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The Vast Desert Chapter 12


Chapter 12 – Danger at the Doorstep

The King of Qiuci raised his cup and laughed aloud, “Surrounded by distinguished friends, with a happy occasion in the family, what pleasure of life could possibly be better than this. Come! Come! Come! Everybody must drink with Xiao Wang for three hundred cups.”

Thereupon everybody raised his cup in delight; indeed the cheerful atmosphere filled the hall. Hu Tiehua was the exception; he had the fine wine in front of him, yet he acted like a child bride, not even dared to lift his head up.

As the saying goes, “Mother-in-law looks at her daughter’s husband, the more she looks, the more interesting he appears.”

But this Queen of Qiuci’s eyes, intentionally or otherwise, were always sizing up Chu Liuxiang.

She only took two sips of wine, and she already rose up gracefully, and spoke sweetly, “Merely looking at gentlemen enjoying the merriment to the utmost, my physique is unable to endure; I will have to ask to be excused first.”

Chu Liuxiang followed her with his eyes as she walked out; unexpectedly it was as if he was in a daze.

Ji Bingyan quietly said, “Toward other women, there’s no harm in you having ideas, but this is other people’s Wangfei, you must never, ever, have any silly thought.”

Chu Liuxiang chuckled, as if he was about to argue, but in the end he closed his mouth again, only to hear Wu Qingtian suddenly said, “What about that Du Daxia [great hero]?”

The King of Qiuci sighed and said, “He seemed to be extremely restless; although Xiao Wang repeatedly urged him to stay, he still wanted to leave this very night. The most aggravating thing is that Situ Liuxing also went missing, nobody saw even his shadow.”

Chu Liuxiang could not help asking, “And what about that Wang Xiong?”

Wu Baiyun replied with a wry smile, “This man’s character seems to be a bit weird; I repeatedly asked him to come, but he unexpectedly ignored me.”

Remaining calm and collected, the King of Qiuci said, “Never mind if he does not want to come, he knew Xiao Wang’s thirst of talents, hence he came to offer his service on his own, but he was somewhat secretive, so Xiao Wang did not believe him too much.”

And then he cleared his throat and broke into big smile and said, “But since this moment everybody here is on the same side, Xiao Wang has something that I would like to confide with you, to take advantage of this happy occasion to speak it out. After I say it, I hope even more that gentlemen could keep the secret for Xiao Wang.”

Chu Liuxiang and Ji Bingyan exchanged some glances, while musing inwardly, “Indeed there’s some trick behind this; this wine is indeed not good to drink.”

The two heroes of the Wu Clan spoke together, “Wangye, please feel free to say it; we, brothers, are definitely not men who would go back on our words.”

The King of Qiuci’s eyes immediately turned toward Chu Liuxiang, three men.

Chu Liuxiang smiled and said, “As Fuma’s close friends, how could we betray Wangye?”

The King of Qiuci laughed heartily and said, “Precisely! Precisely! Xiao Wang really thinks too much.”

He suddenly stopped laughing and spoke heavily, “But gentlemen ought to empathize with Xiao Wang’s plight. Since being cheated by rebel ministers, Xiao Wang has passed my days as an exile, I cannot but be careful in all things.”

Chu Liuxiang and Ji Bingyan exchanged some glances again, while musing inwardly, “Our guess was indeed not wrong; this King of Qiuci’s land has indeed been snatched away. It seems that he is associating with Wulin people is in order to look for bodyguards.”

They heard the King of Qiuci sighed with emotion and said, “Although Xiao Wang is wandering on the outside, my heart is still in the motherland [orig. country with an ancient history], and the rebelling ministers are naturally also aware of this fact. Therefore, they wholeheartedly want to get rid of Xiao Wang sooner rather than later. In the last year, Xiao Wang has repeatedly escaped dangers. Furthermore, the assassins coming to kill me really were not our Qiuci warriors, rather, they were the assassins that the rebel ministers hired from the Central Plains.”

Wu Qingtian’s expression looked a bit nervous, he asked in heavy voice, “What kind of people are they?”

The King of Qiuci replied, “Xiao Wang is not familiar with the Central Plains heroes’ tracks; I only know there was someone called ‘Shen Dao Wudi’ [lit. unrivalled divine saber], also one called ‘Ba Bi Na Chi’ [eight-armed Nachi (哪叱); perhaps it’s a typo, since there is deity named Nezha (哪吒), a very close Chinese character. But … being a non-native Chinese speaker, I do not dare to say with 100% confidence].”

Wu Qingtian relaxed; he proudly said with a laugh, “Wangye, please rest assured. Forget about we have Hu Xiong, three very able men here, merely relying on us, two brothers, those people could forget about harming even a single strand of Wangye’s hair.”

The King of Qiuci said, “But according to Xiao Wang’s intelligence, those rebel ministers recently, using huge money, invited four, five first-class martial art masters from the Central Plains. I hear that one of them has brilliant swordsmanship, practically unrivalled.”

Wu Qingtian tensed up again; he asked, “Does Wangye happen to know their names?”

The King of Qiuci replied, “Xiao Wang only know that seven days ago, four of those men have arrived in this vicinity, and that the most formidable man’s whereabouts is extremely secretive.”

“Where did Wangye obtain this information from?” Wu Baiyun asked.

The King of Qiuci heaved a deep sigh and said, “Although presently Xiao Wang is wandering outside, with people rebelling and friends deserting, but I still have several loyal and dependable officers inside the palace, who pass on the information to Xiao Wang.”

Hu Tiehua suddenly spoke loudly, “No matter how formidable these people are, if they dare to come here to assassinate, they can forget about returning alive.”

Before he even finished speaking, Princess Pipa already cast him a glance with a smile on her face. Thus his face was blushing again.

The King of Qiuci laughed aloud and said, “Exactly! Exactly! With gentlemen, such towering figures in here, what is Xiao Wang afraid of? However … Xiao Wang has some suspicions that that man surnamed Wang might be one of the assassins sent by the rebel ministers.”

Wu Baiyun spoke heavily, “That’s right. This man hides the head and shows the tail, his whereabouts is really suspicious.”

Chu Liuxiang smiled slightly and said, “If he is a real assassin who is going undercover here, he would act open and candid instead, so as not to arouse others’ suspicion. If on the surface he looks somewhat unnatural, on the contrary, it shows that inwardly he has a clear conscience.”

The King of Qiuci clapped his hands and said, “That’s right. Gexia indeed has sight like a torch, Xiao Wang almost blame a good man wrongly. However …” His countenance turned heavy again. He sighed and said, “Apart from this, Xiao Wang has another load on my mind.”

Wu Qingtian asked, “What other load is on Wangye’s mind?”

The King of Qiuci asked, “Have gentlemen heard the name ‘Star of Happiness’?”

Chu Liuxiang and the others, three men’s heart was moved at the same time; they have guessed this matter early on.

But Wu Qingtian said, “Zaixia has never heard of it.”

The King of Qiuci said, “This ‘Star of Happiness’ is a priceless precious stone; originally Xiao Wang entrusted it to the Peng Clan’s Five Tigers to deliver it under escort.”

Emotionally moved, Wu Baiyun said, “Aren’t those Five Tigers the last direct disciples of their school?”

“Precisely!” the King of Qiuci replied.

Wu Baiyun laughed and said, “Those five brothers can really be considered first-class martial art masters of Wulin; the Peng Family Escort Agency’s reputation is even more outstanding, they never failed. If Wangye entrusted the goods to them, you can sleep peacefully, why should you be anxious?”

The King of Qiuci heaved a deep sigh and said, “Xiao Wang is also aware that they were completely reliable, hence I dared to hand over this enormous responsibility to them. Who would have thought that this moment the five brothers are all dead, and naturally the ‘Star of Happiness’ has fallen into other people’s hands.”

Aghast, Wu Qingtian asked, “Is that true?”

Heaving a long sigh, the King of Qiuci replied, “Definitely true. Someone from among Xiao Wang’s men has seen their dead bodies.”

The two heroes of the Wu Clan looked at each other; immediately they went silent – someone who was able to kill the five brothers of the Peng Family was definitely not someone that they could afford to offend.

But Chu Liuxiang smiled and said, “I wonder if Wangye would like us to take the ‘Star of Happiness’ back?”

Smiling bitterly, the King of Qiuci replied, “Xiao Wang does not have this intention at all.”

Chu Liuxiang could not help being stunned; muttering to himself irresolutely, he said, “Wangye’s intention is …”

The King of Qiuci sighed and said, “Not to conceal anything from gentlemen, the person who robbed the ‘Star of Happiness’ just now sent a ransom note to Xiao Wang.”

Emotionally moved, Chu Liuxiang asked, “Where is the person who delivered the note?”

The King of Qiuci replied, “According to the report from Xiao Wang’s men, the person’s qinggong is very high, like a ghost. After delivering the letter, immediately he disappeared, even his shadow could not be seen anymore.”

Chu Liuxiang sighed in disappointment. “If that’s the case,” he said, “Where is the letter?”

“It’s right here,” the King of Qiuci replied.

The letter simply had a few lines, which read, “The ‘Star of Happiness’ has come back into my hand. If you want to recover it, in three days, at noon, bring five thousand taels of gold, five hundred pearls, fifty pieces of jade annulus; go fifty li to west, there will be someone ready to exchange the ‘Star of Happiness’ with the Lord. If the pearls are not clear, if the discs are flawed, if the intention is not sincere, once this ‘Star of Happiness’ is gone, it will never come back.”

Naturally there was no signature at the bottom, only a picture of a thousand-hand, a thousand-eye Buddhist image of the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

Wu Qingtian was incredulous, “Just a single precious stone, is it worth these many things?” he asked, “Could it be that this person is crazy?”

The King of Qiuci sighed and said, “He is not crazy at all.”

Wu Qingtian asked in astonishment, “Could it be that Wangye already agreed to his request?”

“Precisely,” the King of Qiuci replied.

Sucking in a mouthful of cold air, Wu Qingtian muttered, “Actually, Zaixia [plural] could also snatch that precious stone back for Wangye.”

Under heavy reward, there must be brave men. Seeing the King of Qiuci was going to give away the wealth that was enough to buy a city, his guts suddenly grew big.

However, the King of Qiuci sighed and said, “It’s not that Xiao Wang did not believe that gentlemen would have the power to take the treasure back, but what I am afraid of is that after they find out, they would immediately take the treasure and run away. The world is so big, where could Xiao Wang go to look for it?”

Smiling wryly, he went on, “Therefore, Xiao Wang would rather sacrifice some possessions as long as I could get the ‘Star of Happiness’ back.”

Muttering to himself irresolutely, Chu Liuxiang said, “Wangye’s meaning is that you want us, in three days, at noon, to take the pearls and white jade to make the exchange with him?”

“That’s right,” the King of Qiuci replied, “Although Xiao Wang has every intention to keep the appointment, but I am afraid that after they obtain this batch of wealth, they would eat their words and break faith instead. If gentlemen are willing to go on Xiao Wang’s behalf, Xiao Wang would feel reassured.”

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “Zaixia [plural] will not be shirked without dishonor; Wangye may set your heart at ease.”

Ji Bingyan suddenly spoke indifferently, “In Zaixia’s opinion, when Wangye hand the things over, perhaps they would still be unwilling to exchange.”

The King of Qiuci’s countenance changed in agitation, he asked, “Why?”

Ji Bingyan said, “Seeing Wangye is willing to exchange, naturally they would think that the value of this ‘Star of Happiness’ is still above this batch of pearls and white jades; their request will certainly become higher.”

The King of Qiuci’s countenance turned heavy, he remained silent for a very long time, before forcing himself to laugh and said, “They would never do that.”

“Oh?” Ji Bingyan wondered.

The King of Qiuci said, “In Xiao Wang’s eyes, although the value of this ‘Star of Happiness’ cannot be estimated in worldly insight, but if it remains in their hands, at most it only worth the five thousand taels of gold. They already gratuitously
add five hundred pearls and fifty jade annulus; how could they change their mind again?

Ji Bingyan’s eyes brightened, he said, “But why does Wangye consider this ‘Star of Happiness’ particularly important?”

The King of Qiuci was silent for half a day. He spoke slowly, “Naturally there is a secret behind this. Among the people under the heavens, only this king, one person, knows.”

Suddenly they heard the sound of camels and horses neighing outside the tent, and their cry sounded particularly mournful.

Ji Bingyan suddenly stood up and said, “I’ll go out to see.”

This miserable and mournful neigh unexpectedly made everybody’s mood heavy. The King of Qiuci has been holding a golden cup in his hand, but all along the wine had not been drunk.

Wu Baiyun also could not help standing up. Frowning, he said, “Camels and horses neighing in the night, could it be there is some changes outside?”

He hurriedly rushed out, but happened to bump into Ji Bingyan, who was striding back into the tent.

“What happened outside?” Wu Baiyun asked.

Ji Bingyan’s countenance appeared to be slightly green. “Nothing,” he replied.

Wu Baiyun said, “If nothing happens, why did the camel and horse neigh in the middle of the night?”

Ji Bingyan responded indifferently, “That’s just because they’ve lost a friend.”

Wu Baiyun was stunned. “Friend?” he asked in astonishment, “Animals have friends too?”

Ji Bingyan coldly said, “Some people are even not as good as animals, yet they still have friends, right?”

He no longer paid any attention to Wu Baiyun, who was staring blankly, rooted in place – and came back to his seat. Other than to Chu Liuxiang and Hu Tiehua, he was unwilling to pay attention to anybody else. Let alone right now his mood was not good.

Chu Liuxiang already knew what was going on; he spoke quietly, “You mean Shi Tuo?”

Ji Bingyan’s countenance was heavy, “Hmm,” he replied.

Chu Liuxiang tensed up. “What happened to him?” he asked.

“He left,” Ji Bingyan replied.

“He’s really gone?” Chu Liuxiang asked.

Ji Bingyan replied, “Not only he’s gone, that Wang Chong has also gone.

Chu Liuxiang was shocked, “Are you saying that Wang Chong took him away?” he asked.

“It seems so,” Ji Bingyan replied.

“You did not go after them?” Chu Liuxiang asked.

“No need to go after them,” Ji Bingyan responded.

“Why?” Chu Liuxiang asked in surprise.

Ji Bingyan was silent for half a day. He replied slowly, “Since Shi Tuo is willing to go with him, there must be a reason behind it. Even if we could catch up with them, he might not necessarily be willing to come back, not to mention that I have already promised him long ago that when he is ready to leave, I will definitely not stop him.”

Chu Liuxiang heaved a long, long sigh. He said, “He is indeed a strange person. You really don’t know his background even until now?”

“Hmm,” Ji Bingyan responded.

Recalling Wang Chong’s expression when he was staring at Shi Tuo a moment ago, his eyebrows knitted, Chu Liuxiang said, “Obviously that Wang Chong’s background is also very mysterious. Do you think these two men had known each other long before now?”

But Ji Bingyan had already turned his head away, as if he did not hear him at all. Chu Liuxiang sighed. He knew that when Ji Bingyan was acting like this, it means the discussion was over.

While these two were whispering to each other, the King of Qiuci was also pulling Hu Tiehua aside and asking him the east and inquiring the west. Only Princess Pipa’s eyes had never left Chu Liuxiang.

Chu Liuxiang coughed and said with a laugh, “Zaixia [plural] have enough wine, our belly is full of food, and Wangye ought to go to bed.”

He was in a hurry to terminate this long night banquet; who would have thought that right this moment, there was big commotion outside, with horses neighing and the people screaming, footsteps rushing to and fro. And then someone cried out in alarm, “Fire! Fire! Someone is releasing fire!”

His countenance changed, the King of Qiuci said, “Could it be an assassin? Gent … gentlemen quick … quickly go out to take a look.”

He had not finished, Hu Tiehua already sprang up and rushed out.

Chu Liuxiang frowned. He was just about to say, “Don’t fall into the others’ luring-the-tiger-from-the-mountains scheme!” Who would have thought Ji Bingyan did not even give him the time to explain, he already pulled Chu Liuxiang’s hand and rushed out as well.

The situation outside was not as chaotic as they imagined.

The troops under the King of Qiuci’s command were obviously one-in-a-hundred-choice, able-to-travel, accustomed-to-battle warriors. Encountering unforeseen changes, although unable to remain calm, they did not panic.

But the fires sprouting up everywhere were not small, most of the trees all around, as well as the tents that these warriors were sleeping at night – were burned, some of the camels and horses inside the coral had also escaped.

At this moment most of these warriors were busy with putting out the fire, only a small number was rushing to chase the camels and the horses. The King of Qiuci stayed in the tent; unexpectedly no one was guarding him.

Ji Bingyan rushed out and grabbed a warrior by the arm, he spoke sternly, “Where are the men guarding outside Wangye’s tent?”

The man was only staring at him with panic all over his face; unexpectedly he did not understand Central Earth dialect. Fortunately another man came running and respectfully said, “Xiaoren [plural] knew that inside Wangye’s tent, everybody is Wulin heroes, they are enough to protect Wangye’s safety.”

Ji Bingyan slowly released his grip and said with a cold laugh, “What a good luring-the-tiger-from-the-mountains scheme.”

Chu Liuxiang blurted out, “You mean Wu …”

Ji Bingyan coldly said, “You guys had your attention on Wangfei, Gongzhu, but I did not.”

Chu Liuxiang said, “So now …”

Ji Bingyan said, “I am going to look for Xiao Hu [little Hu], you go watch the show!”

His figure flashed, he flew out just like a spear.

Chu Liuxiang shook his head and muttered to himself, “If this man’s heart is a bit softer, he would simply be the loveliest person on earth.”

He walked around in big circle before going back to the King of Qiuci’s tent.

On top of the uniquely shaped tent, unexpectedly there were a lot of patches, which were actually ventilation windows. Chu Liuxiang lightly lifted one and quietly peeked down.

He saw the King of Qiuci still had the same wine cup in his hand, but the wine was already shaken out by his trembling hand. Princess Pipa was snuggled closely by his side. The two brothers of the Wu Family, one was at the door, looking around, the other stayed by his side.

Wu Baiyun suddenly turned back and said, “They have gone far.”

Wu Qingtian smiled slightly. ‘Qiang!’ his long sword was out of its sheath.

The King of Qiuci spoke in trembling voice, “Two gentlemen must not go out, Xiao Wang …”

Before he finished speaking, the shiny sword was already pointing at his nose.

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