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The Vast Desert Chapter 19


Chapter 19 – The Sword Does Not Come Out Lightly

Everybody was roaring wildly in ecstasy; everybody scrambled desperately to rush forward.

Who would have thought that the old man, whose face was full of wind and frost [fig. hardships], who acted as the leader – suddenly callout out loudly, “Must not go! That place is not something that we can go to.”

Although his voice was low and hoarse, there was still some kind of power that made people believe in him. Sure enough, everybody halted their steps, with face full of longing and desire.

Unexpectedly, the old man’s dry and rough skin was brimming with fear; his voice cracked as he spoke, “Do you know what that place is?”

Everybody shook their head; one of them said, “We don’t care what place that is, as long as there is water there …”

When he spoke the word ‘water’, immediately everybody got excited again. “Water … water … water …” burst of beast-like howl came out of their throat.

The old man licked his lips with his tongue, but even after licking for a long time, his lips were still dry and cracked, just because his tongue was dry and was about to crack.

He sighed and said, “Water … ay! Although that place has water, but it also has blades to kill people; right now we still have a chance to live, but if we go there, we will die immediately.”

Everybody looked at each other in dismay, “Why?” they asked.

The old man replied, “Just because that place belongs to Ban Tian Feng [see last chapter] …”

When he spoke ‘Ban Tian Feng’, three words, two men already fell off from the camelback. Then two other men fell off the camelback and could not even move.

Suddenly a man screamed, “I don’t care! I want to go. I’d rather be killed than to suffer like this again.”

With all his might he beat the camel so that it rushed forward wildly. There was a look of horror on everybody’s face, as if they knew that once he left, he would never come back.

This moment, suddenly three human shadows appeared from the middle of the windblown sand; one man was slim, wearing black clothes, his face was rough as if it was carved using a stone, he had two pieces of rope in his hand, pulling along the two other men like leading a dog. Of the two men being tied, one was tall and thin, but his face was full of pockmarks as big as coins, his lips were upturned like a pig’s snout. His face was the kind of ugly face that when you look at it, you will vomit for three days straight. The other man was not any better; he was a hunchback.

These two men’s four hands were tied tightly, as they staggered along behind the first man.

The man in black actually looked haughty, his footsteps were light and strong, unexpectedly he was walking along this great desert where the windblown sand filled the sky as if he was walking along a flat and wide avenue in the middle of the city.

Seeing these three men, the group of travelers who were about to die of thirst could not help but were stunned. Nobody knew who started it, but someone suddenly screamed, “Ban Tian Feng … Ban Tian Feng …”

In the desert, who else but Ban Tian Feng or his subordinates would catch people and pull them along like that? In extreme shock, they scrambled away in the blink of an eye.

The hunchback sighed and spoke with a wry smile, “I never thought that these people are so scared of Ban Tian Feng; unexpectedly they would rather die of thirst than going there.”

The man’s voice was deep and low, but clear and bright, carrying within it some kind of strange inciting motive power, which was an extreme mismatch to his appearance. Strangely enough, it sounded very much like Chu Liuxiang’s voice.

The pockmarked man said, “So it seems, this place must be extremely dangerous.” This man’s voice unexpectedly sounded like Ji Bingyan.

Turned out in order to spy on the opponent’s real situation, while preventing the opponent’s suspicion, unexpectedly they disguised themselves as Yidian Hong’s prisoners. Just an insignificant piece of rope, how could it really bind them? One-in-ten-thousand chance that someone see through their ruse, they could still escape unscathed. Wouldn’t this way be a lot more brilliant than pretending to be Yidian Hong’s friends?

Chu Liuxiang was silent for half a day. “I still have more than half a bag of water here,” he said, “Let’s give it to them!”

This man was really someone who dressed-as-a-dragon-would-look-like-a-dragon, dressed-as-a-tiger-would-look-like-a-tiger; even disguising himself as a hunchback, it appeared that both ends could not touch the ground at all. Were it not for Yidian Hong saw it with his own eyes, he simply could not believe that the distinguished and accomplished, the confident and at ease, the fascinating ‘Bandit Chief’ Chu Liuxiang could, within half a sichen – transform himself to look like this.

Ji Bingyan chuckled lightly and said, “With that old man leading the way, I am sure those men will not die of thirst.”

“You know that old man?’ Chu Liuxiang asked.

Ji Bingyan replied, “That man could really be considered an old fox of the desert; other skills he may not have, but he has been going back and forth in the desert I don’t know how many times, his nose unexpectedly can sniff where there is any danger, where there is safe to go. If traveling merchants can get him to be their guide, it would be like wearing a talisman to protect them.”

He laughed, and then went on, “Ten years ago, I saw this man. At that time he already obtained enough wealth to make him, all the way to his grandson – live a comfortable life. I thought he had already washed his hands and is enjoying a comfortable retirement at home. Who would have thought that until today he is still in his old profession? It seems that he unexpectedly considers this kind of life very exciting.”

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “How could a good colt of a thousand li be willing to hide inside the stable? If you want this kind of man to enjoy a comfortable retirement at home, he might feel uncomfortable all over instead.”

Two li ahead, suddenly there was a rocky hill rising up to the sky. Although this hill was not high, in the middle of this endless desert, it appeared to be extremely eye-catching.

The strange rocks of the mountain looked like dog’s teeth biting a bone; on the hill, not even a blade of grass grew, it appeared to be extremely steep. Ban Tian Feng’s desert inn was built against the hill.

Although it had the rocky mountain shielding it from the windblown sand, the inn was still built exceptionally sturdy. It used big tree trunks, about two-man arm length in circumference – as the main column, driven deep into the ground, about four or five zhang tall tree trunk, but with only no more than two zhang exposed above the ground. The cracks on the outside was filled with lead juice, making it as strong as a copper wall, iron bastion. If someone was locked inside, escaping would be more difficult than ascending the heavens.

Although the inn had many rooms, the doors and windows were small and narrow. The openings were covered in cotton curtain, appearing shiny due to greasiness, it looked heavier than iron panel.

There was so signboard outside, only eight characters written on the wall with chalk, ‘Steamed buns, fresh water, clean bed, hot pit.’

To the travelers on the desert, these eight characters carried magical power ten times stronger than ‘North and South flavor, timely specialty dishes, fine wine from the spring, amiable hospitality’.

Lifting the curtain and walking in, one would see a not-too-big, not-too-small room, with four or five big tables, more than a dozen, perhaps twenty – long wooden benches.

At this moment, there were seven, eight big men around a table, playing Tian Jiu [Tien Gow]. On the counter to the left, a small old fellow with triangular face and a goatee was dozing off. A tobacco pipe was nestled in his mouth, but the fire had stopped burning long ago. Over yonder the men playing Tian Jiu were hooting, their voices shook the roof that it nearly collapsed, but he seemed to have not heard at all.

Suddenly the sound of hoof beats was heard outside, and then a man, with neither head nor brain, barged in, screaming and yelling, “Water … water …”

The shopkeeper was still dozing off, while not one of the men on the gambling table even looked back. This man staggered toward the counter and cackled, “Zhang … Zhanggui [shopkeeper], could you sell some water to me? I have money.”

The shopkeeper did not even open his eyes, but his mouth laughed and said, “You have money yet you are still afraid we won’t sell water? Caishenye [god of wealth] is dropping by, would we push him out the door?”

Greatly delighted, the man said, “Yes … yes …”

His mouth was mumbling, unexpectedly he could not even speak clearly, yet his hand already fished out some money from his pocket, ‘Dang!’ he dropped it on the counter. Unexpectedly it was no less than twenty taels.

The shopkeeper opened his eyes just a slit, but he immediately closed it again.

Shocked, the man said, “Not … not enough?”

The shopkeeper sighed and shook his head.

The man gritted his teeth and fished out another twenty taels.

The shopkeeper still sighed and shook his head.

The man’s eyes nearly shot out fire, but after casting a glance toward the big men on the other side, he immediately softened down again. Steeling himself, he fished for more money from his pocket.

While he was fishing out for more money, he was sweating profusely. But the shopkeeper was still sighing.

Finally the man could not help shouting, “One … one hundred and sixty taels of silver, still … still not enough?”

The shopkeeper giggled and said, “Keguan [honored guest], if you only want to buy one hundred and sixty taels worth of water, naturally you can.”

The man happily said, “Yes, just … just that much!”

The shopkeeper coughed and said, “Lao Yan, get this Keguan one hundred and sixty taels worth of water.”

The man called ‘Old Yan’ was just playing as the banker, the pile of silver on the table was pushed like a basket of steamed roll. ‘Ba!’ he exclaimed as he turned the two cards [orig. tile] in his hand over; unexpectedly it was a ‘lame ten’ set. A banker with a ‘lame ten’ set in his hands, his mood could be easily imagined.

He saw this Old Yan was grinning. Unexpectedly he bit the two cards in his mouth, and then while biting, he cursed, “You, grandson of a turtle, rabbit kitten [i.e. s.o.b. and brat, respectively], dirty Wangbadan [lit. king eight eggs], who told you to come? You made Laozi lose money; it will be strange indeed if Laozi is not going to squeeze the yolk out of your egg.” [I know … I know … it’s a strange way to cuss, but I find it amusing … the Chinese have weird fascination with eggs, turtle, etc.]

It was unclear whether he was cursing the cards or the man, but the recipient of his cussing had no choice but to pretend that he did not hear anything.

It was half a day later that he came back with a teapot in his hands. The teapot was surprisingly not a small one. The man was ecstatic, “Thank you very much … thank you very much …” he said.

As soon as he grabbed the teapot, he poured it into his mouth. Indeed a drop of water fell onto his tongue. But his tongue has just started to cool down, the water was already gone.

Although the teapot was not small, the water inside was only one drop. The man spoke in trembling voice, “This … this pot has no water inside.”

Glaring at him, Old Yan said, “Who said there’s no water inside? What you drank just now was not water? We do business upright and honest here, why would we want to embezzle your money? Perhaps it’s you who are tired of living.”

The man was frightened and angry at the same time; he hissed, “But there is only one drop of water.”

Old Yan said, “One hundred and sixty taels of silver can actually buy only one drop of water; how much more do you want?”

The man could no longer help shouting; he said, “One hundred and sixty taels of silver for a drop of water, can you be considered running a business?”

The old man said, “Naturally we are running a business. It’s just that our business did not open for three years, so the first transaction has to cover for three years’ revenue. If you don’t like our price, who told you to come in?”

He suddenly snatched the teapot and spoke with evil grin, “But perhaps there’s still water inside the pot; let me squeeze it for you, see if we can squeeze some more out.”

As his mouth was talking, his two big hands twisted and wringed the pot. The bronze teapot immediately crumpled as if it was made of noodles. The man looked on, his mouth could not be closed, how could he dare to utter anything?

With a long drawn out laughter the shopkeeper said, “If Keguan is dissatisfied that the water is not enough, couldn’t you buy some more?”

The man stammered, “I … I have no more money.”

The shopkeeper said, “No money, other things can be used as well.”

The man gnashed his teeth, turned around and bolted out the door. Who would have thought that before he even reached the door, somebody already picked him up, and a large hand has already reached into his bosom.

By the time the hand came out, it had a full, bulging leather pouch in it. They heard Old Yan roared in laughter and said, “I can’t believe this kid is still very fat.”

The man spoke tremblingly, “I don’t … I don’t want to buy.”

Old Yan angrily said, “You don’t want to buy, then why did you come here? You think our place is just a joke to you?”

The man stared blankly for half a day; shedding tears, he said, “Since that’s the case, then bring the water out!”

Old Yan laughed aloud and said, “Your pouch appears to be as empty as anything, how could Laozi bring water out for you? Get lost and drink urine!”

Waving both hands, unexpectedly he threw the man straight out. They heard the cotton door curtain made a ‘Pop!’ noise as the man, weighed several dozen jin [catty] passed through the door and out.

Old Yan clapped his hands and laughed heartily, “The Heaven has a road you don’t want to take, the Hell has no door yet you cast yourself into it; what are you if not blind?”

He had not finished speaking, suddenly there was another ‘Pop!’ sound as the cotton door curtain rolled up; unexpectedly the man flew back from outside the door, and ‘Bang!’ he sat on the table.

Old Yan was startled; he retreated three steps back and said, “Hey! I did not expect Gexia to be a sage who presents yourself as an ordinary person; unexpectedly you have some real skill.”

The shopkeeper coldly said, “You said others were blind, you are the blind one. The one with real skill is still outside the door!”

Old Yan looked carefully; he saw that the man sitting on the table had his two eyes staring blankly, he was stunned from the shock. From this, Old Yan was able to see that the man was thrown inside from outside the door, only unexpectedly the person outside was able to easily catch him and throw him back again, accurately had him sitting on the table without harming a single strand of his hair. Merely this skill in exerting the force was already extremely shocking.

Old Yan stared blankly for half a day before taking two more steps back and shouted, “The kid outside the door, get in quickly …”

‘To deliver your life’, two words [song si] have not yet spoken, his voice suddenly stopped, simply because the person coming in from the outside only cast a glance toward him, unexpectedly he already felt his whole body turned cold, and he could no longer speak.

Although outside the scorching sun was high up in the sky, the room was actually quite dark.

In the dim light, he saw the man’s deathly pale face was without the slightest expression, as if nothing could impress his heart.

But that pair of eyes was terrifyingly penetrating, was horrifyingly cold. From the moment he stepped in, the air inside the room seemed to suddenly condensate. The gamblers stopped their hooting, the shopkeeper could only open his eyes wide, everybody felt the chill penetrating their bones. But nobody knew why they were afraid; afraid of what?

They saw the man walked in in long strides, practically he did not even consider the crowd of men inside the room to be worthy in his eyes. His hands were still holding the two pieces of rope. Pulling the ropes, two men tumbled inside from outside the door; one man was a hunchback, the other a man had an ugly, pockmarked face. They both fell inside and did not stop panting.

The old man took a deep breath, and then said, “Fr … friend, why do you come here?”

Although he was putting on a brave face, but somehow, his voice was still trembling a bit.

“What do you do in here?” the man in black asked.

Old Yan was stunned, “We are … this is an inn,” he stammered.

The man in black already sat down, ‘Slap!’ he slapped the table and said, “Since this is an inn, why haven’t you serve tea?”

Old Yan’s eyes turned around, he noticed that the seven, eight men nearby all had their eyes on him; he mused inwardly, “What am I afraid of? You, this kid, are only alone, what’s so scary about you?”

Thinking to this point, his courage rose up again. He laughed coldly and said, “In here, we always pay particular attention to money-first-goods-later; if you want tea, you have to pay first.”

Who would have thought that the man in black coldly said, “There’s no money.”

Old Yan was stunned again. He was thinking of saying something, but suddenly he saw the man in black’s sharp-as-a-blade eyes were staring at him; his heart turned cold, he could not even utter a single word.

But the shopkeeper suddenly coughed lightly, and then he said with a laugh, “Since this Keguan wants to drink tea, why haven’t you quickly poured tea?”

Unexpectedly Old Yan really hung his head low and poured some tea.

Watching this, the man who was thrown to the table was amazed; he could not help commending inwardly, “Turns out these bunch of robbers are still scared of an evil person.”

The tea was coming really fast. The man in black picked the teapot with both hands and drank a big mouthful. Suddenly he sprayed the mouthful of tea onto Old Yan’s face, and said angrily, “The tea leaves is undrinkable, get me another pot.”

Unexpectedly, the spray of this mouthful of tea knocked the entire Old Yan’s seven-chi tall body that he fell face up on the floor, with a burning pain on his entire face. He could not help jumping up and roared as he pounced over.

Seeing him making his move, the seven or eight men on the side also bared their fangs and brandished their claws immediately; one after another they cried, “Beat it!” Some lifted the bench, some rolled up their sleeves.

The man in black pressed his hands on the table, suddenly he took a sharp intake of breath; unexpectedly, he, along with the table and the bench, slid several chi away.

Old Yan originally aimed accurately, who would have thought that this pounce of his pounced on empty air? Instead, he pounced on the big man coming from the opposite direction. The bench in the man’s hand happened to be on its way down. A ‘Bang!’ was heard, Old Yan’s body was bent into halves. Were it not for his head was slanting outward, his skull would have been burst open.

He jumped up and roared, “Xiao Huang, you, who were raised by the dogs, are you crazy?”

That man called Little Huang’s face turned red, he said, “Who told you to blindly pounce over, you are the one raised by the dogs.”

This man was a big winner, Old Yan was resentful against him to begin with, this moment half of his shoulder was hurt that it went numb, so his anger went through the roof; roaring loudly he said, “Laozi wants to see who has been raised by a female dog [lit. son of a b1tch]?”

Amidst his roar, the two pounced toward one another; you punch I kick, ‘Bing! Bing! Bang! Bang!’ they hit each other. Their hands and feet were not light either, they only focused on hitting the opponent, unexpectedly they forgot to dodge. In an instant they already had bloody nose and swollen face – the man in black became the spectator watching the excitement on the side instead, his eyes did not even blink.

Surprisingly, the shopkeeper also remained calm; he did not say anything.

The six, seven men on the side, some were good friends with Old Yan, some had thick friendship with Little Huang, they went so far as to clap their hands on the side, cheering on the two men.

‘Bang!’ Suddenly they heard the man in black slapped the table and said, “I told you to get another pot of tea, who told you to have a dogfight?”

It was only then did Old Yan and Little Huang remembered that the person they both wanted to beat was still there. Both were stunned, and stopped their hands in embarrassment. Furthermore, Old Yan was ashamed into anger; roaring wildly, he said, “Laozi is going to stake everything against you!”

As if he went mad, he pounced over; the man in black pulled back, the table and the bench followed him, sliding several chi away. Old Yan pounced an empty air again.

This time everybody learned from experience; nobody came over to help. They saw Old Yan punching and kicking, dashing to the left pouncing to the right, but failed to touch even the sleeve of the other man’s clothes.

Unexpectedly it was as if the table and the bench were grown from the man in black’s body; wherever his body moved, the bench and the table followed him.

This place was not big at all, plus there were quite a few tables and chairs, yet he was able to move freely within the not-too-big space.

Old Yan’s eyes also turned red, his face was swelling as well. This moment his brows were beaded with sweat; stomping his feet, he said, “If you, this kid, have guts, stand up and have a straightforward fight with Laozi; whoever escapes is not a human, but a domestic animal!”

The man in black laughed coldly and said, “You are not fit to fight with me.”

Old Yan angrily said, “You want to make cynical remarks, you are a domestic animal!”

The man in black suddenly opened his eyes wide, cold light flashed out, he spoke word-by-word, “You really want me to make my move?”

“I … I …” Old Yan stuttered. He was originally a very ruthless man, but this time, being at the receiving end of the man in black’s stare, he felt his legs went weak. Unexpectedly he turned around and rushed toward the crowd of big men, “You, these grandsons of a turtle, what are you looking at? Are your hands broken?”

Being yelled at like that, everybody was embarrassed for not continuing fighting. They only saw the man in black slowly untied a long and thin, made of black leather sword sheath, with a long sword inside that looked like a viper – from his back, and put it down on the table. Gently caressing the scabbard, he coldly said, “This sword will not get out lightly, but once it is out, it must see blood, and the blood means someone is dead!”

He seemed to be muttering to himself, but hearing that, everyone’s body emitted cold sweats. You look at me, I gaze at you, no one dared to be the first to make his move.

The shopkeeper suddenly sighed and said, “Since you don’t dare to fight, why don’t you get the hell out of here quickly? Are you going to stay here and make a fool of yourself?”

The crowd of big men hung their heads in shame. The shopkeeper looked at the man in black. He laughed aloud and said, “Friend, you have quite a skill; are you coming here with the purpose of pulling the rug under my feet?”

The man in black did not look at him, not even with the corner of his eyes, he simply snorted, “Humph!”

The shopkeeper laughed aloud and said, “All right; since friend have come, we can’t let friend down.”

There was a small bell on the counter, which he grabbed in his hand and he shook it.

A burst of clear, pleasant-to-hear ringing was heard, seven or eight small windows on the four walls, about a chi-square each, suddenly opened. Outside the window men’s heads were flashing, followed by a sharp arrow appearing on each window, with the arrowheads all pointing to the man in black. Obviously the arrows were already strung on the bow, and the bows were pulled taut waiting to be released.

Just now, the traveler, who had been thrown inside, took advantage while the men were fighting in confusion to steal the pot and drank the water. This moment, as he was still catching his breath, he could not help but was secretly worried for the man in black.

The man in black himself was still showing wooden expression. These powerful crossbows and strong arrows were directly aimed at him, but he practically appeared as if he did not see it; he was only laughing coldly continuously.

They heard someone outside the door laughed aloud and said, “Friend indeed have big guts; could it be that you really are not afraid of death?”

The laughter sounded like big bell or giant drum, it shocked the eardrums, created buzzing noise. A man strode out from the single-door at the back of the room.

They saw the man was above nine chi tall, the dragon beard across his face was like iron. Although the door was not big, it was not small either, yet this man had to bend over and lower his head to come in.

The front piece of his clothes was open wide, revealing a black, iron-like hairy chest. His hand had a nine-ring, golden-back saber, which was about five chi long; it appeared to weigh around forty or fifty jin [catty].

Such a person, such a weapon, it really give chills to anybody who saw them. Yet the man in black only looked at him indifferently, and spoke coldly, “You are Ban Tian Feng?”

The dragon-bearded big man howled with laughter and said, “Good kid! Turns out you know that there is one Ban Tian Feng in here. Turns out you really come with the purpose of stirring up trouble. All right, Laoyezi [old master] might as well help you accomplishing your purpose!”

Amidst the wild laughter, the fifty-jin heavy golden-back, cutting-down-the-mountain saber already chopped down. The sound of the blade splitting the air, and the rattling noise of the saber rings shocked the soul and sent them flying and scattered.

The man in black also seemed to be cowered by such display of prowess that his soul also scattered; he only stared blankly at the chopping blade, unexpectedly he did not even move.

The faces of the men all around could not help revealing happy expression; they knew that as soon as the saber chopped, it would be strange indeed if the man in black would not be chopped in halves.

They only heard a ‘Crack!’ The golden saber already chopped down.

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