grasped my hand just now, how come you did not consider your good relation with Tian Di Hui?”

Liu Yizhou said, “Indeed I was mistaken, Zaixia was wrong! Please … please … please forgive me.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I want to cut three hundred and sixty your mother’s cuts on your head, to vent off the hatred in my heart!” Lifting up Liu Yizhou’s braid, he cut it with his blade. The dagger was extremely sharp, with a ‘swish!’ the braid fell down, and then he ran the blade back and forth on Liu Yizhou’s head. In a short period of time, all the hair on Liu Yizhou’s head fell off that he turned into a bald man.

“Dead bald thief,” Wei Xiaobao cursed, “As soon as I see a monk, laozi is angry, I must kill you!”

Liu Yizhou forced a smile as he said, “Wei Xiangzhu, Zaixia is not a monk.”

“So you are not a damn monk,” Wei Xiaobao cursed, “Then why did you shave your head clean? Want to deceive Laoye?” [lord or master, referring to self]

Liu Yizhou said in his heart, “Clearly it was you who shaved my head? Why do you blame me?” But since his life was in Wei Xiaobao’s hands, he did not dare to argue; he had no choice but to say with a laugh, “A thousand mistakes, ten thousand mistakes, it’s Xiaoren  in the wrong. Wei Xiangzhu Daren is magnanimous, please do not hold it against me.”

“Alright,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Let me ask you then: Fang Yi, Miss Fang, whose wife is she?”

“This … this …” Liu Yizhou stammered.

“What this or that?” Wei Xiaobao shouted loudly, “Answer it, now!” Raising his dagger, he waved it in front of Liu Yizhou’s face.

Liu Yizhou thought that a real man should not suffer disadvantage from the outset; this little demon was an eunuch anyway, just let him had small verbal advantages. Otherwise, he might brandish his dagger and then Liu Yizhou would lose a nose or an ear, then it would be bad indeed. Thereupon he busily said, “She … naturally she is Wei Xiangzhu‘s … she is Wei Xiangzhu‘s wife.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud and said, “She? She who? Speak up! Laozi cannot understand monks’ mumbling speech.”

Liu Yizhou said, “Fang Yi, Fang Shimei, she is Wei Xiangzhu‘s wife.”

“Let me be clear on this,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Are you or are you not my friend?”

Hearing the tone of Wei Xiaobao’s voice was slacking, Liu Yizhou was delighted; he hurriedly said, “Xiaoren actually does not dare to pull myself up high. If Wei Xiangzhu is willing to treat Zaixia as a friend, Zaixia … naturally it is what Zaixia always seek but fail to obtain.”

“I regard you as a friend,” Wei Xiaobao said, “In Jianghu, friends always uphold yi qi, right?”

“Yes, yes,” Liu Yizhou busily said, “Good friends should uphold yi qi.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “A friend’s wife, you must not touch. If in the future you act like a thief toward my wife, speaking nonsense, then what will happen? I want you make an oath!”

Liu Yizhou groaned inwardly, he realized he had fallen into Wei Xiaobao’s trick. Wei Xiaobao said, “It’s alright if you don’t want to make an oath. I knew it all along that you are sneaky, always harbor malicious intentions, and with heart and soul you want to take liberties with women, you want to fool around with my wife.”

Wei Xiaobao waved his dagger again, Liu Yizhou saw flickering white light in front of his eyes. “No, no,” he hastily said, “Toward Wei Xiangzhu‘s wife, Zaixia definitely does not dare to harbor any evil intentions.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “If you ever cast one more glance to Miss Fang in the future, speak one more word to her, then what will happen?”

Liu Yizhou said, “Then … then let the Heaven punish me, the Earth extinguish me.”

“Then you are a turtle bast@rd!” Wei Xiaobao said.

With a bitter smile Liu Yizhou said, “Right, right!”

“Right what?” Wei Xiaobao said, “Your fart is right?” He put the tip of his dagger onto Liu Yizhou’s right eyelid.

Liu Yizhou said, “If in the future I cast one more glance to Fang Shimei, speak one more word to her, then I am a turtle bast@rd!”

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud. “Since that’s the case,” he said, “I’ll spare you. I’ll drench your head with my pee first, then I’ll let you go.” Finished speaking, he put the dagger back into his boot, and untied his belt with both hands.

Suddenly from the forest came a female voice, “You … you are bullying people too far!”

Wei Xiaobao recognized it as Fang Yi’s voice; he was pleasantly surprised. Turning his head around, he saw three people come out of the forest; the first to appear was indeed Fang Yi, with Mu Jianping and Xu Tianchuan behind her. A moment later, two more people came out, they were none other than Wu Lishen and Ao Biao.

These five people had been hiding in the forest for quite a long time; they heard everything Wei and Liu, two people’s conversation. Seeing Wei Xiaobao was about to pee on Liu Yizhou’s head, which would result in deep, unsolvable resentment, Fang Yi could not bear not to shout to stop him.

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Turns out you are already here. Looking at Wu Laoyezi‘s face, you are exempt from being soaked with urine.”

Xu Tianchuan hurriedly came over and with both hands pushed aside the rocks and dirt surrounding Liu Yizhou’s body. He wrapped his arms around Liu Yizhou and lifted him up, then he untied the belt binding Liu Yizhou’s hands and feet. Liu Yizhou was unbearably ashamed; he lowered his head and did not dare to meet anybody’s eyes.

Wu Lishen’s face turned ashen as he said, “Liu Xianzhi [worthy nephew], our lives were saved by Wei Xiangzhu, how can you repay kindness with enmity, relying on power to bully the weak? You beat him, your cursed him, and you twisted his arm. If your Shifu find out, how would you explain to him?” He was speaking and shaking his head at the same time, the tone of his voice showed that he was very upset. He continued, “Living in Jianghu, we pay most particular attention to these two characters ‘yi qi‘; how can you use force toward a good friend, to fight over a woman’s affection? Forgetting favor and violating justice, that was an action even lower than a pig or a dog!” While saying that, ‘Pei!’ he spat on the ground. The more he spoke, the angrier he got; he said, “Last night, in the middle of the night, like an explosion of thunder you rushed out, everybody knew something was wrong, thus we went looking for you all the way. You slapped Wei Xiangzhu‘s cheek red and swollen, you twisted his arm, you threatened his throat with the tip of a dagger; if you slipped and unexpectedly harmed his life, how would you answer to that?”

Liu Yizhou indignantly said, “A life for a life, I’ll simply pay for his life with mine.”

Wu Lishen angrily said, “Hey, is it that easy? What kind of hero or warrior are you? Do you think you can pay for one of Tian Di Hui’s ten Xiangzhu, Wei Xiangzhu‘s life with yours? Besides, where did you get your life from? Wasn’t it because of Wei Xiangzhu‘s help? You are not grateful and seeking to repay the kindness, other people are already looking down on you; unexpectedly you dare to fight Wei Xiangzhu?”

When he was forced by Wei Xiaobao to make an oath, Liu Yizhou’s life was hanging on Wei Xiaobao’s hand; hence he did not any choice but to comply. But now that he was free, he realized that all these speeches were heard by Fang Yi; the shame and resentment he felt in his heart was indeed difficult to bear. Although Wu Lishen was his martial uncle, listening to his endless prattle in lecturing him, he could not stop his shame from turning into anger. Hardening his heart, he said harshly, “Wu Shishu, what’s done is done. Not even one hair of the one surnamed Wei is injured. You, Senior, can do whatever you want to do to me!”

Wu Lishen jumped up in anger, pointing his finger to Liu Yizhou’s face he roared, “Liu Yizhou, you are this disrespectful toward your own Shishu. You want to fight me, don’t you?”

“I did not say that,” Liu Yizhou replied, “I am not your match anyway.”

Wu Lishen was even more angry; with a stern voice he said, “If your martial art skill surpasses mine, you are definitely going to fight me, aren’t you? In the Qing Palace you were greedy for life, afraid of death. As soon as you heard we were going to be beheaded, you busily begged for mercy in loud voice, hurriedly announced your real name and surname. Considering Liu Shige‘s face, I sealed my lips and did not say anything about this matter. Humph, humph! Just consider yourself lucky you are not my disciple.” It was obvious he was saying that if you were my disciple, I would have killed you with a blade.

Hearing his shameful act as he cowardly begged for mercy in the Qing Palace was exposed, Liu Yizhou hung his head low, his face paled, he did not dare to say anything.

Knowing that he had gained the upper hand, Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Alright, alright. Wu Laoyezi, Liu Dage was only fooling around with me, please don’t take it seriously. I want to ask a favor from you: about the past matter, please don’t tell Liu Laoyezi.”

Wu Lishen said, “Since Wei Xiangzhu has instructed such, I will do as told.” Turning his head toward Liu Yizhou, he said, “Did you see that? Wei Xiangzhu is putting important matter first, showing his great magnanimity.”

Wei Xiaobao turned toward Fang Yi and Mu Jianping, he laughed and said, “How did you come here?”

“Come here,” Fang Yi said, “I have something I want to tell you.”

With a giggle Wei Xiaobao came over. Seeing Fang Yi showing that kind of affection toward Wei Xiaobao in front of everybody else, Liu Yizhou’s hand grabbed the handle of his saber; he almost could not restrain himself from pulling the saber, charging forward and fighting Wei Xiaobao to the death. Suddenly he heard a slap, Wei Xiaobao was slapped on the face, a hard and burning slap.

Wei Xiaobao was startled, he jumped back several steps, his hand rubbed his cheek. “You … why did you hit me?” he angrily asked.

Fang Yi raised her willow-shaped eyebrows, her face flushed of anger. “What do you take me for?” she angrily said, “What did you tell Liu Shige? You insulted me as frivolous and lowly behind my back?”

“I did not say any … any bad words,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“You still deny it?” Fang Yi said, “I heard everything. You … both of you are not good men.” In her anger and anxiety, she burst into tears.

Xu Tianchuan thought that this was young people’s problem, not an important matter at all, but the friendship between Tian Di Hui and Mu Palace must not be harmed; thereupon he laughed aloud and said, “Wei Xiangzhu and Liu Shixiong were just having misunderstanding, which has been straightened up. Old man Xu is starving, let us quickly find a restaurant, let’s eat, drink, and be merry.”

Suddenly a northeasterly wind blew, carrying with it raindrops as big as soybeans. Xu Tianchuan looked up to the sky and said, “For no rhyme or reason the tenth month weather has sent us this rain; it’s really unseemly.” Seeing the black clouds rolled in from the northeast, he said, “I am afraid this rain will not be light, we’d better look for a place to take shelter.”

The seven of them continued their journey along the main road heading west. Fang Yi and Mu Jianping had not fully recovered yet, they had to walk slowly. The rain was getting heavier and heavier, while along the way there was not even a farmhouse or a pavilion. Not too long afterwards, all seven of them were completely soaked. Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Let us walk slowly. Walking fast, we will look like chicken falling in the soup, walking slow, we will look like duck falling in the soup; there is no difference anyway.”

After walking for quite a while, the seven of them heard the sound of water, they had reached the river bank. They saw about half a li upstream there was a small hut. The seven people were delighted, they hastened toward the hut. When they were near, they saw that the hut was actually a broken-down temple with its wall askew to the east and fell to the west. But although it was broken-down, to take shelter from the rain, this temple was actually better than nothing. The temple gate had already been rotten a long time ago. As soon as they entered, a moldy smell assaulted their nostrils.

After walking for a while, the wound on Fang Yi’s chest was really hurting; she could not help but knitting her brows and clench her teeth. Xu Tianchuan tore apart several broken-down table and chairs and built fire, so that everybody could dry their clothes. They saw the black clouds in the sky gathered thicker and thicker, the rain was getting heavier and heavier. From his bundle Xu Tianchuan produced several dry flatbreads and handed them around. Liu Yizhou stuffed the stub of what’s left of his pigtail into his hat, it was barely enough to make a braid. With a chuckle Wei Xiaobao looked to the left and to the right.

With a laugh Mu Jianping asked Wei Xiaobao, “Just now, what trick did you play onto Liu Shige‘s flat cakes?”

Wei Xiaobao stared at her, “I did not!” he said, “What trick can I play?”

“Humph, still don’t want to admit it?” Mu Jianping said, “How could Liu Shige be hit by knockout drug and lose his consciousness?”

“He was hit by knockout drug?” Wei Xiaobao said, “When? How come I did not know? It can’t be, isn’t he sitting nicely by the fire to warm himself?”

“Pei!” Mu Jianping spat; feigning anger, she said, “You play dumb, I won’t talk to you.”

Sitting on the side, Fang Yi was also filled with doubts. When Liu Yizhou grabbed Wei Xiaobao and so on earlier, they were still quite far away, nobody saw it clearly. Afterwards they saw Liu and Wei, two men, were sitting side by side, talking under the tree, hence they quietly walked on tiptoe to hide in the forest. They saw all the flat cakes were taken out by Liu Yizhou from his own bundle, plus Liu Yizhou’s eyes had never left Wei Xiaobao at all, tu guard against him running away. How could it be that in the blink of an eye Liu Yizhou suddenly lose his consciousness and fell down?

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Perhaps Liu Shixiong suffers from epilepsy, suddenly it flared-up and he fainted.”

Liu Yizhou was furious, he suddenly sprang up; pointing his finger to Wei Xiaobao he shouted, “You … you little …”

Fang Yi cast Wei Xiaobao a glance. “Come here,” she said.

“You are going to hit me, I don’t want to come,” Wei Xiaobao said.

“You must not say anything bad about Liu Shige,” Fang Yi said, “Even young children must cultivate propriety of speech.” Wei Xiaobao stuck out his tongue and no longer say anything.

Seeing twice had Fang Yi stood up for him, Liu Yizhou was very relieved inwardly; he mused, “This little demon is crafty and spoiled, Fang Shimei is actually still very good to me.”

The sky gradually darkened. The seven of them sat around the fire. The broken-down temple was leaking everywhere, very few spots were dry. Suddenly the top of Wei Xiaobao’s head was drenched, water was dripping onto his shoulder; he scooted to the left, but the left side was also wet. “Come here,” Fang Yi said, “It’s not leaking over here.” After a short pause, she added, “Don’t be afraid, I am not going to hit you.” Wei Xiaobao laughed, he moved to her side.

Fang Yi puckered her lips and whispered on Mu Jianping’s ear, she spoke few sentences in low voice. Immediately Mu Jianping laughed; she nodded, and then also puckered her lips and whispered on Wei Xiaobao’s ear, “Fang Shijie says, she and you are on the same side; just now she hit you, rebuked you, telling you not to offend Liu Shige, she asked if you understand her meaning?”

Wei Xiaobao also whispered on her ear, “What do you mean ‘on the same side’? I don’t understand.”

Mu Jianping passed on his words to Fang Yi. Fang Yi cast a glance to him, then she said to Mu Jianping, “I have made an oath, calling a curse on myself, I am bound by the oath forever. Tell him not to worry.”

Mu Jianping passed on her words to him. Wei Xiaobao then whispered on Mu Jianping’s ear, “Miss Fang and I are on the same side, but what about you?”

Mu Jianping blushed. “Pei!” she spat, and raised her hand to hit him. Wei Xiaobao laughed while leaning sideways to evade. He repeatedly nodded to Fang Yi. Fang Yi appeared to be smiling, yet she was not smiling; she appeared to be angry, but she was not angry. Illuminated by the fire, she looked unspeakably sweet and pretty. Smelling the faint fragrance coming from these two ladies’ bodies, Wei Xiaobao was very happy.

Liu Yizhou was sitting quite some distance away from these three people, he craned his neck trying to listen; he vaguely heard ‘Liu Shige’ and ‘on the same side’, other than those words, he could not hear anything else. Seeing the three of them were laughing and giggling intimately – obviously they were treating him as an outsider, he could not stop jealousy and hatred from appearing together in his heart.

Again Fang Yi said in low voice to Mu Jianping’s ear, “Ask him, how did he actually make Liu Shige lost his consciousness?”

Seeing Fang Yi’s face showed that she was really curious, Wei Xiaobao quietly told Mu Jianping, “When I went peeing, I turned my back against him, my left hand grabbed a handful of knockout drug. When I turned back to check the flat cakes, I applied the drug powder onto the cakes. The cake that I ate, I picked it with my right hand, my left hand did not touch it at all. Do you understand?”

“So that’s how you did it,” Mu Jianping said.

After she passed on the message to Fang Yi, Fang Yi asked, “Where did you get the knockout drug from?”

“The Imperial Bodyguards in the Palace gave it to me,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “To rescue your Liu Shige, that was the drug that I used.” By this time the rain was really heavy, the sound of water crashing down on the roof was so loud that Wei Xiaobao’s lips had to touch Mu Jianping’s ear before his voice could be heard.

Liu Yizhou was very restless, suddenly he stood up, his back happened to bump heavily on the pillar. ‘Crack! Crash!’ suddenly several tiles from the roof above him fell down. This broken-down temple was already decayed; soaked by the heavy rain, blown by the north wind, it was unable to withstand. One after another the beams, tiles, bricks and mortars fell down.

“Not good,” Xu Tianchuan called out, “This temple is about to collapse; everybody out!” All seven of them rushed out of the temple. Before taking several steps, they heard loud rumbling noise as most of the temple’s roof collapsed, followed by almost half of the wall also came down.

Right this moment, they heard the sound of hooves beat, a dozen or so horses galloped from the southeast and in just a short moment arrived at the temple. In the dark of the night they could see the indistinct shadows of the riders. An old-sounding voice said, “Aiyo, originally there was a small temple in here where we can take shelter from the rain, but unfortunately it has collapsed.”

Another man asked with a loud voice, “Hey, fellows, what are you doing in here?”

“We were taking shelter from the rain in the temple,” Xu Tianchuan replied, “Then this temple collapsed, it almost crushes us to our death.”

“Damn it,” another man on horseback cursed, “It’s such a heavy rain, Laotianye [God/Heavens] must be crazy.”

Yet another man said, “Zhao Laosan [ol’ Zhao the third], other than this small temple, is there any other building nearby? Or some caves, maybe?”

The old-sounding voice replied, “There is … there is some, but it’s almost as bad as there is not.”

A big man cursed, “Your granny, there is or there is not?”

“Northwest of this place,” the old man replied, “There is a valley with a haunted house in it, there are evil spirits there, nobody dares to enter; isn’t it about the same as there is not?”

The men on the horseback loudly laughed and swore, “Laozi is not afraid of haunted house. Evil spirits are the best, we can catch some for dessert.”

Another man shouted, “Quickly lead the way! We are not taking a bath, you think it’s nice to soak in this heavy rain?”

“Gentlemen,” Zhao Laosan said, “The old man does not dislike long life, I do not dare to go. I advise you not to go either. Northwest of here, about thirty li away, there is a small town.”

The men on the horseback all said, “This is such a heavy rain, how can we endure it for thirty more li? Just stop talking nonsense, we have strength in numbers, why do we have to be afraid of some ghosts?”

“Very well,” Zhao Laosan said, “Just go northwest, after rounding a bend, follow the mountain road entering a valley, and walk along that path; you can’t possibly miss …” Without waiting for him to finish, the people urged their horses to gallop toward the northwest. Zhao Laosan was riding a donkey. He hesitated for a moment, and then he pulled the animal’s head and turned it back to the southeast.

“Wu Er Ge [second older brother], Wei Xiangzhu,” Xu Tianchuan asked, “What do we do?”

“I think …” Wu Lishen started, but suddenly remembered that it was Wei Xiaobao who should make the decision; thereupon he said, “I am asking for Wei Xiangzhu’s instruction, what should we do?”

Wei Xiaobao was afraid of ghosts, it’s just that he was unable to say it. He said, “Why don’t Wu Dashu [big uncle] decide? I don’t have any idea.”

“Evil spirit is nothing,” Wu Lishen said, “It’s all country folks talking nonsense. Even if there is indeed a ghost, we can stake everything to fight him.”

“Some ghosts are invisible,” Wei Xiaobao said, “By the time we can see them, it’s already too late.” The implication was clear: he was afraid of ghosts.

Liu Yizhou loudly said, “Why should we fear demons and ghosts? If we are drenched in this rain for one more hour, everybody will be sick.”

Wei Xiaobao saw Mu Jianping was shivering continuously, obviously it was hard for her to endure. He also did not want to show any weakness in front of Fang Yi, and thus lost to Liu Yizhou, thereupon he said, “Alright, let us go together! If we see evil spirit, we must be careful!”

Following Zhao Laosan’s direction, the seven of them went northwest and entered the valley. It was dark and they could not see the road, but through the white curtain of falling rain, they saw cascading water in the forest. Wei Xiaobao said, “We can’t see the road, this is called ‘Ghost Wall’, the evil spirit is bewitching us.”

Xu Tianchuan said, “That cascading water is the road, water from the mountain is flowing down along the mountain path.”

“Exactly!” Wu Lishen said, while stepping on the waterfall going upward. The rest of them followed behind him going up the hill.

To the left of them they heard the neigh of the horses, so they knew those dozen or so riders must be on that side. Xu Tianchuan mused, “I wonder what those men’s background is.” But he thought that with he and Wu Lishen joined hands, even a dozen or so ordinary martial art masters should not give them any trouble, thereupon he stepped on the water, climbing up and going down into the forest.

It was even darker inside the forest, they heard the ‘Bang! Bang! Bang!’ of a door being knocked straight ahead, so they knew there was indeed a building out there. Wei Xiaobao was scared but delighted, suddenly he felt someone stretching out a hand to pull his hand, the palm of the hand was soft, and then someone whispered gently on his ear, “Don’t be afraid!” It was none other than Fang Yi.

They heard the knocking continued, but nobody opened the door. The seven of them came near, and saw a wide expanse of a building in the pitch-black night. The riders shouted at the top of their lungs, “Open the door, open the door! We are seeking shelter from the rain!” But even after shouting for a long while, there was not the least bit of response from inside the house. A man said, “Nobody lives here!” Another man said, “Zhao Laosan said it is a haunted house; who dare to live here? Just jump over the wall!” White light flickered, two men unsheathed their weapons and jumped over the wall, and then they opened the gate from the inside. Everybody rushed in.

Xu Tianchuan thought, “Obviously these men are Wulin people, but apparently their martial art skill is not too high.” The seven of them followed in.

Inside the gate, there was a very big courtyard, further in, there was the main hall. Someone took oilcloth bundle from his pocket, he untied it and took out a fire knife and a flint to light a fire. Seeing a candle on the table in the hall, he lighted it. Suddenly seeing a bright light appeared before their eyes, everybody felt a peal of delight and comfort. They also noticed that the tables, chairs and small side tables in the hall were made of red sandalwood, unexpectedly it was the style of a rich family’s home. Xu Tianchuan mused, “There’s no dust on the furniture, the ground is swept this clean, but how can there be no one in the house?”

He heard one of the men said, “This hall is very clean, someone must have lived here.” Another man raised his voice to call out, “Hello! Hello! Is anybody home? Is anybody home?” The hall was large and the ceiling high, as he shouted, there was a faint echo. When the echo stopped, other than the sound of the rain, all around them there was no other noise. Everybody looked at each other in dismay, they all felt rather strange.

A white-haired elderly man asked Xu Tianchuan, “Are you all Jianghu friends?”

Zaixia surnamed Xu,” Xu Tianchuan replied, “These several people are my family and relatives. We are going to Shanxi to visit a family; unexpectedly we came across this heavy rain. Daguanye [high-ranking official master], what is your honorable surname?”

The elderly man nodded; seeing there was an old man, a boy and a couple of women among these seven people, he did not feel suspicious at all, but he did not answer the question either. He said, “This house is a little bit strange.”

One of the men shouted, “Is there anybody here? Are you all dead?” He waited for a moment, but still nobody replied.

The elderly man sat on a chair and pointed to six men and said, “The six of you go to the rear and take a look!” The six men pulled out their weapons and went toward the back of the house. Bending down their waists slightly, they walked very slowly inside, their expressions were rather fearful. The people in the hall heard doors being kicked and unceasing shouts of questions, but nothing unusual happened. The noise went farther and farther, obviously the house was enormous, so that for a moment they had not reached the end of it.

The elderly man pointed to four more men and said, “Go find some firewood and make torches, then follow them inside.” The four men complied and left.

Wei Xiaobao and the others, seven people, were sitting on the ledge of a long window in the hall, nobody said anything. Xu Tianchuan noticed that as ten of the men went inside, there were eight people left in the hall, they all wore cloth gowns, their appearance looked like gang members of some underground gang, or some escorts from an escort agency, except they were not carrying anything to be escorted. For the time being he was unclear of these men’s background.

Wei Xiaobao could not bear not to ask, “Jiejie, do you think there’s ghost in this house?”

Before Fang Yi could answer, Liu Yizhou preceded her by saying, “Of course there is a ghost! What place never has anybody die there? When there are dead people, there will be ghosts.” Wei Xiaobao shivered, he shrank his body smaller. Liu Yizhou continued, “All malicious ghosts in the world bully the virtuous and fear the wicked, especially confused child. Adults’ yang chi [yang (positive, male) life-force or energy flow] is abundant; hangman ghosts, big-head ghosts, all do not dare to provoke adults.”

Fang Yi stretched out her hand from her sleeve to grab Wei Xiaobao’s left hand; she said, “People are afraid of ghosts, but ghosts are even more afraid of people. As soon as there is light, the ghost will run away.”

They heard footsteps, the six people who went inside first had returned to the hall with very strange expression on their faces; all of them talked at once, “Not a single soul in here, but everywhere is swept clean.” “There were beddings on the beds, and shoes under the beds, all women’s.” “All the clothes in the wardrobes are also women’s, there is not a single men’s clothing!”

In a loud voice Liu Yizhou shouted, “Female ghosts! All ghosts in this house are female ghosts!” They all turned their heads to look at him; for a moment, nobody made any noise.

Suddenly they heard strange shouts of the four men who went in later, the elderly man sprang up from his chair. He was just about to rush inside to their rescue when those four men rushed back into the main hall, the torches in their hands were extinguished; they shouted, “Dead men, a lot of dead men!” Their faces had frightened look.

Staying calm and collected, the elderly man said, “Much fuss about nothing. I thought you met with the enemy. Dead men; what’s there to be afraid of?”

“We are not afraid,” one man replied, “It’s just … it’s just bizarre.”

“What’s so bizarre?” the elderly man asked.

Another man replied, “In the east wing, all the rooms are … are mourning hall for dead people; I don’t know how many are there.”

The elderly man hesitated and then asked, “Are there any dead bodies and coffins?”

Two of the men looked at each other, they answered together, “We did not … did not see clearly, perhaps not.”

The elderly man said, “Light more torches, we will go take a look together. Perhaps this is an ancestral hall, which is very common.” Although he tried to play it down, the tone of his voice sounded very apprehensive, apparently he was fully aware that ordinary ancestral hall would not be like this. The men, his subordinates, tore down tables and chairs in the main hall and lighted them as torches, and then they all rushed toward the rear courtyard.

Xu Tianchuan said, “I’ll go to take a look, everybody, please wait here.” And he followed behind the men.

“Shifu,” Ao Biao asked, “Which group [lit. ‘way’] do these people belong to?”

Wu Lishen shook his head, “I can’t see it,” he said, “From their accents, it appears that they are people from Lu Dong, east of Shanhai Pass region, they don’t look like eagle claws of the six-leafed gate. Could they be smugglers? But I did not see them carrying any goods.”

Liu Yizhou said, “Nothing serious about that group of men. On the contrary, the large number of female ghosts in this house maybe very difficult to deal with!” Finished speaking, he stuck his tongue out in the direction of Wei Xiaobao.

Wei Xiaobao shivered, he tightly grip Fang Yi’s hand, his palm was wet with cold sweat. With a trembling voice Mu Jianping said, “Liu … Liu Shige, can you stop scaring other people?”

“Xiao Junzhu,” Liu Yizhou said, “You do not need to be afraid, you are a golden branch, jade leaf [nobility], any evil spirit sees you, it will go far away, it won’t dare to disturb you. The ones evil spirits detest the most are neither men nor women, court eunuchs.” Fang Yi raised her willow-shaped eyebrows, her face carried an angry expression, she was about to speak, but in the end she restrained herself.

After a long time, they heard footsteps as everybody returned to the main hall. Wei Xiaobao let out a relieved breath. Xu Tianchuan said in a low voice, “Seven or eight rooms, a total of more than thirty mourning halls. Each mourning hall has five or six sacrificial offerings, seven or eight memorial tablets. It looks like each mourning hall is dedicated to dead people of one family.”

“Hey, hey,” Liu Yizhou said, “Won’t that mean this house has several hundred evil spirits?”

Xu Tianchuan shook his head; he was an experienced and knowledgeable man, but he had never heard of such a strange thing. A moment later, he slowly said, “The strangest thing is that in front of each mourning hall there was a lighted candle.” Wei Xiaobao, Fang Yi and Mu Jianping, three people cried out in fear together.

One of the men said, “When we went in before, the candles were clearly not lighted.”

“Are you sure?” the elderly man asked. The four men looked at each other, they all shook their heads.

The elderly man said, “It’s not ghost. We are encountering a person of high skill. In an instant he was able to light more than thirty candles on the mourning halls; his movement must be very fast. Xu Laoyezi, don’t you think so?” The last sentence was addressed to Xu Tianchuan.

Xu Tianchuan feigned ignorance; he said, “Perhaps we have offended the master of this house. There is no harm … no harm in us going to the mourning hall and … and kowtow several times.”

Amidst the noise of the rain, from the east wing suddenly came the sound of several women wailing, the voice was very mournful; although the sound of the heavy rain was very loud, these wailings could be heard very clearly. Wei Xiaobao was so scared that his mouth was wide open and he was speechless, his countenance changed greatly. Everybody else looked at each other in shock, they were all absolutely horrified. A moment later, from the west wing came the sound of a woman weeping in grief. Liu Yizhou, Ao Biao, as well as two of the men cried out together, “Weeping Ghost!”

“Humph!” the elderly man snorted; suddenly he said in a loud voice, “We are passing by your residence and stop by to take shelter from the rain, and thus trespass your precious residence. I hereby apologize. Would worthy host be willing to grant this request?” His voice was backed by abundant chi, it could travel very far.

After a long time, there was not the slightest response from the back. The elderly man shook his head, and then in a loud voice said, “Since the host is not willing to receive uncouth guests, we have no choice but to disturb without permission. We are taking shelter from the rain in this hall. As soon as it is dawn and the rain stops, everybody will hasten on our journey.” Finished speaking, he made a hand signal telling everybody not to make any noise, while he inclined his head sideways to listen.

A long time passed, they no longer heard the sound of wailing or weeping. A man said in low voice, “Zhang Sanye [third master], I don’t care if he is a human or a ghost, come daybreak, we’ll set fire and burn this damn house to the ground.”

The elderly man shook his hand and said, “We have not accomplished our important mission, we must not add another problem. Sit down and rest!”

Everybody’s clothes was wet, thereupon they built fire in the main hall. Someone took out a wine gourd, pulled the plug and handed it over to the elderly man to drink.

The elderly man drank several mouthful of wine, then he cast a sidelong glance to Xu Tianchuan for half a day before saying, “Xu Laoyezi, you are all from one family, how come your accents are not the same? You are from the Capital, but these several people are from Yunnan?”

Xu Tianchuan laughed and said, “Laoyezi has very good hearing, obviously you are a Jianghu veteran. My oldest Meizi [younger sister] got married in Yunnan. This is my Meifu [younger sister’s husband].” He pointed to Wu Lishen, and then continued, “My Meifu and their children are Yunnan people. My second Meizi got married in Shanxi. Southern sky, northern earth [meaning: far apart], for several decades we rarely see each other even for once. This time we are going to Shanxi to visit my second Meizi.” When he called Wu Lishen his Meifu, he was actually honoring him. At that time, according to custom of the people of northern China, calling people ‘older maternal uncle’ or ‘younger maternal uncle’ was considered cursing him.

The elderly man nodded. He drank another mouthful of wine. Squinting his eyes, he said, “Are you all from Beijing?”

“Exactly,” Xu Tianchuan replied.

The elderly man said, “Along the way, did you see a thirteen, fourteen years old little eunuch?”

As soon as he said that, Xu Tianchuan and the others’ heart skipped a beat; fortunately the elderly man had his gaze only toward Xu Tianchuan. But Xu Tianchuan’s face did not reveal anything. Ao Biao and Mu Jianping’s countenances changed, but nobody paid them any attention. Xu Tianchuan said, “Did you say eunuch? In Beijing, old eunuchs, little eunuchs, there are so many of them. As soon as I left home, I would come across several eunuchs.”

The elderly man said, “I asked you if you saw one along the way, not in Beijing.”

Xu Tianchuan laughed and said, “Laoyezi, that is out of question. According to the Great Qing’s rule, when an eunuch leaves the Capital, he is committing a major crime. Court eunuchs are not like during the Ming Dynasty, with full power and prestige; nowadays, which eunuch dares to leave the Capital for even one step?”

“Oh,” the elderly man said, “Perhaps he is in disguise?”

Xu Tianchuan repeatedly shook his head, “I don’t think he has that kind of guts!” he said. After a short pause, he asked, “Laoyezi, which little eunuch are you looking for? When I return to Beijing after visiting my relatives in Shanxi, I can help you make the inquiry.”

“Humph, humph,” the elderly man said, “Thank you very much, but I am not sure if I will live that long.” Finished speaking, he closed his eyes and no longer speak.

Xu Tianchuan thought, “He is inquiring about a thirteen, fourteen year’s old little eunuch; isn’t that Wei Xiangzhu? These men are not from Tian Di Hui or Mu Palace, eight or nine out of ten, they do not have any good intention, I must investigate clearly. He does not ask further, we must ask him further.” Thereupon he said, “Laoyezi, among the little eunuchs in Beijing, only one is very famous. His great name has spread all over the world, I believe you have also heard about him, he is the one who killed that treacherous minister Oboi, the one who set up great merit.”

The elderly man opened his eyes and said, “Mm, are you talking about Xiao Guizi, Gui Gong-gong?”

“Who else but him?” Xu Tianchuan said, “This man has guts and is very brave, exceptionally skillful in martial arts, he is really amazing!”

“What does he look like?” the elderly man asked, “Have you seen him?”

“Ha,” Xu Tianchuan said, “This Gui Gong-gong strolls around Beijing streets every day. Among Beijing people, I am afraid only a few have never seen him. This Gui Gong-gong is dark and fat, he is quite a plump fellow, he is at least seventeen, eighteen years old; nobody would take him for a fourteen-year-old.”

Fang Yi’s hand, which was holding Wei Xiaobao’s hand tightened; Mu Jianping gently nudged his back with her elbow, they were laughing in their hearts. At first Wei Xiaobao was afraid of the ghosts, but as he heard the elderly man inquiring about himself, he was so busy scheming in his heart that he forgot his fear of the ghosts.

“Is that right?” the elderly man said, “What I heard is quite different. I heard this Gui Gong-gong is only thirteen, fourteen-year-old little boy, very crafty and smart; perhaps he looks 30% like your nephew [orig. wai sheng – sister’s son or wife’s sibling’s son]. Ha ha, ha ha!” While saying that, he looked at Wei Xiaobao.

Liu Yizhou suddenly said, “I heard that Xiao Guizi is despicable and shameless; all he can do is using the knockout drugs. He was able to kill Oboi, because he had used the drug first, otherwise, this little thief is a coward and afraid of ghosts, how could he succeed in killing Oboi?” Turning to Wei Xiaobao, he chuckled and said, “Cousin [orig. biaodi – younger maternal cousin], don’t you agree?”

Wu Lishen was angry; he sent a backhand palm toward Liu Yizhou’s face. Liu Yizhou lowered his head to evade, his left foot sprang, his body rose up. Wu Lishen’s backhand palm strike was the move ‘jade fowl spreading its wings’, Liu Yizhou’s dodging and springing up was the move ‘golden horse neighing into the wind’; both styles belonged to the Mu Family Fist Technique. One struck rapidly, the other dodged quickly, unwittingly they both used their school’s unique skills.

The elderly man surnamed Zhang suddenly sprang up and said with a laugh, “Good! You all disguise yourselves really well!” As soon as he stood up, the dozen or so of his men also sprang up. The elderly man barked his order, “Take them all! Don’t let even a single one escape!”

Wu Lishen pulled out a short saber from his bosom, his big head shook to the left, he hacked down a man, he shook to the right, the saber cut another man’s throat, sending him down to the ground.

The elderly man drew a pair of judge-pens from his waist; brandishing them together, the pens made swishing noise. The left-hand pen pointing toward Wu Lishen’s throat, the right-hand pen moved toward the pit of Xu Tianchuan’s stomach. With one move attacking two people, his movement was very fast.

Xu Tianchuan dashed to the right, his left hand clawed a man’s eyes. As the man tossed his head back to evade, the saber in his hand was snatched away, suddenly he felt sharp pain on his waist as his own saber had penetrated his own belly. On the other side, Ao Biao was fighting with a man. After hesitating slightly, Liu Yizhou untied his flexible whip and charged forward to join the battle.

Although the other side had more people, the elderly man was the only one who could face Wu Lishen in an evenly matched battle, the rest of them only had mediocre martial art skill. Wei Xiaobao could see this small advantage clearly; he thought, “As long as I don’t come across that old tortoise, I might be able to handle the rest of them.” Holding the dagger in his hand, he wanted to charge forward.

Fang Yi pulled his back and said, “Our victory is decided, you don’t have to help.”

Wei Xiaobao mused, “I know our victory is decided, which was why I went forward. If we would definitely be lost, why would I wait here and not run away quickly?”

Suddenly they heard several swishing noise in succession, the elderly man had jumped to the side, the pair of judge-pens in his hands were rubbing against each other, the men under his command quickly squeezed behind him, very soon they had formed a square. With only several steps these men were able to move into position; more than a dozen men moved together without pushing each other, or colliding with each other, an indication that they had been trained very well and had spent a lot of time in this formation.

Xu Tianchuan and Wu Lishen were startled, they withdrew several steps back. Ao Biao charged forward courageously. Suddenly from the square formation four sabers went out together, two hacked toward his shoulder, two hacked toward his leg; the coordination was really ingenious. Simultaneously, two spears coming out of the formation to meet Ao Biao’s saber. “Ah!” Ao Biao cried out, his shoulder was hit by a saber.

“Biao’er, step back!” Wu Lishen called out anxiously. Ao Biao leaped backward to evade. In the blink of an eye, victory or defeat was suddenly reversed.

Xu Tianchuan stood in front of Wei Xiaobao and the two ladies to protect them; he was watching carefully how their opponents were using this formation. He saw the elderly man raised the judge-pen in his right hand and loudly called out, “Hong Jiaozhu won’t be old for ten thousand years, he will forever enjoy the immortal good-fortune! His long-life is the same as the Heaven’s, his long-life is the same as the Heaven’s!”

The dozen or so of his men raised their weapons together and cried out, “Hong Jiaozhu‘s long-life is the same as the Heaven’s, his long-life is the same as the Heaven’s!” Their voices shook the roof-tiles; they appeared as if they were possessed.

Xu Tianchuan was aghast; he was wondering what kind of trick they were playing. As Wei Xiaobao heard the three words ‘Hong Jiaozhu‘, he suddenly remembered Tao Hongying’s terrified expression when she was mentioning those words. He blurted out, “Shen Long Jiao! They are from Shen Long Jiao!”

The elderly man’s countenance changed. “You also know Shen Long Jiao’s reputation!” he said. Lifting high his right hand, he shouted, “Hong Jiaozhu‘s magical power is extensive. Our Cult triumphs in every battle, wins every fight, no stronghold we cannot overcome, no opponent we cannot broken down. The enemy flees at mere distant sight, they will escape without a trace.”

As Xu Tianchuan and the others heard each sentence, their heart trembled. They thought that these people’s action was totally weird, they had never seen anything like this before; facing the enemy, unexpectedly they recited some sentences in loud voice.

Wei Xiaobao called out, “These men chanting incantations, don’t fall into their trick! Everybody charge forward to kill!”

They heard the elderly man and his men were chanting quicker and quicker; it was no longer the elderly man chanted one verse and his men followed one verse, but those more than a dozen men were chanting together, “Hong Jiaozhu‘s magical power protects and blesses, his disciples’ courage increases a hundredfold, one can fight a hundred, a hundred can fight ten thousand. Hong Jiaozhu‘s divine eyes are like lightning, illuminating four directions. Our disciple who kills the enemy and protects the Cult, Hong Jiaozhu considers him to be his kin, promotes him into the priesthood. Our disciple who dies in protecting the Cult will rise into the paradise!” Suddenly, with a loud shout they charged forward.

Wu Lishen, Xu Tianchuan and the others raised their weapons to meet the attack, but unexpectedly this time these men’s martial art had advanced greatly; each hack of the saber, each thrust of the spear, was several times stronger than before. Like fools or mad people, they brandished their weapons randomly. Not too long afterward, Ao Biao and Liu Yizhou were cut down. One by one Wei Xiaobao, Fang Yi and Mu Jianping were also thrown down. Fang Yi suffered a leg injury, while Mu Jianping was wounded on her arm. Wei Xiaobao’s back was also stabbed by a spear, luckily he was protected by his treasured vest, so that the spear did not enter his body; however, the incoming force was too heavy that he was unable to withstand and tumbled down to the ground. Before long, one after another Wu Lishen and Xu Tianchuan were also wounded. The elderly man stretched out his finger and successively sealed the vital acupoints on their bodies.

The men shouted together, “Hong Jiaozhu‘s magical power is extensive, his long-life is the same as the Heaven’s, his long-life is the same as the Heaven’s!” Finished shouting, they suddenly sat down together. Sweats gushed out of each man’s forehead like spring, their breathing was heavy, as if they were utterly exhausted. In this battle, victory or defeat was decided in less than the time needed to drink a cup of tea, but it was as if these men had fought a hard battle for several hours.

Wei Xiaobao groaned silently; he thought, “Turns out these people know witchcraft, no wonder when mentioning Shen Long Jiao, Tao Gugu was so frightened like that. Indeed their magical power is extensive.”

The elderly man sat on a chair and closed his eyes to regain his composure. It was quite a while later that he finally stood up. After wiping the perspiration on his forehead, he then paced back and forth in the main hall. Quite a while later, his men started to stand up one by one.

The elderly man turned toward Xu Tianchuan and the others and said, “All of you recite after me together! Listen up, I recite a sentence, you follow a sentence. Hong Jiaozhu‘s magical power is extensive, his long-life is the same as the Heaven’s!”

Xu Tianchuan cursed, “Demonical crooked people, dress up as God, play the devil; you want laozi to follow you playing tricks? In your mother’s clear autumn night’s dream!” The elderly man raised his judge-pen to strike Xu Tianchuan’s forehead. ‘Bang!’ blood gushing out from the wound. Xu Tianchuan cursed, “Dog thief, sorcerer!”

The elderly man asked Wu Lishen, “Are you going to recite or not?” Wu Lishen shook his head before answering. The elderly man raised his judge-pen again to strike his forehead.

When he asked Ao Biao, Ao Biao cursed, “Your granny’s long-life is the same as the dog’s!”

The elderly man was furious, his judge-pen struck down powerfully, Ao Biao immediately fainted. Wu Lishen shouted, “Biao’er is a real man! You who only know how to use witchcraft, damn it, if you have guts, just kill us all.”

The elderly man raised his judge-pen and asked Liu Yizhou, “Are you going to recite or not?”

“I … I … I …” Liu Yizhou stammered.

“Say it,” the elderly man said, “Hong Jiaozhu‘s magical power is extensive, his long-life is the same as the Heaven’s!”

Liu Yizhou said, “Hong Jiaozhu‘s … Hong Jiaozhu‘s …”

The elderly man lightly poked Liu Yizhou’s forehead with the tip of his judge-pen; he shouted, “Quickly recite it!”

“Yes, yes,” Liu Yizhou said, “Hong Jiaozhu‘s … Hong Jiaozhu‘s long-life is the same as the Heaven’s!”

The elderly man laughed aloud and said, “Finally, someone who knows how to take advantage of this matter. You, this kid, may receive less pain.” Walking toward Wei Xiaobao, he shouted, “Little demon, recite after me.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “I don’t need you to recite.”

“What?” the elderly man angrily said. He raised his judge-pen.

In loud voice Wei Xiaobao recited, “Wei Jiaozhu‘s magical power is extensive, his long-life is the same as the Heaven’s, he will forever enjoy the immortal good-fortune. Wei Jiaozhu triumphs in every battle, wins every fight, no stronghold Wei Jiaozhu cannot overcome, no opponent Wei Jiaozhu cannot broken down. Wei Jiaozhu elevates everybody, everybody will ascend to paradise …”

When saying ‘Wei Jiaozhu‘, the word ‘Wei’ was spoken vaguely, it was no more than a grunt from his nostril actually; but the elderly man did not realize he was playing a trick, he thought Wei Xiaobao was saying ‘Hong Jiaozhu‘. Hearing Wei Xiaobao recited several lines in succession, he laughed aloud and praised him, “This child is exceptionally smart.” He walked over to Fang Yi and put his hand on her chin, saying, “Hmm, this little girl’s appearance is not bad. Now repeat after me nicely.”

Fang Yi turned her head around. “I won’t recite!” she said.

The elderly man raised his judge-pen to strike, but when he saw her beautiful face under the candle light, he could not bear to do it, so he aimed the tip of the pen to her cheek and loudly said, “Are you going to recite or not? If you say ‘I won’t recite’ one more time, I am going to draw three lines on your cheek.”

Fang Yi stubbornly refused to recite, but she did not dare to say those words ‘I won’t recite’ out loud. “Are you going to recite or not?” the elderly man asked again.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Let me recite it for her. I guarantee it will be more pleasant to hear than if she is reciting it herself.”

“Who ask you to recite for her?” the elderly man said. Raising his judge-pen, he struck Fang Yi’s forehead.

“Ah!” Fang Yi cried out in pain.

Suddenly someone laughed and said, “Zhang Sanye, if this little girl does not want to recite, we can strip her clothes.” The rest of the men cried out together, “Wonderful, wonderful! That’s a great idea.”

Liu Yizhou suddenly said, “Why would you want to bully this girl? You want to find the little eunuch, I know where he is.”

“Do you?” the elderly man hastily asked, “Where is he? Tell me quickly, tell me quickly!”

Liu Yizhou said, “You must promise not to bother this miss, I will tell you. Otherwise, even if you kill me, I won’t say anything.”

Shige,” Fang Yi sharply said, “I don’t need you to care about me.”

The elderly man laughed. “Alright,” he said, “I promise you I won’t bother this miss.”

“You have to keep your words,” Liu Yizhou said.

The elderly man said, “What I say, naturally the man surnamed Zhang will keep it. That little eunuch is the one who killed Oboi, the one most favored and trusted by the Emperor, Xiao Guizi. Do you really know where he is?”

Liu Yizhou said, “Far in the horizon, but close in front of your eyes!”

The elderly man jumped up; pointing to Wei Xiaobao he said, “Is … is … is it him?” His face showed a mixture of surprise and delight.

Fang Yi said, “He is such a child, how can he kill Oboi? Don’t listen to his nonsense.”

Liu Yizhou said, “That’s right, if he did not use knockout drug, how could he kill the number one warrior of Manchuria, Oboi?”

The elderly man was half believing, half doubting; he asked Wei Xiaobao, “Did you or did you not kill Oboi?”

“What if I did?” Wei Xiaobao said, “And what if I did not?”

“Your granny,” the elderly man cursed, “When I looked at you, I knew this little demon is rather demonical. Search him first, we’ll talk later.”

Two of his men immediately stepped forward and untied the bundle Wei Xiaobao carried on his back; they set each article on the table. The elderly man saw pearls, gold and jade, and all kinds of valuables. “This is definitely the goods from the Imperial Palace,” he said, “Uh … what is this?” He picked a thick wad of banknotes, and saw that each note worth either five hundred taels or one thousand taels; altogether there were no less than several hundred thousand taels. He could not help but was stupefied; he said, “Definitely not wrong, you … you are Xiao Guizi. Take him to the room that side of the building to be interrogated.”

Fang Yi anxiously said, “Don’t … don’t make things difficult for him.” ‘Wah!’ Mu Jianping broke out and cried.

A man grabbed the back of Wei Xiaobao neck, two men picked the valuables from the table, another man took the candlestick and led them all toward the eastern wing of the rear courtyard. The elderly man waved his hand and said, “All of you get out!” The four men left the room and closed the door behind them.

Beaming with joy, the elderly man did not stop rubbing his hands together while he paced back and forth along the room. He said with a laugh, “Seeking around until the iron shoes are worn out but fail to find, without spending any effort the result is obtained. Xiao Guizi Gong-gong, to be able to meet you here today, it is indeed the good fortune of three lifetimes.”

Wei Xiaobao also said with a laugh, “Zaixia can meet Laoyezi here today, it is indeed the good fortune of six lifetimes, nine lifetimes.” He thought that since they had already searched through his belongings, denying would be useless; he had to act according to the situation and see if he could get by using deceit.

The elderly man was startled; he asked, “What good fortune of six lifetimes, nine lifetimes? Gui Gong-gong, is your honorable self on your way to the Qing Liang Temple on Mount Wutai?”

Wei Xiaobao could not help but was shocked. “This old turtle knew everything,” he thought, “He won’t be easy to cope with.” Thereupon he chuckled and said, “Not only Sire’s martial art skill excels, your skill in casting spells also surpasses Maoshan Daoshi[4]. Your Shen Long Jiao’s reputation is spread all over the world, indeed there is a reason behind it. Zaixia has already heard about it a long time ago, today I can see it with my own eyes, it is worthy of my utmost admiration.” He spoke whatever came into his mind to change the subject, ignoring the original question altogether.

The elderly man asked, “Where did you hear about Shen Long Jiao’s reputation?”

Wei Xiaobao said thoughtlessly, “I heard it from Ping Xi Wang Wu Sangui’s son, Wu Yingxiong. On his father’s order he came to Beijing to pay tribute. Among his subordinates there was a warrior by the name of Yang Yizhi, and then there were several martial art experts from Jin Ding School of Liao Dong. They were talking about wiping out the Shen Long Jiao, saying that in the Shen Long Jiao there is some Hong Jiaozhu, whose magical power is extensive, the number experts under his command is extremely numerous. He had a Cult member sent to the Bordered Blue Banner’s Banner Commander’s house on a mission to obtain a copy of the ‘Forty-two-chapter sutra’. He was indeed very formidable.” Wei Xiaobao was proficient in using deceits; he knew he could not tell lies all the time. If he said nine sentences of truth and one sentence of lie, it would be much easier to deceive people.

The more the elderly man heard, the more he was amazed; he had heard the names of Wu Yingxiong and Yang Yizhi. But about an important personage of his Cult being an officer under the Bordered Blue Banner’s Banner Commander, it was a top secret mission of their Cult. It was only more than a month ago that he advertently found out about it. He had also vaguely heard about a scripture called the ‘Forty-two-chapter sutra’, but as for the details, he was completely in the dark. He busily asked, “Ping Xi Wang and our Shen Long Jiao have neither resentment nor enmity, why would they want to create trouble without any reason? Speaking about ‘wiping out’, two characters, it is indeed a reckless act.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “Naturally Wu Yingxiong and the others did not have either resentment or enmity with Shen Long Jiao. Speaking about Hong Jiaozhu’s ability, they have nothing but admiration. But since Shen Long Jiao has obtained the most valuable treasure, the amazing book ‘Forty-two-chapter sutra’, they simply have to get it from you. Isn’t there a plump lady in your honorable Cult by the name of Liu Yan, Liu Dajie [big sister], working in the Palace?”

“Uh, how did you know?” the elderly man asked in amazement.

Wei Xiaobao was spouting nonsense, as long as he thought it had some connection with Shen Long Jiao, he would mention it. But his mind was racing fast, he said, “This Liu Dajie’s friendship with me is really not bad. Once she offended the Empress Dowager, the Empress Dowager wanted to kill her, luckily I put an effort to save her, I hid her under my bed. The Empress Dowager was looking for her everywhere in the Palace, but could not find her. This fat Dajie was very grateful for my kindness in saving her that she persuaded me to join Shen Long Jiao. She said that Hong Jiaozhu is very fond of children like me, he would surely give me great benefits in the future.”

“Um,” the elderly man was more convinced, he asked, “Why would the Empress Dowager want to kill Liu Yan? Aren’t they … aren’t in a very good term with each other?”

“Yes, they are,” Wei Xiaobao said, “They are actually Shijie, Shimei. Why would the Empress Dowager want to kill Liu Dajie then? Liu Dajie said that it was a very top secret; she did tell me, but I have promised her I will never reveal the secret, therefore, I cannot tell you about it. Anyway, just recently, to the Empress Dowager’s Palace of Compassionate and Peaceful came a man disguised as a woman, a fake palace maid. This man’s head is bald …”

“Deng Bingchun?” the elderly man blurted, “You also know when Deng Dage entered the Palace?”

Actually, Wei Xiaobao had no idea that the fake palace maid was called Deng Bingchun, but his face showed an all-knowing expression; with a smile he said, “Zhang Sanye, this is top secret, you must never reveal it in front of anybody else. Otherwise, all hell will break loose. It’s alright for you and me to talk about it, but if there were a third person in here, even if he was your most trusted aide, you absolutely cannot breathe a single word. If this matter is exposed and Hong Jiaozhu is angry, I am afraid even you yourself will have to face an enormous trouble.”

He had lived in the Palace long enough to know that in the imperial court and in the Palace, divulging a secret was a major crime; the heaviest punishment would be beheading and confiscation of the family’s property, the lightest punishment would be forever losing the opportunity to advance in his career. For this reason, everybody was very secretive, sneaky, appeared to be shrouded in profound mystery, on the surface they pretended to know everything, it’s just that it was inconvenient to tell you. When he used this trick on that old man surnamed Zhang, as expected, it was like ‘setting up a pole and see the shadow’ [instant effect], he got the desired effect on the spot. Within the clan, society, cult and sect of the Jianghu, the way the superiors control the subordinates was actually no different than the imperial court, the different was just in the degree of finesse with which that control was executed.

As soon as the elderly man heard those words, he was secretly alarmed and afraid, thinking, “How can I be this careless, that I tell this kind of matter to a kid? I must not spare this kid, when this important matter is done, I must kill him to shut his mouth.” He could not help but looked embarrassed. Forcing a laughed, he asked, “What did you talk about with our Deng Shixiong?”

Wei Xiaobao said, “What I talked about with Deng Shixiong is exactly what he wanted me to report to Hong Jiaozhu. When I see Jiaozhu in the future, naturally I will make a detail report to him.”

“Yes, yes,” the elderly man said. He was frightened by Wei Xiaobao putting on airs like that, yet he was not sure about this child’s origin, thereupon he put on an amiable manner and said, “Xiao Xiongdi, you are going to Mount Wutai, naturally to meet Deputy Chief Rui Dong, is that right?”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “He knew I am going to Mount Wutai, he also knew the Rui Dong affair; he definitely got this information from the old wh0re. The old wh0re called that bald fake palace maid as Shixiong, that bald man was an important personage of Shen Long Jiao, turns out the old wh0re is ganging up with the Shen Long Jiao. Laozi has fallen into their hands, indeed I’ve gone through nine deaths and still alive, went through eighteen death and half alive [narrow escape].” He faked an amazed expression, “Uh,” he said, “Zhang Sanye, your news is actually very quick, you even know about Deputy Chief Rui.”

The elderly man smiled and said, “I also know about someone whose background is ten thousand times more important than Deputy Chief Rui.”

Wei Xiaobao groaned inwardly, “Bad, it’s bad! The old wh0re told him everything. Other than Emperor Shunzhi, whose background is ten thousand times more important than Rui Dong?”

The elderly man said, “Xiao Xiongdi, you don’t need to conceal anything from me. You are going up Mount Wutai, are you acting under someone else’s order, or are you going on your own initiative?”

“I am an eunuch in the Palace,” Wei Xiaobao said, “If I am not acting under someone else’s order, how can I dare to leave the Capital? Do you think I dislike having a long life?”

“If that’s the case,” the elderly man said, “Was it His Majesty who sent you?”

Wei Xiaobao pretended he was surprised greatly. “His Majesty?” he said, “Did you say His Majesty? Haha, this time your source of information is inaccurate. How would His Majesty know about Mount Wutai?”

“If not His Majesty, then who sent you?” the elderly man asked.

Wei Xiaobao said, “Go ahead, guess.”

The elderly man said, “Could it be the Empress Dowager?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “Sure enough Zhang Sanye is good, one guess and you got it. In the Palace, those who know about Mount Wutai are only two people and a ghost.”

“Two people and a ghost?” the elderly man repeated.

“Precisely,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Two people: one is the Empress Dowager, the other is Zaixia. The ghost is Hai Dafu, Hai Laogong. He was killed by the Empress Dowager using the ‘Transforming Bones Soft Palm’.”

The muscles on the elderly man’s face twitched; he said, “Transforming Bones Soft Palm, Transforming Bones Soft Palm. Turns out it was the Empress Dowager who sent you. But what does the Empress Dowager want you to do?”

Wei Xiaobao laughed and said, “The Empress Dowager and you are on the same side, there is no harm in you asking her, the Senior.”

If these words were said as soon as they entered the room, the elderly man would most likely slap Wei Xiaobao on the ear; but after hearing Wei Xiaobao’s explanation earlier, his mind was confused and undecided. He muttered to himself, “Hm, the Empress Dowager sent you to Mount Wutai.”

Wei Xiaobao said, “The Empress Dowager said that she has already sent someone to report to Hong Jiaozhu about this matter, and Hong Jiaozhu has given his complete endorsement. The Empress Dowager instructed me to do this mission well, and then she will reward me handsomely, Hong Jiaozhu might also reward me with great benefit.” He repeatedly mentioned ‘Hong Jiaozhu’, three characters, since he knew the old man in front of him was extremely afraid of Hong Jiaozhu; he only needed to allude that Hong Jiaozhu held a very high regard of himself, then the old man would not dare to harm him.

With such a bluff, although the elderly man was skeptical, he would still rather believe than disbelieve; he asked, “Those six people outside, are they your subordinates, your attendants?”

“All of them are from the Palace,” Wei Xiaobao replied, “The two ladies are palace maids, the Empress Dowager’s personal attendants. The four men are Imperial Bodyguards, the Empress Dowager sent them out to help me on this mission. They don’t know anything about Shen Long Jiao. This kind of secret information, naturally the Empress Dowager would not tell them …” Speaking to this point, he noticed that the elderly man’s face showed a sneer; he knew something was not right. “What is it?” he asked, “You don’t believe me?”

With a cold laugh the elderly man said, “Yunnan’s Mu Family people are loyal to the previous Ming Dynasty, how can they enter the Palace and be Imperial Bodyguards? When you tell a lie, you should have consistency.”

Wei Xiaobao laughed aloud. The elderly man asked in consternation, “What are you laughing about?” He had never imagined that when his lie was exposed, when it was hard for him to justify himself, oftentimes Wei Xiaobao would laugh, so that the other side would feel that surely it was they who were completely mistaken, that they were being naïve and ridiculous. Now that their hearts had been emptied, when Wei Xiaobao continued to cover up a lie, the other party would not dare to press excessively.

Wei Xiaobao laughed several times and then said, “The one people of Mu Palace hate the most is neither Empress Dowager nor His Majesty. But I am afraid you don’t know anything about it.”

“How can I not know?” the elderly man said, “The one people of Mu Palace hate the most is naturally Wu Sangui.”

Wei Xiaobao feigned astonishment. “Amazing,” he said, “Zhang Sanye, I won’t conceal anything from you: the Mu Palace people are willing to work for the Empress Dowager for the purpose of having Wu Sangui executed along with his entire family unto the third generation, that even chicken and dogs of the Ping Xi Wang Mansion will not be spared. Let’s not mention there are Mu Palace people in the Imperial Palace, do you think they do not have people planted in the Ping Xi Wang Mansion? It’s just that this matter is a top secret; you and I are on the same side, so it’s alright for me to tell you, but you must never leak this secret out.”

The elderly man nodded. “So that’s how it is,” he said. But in his heart he only believed 30% after all; he pondered, “I’d better ask the people outside, see if their confession matches with his. Asking that little girl is the best, it’s easier to get the truth from little kids.” Immediately he turned around, pushed the door and walked out.

Wei Xiaobao was greatly alarmed. “Hey, hey,” he called out, “Where are you going? This is a haunted house, how … how can you leave me alone in here?”

“I will be back shortly,” the elderly man replied. Closing the door behind him, he went to the main hall in quick steps.

Wei Xiaobao’s palms were clammy. The candlelight flickered, making the shadows on the white wall trembled continuously, as if each shadow was a specter. All around him not a sound was heard.

Suddenly, from the outside came a man was shouting loudly, “Where are you all going?” It was precisely the elderly man’s voice. Wei Xiaobao was originally very frightened, after hearing the elderly man’s voice was filled with terror, he was so scared that he almost pass out. “Have they … have they all disappeared?” he called out.

He heard the elderly man loudly calling out again, “Where are you? Where have you gone?” As soon as these two sentenced were finished, silence fell.

After a while, Wei Xiaobao heard someone rushing toward him; he heard the noise of doors being kicked open one by one, and then that elderly man crashed into the room. Wei Xiaobao screamed. He saw the elderly man’s man face was devoid of any color, his eyes were bulging out, as he breathlessly said, “They … they are … are gone.”

“They … they must be captured by the malicious ghosts,” Wei Xiaobao said, “Let us … let us run away quickly!”

“This is not happening,” the elderly man said; his left hand held on to the table for support, the table was creaking, obviously in his heart he was quite frightened. He turned around and walked back to the door, opened the door wide and shouted, “Where are you? Where are you?” And then he stopped and cocked his head to listen, but in the quiet night all they could hear was the sound of several women weeping. He was at a loss of what to do, he stood at the threshold for a moment, and then took several steps backward, closed the door, picked up the door bolt and bolted the door from the inside. He saw Wei Xiaobao’s round little eyes revealed dread, as he could not take his gaze off the elderly man. He saw he was clenching his teeth, his face alternated between blue and white.

The heavy rain had stopped for a moment. Suddenly, there was an intermittent downpour sprinkled the roof, making a ‘shua, shua’ noise. “Ah,” the elderly man exclaimed, and sprang up. It was a moment later that he finally said, “It’s … raining … raining again.”

Suddenly from the main hall came a soft woman’s voice, “Zhang Laosan [ol’ Zhang the third], come out!” Although the voice did not sound old, it was not tender and lovely either; definitely it did not belong to either Fang Yi or Mu Jianping. The voice still carried three parts of sadness and shrill.

“Female ghost!” Wei Xiaobao whispered.

The elderly man loudly said, “Who’s calling me?”

No answer from the outside. Other than the pitter patter of the rain, there was no other noise. The elderly man and Wei Xiaobao looked at each other in dismay. The hair on both men’s bodies stood up.

After quite a while later, the same woman’s voice called out again, “Zhang Laosan, come out!”

The elderly man mustered his courage. He kicked with his left foot, ‘bang!’ the door flew outward, the door bolt was still hanging on the door frame. He hacked down with his right palm, ‘crack!’ the bolt broke in the middle; and then he walked out. “Don’t go out!” Wei Xiaobao anxiously said, but the elderly man had already rushed toward the main hall.

As soon as the elderly man left, silence fell once again; there was no sound of cursing or fighting, not even the sound of footsteps was heard. A burst of cold breeze blew from outside, carrying quite a bit of rain with it, most of it fell on Wei Xiaobao’s body. He shuddered from cold. He wanted to open his mouth and shout, but did not have enough courage to do so. ‘Bang!’ suddenly the door was blown by the wind, it hit the door frame and immediately swung back out.

Wei Xiaobao was the only one left in this haunted house, naturally there were also quite a number of malicious ghosts, who could come into the room to strangle him death anytime. Fortunately, after waiting for a long, long time, no evil spirit had ever entered the room. Wei Xiaobao comforted himself, “Oh, that’s right! Evil spirits only harm grownups, they won’t harm children. Perhaps they have eaten many people and are full already. If it’s daylight, it would be better!”

Suddenly another burst of cold wind blew in, the candle flickered and died. Wei Xiaobao screamed. He could feel that there was a ghost in the room. He knew the ghost was standing right in front of him; although it was pitch-black and he could not see a thing, he was very sure that the ghost was standing right there.

“Hey, hey, you don’t have to harm me,” Wei Xiaobao stammered, “I … I am also a ghost, we are on the same side! No, no … we all are ghosts, we are fellow ghosts. It’s … it’s useless for you to harm me.” [Translator’s note: the phrase ‘on the same side’ actually came from ‘自己人’ zi ji ren (lit. our own man), he changed it into ‘自己鬼’ zi ji gui (our own ghost).]

The ghost coldly said, “You don’t need to be afraid, I won’t harm you.” It was a female ghost’s voice.

Hearing these ten words, Wei Xiaobao’s spirit was aroused; he said, “You said you won’t harm me, you can’t possibly harm me. A real man’s word is like a mountain, if you harm me, then you are in the wrong.”

The ghost coldly said, “I am not a ghost, neither am I a real man. I am asking you: that arrogant official of the imperial court, Oboi, was it really you who killed him?”

“You are really not a ghost?” Wei Xiaobao asked, “Are you Oboi’s enemy, or his friend?”

After he asked that question, the other side did not say anything. Temporarily Wei Xiaobao could not decide how he was going to answer her question. If the other side was Oboi’s enemy, the ‘enemy ghost’, being straightforward and admit it would be best; but if she was Oboi’s close relative, the ‘family ghost’, would it be really bad if he admit it? In that instant, his gambler instinct flared up; he thought, “Whether it will be ‘big’ or ‘small’, I will have to bet a treasure. If I bet correctly, she will regard me as Da Laoye [big master]. If I bet wrong, I will lose everything, including my life!” Thereupon with a loud voice he said, “Damn it, Oboi was indeed killed by laozi; what do you want? Laozi stabbed him with a dagger on his back, he immediately went to see Yan Wang. If you want revenge, just make your move. If laozi ever knit my brows, I am not a hero or a warrior.”

The woman coldly asked, “Why did you kill Oboi?”

Wei Xiaobao thought, “If you are Oboi’s friend, it would still be useless if I shift the blame to the Emperor, you won’t spare me anyway. Since I have already placed my bet, if I lose, laozi will lose everything, but if I win, I will gain everything.” With a loud voice he said, “Oboi killed innumerable good people under the heavens, although laozi is young, my heart is filled with anger. It so happened that he offended the Emperor; I seized the opportunity to kill him. A real man is fully responsible of his action. Let me tell you this: even if that dog thief Oboi did not offend the Emperor, I would still look for an opportunity to surreptitiously make my move to take revenge and wipe out a grudge on the behalf of common people under the heavens who suffer hardship and calamity under his hands.”

He learned these words from Tian Di Hui’s Green Wood Hall people. Actually, the reason he killed Oboi was simply following Kangxi’s order; ‘taking revenge and wiping out a grudge on the behalf of common people under the heavens who suffer hardship and calamity under his hands’ and so on did not even register in his mind.

After he spoke those words, the woman in front of him fell silent without saying anything. Wei Xiaobao’s heart was thumping madly; he was wondering if he was betting correctly or not. After waiting for a long time, he thought he heard a light breeze. The woman, whom he was still unsure whether she was a ghost or not, had already floated out of the room.

Wei Xiaobao tried to rock his body several times, but his acupoint was sealed, he was unable to move at all. “Damn it,” he mused, “The dice have been rolled, but the lid has not been lifted. Won’t it make me hung in suspense?”

Just now he was following his impulse and thought that in this high-stake gambling, he would not care about winning or losing; but now that he had calmed down, the more he thought about it, the more he was convinced that the woman talking to him a moment ago was a ghost and not a human. She was a female ghost, Oboi was a male ghost; most likely those two ghosts had something dubious between them. Those two were most probably ‘fellow ghosts’ [zi ji gui, see my note above], who were ‘opponent ghosts’ to Wei Xiaobao; something was really wrong here.

The double-door was blown by the wind and banging against each other, the clothes on his body had not yet dried, the cold wind blew intermittently, he could not help but shivered.

[1] Lit. ‘eat inside, cling outside’; it is a term meant to refer to someone who benefits/is raised by one person, but instead helps outsiders (usually, the enemy). (Courtesy of Ren Wo Xing)

[2] My dictionary has this explanation to this phrase: Confucian ban on widow remarrying.

[3] Dictionary says Taisu is God of the year/archaic name for planet Jupiter/someone who is the most powerful in an area.

[4] Lit. Taoist priest of Mount Mao (mount reeds), Maoshan is a school of Taoism that is well known for its “supernatural” rituals, e.g. exorcism etc. (Courtesy of CFT)

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