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The Vast Desert Chapter 25


Chapter 25 – Bewitching Sea of Flower

Laughing, Hu Tiehua muttered to himself, “If by admitting that I am a muddled-egg I can have wine to drink, I don’t mind admitting it once a day.”

He was about to pour the wine into his belly, who would have thought that Princess Pipa suddenly snatched the bottle back and said, “I change my mind; this wine cannot be given to you.”

Opening his eyes wide, Hu Tiehua said, “You … don’t you think that you changed your mind too quickly?”

Princess Pipa said, “All these stuffs belong to the Old Stinky Bug, right?”

Hu Tiehua blurted out laughing, “Bedroom slippers and dudou are Dead Rooster’s. You must not drink vinegar [jealous]; once you drink vinegar, I won’t have anything to drink anymore.”

Princess Pipa sighed, “That’s not what I meant,” she said, “Just think … Old Stinky Bug has always carried these things with him, but now they are buried deep in the ground …”

Hu Tiehua cut her off, “That’s because he is in disguise; if he brought these things along, they might reveal his true identity.”

Princess Pipa said, “Just think again: if these things are hidden on his body, how could other people find out about it? Unless he is fully aware that this time there is the risk of being captured by the enemy.”

Immediately Hu Tiehua’s countenance changed, “That’s right,” he said, “I really must not drink anymore. Were it not for they were fully aware that this mission was extremely dangerous, Dead Rooster could not possibly take these shameful personal items out.”

Princess Pipa sighed and said, “Precisely.”

Slapping his own forehead, Hu Tiehua said, “Women are indeed more attentive than men; such an important issue, unexpectedly I did not even think about it.”

Princess Pipa quietly said, “This is not because women are more attentive than men; it’s just because women are always particularly caring about the people she likes, that’s all.”

Hu Tiehua sprang up; he took the ‘Star of Happiness’ from his pocket and stuffed it in Princess Pipa’s hand, saying, “This is the Star of Happiness, you quickly bring it back!”

“What about you?” Princess Pipa asked.

“I must go looking for the Old Stinky Bug first,” Hu Tiehua replied.

“But didn’t you promise Wangfei that you would bring this thing back?” Princess Pipa asked.

Stamping his foot, Hu Tiehua said, “That’s right, I also promised her many other things, but now that I know the Old Stinky Bug and the Dead Rooster are in danger, even things as big as the sky must be put aside first.”

Princess Pipa’s fluid glance flickered, she hung her head low and said, “Since you and I already knew that he is in danger, do you think I can comfortably walk away?”

Stunned, Hu Tiehua asked, “You want to come with me?”

“Hmm!” Princess Pipa replied.

“But …” Hu Tiehua said, “What about the Star of Happiness?”

Princess Pipa said, “You said it yourself, even things as big as the sky can be put aside first, right?”

Hu Tiehua thought for a moment. He was just about to nod, but suddenly he shook his head and said, “Can’t do! I cannot take you with me.”

“Why?” Princess Pipa asked.

Hu Tiehua replied, “This mission is extremely dangerous, and you are a sweet, delicate lady; in case something happens …”

Princess Pipa loudly cut him off, “Don’t you forget; this is the desert. In here, I am much more useful than you. Besides, even if you really don’t want to take me, I still have to follow behind you.”

Hu Tiehua rubbed his nose again. Smiling wryly, he said, “When there’s no woman, it’s going to be cold and cheerless. When there’s a woman, not even the chickens and dogs are left undisturbed [idiom: great commotion]. This saying is absolutely true.”

It was a place full of rocks; big and small, in all shapes, colors and sizes, fantastic oddities of every description. The big one was like a tower of rock reaching to the clouds, high into the sky, straight into the vault of heaven. The small one was at least several dozen zhang tall, like the vicious dragon and mythical animal from the ancient great desolation, quietly crouching in here, waiting to devour all mankind.

This place, not only it looked like they had reached the end of the desert, it practically looked like they had reached the end of the Heaven and the Earth. If they continued on, they would fall into the bottomless abyss below.

The ‘ghost ship’ had reached this place at dawn.

Looking out from the window of the ship, they saw ahead was entirely stone peaks, extending as far as the eye could see; it would be difficult to continue forward, yet unexpectedly it looked like this ship was about to crash toward the stone peaks.

Although Chu Liuxiang was cool-headed, he could not help but was shocked. He saw a strange-rock-marvelous-peak ahead, which towered into the clouds – that looked like a vicious beast of the great desolation, ready to pounce head-on. Who would have thought that the ship made a sharp turn, and slowly slipped into a cluster of peaks?

Chu Liuxiang heaved a sigh. He spoke inwardly, “Such a sinister place; perhaps this is Shi Guanyin’s base of operation.”

Thinking to this point, he was pleasantly surprised, because he felt the ship was gradually stopping. It finally halted in a depression on the rock.

The person in white spoke coldly, “Can your two legs still move?”

Actually, she was fully aware that although Chu Liuxiang and the others’ true qi had been sealed off by the Stone Guanyin using her unique school’s acupoint sealing technique, their movements and speech were not affected much.

Chu Liuxiang quietly looked at her, he did not speak.

The person in white said, “If your two legs can still move, get down!”

As if he was spellbound, Chu Liuxiang was still staring at her, but he still did not speak.

The person in white angrily said, “Do you want me to gouge your eyes out?”

It was only then did Chu Liuxiang smile and said, “Just now, in order to let others think that Guniang [Miss] is Shi Guanyin, you covered your face. But Zaixia [plural] already knew that Guniang is really not Shi Furen [Madame Shi]; why does Guniang still …”

The person in white suddenly laughed aloud. Unexpectedly her laughter was unspeakably mournful. “You want to see my face?” she spoke sternly.

Chu Liuxiang smiled and said, “I had long heard that everybody in Shi Furen’s school is a national grace, divine fragrance [idiom: outstanding beauty]. If Guniang is willing to let Zaixia to have a glimpse at your graceful bearing, even if Zaixia has to die, I could be considered doing my pair of eyes justice.”

Ji Bingyan snickered inwardly and mused, “Looks like he wants to unleash the ‘beautiful man scheme’; but no matter what kind of graceful words, flowery speech you use, I wonder if she will let you off?”

He heard the person in white howled with laughter and spoke sternly, “Divine fragrance, national grace … All right, I’ll show you my divine fragrance, national grace.”

Her hand lifted the headscarf covering her face, and Chu Liuxiang’s smiling expression immediately froze.

What human face? This was practically a devil’s appearance.

Chu Liuxiang could no longer think that a young lady whose figure was this light and graceful, whose bearing was this charming, yet her face was unexpectedly this hideous, this terrifying.

He suddenly remembered Madame Ren, Qiu Lingsu’s [see Book 1] face, which was also like this. Could it be that the Stone Guanyin, because she was jealous of this girl’s beautiful countenance, also destroyed her appearance?

He heard the girl laughed and spoke sternly, “Did you see it? Your eyes’ luck is indeed not shallow. From now on you must remember, Qu Wurong [her given name’s literal translation is ‘no countenance’] is the world’s ugliest woman, no one can match it.”

Smiling slightly, Chu Liuxiang said, “Whether one’s countenance is beautiful or ugly, it is only in the eyes of the beholder. Were it not for Guniang’s magnificence unmatched in this generation, how could your appearance be destroyed by others? And since originally Guniang’s magnificence was unmatched in this generation, so what if your appearance was destroyed … Other people can only destroy Guniang’s appearance, but Guniang’s unrestrained strength of character, who could actually destroy it?”

Qu Wurong was silent for half a day. Suddenly she scolded in stern voice, “Get down, get down … this is not the place for you to talk too much.”

Chu Liuxiang raised his cupped fist and started to walk. Yidian Hong was bringing up the rear. As Yidian Hong was walking in front of Qu Wurong, he suddenly halted his steps and said, “You are not ugly, you are very beautiful.”

Although he merely spoke six short words [ni bu chou, ni hen mei], yet these six words coming from his mouth really had more power than other people’s thousand-talk-ten-thousand-speech.

Qu Wurong seemed to have never expected that this man, who had never said one word, unexpectedly would say such thing. Unexpectedly her body seemed to be slightly shocked; she said, “You … what did you say?”

Yidian Hong was unwilling to speak one extra word; he continued going down in large strides.

Lost in thought, Qu Wurong stared at him; her deep, cold-and-detached-like-water-well fluid glance unexpectedly appeared as if a pebble was thrown inside and created ripples.

Unexpectedly there was a small path among the rocky peaks, snaking its way into the rocks like sheep intestines.

The big man who was guarding Chu Liuxiang and the others bowed toward Qu Wurong and asked, “Shall we cover their eyes now?”

Qu Wurong already returned to her usual cold and detached manner; she coldly replied, “Don’t bother. This secret-valley-ghost-trail, even if I took them along several times, they won’t be able to tell directions … anybody in the world, whoever came here, they could forget about getting out on their own.”

Her last few words were naturally directed toward Chu Liuxiang and the others.

Chu Liuxiang chuckled and said, “Really?”

Qu Wurong coldly said, “You want to go out, the only way is to be carried out.”

Actually, Chu Liuxiang already had faint idea that these stone peaks, half were natural, the other half were man-made. Unexpectedly it contained some logic of changes, just like Zhuge Wuhou’s [i.e. Zhuge Liang of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms] Eight-Troop Disposition Diagram. In addition to enormous and exhaustive manpower, it was also imbued with the might of the natural law; it was indeed ghostly-hatchet-divine-power, which was difficult for mankind to fathom.

The wind rolling up the yellow sand, lost in the boundless mists of the glens, it only served to heighten the dismal, mysterious and treacherous impression. Sandwiched between the two mountains, only a sliver of the sky was barely visible. As they were walking in the valley, they could see the yellow sand, but they could not see the sky.

Chu Liuxiang sighed. He said, “What a dangerous terrain. Actually, did Shi Furen really need to spend so much effort to put up this kind of formation?”

Qu Wurong replied indifferently, “Do you consider this place dangerous? We have not reached the really dangerous place yet!”

“Where is it then?” Chu Liuxiang could not help asking.

But Qu Wurong no longer spoke, she simply continued leading the way. He noticed that she turned to the east and curved to the west; she seemed to be very familiar with the path, and there was no difficult or dangerous place.

But Chu Liuxiang knew that without her leading the way, even if they spent one year, even if they came to the end of their life, perhaps they would still be at their original place and did not move at all.

This moment, in the midst of the vast haze of yellow sand, suddenly appeared three, five human figures, who seemed to be holding brooms and were sweeping the ground. Their movement seemed to be very slow, yet rhythmic and in cadence, like a group of inanimate puppets, like they have been there, sweeping the ground, since time immemorial, and they would continue sweeping the ground until the end of the world.

Walking closer, Chu Liuxiang unexpectedly discovered that these lowly slaves, although their hair was disheveled and their clothes tattered, not a single one was not a handsome man. It’s just that their faces were filled with blank, in-a-daze expression, their eyes had already lost the radiance of life. It seemed like not only they had already forgotten their own lives, they practically had forgotten that they were living human beings.

Yet Chu Liuxiang knew that this kind of handsome men, in the former days they must have a glorious past, days filled with their own joy and honor.

Now, they were completely apathetic, but there must be many people who had not forgotten them, people who yearned for them, who shed tears for them.

Chu Liuxiang suddenly remembered a sad verse, ‘Pitiful and at a loss, alone on the river bank – was the man in the dream of the lady’s chamber in the Springtime’, his heart could not help but was growing more sorrowful for them.

If there was no bemoan-the-state-of-the-universe-and-pity-the-fate-of-mankind [Buddhist term: compassionate] heart, how could a man be worthy to be called a hero or a knight-errant [yingxiong and xiashi]?

Yet these men were simply sweeping the ground, constantly sweeping the ground, as if they were born to sweep the ground, as if they existed only to sweep the ground.

Other than sweeping the ground, unexpectedly they seemed to have forgotten that there were other things in life.

Chu Liuxiang could not help patting one of the men on his shoulder and said, “Friend, why don’t you sit down and rest?”

The man raised his head and looked at him blankly, but immediately lowered his head again and began to sweep the ground, saying, “No rest.”

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “Friend, could it be that you like sweeping the ground?”

Without even lifting his head, the man said, “Like it.”

Stunned, Chu Liuxiang heaved a deep sigh and said, “But the sand on the ground here, you will never sweep it clean.”

“I am not sweeping the sand,” the man replied.

“What is it then?” Chu Liuxiang asked.

The man thought for a moment and then said, “It’s the bones of the dead.”

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “But there’s no bone of the dead here.”

The man looked up at him again. Suddenly a chill rose from the corners of his mouth. Originally, he wanted to ask the man many more questions, asking him who he actually was, asking him how did he become like this?

But he suddenly realized that he did not need to ask at all.

From the man, he seemed to see the shadow of ‘Shi Tuo’. Aside from his facial features, which were somewhat different, this man was similar to Shi Tuo.

Both have forgotten their past; they have forgotten everything. Although their bodies still existed, their soul had died; they were no more than dead bodies that could move around.

They have long offered their lives to Stone Guanyin.

Chu Liuxiang felt his hands and feet grew cold, while inwardly he sighed and mused, “Shi Guanyin, Shi Guanyin, you really have such a great magical power?”

After walking for no one knew how long, they suddenly smelled whiff after whiff of sweet floral fragrance. The fragrance was not of peony, not of rose, not of plum blossom, not of chrysanthemum either … This floral fragrance was so sweet that it was indeed out-of-the-world; it appeared to be coming from heaven.

But the air temperature was getting warmer and warmer; it was almost hot. Unexpectedly it was as if this entire valley had turned into a great furnace, the place where human’s soul was being smelted.

But after walking for a moment longer, they valley suddenly opened up to a wide panorama.

From among the peaks hugging by the clouds, unexpectedly there was a sea of flowers.

As far as the eye can see, the heaven and the earth seemed to be brimming with fresh flowers, yet even Chu Liuxiang could not recognize what kind of flowers were these? He only felt that these flowers were incomparably bright-colored, and incomparably beautiful. He could not help sighing and said, “It’s hard to imagine that in this barren desert, unexpectedly there is such a sea of flowers.”

Qu Wurong coldly said, “These flowers are out of the ordinary in the sense that ordinary people can only dream about.”

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “Could it be that these flowers came from heaven?”

Unexpectedly Qu Wurong nodded and said, “Precisely they came from heaven.”

Chu Liuxiang cast Ji Bingyan a glance; he laughed and said, “In that case, our eyes’ luck is indeed not shallow.”

Ji Bingyan did not respond.

This moment he only felt that his steps became weak, his eyes blurry, unexpectedly his entire body felt drowsy. The symptoms were similar to getting drunk from the wine, but it felt much sweeter than getting drunk.

Ji Bingyan finally discovered that there was something wrong with the fragrance of the flowers, but finding out now was already too late.

Chu Liuxiang was still talking, Ji Bingyan secretly thought, “After all, his power is deep, he must be stronger …”

He heard Chu Liuxiang said, “Just now Guniang said we have not reached the really dangerous place, perhaps now we have?”

Qu Wurong was silent for half a day. She spoke slowly, “You think this is the very dangerous place?”

Chu Liuxiang smiled and said, “Oftentimes, dangers are hidden among the particularly beautiful things. Among the particularly sweet scent, oftentimes there is poison …”

He had not finished speaking, his body suddenly crumpled on the ground. Ji Bingyan could only smiled wryly inwardly, and thought, “Turns out he really is not as smart as I imagined.”

Looking at Yidian Hong, he noticed that that pair of cold and detached, resolute eyes – was starting to be hazy.

Ji Bingyan felt that he was back into his childhood, and that it was only a dream, just because only his dreams when he was a child could be this cozy, could be this sweet.

When he woke up, he found himself in a beautiful room like in dreamland, and that Qu Wurong actually had feeling; she suddenly acted bashful.

The girl in crimson clothes had been laughing nonstop, as if she had no way of stopping.

Qu Wurong knitted her brows, turned around, and walked out.

The girl in yellow clothes pursed her lips, and spat disdainfully, “Ugly girl, knowing that someone likes her, she deliberately putting out this fake Taoist appearance … humph! You cannot bear to see us, we also cannot bear to see you!”

Chu Liuxiang rolled his eyes and intentionally lowered his voice, “It would be better for Guniang to lower your voice a bit, lest she would hear it.”

The girl in yellow laughed coldly and said, “So what if she hears it?”

Chu Liuxiang said, “In Zaixia’s opinion, that Qu Guniang seems to be an important figure in here, while it seems that two Guniang just joined the school not too long ago. If you offended her, would it be a great inconvenience?”

The girl in yellow opened her eyes big, suddenly she laughed sweetly and said, “You don’t have to worry about us, Shifu treats all disciples equally favorably, we are not afraid of her.”

The girl in crimson giggled tenderly and said, “As long as you are also good to us, we will have a way to make your stay here a bit more comfortable.”

Chu Liuxiang’s eyes were fixed on her; suddenly he let out a deep sigh.

The girl in crimson asked, “What are you sighing about?”

Chu Liuxiang sighed and said, “It’s a pity that in my entire body, Zaixia don’t have the slightest strength. Otherwise …”

He let his voice trailed off, but he looked at them straight in the eye.

The girl in crimson’s face gradually turned crimson; lightly biting her lip, she spoke slowly, “You do not have to worry, one day …”

Chu Liuxiang laughed calmly and said, “Are you saying you are not in a hurry?”

The girl in crimson giggled and said, “Oh you … indeed your name is not in vain. You are really repulsive, yet also an adorably romantic thief.”

Chu Liuxiang sighed and said, “I really don’t understand what kind of knockout drug hit me? How come it is so formidable?”

He suddenly stopped talking. Smiling wryly, he said, “Presumably, two Guniang can’t possibly know what kind of knockout drug it was either. I should have asked that other Guniang.”

Yidian Hong had already closed his eyes. But Ji Bingyan understood Chu Liuxiang’s intention. He saw that the two girls’ faces were indeed blushing from excitement.

The girl in crimson laughed coldly and said, “You think only she knows?”

Chu Liuxiang laughed and said, “Could it be that Guniang also know?”

The girl in yellow suddenly realized that Chu Liuxiang’s pair of eyes had never left her companion, and had not turned her way for a long time. Immediately she scrambled to answer, “Have you seen the flowers?”

Chu Liuxiang sighed and said, “If Zaixia has not seen it, this moment how could I be in this state?”

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