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The Vast Desert Chapter 7


Chapter 7 – The Star of Happiness

Ji Bingyan coldly said, “How are you going to save him? Have you saved him?”

Hu Tiehua was ready to jump, his tense muscle suddenly relaxed. He stared blankly for half a day, but before he even spoke, the fourth man already fell.

Chu Liuxiang spoke heavily, “If these four men fell just because they are exhausted, they are not going to die. I am afraid …”

Hu Tiehua said, “Whether they are going to die or not, at least we have to take a look first.”

“You can’t go now,” Ji Bingyan said.

“Why?” Hu Tiehua asked.

He puckered his lips and said, “Could it be that these four are also pretending?”

Naturally these four were not expert in deception, because no one could pretend to be like that.

This time Hu Tiehua really stopped to observe and make sure; inwardly he was very sure, but he wanted to see how Ji Bingyan would answer.

Ji Bingyan said, “Naturally these four would not turn crazy for no cause, no reason; right?”

“Naturally someone is harming them,” Hu Tiehua replied.

Ji Bingyan said, “The person who harmed them naturally did not do it for no reason; right?”

“That’s right,” Hu Tiehua replied, “Perhaps he wanted to rob the goods that they are escorting?”

Ji Bingyan said, “Even so, they have fallen now, could it be that those people will not come to harvest the outcome of the battle? If you and I go out this moment, wouldn’t we become the new target of those people?”

Hu Tiehua said, “But if you look out now, there’s not even a shadow of the ghost out there; could it be that those people can really be invisible …”

He had not finished speaking, suddenly he felt a dark shadow flitted across overhead, followed by a sudden gust of wind. An eagle was flying swiftly; it made a few circles in the sky above those men and horses fallen on the ground, and then folding its wings, like a shooting star it dived down and snatched a box from the horseback. Then it soared to the sky again, spreading its two large wings, and very soon it became just a dark dot in the bluish-green sky.

The eagle came so quickly, but it left even quicker. Before Hu Tiehua even figured out what happened, it had already flown until even its shadow disappeared.

Chu Liuxiang sighed and said, “Such a meticulous plan, such a formidable trick. Without even one person had to make his move, the box of goods under the Peng School’s Seven Tigers’ protection is already snatched away.”

“Do you think there are jewels inside that box?” Hu Tiehua asked.

Chu Liuxiang smiled wryly and said, “If not jewels, could it be pork fat?”

Hu Tiehua said, “A piece of fat is a bit more logical. Otherwise, even if the eagle was sent by those people, how would it recognize the box as containing some jewels?”

Chu Liuxiang shook his head and said with a sigh, “Naturally there is a special mark on the box that the eagle could recognize. Naturally the eagle had been trained well. You can’t think about this?”

Hu Tiehua was stunned. Smiling wryly, he said, “Apparently my stupidity illness is getting more and more serious.”

Ji Bingyan said, “These people already succeeded, they are not likely to come here soon. If you want to take a look, you can go now.”

Of the four men, three already died, only the last one to fall, the one with big beard, still had his chest heaving, although it was extremely weak; it appeared that the movement could stop any moment.

Hu Tiehua pried his mouth open, he poured the remaining half a pot of wine down the man’s throat. The heart that was about to stop completely began to beat again.

Hu Tiehua hurriedly said, “You are Peng Yihu, aren’t you? What exactly happened to you?”

The man opened his eyes. Hu Tiehua only felt that his eyes were still full of horror. But Chu Liuxiang could see that the pupil of his eyes was strangely enlarged; they were at least double their original size. He was gasping for breath, he was struggling to move, as if he wanted to stand up, but he could not move even one finger; his entire body, from top to bottom, no longer had the slightest amount of strength.

Hu Tiehua wiped the sweat on his face and shouted, “Speak up! Can you still talk?”

The man’s Adam’s apple was moving up and down; finally, from the parched lips he spat out a weak croak, it was unlike human’s voice at all. It was merely some kind of almost-silent scream, a shout of despair, “Demons, demons, thousands, hundreds of demons … kill … kill!”

Hu Tiehua’s sweats were pouring more and more, “There are no demons here! Where’s the demon?” he cried out.

The man’s empty eyes stared straight ahead, he hissed, “Don’t think that you can steal it from me! You … you …” Suddenly he jumped out of Hu Tiehua’s arms and rushed forward. But he only rushed for two steps before he fell face down, and would never be able to move again.

Hu Tiehua’s wine has stirred up the last shred of strength remaining in his body.

Now, he had used up even this last shred of strength.

Xiao Pan’s entire body went limp as he crumpled to the ground, and spoke in trembling voice, “He saw it. He saw the invisible demon. It’s right here. Run … if we don’t run for our lives immediately, I am afraid it will be too late.”

Although Hu Tiehua understood that he was babbling nonsense, he could not help shuddering as well. He looked at Shi Tuo’s rough-like-a-rock face again; unexpectedly it also started to shed beads of sweat.

Ji Bingyan squatted by one of the corpses, which he has been carefully examined for a long time. It was only this moment that he slowly rose, but he did not speak for a long, long time.

“Have you found out the cause of their death?” Chu Liuxiang asked.

Ji Bingyan replied slowly, “Exhaustion, weakening muscle. It seems like they had been hit by some strange poison. The toxicity is somewhat similar to cannabis or opium poppy; it did not kill, but it could make people losing their sanity.”

Pondering deeply, Chu Liuxiang said, “Probably the person who harmed them is the same person who harmed us. The method they are using is the same; he made them without water to drink first. Oftentimes people who are about to die are hallucinating.”

“Mirage is one of those hallucinations,” Ji Bingyan said.

Chu Liuxiang said, “But before that, they were already hit by some kind of poison; therefore, they were seeing things in their eyes, like thousands and hundreds of demons were attacking them, so they ran desperately, until they could not run anymore, and then they would fight with all their might, until they ran out of the last shred of strength.”

Hu Tiehua said, “We … if we don’t have water to drink, would we become like them?”

Chu Liuxiang and Ji Bingyan did not answer this question.

Hu Tiehua looked at them, and then he looked at the dead bodies on the ground, and he was unable to speak.

As far as the eye could see, there was only yellow sand. Boundless, endless yellow sand. There was no water, no life, and there was no hope either.

The torrid heat of the day was finally over.

They carried the dead bodies of men and horses into the depression on the sand, and buried them in the sand. And then, they just sat on the rocks, waiting for the starlight to rise.

Nobody spoke. Nobody had the mood to speak.

“Now, what should we do? Where could we find water?”

These questions were playing over and over in Hu Tiehua’s mind, but he did not say it out loud. Because he knew that even if he said it, no one could answer it.

Weakening muscles, exhaustion … all kinds of fatal sensations were coming along with the night.

Xiao Pan wanted to eat the dry food, but Ji Bingyan knocked it off his hand. “You must not eat. If you do, the thirst will be even more unbearable.”

Hu Tiehua rubbed his chest. Suddenly he laughed and said, “Just now when I dragged Peng Yihu, I felt that there was a lump on his shoulder; round and hard, like an egg. Tell me, don’t you think it’s strange?”

He was just trying to find anything to talk about. He himself knew that this topic was extremely senseless.

Ji Bingyan suddenly stood up and walked over to Shi Tuo. He held Shi Tuo’s hands. The two held each other’s hands like this, sitting in front of each other – for a long time. Neither one moved.

Shi Tuo’s countenance seemed to be more frightening than the gradually deepening darkness.

Hu Tiehua could not help asking, “Do you know what they are doing?”

“They are talking,” Chu Liuxiang replied.

“Talking?” Hu Tiehua asked in surprise.

Chu Liuxiang said, “Talking to a deaf, mute, and blind person, naturally it can only be done with unusual method, like perhaps making signs in each other’s palm to convey what’s in their mind.”

Hu Tiehua sighed and said, “The bottom line is that you are a ghost spirit; you know everything.”

Smiling wryly, Chu Liuxiang said, “I wish I knew what they are talking about.”

Finally Ji Bingyan came back, his expression was even graver. He sat down beside Chu Liuxiang and was silent for a long time before he suddenly said, “The person who is harming us now is the same person who harmed Shi Tuo many years ago.”

Hu Tiehua was startled. But Chu Liuxiang unhurriedly said, “This fact, I already thought about it last night.”

Hu Tiehua cried out, “Who actually is this person?”

Ji Bingyan sighed and said, “Shi Tuo is dead set against telling me the name of this person. As far as I know, not only this person’s martial art skill is frighteningly powerful, under his command, there are several hundreds people willing to die for him immediately.”

Hu Tiehua said, “His martial art skill is high, I am not afraid of. His subordinates many, I am not scared either. But that kind of sneaky poison needles of his – is really unbearable for me.”

He sprang up and roared, “Now, not only I have no idea how he is going to deal with me, I don’t even know what he looks like. If I get killed by him, I feel that I have been wronged.”

Ji Bingyan coldly said, “If you could stay calm, perhaps you won’t have to die.”

Hu Tiehua dejectedly sat down. Grabbing his head, he said, “It seems that I am going crazy too, you guys just ignore me.”

Ji Bingyan was silent for half a day. He spoke heavily, “Right now, our greatest difficulty is not water, but this person. With Shi Tuo and me, we will eventually find water. But this person …”

He sighed, and then continued, “This person already looked upon us, he will definitely not let us off. The current situation is either we destroy him or he destroys us.”

Chu Liuxiang said, “Could it be that we cannot avoid him first? Find Hei Zhenzhu, and then go look for him.”

Ji Bingyan said word-by-word, “No one can avoid him. In this matter, before the conclusion is reached, we can forget about doing anything else. Not to mention that he might be Hei Zhenzhu, coming to deal with you.”

Chu Liuxiang heaved a deep sigh. He pondered for half a day, suddenly he laughed and said, “Since that’s the case, we will stake everything to fight him. Besides, we don’t need to fear him; we have met opponents more formidable than him, right?”

Hu Tiehua suddenly raised his head; clapping his hands, he said with a laugh, “Now, that is what Chu Liuxiang should say. This is practically the first time in two days that I hear the first human speech.”

Knitting his brows, Ji Bingyan said, “However, how are we …”

He suddenly stopped talking. Chu Liuxiang and Hu Tiehua did not make any noise either.

Although all three men were sitting still, but like three sabers still inside the scabbard, their whole body was brimming with danger, it could take somebody else’s life at any moment.

When they were in this kind of situation, if you are smart, it would be best not to provoke them.

Someone came. In fact, more than twenty shadows swarmed over from all directions, their footsteps were as light as a cat, when they stepped on the sand, there was no noise.

But how could they hide from Hu Tiehua, Ji Bingyan and Chu Liuxiang? Very quickly the three men exchanged glances; unanimous decision was immediately made, “Using stillness to control movement, quietly watching, waiting for changes.”

Although no one spoke, these three were old comrade-in-arms who had gone to battle side by side for nobody knows how many time in the past; naturally there was some kind of tacit understanding between them that no other people could match.

Thereupon they hung their heads down, as if they were dozing off.

Very quickly the more than twenty shadows surrounded them in the middle, but they acted as if they were not aware at all. These more than twenty men felt a little strange instead.

These men were wearing skintight black clothes, with black piece of cloth wrapped around their head; every one’s movement was very vigorous, evidently not a single one of them was not a dangerous character.

These men exchanged some hand signals, and then one of them spoke in heavy voice, “Gentlemen, if you are smart, it would be best for you to sit quietly without making any move, even your hands must not be raised. I don’t want to scare you, but as soon as you move, you will lose your life.”

He spoke very slowly, as if he did not want to frighten other people, but this was the most formidable strategy; any Jianghu veteran would know that using this kind of tone of voice could be most frightening to other people.

Chu Liuxiang, Ji Bingyan and Hu Tiehua naturally did not move. Shi Tuo could not possibly move even more. Only Xiao Pan did not dare to move because he was scared for real.

In the dark, they could vaguely see every one of these men was holding something that emitted black, dark green light. Naturally these were the deadly secret projectiles.

The person speaking walked over in large strides; he went on, “Very well; you are all very sensible. Now, take that thing out.”

It was only then did Chu Liuxiang raise his eyes; he stammered, “Everything is on the camelback, whatever Da Wangye [master big king; ‘big king’ is how people usually address a robber] wants, just take it!”

The man laughed coldly and said, “You don’t need to act stupid. Naturally you know what I want?”

Chu Liuxiang said, “I … I really don’t know.”

The man angrily said, “You are acting stupid again.”

He casually sent out a palm to slap Chu Liuxiang. Following his hand, Chu Liuxiang toppled over; but the man striking was stunned instead.

This palm strike of his clearly hit the other party, but it felt like it was hitting empty air. Clearly it struck the other party’s face, but it felt as if the palm did not hit anything that reacted to his force.

Looking at his shocked appearance, Hu Tiehua was delighted and amused at the same time, “Unexpectedly you wanted to strike Chu Liuxiang. If you really hit him, you would have lost your life early on.”

The man in black also knew in his heart that something was not right, the tone of his voice eased up as he said, “Our mission is just to get that thing. When we have the thing in our hands, the mission is accomplished, we will immediately leave; we will absolutely not going to harm you.”

He laughed and said, “You see, if we really wanted to kill you, wouldn’t we already do it early on?”

Chu Liuxiang also knew that what he said was the truth; these people’s mission must be separate from the previous men. They were only responsible to deal with the ‘Seven Tigers of Peng School’. Without receiving the order beforehand, they definitely did not dare to harm others – he knew that the few men on his side was not in immediate danger, thereupon his heart was even more at ease.

The man in black waited for half a day without seeing any response, so he continued, “Therefore, as long as you hand over that thing, not only I will guarantee that we won’t harm even a strand of your hair, we won’t take any of your stuff, moreover … we can also give you a pot of water.”

When he said that, clearly he already made great determination; it was no longer a threat but a compromise, an enticement. Clearly this ‘thing’ was very important. If they failed to obtain this ‘thing’, evidently when they returned, they would have to face capital punishment.

The enticement of ‘water’ was really not a small matter. If Chu Liuxiang, Ji Bingyan and Hu Tiehua knew about this ‘thing’, perhaps they might really make the exchange.

It’s a pity that they really did not know.

Hu Tiehua sighed and said, “What exactly do you want? Just say it, I will give it to you. Now, I don’t care how many precious things to want in exchange for a pot of water, I will definitely agree.”

The man in black stared at him with eyes open wide, “You really don’t know?” he asked.

“Whoever know what this seeing-ghost thing is, is a Wang Ba Gao Zi [variant of ‘wang ba dan’ – s.o.b./b@stard],” Hu Tiehua shot back.

Chu Liuxiang snickered inwardly; he mused, “Unexpectedly this kid still cannot forget to curse even until now.”

But the man in black did not realize the slightest bit that he was actually cursing them as Wang Ba Gao Zi; his countenance sank, he said, “Could it be that you guys did not find anything from the corpses?”

“Aiyo!” Hu Tiehua cried out, “Laotian [God/Heavens], even if we are more wretched [orig. muddled-egg (scoundrel/b@stard)] than this, we would never think about stealing from dead people!” [Translator’s note: I don’t understand Chinese people’s fascination with ‘eggs’ (and ‘birds’), but it seems to me that those words are bad words.]

By saying that, he was cursing the other side again; moreover, he was cursing without using obscenity.

This time, the man in black finally understood that this was tantamount to cursing him as ‘muddled-egg’. He angrily said, “You still don’t want to confess. All right! Search them!”

Immediately Hu Tiehua’s entire body tensed up; he was about to explode. But Chu Liuxiang pulled him back and spoke indifferently, “Let them search; they won’t find anything anyway.”

This moment several men in black sprang up from the darkness and searched their bodies thoroughly. Hu Tiehua struggled hard to suppress his anger; he did not understand why Chu Liuxiang would be this patient.

But Ji Bingyan understood, “Now Chu Liuxiang violated his own old habit; finally he could not bear his curiosity. If he did not look to the bottom of this matter, to understand everything clearly, how could he be willing to make his move?”

No matter where, no matter who he was dealing with, unless it was absolutely necessary, no way would Chu Liuxiang be willing to make his move; he was not a man who like to start a fight.

Finished searching the people, the men in black searched the camels; naturally they did not find that ‘thing’. One of them thought for a bit, then suddenly said, “Maybe that thing is still on the Seven Tigers of the Peng Family’s bodies.”

Thereupon, they unexpectedly dug out the corpses that had been buried in the ground. They used their saber to poke around on the clothes on the corpses. Hu Tiehua clenched his teeth; he turned his head away. But he heard one of them said, “These people don’t have it on them either.”

The leader of the men in black was a bit flustered as well. Stomping his foot, he said, “Impossible! Search again! If we can’t find it, when we return, how will we report it?”

All the men in black’s eyes revealed panic and fear. They searched again, but they still could not find it. They were growing more and more anxious that they practically forgot to watch Chu Liuxiang and the others.

Ji Bingyan’s eyes flickered; suddenly he spoke slowly, “What exactly are you looking for? Why don’t you tell us? Perhaps we can help.”

The man in black already panicked; he blurted out, “The Star of Happiness.”

Hu Tiehua could not help asking, “What is this Star of Happiness?”

The man in black replied, “I don’t know either. I only knew that among the goods that the Seven Tigers of the Peng Family escorted, there is the most precious article called the Star of Happiness.”

Disappointed, Hu Tiehua sighed and said, “I thought it was some extraordinary thing, turns out it’s no more than a piece of jewelry.”

No matter how precious the jewel was, in their eyes, it was nothing.

The man in black said, “We received order to come here and snatched the box according to the plan. Who would have thought that unexpectedly that Star of Happiness is not in the box …”

In a moment of desperation, he revealed everything.

Ji Bingyan suddenly said, “If I know where this Star of Happiness is, are you willing to exchange it for water?”

The man in black was startled but anxious at the same time, “Of course!” he shouted.

Ji Bingyan spoke slowly, “Do you really have the water?”

The man in black replied, “Of course we do.”

“Where is it?” Ji Bingyan asked, “Let me see.”

His countenance changed, the man in black said, “Could it be that you are still suspicious of me?”

Ji Bingyan thought for a moment; he said, “All right, I believe you this time. I’ll give you the Star of Happiness first, but the water …”

Greatly delighted, the man in black said, “As long as you have the Star of Happiness, water definitely won’t be a problem.”

Watching from the side, Hu Tiehua’s belly was full of questions. He did not understand how Ji Bingyan could trust other people this easily; he did not understand even more how Ji Bingyan could get the Star of Happiness.

After all, they had not even seen the shadow of this so-called the Star of Happiness.

He saw Ji Bingyan already turned around and walked over; unexpectedly his face seemed to be full of confidence. And then he turned to look at Chu Liuxiang, but Chu Liuxiang was also smiling, without the least bit of anxiety showing on his face.

Hu Tiehua could not help coming over and quietly asked, “Do you really know where the Star of Happiness is?”

Ji Bingyan calmly replied, “Just now when you carried Peng Yihu, you felt something round and hard on his shoulder, didn’t you?”

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