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The Vast Desert Chapter 18


Chapter 18 – Heroes Sympathizing With Each Other

What a good ‘Zhongyuan Yidian Hong’! Just now he must have seen Ji Bingyan using this move, inwardly he already thought of a way to deal with it, and thus this moment he lured him to use this move again.

As the onlooker, Chu Liuxiang saw clear, while the person on the spot was baffled; he also knew well the way of Yidian Hong’s sword, naturally he could see clearly. Although inwardly he was greatly shocked, he was powerless to do anything.

Yidian Hong’s sword moved like the wind; who in the world would be able to stop it?

Who would have thought that this moment, Yidian Hong’s sword suddenly drew an arc? Unexpectedly it circled around Ji Bingyan’s judge pen. ‘Swish!’ it reversed its direction to slice down on Ji Bingyan’s left thigh.

His sword clearly was going to succeed; why did he suddenly change his move? Although inwardly Chu Liuxiang was happy, he could not help being shocked.

Yidian Hong’s sword technique has always been no-hole-left-unentered; how did he become this foolish this time?

Ji Bingyan wholeheartedly wanted to stab to injure the enemy, he could not concentrate on two things at the same time, he did not think anything was strange; the opponent was launching a stupid move, it was precisely a great opportunity for him.

His pair of pens split, he launched the ‘viper out of its hole’, a couple of ‘Pop! Pop!’ was heard, the jianjing acupoints on both Yidian Hong’s left and right shoulders were sealed, he fell backward.

After fighting hard for half a day, finally Ji Bingyan won; he could not help laughing heartily.

But the opponent’s ash-grey eyes were looking coldly at him, his gaze did not show the slightest bit of expression that he conceded or was discouraged, it was even brimming with an air of arrogance.

Ji Bingyan laughed and said, “Although your sword technique is rarely seen in the world, but this one move was executed terribly; no matter who, anybody who makes such move ought to admit defeat. You …”

His voice suddenly stopped, his countenance changed.

He suddenly discovered that on the tip of the opponent’s sword, unexpectedly there was a scorpion skewered on it.

In the desert, the air was dry, the scorpions were big and poisonous. Anybody who got bitten by it, perhaps would be beyond help. Just now unexpectedly Yidian Hong discovered a scorpion on his thigh, hence he changed his move to help. Turned out Yidian Hong’s ‘stupid move’ was launched because he wanted to save Ji Bingyan’s life.

Ji Bingyan’s countenance turned miserable; he could no longer speak.

Naturally Chu Liuxiang was able to see as well; he could not help sighing in his heart. This ‘Zhongyuan Yidian Hong’ was indeed worthy to be called a good man. But how about Ji Bingyan?

Was he going to kill Yidian Hong to shut his mouth because of this? Chu Liuxiang really wanted to see.

Ji Bingyan stared blankly for half a day. He slowly said, “Why did you do it? Don’t you want to kill me?”

Although Yidian Hong’s body was unable to move, his mouth could still talk. He spoke coldly, “I want to kill you, but I simply cannot let you die of scorpion bite.”

Ji Bingyan threw his head back and laughed aloud, “Good! Good! Good …” He said ‘good’ seven, eight times in succession. Suddenly with his toes he kicked up the long sword, caught it with his hand, flipped it over, and chopped it down on his own left leg. Unexpectedly he did not want to receive this kindness. Unexpectedly he wanted to cut his own left leg for Yidian Hong.

Even Yidian Hong’s cold and detached eyes could not help revealing shocked and surprised expression, “Are you crazy?” he blurted out.

Amidst his shout, suddenly he heard a ‘whoosh!’ as a powerful gust of wind struck.

‘Dang!’ it knocked the sword in Ji Bingyan’s hand. Sparks flew everywhere. Unexpectedly the sword in his hand was jolted that it flew out.

His countenance greatly changed, Ji Bingyan retreated; he withdrew eight chi, while taking the pair of judge pens, which he held in his left hand, and separated it to his left and right hands, while his mouth sternly said, “Who’s there?”

Only to hear someone laughed slowly, “Both of you have fiery temper; indeed it is not a minor matter.”

Amidst the laughter, someone flew over, picked up the long sword from the ground, and casually patted Yidian Hong’s acupoint to unseal it.

Stomping his feet, Ji Bingyan hatefully said, “Finally you are here.”

Unexpectedly, Yidian Hong also said loudly, “Finally you are here.”

The two spoke exactly the same thing, but Ji Bingyan was speaking about something that ought to happen; he already calculated accurately that Chu Liuxiang would come to look for him, but he was upset that Chu Liuxiang came at an importunate time.

But why did Yidian Hong say that exact same thing? Could it be that he also knew that Chu Liuxiang was nearby? Could it be that he also calculated accurately that Chu Liuxiang would come to look for him?

While Chu Liuxiang was still puzzled, Ji Bingyan blurted in astonishment, “You know this man?”

Yidian Hong also blurted, ““You know this man?”

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “I know both of you; not only that, both are old friends; therefore, you don’t need to feel uncomfortable of owing him some kindness. In any case, there will be a lot of chances that people are going to kill him in the future; if you could think of a way to save him, even only once, that should be enough.”

He spoke those words to Ji Bingyan.

Ji Bingyan stared blankly for half a day. “Humph!’ he snorted.

Chu Liuxiang said, “But how did you come here?”

This question was addressed to Yidian Hong.

Who would have thought that Yidian Hong was even more surprised? “How did I come here?” he said, “Didn’t you call on me to come here?”

As soon as this sentence went out of his mouth, Chu Liuxiang and Ji Bingyan were greatly shocked.

Rubbing his nose, Chu Liuxiang said with a wry smile, “I called on you to come here? Why would I want you to come here?”

Yidian Hong replied, “Naturally you wanted me here to kill the King of Qiuci.”

Hearing that, Chu Liuxiang stayed calm instead, only because he was able to see that this was not a simple misunderstanding, but there must be a conspiracy somewhere. He simply looked for a rock to sit down and said, “There must be twists and turns in this matter, you might as well sit down and tell me slowly.”

He chuckled, and then added, “I know you don’t like to talk, let me just ask you questions then!”

Yidian Hong’s cold and detached face was changed as well; he said, “Twists and turns? Ask me … Are you …”

Yidian Hong said, “That day after you and I parted company, I only felt that the Central Plains has become a place where I have nothing worth staying for, while I have long admired the vast sky and open space outside the Pass; therefore, I decided to travel out of the Pass.”

Chu Liuxiang knew this person was proud and arrogant, after suffering defeat twice, inevitably he was downhearted, unexpectedly he thought about wandering outside the Pass like he was going on an exile. However, although he had that thought in his heart, his mouth said with a laugh, “In that case, perhaps you went out the Pass even before I did?”

Yidian Hong said, “But after traveling for a few days, I discovered that someone was watching me secretly. No matter where I went, he followed quietly behind.”

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “If that person had any idea of attacking you, he must be really blind. I wonder what he looked like?”

It should be noted that Chu Liuxiang’s greatest strength was that no matter how difficult or dangerous things were, he was always able to remain cool-headed and relaxed. But he also knew that not everybody was like him. He noticed that Yidian Hong appeared to be slightly nervous; hence he spoke the first two sentences to calm Yidian Hong’s mind, while only the last one sentence touched the real subject.

As expected, Yidian Hong unconsciously chuckled a little and then said, “That person was indeed ordinary; there was not any distinctive feature on him at all. Even if you saw him many times before, you might not necessarily be able to remember him, just because you can see this kind of person everywhere.”

Chu Liuxiang sighed inwardly. Smiling wryly, he said, “The more ordinary someone’s outward appearance is, the more convenient it is for him to do bad things. If I wanted to find someone to do some clandestine work for me, I would definitely look for such person.”

Yidian Hong said, “At first I did not want to look for trouble, but he followed me for two days, until I finally could not take it anymore. Who would have thought that while I was thinking of confronting him directly, he came to me first.”

“Oh?” Chu Liuxiang said.

Yidian Hong went on, “He unexpectedly came and asked me, ‘I wonder if Gexia [reminder: your distinguished self/sire] is the ‘Zhongyuan Yidian Hong’?’ Momentarily I was unable to guess his intention, I only nodded. But then he said that he was your friend and coming specifically to look for me.”

Chu Liuxiang smiled and said, “And he told you that I wanted you to assassinate the King of Qiuci?”

“That’s right,” Yidian Hong replied, “He said, ‘The King of Qiuci damages the country and causes suffering to the people, Chu Xiang Shuai has long wanted to get rid of him, but for the time being he could not spare the time to handle a separate task, thereupon he wished to toil your good self to do it for him.’”

“Did you believe him immediately?” Chu Liuxiang asked.

Yidian Hong said, “I did not believe him right away, but then he said something that gave me no choice but to believe him.”

“What did he say?” Chu Liuxiang asked.

Yidian Hong was silent for half a day; he slowly said, “He said, ‘Chu Xiang Shuai has always considered Gexia as a good friend, otherwise he would not have asked for a favor. Not to mention a real man know how to distinguish gratitude and grudges; could it be that Gexia forgets his kindness in not killing you?’”

Smiling wryly, Chu Liuxiang asked, “Do you think I would really say such thing?”

Yidian Hong replied, “I thought precisely because you would never broadcast such thing that I believed it must be you who said it; otherwise, how could this person know?”

Emotionally moved, Chu Liuxiang said, “That’s right; in all the world, practically only a few people knew about this, and no one knew that you and I became good friends after a fight [orig. don’t fight, won’t make friends (idiom)].”

Ji Bingyan coldly said, “Even I did not know it.”

Yidian Hong said, “Besides, my profession is assassination; if he wanted me to kill, he could use gold and silver to buy my service, why would he deceive me? Unless he already knew that I changed profession. But …”

Chu Liuxiang continued for him, “But in all the world, the number of people who knew that you have washed your hands and changed profession is not many.”

“Exactly so,” Yidian Hong replied.

Chu Liuxiang sighed. He said, “If I were you, perhaps inevitably I would also have to believe that man’s words.”

Ji Bingyan suddenly spoke again, “Those who knew the relationship between the two of you, how many are they?”

Muttering to himself irresolutely, Chu Liuxiang said, “I’ll say there are NanGong Ling, Wuhua, Rong’er, and Hei Zhenzhu.”

Ji Bingyan said, “But NanGong Ling and Wuhua are dead, Rong’er can’t possibly do such thing; therefore …”

He stopped abruptly; his eyes were fixed on Chu Liuxiang.

Chu Liuxiang heaved a long, long sigh. He said, “So it’s only Hei Zhenzhu. Could it be that the mastermind behind the treason against the King of Qiuci is he? Is it really he?”

Ji Bingyan slowly said, “You and I already knew that in the conspiracy against the Qiuci, there are Han people involved. But for a Han to initiate such a big treason in a foreign country is easier said than done. Unless this person already had great power in there; otherwise, even if he could make such treason succeed, there is absolutely no way he would be able to establish a foothold in there.”

Speaking to this point, he stopped again. Just because who this person was, he was ready to appear at the call [idiom: on the verge of coming out into the open]. Without Ji Bingyan needed to continue, the others already knew – only the son of the ‘King of the Desert’ could initiate such major event in here; this point was indeed clear and easy to see, even Yidian Hong was able to guess it.

Chu Liuxiang was silent for half a day. He spoke slowly, “Where is that person at this moment?”

Yidian Hong replied, “After accompanying me traveling out of the Pass, the man bade farewell to me, saying that he was going to see you. But from then on, there was always an envoy of the King of Qiuci meeting and escorting me along the way until here.”

“Who else did you see in here?” Chu Liuxiang asked.

Yidian Hong said, “I saw two Qiuci high-ranking ministers; I hear that their position is really high. After the King of Qiuci was banished, it was they who assist the new king to preside over the royal court government.”

“But there is also a Han, isn’t it?” Chu Liuxiang asked.

“That’s right,” Yidian Hong replied, “But that man is definitely not Hei Zhenzhu.”

“Who is that person? What does he look like?” Chu Liuxiang asked.

Yidian Hong replied, “This man is called Wu Juxuan. Reportedly, he is a famous scholar well versed in letters and military technology; furthermore, his wisdom and scheming ability is unmatched. But in my eyes, I feel like he is a roebuck-head, rat-eyed man, with loathsome appearance across his whole face.”

Chu Liuxiang sighed and said, “It was precisely because he did not want anybody to be close to him, lest people could see through his track. That loathsome appearance is his best cover.”

“That’s right,” Ji Bingyan said, “If other people practically do not feel like looking at him, then no one could see whether he is wearing disguise or not.”

Chu Liuxiang said, “Their tent has been moved away last night, hasn’t it?”

“That’s right,” Yidian Hong and Ji Bingyan replied in unison.

“Where did they move?” Chu Liuxiang asked.

Yidian Hong replied, “It is said that not far from here, there is a desert inn, a black inn [lit. inn that kills and robs guests (esp. in traditional fiction)] that is run by a local big robber ‘Ban Tian Feng’ [half-the-sky wind]. Apparently they are in collusion with this ‘Ban Tian Feng’; this moment that place is where they were going.”

“These one or two days, perhaps they are not going to leave, are they?” Chu Liuxiang pondered.

“That’s right,” Yidian Hong replied, “We could go and slaughter them now.”

Ji Bingyan coldly said, “Killing them is easy, but if these three are not the main brains, by killing them, won’t we beat the grass to scare the snake instead?”

“Besides,” Chu Liuxiang added, “They are fully aware that as soon as you see me, these things will be exposed immediately, yet they still did not have any scruples in letting you come. This must be because they are really secure in the knowledge that they have backing.”

Frowning, Yidian Hong asked, “Secure in the knowledge that they have backing?”

“That’s right,” Chu Liuxiang replied, “Simply because I still have three friends who had fallen into their hands.”

He smiled bitterly before continuing, “I came here this time, it was precisely to look for these three friends; unexpectedly I accidentally caught them red-handed, finding out their [feminine] information in here. It would have been better if I did not know anything about this matter; now that I know, we simply have to be extremely careful in our actions.”

Ji Bingyan coldly said, “Perhaps those people sought this Renxiong [brother/friend, honorific] over, it was precisely to tell you about this matter from the side, using this as a pretext to warn you. This way, in your actions you cannot but have some misgivings, hence they will have more free hand in their actions.”

Chu Liuxiang said, “They want to warn me, why not tell Rong’er and the others to write a letter for me? Why must they spend this much effort?”

Ji Bingyan was silent for half a day. He slowly said, “That makes sense as well, but I really cannot figure out why they did what they did. Since they are fully aware that as soon as the two of you see each other the lie would be exposed, isn’t it just a waste of energy?”

Muttering to himself irresolutely, Chu Liuxiang said, “This is perhaps because they did not expect me to come here and protect the King of Qiuci. Just two, three days ago, we didn’t think that we would be here protecting the King of Qiuci, did we?”

Ji Bingyan thought about it; he no longer spoke.

Chu Liuxiang went on, “As the saying goes, strong dragon cannot repress a snake [idiom: fig. a local gangster who is above the law]. The opponent has already obtained the advantage of the right time, the right place; they already occupied the greatly advantageous position, but we do have a little bit of advantage as well, which is …”

Ji Bingyan could not help continuing for him, “Which is they do not know us, but we do know them.”

“That’s right,” Chu Liuxiang replied, “It is precisely because the opponent does not know us that they made one wrong step. Now we can exploit this point. If we wait until Hei Zhenzhu arrives, it will be too late.”

“Are you thinking before Hei Zhenzhu arrives, we go to that desert inn to scout the situation?” Ji Bingyan asked.

“Precisely,” Chu Liuxiang replied.

Yidian Hong’s eyes flickered, he asked, “Are we going now?”

Chu Liuxiang said, “Fortunate timing is fleeting; if we want to go, naturally the quicker the better. It’s just that …”

He sighed, and then continued, “Now, not only we have to deal with these people, we still have to deal with Shi Guanyin as well; precisely the both-sides-the-enemy situation. If we are a bit careless, we will be caught in the middle, then we will fail and wiped over the floor, and fall into a hopeless situation.”

Ji Bingyan has known him for many years, so that there was some kind of tacit understanding between the two. Hearing that, he only nodded. But Yidian Hong could not help asking, “You mean …”

Chu Liuxiang said, “Although the opponent does not know us, but seeing two strangers suddenly appear in their territory, inevitably they would want to pay special attention to us, perhaps they will even deal with us like dealing with fat sheep. But if these two men are yours …”

Yidian Hong could not help continuing, “If these two men are my friends, how could they dare to make their move?”

Chu Liuxiang chuckled and said, “But the fact that Zhongyuan Yidian Hong has always been coming and going alone is known to everyone. How could in this kind of desolate and uninhabited place he suddenly meet two friends?”

Yidian Hong was silent for half a day. He spoke slowly, “Even in crowded-to-bursting-point place or anywhere else for that matter, I would not meet even half a friend.”

Although his words were cold, inevitably there was some kind of lonely, melancholy insinuation coming out from within the tone of his voice.

Ji Bingyan cast him a glance; he suddenly said, “Friends, the less you have them the better. Even if there are no friends, there is nothing to be sorry for.”

Yidian Hong also cast him a glance. Unexpectedly there was a hint of smile in his eyes.

Chu Liuxiang clapped his hands and said with a laugh, “But the two of you have identically strange character; sooner or later you will have to make friends with each other, there will be no escape.”

He patted the two men’s shoulders, and said with a heavy voice, “Now that we can neither go forward just like this nor pretending to be his friends, to satisfy both sides, we could only …”

His voice was gradually growing lower, and gradually growing inaudible.

Midday. Blazing sun for ten thousand li.

Under the scorching sun that burned people to their death, there were several camels slowly walking near.

Even these camels, which were known as the ‘boat of the desert’ – were struggling to move forward under the noonday sun. The people on the camels were at their last gasp even more; they only had half a breath left.

These people’s lips were cracked, their eyes were bloodshot, their entire body seemed to turn numb, they could not feel anything. In their heart, they could only think of one word, ‘Water … water … water …”

Suddenly they saw a wisp of smoke rising in the distance. These people’s faces immediately showed ecstasy – if there was smoke from the chimney, could there be no water?

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