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The Vast Desert Chapter 20

CSI

Chapter 20 – Desert Boat

The heavy, sturdy wooden table – was indeed chopped into two halves. But the man in black was still sitting there, alive and kicking. Everybody clearly saw that he did not even move, yet nobody knew how, this saber unexpectedly failed to chop him.

The crowd of big men looked at each other in dismay. Old Yan suddenly laughed aloud and said, “You did not see it, did you? This was ErGe’s [second brother] saber being lenient, deliberately trying to scare this kid to jump, and then he’ll let his skull move.”

The crowd of big men was immediately happy again; they cheered and laughed and said, “That’s right, ErGe’s next saber chop certainly won’t be lenient again, right?”

The dragon-bearded man wiped the beads of sweat from his brows; he himself did not know how this saber chop could possibly miss. Giving a hollow laugh, he said, “Brothers, look, ErGe’s next chop is going to take his life!”

The man in black suddenly spoke coldly, “With a saber technique like yours, at most it is only fit to chop tables and cut down wooden bench. If you want to use it to kill people … hey, hey …! It is still far away!”

The dragon-bearded man’s face turned red, he spoke angrily, “What kind of saber technique can kill people then? Tell me!”

The man in black gently stroke the long sword inside the jet-black sheath, he spoke indifferently, “The saber technique that can kill people shall be like this.”

Amidst his voice, the crowd seemed to see his sword came out of its sheath, sword light flashed, but when that short sentence of just nine words was finished, the viper-like sword was still sitting quietly on his knees, and that dragon-bearded man was still standing, alive – over there, but his face was twisted, his eyes also seemed to be about to bulge out.

The man in black did not look at him anymore; he simply spoke indifferently, “Do you understand it now?”

The dragon-bearded man’s voice cracked, “I … I understand …”

He has not finished speaking, ‘Crash!’ the golden saber fell off his hand, and then his huge body, like pushing golden mountain and felling jade pillar, fell face up.

There was no scar on his body at all, only there was a dot of bright red blood appearing on his throat.

Unexpectedly, the fatal wound was only one dot.

The crowd of big men was agape and tongue-tied; how could they dare to say anything anymore?

Only half a day later, one by one, their gaze furtively moved away, to look at the arrows on the window openings.

The arrows were still pointing at the man in black’s head and chest, yet the man in black was not even looking at them, he was still lightly stroking the long sword on his knees.

Old Yan retreated step by step; he could not help speaking in trembling voice, “Still … still not releasing the arrows?”

Nobody knew when the shopkeeper left the counter, but this moment he suddenly picked Old Yan’s collar and then forward and backward, he slapped him more than a dozen times on the face.

Old Yan was practically knocked dizzy, “Laoda [oldest child, leader, boss] …” he screamed, “Why did you hit me?”

The shopkeeper angrily said, “If I don’t hit you, whom should I hit? What did you just say?”

Old Yan replied, “I … I only wanted the brothers to release the arrows.”

The shopkeeper laughed coldly and said, “You wanted them to release the arrows, do you know after the arrows are released, who is going to die?”

Old Yan replied, “Naturally this kid …”

He had not finished, the shopkeeper already gave him a few more slaps and angrily said, “You are not fit to call him ‘kid’; do you know who this friend is?”

Old Yan replied, “He … who is he?”

The shopkeeper did not answer; instead, he released his hand and walked over toward the main in black. Respectfully he cupped his fist in salute and spoke with an apologetic smile, “My brothers did not know that Zhongyuan Yidian Hong has honored us with your presence, hence they were lacking in manners; I hope Gexia would forgive us.”

This man was indeed an old fox; he gave Old Yan a beating first to prove that his brothers indeed did not recognize Yidian Hong, and then he came to ask Yidian Hong’s forgiveness.

This was called the way of a Jianghu veteran. Towering figures of Jianghu pay particular attention to this kind of reconciliation method. He expected that when the other side heard it, he must have returned the courtesy according to Jianghu etiquette. Who would have thought that unexpectedly Yidian Hong did not fall into this same old stuff at all?

No matter what kind of Jianghu veteran you are, no matter what method you are using, what kind of school you are from, but you use it in front of him, it is simply a waste.

Yidian Hong did not even bat his eyelids; he still spoke coldly, “This tea is undrinkable, get me another one.”

The shopkeeper was startled; still smiling apologetically he said, “Yes, yes, yes, this tea is undrinkable; Brothers, get another pot here.”

A moment later someone came with a teapot, which he immediately offered with both hands. Who would have thought that Yidian Hong took the teapot and ‘Bang!’ he threw it on the floor, and said coldly, “This pot of tea is not good either; get me another pot.”

The crowd of big men’s countenance changed, but the shopkeeper’s countenance and voice were unmoving; his face was still all smiles, as he laughed apologetically and said, “Yes, yes, yes, we’ll get another pot.”

He actually got another pot and offered it with both hands, while thinking inwardly, “Even if you are being unreasonable, this time you can’t say anything about it!”

Who would have thought that without even taking a sniff, ‘Dang!’ Yidian Hong already smashed it on the floor, while speaking coldly, “This pot of tea is still undrinkable.”

The shopkeeper was really able to suppress his anger as well; unexpectedly he still repeatedly told his men to get another pot of tea, while thinking inwardly, “I want to see if you are still going to throw this down?”

Who knew that Yidian Hong threw eight pots in succession, while all along his countenance did not change a bit?

By this moment everybody was able to see that he deliberately wanted them to see it well; they could not refrain soybean-size, big and small beads of sweat from seeping out their foreheads.

Although the shopkeeper’s face was still carrying a smile, he could not help asking either, “So what kind of tea would Gexia be willing to drink?”

Yidian Hong replied, “Only the tea that is not stinky that can be drunk.”

The shopkeeper gave out a hollow laugh and said, “Could it be that this tea is stinky?”

“Humph!” Yidian Hong responded.

The shopkeeper laughed and said, “Xiongtai [brother (polite appellation for a friend one’s age)] did not even drink a sip, how can you tell that this tea is stinky?”

Yidian Hong coldly said, “Just because these men’s hands are stinky.”

With the corner of his eyes the shopkeeper cast a glance on the long sword lying on his knees; he chuckled and said, “Could it be that these men’s hands are really stinky? Next time I must smell it myself.”

He slowly walked over, pulled Old Yan’s hand, he suddenly picked the golden saber on the floor with his toes, caught the saber flipped his hand, and chopped down.

Old Yan screamed in pain, and passed out on the floor. The shopkeeper picked up Old Yan’s cutoff hand, still dripping with blood; unexpectedly he really brought it to his nose and sniffed it. His face was still all smiles, he spoke leisurely, “This hand did not seem to be too stinky, it’s just somewhat too bloody.”

He seemed to think that his remark was so funny that before he even finished, he already burst into laughter. However, other than himself, no one was laughing.

In fact, he himself was unable to continue laughing. His eyes were fixed at Yidian Hong, he said in his heart, “It’s all exaggeration, you don’t need to take it seriously. Even if you came to look for trouble, won’t this be enough?”

If it were someone else, even if in his heart he was angry, the anger ought to be disappearing. A person was able to endure to such degree, others should not have anything to say.

Even that ‘pockmarked face’ and the ‘hunchback’, inwardly they could not refrain from sighing, while secretly wondering why the person Yidian Hong wanted to meet here has not appeared until now?

Who knew that Yidian Hong’s heart was like it was made of iron and stone? No matter what you say, no matter what you do, he neither heard nor saw, his expression remained unmoving.

The shopkeeper finally could not laugh anymore. After giving a couple of hollow laughs, he walked over and poured a pot of tea himself, which he delivered personally to Yidian Hong, and said with a forced laughter, “Twenty years ago, Zaixia has personally offered tea to a guest. Maybe this pair of hands is not stinky yet. If Xiongtai is willing to give Zaixia a bit of face, Zaixia will be very grateful.”

Yidian Hong did not look at him; he was only staring at the teapot in his hands. He slowly said, “Turns out you are the real Ban Tian Feng.”

The shopkeeper laughed apologetically and said, “An insignificant bandit title, I am making a fool of myself.”

Yidian Hong coldly said, “No wonder you can live until today. A man like you can be the Ban Tian Feng, I really could not see it.”

Ban Tian Feng gave a hollow laugh. He said, “In front of a good friend, Zaixia really cannot be considered Ban Tian Feng, I can only be considered a bug … Ha, ha! Nothing more than a little bug. Why would Xiongtai lower yourself to a bug’s level?”

Yidian Hong slowly said, “That’s right, you are indeed a little bug. Your hands must be more stinky than theirs.”

Ban Tian Feng’s dried, yellow face immediately turned deathly pale. His voice cracking, he said, “Xiongtai, you … what exactly do you want …”

Suddenly they heard a silver-bell-like laughter; someone was laughing tenderly and said, “Turns out Ban Tian Feng’s hands are stinky as well. I want to smell it myself too.”

Amidst the seductive laughter, a young girl in red clothes, a budding beauty with bright eyes and well-disposed appearance, with two jet-black shiny and big braids on her head – walked inside gracefully.

Outside, the windblown sand filled the whole sky. When others came in, everybody looked like a figure molded out of yellow sand, but this young girl’s body was untainted by even a speck of dust.

Inside the room, murderous aura was thick; a dead person was still lying in the pool of blood on the floor. But this young girl was still laughing so sweetly, so happy. It was as if she was just coming in from the garden in the lovely spring sunshine where flourishing blossoms were like embroidered work; as if she was coming into her own fragrant chamber.

The room was full of big men scowling fiercely, but it was as if those men were her young servant girls that she could order about.

Under such circumstances, suddenly such person appeared, everybody’s eyes could not help looking straight at her, while their mouth opened wide, without able to say anything.

They saw this girl in red coming over gracefully toward Ban Tian Feng; smiling sweetly at him, she said, “Are your hands really stinky?”

Hearing this question, everybody did not know whether they should laugh or cry. Although Ban Tian Feng was sinister and vicious, momentarily he did not know how to respond. “Miss … Zaixia …” he stammered.

The girl in red laughed tenderly and said, “Looking at how your hands are this white and clean, how could they be stinky? I don’t believe it.”

Unexpectedly she gently picked up Ban Tian Feng’s hand – such a beautiful girl, such a gentle and soft smile, how could Ban Tian Feng refuse?

Although Yidian Hong’s countenance was still wooden and he did not say anything, but his eyes could not help casting a glance at the hunchback and the pockmarked face, as if asking, “What do you think is this girl’s background?”

The hunchback and the pockmarked face exchanged a glance; as if agreeing by chance, inwardly they both remembered three words, ‘Shi Guanyin’ [Stone Avalokiteśvara].

Even if this girl was not Stone Guanyin, she must have close relationship with Stone Guanyin.

She suddenly appeared in here, what did she want?

Suddenly a silvery light flashed, followed by a scream!

Ban Tian Feng staggered three steps back, and then he fell face up on the floor.

A dagger, flickering with silvery light, suddenly appeared in the young girl’s hand. Stuck on the tip of the dagger was a cutoff hand, drenching with blood. How did her silvery blade make its move? Unexpectedly no one was able to see clearly.

They only heard the girl in red giggled and said, “This hand also did not seem to be too stinky! It’s just somewhat too bloody.”

The crowd of big men roared and could not help pouncing forward.

Rolling her fluid glances around, the girl in red’s tender and soft hand drew a line on her cheek, while speaking with a giggle, “What are you doing? So many big men bullying one little girl, aren’t you ashamed of yourselves?”

While her mouth was speaking, the silvery light in her hand flashed, the first two men who were pouncing at her screamed miserably and fell face up on the ground, blood spurting out of their throat like gushing spring.

Unexpectedly, this gentle and soft and beautiful little girl had taken two men’s lives, all while talking and laughing; how could the other men dare to make their move?

Looking at the spurting blood, the girl in red sighed and spoke quietly, “No wonder Zhongyuan Yidian Hong’s name shook the world. Now I know that although the saying ‘a killing without the shedding of blood, one red dot under the sword’ sounds simple, doing it is actually not easy at all.” [Reminder: Zhongyuan Yidian Hong literally means ‘one red dot of the Central Plains’.]

Turning her gaze back to Yidian Hong, she laughed and said, “You see, I was just using very little strength on my hand, their blood already flowed that much, making those who saw it wanted to vomit, totally unlike you killing people so elegantly and pleasant to watch.”

Yidian Hong looked at her coldly, he spoke to her coldly, “No matter who killed whom, it can’t possibly be elegant and pleasant to watch.”

“Only you,” the girl in red said, “Others killing people is killing people, you are killing people is an art.”

The one called Little Huang was creeping backward quietly, he quietly signaled the men outside the window, telling them to release the arrows. Who would have thought that the girl in red’s fluid glance suddenly swept across him, while she cried tenderly, “Aiyo! You guys look, isn’t this man bad? He wants people to shoot me dead with arrows.”

Little Huang’s hands and feet turned cold; he could no longer move even for half a step.

But the girl in red sighed and spoke softly, “Too bad these arrows cannot shoot anybody dead; if you don’t believe me, just look …”

She went over to the window, using her spring-scallion-like slender lily-white hands she lightly pinched; unexpectedly the arrow was immediately pulled away by her, and snapped into two pieces.

The crowd of big men was so scared that they could not even breathe.

The girl in red laughed tenderly and said, “Are you surprised? Actually, there is nothing strange in this. Only living people can shoot arrows; how could dead people shoot arrows?”

Little Huang spoke in trembling voice, “You … you killed them?”

The girl in red giggled and said, “Just think, if there were living people aiming their arrows at me, would I enter this building? My guts are small, plus I do not have such a big skill like Yidian Hong.”

Little Huang’s legs went weak, he dropped down to the ground.

Yidian Hong could not help asking, “How do you know my name?”

The girl in red sweetly said, “How could I not know your name? You are one of the people I admire the most. Besides, I am coming here this time is to pick you up.”

Frowning, Yidian Hong asked, “Pick me up?”

“Don’t you have an appointment to meet here with someone?” the girl in red asked.

“Hmm!” Yidian Hong replied.

The girl in red laughed and said, “Because of an important matter, they can’t come here, hence they asked me to pick you up.”

Listening to this point, the crowd of big men felt the acid was rising up in their stomach – turned out these people merely agreed to meet here, yet they already gave us unending bad luck.

They heard the girl in red laughed and then went on, “Now that I am here, you should go.”

Muttering to himself irresolutely, Yidian Hong said, “Go …”

The girl in red spoke sweetly, “You don’t want to go yet? Could it be that you want to kill everybody here cleanly? That will be great; I’ve always wanted to see you kill people.”

Yidian Hong no longer talk; pulling the ropes in his hand, he started to walk outside.

The girl in red cast a glance toward the hunchback and the pockmarked face; she suddenly frowned and said, “You want to catch two people to play with like a dog, why not catching good-looking people? Like this kind of ugly men, I am disgusted just by looking at them; pulling them along is a disgrace, we’d better send them back to join their ancestors!”

With a wave of her hand, the small silver blade slashed toward the hunchback’s throat. Only to hear ‘Zheng!’ like a black snake the sword sheath blocked the sliver blade.

“Aiyo!” the girl in red exclaimed, “You still don’t want to let them die?”

Yidian Hong coldly said, “When I want to kill, I don’t need anybody else making the move for me.”

The girl in red’s face burst into a smile and said, “You think I want to compete against you in killing people?”

Yidian Hong said, “In the business of killing, no one can compete with me, plus no one dares.”

The girl in red giggled, “Don’t worry,” she said, “Killing men like them, I am afraid I will only make my hands dirty!”

When the girl in red said that she was here to pick up Yidian Hong, the hunchback immediately knew that something was not right – the rebel ministers of Qiuci and that man called Wu Juxuan said they were going to wait Yidian Hong at the desert inn; why did they suddenly change their plan?

Where did they tell the girl in red to take Yidian Hong to?

The girl in red’s background was even more mysterious. It was obvious that she came from a very special background. Someone like her, how could the rebel ministers of Qiuci order her around? Could it be that the Stone Guanyin was in collusion with them?

Inwardly the hunchback and the pockmarked face were somewhat puzzled and unsure, but how do you catch the tiger cub without entering the tiger’s lair? Things have come to this, what choice did they have?

As they walked out of the door, they were stunned again.

A ship was moored outside the door.

In this mysterious and terrifying desert, no matter what astonishing thing happened, they would not be surprised; but they really never even dreamed about seeing a boat here.

This was the middle of the Great Desert; where did the boat come from?

They noticed that the boat was long and narrow, the bow and the stern were decorated with an extremely meticulous carving, the cabin was gorgeous all around, it even had curtains of pearls hanging over it.

It seemed like even the most entertaining, fancy decorated pleasure boat under the misty rain of the South Lake, even the light vessel covered-in-muslin-reflecting-the-shadow-of-the-moon, moored-at-night-by-the-Qinhuai-restaurant, would not look as gorgeous as this boat.

Turned out this girl in red came inside the building from this boat; no wonder there was not a single speck of dust on her. But how did the boat come here? This was practically inconceivable.

Yet they heard the girl in red said, “Why are you just staring blankly? Get on the boat!”

Yidian Hong’s eyes flickered, but he did not say anything.

The girl in red laughed and said, “You think there’s no way this boat will sail, don’t you?”

“Hmm!” Yidian Hong replied.

The girl in red laughed and said, “Come with me on board, you’ll see.”

While everybody else was paying attention to the top of the boat, the ‘hunchback’ was paying attention to the bottom of the boat.

He noticed the bottom of the boat was fitted with two slender planks that looked like snow sled, but it was cut from extremely tough and durable, extremely sleek giant bamboo stalk.

After he got on board, he found out that most of the boat’s structure was made of bamboo. The cabin was made of weaved bamboo, the deck was made of bamboo flooring as well; therefore, naturally the hull was particularly light.

Although not seen from under the ship, after getting on the boat, he could immediately see a lot of strong and healthy, powerful bald eagles, huddling up on the deck. Two boys wearing red clothes were feeding them with big strip after big strip of fresh meat.

When everybody was on board, the boy in red untied a long whip from his waist, ‘Crack!’ he flicked it high up in the sky. Immediately the eagles soared into the air. Countless silvery, flickering light of the chains also rose up; the chains were attached to the hull. Immediately the ship glided along the flat sand like a snow sled. At the beginning it was very slow, but afterwards it was gliding like flying. The people on the boat felt as if they were traveling against the wind.

The hunchback and the pockmarked face exchanged a glance; inwardly they could not help admiring the fantastic design of the boat’s master.

It should be noted that eagles were the strongest bird; sometimes they could even lift up the entire sheep up into the air. Dozens of eagles pulling a light bamboo boat on flat sand, naturally it was not a difficult matter at all.

Furthermore, eagles also had the highest endurance. Sometimes, in order to wait for someone to die to eat his flesh, they were able to hover overhead for several days and nights. Therefore, with the eagles driving the boat, certainly there was no need to be afraid that they would give up halfway.

The girl in red laughed and said, “Tell me, don’t you think that traveling in the desert, taking this boat is faster and more comfortable than walking?”

“Humph!” Yidian Hong responded.

The girl in red said, “Not only that, but if you don’t want to be seen by other people, sitting on this boat, there is no fear of being found, no one will ever be able to find this boat’s whereabouts. Some would suddenly see this boat flitting past on the desert like the wind, they would think that they saw a mirage, they might think that they saw a ghost!”

They heard someone inside the cabin laughing slowly, “Therefore, the people on the desert call this boat the Ghost Ship.”

The voice was slow and elegant; along with the voice, there was a man lifting up the curtain of the cabin and stepping out. But he only extended half of his body and immediately stepped back inside, while saying with a laugh, “Outside the sandstorm is this strong, Hong Xiong [lit. red brother], why don’t you come in?”

This man had a waxy-yellow skin on his triangular face, his five senses seemed to be squeezed together into a pile. His beard was like rat whiskers under his chin, which seemed to have been set on fire; yellowish and scorched. His appearance could be described as roebuck-head and rat-eyes, totally unimpressive. Nobody would have thought that such an elegant and moving voice unexpectedly belonged to such a man.

The hunchback and the pockmarked face exchanged a quick glance again; they both thought, “Could it be that this man is the famous scholar Wu Juxuan? Yidian Hong said his face is repulsive; his description was right on the money.”

There were two other persons inside the cabin, whose appearances were much better.

Both men were wearing brocade clothes gorgeous attire; one man had a square face [orig. like a ‘country’ (国) character], with thick eyebrows and big eyes. He did not look angry, but was quite intimidating. In just one glance, one would know that he was a figure who often held heavy authority in his hands.

The other man, on the other hand, laughed first before he even said anything. His face appeared friendly; he looked to be a rich man, like a big merchant who made a lot of money from his successful business.

Although these two were wearing Han attire, but their hair was yellow and slightly curly, their eyes were deep and slightly bluish green; obviously they were the two rebel ministers of Qiuci country.

Since they were here, why did they say, “Because of an important matter, they can’t come here?”

Could it be that they were just trying to trick Yidian Hong to come on board this boat?

When the two men saw Yidian Hong, they immediately cupped their fist and said with a laugh, “Zhuangshi [lit. hero/fighter/warrior] has gone through a lot of trouble.”

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