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The Vast Desert Chapter 28


Between Life and Death

Princess Pipa was lying beside him; her appearance seemed to be worse than him, her expensive clothes nearly torn into tatters, her jade legs were stained with sand and dust, as well as blood.

Although the scorching sun was inclining to the west, its remaining power was still there, shining onto their faces. Not too far ahead there was a place with some shade on it, yet they seemed to have no strength to walk over there.

Using his hand to cover his eyes, Hu Tiehua muttered, “I am afraid we can forget about ever finding that Old Stinky Bug in this lifetime.”

Princess Pipa sadly said, “We shouldn’t have gone this way.”

Hu Tiehua’s eyes suddenly shot hot anger, he spoke loudly, “That’s right, we shouldn’t have gone this way; are you blaming me? You must tell me, in the desert, how much more useful you are than me? How come you are just like me? Dogs also seem to lie down here, unable to do anything.”

Tears flowing down from Princess Pipa’s eyes, she sobbed, “I really should not have come with you, to be a burden on you. Otherwise, if only one person drinks your bag of water, at least it could support you a while longer.”

Hu Tiehua stared blankly for half a day; heaving a long, long sigh, he smiled wryly and said, “I am really a b@stard; this kind of thing, how could I blame you? I am a big man, yet I can’t even protect one girl. Unexpectedly I still have the face to lose temper in here.”

Princess Pipa suddenly pounced on him; wailing at the top of her voice, she said, “You are not the one to blame, it was me … I just want to die now; it would be best if I die right away.”

Lightly stroking her hair, Hu Tiehua muttered, “Even if we don’t want to die, I am afraid there’s no way we could keep on living.”

Looking up, he saw the yellow sand was connected to the sky, the sky was connected to the yellow sand; it looked like between the heaven and the earth, the only place remained was this dead, despairing yellow color, there was nothing else.

Princess Pipa slowly looked up, a hint of mournful smile floated from the corner of her mouth, she said, “Unexpectedly you and I are going to die together; I am afraid no one had ever thought this might happen?”

Hu Tiehua suddenly roared in laughter and said, “To be able to die together with you is actually a pleasant thing. You … you are really an extremely beautiful girl. You … you …”

Suddenly his throat seemed to be choked, his hoarse laughter also suddenly stopped, he only looked into her eyes in daze. With croaky voice he said, “But if we are going to die, we should die a bit more happy, right?”

Princess Pipa’s body seemed to tremble a little bit. “You … you want me to …” her voice quivered.

Hu Tiehua’s gaze already moved from her eyes to her legs. Although this pair of legs was covered in sand, dirt, and bloodstain, it was still slender, beautiful, strong, and captivating. Hu Tiehua’s Adam’s apple moved up and down, his hoarse voice became even hoarser, but his eyes were blazing hot; so hot that it was as if it was going to burn her. His hands finally shook and moved on to her waist, he spoke word-by-word, “I want you … I really want you. Other than you, I don’t know what else I want?”

Princess Pipa was only shaking continuously, her pale face gradually turned red. She stretched out her hand, wanting to pull her clothes to cover up her bare legs. But the torn-to-tatters clothes already could not cover anything. Her movement was just heightening the temptation a bit; not only it excited others, it also excited herself.

She only felt that her heart was about to jump out of her chest cavity.

Humans, indeed they are some kind of strange animal.

Human’s desire, oftentimes it came precisely at the time when it should not have come. The more the physique was weary, the more the desire might come even more suddenly, even more intense.

Hu Tiehua finally embraced her tightly – under the shadow of the death, his desire was suddenly blazing, ready to burn him, and he was helpless to hold back.

Princess Pipa closed her eyes, as if she was ready to accept it.

The carousal before death, was it not something that everybody had fantasized about?

Sand. It was so soft, but it was also burning.

Hu Tiehua turned over and lay on top of her. Their grief, sorrow, pain and despair, seemed to be burned completely in this flame of lust.

But right this moment, Hu Tiehua suddenly shouted in pain back and jumped up; he used both hands to cover himself, as he looked at Princess Pipa in shock. His voice cracked, “You … why are you … why are you like this? Could it be that you are not willing?”

Tears flowing down from her eyes again, Princess Pipa softly said, “I … I am willing. Before I die, I have decided to give you everything, but I simply have to tell you something.”

“What is it?” Hu Tiehua asked.

Princess Pipa closed her eyes and said, “My … my body is no longer complete; I have given it to someone else.”

Both hands clenched tightly, Hu Tiehua hissed, “Who?”

Princess Pipa spoke word-by-word, “It is him.”

Who was the ‘he’ she was talking about? Could it be that Hu Tiehua did not know?

Hu Tiehua was like having a bucket of cold water poured on top of his head; his entire body froze.

Princess Pipa spoke in grief, “I wanted you as well, I really had no way to control myself, I wanted to forget everything, to die in your arms, but … but I don’t know, for some reason I am not able to hide this matter from you.”

Hu Tiehua suddenly sprang up and shouted, “Don’t say it … don’t say it …”

He kicked the sand like mad; with every kick he cursed, ‘Old Stinky Bug’, and he kicked the sand up into the air, until he was nearly surrounded by walls of sand.

Princess Pipa spoke quietly, “Do you really hate him now?”

“Humph!” Hu Tiehua responded.

Princess Pipa sighed and said, “Even if you really hate him, I won’t blame you. Sometimes I also hate him very much … No matter who is with him, victory and glory always belong to him; no matter what load in someone’s mind, he only needs a glance and he would already know what it is. But the load in his mind, there will never be anybody who would know it.”

Hu Tiehua’s legs suddenly stopped; looking at her, he said, “You think that if we are with him, we would suffer losses too much, is that right?”

“Hmm!” Princess Pipa responded.

Hu Tiehua said, “But we are most willing to be with him; he did not force us at all, did he?”

Princess Pipa hung her head down, “Hmm!” she responded.

Hu Tiehua suddenly roared in laughter and said, “Speaking back and forth, the two of us are indeed fellow sufferers empathizing with each other. Although we hate him very much, we can’t help liking him.”

Princess Pipa sighed and said, “Sometimes, I wonder why?”

Hu Tiehua smiled and said, “Because the Old Stinky Bug is really worthy to be liked by others, isn’t that right?”

Princess Pipa was silent for half a day. Finally she also smiled sweetly and said, “You are really worthy to be his good friend …”

Her voice suddenly stopped, her eyes grew big, she stared at Hu Tiehua, her gaze was filled with shock and fear. Although her mouth was open wide, she could not produce the slightness noise.

Hu Tiehua laughed and said, “What are you looking at? Did my head suddenly become two?”

He reached out to feel his own head. His voice suddenly also stopped, his eyes were also filled with shock and fear, he stared at his own hand, unable to make any noise.

His hand was expectedly dyed red with blood. His head was unexpectedly drenched with blood.

Hu Tiehua’s head was not broken at all; where did the blood come from?

Hu Tiehua raised his head to look at the sky, in the midst of yellow sand filling the air, there were two dark shadows, spiraling and dancing in the breeze, but they were flying lower and lower; it looked like they were about to fall down.

The shadows were unexpectedly two eagles.

The blood, undoubtedly, fell from the eagles. The eagles, undoubtedly, have been wounded. Were it not for Hu Tiehua’s senses were already numbed, he should have been aware of the eagles early on.

Astonished, Princess Pipa said, “Where did these eagles come from? How could they be wounded? Could it be that someone is nearby?”

When speaking the last sentence, her astonishment has turned to joy – as long as someone was nearby, they had the hope to keep on living.

But Hu Tiehua’s countenance turned even heavier; he suddenly remembered the flying eagle that snatched the precious stone from the dying armed escorts’ body that day.

Apparently the eagles in the desert were also the Stone Guanyin’s slaves.

They heard a ‘Swish!’, as one of the eagles, like a shooting star, fell down to the ground.

Hu Tiehua picked it up to take a look. The soft ash-colored feather on the belly of the eagle has also been dyed red by the blood; the eagle’s stomach was nearly split open. Unexpectedly the wound was a sword wound.

Obviously, when the eagle was pouncing down to attack someone, it was struck by that person’s sword instead.

Knitting his eyebrows, Hu Tiehua muttered, “What a fast sword technique.”

Another ray of hope appeared in Princess Pipa’s eyes, “Could it be him?” she asked.

“Definitely not,” Hu Tiehua replied, “If it were him, this eagle could not possibly fly this far. Besides, even if it was only a flat-haired beast, he still could not bear to kill it.”

The other eagle also fell to the ground. The fatal would was also a sword wound.

“In that case,” Princess Pipa said, “Could it be your other friend?”

Hu Tiehua shook his head, “Not him either; Ji Bingyan has never used sword.”

He suddenly laughed. “Whatever the case,” he muttered, “These two eagles happen to come on time.”

Princess Pipa did not understand what he was talking about? Hu Tiehua already handed over one of the eagles to her and said, “Eat up.”

Horrified, Princess Pipa said, “Eat up? How could this thing be eaten?”

Staring at her, Hu Tiehua said, “If you don’t want to die, you must think of a way to eat it up. Eat as much as you can, eat as much as possible, the more the better. Understand?”

Food connoisseurs all knew that among all the meats in the world, perhaps eagle meat was the coarsest; even if it was cooked thoroughly, it might not necessarily be bitable, much less a raw one.

Princess Pipa sliced a piece using her knife, and then like she was taking medicine, she put it inside her mouth and chewed it with wrinkled eyebrows; a few times she nearly wanted to throw up.

Hu Tiehua said, “You eat like this, you will never recover your strength. You must eat it like me, look …”

He took the bloody eagle meat, ripped a piece, sucked the blood first, and then cut the meat into thin strips and put it in his mouth. He chewed a couple of times, and swallowed hard.

Princess Pipa practically did not dare to even look; with bitter expression on her face, she said, “I … I cannot eat like that; I can’t eat this.”

Hu Tiehua laughed and said, “You only need to close your eyes, imagine that you are eating white lamb chop marinated in soy paste plus baked sesame seed-coated cake, and then you’ll be able to eat it.”

Although eagle meat was coarse, eagle blood was fishy, but for a hungry, thirsty, and dying person, it was indeed a lot more effective than any complete dose of medicine. Hu Tiehua’s countenance gradually regained its color, Princess Pipa also slowly recover her qi.

Right this moment, they suddenly heard a miserable scream coming from behind the sand dunes over yonder. Hu Tiehua’s countenance changed slightly, he spoke heavily, “You wait here, I am going over to see.”

“I am coming with you,” Princess Pipa said.

Hu Tiehua sighed. He said with a wry smile, “All right, come then … looks like other than that Old Stinky Bug, no one can control you … but you must be a bit more careful.”

Behind the sand dunes saber light flashed, sword shadow crisscrossed the sky. The yellow sand was dyed red by bluish-green blood [fig. blood shed in a just cause], already there were several corpses lying down on the ground, but there were still more than a dozen big men in black surrounding two blood-soaked men in bitter battle.

All of the big men were completely strong and healthy, exceptionally dauntless; their saber technique was also completely profound and violent, fierce and malicious. Especially terrifying was every single one had that kind of murderous aura on his face, unexpectedly they would never give up until the opponent’s dead body was chopped into ten thousand pieces.

But the two men under siege, their martial art skill was much higher than theirs; sword light crisscrossing the air, dancing in the breeze, as if they were practicing. Surprisingly it was the Huashan [Mount Hua in Shaanxi, western mountain of the Five Sacred Mountains] orthodox school’s sword technique, famous throughout the land.

It’s just that obviously their strength was waning, the opponents simply had too many men; if this fight continued, even if they were not killed, they would die of exhaustion.

Princess Pipa and Hu Tiehua were hiding behind the sand dunes; suddenly she blurted, “Do you see that, that is … isn’t that your stable guy?”

Naturally Hu Tiehua has seen it as well; the two men in the middle of the siege, one’s shenfa was rather sluggish, his hand movement was rather slow, surprisingly, it was Shi Tuo.

The other man’s sword technique was nimble and very ruthless. It was precisely the swordsman Wang Chong, whose real name was hidden, whose whereabouts was secretive, who, in order to pursue Shi Tuo, disappeared without leaving any news.

The men in black, undoubtedly they were the Stone Guanyin’s men.

Hu Tiehua looked on for half a day, finally he was unable to remain calm; he said, “This time, you really must wait here.”

Biting her lip, Princess Pipa said, “But if someone is running over here, I can’t simply watch without doing anything, can I?”

Hu Tiehua chuckled and nodded his head. Suddenly he let out a roar and flew out.

The men in black have been fighting hard for half a day, their dead and injured were scattered about, and only now did they begin to gain the upper hand. Soon they would have these two men, whom they had been chasing for many days – chopped down under their sabers.

Who would have thought that right this moment, they suddenly heard a roar like a clap of thunder, followed by a man, like the Flying General [my dictionary says ‘nickname of Han dynasty general Li Guang’] dropping in from the sky, grabbing a man’s head and sending out a flying kick, to send another big man flying three zhang away. And then sending out a punch, the third man’s teeth were all knocked out of his mouth.

Looking back at the first man, his head has been beaten flat by him.

He raised his hands and sent out his legs, already three men were falling down. Such a divine prowess, it really made people terrified and shook with fear. The big men could not help being frightened and stared at him blankly.

Over there, Shi Tuo and Wang Chong had their spirit shaken. Two swords crossed each other in scissoring move, the sword light flashed, two big men fell dead under the sword.

Hu Tiehua shouted loudly, “Ol’ Hu does not wish to hurt the innocents, if you put down your sabers, I won’t harm your lives.”

Who would have thought that these big men were unexpectedly like they had gone mad, they pounced over as if they did not want to live anymore?

The long sword in Wang Chong’s palm swept out, his mouth shouted, “These men’s mind is already confused, they are completely impervious to reason, we can only kill them, there is no other way.”

Hu Tiehua sighed. He saw two sabers already chopped like the wind, the two men’s eyes were bloodshot, unexpectedly they were no different than two mad dogs.

Hu Tiehua tilted his upper body, he slipped under one of the saber light, and then his left elbow struck outward, his right hand swept up, the saber of the man on the right suddenly moved into his hand. Only to hear ‘Crack!’ the man on the left’s ribs were broken by him. But after rushing out a few steps, unexpectedly the man roared wildly while swinging his saber backward.

Hu Tiehua sighed and said, “Why are you doing this?”

By the time he finished speaking, the two big men were already lying in a pool of blood.

Princess Pipa was watching from a distance. She saw how the big men fought valiantly [orig. one falls, the next follows], fully aware of death yet did not flinch, unexpectedly no one ran away. She could not help sighing and murmured, “If there are so many warriors in our country, why are we as wretched as we are today?”

She did not know that these men had already sold their soul to the Stone Guanyin long ago; although they seemed to have flesh and blood, the fact was that they were only a group of walking flesh and moving corpses.

The bloody battle finally stopped. Yellow sand, bluish-green blood [see above], and dead bodies were everywhere. Shi Tuo held the sword with both hands, he continuously panting for breath, but his face was still expressionless like a rock.

Wang Chong came over to Hu Tiehua, bowed deeply, and said with a long sigh, “Your great kindness cannot be repaid with just thank you; today, were it not for Hu Daxia [great hero] upholding justice to help, we brothers would definitely die without a burial site.”

Hu Tiehua looked at him, and then he looked at Shi Tuo. Astonished, he said, “You are brothers?”

Wang Chong replied, “Although not flesh and blood, we are as close as one’s hands and feet.”

“So, you knew each other?” Hu Tiehua asked in surprise.

Wang Chong sighed and said, “Zaixia’s roaming far and wide, it is precisely to look for him. Say … it has been nearly twenty years.”

Hu Tiehua’s gaze was fixed on the sword in Wang Chong’s palm; he suddenly laughed and said, “Over the last twenty years, no one in Jianghu has been able to see authentic Huashan School’s swordsmanship. Gexia’s ‘startling the rainbow piercing the sun’ just now really could be considered Wulin’s vanishing sound.”

Wang Chong’s countenance seemed to be slightly changed; forcing a laugh, he said, “Hu Daxia overpraised me.”

Hu Tiehua’s gaze was burning, he stared at his face and said with a smile, “According to what Zaixia understands, even when the Huashan Jian Pai [sword sect] was at its peak many years ago, the number of people who could unleash this ‘startling the rainbow piercing the sun’ exquisitely like this is no more than a few. And among the Huashan master swordsmen, definitely there was no one by the name of ‘Wang Chong’. Isn’t it time for Gexia to tell me your real surname and given name?”

Humming and hawing, Wang Chong said, “Zaixia is just an insignificant soldier in Jianghu, why would Gexia want …”

Hu Tiehua did not let him continue; he laughed aloud and said, “Until now, Gexia is still unwilling to show your true colors to me? You ought to know that although surname and given name can be hidden from other people, sword technique cannot.”

Wang Chong was silent for a very long time. Finally he sighed deeply, and said with a wry smile, “Zaixia owes my life to Hu Daxia, I really dare not to use empty words to deceive.”

He paused for a moment before continuing, “To be quite honest, Zaixia’s original surname is Liu [willow], little name Yanfei [lit. flying smoke] …”

“Liu Yanfei,” Hu Tiehua blurted out, “Could it be the ‘Shen Long Xiao Jianke’ [Divine Dragon Young (or little) Swordsman], with the most resounding reputation outside of the Huashan Seven Swords, the last disciple of Huashan Pai Zhangmen Zhenren [sect headmaster ‘real person’, indicating that he was a Taoist spiritual master] of the former years?”

Liu Yanfei laughed bitterly; he choked and stopped his tears before saying with a sigh, “Years have passed, the young lad of the olden days now has both his temples graying.”

Hu Tiehua’s eyes flashing, he cast Shi Tuo a glance, and said, “Since Gexia is Liu Daxia, then he …”

Liu Yanfei seemed to have made a great determination; he spoke word-by-word, “He is my Da Shixiong [first/oldest martial brother] Huangfu Gao.”

Hu Tiehua was emotionally moved; he said, “Could it be that he is the head of the ‘Huashan Seven Swords’, whose chivalry spread across eight provinces, none of the Wulin people under the heavens did not revere him, the ‘Renyi Jianke’ [Benevolent and Righteous Swordsman]?”

“Precisely,” Liu Yanfei replied sadly.

Hu Tiehua cast ‘Shi Tuo’ another glance; he saw his eyes were looking blankly into the distance, he still seemed to see nothing, to hear nothing.

How could this svelte, rising swordsman of the former years become like this? Hu Tiehua could not refrain from grieving for him, from heaving a deep sigh on his behalf. He could not help asking, “What enmity did the Stone Guanyin have against Huangfu Daxia? Why did she hurt him this badly?”

Liu Yanfei sighed and said, “The twists and turns in this story are complicated and not easy to express succinctly. Not only Huangfu Dage was harmed by her that he became a crippled, our Huashan Pai’s several hundred years of foundation was also destroyed under this … this demon’s hands.”

Hu Tiehua was silent for half a day. He spoke slowly, “Now, you have finally found him; what are you going to do?”

Hanging his head low, Liu Yanfei said, “I … I …” His voice choked with sobs, hot tears seemed to be about to burst out of the sockets of his eyes.

Hu Tiehua suddenly grabbed his hands and spoke loudly, “Don’t you want revenge?”

“Revenge … revenge …” Liu Yanfei mumbled.

He repeated these two words [bao chou] nobody knows how many times; finally tears flowed from his eyes. Suddenly he threw himself heavily into Hu Tiehua’s hands and hissed, “Do you know why my Huangfu Dage is willing to reduce himself to associate with camels and horses?”

Hu Tiehua sighed and said, “I have long been able to see that he must have a hidden anguish that is difficult to explain.”

Liu Yanfei said, “He is living incognito, suffering in silence, precisely because he is unwilling to take revenge.”

Hu Tiehua was taken aback. “Why?” he could not help asking.

Liu Yanfei replied, “Because he knew that with our strength, to take revenge is simply nothing more than striking a stone with an egg. He did not want our Huashan’s arteries and veins to be cut off at this point; he also could not bear to see all Huashan disciples completely die out.”

Princess Pipa has been coming over, this moment she suddenly said, “Huashan’s disciples, are they still alive now?”

Liu Yanfei mournfully said, “Really hardly any survived.”

Princess Pipa coldly said, “Oh! Turns out there are still a few; I thought they all died long ago.”

Liu Yanfei’s countenance changed, he cracked, “You …”

Princess Pipa did not let him continue; she laughed coldly and went on, “In the past, the ‘Huashan Seven Swords’ crisscrossed the Jianghu; what a prestige, what a glory. Whenever the Jianghu people mentioned ‘Huashan Pai’, three characters, who would dare not to withdraw somewhat? Even I, an ordinary citizen outside the sphere of civilization, have long admired Huashan’s elegant style, but now …”

She shook her head and sighed. “But now Jianghu people nearly forget that there is this ‘Huashan Pai’ name in Wulin. Even if all Huashan disciples are still alive, is there any difference than being dead?”

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