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The Thrush Chapter 21

CSI

Human Skin Mask

Because only he had seen Shi Guanyin‘s martial arts, yet in all her life, Shi Guanyin was most afraid of ‘Shui Mu’ Yin Ji. How brilliant Yin Ji’s martial arts were, he did not even dare to think about, not to mention the secret of her ‘Divine Water Palace’ was even more inconceivable.

Suddenly he heard Hu Tiehua said, “Ling Feige, Xiao Shi, Tieshan Daozhang, and Huang Luzhi, these four men, I have indeed heard about their fame, but who is that somewhat peculiar person?”

Li Hongxiu said, “Are you talking about that person who never laughs and never talks?”

Hu Tiehua said, “It’s him.”

Li Hongxiu said, “When I saw this person, I felt a little strange too, so I wanted to ask about his background, who would have thought that they suddenly left.”

Su Rongrong smiled and said, “They left so quickly, maybe precisely because they were afraid we were going to ask about his background.”

Li Hongxiu said, “But … Li Gongzi, could it be that you also don’t know who that person is?”

Li Yuhan shook his head and said, “That Qianbei was the helper invited by Huang Lao Qianbei. Huang Lao Qianbei only said that his swordsmanship is brilliant, at the present age, very few people can match him, definitely he would not botch things up, but he was unwilling to tell his surname and given name, as well as his background.”

Frowning, Li Hongxiu said, “Why did he do that?”

Li Yuhan said, “At that time, we also felt it was very strange, but did not dare to ask too many questions. We just thought that when Xiao Lao Qianbei and the others came, they would definitely recognize him.”

“That’s right,” Li Hongxiu said, “Xiao Daxia indeed has a vast network of friends. All the famous heroes of Wulin’s older generation more or less have some relationship to the Yu Jian Men [Jade Sword School].”

Li Yuhan said, “But not only Xiao Lao Qianbei did not recognize him, he had not even met this person. Among the famous swordsmen in Wulin, there is absolutely no one who looks like him.”

Su Rongrong suddenly laughed, she spoke leisurely, “I already knew that no one in the world would recognize him.”

“Why is that?” Li Hongxiu asked.

Su Rongrong replied, “The light inside the underground room was very dim, no wonder you guys could not see it.”

Li Hongxiu blurted out, “Could it be that his face was not real?”

Su Rongrong chuckled, she looked at Chu Liuxiang and said, “Not only this person’s art of disguise is extremely brilliant, but the human skin mask he was wearing is even more very exquisite, hence he could conceal it from your, these big experts’ eyes.”

Chu Liuxiang also chuckled, but did not say anything.

Hu Tiehua said, “Did you see his weird smile? It was as if nothing could hide from him, while actually, his greatest ability is to laugh, and he laughs so much that no one can guess how much he actually knows.”

Li Hongxiu spoke sweetly, “You really deserve to be called his close friend.”

Hu Tiehua said, “The man’s face was rigid and wooden, totally without any expression, I had already suspected early on that he played a trick on his face, but I could not see any flaws.”

Su Rongrong said, “It’s only because of the human skin mask he wore is different from the ones commonly seen in Jianghu. It was indeed made by top experts, and could be considered a divine product.”

Hu Tiehua said, “There have never been many people in Jianghu who could make this kind of human skin mask. In the past fifty years, there have been no more than ten people who are proficient in this field, but only three can be considered experts.”

Liu Wumei suddenly asked, “Do you know those three?”

Hu Tiehua said, “The first person is called ‘Xiao Shentong’ [Little Child Prodigy, lit. little divine boy], just because he was very famous when he was seven or eight years old, but he died before he was in his twenties. It can be said that people who can make human skin mask, none is a good thing, only he can be considered not too bad.”

He stopped abruptly, only because he noticed that unexpectedly Su Rongrong’s face suddenly showed a look of sorrow, even the rim of her eyes was a little red.

Li Hongxiu rolled her eyes and hurriedly spoke, “The second person is called ‘The Demon with Thousand Faces’, who was killed many years ago by the hero Tie Zhongtang, Tie Daxia of the ‘Tie Xue Da Qi Men’ [Iron Blood Banner School], who also burned the ‘Wan Miao Gong’ [Ten-thousand Wonders Palace], which he built with his life’s heart and blood – to rubble. The human skin masks they made, not a single one remained.”

Liu Wumei said, “What about the last person?”

Biting her lip, Li Hongxiu said, “When I think of this person’s name, I feel sick, so it’s better not to say it.”

Liu Wumei said, “Could it be that he is more malicious than the ‘The Demon with Thousand Faces’?”

Li Hongxiu said “At most ‘The Demon with Thousand Faces’ was just vicious and merciless, cruel and malicious, but this person is despicable and shameless. Anything shameless, he can do. He is simply not a human.”

Liu Wumei was silent for half a day. Emotionally moved, she said, “Are you talking about the neither-man-nor-woman ladyboy [lit. man and demon, dictionary also have these definitions: transvestite/transsexual] ‘Xiong Niangzi’ [lit. Male Lady; Xiong – male/mighty, Niangzi – polite form of address for a woman]?”

Li Hongxiu spoke hatefully, “It is him. In Jianghu, whether white way or black way, everybody really wishes to cut his dismembered body into ten thousand pieces. Since ancient times, I am afraid that there has never been a person who has more enemies than him, so all year round he hides in the east and flees to the west, relying on the human skin mask he made to avoid the pursuit of his enemies.”

Liu Wumei said, “Could it be that the man who came with Huang Lao Qianbei was him?

Chu Liuxiang smiled and said, “Huang Lao Qianbei has been upright all his life, how could he associate with such a person? Besides, although Xiong Niangzi is cunning and expert in changes, his qinggong and sword technique cannot be considered weak, but for the last dozens of years or so, he is strung through and filled with evil [idiom].”

Liu Wumei sighed and said, “Since I grew up in the desert, I am very unfamiliar with the Wulin matter of the Central Plains.”

Chu Liuxiang smiled and continued, “Yong Cui Shanzhuang has always been a strict family style, naturally it won’t mention the name of this kind of lascivious thief’s name, but at that time, the execution of Xiong Niangzi was indeed a major event that caused quite a sensation, there were many people who did not hesitate to travel a thousand li to rush over to see his dead body, simply to cut a piece of flesh from his corpse.”

Liu Wumei said, “No one in Jianghu has even seen his true face, how did they know that the dead body was his?”

Chu Liuxiang said, “Just because the person who killed him not only hoisted his corpse high in the air, he even wrote a few lines with a vermillion brush, to the effect that this person is the picking-flower lascivious thief Xiong Niangzi, hence the Shen Shui Gong exterminated him, to rid the women of the world of some harm.”

Liu Wumei blurted out, “Shen Shui Gong? Could it be that this Xiong Niangzi also died at the hands of ‘Shui Mu’ Yin Ji?”

“That’s right,” Chu Liuxiang said, “Because the person who killed him was the Master of Shen Shui Gong, so Jianghu people believed without any doubt that the dead body must belonged to Xiong Niangzi, because the Master of Shen Shui Gong can’t be wrong.”

Hu Tiehua had been looking at Su Rongrong, this moment he suddenly said, “Although this person Xiong Niangzi is dead, the human skin masks he made may remain several, perhaps the mask worn by that swordsman in black was his.”

Li Hongxiu said, “Definitely not.”

Hu Tiehua laughed in spite of himself, he said, “There’s no brand name written on the mask, how can you be so sure?”

Li Hongxiu glowered at him, she said, “Because this Xiong Niangzi’s appearance was originally somewhat effeminate, but he prided himself on being the number one beautiful man the world; therefore, the masks he made also had the appearance of beautiful men, definitely would not be as dull and ordinary as the mask that that man wore.”

“Uh huh,” Hu Tiehua said, “It makes sense.”

Li Hongxiu said, “Precisely because the masks he made are very exquisite, he had always treasured them like jade annulus. The masks made by Xiao Shentong and the Man with Thousand Faces are occasionally passed down in Jianghu, but the masks he made, no one has seen it before.”

Chu Liuxiang joined in, “Besides, since he died in the hands of the Master of Shen Shui Gong, even if there was any mask remained, it would definitely be in Yin Ji’s hands, definitely would not spread to the outside world.”

Hu Tiehua cast a glance at Su Rongrong, he said, “Since the Man with Thousand Faces and Xiong Niangzi have no masks left, then the mask he wore must have been left behind by Xiao Shentong”

Su Rongrong suddenly said, “Definitely not.”

Hu Tiehua had already felt that that when she heard the name ‘Xiao Shentong’ her expression became a little strange, thereupon this moment he stopped asking questions and just let her speak for herself.

Sure enough, Su Rongrong said, “The mask that Xiao Shentong made never spread in Jianghu.”

“Oh?” Hu Tiehua said.

The rim of Su Rongrong’s eyes turned red again, hanging down her head, she said, “Because he left all his masks to me, because I … I am his Meimei [younger sister].”

Hu Tiehua was stunned, he could not say anything.

He had already heard from Chu Liuxiang that Li Hongxiu, Song Tian’er, and Su Rongrong, the three girls’ life experience was tragic, they were all orphans.

But he could not have imagined that between Su Rongrong and Xiao Shentong, unexpectedly there was such a deep relationship. Although his mouth was closed, his eyes were staring at Chu Liuxiang, as if to say, “No wonder people say that Chu Liuxiang has ten million personifications, turns out that they are all Xiao Shentong’s masterpiece. You, this old stinky bug, why didn’t you tell me earlier, you old bug, could it be that you still want to hide it from me?”

Chu Liuxiang smiled and said, “Others don’t want other people to see their true colors, that is their freedom, there is no need for us to get to the bottom of it by asking where his mask was coming from. In any case, other people have no ill will towards us.”

Without letting the others to speak, he went on, “Just now, when I went to say goodbye and express my thanks to Li Lao Qianbei, they were still there, as if they were waiting for me. When Huang Lao Jianke saw me, he pulled me aside and said to me, ‘This friend of mine is a very pitiful person with many unspeakable secret troubles, I hope we can forgive him.”

Li Hongxiu said, “Forgive him for what? Why did Huang Luzhi suddenly say that to you?”

Chu Liuxiang said, “This … maybe because he was the one who told Huang Lao Jianke about the secrets of Shen Shui Gong and Puti An, so Huang Lao Jianke wanted us not to pursue this matter anymore.”

Hu Tiehua said, “Therefore, you are not going to pursue it anymore, are you?”

Chu Liuxiang said, “I believe that Huang Lao Jianke definitely did not deceive me, let alone set me up. Now that I have promised him, I must not eat my words.”

His expression suddenly became very serious, he spoke heavily, “Everybody has the right to keep his secret private. As long as he doesn’t hurt others, we have no right to investigate in detail.”

Hu Tiehua spoke loudly, “That’s right, those who like to spy on other people’s private business must be a crafty and evil lowly person.”

All along Hei Zhenzhu has been avoiding Chu Liuxiang’s gaze, not daring to look at him. Her pair of big, deep and cold and detached eyes was full of melancholy, as if a layer of dreary and fuzzy mist had shrouded the clear surface of the lake.

This moment, she suddenly stood up, lowered her head and said, “I … I really feel I let you down, but … now that you are together again, my guilt can be lightened a bit.”

Li Hongxiu’s eyes grew big, she said, “Dajie, [big/eldest sister], why did you say that?”

Hei Zhenzhu chuckled, she said, “Because I’m leaving, so I think it’s better to say it, I …”

Before she finished speaking, Song Tian’er and Li Hongxiu already grabbed her hands.

Song Tianer anxiously said, “We have already become sworn sisters, how could you abandon us and leave alone.”

Hei Zhenzhu said, “Although the desert is not a good place, but … it is my home …”

She seemed to also remembered that she had no home, her voice was choked with emotion.

Li Hongxiu also spoke anxiously, “Our home is your home, you … you …”

Su Rongrong spoke at the same time, “That’s right, all of us together, just like biological brothers and sisters.”

Song Tian’er spoke loudly, “If you are leaving, I am coming with you.”

They all spoke so sincerely, so earnestly.

The dense fog in Hei Zhenzhu‘s eyes already turned into raindrops. She could barely hold back her tears, but she could not help glancing at Chu Liuxiang, as if saying, “They won’t let me go, how about you?”

Chu Liuxiang smiled and said, “Although we haven’t bowed together to become brothers and sisters, we are still friends. Now that friends are in trouble, how could you abandon friends by walking away?”

This remark was really effective, Hei Zhenzhu let out a faint sigh, she said, “You …”

Chu Liuxiang said, “I am hoping you can accompany Hongxiu and Tian’er to Puti An. They are all children, without the slightest bit of Jianghu experience. You ought to look after them.”

Hei Zhenzhu was silent, finally she sat down slowly.

Song Tian’er broke into laughter and said, “We must listen to her and must not be naughty.”

‘Puchi,’ Hu Tiehua laughed [and I thought only girls ‘Puchi’? ], he said, “By saying so, that means you are very naughty.”

Song Tian’er glowered at him, but she bit her lip and laughed.

Li Hongxiu said, “What about you?”

Chu Liuxiang said, “But you don’t know where Puti An is, so you have to ask Li Gongzi to show you the way.”

Chu Liuxiang said, “I am going with Xiao Hu, to enter the Shen Shui Gong from another way, with Rong’er showing the way. Today is the ninth day of the first lunar month. If we are lucky, on the night of the full moon, we can meet at the Shen Shui Gong.”

Li Hongxiu said, “We are all women, so at best we can’t enter the Shen Shui Gong, definitely there won’t be any danger, but you …”

Hu Tiehua roared in laughter and said, “Don’t worry, since ‘Shui Mu’ Yin Ji is a woman, she will never bear to kill this old stinky bug.”

Chu Liuxiang deliberately spoke with a straight face, “That’s right, at most she just kills you.”

Hu Tiehua also spoke with a straight face, “I’m not afraid that she will kill me; if she wants to marry me, that will be really troublesome.”

Li Hongxiu and Song Tian’er already doubled up with laughter.

Tittering, Song Tian’er said, “If she marries you, the name Shen Shui Gong will have to be changed to the Shen Jiu Gong [Divine Wine Palace].”

It was a tiny mountain town, beyond this was the mountainous area stretching out in an unbroken chain for hundreds of li. By the time Chu Liuxiang, Hu Tiehua and Su Rongrong reached the town, it was already night fall.

No matter where he went, the first and foremost task that Hu Tiehua had to accomplish was to find a wine shop. Not eating or sleeping, that he could do, but he simply had to drink wine.

In this quiet mountain city, the number of pedestrians on the streets was not many. This moment, suddenly there were a few people walked over from straight ahead. From their attire, in just a glance, Chu Liuxiang was able to tell that they must be Jianghu characters. From their eyes, in just a glacne, Hu Tiehua was able to tell that they must be drunkards, because the people who have been drinking, their eyes would become almost the same as those of dead fish.

People who have been drinking are also very loud. They think they had already suppressed their voices, but other people are disturbed by them to the death.

Hu Tiehua was about to ask them, “Where is the place that sells wine?” those few people’s voices had already come over.

They heard one man said, “We were having a good time drinking, why did you drag me away?”

Another man said, “Those two old men who just walked into the ‘Taibai Lou’ [Li Bai, 701-762, Tang Dynasty poet, Building (lou is multi-story building)], do you know who they are?”

Scowling, the man replied, “Who are they? Could they be your old father-in-law?”

Another man sneered and said, “If he is really my old father-in-law, I would show my face instead … I am telling you, he is the head of the eighteen families of Wawei Fort in the past, the ‘Gentleman Sword’ Huang Luzhi, you should have heard of his name?”

The man was stunned for half a day, sure enough, he did not dare to make any noise anymore.

The third person laughed and said, “I heard that when this old man started fighting with others, he would tell you what moves he was going to use first. Is that true?”

The man replied, “Even if you know what moves he was going to use, it’s still the same, you won’t be able to block him. If we want to drink, there are many places, why invite trouble by being together with him in the same place?”

While talking, they passed by Chu Liuxiang’s side, one of them stared at Su Rongrong, as if he wanted to take liberties with her, to wipe the oil [fig. to take advantage of someone].

But when he remembered that the ‘Gentleman Sword’ was nearby, he was well-behaved.

Only after they have gone far that Hu Tiehua laughed and said, “I didn’t expect Huang Luzhi to come here, it is indeed a small world, I just don’t know what is his drink capacity. How about we go find him and have a couple of cups with him?”

Chu Liuxiang pondered, “Maybe he does not want to see us.”

“Why?” Hu Tiehua asked.

He rolled his eyes, suddenly he understood, saying, “Those men said that there are two persons, the other must be the man wearing the mask. Maybe they also want to go to Shen Shui Gong, otherwise why would they come to such a ghost place?”

Chu Liuxiang seemed to be thinking deeply, but did not answer.

Hu Tiehua’s eyes lit up again, he said, “You must have guessed correctly, that person must have a deep relationship with the Shen Shui Gong, otherwise he is an adult male, how could he know about Shen Shui Gong that clearly?”

All along Su Rongrong has been listening quietly, only a smart woman like her understood that when a man was talking, she should keep her mouth shut.

Chu Liuxiang pondered quietly for a long time, suddenly he laughed and said, “They have unspeakable difficulties, we don’t need to give them a hard time, but those several Jianghu characters just now are obviously not good people, we should pay close attention to them.”

Hu Tiehua said, “Right, I agree.”

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “I also know that you will not object, because by following them, not only there will be other people’s business to mind, but there will definitely be wine to drink. These two things are your favorites.”

Hu Tiehua laughed aloud and said, “The Old Stinky Bug is indeed worthy to be called my, Hu Tiehua’s close friend.”

The place where those several Jianghu characters went indeed had wine, but there was no other people’s business to mind, because these few men were actually very well-behaved, so much so that none got wildly drunk. After drinking, to their surprise, these men went to an inn, closed the door and went to sleep. Half a day later, they heard their thunderous snoring, surprisingly, they really went to bed.

It was also beyond Chu Liuxiang’s expectation. As long as Hu Tiehua had a drink and was not drunk yet, he did not want to be too meddlesome. Naturally, they didn’t want to go into the mountains at night, thereupon they also stopped at the inn.

Hu Tiehua still had an old problem; he did not want to go back to his room to sleep.

After the third watch of the night, Chu Liuxiang yawned and said, “Tomorrow we are going to Shen Shui Gong, don’t tell me you don’t want to keep your spirits up to do our business properly?”

Bursting out laughing, Hu Tiehua laughed and said, “When I sleep too much, I get dizzy. I’d better …”

Right this moment, they heard a ‘Chi!’ noise outside the window. Someone’s calm and collected voice said, “Chu Liuxiang, come out.”

Before these five words were finished, Hu Tiehua had already flown out of the window. He was never afraid that someone would plot against him, so Chu Liuxiang had no choice but to follow him out.

They saw a black shadow flashing behind the house ahead, it seemed to beckon to Chu Liuxiang. In the blink of an eye, it already swept past seven or eight zhang.”

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