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The Phoenix Dances in the Nine Heavens Chapter 5


Chapter 5 – Return from a rewarding journey

For the last several years, Lu Xiaofeng had not gambled for money. Originally, he was a gambler, when he was six or seven years old, he already knew how to play with dice. By the time he was sixteen or seventeen, not a single gimmick in gambling that he did not know.

Lead-loaded dice, mercury-loaded dice, iron dice with magnet underneath the bowl, in his eyes, all these tricks were merely a child’s plaything.

In his hands, ordinary six-sided dice could become like living objects, which were very obedient to him. If he wanted the dice to show red dots, the dice would not dare to show a single black dot.

Gambling is just the same as drinking wine, to a wanderer like him, not only it was a way of venting off his emotion, it was also a way to earn a living.

He had not been gambling recently, not because he had won too much and thus nobody dared to gamble against him, but because he himself had completely lost his interest!

Naturally he no longer had to do it for a living, so he was able to look for more excitement in life.

But now the situation was different; he wanted to stay here, hence he had to have a skill to earn a fortune.

Now it looked like he simply had to stay here, but the only opportunity to earn a lot of money in this place seemed to be in those three dice.

The banker grabbed the dice and knocked it at the edge of a large bowl, creating ‘ding, ding’ sound. “Place your bet,” he shouted, “The bigger the better.”

Lu Xiaofeng suddenly said, “I bet five hundred taels.”

Although he did not have five hundred taels, he was confident that he would not lose.

It’s a pity that others did not have any confidence in him. The banker cast him a cold glance and said, “How come I did not see your five hundred taels?”

“Because I have not taken it out,” Lu Xiaofeng replied.

“We have a rule here,” the banker said, “Only money that can be seen that counts.”

Lu Xiaofeng took something out, but it was the knife he made from the chamber pot.

The banker said, “You use this knife to put down five hundred taels?”

“Uh huh,” Lu Xiaofeng said.

The banker said, “I fail to see how this knife could worth five hundred taels.”

Lu Xiaofeng said, “You fail to see, because you have never seen this kind of knife.”

“So this knife is special?” the banker asked.

“Very special,” Lu Xiaofeng replied.

“What’s so special?” the banker asked.

“This knife is made of a chamber pot,” Lu Xiaofeng replied.

He could not help laughing on his own joke, but nobody else did. The six people gambled in here, although in term of status, gender and age they were all different, they all had one thing in common; they all appeared amazingly cold, they did not even laugh.

Right now they all looked at Lu Xiaofeng, with gaze that looked like they were looking at a clown.

‘It’s hard to put an ashamed blade back into its sheath’. Lu Xiaofeng also felt that taking the knife back was very difficult.

While he was still thinking of how to recover from this awkwardness, suddenly he saw a hand pushing five hundred taels his way, and picked up his knife.

A very nice looking hand, long and slender, yet powerful fingers; although it was a bit like a man’s hand, it was still very beautiful.

Lu Xiaofeng let out a breath, he cast her a grateful glance as he said with a laugh, “Finally someone who knows what’s good and what’s not.”

Sha Man coldly said, “If I know what’s good, I won’t lend you five hundred taels.”

Her face did not show any emotion, “I give you a loan, just because you seem to bring a bit of good luck to me. This time my stake is a bit high, therefore, I won’t let you leave.”

Gamblers are usually realistic; she seemed to be a typical gambler.

The banker let out a low shout, “Make a kill!” and threw the dice into the bowl. Two dice stopped at six, the third was still rolling incessantly.

The banker shouted, “Six”, other people called, “One”, but Lu Xiaofeng knew that the die would stop at ‘three’.

Because he had two fingers pressed on the bottom surface of the table. He had a very high confidence on his two fingers.

He hoped the banker would lose a bit. This man apparently can afford to lose.

The die stop, it was indeed three dots.

Three dots cannot be considered too low, unexpectedly two people could not even beat three dots. When it was Sha Man’s turn, she threw a six.

She could not afford to lose, even her jewelry had been pawned out.

Lu Xiaofeng’s two fingers, not only they were able to catch a stab of lightning-fast sword, sometimes they could be used to stop the dice at any dots he wanted it to stop.

He was not ashamed of the way he dealt with this matter at all! Let those who could afford to lose lost a bit to those who could not afford to lose. There’s absolutely nothing wrong about it.

Now the dice were in his hand. He wanted a pair of three and a four. Four dots beats three, the winning was just right, plus it would not raise any suspicion.

Of course he did not need other people’s hand under the table to help him, although he had not practiced for a long time, he was sure the dice would obey his command.

He was sure, absolutely sure.

‘Ding, dang!’ the dice fell into the bowl. The first die stopped at three, the second also stopped at three, the third would definitely be a four.

He looked at the continuously rolling die, just like a father or a mother looking at an obedient child. And now he could already see the four dots on the face of the die, flashing re, alluring and beautiful red, as beautiful as the shining white five hundred taels of silver.

When the dice stopped, the silver would be in hands.

Who would have thought that at the last second, the die jumped and landed on two dots?

Lu Xiaofeng was dumbstruck. Even in his dream he would never imagine that there were martial art experts on this table, whose skill was most probably even higher than his.

Sha Man gave him a cold look, “Although you brought me good luck, your own luck is not good.”

The person who played trick on the dice just now, definitely was not her; she had already lost a lot, and Lu Xiaofeng was helping her to get it back.

The banker was collecting the winning,

Not only this man has lost, he had lost a lot; if he was capable of controlling the dice, he would not have lost.

It did not look like anybody else either, Lu Xiaofeng really could not see who the expert was.

He was like a mute eating Chinese goldthread [coptis chinensis], unspeakably bitter; or like a blind eating wonton, who let the belly did the counting.

If only he could do it one more time, he was confident he would be able to see it. If only he paid a bit more attention, he was confident he would not lose.

He was very confident. It’s a pity he did not have any gambling capital anymore, that polite and friendly little old man had suddenly disappeared, as if he was afraid Lu Xiaofeng would come to him to borrow money.

A very young man, but kept two strips of moustache above his lips, suddenly laughed and said, “Both of us have moustache, let us be friends.”

Unexpectedly, he really did ‘help a lame dog over a stile’ by handing him out a five hundred taels banknote.

Lu Xiaofeng was greatly delighted; he was about to take the banknote, when the moustache’s hand pull it back, “Where’s the knife?”

“What knife?”

“Like the one you had just now.”

No knife, no silver; therefore, Lu Xiaofeng could only force a smile, “A knife like that, even if you search everywhere in the whole world, I am afraid there is only one.”

The moustache sighed, he placed the banknote on the table. The banker had already tossed the dice. Unexpectedly it was a ‘one two three’, he had to pay everybody.

Lu Xiaofeng could only feel the bitter taste in his mouth. While he was thinking of getting some wine and thinking about his next step, he turned around and saw the little old man was standing by the wine and food table, looking at him with a smile on his face.

There were all kinds of wine on the table. Lu Xiaofeng picked up a Green Bamboo Leaf and poured some for himself. He intentionally did not want to look at the little old man.

But the little old man asked him, “How’s your luck?”

Lu Xiaofeng said indifferently, “Can’t be considered too bad, it’s just that when I ought to win I did not win, when I ought not to lose, yet I lost.”

The little old man sighed and said, “In this world, there are a lot of things just like that. If one has too much confidence in certain matter, one would be careless instead; hence one lost when he ought to win. But as long as there is a second chance, one would have everything under control.”

It was exactly what Lu Xiaofeng had in mind, but he said it first.

Lu Xiaofeng’s eyes brightened; he said, “If you agree to invest, let me play again, we’ll split the win.”

The little old man said, “But what if you lose?”

Lu Xiaofeng said, “If I lose I’ll pay you.”

“How are you going to pay?” the little old man asked, “Using that incomparably unique chamber pot knife of yours? Too bad that chamber pot knife is not even yours anymore.”

Lu Xiaofeng said, “No matter what, I can’t possibly lose anyway. Please lend me ten thousand taels, after this round, I will definitely give you back fifteen thousand taels.”

Basically, he was not this kind of poor, terrible and extremely greedy gambling demon, who would sell his own wife just to be able to gamble, but right now he was too fired up and definitely did not accept his lost. Besides, in his eyes, ten thousand taels was nothing much, he has always squandered money like dirt, and has never had any regards for wealth.

Funny thing is, the more he acted like that, the easier it was for him to borrow money instead. Even the little old man’s heart was a bit moved. He said hesitantly, “If by any chance you still lose, then what?”

“Then I will belong to you,” Lu Xiaofeng replied.

Unexpectedly the little old man no longer say anything, immediately he handed him ten thousand taels.

Lu Xiaofeng was greatly delighted, “Don’t worry, I won’t make you regret it.”

The little old man sighed. “I am afraid it will be you who regret it,” he said.

The banker had not changed. After Lu Xiaofeng left, he repeatedly threw several big dots, and managed to pull back his capital somewhat.

But Sha Man was on a steady decline, she lost nearly everything. Seeing Lu Xiaofeng came back, unexpectedly a smile appeared on her as-cold-as-ice-and-frost face, “That old man lent you some gambling capital? Did he trust you?”

Lu Xiaofeng said, “He did not trust me as a person, he just believed that this time I will have a change of fortune.”

Sha Man said, “I also want you to have a change of fortune, and thus redeem your knife. This knife, nobody wants it even for five fen.”

The banker has called the bets, Lu Xiaofeng said, “Let me win this one first, and then we’ll talk.”

At first he wanted to fold the banknote on the corner to denote a thousand taels bet, but at the last second he suddenly put the entire banknote down as his stake.

Gambling demons who lose money, usually lost all at once like this.

The banker gave him a cold look, and then threw the dice. He got two dots, but unexpectedly his countenance still did not change.

Several people took turns throwing the dice, some won, some lost; Sha Man threw a six, she could not help looking at Lu Xiaofeng and said with a laugh, “You seem to bring me good luck again.”

When she was not laughing, Lu Xiaofeng’s heart was already moved; as soon as she laughed, Lu Xiaofeng was even more ‘spirit and soul upside-down’. Suddenly he reached out to grab her hand and said, “Since I brought you good luck, I wonder if you could lend me some?”

She wanted to shake her hand free, but Lu Xiaofeng was holding her too tightly; her countenance immediately fell, “My hand is not the dice, why are you pulling me?”

Although she was speaking with a straight face, everybody could see that she was not really angry.

Lu Xiaofeng slowly let her hand go, he grabbed the dice. Originally he only had eighty percent confidence, but now he was a hundred percent confident. “Leopard,” he shouted.

To defeat a two-dot, a leopard was really unnecessary. Indeed, when an expert wanted to beat a two-dot, at most he would only need a four-dot. Even without any trick, to beat a two-dot is not difficult. But right now Lu Xiaofeng seemed to suddenly turn into a child; when someone whom he liked was standing at the side, without any rhyme or reason a child would do a double somersault.

Right now Lu Xiaofeng’s mood was more or less the same, wholeheartedly he wanted to show off in front of her by throwing three sixes, a leopard.

With a ‘ding-a-ling’ the dice were thrown into the bowl, his hand already reached the table. This time, even if someone was playing a trick, he was confident that he would be able to turn the dice back.

Two dice had already stopped; naturally both showed a six-dot. The third one was still rolling in the bowl. The banker’s eyes were fixed at the dice, he coldly said, “The die is possessed.”

Lu Xiaofeng laughed and said, “Where’s the ghost? Let us all try to find it.” Exerting his strength, the table suddenly rose up from the floor.

The man with a moustache who wanted to make friends with Lu Xiaofeng earlier originally had his hands pressed on the table. As the table was lifted up, suddenly there was a ‘poof’, two pieces of palm-shaped wood fell to the ground, unexpectedly his pair of hands went through the table.

The bowl was still on the table, the die was still rolling inside the bowl.

A gust of wind blew, two pieces of wood that fell to the ground unexpectedly turned into small bits like cotton wadding. In a blink of an eye it was blown away by the wind.

Lu Xiaofeng’s eyes were originally fixed onto the dice, yet he could not help looking at the moustache’s eyes. He really could not see that this young man, who was dressed in fancy clothes like a rich man, his hands unexpectedly mastered the ‘Bone-transforming Cotton Palm’, a long-lost martial art skill of the wulin world.

‘Cotton Palm’ was Wudang’s consummate skill, an internal, orthodox school martial art, but the addition of the two words ‘Bone-transforming’ in front of the ‘Cotton Palm’ made it a completely different martial art.

This kind of palm force was not only sinister and frightening, it was very difficult to master. After it was trained to perfection, when the palm hit a human body, the person hit would lose consciousness, but four hours later the palm force flared up, the bones in his entire body would turn soft like cotton, even a deity would not be able to save him. Compared to Tibetan Tantra’s ‘Big Hand Print’ or western region’s Xingxiuhai’s ‘Heaven-Destroying-Earth-Decimating Hand’, it was a lot more formidable.

Ever since the death of Hua Gu Xian Ren [Bone Transforming Daoist Immortal], who in the past had solitarily broken into Xingxiuhai, entered the Chao Tian Gong [imperial heaven palace] in the night, forcefully killed the Great Lama of the Yellow Hat, this kind of palm power had never appeared in Jianghu, but somehow this moustache was able to master the skill.

Lu Xiaofeng could not figure it out, he did not have time to think about it either.

The die was still rolling inside the bowl, every time it nearly stopped, an old man with white hair, who had been sitting to Lu Xiaofeng’s left, flicked his finger lightly, the die would roll even faster.

This man’s hair was completely white, his manner dignified manner; he looked just like an old pedant who intensively read books of poetry and history. All along he had been sitting formally next to Lu Xiaofeng. Among those present, he was the only one who never look at Sha Man in the eye.

In all his life Lu Xiaofeng was most afraid of dealing with this kind of scholarly gentleman; thereupon all along he never paid him any attention either.

Until now. When the die was about to stop, Lu Xiaofeng suddenly heard a ‘chi’, a gust of sharp breeze streaked pass his ear. Unexpectedly the wind came from the old man’s middle finger.

His hands were thin and yellow like dried candle, he kept his fingernails more than a cun [approx. an inch] long. Presumably because they were soaked in some liquid drug, the ten fingernails were always curled in, but as soon as he flicked, the curled fingernail suddenly turned straight as a ramrod, sparkling and translucent, and spotlessly white, shiny like the blade of a knife.

Could it be the ‘Finger Blade’, the combination of Zhang Bianyin Clan’s ‘One Yang Finger’ and Huashan’s ‘Divine Flicking Finger Skill’? It was also a long-lost martial art skill of the wulin, so much so that even Lu Xiaofeng had never seen it.

His own ‘Lingxi Finger’ [lit. supernaturally sharp] was also a consummate skill without equal throughout the world. Suddenly he stretched out his two fingers and made a clipping motion in the air toward the die. The continuously rolling die suddenly stopped, the top surface appeared dark, it seemed to produce at least a five-dot.

Who would have thought that in that split second, before anybody could see clearly the number of dots on the top surface, the banker suddenly puckered his lips and sucked the air? The die suddenly jumped up from the bowl.

The white-haired old man flicked his middle finger again, ‘poof!’ the die was unexpectedly exploded; fine powder rained down, and it still fell into the bowl, but nobody could see how many points were there.

Lu Xiaofeng has been gambling here and there, he did not even know how many times he had gambled, but it was the first time that he ever saw this kind of thing. Now how did they decide winning or losing? Could the banker be considered losing? Even he did not know how to handle this matter.

Sha Man suddenly turned toward Lu Xiaofeng and said, “Two sixes, plus one dot, how many dots are there?”

Lu Xiaofeng said, “Still one dot.”

‘Why is it still one dot?” Sha Man asked.

Lu Xiaofeng replied, “Because whatever the last die produces, that is the one that counts.”

“What if the last die does not have any dots?” Sha Man asked again.

“No dots means no dots,” Lu Xiaofeng answered.

“Which one is bigger, no dots or one dot?” Sha Man asked.

“Naturally one dot is bigger,” Lu Xiaofeng replied.

“Isn’t two-dot bigger than one-dot?” Sha Man asked.

Lu Xiaofeng sighed, “Two-dot is bigger than one-dot, it is also bigger than no-dot.”

Actually, as soon as she asked the first question, he already understood where she was going. If it were someone else who asked, he would have had at least several dozen way of coping with this problem.

Lu Xiaofeng was resourceful, witty and full of clever tricks; a lot of people in Jianghu got a headache just by meeting him. But in front of this girl with long, cat-like pair of eyes, he was unable to come out with the least bit of trick.

Because basically he did not want to play trick in front of her. If she wanted him to lose, then so be it. What’s the harm in him losing?

A trifling ten thousand taels, how can it be compared to just one smile of hers?

Sha Man did indeed smile, “Since two-dot is bigger than no-dot, you lost this ten thousand taels.”

“I did lose,” Lu Xiaofeng admitted.

“Are you feeling bad of losing?” Sha Man asked.

Lu Xiaofeng laughed and said, “Forget ten thousand taels, even a hundred thousand, eighty thousand, I won’t feel bad.”

He was not bragging. But as soon as he said that, he realized that right now he could not afford to lose even ten or eight taels.

Unfortunately, the banker had already swept away his banknote. Still with unchanged countenance he coldly said, “If you have money, place your bet; otherwise, go away.”

Lu Xiaofeng had to go away.

The little old man did not seem to pay any attention of what was going on at the gambling table on this side. He was still sitting on that side, sipping his wine quietly. His face showed contentment, as if he was happily thinking that very soon he would receive Lu Xiaofeng’s fifteen thousand taels.

Lu Xiaofeng braced himself and came over. “What are you drinking?” he tried to strike a conversation,

“Green Bamboo Leaf,” the little old man replied.

“You like Green Bamboo Leaf too?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“Actually, I don’t drink too often,” the little old man replied, “But now I seem to be infected by you.”

“Good,” Lu Xiaofeng said, “Let me toast you three cups.”

“I am afraid three cups are enough to make me drunk,” the little old man said.

“One drunkenness dissolves a thousand worries,” Lu Xiaofeng said, “There are too few opportunities in this life to get drunk. Come, drink!”

“You are still very young,” the little old man said, “What worry do you have?”

With a bitter laugh Lu Xiaofeng said, “I just lost someone else’s money, inevitably my heart is a bit uncomfortable.”

The little old man chuckled and said, “It’s not someone else’s money, it’s yours.”

Lu Xiaofeng was astonished and delighted at the same time, “Is it really mine?” he asked.

The little old man said, “Since I already loaned it to you, naturally it is yours.”

Lu Xiaofeng was greatly delighted, “I can’t believe that you are such a generous person.”

The little old man laughed and said, “Actually, such generosity can’t be considered a big deal, it’s just that …” he continued very slowly, “Although the money belongs to you, but you belong to me.”

“My surname is Lu, yours is Wu,” Lu Xiaofeng cried out, “You are not my son, and I am not your old man; how can I belong to you?”

The little old man spoke matter-of-factly, “Because you haven’t given me fifteen thousand taels, you have no choice but to pay me with yourself; a real man gives his words, it’s like fast horse being whipped. In order for you to keep your reputation, I think you cannot not do it.”

Lu Xiaofeng was dumbstruck. With a bitter laugh he said, “I am a drunkard, and a lecher, and a glutton, and a gambler. I spend money like flowing water. If I belong to you, you will have to feed me.”

The little old man said, “I can afford it.”

Lu Xiaofeng sighed and said, “But I still don’t understand, what do you want a big bad egg like me for?”

The little old man laughed and said, “I have too much money, I was looking for someone to help me spending it, so that I won’t have to suffer alone.”

“You think spending money is a suffering?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

With a grim expression the little old man said, “Why is it not a suffering? If you drink too much, the next day you’ll have a splitting headache, just like if you have a serious illness. If you gamble too much, not only it’s nerve-wrecking, as if sitting on pins and needles, when your luck is not good, you may very well be very angry that it’ll kill you. If you indulge on sensual pleasure too much …”

He sighed, and then continued, “This kind of activity can damage your body. For old people like me, I do not dare to even mention it.”

“Other than spending money,” Lu Xiaofeng asked, “What else do you want me to do?”

The little old man said, “You are still young, your body is strong, your martial art skill is not bad; the number of things I want you to do can be uncountable.”

When he spoke the sentence ‘your martial art skill is not bad’, his voice seemed to carry a hint of unspeakable contempt. It does not matter whether he really had that kind of feeling or it was only in Lu Xiaofeng’s imagination; it did not mean much anyway.

Lu Xiaofeng had made his name since he was a teenager, he was able to roam the Jianghu unhindered; although it cannot be said that he was unequalled under the heavens, he had never met anybody who can really defeat him. Just like he had never suffered any loss in gambling, if anybody told him that he was no good, of course he would ten-thousand times refuse to accept.

But today he threw the dice twice, and suffered losses twice. If he said that it was only because other people were playing trick, then why didn’t he play trick himself?

The moustache’s ‘Bone-transforming Cotton Palm’ and the old man’s ‘Finger Blade’ were consummate martial art skill, which were rarely seen. Finally the banker who puckered his lips and sucked a die seven chi [approx. 7 ft/2 m] away, while the other two dice next to it did not move the slightest bit. This kind of qigong [chikung] ability was even more incredible.

This place looked like an auspicious and peaceful Garden of the Peaches of Immortality, unexpectedly it was a place of hidden dragons and crouching tigers.

And then there was this polite and amiable little old man. He looked like a sincere and naïve man, while in fact he was able to penetrate other people’s mind in just one glance; it was indeed ‘great intelligence may appear to be stupidity’, the kind of person who ‘disguises himself as a pig to eat a tiger’. Perhaps this game of chance was a trap that he had carefully prepared beforehand and now Lu Xiaofeng had fallen into it. It was still unclear what kind of strange things he would want Lu Xiaofeng to do.

Whatever it was, certainly it could not be a good thing.

Lu Xiaofeng thought about it over and over; the more he thought, the more he felt uneasy. He even started to think that he should have not been here at all.

The little old man laughed and said, “Now in your heart you must feel regret, you feel that you should not have come here; yet because you obviously cannot guess what trick we are playing, and you are unavoidably dying to find out, you will hate yourself if you just leave.”

He hit the nail on the head, he accurately spelled out what was in Lu Xiaofeng’s mind. But Lu Xiaofeng laughed and said in a loud voice, “You’re wrong, totally wrong.”

“What do you mean ‘wrong’?” the little old man asked.

“What you just said is totally wrong,” Lu Xiaofeng replied. He downed a cup of wine, and picked a piece of beef and munched happily. And then he said with a laugh, “Here we have wine and we have meat, we also have fairy-like beautiful women, plus you already prepared money for me to spend. Why would I be dissatisfied? Why would I regret it?”

With a smile on his face the little old man looked at him and said, “Because in your heart you are still wondering, what exactly do I want you to do?”

Lu Xiaofeng laughed aloud and said, “People like me, what can’t I do? Even if you wanted me to kill, I’d kill one stab at a time, I won’t even bother to bury him.”

“Is that right?” the little old man said.

“Of course it’s true!” Lu Xiaofeng replied.

The little old man stared at him. His eyes suddenly revealed some kind of strange expression. He smiled and said, “As long as you can remember what you said today, I guarantee a life time of peace and happiness for you.”

Although he was laughing again, the tone of his voice was very serious, as if he really wanted Lu Xiaofeng to kill for him.

But there were hidden dragons and crouching tigers in here, martial art experts were as numerous as the clouds. That ‘Bone-transforming Cotton Palm’ and ‘Finger Blade’ were extremely insidious; to kill people, nothing could be better that these, why would he want to ‘abandon the near but seek the far’ and looked for someone else?

Lu Xiaofeng finally decided not to think about it. He already sampled three different dishes: a plate of thin cut beef, a bowl of slow-cooked stew of beef brisket braised in soy sauce, and a dish of stir-fried tender beef in oyster sauce. Who would have thought that as his chopsticks picked another piece, the fourth dish was still beef? It was a hot and spicy orange beef.

The soup was a whole beef brisket steamed in its own broth, the meat was braised beef tripe, tender but not soft, the cooking heat was controlled just right; and then there was moist thin-cut beef, simmered in sweet fat, mixed well with the seasoning, and stirred into the soup, sprinkled with pepper just before it was served. The soup and the meat were tender; these were seldom-seen kind of food.

The rest of the dishes were simmer-fried ox tongue, raw-sautéed beef tripe, roast beef heart, beef meatballs, ox head stewed in red sauce, stewed ox tail, wolfberry [lycium chinense] bull’s penis, and then egg-shaped deep-fired beef brain. All were tasty dishes. It’s just that everything was beef, so that even if they were tastier, after a while it became boring.

“Is beef here as abundant as silver?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

The little old man said, “Today’s feast is entirely beef, because my daughter especially loves to eat beef.”

Lu Xiaofeng finally remembered that the dishes today were all the food that his daughter has eaten until the first day she was able to eat by herself. At that time she was at most three or five years old, how could they prepare such a big table full of beef dishes?

Lu Xiaofeng sighed inwardly. It seemed that this little old man was a monster.

The little old man said, “Actually, she does not have any other peculiarity. It’s just that each meal she has to have beef. Even after several dozen years, she won’t get tired of eating beef. If anyone thinks that she is a monster, it would be a mistake.”

Lu Xiaofeng stared at him hard; he could not bear not to ask, “Whatever I am thinking, you know everything?”

The little old man laughed and said, “This kind of ‘observing someone’s words and gestures’ skill, I do not dare to be unduly humble.”

Lu Xiaofeng rolled his eyes. He said, “Do you know what I am thinking right now?”

The little old man said, “Actually, you are trying to think about some bizarre thing to stump me on purpose, but in all honesty you are dying to take a look at my beef-eating daughter.”

“Wrong,” Lu Xiaofeng said, “You are not marrying your daughter to me; why would I want to see her?” While his mouth denied it, in his heart he could not help admiring him. Against his will, he asked, “The feast today is for her, why is it that all along she did not appear?”

“Who’s ‘she’?” the little old man asked.

“Naturally your daughter,” Lu Xiaofeng replied.

“Since you didn’t even want to see her, why did you ask?” the little old man said.

Lu Xiaofeng was speechless.

Although this little old man was friendly and looked honest on the outside, he was actually a wily old fox. Compared to the Old Fox, he was several hundred times more cunning.

The little old man continued, “Too bad that even if you really don’t want to see her, sooner or later you will still see her.”

“So I cannot not see her even if I want to?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“You can’t,” the little old man replied.

“Why?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

The little old man said, “Because if you turn around right now, you will see her.”

Lu Xiaofeng turned around, and saw Beef Soup.

Naturally there was no beef soup on her face right now. Had it not been for Lu Xiaofeng has looked at her carefully, he could never have seen her as a miserable Beef Soup, who had been bullied around by other people.

She has now completely changed her appearance; from a little servant girl who cooks meals for others, she was now a little princess who makes people want to cook meals for her. Not only that, she was the Princess among many princesses. Anybody who saw her would feel that if they were given the opportunity to cook for her, it would be a huge honor.

People can change.

Lu Xiaofeng knew that a lot of people changed. Some changed from abject poverty into rich and powerful. Some changed from being a gentleman to a lowly person. Some changed from being a hero to a coward. Yet some others changed from wealth to dirt poor, from lowly person to a gentleman, from coward to a hero. But he has never seen anybody who changed so fast, so much, like her.

Practically she seemed to completely shed her mortal body and exchange her bones.

If not because Lu Xiaofeng had seen her up, close and personal; even parts of her body that other people were not supposed to see, he would not have believed that she was indeed the Beef Soup.

Beef Soup stared at him coldly, as if she had never seen him before.

“Do you know her?” the little old man asked.

“At first I thought I knew her,” Lu Xiaofeng replied.

“And now?” the little old man asked.

Lu Xiaofeng sighed and said, “Now it looks like she does not know me, and I don’t know her either.”

Beef Soup neither confirmed nor denied. She seemed to hear this exchange, yet she also seemed not to hear anything.

The little old man no longer paid any attention to Lu Xiaofeng, he walked over and pulled her hand; his eyes were brimming with love. “I told you to go to sleep a bit early,” he said, “Why did you slip out again?”

Beef Soup said, “I heard the maids said that just now someone is coming back; I wonder if there is any news of the Ninth (older) Brother?”

The little old man winked. “What do you think?” he asked.

Beef Soup’s eyes brightened immediately. “I knew it,” she said, “Ninth Brother will never forget me.”

“I was going to tell you tomorrow,” the little old man said, “Not only Ol’ Ninth sent some news, he had his new assistant, Mu Yiban [Mu – wood, Yiban – one half], brought some gifts for you.”

Beef Soup’s expression brightened like blooming flower, her eyes shone, as if she had just turned into somebody else. “Where’s this man Mu Yiban?” she asked, “Quickly tell him to come, bring the Ninth Brother’s gift as well.”

The little old man smiled; he waved his hand and snapped his fingers. Immediately sixteen bare-chested, bald men, wearing only leather pants in Kunlun-slave style, crossed the nine-bend winding bridge, carrying eight huge wooden chests. In front of them was a man, with one arm, one leg, walking with the help of a steel cane. His right leg was cut at the base, his right arm was cut from the shoulder, there was a long blade scar on his face, from the right eye all the way down to his cheek. Not only his right eye was gone, even his nose was cut in half, and one of his ears was gone.

It was unclear whether this man was originally ugly or handsome, but now he looked unspeakably mysterious and terrifying.

But when Beef Soup saw him, she looked very happy; she said with a laugh, “Ninth Brother has told me about you, you must be Mu Yiban.”

Mu Yiban bent his left knee in respectful salute and said, “Xiaoren [lit. little/lowly one] Mu Yiban pays his respect to the Princess.”

Before he could kneel down, Beef Soup has already reached out to help him up. She was a lot more polite toward this ugly and strange handicapped man compared to toward Lu Xiaofeng, presumably because she was looking at her Ninth Brother’s face; ‘love the house and its crow’.

Lu Xiaofeng watched from afar, he had a bad feeling in his heart. He saw under the sunshine her hands were spotlessly white, soft and beautiful, totally different from the greased-covered hands he had seen before. Thinking about what happened in the bathroom of the Fox Den the other day, he could not stop his heart from beating a bit faster.

Mu Yiban had already supervised the shiny-black clothed Kunlun slaves opening five chests. The chests were full of silk and satin, rouge and face powder. When the fifth chest was opened, pearls and jewels dazzled the eyes; unexpectedly inside the chest was all kinds of emeralds, agate, gold, pearls, jewels and jade.

Not a single one of these things was not women’s favorite, when ordinary girl saw this, perhaps she would have fainted with joy early on.

But Beef Soup did not even cast a single glance; instead, she pouted and said, “Ninth Brother is not unaware that I do not cherish these things, so why did he deliberately order you to send them here?”

Mu Yiban laughed and said, “Princess, look at what’s inside these three chests?”

His laugh seemed to be very mysterious, so that even Lu Xiaofeng could not help feeling curious. What could possibly make a girl’s heart happier than pearls and jewels?

When the three chests were opened, Lu Xiaofeng almost could not refrain from crying out.

The chests unexpectedly contained people, one chest contained one person. Out of the three people, Lu Xiaofeng recognized two.

The first had gray hair, with majestic appearance; although he was stuffed inside the chest for a long time, when he stood up he was still as straight as a ramrod. Unexpectedly he was the Zongbiaotou [head escort] of the Qunying [lit. crowd of heroes] Escort Agency, the ‘Iron Palm Golden Saber’ Situ Gang [see also Chapter 1]. This man’s Iron Sand Palm has been trained to near perfection. His ‘Golden-backed Mountain-splitting Saber’, with the ‘Five-Tiger Gate-breaking’ saber technique, had even less opponents in Jianghu. How could he be caught and stuffed inside a chest?

The second person was a slim, heroic-looking man, the Taiyang acupoints on both sides of his temples were bulging out; apparently he was a prominent Wulin character expert in both internal and external martial arts.

The one that really surprised Lu Xiaofeng was the third person.

This man’s bare feet only wore straw sandals, his attire consisted of old, worn and greasy kasaya[1]. His round face unexpectedly was still smiling. To Lu Xiaofeng’s shock, this person was one of the ‘Four Great Monks’, in fact, he ranked the third; he was none other than the Honest Monk.

Nobody knew for sure whether this monk’s honesty was real or fake, but everybody knew that his martial art skill was very high; this fact was definitely not a fake. If any Jianghu bandits provoked him, although he would always show a smiling face without the slightest hint of anger, this man would often go in the middle of the night and take the offender’s life.

Therefore, the number of people in Jianghu who dared to mess with this monk have recently become less and less. Even Lu Xiaofeng would have headache every time he saw him.

For the last half a year or so, he suddenly disappeared, nobody knew what he was doing, yet against all expectation he suddenly appeared from inside the chest. The man who could put him into the chest must have had a shockingly high-level of martial art skill. If Lu Xiaofeng did not see it with his own eyes, he would definitely not believe it.

Honest Monk did not seem to see him, putting his palms together, he giggled while looking at Beef Soup.

Seeing these three men, Beef Soup was extremely amused; she also laughed and said, “Strange things happen every year, but it happens especially a lot this year; how could a monk suddenly appear from inside the chest?”

Honest monk said, “Little Miss vents off the anger from your breast, big monk is stuffed into the chest. Amituofo! Shanzai, shanzai![2]”

Mu Yiban said, “Ninth Young Master knew that these three men have offended Princess; therefore, he ordered Xiaoren to deliver them here pronto, so that Princess can vent off your anger.”

He kept calling Princess this and Princess that, Beef Soup unexpectedly felt no qualms in accepting the appellation, just as if she was really a Princess[3].

Mu Yiban continued, “But I wonder how is Princess going to vent off your anger?”

Beef Soup winked and said, “I haven’t thought about it, how about you give me an idea?”

Mu Yiban said, “It depends on whether Princess wants to vent your anger in a big way or in a small way.”

Beef Soup seemed to think that his idea was very amusing. “Pfft,” she broke into giggle and asked, “How do I vent in a small way?”

Mu Yiban said, “Take off their pants and flog them heavily seventy, eighty times, and that’s it.”

“How about big way?” Beef Soup asked.

Mu Yiban said, “Cut their heads, dry them in the sun, and then give them to Xiaoren to accompany my wine.”

Beef Soup laughed and said, “Good idea, really good idea. No wonder Ninth Brother likes you.”

Mu Yiban’s ideas were indeed sinister; having their heads cut was all right, having their heads cut, dried in the sun, and eaten to down the wine was already very bad, but having their pants pulled down and spanked, it was even more difficult to bear than death.

The tall and slim, with heroic appearance, black-clothed man’s face was already devoid of any color; the Honest Monk was still giggling without showing any care. Situ Gang was like a raging inferno, his temper was the worst; he said in stern voice, “Since we have already fallen into your hands, you want to kill, you want to cut, I won’t knit a single eyebrow; but if you deliberately humiliate me, I … even in my death I won’t let you go!”

Situ Gang was able to move unhindered in Jianghu, he was not the kind of people who would easily give up, but his last sentence, ‘even in my death I won’t let you go’, was spoken with total despair. It was obvious that he knew that he was not Beef Soup’s match, and would rather die.

In a very sweet voice Beef Soup said, “When you are alive you are helpless to do anything to me, when you are dead, how are you going to not letting me go? Are you telling me that you want to be a big-headed ghost and come in the middle of the night to strangle my neck?”

Situ Gang gnashed his teeth, cold sweats dripped down his head like rain, suddenly he let out a roar and his palm smashed down heavily on his own tianling [heaven spirit] acupoint on the top of his head.

The five fingers on his hand were of almost the same length, his fingernails were cut short, there was a faint darkness at the hollow of his palm. His Iron Sand Palm has been trained to at least 80% perfection, when this palm smashed down, although it was smashed on his own head, it was equally deadly.

Who would have thought that Beef Soup flashed forward, like an orchid her fine, long, tender and beautiful fingers lightly brushed, Situ Gang’s arm immediately drooped down, and was unable to move at all.

Mu Yiban immediately cheered in loud voice, “Good martial art skill!”

Beef Soup said drily, “This is just the simplest move of the ‘Adaptable Orchid Hand’, can’t be considered any good martial art skill!”

She spoke it lightly, but Lu Xiaofeng who heard it was shocked. This ‘Adaptable Orchid Hand’, although the name was beautiful, it was actually one of the most terrifying martial art skills of the Wulin world. It dislocated the tendon and separating the arteries and veins, and caused invisible injury to its victim. Situ Gang’s injury did not look serious, but actually his arm was crippled forever, once the wound flared up, the pain would be unbearable. Other than chopping off the arm from the base, there was no second way to provide relief.

Situ Gang’s face already turned deathly grey; he shouted, “You … you won’t even let me die?”

Although he shouted loudly, his voice was trembling; obviously in his heart he was extremely frightened.

Beef Soup sighed; she said, “A live dog is better off than a dead lion; why do you want to die? Even if you are aware that you have offended me, you are guilty of capital crimes; you can always find someone else to die in your place.”

Situ Gang was startled; he could not help but asked, “What do you mean die in my place?”

Beef Soup said, “You may choose anybody in here, as long as you can win over him by one move or half a stance, I will kill him in your place.”

Mu Yiban said, “In my opinion, among the people in here, he won’t dare to find a single one.”

Beef Soup laughed and said, “A single person he won’t dare to find; how about half a person?”

Mu Yiban sighed. He said, “Thinking back and forth, I think at the most he would only dare to find me, half a person.”

Situ Gang roared, “That’s right, I definitely am looking for you.” Amidst the sound of his shout, his palm already shot out.

Qunying Escort Agency’s prowess reached out far and wide, the Head Escort’s annual salary was fifty-thousand shi [not sure what it is], approximately the same as a one-pin rank high-ranking official of the imperial court. [See Deer and Cauldron, translated by yours truly, for more information on ‘pin’ ranks.]

His virtuous wife was tender and sweet, just before his departure they enjoyed an evening of passion together just like newlywed. His sons and daughters were intelligent and filial, his eldest daughter was already betrothed to the eldest grandson of his maternal uncle, the great hero of the Central Plains, Xiong Tianjian. The two families were well-matched in terms of social status, the two people were matched made in heaven. As long as he could stay alive, naturally he did not want to die. Although his right arm could not move, fortunately the skill he trained could be used with just one arm. This one palm strike carried profound and ferocious force; he was indeed worthy of his title, ‘Golden Saber Hundred Victory, Iron Palm Without Rival’.

Mu Yiban only had half a person left, slanting his body slightly, the steel cane under his ribs shot upward. Unexpectedly he was using the steel cane like a sword. The move ‘Laughing toward the Southern Sky’ was the sword technique of Hainan Pai [Sect], handed down directly from their founder.

Hainan sword style was derived from the horizontal brush stroke in calligraphy, since he was just half a person, coincidentally he was able to execute the essence of Hainan sword style vividly and thoroughly. A series of ‘swish, swish, swish’ was heard, followed by a miserable scream. Four chi long [1 chi is approx. 1 foot/30 cm] steel cane penetrated Situ Gang’s left ribs, and came out from his right ribs. A stream of blood shot out like an arrow, painting the air around him red with his blood.

Beef Soup clapped her hands and said with a laugh, “Good sword technique.”

Mu Yiban laughed and said, “This is just the simplest three moves of the ‘Thirteen-Style Destroying the Heaven’, can’t be considered any good sword technique.”

He copied Beef Soup’s tone a while ago, deliberately speaking it lightly, but Lu Xiaofeng was shocked again.

The ‘Thirteen-Style Destroying the Heaven’ was originally Hainan Pai mountainous region’s sword technique, unfortunately it disappeared thirty years ago that even the current Sect Leader only mastered two styles. Yet this half a person conveniently executed three moves and Situ Gang met a violent death under his swordplay.

Where did this half-person come from? Based on his martial art skill and sword technique, how come he was willing to be a slave, to be that Ninth Young Master’s attendant?

Obviously the tall and slim, heroic-looking, black-clothed man also recognized the sword technique; he started at him in shock, his eyes were brimming with fear.

Mu Yiban laughed and said, “With your ‘Swallow Flying across the Clouds’ and your move ‘Flying Swallow Coming Over’ Fort Master Luo ran amuck all over the world, killing countless people; I was very looking forward to meeting you. But I wonder if Fort Master Luo would also have any regard of me, a half person?”

This man in black was unexpectedly the stronghold master of the first stronghold of the Twelve-Dock Alliance [see Chapter 1], the Black Swallow Luo Fei. This man made his name by his qinggong [lightness skill]; his move ‘Flying Swallow Coming Over’ was indeed a killer move that was rarely seen in the Wulin world.

His eyes were looking at Mu Yiban, but his feet were stepping backward. Suddenly he turned around and flew; he pounced toward a drunk who was lying under the railings of the nine-bend winding bridge. This move was exactly his consummate skill, the ‘Flying Swallow Coming Over’; his stance was ingenious, his posture was graceful. Even if this strike missed, he would still be able to escape.

The person under the railings was as drunk as mud, the amethyst and gold court hat on his head nearly fell off, his drool flowed down from the corner of his mouth; he looked exactly like a dead man. Obviously dealing with a dead man was a lot better than dealing with a half man. Apparently Luo Fei had already had his eyes on him early on.

Lu Xiaofeng sighed inwardly. No matter what, just now this gentleman, Minister He [He Shangshu, see Chapter 4] had given him a cup of wine. If right now without any rhyme or reason he died while still dreaming in his drunkenness, Lu Xiaofeng could not bear to watch.

He heard a miserable cry, followed by a ‘splosh!’ water splashed everywhere; someone had fallen into the pond, and disappeared under water. After a long time, a thin stream of blood appeared amidst the lotus leaves, followed by a face appeared like a petal of flower among the lotus leaves. It was none other than Luo Fei.

Minister He turned around and went back to sleep, finally the amethyst and gold court hat on his head fell off.

Mu Yiban immediately walked over and respectfully put the hat back on his head while saying, “Drunken Lying-down Flowing Cloud Seven-Killer Hand, authentic handed-down techniques of drinkers. Minister He has a very good martial art.”

Beef Soup laughed and said, “Mu Yiban has a very good pair of eyes; you can even recognize the Drunken Seven-Killer Hand, which has been extinct for eighty years.”

Honest Monk sighed and said, “Just one killer hand is enough to take people’s life, why must use seven-killer hands?”

“Monk wants to try it?” Beef Soup asked.

“Monk is still clear-headed, why would I want to mess with drunkards?” Honest Monk replied.

“So who are you going to look for?” Beef Soup asked.

“Do you want to look for me?” Mu Yiban asked.

Honest Monk said, “Monk is at least a whole person, I must not fight half a person.”

“I am a whole person,” Beef Soup said.

Honest Monk said, “Monk is at least a man, I must not fight a woman.”

“My Dad is a man,” Beef Soup said.

Honest Monk said, “Monk is still young and vigorous, I must not fight an old man.”

On that side, the people were still absorbed in throwing the dice; on this side two people already died, they did not even cast a single glance. It was as if this kind of matter was a common occurrence to them. It appeared that in their eyes, other people’s lives were not as important as dice.

Beef Soup said, “What do you think of those people?”

Honest Monk said, “To Monk, this world is an illusion [orig. ‘four elements are vanity’], I am scared of gambling demons.”

Beef Soup laughed and said, “You pick left choose right, yet selected no one. Why don’t I select one for you?”

“Who?” Honest Monk asked.

Beef Soup carelessly pointed ahead, “What do you think of him?”

Her slim, lily-white hand was pointing at Lu Xiaofeng.

Lu Xiaofeng’s heart jumped. Honest Monk turned his head around to look at him; he laughed and said, “Monk tells you the truth, if Monk wants to live, it seems like I must pick him.”

Beef Soup laughed aloud. “Monk’s eyesight is not bad [orig. ‘not lacking’],” she said.

Lu Xiaofeng immediately shook his head; he said in loud voice, “Lacking, lacking. He lacks by 108,000 li.” [1 li is approx. 0.5 km or 1/3 of a mile]

“Where does he lack?” Beef Soup asked.

Lu Xiaofeng said, “Monk and I are friends, he would never want to take my life, and I don’t want to take his life.”

Honest Monk said, “Monk actually does not wish to take your life, it’s just that now …”

He sighed, and then continued, “Even if other people’s life is important, it can never be more important than my own life. Even if Monk’s life is of little value, good or bad it is Monk’s own life.”

It was indeed an honest statement. Honest Monk always made honest statements.

Lu Xiaofeng said, “Since to Monk this world is an illusion, if you still want to take a friend’s life, won’t it mean you are gravely mistaken, you are desperately lacking?”

Honest Monk said, “A live dog is better off than a dead lion, a live dog can bite the dead lion; when it’s a life-and-death situation, lacking a little bit is not a big deal.”

Lu Xiaofeng sighed and said, “Why didn’t you go look for someone else, but you looked for me instead?”

“Because you are lacking,” Honest Monk said.

“Where do I lack?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

Honest Monk said, “Well, you don’t know ‘Thirteen-Style Destroying the Heaven’, and you don’t know ‘Adaptable Orchid Hand’, won’t it mean you are desperately lacking?”

“But I don’t want to take your life at all,” Lu Xiaofeng said.

Honest Monk said, “You don’t want to take Monk’s life, but Monk wants to take your life, that means you are seriously lacking; you deserve to die.”

Beef Soup coldly said, “This kind of people, one died means we have one less of them; you still haven’t made your move?”

Honest Monk said, “Miss is right. Monk is going to make his move.”

Unexpectedly he did make his move as soon as he said he was going to make his move. Rolling the big, raggedy sleeve of his kasaya, he shot the roll forward, a strong gust of wind assailed Lu Xiaofeng’s face.

Turns out he was still scared of Lu Xiaofeng’s two fingers; he was afraid that any part of his body would be pinched. Even if he did not die, the pinch would be unbearable. But if the sleeve of his kasaya were pinched, then it would not matter. Much less he concentrated his internal power on the tip of his sleeve that it was as sharp as a blade. The number of people in Jianghu who were able to pinch this sleeve of his was indeed not many.

All along the little old man was watching with folded arms; suddenly he said, “Lu Xiaofeng, are you going to die in this monk’s place, or are you going to preserve your own life? You have to think about it carefully.”

Actually, Lu Xiaofeng has been thinking about this exact same question countless times in his mind; although he could not bear to see Honest Monk die in here, but he did not wish for Honest Monk to see him die in here either.

The little old man had just finished speaking, suddenly there was a ‘rip’, Honest Monk’s sleeve was torn, exposing an arm that was even whiter than women’s arm. Evidently the arm had not seen the sun for many years.

Human shadows flashing here and there, as if there were countless butterfly fluttering about. In the blink of an eye Honest Monk’s raggedy kasaya was torn to shreds.

Lu Xiaofeng loudly said, “If Monk does not stop, I am afraid little monk will soon show itself.”

It was really a vulgar language, but if he wanted Honest Monk to stop, Lu Xiaofeng had to say something that Honest Monk would find it difficult to bear.

Who would have thought that Honest Monk did not give a damn; his mouth muttered, “Little monk shows itself is always better than the big monk being stiff dead.”

He had not even finished speaking, his feet suddenly tripped on Situ Gang’s body, he almost stumbled.

This was exactly a very good opportunity for Lu Xiaofeng, but Lu Xiaofeng was still considering whether he should seize the chance to make his move.

Honest Monk, however, did not need to consider; taking the opportunity while he was tripping, suddenly he grabbed Lu Xiaofeng’s waist and brought him down to the ground, rolled over, and pinned Lu Xiaofeng’s body down.

Beef Soup clapped her hands and said with a laugh, “I didn’t know Monk knew Mongolian wrestling.”

“This is not Mongolian wrestling,” Honest Monk replied, “This is Fusang Islands’ Judo. Other than the Monk, really not many people knew this technique. Perhaps Lu Xiaofeng himself has never seen it, and that’s why Monk was able to control him.”

It was also an honest statement, Lu Xiaofeng was really under his control that he was unable to move at all. But the little old man said, “This is not an honest word.”

“Honest Monk had never said any dishonest words.”

The little old man said, “Even if he had never seen this kind of technique, you would not have been able to control him; if not for the fact that he could not bear to kill you, I am afraid right now Honest Monk could not even speak honest words.”

Honest Monk thought for a while, and then said, “Even if he was really yielding to the Monk, Monk can always pretend not to know.”

The little old man sighed and said, “That’s an honest statement.”

Lu Xiaofeng was lying face down on the ground, with Honest Monk’s knee on the small of his back, his arm was also twisted behind his back; thinking about he had just missed a golden opportunity, and now he had to listen to this kind of honest words, he almost died of anger.

He was so angry that now he did not even know how to die.

On that side the gambling was finally over. He seemed to hear someone asking, “I lost seventy thousand taels; how about you?”

“I am a lot worse than you are.”

Since there were people who lost that much, naturally there were also people who returned from a rewarding journey. Too bad he was not one of those people.

Not only his own self had been lost early on, now he seemed to have lost even his own life!

[1] Kasaya, a patchwork outer vestment worn by Buddhist monks.

[2] I don’t know how to translate this, but I believe it is better stay un-translated. Amituofo – calling the name of Buddha. Shanzai – peace, good, excellent.

[3] A bit of explanation here: the word ‘Princess’ [公主] is usually reserved for princess of royal blood.

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