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The Vast Desert Chapter 6

CSI

Chapter 6 – Saving Others Harming Self

With eyes opened wide, Hu Tiehua stared blankly for half a day; finally he smiled wryly and said, “Turns out they were using disguising skill, plus unexpectedly the technique was not inferior to Chu Liuxiang’s. There is such talent in the desert, we really did not expect it.”

He spoke those words to Ji Bingyan, but he had not finished speaking, Ji Bingyan already walked away.

Hu Tiehua did not have any choice but to walk back either. He saw that although those more than a dozen sheepskin bags were pierced, the water inside had not completely leaked out.

Ji Bingyan and Xiao Pan already untied all the sheepskin bags down and lay them flat on the ground, with the side with the holes facing up. Each bag still had at least half of its content remained.

Hu Tiehua spoke in great delight, “Turns out those two men delivered their lives in vain; they have not harmed us at all, we still have water to drink.”

Ji Bingyan did not say anything, but he picked up the water bag and poured the water onto the ground.

Greatly shocked, Hu Tiehua said, “What are you doing?”

Ji Bingyan still did not say anything. But Chu Liuxiang came over and spoke in heavy voice, “The secret projectiles are poisonous, the poison is already dissolving into the water, naturally the water is not drinkable.”

Hu Tiehua staggered two steps back and nearly fell to the ground.

Chu Liuxiang said, “I found the needle cylinder with which they shot the secret projectiles; the structure is complex, unexpectedly it does not seem to be inferior to the ‘Jiu Tian Shi Di, Tian Mo Shen Hui’ [lit. nine heavens ten earths, devil and deity met] whose name shook the land under heaven in the past. I really cannot think of anybody in Jianghu who could manufacture such secret projectiles?”

He spread out his palms, showing a dark metal tube on each hand.

Ji Bingyan only cast a glance, and spoke indifferently, “Let’s leave this matter until the evening before we talk some more about it, now we must leave without delay!”

He still did not even cast a glance toward Hu Tiehua. Hu Tiehua finally could not help jumping up and calling out loudly, “This is entirely my bad; it was me who love to meddle in someone else’s business, it was me who was blind. You … why don’t you scold me? You don’t want to talk? If you reprimand me severely, I would feel better instead.”

Finally Ji Bingyan turned his head around, he calmly looked at Hu Tiehua, and slowly said, “You want me to scold you?”

Hu Tiehua replied, “You don’t scold me, you are a muddled egg [i.e. b@stard].”

Still Ji Bingyan’s countenance did not change. Slowly mounting the camel, he spoke indifferently, “Why should I scold you? Saving people is always a good thing. Besides, the one who is blind is not just you alone, the one being fooled is not just you alone either.”

This time Hu Tiehua was really stunned; he was speechless for a long time.

Chu Liuxiang came over from behind, patted his shoulder, and said with a smile, “This Dead Rooster is not as repulsive as you think at all, is it?”

That night, Hu Tiehua was copying Shi Tuo, sitting under the glittering starlight, sitting on the sand of the desert, which heat had already been totally dispersed, sitting in the boundless frigid air. The air no longer carried the aroma of garlic, onion and beef and mutton.

Because what they had left was nothing more than a bag of water, which never left Ji Bingyan’s side.

Without water, there would be no hot dish, no enjoyment, no life.

Shi Tuo sat not too far away. After this incident, although he did not see anything, although he did not hear anything, it was as if he had also changed.

It was as if his eternally as-straight-as-a-ramrod body has withered; his face, which was rough as if it was a carved stone, also become like it was suddenly full of dread and restlessness.

But Hu Tiehua did not notice this change in him at all.

Hu Tiehua was just blaming himself, he was just angry at himself.

There was a crystal lantern inside the tent. The lantern light was as gentle and soft as the starlight. Under such a gentle and soft starlight, the topic of Chu Liuxiang and Ji Bingyan’s discussion was not the slightest bit gentle and soft at all.

Under the lantern light, the dark needle cylinder looked particularly hideous and grim. Looking at the needle cylinder, Chu Liuxiang sighed bitterly and said, “This is indeed one of the few types of the most terrifying secret projectiles that I have seen in all my life. I think, only three people on earth are capable to create such secret projectiles.”

“Three people?” Ji Bingyan asked.

Chu Liuxiang said, “The first is the Zhangmen Ren [headmaster] of the Tang Men [Tang School] in Shu [short name for Sichuan]. The second is Zhu Lao Xiansheng [old mister] of the Jiangnan [i.e. south of Changjiang (Yangtze River)] Jiu Qu Tang [lit. nine-bent dyke]. These two naturally would never come to the desert.”

“That’s right,” Ji Bingyan replied, “And the last one?”

Chu Liuxiang smiled slightly and said, “The last one is me. But these secret projectiles can’t possibly be created by me.”

Ji Bingyan did not show the slightest bit of smiling expression, not even in his eyes. He spoke word-by-word, “Although you only know three people, but I think there must be the fourth person. It’s just that who this person is, you and I don’t know it; that’s all.”

Chu Liuxiang was silent for half a day. He sighed and said, “To be able to create such a secret projectile is not terrifying at all. The terrifying thing is that this person unexpectedly can make his subordinates delightedly die for him.”

Ji Bingyan asked, “Do you think this is absolutely not that opponent of yours, Hei Zhenzhu?”

“Absolutely not,” Chu Liuxiang replied, “Hei Zhenzhu is not that powerful, he is not that ruthless either.”

Ji Bingyan said, “Who do you think this person is?”

Pondering deeply, Chu Liuxiang said, “I think, this person may be an extremely formidable friend of the dark road [i.e. criminal/underworld] from the Central Plains who went out of the Pass; perhaps the chief of roving bandits of the desert. He is not targeting me, Chu Liuxiang, at all, nor is he targeting you, Ji Bingyan. He is simply regarding us as a group of ‘fat sheep’, he just wanted to scrape some grease [fig. ill-gotten gains] from us.”

“Hmm!” Ji Bingyan responded.

Chu Liuxiang went on, “He has calculated accurately that we would pass this way, hence he laid out this trap in here beforehand; perhaps originally he wanted to take our lives, but when those two men discovered that we are not ordinary merchants, afraid that one strike would not succeed, at the last moment they changed plan, instead of shooting at the person, they shot at the water bags.”

He smiled wryly and went on, “He wanted to wait until we are so thirsty, half dead and not alive, and then he’ll come to make his move. At that time we won’t even have the strength to fight back; wouldn’t it mean we could only let him slaughter us?”

Ji Bingyan pensively said, “Perhaps he basically did not want to kill us with one move at all; he simply wanted us to live and suffer hardship slowly.”

Knitting his brows, Chu Liuxiang asked, “What makes you think so? You …”

He stopped abruptly, just because he suddenly discovered that this moment, Ji Bingyan’s reserved, cold and detached eyes unexpectedly seemed to hide enormous fear and uneasiness.

This was indeed something that Ji Bingyan had never shown before. Something that could make someone like him afraid and uneasy must be something that was gravely terrifying.

Chu Liuxiang immediately started to feel uneasy as well; he tried to sound him out, “Could it be that you already guess who this person is?”

Ji Bingyan seemed to want to say something, but after casting a quick glance toward Shi Tuo sitting outside the tent, immediately he held back whatever it was he was going to say. Instead, he laughed and said, “No matter who this person is, if he thinks that he could kill us with thirst, he is wrong.”

Chu Liuxiang did not press on the issue either; he also laughed and said, “With you here, I have never been afraid of dying of thirst.”

Ji Bingyan laughed and said, “I know that in just over a hundred li, there is a secret water spring. Before sundown tomorrow, we will be able to reach that place. I did not say it before because I want Hu Tiehua to feel anxious.”

He laughed and lay down. Very soon it was like he was asleep.

But Chu Liuxiang quietly went out of the tent to sit by Hu Tiehua’s side. He did not come to talk with Hu Tiehua, he just wanted to sit closer to observe that mysterious, strange man.

He had a faint feeling that maybe the secret hidden inside the rock-like breast of Shi Tuo was ten times more terrifying than those seeing-blood-sealing-the-throat poisonous needles.

The next day, Ji Bingyan divided the remaining water into five equal parts; he spoke indifferently, “There is only so much water. You can drink it all in one breath right now, or you can save it for later. Anyway, this little bit of water can only support you two or three days at best.”

Hu Tiehua looked at the empty water bag; he shouted, “This is the water that you saved; I am not going to drink.”

He turned around and was about to walk away, Chu Liuxiang pulled him back and said with a laugh, “You must not act in a fit of pique at Ji Bingyan; if you do, you are going to be fooled.”

Suddenly Hu Tiehua also roared in laughter; he said, “I am not that angry at him. Last night, I heard him boasting that today we are going to find water. It’s just that I still have a pot of wine with me; why would I want to drink the potable water from this fading out bird?”

Unconsciously Ji Bingyan also laughed. Xiao Pan looked at these three arm-in-arm friends together, suddenly he felt that he was also a hundred times more courageous.

Going with such three men, what did he have to fear? Only Shi Tuo’s countenance grew more and more gloomy. He was a man without any eyes, but it was as if he could see the danger that no one else could see.

Ji Bingyan only waved his hand, Shi Tuo immediately made the caravan stop. The camel crouched down, Hu Tiehua jumped from the camel hump, but immediately ran toward Ji Bingyan, asking, “It was you who wanted Shi Tuo to stop, wasn’t it?”

“That’s right,” Ji Bingyan replied.

“You just waved your hand, and he understood what you mean?” Hu Tiehua asked.

“Hmm!” Ji Bingyan replied.

Hu Tiehua cried out, “But you said he is blind and deaf; how could he see it?”

Ji Bingyan laughed indifferently and said, “I have a way to make him know what I mean.”

“What seeing-ghost method do you have?” Hu Tiehua asked, “Why not tell me?”

“You really cannot see?” Ji Bingyan asked.

“Only Wang Ba Dan [b@stard/s.o.b.] can see,” Hu Tiehua replied.

Ji Bingyan turned toward Chu Liuxiang, “What about you?” he asked.

Chu Liuxiang slowly said, “You use a small pebble to convey your orders. If you want the caravan to stop, you use the pebble to hit Shi Tuo’s left shoulder. If you want the caravan to move, you hit his right shoulder.”

He smiled slightly, looked at Hu Tiehua with a laugh, and said, “The method really isn’t only Wang Ba Dan can see it, is it?”

Hu Tiehua raised both hands with palms up; smiling ruefully, he said, “You are not Wang Ba Dan, I am. I just found out that I really do not look much smarter than Wang Ba Dan.”

It was a piece of land with yellow sand, no different to any other places in the desert. The only thing catching their attention was a tree.

The tree grew near a weathered rock, and had long since withered.

Hu Tiehua looked for half a day; he could not help asking, “There’s water here?”

“Hmm!” Ji Bingyan replied.

Stroking his head, Hu Tiehua asked, “Where’s the water? Did you see it?”

He grabbed Chu Liuxiang and asked, “Tell me honestly, have you seen it?”

Muttering to himself irresolutely, Chu Liuxiang said, “I heard there are many secret water sources in the desert; they are hidden underground.”

“That’s right,” Ji Bingyan said, “You …”

He looked at Hu Tiehua, wanted to talk, and whatever he was going to say naturally would not be anything good. But before he even started, Hu Tiehua already raised his hands and said, “No need to say anything. I admit I don’t know anything, all right?”

He stroked his head and said with a laugh, “I am not too smart to begin with. But somehow with these two people, I become an idiot. Could it be that I am infected by someone else’s stupidity illness?”

Xiao Pan was unable to stop laughing; he said, “If Hu Ye is really infected by stupidity illness, you must have caught it from me.”

Ji Bingyan spoke with straight face, “How could you infect him? He is much more stupid than you are.” Before he finished speaking, he could not stop from laughing himself.

But they could not laugh for long – they have spent one sichen digging for the underground water source, who would have thought that there was not even one drop of water underground.

Ji Bingyan was staring blankly like a stone statue.

Hu Tiehua wiped the sweats on his forehead. He wanted to say some witty remark, to have a bit of laugh, but noticing Ji Bingyan’s expression, he recalled the impending crisis. How could he still have something to say? How could he still have something to laugh about?

Trying hard to make the tone of his voice as neutral as possible, Chu Liuxiang said, “Think again, perhaps you got the place wrong?”

Ji Bingyan jumped and roared, “You don’t trust me?”

Chu Liuxiang knew that this moment Ji Bingyan’s heart must be ten times more uncomfortable than anybody else; he could not bear to say anything anymore.

But it was as if Ji Bingyan suddenly turned limp; he leaned, nearly reclined – on the withered tree.

Xiao Pan laughed apologetically, “Sometimes underground water sources could suddenly dry up, sometimes they might suddenly be diverted. This is Laotianye’s playing jokes on us, there is nothing we can do.”

“I know,” Chu Liuxiang replied.

Ji Bingyan looked at Chu Liuxiang. In the end he spoke sadly, “Please don’t blame me, my …”

Chu Liuxiang smiled and said, “I know your mood. If I were you, not only I would vent my anger just like you, I might even throw a bigger temper tantrum.”

Hu Tiehua laughed heartily and said, “That’s right! When one is feeling unwell, if he does not vent his anger to good friend, whom could he vent his anger to? If the good friend cannot understand him, then who could understand him?”

Xiao Pan looked at these three; suddenly he felt as if his throat tightened. Choking, he said, “If Xiaoren might be so bold as to speak something, whoever could make friends with Chu Ye and Hu Ye, he is indeed the luckiest man in the world.”

Right this moment, suddenly they heard a burst of rapid hoof beats coming over.

Hu Tiehua was startled; he wanted to go up to meet these people, but Chu Liuxiang pulled him back and spoke heavily, “At this very moment, we definitely must not rush indiscriminately into action. Let’s quietly watch for changes first.”

On the other side, Ji Bingyan, Xiao Pan, and Shi Tuo already pulled the camels into the depression in the sand – just now they were looking for water source everywhere, hence the excavation area on the sand was quite big.

In front of the depression, there was a pile of rocks blocking the view from the opposite side. In this desert stretching as far as the eye can see, there won’t be a better hiding place than this.

Chu Liuxiang and Hu Tiehua had just gone into hiding, they saw several strong horses galloping over; their shadow was prominent in the midst of the yellow sand filling the sky.

These several horses were running like crazy, the riders were crouching low on the horseback, as if they were fleeing some extremely terrifying pursuing troops. But as far as the eye could see, under the sun gradually sinking to the west, brilliant like the gold – other than these several horses, there was no shadow of any men and horses behind them.

“What’s going on?” Hu Tiehua blurted out, “What are these people running away from?”

Ji Bingyan’s countenance sank terrifyingly; he spoke heavily, “The desert often has some extremely secretive matters; as long as it does not cause any trouble for us, it would be best to just turn a blind eye, pretend that we don’t see it.”

But the horses were running straight toward them.

“And if it does cause a trouble for us?” Hu Tiehua asked.

Ji Bingyan has not answered, those several galloping-crazily hoses already exhausted their strength and collapsed. The riders rolled on the ground, but then immediately they jumped up.

There were a total of five horses, but there were only four men. All four were dressed in warrior outfit of the Central Plains, appearing to be robust, with sabers hanging on their waist. These four men’s skill did not seem to be weak.

Hu Tiehua practically has never seen anybody in such a sorry state worse than them.

All four had their heads covered entirely in yellow sand; their eyes opened wide, they stared forward while gasping for breath, their face showed that kind of shocked and frightened expression, which really no one could describe.

Seeing their appearance, Hu Tiehua and the others could not help feeling nervous inwardly. “What dreadful thing did these people see? Why are they so scared?”

Suddenly they heard a wild roar; the four men pulled the saber from their waist at the same time, and then as if they were crazy, they brandished the saber, killing and chopping! Unleashing the skill that they cultivated all their life, they used the entire strength of their body.

But they did not have any opponent.

Their sabers were only chopping the dust in the empty air.

They were exhausting their strength, unexpectedly they were only fighting ‘the void’, an enemy that no one could ever chop, that no one could ever fight.

Hu Tiehua could not help asking, “Did these people see ghost?”

Ji Bingyan’s face remained calm and collected; he did not speak.

Xiao Pan shuddered; he spoke with trembling voice, “I hear there is an invisible demon in the desert, specializing in eating people’s heart and liver; they can’t possibly …”

Xiao Pan shut up, but his shudder was more violent.

Hu Tiehua looked to Chu Liuxiang for help, but Chu Liuxiang was staring at Shi Tuo.

This moment unexpectedly this unable-to-hear, unable-to-see man also curled his body into a ball; he was trembling incessantly – but why did he do that?

Hu Tiehua felt his palms cold and moist; unconsciously he was dripping cold sweat – unexpectedly this ruthless desert indeed had so many secretive and terrifying things in it.

Looking over there again, out of the four men, two were already down. The other two would soon have their spirit weary, their strength exhausted; they were gasping for breath like the cattle, but as long as they still had the last bit of strength left, they were unwilling to stop, their saber was dancing even faster.

Ji Bingyan suddenly spoke in heavy voice, “Peng Family’s Saber Technique.”

Chu Liuxiang sighed and said, “I can see that as well. Peng Family’s people, how could they become like this?”

Hu Tiehua looked carefully; he also blurted out, “That’s right! This is indeed the Wu Hu Duan Men Dao [lit. five-tigers-breaking-the-door saber]! Moreover, looking at these four men’s skill in saber technique, they must be important figures [orig. with head and with face] within the Peng Family’s younger generation.”

Ji Bingyan said, “Wu Hu Duan Men Dao has never been taught to anybody outside their family name. These men are most likely Peng Yun’s sons or nephews, the brothers from ‘Peng Men Qi Hu’ [seven tigers of the Peng School]. The one with big beard is perhaps Peng Yihu [lit. one tiger].”

Chu Liuxiang said, “I wonder if ‘Peng Men Qi Hu’ have already inherited Peng Yun’s escort company?”

“Hmm!” Ji Bingyan replied.

Chu Liuxiang said, “If that’s the case, they must be coming here on escort duty.”

“It must be so,” Xiao Pan said, “In the desert, only people from escort company don’t ride camels.”

They heard a roar, one more man fell down.

Hu Tiehua suddenly stood up and loudly said, “Peng Yun’s conduct is not bad, I can’t simply watch his son going crazy and die. I must save him.”

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