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The Thrush Chapter 2

CSI

Heroes Assembly

The evening wind blew over, blowing the two men’s black robes that it produced rustling noise, while also blowing a burst of cold air into the window. Yao Changhua could not help shivering, he stammered, “These … these two gentlemen are also Xiang Shuai’s friends?”

Shaking his head, Hu Tiehua replied, “Not at all.”

Aghast, Yao Changhua said, “Then who are these two people?”

Grinning, Hu Tiehua said, “Why are you asking me? You are the grand Shaolin School’s disciple, plus you are the host here. If there are people of unknown origin in your territory, how could you not know?”

Yao Changhua straightened his chest, he wanted to put on the air of a Shaolin disciple, but when he looked up, the four eyes outside the window were staring at him coldly, as cold as a blade.

The man with the smiling mask chuckled and spoke slowly, “I did not expect there is a Shaolin disciple here, forgive me for failing to show respect.” While his mouth was speaking, he picked up a brick from the ground and sandwiched it between his palms. When speaking ‘forgive me for failing to show respect’, the brick suddenly fell clattering all over the ground. The brick was lightly clamped by his two hands, unexpectedly it shattered.

This palm skill was revealed, forget about Yao Changhua and the others, who were already so frightened that they were ashen-faced, even Chu Liuxiang and Hu Tiehua were overwhelmed with shock.

The man wearing the crying mask spoke grimly, “I’ve long heard that Shaolin’s divine fist is unequalled under the heaven, I wonder if friend would like to come out and impart your wisdom on me for a few moves?” The man was speaking in peculiar [orig. yin and yang, weird qi] voice, unexpectedly it indeed sounded as if he was crying.

Yao Changhua breathed deeply via his nose, he said, “I … Zaixia …” Before he finished speaking, his body suddenly fell onto Zhao Dahai, unexpectedly his legs went soft that he could not even stand up.

Mao Jianbian glanced at Hu Tiehua, suddenly he put on a brave face and said loudly, “Friends, which Way are you from? Could it be that you don’t know who stays here?”

The man with a crying face said, “Who?”

The man with the smiling face laughed aloud and said, “It seems that they are nothing more than a few rats who only talk big to deceive people.”

Mao Jianbian’s face turned red, he said, “Friends, you’d better clean up your mouth a bit, you should know that the world-famous Hu Daxia and Chu Xiang Shuai are here.”

The man with crying mask said, “We are here today precisely to look for Hu Daxia and Chu Xiang Shuai, as long as friends of these two, you are all included, but those who have nothing to do with these two, you’d better stand aside.” As he spoke, he stroked the tree trunk lightly, by the time he finished speaking, the wutong leaves on the tree suddenly fell like raindrops.

As if being chased with a whip, ‘Crash! Bang!’ the people inside the room split to both sides, leaving only Hu Tiehua and Chu Liuxiang in the middle.

Smiling apologetically, Mao Jianbian said, “We have nothing to do with Chu Liuxiang, we don’t even know him, do we?”

The others immediately laughed apologetically and said, “Practically we don’t know … Who is Chu Liuxiang?”

The man with crying face spoke coldly, “It really is a bunch of rats.”

The man with smiling face said, “In that the case, you two should come out!”

Hu Tiehua suddenly walked over to Mao Jianbian, grinning, he said, “Mao Da Biaoke [great armed escort], you and I have been friends for many years, aren’t you going to help me?”

Even Mao Jianbian’s lips were trembling, he said, “You … who are you? I practically don’t even know you, how could you spit blood on people [idiom: venomous slander]?”

Hu Tiehua laughed and said, “Since you don’t know me, I’ll give this cup of wine back to you then!” He raised the wine cup and poured the wine slowly onto Mao Jianbian’s head, Mao Jianbian was so frightened that he was as dumb as a wooden chicken, he did not even dare to dodge.

Hu Tiehua laughed aloud and said, “It seems that you really should change your name, Da Piaoke [patron of a brothel] sounds a bit better.” Amidst the laughter, he already come out through the window.

The two people outside also immediately flew up, in a flash, they swept over of the wall, and in another flash disappeared into the darkness. Their qinggong was superior, indeed it was shocking.

But Chu Liuxiang and Hu Tiehua’s lightness skill was not inferior to anybody, only because they saw that the opponents were this brilliant, neither one dared to be careless.

The two men flew side by side, following the two shadows ahead from a distance, momentarily they did not dare to press on too closely. Casting a glance at Chu Liuxiang, Hu Tiehua smiled wryly and said, “Looks like you have quite a few formidable opponents.”

Chu Liuxiang replied, “Aren’t these two your foes?”

Hu Tiehua was taken aback, he said, “I regret to say that I have never even seen these two people.”

“Neither have I,” Chu Liuxiang replied.

“Think again,” Hu Tiehua said, “These two must have come to look for you, none of my enemies have such good skills. There is only one ‘Gui Wang’ [ghost king] Han Fei, but three years ago he had become a ghost for real.”

Chu Liuxiang said, “I can’t think of such an adversary either.”

Hu Tiehua said, “Can’t you even see their shenfa [pose or motion of one’s body in martial arts]? There are not many martial art masters like this in Jianghu!”

Chu Liuxiang said, “These two people’s palm power is extremely yin [of yin and yang, soft/feminine] and soft, like the Nan Zong’s [southern school/sect/clan] ‘Golden Silk Cotton Palm’, but people who can train the Golden Silk Cotton Palm to such maturity, over the past thirty years, there has only been Fang Xianke, one person.”

Hu Tiehua said, “But Fang Xianke only has one hand, how could these two people be him?”

Chu Liuxiang said, “I also know that they can’t possibly be Fang Xianke, so I can’t guess who they are.”

Hu Tiehua sighed and said, “No matter who these two are, we cannot avoid a hard fighting today. I thought that after coming back, I could pass a couple of days of peace and security, who could have thought that as soon as we got back, we encountered such two people. If I had known this, I would rather go back to Qiuci Kingdom with Princess Pipa [see Chu Liuxiang Book 2 The Great Desert, translated by yours truly].” Their mouth was talking, but their shenfa did not stop at all. The two people in front, their shenfa did not stop either; their qi was abundant, unexpectedly it was not inferior to theirs at all.

Only to see the scenery on both sides was getting more and more desolate. There seemed to be dots of ghost fire [will-o’-the-wisp] fluttering in the wind in the distance, unexpectedly it seemed like they have reached a desolate graveyard.

Knitting his brows, Hu Tiehua said, “It’s another cemetery. Why is it that every time someone wants to fight with me, they always take me to the cemetery?”

Chu Liuxiang smiled and said, “If he wants to drink with you, naturally he would take you to a restaurant, but now he wants your life, naturally the cemetery is the most convenient.” A gust of chilly wind blew past, the dots of ghostly fire hit them in the face.

When they got here, the moonlight also seemed to become cold, dismal and desolate. The cold, dismal and desolate moonlight shone on a grave overgrown with weeds. From time to time came the sound of howling wild dogs in the distance, like a crying ghost, but it was more unpleasant to hear than a crying ghost. Gradually Hu Tiehua felt that he could not laugh anymore.

Those two men in black had stopped among some random graves, and looked at them coldly. Chu Liuxiang and Hu Tiehua also slowed down and walked over step by step.

They saw four very small coffins were arranged neatly among a pile of graves. Unexpectedly there were even straw mats on the coffin. The man wearing a crying face pointed to the coffin and said, “Please.”

Rubbing his nose, Hu Tiehua laughed and said, “If this coffin was prepared for me, it is rather small.”

The man with the smiling face chuckled and said, “If you are cut in halves, wouldn’t it fit just right?”

Copying him, Hu Tiehua also chuckled and said, “Your build is more or less the same as mine, this coffin will also fit you well.”

The man with the crying face pointed at the coffin again and said, “Please sit down.”

Hu Tiehua laughed and said, “No wonder recently coffin shop business is thriving, turns out unexpectedly some people use coffins as stools.” He saw that Chu Liuxiang already sat down, so he had no choice but to follow.

Four people unexpectedly took a coffin each, facing each other, sitting among the pile of graves.

Chu Liuxiang smiled slightly and said, “I wonder what are two gentlemen’s honorable surnames and great given names? What is your intention? Do you have any enmity with Zaixia?” He asked three questions in a row, but the other party did not even answer with a word.

The man with the crying face suddenly waved his hand and said, “Bring up the wine.”

Hu Tiehua was stunned. Blurted out laughing, he said, “Unexpectedly two gentlemen invited us here to drink?”

The man with the crying face said, “It’s a pity there’s nothing good in this place to offer the two gentlemen.” As soon as these words were spoken, two persons walked out from behind the random graves, their bodies were also wearing black robes, their faces were also wearing mysterious masks.

Unexpectedly the two persons were carrying a coffin in their hands.

The coffin was much bigger, the two men in black carried the coffin to the middle of the four, bowed respectfully, and then turned around and disappeared among the pile of random graves.

It appeared as if they had come out of the desolate grave.

The man with the crying face pointed at the coffin again and said, “Please.”

“Please?” Hu Tiehua asked, “Please what?”

The man with the crying face said, “Please eat.”

Hu Tiehua was stunned, roaring in laughter, he said, “Could it be that two gentlemen want to invite me to eat dead people?”

The man with the crying face spoke coldly, “When you get to this place, if you don’t eat dead people, what do you eat?”

Hu Tiehua was startled again, he chuckled and said, “Interesting, interesting. It is indeed very interesting.” His laughter suddenly stopped, unexpectedly the man with the smiling face reached out into the coffin.

‘Crack!’, it sounded as if he had twisted and broken something. When he stretched his hand out again, he was already holding an arm, still dripping with blood. Lifting the mask up, ‘Crack!’ he bit off a large piece of the arm, laughing heartily, and said, “Please, please, please. This man died not too long ago, still very fresh.” He was laughing and chewing at the same time, blood was running down the corners of his mouth.

Hu Tiehua was both shocked and disgusted. Exploding in anger, he said, “What the hell are you …”

Who would have thought that before he finished speaking, unexpectedly Chu Liuxiang also reached out into the coffin, ‘Crack!’ he also twisted and broke an arm still dripping with blood? And with another ‘Crack!’ he unexpectedly bit off a large piece of this arm, blood was also running down the corners of his mouth.

Seeing that, the hair on Hu Tiehua’s entire body stood on its end, he suddenly sprang up and shouted, “Chu Liuxiang, when did you learn to eat dead people?”

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “This person is indeed very fresh, it tastes extremely good, you should also try a piece.”

Hu Tiehua was shocked and angry. Just when he did not know what to do, the two men in black suddenly burst into laughter. Unexpectedly the one with the crying face laughed like a silver bell, “I already knew that this could not fool Chu Xiang Shuai.”

Amidst the laughter, dozens of lanterns were suddenly raised from all sides, illuminating the desolate graveyard as bright as day. Only then did Hu Tiehua see clearly that the ‘bloody arm’ was unexpectedly just a piece of white lotus root covered in brown sugar juice. In this gloomy, eerie graveyard, under the cold, dismal and desolate moonlight, although it could deceive Hu Tiehua’s eyes, but it still did not deceive Chu Liuxiang’s.

Hu Tiehua was agape and tongue-tied, rubbing his nose desperately, he said, “This … what the hell is going on?”

The man with the smiling face took off his mask, he laughed heartily and said, “Xiaodi is really preposterous, but hoping that Hu Xiong will forgive me.” This man was handsome, unexpectedly it was Li Yuhan, his new friend.

Naturally the person wearing the crying face was Liu Wumei.

Hu Tiehua sprang up again and said with loud laughter, “Interesting, interesting. This is indeed very interesting. I have never encountered such an interesting thing in my life, you two really have real skill.”

Liu Wumei spoke sweetly, “I knew that two gentlemen must have been entangled by those evil guests and unable to escape, so I came up with this trick to let the two gentlemen to relieve boredom and have a good time.”

Clapping his palms, Hu Tiehua said, “Wonderful, wonderful! This trick is indeed the most wonderful in the world, the most wonderful since the ancient time. Apart from Sao Furen [Madame Sister-in-law], I am afraid that there won’t be the second person able to come up with this method.”

Li Yuhan laughed and said, “But no matter how wonderful her idea was, she still could not hide it from Chu Xiong.”

Hu Tiehua laughed leisurely and said, “He indeed has a pair of sharp eyes, but I don’t envy him at all, because this way, he will have a lot less fun instead, he will never be as happy as me.”

In the coffin, there was not only lotus root, but also fresh orange, fresh water caltrop, muskmelon, and sweet-smelling fruits. For Hu Tiehua and Chu Liuxiang, whose stomach and intestines have been stuffed with too much wine and meat, nothing was more fitting. Besides, although these fruits were not precious, but in this kind of place, this season, perhaps they were more precious than sparrow tongue and bear paw. From this, it could be seen that not only the host was considerate and thoughtful, but was also very generous.

Hu Tiehua raised his cup and said with a big laugh, “Although I have done not a few preposterous things in my life, but sitting on a coffin in a graveyard, drinking wine, this is really the first time in my entire life.”

Li Yuhan hurriedly said, “Does Hu Xiong feel a little unhappy?”

“Unhappy?” Hu Tiehua said, “I feel extremely happy. Compared with this place, the small room in the inn feels simply as stuffy as a coffin. Compared to the worthy [or virtuous] husband and wife, those Da Biaoke are simply like a bunch of living ghosts.”

Liu Wumei blurted out laughing and said, “Although I was wearing a crying face mask at that time, when I heard you changed Da Biaoke nickname, I nearly could not help blurting out laughing.”

Hu Tiehua stroked his nose, he said, “If I knew that Sao Furen could hear it, I would not dare to say those words.”

Chu Liuxiang suddenly said, “In Jianghu, everyone knows that in present time, there are three major influential families in Wulin [martial arts circles], their history is very long, the reputation resounding, not inferior to the three major gangs and seven major sects. Moreover, each family has martial arts secret manuals handed down from generation to generation, enough to compete with Shaolin’s Luohan Shenquan [arhat divine fist] and Wudang’s Liangyi Jianfa [lit. two righteousness, i.e. heaven and earth, yin and yang, sword technique] as peers. However, the disciples and younger generations of these three families and schools all adhere strictly to their family law, very seldom wander in Jianghu.” He suddenly talked about the current trend of Wulin, other people did not know how to join in, so they just listened to him quietly.

Chu Liuxiang continued, “In recent decades, from these three major influential Wulin families, talents have come forth in large numbers. Although they don’t often walk around Jianghu, but a dragon appearing occasionally, anything they did must be a major event enough to shock the world; for instance …”

Hu Tiehua could not help but interject, “For instance, the NanGong Influential Family’s NanGong Ping; in the past, in just one night he swept over the Eighteen Strongholds of Taihang, so that the Taihang group of bandits who have been going in the rampage in the world for forty years henceforth one stumble, unable to rise [idiom].”

Chu Liuxiang smiled and said, “That was an old affair of fifty years ago. The svelte and elegant NanGong Gongzi [young master] of the past has become an immortal [die] ten years ago. Nearly twenty or thirty years ago …”

Hu Tiehua could not help but interject again, “Nearly twenty or thirty years ago, the major event stirring the Wulin the most was Li Guanyu, Li Lao Qianbei [old senior/older generation] of the ‘Yong Cui Shanzhuang’ [Embracing Green Jade Villa/Manor House, can also be translated as ‘mountain village’]. At the sword-testing stony shore of the Jian Chi [sword pond/lake], inviting thirty-one most famous swordsmen in the world – to brew tea and test their swords, Li Lao Qianbei, using an ancient fish-intestine sword and nine-by-nine, eighty-one-hand Lingfeng Jianfa [rising-high wind sword technique], made the thirty-one famous swordsmen all submitted cheerfully and thus he was elected as the number one swordsman in the world.”

Clapping his palms, Chu Liuxiang said, “That’s right, these three great influential families’ martial arts, although each has its own merits, but in the past thirty years, we still have to take the Sea of Gusu into consideration, and the ‘Yong Cui Shanzhuang’ is the leader among them.” He smiled slightly, and then suddenly turned to Li Yuhan and said with a smile, “Li Xiong is young and handsome, your martial art is very high, even more hard to see in Jianghu. If Zaixia did not guess incorrectly, you must be younger generation and disciple of the ‘Yong Cui Shanzhuang’.”

Li Yuhan said, “Ashamed, Xiaodi is without learning or skills [idiom: ignorant and incompetent], indeed I fail to live up to the old reputation of the family clan.”

Chu Liuxiang said, “Li Xiong is too modest. I wonder how would Li Xiong address Li Guanyu, Li Lao Qianbei?”

Li Yuhan respectfully said, “He is my father.”

Hearing that, Hu Tiehua was already radiant with delight, he could not help clapping his hands and said with a hearty laugh, “No wonder the virtuous husband and wife are so outstanding, the younger generations of influential Wulin family are indeed different from the ordinary.”

Li Yuhan laughed and said, “Rivers and mountains [the country] have produced talented people from generation to generation, each led the literary excellence for several decades. As for the ‘Yong Cui Shanzhuang’, not only its reputation has been ruined by unworthy younger generation like me, even my father has not dared to call himself the number one swordsman in the world for a long time.”

Without waiting for Chu Liuxiang and Hu Tiehua to comment, he rushed to continue, “In the past, the senior swordsmen brewing tea and testing the swords at the Lu Yu [733-804, writer from Tang dynasty, known for his obsession with tea] Pavilion by the Jian Chi, nowadays have mostly faded away, but the later generation of swordsmen in Jianghu greatly surpass their predecessors. According to my father, today’s famous masters in the world, in terms of swordsmanship alone, Xue Yiren, Xue Daxia is the number one under the heaven.”

Chu Liuxiang said, “That is just Li Lao Qianbei’s desire to reward and promote the later generation. Although Zaixia have heard about Xue Yiren’s sword technique as fantastic and magnificent, out-of-this-world, but whether in terms of experience and maturity, compared to Li Lao Qianbei, undoubtedly he is still far too inferior. Li Xiong, there is no need to be too modest.”

Hu Tiehua laughed and said, “That’s right, although modesty is a virtue, too much modesty becomes fake instead.”

Li Yuhan heaved a long, long sigh, he said sadly, “To some extent, two gentlemen are unaware, my father unfortunately contracted some kind of incurable disease many years ago, nowadays he has been bedridden all year round. He has not picked up the sword for ten years already.”

Chu Liuxiang and Hu Tiehua were both startled, they wrung their hands and sighed for this matter.

Half a day later, Li Yuhan spread out his countenance in a laugh and went on, “Speaking about swords alone, although Xue Yiren could be pushed forward, but in terms of quick-wit and martial arts, and determining victory in front of the enemy, in all the world, who can compare to Chu Xiang Shuai?”

Hu Tiehua laughed and said, “Although he is not bad, you should not hold him too high, he is not as modest as you.”

Li Yuhan laughed. He said, “Speaking about the major event creating the most sensation in Wulin in recent years, naturally we must also count Chu Xiang Shuai single-handedly exposing NanGong Ling and the ‘Wonder Monk’ Wuhua’s conspiracy, saving Shaolin and the Beggar Gang’s reputation.”

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “That is just a small matter, not worth mentioning at all.”

Hu Tiehua roared in laughter, he said, “You don’t have to be too modest, if this matter is considered a small matter, what else can be considered a major event?”

Liu Wumei suddenly laughed and said, “While admittedly when speaking about quick-wit and martial arts, and determining victory in front of the enemy, no one can compete with Chu Xiang Shuai, but speaking about being broad-minded and open, straightforward, free and at ease, uninhibited, who can compare to Hu Tiehua?”

Hu Tiehua laughed aloud and said, “Sao Furen said it right, speaking about drinking wine, now, that, nobody can compare to me.”

Chu Liuxiang smiled and said, “That’s right, in all the world, indeed no one can get drunk faster than you.”

Hu Tiehua roared, “Good kid, you have the impertinence to sell Wujiapi in front of Du Kang’s door[1]? There will come a day when I will stake everything against you, to see who will go down first.”

Liu Wumei said sweetly, “Selling Wujiapi in front of Du Kang’s door, indeed it was spoken extremely wonderfully, much more vivid and lively than Kong Fu [Confucius] selling the Book of Family Names in front of his door.”

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “Other than him, this kind of a drunkard [lit. wine ghost], no one can think of such words. This is called ‘Three Sentences will not depart from one’s own profession’.”

Li Yuhan said, “Two gentlemen are really upright and sincere good friends [orig. inlaid by mountainous big-hearted, outstanding liver and guts]. Xiaodi is able to make friends with two gentlemen, it is indeed an unsurpassed delight. I really wish I could spend a few more days with the two gentlemen.”

Liu Wumei said, “Therefore, we really want to invite the two gentlemen to the ‘Yong Cui Shanzhuang’ to have a drink on the plain for ten days. The Lu Yu Tea Well over there is known as the third spring in the world. While admittedly it is wonderful to brew tea, to make wine, it is also not bad.”

Immediately Hu Tiehua’s eyes lit up, he clapped his palms and said, “I have already heard that the ‘Yong Cui Shanzhuang’ has it’s back to the mountains and is facing the water, the scenery is exceptionally good, I have always been eager to come over to roam around, while also to have a glimpse at the brilliance of the number one swordsman in the world.” He cast a glance at Chu Liuxiang, and could not help sighing. He said, “It’s a pity that I have to accompany him to look for a few people.”

Chu Liuxiang immediately said, “It’s not that Zaixia does not wish to pay my respect to Li Lao Qianbei, only regretfully there are too many affairs to attend to, I am afraid I won’t be able to go this time. Luckily the future is long, there will definitely be opportunities later on.”

Liu Wumei’s eyes rippled and rolled, she spoke leisurely, “That’s really a pity, there are a few people in our home who are eager to meet Chu Xiang Shuai.”

“Oh?” Chu Liuxiang said.

Hu Tiehua said, “You don’t have to ask, the person who wants to see you must be a sixteen or seventeen-year-old little girl, who doesn’t understand anything, and who has heard from God-knows-where about some sayings ‘Robber chief [or commander] leaving fragrance [liuxiang in Chu Liuxiang’s name] in the night’! The duke and king among the wanderers! Hence with heart and soul she decided that you must be a very amazing person. Li Xiong, am I right?”

Liu Wumei laughed in spite of herself, she said, “Those few are indeed young girls in their teenage years, but if you say they don’t understand anything, certainly you make a big mistake.”

“Oh?” Hu Tiehua said.

Liu Wumei said, “Those few young ladies are not only talented in both pen and sword [or literary and martial arts], smart and beautiful, but one of them is of great erudition and scholarship even more, a painted-eyebrows gifted scholar of great talent.”

Hu Tiehua said, “Oh? What’s her name?”

Liu Wumei laughed indifferently and said, “Her name is Su Rongrong.”

[1] Wujiapi (Acanthopanax gracilistylus leather) is medicinal rice wine soaked with some kind of traditional Chinese medicine. Du Kang was the legendary inventor of wine. This saying is equivalent to ‘playing with an axe in front of a carpenter’, or ‘playing with a broad sword in front of Guan Gong’s door’. Guan Gong (Lord Guan, Guan Yu) was the legendary character in the Romance of Three Kingdoms, deified and worshipped in Chinese folk religion, popular Confucianism, Taoism, and Chinese Buddhism. (Source: zhidao baidu and Wikipedia.)

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