Happy Heroes 23 PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 11 July 2008 11:36

Chapter 22 – Wang Dong’s Secret

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Every person has secrets.

Wang Dong was a person. Therefore, he, too, had a secret. It was hard to believe that someone like Wang Dong could actually have any sort of secret. He had never done anything alone before. In fact, the amount of time he spent off the bed was minimal. Never in Yan Qi’s dreams would he have thought that Wang Dong would also have a secret, yet, the first person who discovered that he had one was Yan Qi. How did he discover this? The very first time he found out about this secret was because he saw a very bizarre object: he saw a kite. A kite, in itself, is not bizarre, but this particular kite brought about many, many extremely strange and astonishing occurrences. Indeed, it could even be said that these incidents were terrifying.

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According to the sequence of the seasons, it should have been spring already. But, you could have looked however you pleased, to the left, to the right, to the east, or to the west, and you still would not have even caught a glimpse of spring’s shadow. It was still very cold. The wind still blew hard, and the snow that had built up was still seven or eight inches thick.

This particular day, it was exceptional that the sun was actually out. Wang Dong, Yan Qi, Guo DaLu, and Lin TaiPing were sunbathing in the courtyard. Like all other penniless chaps, they were never willing to pass up the opportunity to sunbathe. During the frigid days of winter, it could be said that sunbathing is one of the limited enjoyments that the impoverished have. Finding the most comfortable chair, Wang Dong stretched himself out lazily in it beneath the eaves. Lin TaiPing sat on the stone steps beside him, his head propped up by his hands and his eyes staring off into the distance as he pondered over concerns he held in his heart.

Guo DaLu was perplexed. He now knew what Lin TaiPing was thinking about. But what about Yan Qi’s secret? Guo DaLu could not restrain himself as he pulled Yan Qi off to the side and whispered, “You can tell me that secret of yours now?” Since they had returned, this was the seventh or eighth time he had asked that question.

Yan Qi’s answer this time was identical to all the previous instances. “Just wait for a bit.”

Guo DaLu: “When do you want me to wait until?”

Yan Qi: “Until the time that I want to tell you.”

Guo DaLu was growing anxious. “Do you really need to wait until I am on the brink of death before you are willing to say it?”

Yan Qi threw a fierce glare at him, but then, the look in his eyes became very peculiar. After a long while, he asked quietly, “You honestly do not know what secret I was going to tell you?”

Guo DaLu: “If I knew, why would I ask you?”

Yan Qi stared intently at him again for another long period. With an unexpected “pfft,” he burst out into giggles. Shaking his head, he groaned, “What Wang Laoda said really is correct: when this person should be confused, he is actually extremely intelligent, but when it is time for him to be intelligent, he is slower than everyone else.”

Guo DaLu: “I am not a roundworm that lives in your stomach. How would I know what your secret is?”

Yan Qi exhaled a little sigh unexpectedly. “Maybe it is actually good that you do not know.”

Guo DaLu: “What is good about it?”

Yan Qi: “What is not good? Aren’t we really happy right now?”

Guo DaLu: “After I find out, will I become unhappy?”

With another faint sigh, Yan Qi struggled to explain, “Perhaps… perhaps things will change and we will quarrel everyday or maybe even give each other the silent treatment.”

Guo DaLu was gawking at him. Stomping his foot forcefully, he fumed spitefully, “I just don’t understand you. You are normally a very frank and direct person but sometimes you act more awkward and difficult than a girl.”

Yan Qi: “You are the one who is difficult, not me.”

Guo DaLu: “How am I difficult?”

Yan Qi: “Someone doesn’t want to do something, so why must you force that someone to do it?”

Guo DaLu: “Who is this someone?”

Yan Qi: “Someone is me.”

Guo DaLu gave a drawn out sigh. Cradling his head in his arms, he muttered, “He meant himself but he has to say ‘someone.’ Even the intonations of his voice are becoming more and more like a woman. How can this be right?”

Yan Qi suddenly smiled sweetly. Purposely changing the topic, he suddenly wondered, “Why do you think HuoBoPi would leave all of a sudden?”

Guo DaLu had been determined not to respond to his question, but after holding himself back for half a day, he finally could not contain himself. “He, himself, was not the one who wanted to go; it was the old woman who forced him to.”

Yan Qi: “Why?”

Guo DaLu: “Because the old woman was afraid that we would go and investigate her identity and background.”

Yan Qi: “If that is the case, then her identity must be a big secret and the relationship between her and HuoBoPi must be out of the ordinary.”

Guo DaLu: “Mm hm!”

Yan Qi: “Why don’t you go nose around and find out where they have gone into hiding?”

Guo DaLu: “Why should I go find out?”

Yan Qi: “To unearth their secret.”

Guo DaLu: “Why would I need to unearth someone else’s secret? There are some secrets where, no matter how hard you try to dig them up, you will never be successful. But then, when the right time arrives, you will not need to do any digging and you still will know.”

Laughing, Yan Qi pointed out, “If you understand this philosophy, why are you still pressuring me to say it?”

Guo DaLu’s eyes were fixed on Yan Qi. He suddenly sighed, “Because the one I care about is not that old woman; because I only care about you.” Yan Qi turned his head away slowly, like he was intentionally trying to avoid Guo DaLu’s gaze.

The instant he turned his head, he saw a kite – a centipede design kite. It was intricate and realistic so that, as it spiralled and danced in the wind against the blue sky and white clouds, it looked like it was really alive. Yan Qi clapped his hands in delight and called, “Look. What is that?”

Guo DaLu had noticed it as well and was also fascinated by it, but he deliberately put a pout on his face. “It is just a kite. What’s so different about it? Haven’t you ever seen a kite before?”

Yan Qi: “But why would someone fly a kite at this time of the year?”

In an uninterested tone, Guo DaLu stated, “As long as people feel like it, they can fly a kite whenever they please.” In reality, of course he knew that now was not the season for flying kites because, even if someone really wanted to fly one, it certainly would not go very high and possibly not even get airborne. This kite, though, was flying up very high and very steady. The person flying it was surely a master of the skill.

Yan Qi: “Do you know how to make a kite?”

Guo DaLu: “Nope. I only know how to eat.”

Yan Qi blinked excitedly. With a laugh, he said, “I’m sure Wang Laoda knows how… Wang Laoda! Why don’t we make a kite too?” He dashed over to Wang Dong. Suddenly, he stopped in surprise.

Wang Dong had not heard anything he said. He stood there, his eyes wide and bulging, staring straight at that kite. The look in his eyes was extremely peculiar, like he had never before seen a kite. From the expression on his face, it looked as if he thought the kite was a real centipede – a centipede that would eat human flesh. Yan Qi stood stunned as well because he knew that Wang Dong definitely was not one who was frightened easily. Even if he had seen seventy or eighty live centipedes crawling right in front of him, the color in Wang Dong’s face would not change in the slightest. But now, his face looked as white as a sheet of paper.

All of a sudden, the corner of his eye gave a twitch, like he had been pricked by a needle. Yan Qi raised his head. There were another four kites in the sky: a serpent, a scorpion, and an eagle. The largest one, though, was a yellow, four-sided shape. On its surface, written with a bright red brush, were some curvy symbols that nobody could read, like a talisman drawn by a ghost.

Wang Dong jumped to his feet and lurched back into the house looking like he could support himself no longer, like he was going to collapse unconscious at any moment.

By now, Guo DaLu had walked over, and his face carried a flabbergasted look. “What is going on with Wang Laoda?”

Yan Qi exhaled a long breath before answering, “Who knows what is going on with him? The instant he saw those kites, his entire person seemed to change.”

Guo DaLu was even more bewildered. “Once he saw the kites, his whole expression changed?”

Yan Qi: “Mm hm.”

Guo DaLu drew his brow together. “Could there be something special about these kites?” He lifted his head to stare at those kites in the sky, scrutinizing them carefully for a long time, but he could not make a single conclusion. No one would have been able to draw any conclusions from looking up at them in the sky. A kite is a kite; there was nothing different about these ones. Guo DaLu gave in, “Why don’t we go inside and ask Wang Laoda what is going on?”

Yan Qi shook his head. “Asking him is going to be a waste of time. He for sure will not say anything.”

Guo DaLu: “But these kites…”

Yan Qi cut him off. “Did you ever think that the puzzle may not lie in the kites themselves?”

Guo DaLu: “Then where do you think it lies?”

Yan Qi: “With the people who are flying them.”

Guo DaLu clapped his hands together and exclaimed, “That’s right! Wang Laoda may know who are the ones flying these kites.”

Yan Qi: “Those people may be enemies from Wang Dong’s past.”

Lin TaiPing had been listening off to the side the whole time. He suddenly broke in, “I am going to take a look. You guys stay here and await my information.” The sentence had not even finished before he had soared over the wall. Though his actions were usually rather sluggish, when real situations arose, his movements were actually quicker than everyone else’s.

Guo DaLu looked over at Yan Qi. “Why do we have to wait here for his information?” Yan Qi had not lingered to hear him finish his question and was already chasing after Lin TaiPing.

For matters involving their friends, none of them were willing to fall behind.



The kites were flying very high, very steady. Assessing their direction, Yan Qi observed, “From the looks of it, these kites were sent into the sky from the graveyard. I used to always fly kites in a graveyard when I was young.”

Guo DaLu nodded. “When I was a kid, I always flew my kites in a graveyard, too.”

The distance to the graveyard from Wealthy Manor was not far. Very quickly, they had arrived there. The only person there, though, was Lin TaiPing. Guo DaLu queried, “Did you see anything?”

Lin TaiPing: “No. Not even the shadow of a ghost.”

Who had sent the kites up into the air?

Five straw men. Five straw men wearing hemp and mourning apparel. And in one hand, they each held a ku sang bang [*staff of mourning, covered in white; held at a funeral]. The strings of the kites were tied onto the other hand. Naturally, straw men cannot fly kites, nor do they ever wear hemp and mourning apparel. Why were these people deliberately trying to be mystifying?

Guo DaLu and the others exchanged a look with one another. They were realizing that this whole situation was becoming more and more complicated. Yan Qi reminded, “The kites were just flown into the sky not long ago. It is possible that the people have not gone far.”

Guo DaLu: “Yes. Let’s go search around in all directions.”

Yan Qi: “I think there must be at least five of them. It would be best if we did not go out alone.”

After circling the graveyard once, they noticed the little wooden house. It was in that house that they had found Sour Plum Soup. “Could the people who flew those kites be hiding in that wooden house?” Without discussing anything, their thoughts had all turned in that same direction. Guo DaLu was the first to dash over. Yan Qi cried out after him, “Be careful!” The words had just left his mouth when Guo DaLu kicked open the door and charged in.

The wooden house was the same wooden house, but inside, it had completely changed. The pot and stove that Sour Plum Soup had used to cook were gone. This house, previously dirty and in disarray, had now been swept clean so that there was not even a speck of dust. A table had been set in the center. On that table was placed five sets of chopsticks, five wine cups, and five bright and shiny knives. The knife blades were thin and sharp, the blade bodies curved, and the knife’s shape rather peculiar. Aside from these things, there was nothing else inside.

Guo DaLu had just picked up a knife by its hilt to examine when Yan Qi rushed in. Stomping his foot in frustration, he reprimanded, “Why are you always so incautious when you do anything? You just went barging in here carelessly. What if, by chance, there was someone in this house? Weren’t you afraid that someone might have attacked you underhandedly?”

Guo DaLu laughed, “I wasn’t afraid.”

Yan Qi snapped, “You weren’t afraid, but I was.” As the words slipped out of his mouth, his face suddenly turned red – a fierce, bright red. Luckily, nobody had noticed.

Lin TaiPing had been scrutinizing the knives on the table and now, he suddenly piped in, “These knives are used to carve meat.”

Guo DaLu: “How do you know?”

Lin TaiPing: “I’ve seen something like these before. The non-Han people of Sai Wai [*generally refers to the land north of the Great Wall] are very fond of using such knives to cut meat.”

Guo DaLu: “Could they be non-Han people that came from Sai Wai?”

Lin TaiPing answered, his tone low, “Could be, except non-Han people only use knives, not chopsticks.”

A look of alarm suddenly flickered across Yan Qi’s eyes. “There are only knives here, no meat. What meat are they planning on cutting?”

Guo DaLu said with a grin, “In any case, it shouldn’t be Wang Dong’s flesh.” Though he was smiling, it did not look very natural.

Yan Qi was unable to control the cold shiver that came from inside him. “We should hurry and go back. I really don’t feel at ease that Wang Laoda has been left alone at home.”

Guo DaLu’s expression changed. “Right. We cannot fall for these people’s trap of ‘tricking the tiger into leaving its mountain.’ ” As they thought of this point, they immediately tore outside. Using the fastest speed they could muster, they flew back through the graveyard. Yan Qi suddenly came to a halt as he cried, “Something’s not right.”

Guo DaLu: “What is not right?”

Yan Qi’s face had gone pale. “It seems those five straw men had been right here before.” Guo DaLu also could not suppress the spooked tremor that seized his body. Those five straw men had in fact stood in that spot just moments ago, but now, they had vanished.



Blue skies. White clouds. Truly, such good weather had been quite rare of late.

But the kites in the sky had disappeared now as well.

Using the fastest speed possible, they sprinted back. As they reached the front door, they froze in shock again. Astoundingly, those five straw men were in front of their doorway, still wearing hemp and mourning apparel and still carrying mourning staffs, but on the chest of one was an additional strip of paper that seemed to have words written on it – very small words that were difficult to read clearly. With a gust of wind, the slip of paper was blown up so that it made a rustling sound. It appeared that the paper had been stitched onto the hemp garment with a needle and thread.

Lin TaiPing was the first to reach it, and he stretched out his arm to pull the paper. Surprisingly, it had actually been sewed on quite tightly. He needed to use a bit of strength before he could tear it off.

It was at that exact same instant that the arm of the straw man that had been
holding the mourning staff suddenly shot up, striking directly towards Lin TaiPing’s abdomen. Fortunately, though Lin TaiPing’s experience was dismal [in jianghu], his reactions were not slow. With a somersault in midair, he had evaded the staff. However, who could have predicted that, as the staff propelled upwards, there would also be a dark light that would come shooting from its end? Lin TaiPing had escaped the mourning staff itself, but it seemed that he had not dodged the concealed weapons hidden inside the staff. He felt a tingle in his right hipbone area, like he had been bitten by a mosquito. By the time he had descended back to the ground, he was not able to stand. In the blink of an eye, his right leg was completely numb and his body was toppling to the ground.

The expression on Guo DaLu’s face changed as he realized, “Poisoned needles!”

The expression on Guo DaLu’s face changed as he realized, “Poisoned needles!”

In total, he had only spoken two words. Once he had finished saying these two words, Yan Qi had already acted, fast as the wind, with one hand sealing the acupoints surrounding Lin TaiPing’s hipbone in all four directions. The other hand had drawn a dagger out from a tube in his boot. There was a flash from the blade, and Lin TaiPing’s clothing had been slashed open. Another flash, and the flesh where the wound had been sustained was cut off. Blood spurted.

Black blood!

Guo DaLu’s eyes were bulging as he watched. He had never thought that Yan Qi’s ability to react would be so fast or that his actions would be even more rapid. “I have already died seven times.” It was only now that Guo DaLu believed this statement was true. Only someone who had died seven times could have such a strong ability to react to circumstances and such rich experience and knowledge.

Lin TaiPing was in so much pain he had broken out into a cold sweat, but he still had not forgotten about the strip of paper in his hand. Gritting his teeth and gasping for air, he directed them, “Take a look. What is written on the paper?” On that slip was a line of densely written characters about the size of a fly’s head: “If you are not Wang Dong, then you are a ghost that died for him.”

The wind was blowing. The straw men were swaying in the wind, as if they were trying to intimidate them with their display of strength. Guo DaLu’s fury escalated suddenly, and he threw a punch at that straw man. Naturally, a straw man cannot retaliate, nor can it dodge.

Guo DaLu had just struck out when Yan Qi tackled him at the waist. Though his fist had not collided solidly with the straw man, it still managed to hit it. The instant his fist contacted its chest, he, too, felt as if he had been bitten by a mosquito. And then, all he could sense was an itching of his fist and a hint of tingling. A black dot could be seen on the joint of his middle finger.

The tip of Yan Qi’s dagger immediately nicked that dot. The blood that flowed out had turned black already. Poisoned blood, and it emitted a stench of rotting. But Yan Qi was not bothered by the smell, nor did he care about it being filthy. Mouthful after mouthful, he sucked out that poisoned blood until it was completely expelled.

Guo DaLu nearly could not prevent his tears from surging out. He had all of a sudden realized that what Yan Qi had for him was not all just friendship. Rather, they were feelings that were even deeper and more intimate than friendship. But he could not say what these feelings actually were. There was not a single word that could describe the gratitude that he felt in his heart.

Yan Qi blew out a long breath and inquired, “How do you feel now?”

Guo DaLu gave a sickly smile. “All I feel right now is that I’m an idiot. One hundred percent an idiot.”

Lin TaiPing had been observing them the whole time. He suddenly heaved a long sigh. “You truly are an idiot.” The color of his face was much better than a moment ago, but his leg was still unable to move. Yan Qi had not sucked the poisoned blood out of his wound, but he did not have a single complaint, nor did he have any intention of blaming him. He seemed to believe that this ought to be the case. Could it be that he had perceived something? Had he seen through a secret that only Guo DaLu could not see through?

Yan Qi’s face flushed again, and he turned around quickly. Using the point of his dagger, he flipped open the hemp garment on the straw man. It was then Guo DaLu could see that many sharp needles had been inserted into the straw. Under the sunlight, the tips of the needles gave off a black light. Even an idiot could discern that the poison on a single needle was enough to take a person’s life. Had it not been for Yan Qi holding him back a moment ago, his fist would have come down straight onto those. If that had happened, even if he could preserve his life, his hand could be considered a write-off.

By now, Lin TaiPing certainly had worked it out. The thread on the paper was connected to a mechanism on the mourning staff. The instant he yanked on the paper, the mechanism had been triggered. The straw man’s entire body seemed to be ready with a killing ambush of poisoned needles.

Guo DaLu gave a long sigh. With a wry smile, he remarked, “A single straw man could actually defeat us two live and grown men. If I had not encountered this myself, no matter who told it to me, I still would not believe it.”

Lin TaiPing: “If a straw man is already so powerful, then the people who made it should be even more formidable.”

Guo DaLu: “If they weren’t formidable, why would Wang Laoda be so scared?”

Yan Qi’s face had drained of color. “These straw men have shown up here now; do you think those people are already here?”

Lin TaiPing cried out, his tone panicked, “You guys hurry and go in to check on Wang Laoda. You do not need to take care of me. My hands are still capable of moving.” Guo DaLu did not speak a single word in response; he merely stretched out his arms and supported Lin TaiPing to his feet.

Yan Qi had already charged into the manor, calling out loudly as he ran. “Wang Laoda … Wang Dong!”

No answer. Not a sound.

Wang Dong had disappeared.



The bedding on his bed was in disarray, and Wang Dong was not on the bed or in the house. Guo DaLu and the others searched thoroughly from the front to the rear, but they still could not find him. They all understood Wang Dong. Very few matters had the ability to arouse Wang Dong from his bed; even fewer had the ability to compel him to go out alone.

“Could something have happened here? Could Wang Dong already…” Guo DaLu did not even let his thoughts turn in that direction.

Lin TaiPing was lying on Wang Dong’s bed. His pale face was starting to turn red from anxiety. “I already told you not to worry about taking care of me. Hurry and find Wang Laoda,” he yelled.

Guo DaLu was getting anxious. In a loud voice, he threw back, “Of course we have to find him, but tell me, where should I go to look?”

Lin TaiPing suddenly grew silent. He looked over at Yan Qi. Yan Qi stood still, thinking. They now had two people who had sustained injuries, yet they still did not even know who their opponent was. Up until this point in time, they still did not even have a notion. Right then, they only knew one thing: these people undoubtedly held an enmity toward Wang Dong, and this enmity was very deep-seated. But what was the use in knowing this point? There was practically no difference from not knowing anything at all.

It was at this moment that the sound of footsteps was heard out in the hallway. Guo DaLu and the others’ hearts nearly stopped beating. The one approaching definitely could not be a straw man. Straw men cannot walk!

Yan Qi signalled to Guo DaLu with his eyes. In a flash, their bodies were seen darting forward as, simultaneously, they each hid behind a door. The echoes of the footsteps were getting closer and finally halted in front of the door. The dagger in Yan Qi’s hand was raised. The door had only been half-closed. A hand on the other side was pushing it open. Yan Qi’s wrist twisted. Like lightning, the dagger slashed at the meridian of that hand.

From the bed, Lin TaiPing unexpectedly shouted, “Hold your hand!”

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The instant his cry rose up, Yan Qi’s arm immediately came to a stiff halt, the edge of the blade was less than half an inch away from the vein on that hand’s wrist. But it still was very steady and continued pushing on the door, as if its nerves were cast from iron.



The door opened. Wang Dong stepped unhurriedly into the room. In his other hand was a large jug of wine. Light glinted off the blade in Yan Qi’s hand. Lin TaiPing was lying on the bed. Anyone could have discerned that he was wounded. Wang Dong, though, appeared to not notice anything at all, and his face was void of expression. It would seem that all the nerves in this person’s entire body were casted of iron. He slowly walked into the room and slowly set the wine on the table.

The first one who could contain his annoyance no longer was Guo DaLu. “Where did you go?” he interrogated loudly.

Unruffled, Wang Dong responded, “To buy wine.” His answer was very natural, as it was the most rational thing in the world to do. “To buy wine.” In a time like this, he still would go to buy wine. Guo DaLu stared at him, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.

After using his palm to smack open the lute that had been sealing the mouth of the jug, Wang Dong inhaled. Appearing to be satisfied with what he smelled, the corner of his lips at last showed the trace of a smile. “This wine is not too bad. Here, everyone come drink a couple of cups.”

Guo DaLu could not help snapping, “I do not feel like drinking right now.”

Wang Dong: “Even if you don’t feel like drinking, you still have to. You must.”

Guo DaLu: “Why?”

Wang Dong: “Because this wine is the wine I am using to bid you farewell.”

Guo DaLu repeated in shock, “Farewell? Why are you bidding us farewell?”

Wang Dong: “Because you will all be leaving immediately.”

Guo DaLu jumped up. “Who said we are leaving?”

Wang Dong: “I did.”

Yan Qi cut in, “But we do not want to leave.”

Wang Dong’s face was hard as he stated in a cool tone, “Even if you do not want to, you still have to. Do you all intend on living here and freeloading the rest of your lives?” His expression like steel, he questioned, “Have you paid rent while you lived here?”

Guo DaLu: “No.”

Wang Dong gave an icy snicker. “If that is the case, then what right do you have to stay and continue freeloading?”

Yan Qi suddenly piped in, “Fine. If you say leave, then we will leave.” He had said he would go and now he truly was leaving, except he first walked in front of Guo DaLu and gave a little wink.

Guo DaLu’s eyes darted back and forth. “Yes. We will leave. What is the big deal?” He, too, got up to go, as if he could not stand to stay there for another moment.

Lin TaiPing was stunned. “You are not even going to drink the wine?”

Guo DaLu: “We have already been forced out. What face do we have to drink the wine?”

Lin TaiPing looked over at Wang Dong. There still was not any emotion on Wang Dong’s face as he said coldly, “That is fine if you are not going to drink. Did you think the wine will become mouldy if I just leave it to sit?”

Lin TaiPing: “How about I stay here? I am not able to walk.”

With a stony look, Wang Dong answered, “If you cannot walk out, then crawl out.”

Lin TaiPing was silent for a long time. At last, he let out a sigh and, limping, followed the others out of the room. Wang Dong stood in that spot, unmoving, his eyes cold as he watched them walk out the door. After a while, he heard a “peng,” but did not know who had been the one who had heavily closed the main door outside.

Wang Dong suddenly lifted up the jug of wine on the table with both his hands. “Gulp, gulp.” In a single breath, he guzzled down seven or eight mouthfuls before ceasing. Wiping his mouth, he grumbled, “Good wine. People would actually refuse to drink such a good wine. If they are not idiots, what else can they be?” He stared at the jug in his hands. That pair of icy cold eyes unexpectedly turned red, as if tears could start flowing down at any minute.



Without turning his head once to look back, Yan Qi walked out the front door. He stopped. Guo DaLu walked up next to him, then suddenly halted also. Lin TaiPing had followed them outside. With a “peng,” he closed the door. Glaring at them, he accused, “I never would have thought that, the instant you stated you were going to leave, you really did go.”

Guo DaLu looked over at Yan Qi, who did not say anything and instead, took a seat on the stone steps in front of the doorway, facing the straw men. Guo DaLu immediately sat himself down also and fixed his eyes on the straw men as he mumbled, “Weird things happen every year. This year seems to have a particularly large amount though. Straw men not only know how to fly kites, they also can kill people. What do you say; is that weird or not?”

Lin TaiPing: “Weird.” He, too, sat down, one hand still pressed tightly against his wound. By now, he finally understood Guo DaLu and Yan Qi’s intentions, and so, he did not say anything else.

They did not know how much time had elapsed when they heard the sound of Wang Dong’s footsteps as he walked out, passed through the courtyard, stepped up to the front door, and barred the door shut.

All of a sudden, the bar was yanked out again and the door flew open. Wang Dong stood in the entrance, his eyes wide as he gaped at them. Yan Qi, Guo DaLu, and Lin TaiPing sat in a row outside the door. None of them looked back at him. Wang Dong was not able to stop himself as he exclaimed, “Why haven’t you left yet? What are you doing sitting here?”

The three of them paid him no heed. Yan Qi only threw a look at Guo DaLu out of the corner of his eye. “Is it illegal for us to sit here?”

Guo DaLu: “Not illegal.”

Lin TaiPing: “Even those straw men can sit here; why can’t we?”

Wang Dong barked at them, “This place is my front door. You are obstructing my way by sitting here.”

Yan Qi glanced over at Guo DaLu again. “Someone says we are obstructing his way.”

Guo DaLu: “Well then, let’s sit a little ways over.”

The three of them rose together to their feet, walked to the opposite side, and sat down in a row again, facing the front door. Yan Qi asked, “Is it okay if we sit here?”

Guo DaLu: “Why would it not be okay? This is not inside someone’s house or obstructing any way.”

Lin TaiPing: “In addition, we can sit here however long it pleases us to sit here.”

Wang Dong glowered at them. They looked left, they looked right, but they did not look over at Wang Dong. He finally yelled out, “What do you want to do by just sitting here?”

Guo DaLu: “We don’t want to do anything. We are just sitting, that’s all.”

Yan Qi: “If it makes us happy to sit here, then we will. Nobody can do anything about it.”

Lin TaiPing: “It is nice and cool here.”

Yan Qi: “Nice and cool and comfortable.”

Guo DaLu: “On top of that, no one will come and collect rent from us.”

Wang Dong suddenly whipped his head around and marched back inside. “Peng!” The door was closed forcefully once again.

Yan Qi looked over at Guo DaLu; Guo DaLu looked at Lin TaiPing. At the same time, the three of them all started howling in laughter. But though they were laughing, the grins on their faces carried a gloomy, dejected feel.

The sun had already set. Once the sun sets, the sky will soon grow dark. And once it grew dark, what would happen in that place? No one knew; indeed, no one even dared to hazard a guess.

Yan Qi reached over to lift up Guo DaLu’s hand as he asked quietly, “How is your injury doing?”

Guo DaLu: “Won’t hinder anything. I can still beat up people as before.”

Only then did Yan Qi turn towards Lin TaiPing. “What about you?”

Lin TaiPing: “My wound is starting to have some pain.”

Yan Qi exhaled a breath of relief. “Then that means there was no harm.” If a wound from a poisoned weapon started to hurt, it meant that the venom had been completely purged out.

Guo DaLu’s mind was still not at ease, and so he asked further, “Does it hurt tremendously?”

Lin TaiPing gave a weak smile. “Still okay. Though I may not be able to jump over any walls, I can still beat people up just the same.”

Yan Qi: “Are you guys hungry?”

Guo DaLu: “So hungry I could wolf you down.”

Yan Qi chuckled, “But even when your belly is hungry, you can still beat up people just the same, correct?”

Guo DaLu laughed in response. “Correct answer.”

As expected, the sky had grown dark. Their faces were gradually seemed to show an apprehensive air.

But now, they really were preparing to beat up people. Guo DaLu’s hands were clenched tightly into a pair of fists. His eyes were wide as he remarked, “Right now, it truly is ‘all things are ready, all that is missing is an east wind [a common saying which means that all things have been prepared and only one important requirement is missing].’ ”

Lin TaiPing could not restrain his curiosity. “What is the east wind?”

Guo DaLu: “The people who are going to suffer a beating.”

Athat moment, he saw a person – a person carrying a jug of wine.

**********************


The front door had opened abruptly, and Wang Dong, carrying a jug of wine, had stepped outside. This time, he did not pay them any attention but rather, took a seat on the stone steps in front of the door. The four of them sat facing each other. No one said anything.

The first person who could not hold it in any longer was, of course, Guo DaLu. Exhaling a sigh, he muttered, “I seem to recall that, just a while ago, someone was going to treat us to wine.”

Wang Dong neither responded nor even looked at him, but he tossed the wine jug over to him. No matter what object you threw at Guo DaLu, there was a chance that he would not be able to catch it, but when it came to alcohol… If what was tossed was a jug of wine, a Guo DaLu who was fast asleep would still be able catch it. In a single breath, he had poured several gulps down his throat. He handed the jug over to Yan Qi, who drank a few mouthfuls before passing it on to Lin TaiPing.

Wang Dong spoke up unexpectedly, “A wounded person who still wants to drink must be sick of living.”

Lin TaiPing: “Who said I am wounded? I was just bitten by a little bug, that’s all.”

Wang Dong could not help asking, “What type of bug?” All of a sudden, he darted over towards them and seized the wine from them. With a look of steel on his face, he demanded, “Just how long do you intend on sitting here?”

Again, Guo DaLu was not able to contain himself. “Until someone comes here looking for you.”

Wang Dong: “Who said someone will come looking for me?”

Guo DaLu: “I said.”

Wang Dong: “And how would you know?”

Guo DaLu: “These straw men told me.” Glancing at Wang Dong from the corner of his eye, he giggled, “Not only do they know how to fly kites, they can also talk. What do you say; is that bizarre or not?”

The look on Wang Dong’s face changed again. Slowly, he withdrew backwards and sat back down on the stone steps. Stillness fell over their surroundings. Only the sound of wine inside the jug could be heard.

Yan Qi broke the silence unexpectedly. “The wine in the jug is speaking also. Can you hear it?”

Guo DaLu: “What is it saying?”

Yan Qi: “It said, someone’s hand is quivering so much that its head is starting to spin.”

Wang Dong leapt abruptly to his feet, glaring at him. Yan Qi still did not so much as glance at Wang Dong. The three of them looked east and gazed west; they looked everywhere, except at Wang Dong.

Suddenly, a spark flew in their direction, landing on the first straw man. A “poof” was heard and the straw man was immediately ablaze. The flames were a sickly bluish-green color and gentle threads of smoke were being released. His expression transforming rapidly, Wang Dong called, “Retreat quickly. Withdraw back into the manor.”

With a whipping motion of his arm, he tossed the wine jug to Guo DaLu, turned around to lift up Lin TaiPing, and then was hurtling back through the main door. Finally, Wang Dong had moved. He either did not move or once he did, he was faster than everyone else.

Guo DaLu was moving also, but he first put the jug of wine down. This was because he had not moved back into the manor but rather, had raced off in the direction the spark had come from. And because he had charged off, Yan Qi naturally had to follow after him. Wang Dong shouted at them, “Hurry and retreat! That direction is not safe to go!”

Guo DaLu had not heard. It was as if he had suddenly grown deaf. And if he had not heard, then Yan Qi of course did not hear also.

Lin TaiPing sighed, “That guy loves going to places that he should not go. Haven’t you realized by now this bad habit of his?”



If a house is called a “mountain manor” [Note: “Wealthy Manor” should actually be “Wealthy Mountain Manor” as a literal translation], as a minimum, it should satisfy several conditions. The house definitely cannot be too small. Even if it is not constructed on a mountain, it should at least be built at the foot of the mountain. Outside the main entrance of the house, large or small, there is usually a grove of trees. Even though “Wealthy Manor” was not the least bit wealthy, at the very least, it could still be called a “mountain manor.” Therefore, outside its door there, too, was a grove. The spark from a moment ago seemed to have come from there.

Guo DaLu lowered his voice. “From behind which tree did the spark come shooting out from?”

Yan Qi: “I could not see it clearly. You?”

Guo DaLu: “I did not see either.”

The sky had already grown dark, and it was even darker inside the woods. Nobody’s shadow could be seen; no sound could be heard.

Yan Qi: “I think we should first go back and consult with Wang Laoda.”

Guo DaLu: “He is the one who will not consult with us. What d*mn use is there for us to consult among ourselves?” When swear words started coming from his lips, it was an indication that his anger had risen.

Yan Qi: “ ‘Never enter any woods.’ Don’t you understand any of the basic rules of jianghu?”

Guo DaLu: “I don’t understand. I never was an experienced person of jianghu. All those useless rules of jianghu, I do not understand a single one.” His body suddenly pounced forward, and then he had already scurried into the trees.

Within the dimness of the woods, there appeared to be the gleam of a cold light. Guo DaLu’s eyes had not yet clearly seen what it was but his body was already tearing towards it. And then, he saw a knife. A curved knife. A knife used to slice flesh.



The knife had been stabbed into a tree, nailing a strip of paper in place. Needless to say, there were words on that paper, very small words that, even under the light of day, would be hard to read clearly. Guo DaLu was just about to stretch his hand forward and extract the knife when Yan Qi grabbed him. His face ashen and his eyes wide, Yan Qi snapped, “Is it not enough that you fell once for the trick? Are you going to fall for it a second time?” He was worried and angry. Guo DaLu, however, had begun to chuckle. “What are you laughing at?” Yan Qi demanded.

Guo DaLu: “I’m laughing at you.”

Yan Qi could not restrain his angry reply. “You are laughing about bull***t.” When he started yelling out swear words from his mouth, it meant he was infuriated.

Guo DaLu ceased his laughter. Putting on a serious expression, he explained, “Even if they wanted to trick me, they should use an original method. Why would they use the same ploy as before? Do you really think they believe I am a fool?”

Scowling at him, Yan Qi retorted, “Do you think you are not a fool?”

Guo DaLu breathed out a sigh. With a wry smile on his face, he consented, “Fine. If you tell me to not use my hands, I won’t use them, but it should be all right if I just go over and take a look.” He really did put his hands behind his back and walk over to the tree. Not using the hands and only using the eyes to look truly seemed like a good plan, and everything appeared as if it would be all right. But the words on the slip of paper were just too small. He had no choice but to step a little closer. At last, he could vaguely make out the characters written on the paper: “Be careful of your feet…” By the time he could see those five words clearly, his feet gave way beneath him, and he was plunging downwards. A trap had been set on the ground.

A shout slipped out from Yan Qi. “Careful…” Amidst his cry, he had already darted over and grabbed ahold of Guo DaLu’s hand. Exerting a force through his own hand, Guo DaLu used the momentum and leapt upwards. His lightness kung fu was not weak and he jumped very high.

Alas, the higher he jumped, the worse it was for him. All that was heard was a crashing sound of leaves, and then a net suddenly came hurtling down from the top of the tree. A very large net. Even if Guo DaLu had wings or even if it was a bird in his place, it still would not prevent them from being enveloped by the net. In addition, his body had already been soaring up in midair. It was as if he had hurled himself into the net, and now, no matter which direction he tried to flee, it was too late. Not only was he unable to dodge it, Yan Qi was not able to either.

Just when it appeared that the two of them would be ensnared, a dark shadow all of a sudden was flying towards them like a cannonball. It was so fast it was simply inconceivable. The shadow brushed over their heads. Stretching out a hand, it snatched up the net.

This dark shadow was not a cannonball; it was a person. It was Lin TaiPing.

As Lin TaiPing reached out to seize the net, his body was still soaring forward like a real cannonball, flying out two to three zhang [1 zhang = 3 1/3 metres] before his momentum finally slowed. By now, Guo DaLu and Yan Qi had retreated. They saw Lin TaiPing hanging in one spot, one hand gripping a tree branch, the other clutching that net, and his body swinging back and forth incessantly.

Guo DaLu’s heart was still pounding, and he could not help exhaling a lengthy breath. Smiling cynically, he said, “Were it not for you, I am afraid that this time I really would have ‘sent myself into the net.’ ”

Lin TaiPing smiled back at them. “You do not need to thank me.”

Guo DaLu: “Who do I thank if I don’t thank you?”

Lin TaiPing: “Thank the person behind you.”

Guo DaLu whipped his head around. Only then did he discover Wang Dong, his face emotionless, standing behind him.

Lin TaiPing grinned. “I already told you long ago that I am in no shape to jump over any walls right now.”

Guo DaLu: “But, just now, you…”

Lin TaiPing: “Just now, it was Wang Laoda using his strength to fling me over here. Otherwise, how could I be so fast?” Indeed, there was no person in the world who could be that quick. Had he not drawn on the force of Wang Dong’s throw, it was impossible for anyone to have that sort of speed.

Guo DaLu stole a glance over at Wang Dong. Smiling apologetically, he complimented, “It looks like Wang Laoda’s strength is not insignificant.”

Lin TaiPing: “But Wang Laoda really admires you.”

Guo DaLu: “Admires me?”

Lin TaiPing: “His strength may be great but your courage is even greater.”

Guo DaLu glared at him. “Must you act like a monkey and hang there while you talk?”

Lin TaiPing grinned widely at him again. “I wanted to get down a long time ago, but unfortunately, my legs will not do as they are told.”

Wang Dong had not opened his mouth the whole time; neither had Yan Qi. They were both staring at Guo DaLu. Guo DaLu could only force a smile as he admitted, “It seems today, not only have I not done one thing right, I have not even said one sentence that was correct.”

Sighing, Yan Qi told him, “This sentence of yours is finally correct.”

********************


A lamp burned in the room.

Aside from the lamp, on the table, there was also a slip of paper, a knife, and a jug of wine. This was because, in the end, Guo DaLu still could not stop himself and had to remove the knife from the tree. And of course, he could not forget to bring the wine back with him. Though this person may not have looked like an ox, he surely had the temperament of one [i.e. stubborn]. He was actually very pleased with himself as he beamed, “I had told you earlier that it would be fine to pull out the knife. I knew they were going to switch to use a fresh and original tactic. Wasn’t this trick very fresh and original?”

Yan Qi answered grumpily, “Extremely fresh. Even fresher than the fish inside a net.” He picked up the knife on the table as he continued, “I now know what meat this knife is used to carve.”

Guo DaLu blinked at him. “Is it for carving fish meat?”

Yan Qi: “You have finally said another correct sentence.”

Guo DaLu: “Well then, I might as well be a drunk fish.” He lifted up the jug with both his hands, all the while still mumbling to himself, “Drunken shrimp is a delicacy of Jiangnan so the taste of drunken fish cannot be bad either.” But the wine had not yet touched his lips before Wang Dong had snatched the jug away from him. Guo DaLu stood stunned for a moment. “Since when did you become the same as me: a drunkard?”

Wang Dong: “This wine cannot be consumed.”

Guo DaLu: “It could be consumed just a little while ago. Why are we not allowed to drink it now?”

Wang Dong: “Because then was then and now is now.”

Yan Qi’s eyes were looking all around as he asked, “Where did you put the jug of wine ja moment ago?”

Guo DaLu: “In front of the door.”

Yan Qi: “When we all were in the woods, there was nobody by the door, right?”

Guo DaLu: “Right.”

Yan Qi: “That is why this wine cannot be consumed anymore.”

Guo DaLu: “Is it possible that, in just that little amount of time, someone had already poisoned the wine?”

Yan Qi: “That little amount of time just a while ago was enough to poison eighty jugs of wine.”

Guo DaLu broke into a guffaw. “You are overexaggerating how frightful these people actually are. Could they really be ones who leave ‘no opening left unentered’ [a saying that means to seize every opportunity] and will not let go of a single chance to inflict harm on someone?”

Wang Dong did not speak. Without warning, he walked out the door and, taking the jug that had been in his hands, smashed it forcefully into the ground. The jug shattered; wine poured out all over the ground. Heaving a sigh, Guo DaLu muttered, “What a pity. Good…” The sound of his voice suddenly cut short. His body had frozen in shock.

A very, very small snake was slowly slithering out from amongst the broken shards of the container. This snake was so small that it was rather bizarre. However, the smaller the snake, the more venomous it is.

The look on Guo DaLu’s face had changed. He could not help giving another sigh as he mumbled to himself, “It looks like they really are people who leave ‘no opening left unentered.’ ”

Yan Qi suddenly exclaimed, “ ‘No Opening Left Unentered’ Scarlet Serpent.” Alarmed, he looked over at Wang Dong. “Is it ‘No Opening Left Unentered’ Scarlet Serpent?”

Wang Dong’s face was ashen. Slowly, he turned himself around, walked back into the room, and sat down beside the lamp. To their surprise, this time, he did not lie down on the bed. Yan Qi trailed closely after him and pressed, “Is it him? Is it really him?”

For a long time, Wang Dong remained silent. Finally, he gave a slow nod of his head. Yan Qi blew out a long breath. Step after step, he moved backwards before abruptly lying down. This time, it was him who had lain down on the bed.

Guo DaLu had followed them, all the while asking, “What type of gadget is a no opening left unentered scarlet serpent?”

Yan Qi: “It is a person.” Not only had his entire body seemed to go limp, his voice also appeared to be breathy and without strength.

Guo DaLu: “What sort of person is he? Do you know him?”

There was a sarcastic smile on Yan Qi’s lips as he answered, “If I did know him, it would be a marvel that I have still lived to this day.” He bounded to his feet rapidly and charged over in front of Wang Dong again. “But you must know him?”

Again, Wang Dong sat in silence for a long while. All of a sudden, he grinned as he stated, “I am still alive right now.”

Yan Qi sighed. “A person who actually knows him and is still alive. That is not an easy feat.”

The smile on Wang Dong’s face gradually disappeared. At last, he, too, gave a sigh and said, “Indeed, it is not easy.”

Guo DaLu nearly shouted out in exasperation. “So are you talking about a person or a snake?”

Yan Qi: “Person.”

Guo DaLu: “This individual’s name is Scarlet Serpent?”

Yan Qi: “And furthermore, is ‘No Opening Left Unentered.’ That means, you only need to be slightly inattentive and he will be able to poison you.”

Guo DaLu: “Slightly inattentive? Everyone has times when they are not paying attention.”

With another sigh, Yan Qi said, “That is why, if he wants to poison you, you only have one route you can take.”

Guo DaLu: “What route?”

Yan Qi: “To be poisoned by him.”

Yan Qi: “To be poisoned by him.”

Guo DaLu unconsciously drew in a sharp breath of cold air. “All those devious schemes used to harm people, they were all his doing?”

Yan Qi: “Even though this person’s proficiency in poisoning can be regarded as number one in the world, his other skills are nothing great to speak about.”

Guo DaLu released the breath he had been holding. “Now I can set my mind at ease.”

Yan Qi: “Unfortunately, aside from him, there are others as well.”

Guo DaLu: “Who else is there?”

Yan Qi: “Thousand Hands Thousand Eyes Centipede God.”

Guo DaLu: “Thousand Hands Thousand Eyes?”

Yan Qi: “In other words, it means that when this person releases and catches projectile weapons, it is as if he has one thousand hands and one thousand eyes. Supposedly, there are hidden weapons on his entire body, from the top to the bottom, and even his nose can launch projectile weapons.”

Throwing a look over at Wang Dong, Guo DaLu giggled, “Very good. Once I see this person, I will first knock his nose in flat.”

Yan Qi blinked at him. “But if you come across ‘Rescuer of the Poor and Needy’ Hong NiangZi [Red Lady], I am afraid that you will be reluctant to hit her.”

Puzzled, Guo DaLu repeated, “ ‘Rescuer of the Poor and Needy’ Hong NiangZi? Hearing this name, one would think that she is an extremely good person.”

Yan Qi: “She is a good person. She knows that most of mankind is caught in suffering, and so, she wants to help them transcend out of this life and reincarnate a little earlier.”

With a sigh, Guo DaLu remarked, “If that is the case, she does not really seem to be a good person.”

Yan Qi: “In a group of 800,000 people, you will not be able to pick out a single person as good as her.”

Guo DaLu: “And what special ability does she have?”

Yan Qi’s face hardened and he said coolly, “It would be best if you did not know about her abilities.”

Blinking innocently, Guo DaLu asked, “Is she a very beautiful woman?”

Yan Qi: “Even if she is, she should now be an elderly woman – a very beautiful elderly woman.”

Guo DaLu: “She is already seventy or eighty years old?”

Yan Qi: “Not yet.”

Guo DaLu: “Fifty or sixty?”

Yan Qi: “It seems not quite either.”

Guo DaLu: “Around forty or so?”

Yan Qi: “That should be pretty close.”

Guo DaLu: “At most, that can be considered the cougar years. How can you say she is an elderly woman?”

Glowering at him, Yan Qi snapped, “What does her age have to do with you? Do you care?”

Guo DaLu: “When did I say I care?”

Yan Qi: “If you do not care, why are you grinning like a mole cricket?”

Guo DaLu: “Because I am a mole cricket.”

Yan Qi gave him another fierce look but in the end, he could not help bursting out in giggles. Taking advantage of this opening, Guo DaLu immediately jumped in, “From what you have said, it would seem that her skills are specifically targeted against men.”

A stony look covered Yan Qi’s face again. “I do not know what type of skills she has. All I know is the number of men who have died by her hands is not a small one.”

All throughout their conversation, Lin TaiPing had been reclined in a chair off to the side, but now he broke in, “Did she make the straw men?”

Yan Qi: “No.”

Lin TaiPing: “If it was not her, then who was it?”

Yan Qi: “ ‘Yi Jian Song Zong’ [‘First Meeting, Pay Last Respects’ ; i.e. first meeting will be your funeral] Cui MingFu [Life-Hastening Talisman].”

Lin TaiPing’s brow was knit together as he echoed, “Life-Hastening Talisman?”

Yan Qi: “This individual not only has a belly full of devious schemes, he also has a pair of skilful hands: changing his appearance and disguises, information gathering devices, complex concealed weapons, unusual weapons – reportedly he is adept in every one of these.

Realization flashed across Guo DaLu’s eyes as he murmured, “Now I understand.”

Yan Qi: “What is it you understand?”

Guo DaLu: “A snake, a centipede, a scorpion [* to represent a cruel woman], a talisman. All that is missing now is the eagle.”

“When Wang Laoda and I entered the woods just now, we seemed to see a shadow flying up from the tree where the fishing net had been dropped,” Lin TaiPing piped in.

Yan Qi: “A fishing net is not able to drop from a tree by itself. Someone had to have been in the tree.”

Guo DaLu: “Where did that person go?”

Lin TaiPing replied with a wry smile, “At that instant, I had just been flung out by Wang Laoda. Do you think I could be bothered about other people right then? Furthermore, that person’s lightness kung fu is very formidable. He almost appeared to be like an eagle.”

Yan Qi: “ ‘Flies, Soaring into the Sky’ King of Eagles!”

Guo DaLu clapped his hands together. “Five kites, five people. Everything is now accounted for.”

Yan Qi: “Among those five people, not only can the Overlord of Eagles be considered to have the best lightness kung fu, his martial art purportedly is also the strongest.”

Guo DaLu: “In my view, out of these five, the hardest to deal with is still that ‘Rescuer of the Poor and Needy’ Hong NiangZi.”

Lin TaiPing: “Why?”

Guo DaLu: “Because we are all men.”

Yan Qi’s voice was icy as he scorned, “If men were not lechers, even if she had abilities greater than the heavens, she would not be able to use any of them.”

Guo DaLu heaved a lengthy sigh. “But how many men in the world are not lecherous?”

Wang Dong had been sitting the whole time, his face unreadable, not moving at all. In times that he did not need to move, he absolutely would not budge. Yan Qi moved a chair over and sat down across from Wang Dong. “When you saw those kites, you knew they were coming to give you trouble,” he stated.

Guo DaLu moved a chair over towards them also and added, “And so, you wanted to force us away because you knew that there would be complete turmoil wherever these people were.”

Yan Qi: “You did not want us to get pulled into the muddy waters of chaos, so you tried to drive us out.”

Guo DaLu: “But what you did not know is that we had already entered the muddy waters long ago.”

Yan Qi: “From the first day that we met you, we have been in it.”

Guo DaLu: “Because we are friends.”

Yan Qi: “That is why, no matter where you may be, we will be there too.”

Guo DaLu: “That is why, you may want to send us away now, but it is already too late.”

Wang Dong had been watching them without speaking. He knew that there was no longer any need for him to say anything now. He feared that the instant he opened his mouth, hot tears would start pouring from his eyes.

Friends. This word was so simple, yet at the same time, so majestic. Wang Dong was kneading his hands as, enunciating each word, he stated simply, “You are all truly my friends.”

This sentence was enough. You only needed to truly understand the significance of this one statement, and then nothing else needed to be said. Yan Qi was smiling. Lin TaiPing, too, was smiling. Guo DaLu tightly clasped Wang Dong’s hands. All they needed to hear was this one sentence; it was enough to them. Now, the only question they had was “How can we send this trouble away?”

Yan Qi: “The instant I saw that kite, I knew that trouble had arrived.”

Wang Dong: “The kite was a form of warning.”

Yan Qi: “If they were coming to give you trouble, why would they forewarn you and allow you to be on your guard?”

Wang Dong: “For the reason that they do not want me to die too quickly.” His complexion had paled. He continued slowly, “Because they recognize that the kind of terror a person experiences as he is waiting for death is much more painful than death itself.”

With a sigh, Yan Qi remarked, “It appears that the trouble will not be small.”

“Truly not small at all,” Wang Dong agreed.

Guo DaLu suddenly gave a little chuckle. “It is rather unfortunate that they miscalculated one point.”

Yan Qi: “Oh?”

Guo DaLu: “They may have five people, but we have four. Why do we need to feel terror? Why will it be painful?”

Yan Qi: “ ‘A spear out in the open is easy to dodge; arrows that are concealed are difficult to guard against.’ Do you not understand this saying?”

Guo DaLu: “I understand, but I am not afraid.”

Yan Qi gave him a fierce look. “What are you afraid of then?”

Guo DaLu: “I’m afraid of you.”

Yan Qi could not stop himself from breaking into a captivating smile, but then immediately, he pulled his face into a scowl and turned his head away. In reality, of course he understood what Guo Dalu was saying because he, too, felt the same. For people like them, the only thing they feared was people caring about them and being moved by that care. If you managed to touch their hearts, then even if you asked them to cut off their heads and give it to you, they would not so much as frown.

Guo DaLu: “ ‘When the army comes, the general will resist; when the water comes in, the earth will be flooded.’ [*Saying that means take things as they happen.] Those sorts of people have nothing remarkable about them. Besides sneakily inflicting harm on people, I think their real capabilities are rather limited.” He paused a bit, then added, “The only question now is, when are they coming?”

Wang Dong: “Don’t know.”

Guo DaLu: “You do not know either?”

Wang Dong: “I only know that, before they pay their last respects to me at my funeral, they will certainly not leave.”

With another snicker, Guo DaLu replied, “Right now, it is still difficult to say who will be paying whom last respects.”

This was an endearing trait about Guo DaLu: he was always confident in himself, always optimistic. He was the kind of person who would never worry, even if he knew that the sky was going to collapse, because he believed that, so long as a person had confidence, any issue could be resolved. And he not only possessed confidence for himself; at the same time, he passed on confidence to others also.

Wang Dong’s face had gradually brightened again. He suddenly declared, “They may be occupying a slightly advantageous position, but I still have ways of dealing with them.”

Guo DaLu rushed in to ask, “What type of ways?”

Wang Dong: “Sleep.”

Guo DaLu paused for a minute, then broke out in laughter. “You are probably the only person who could think of such a method.”

Wang Dong countered, “What is wrong with this method? It is called ‘waiting in ease for the exhausted to arrive.’ ”

Clapping his hands together, Guo DaLu exclaimed, “True. If we must sleep, then we should do it right now. We will rest up and have enough energy to deal with them.”

Yan Qi: “If we are to sleep, we must still do it in shifts.”

“Correct. You and I will take watch in the first half of the night,” Guo DaLu proposed. “At midnight, we will awaken Wang Laoda and Lin TaiPing.”

Lin TaiPing interrupted them unexpectedly, “That will not work. It will be better if I am on the same shift as you.”

Guo DaLu: “Why?”

As his eyes stole a glance at Yan Qi, Lin TaiPing explained, “The two of you have too much to say to each other. You get so excited while you are chatting that I am worried you will be completely oblivious even if someone is sneaking into the manor.” Abruptly, Yan Qi strode outside because his face had suddenly turned pink.

Guo DaLu insisted, “I still think that it is better if Yan Qi and I are on the same watch. Two people who are chatting and talking will not fall asleep.” As the words were leaving his lips, he was already trailing after Yan Qi. Regardless of what anyone said, he was still adamant that he had to be on the same shift as Yan Qi. There seemed to be a thread connecting the two of them together.

Lin TaiPing watched as they stepped out. With a sudden laugh, he wondered out loud, “Sometimes I really find it quite strange: why is Xiao Guo [Little Guo] so dense?”

Wang Dong was chuckling with him. A little smile was still on his lips as he said, “Do not worry. He will not be for very long.”

Lin TaiPing: “Actually, I hope that he will continue to be dense for a while longer.”

Wang Dong: “Why?”

Lin TaiPing: “Because I find that the way they are right now is rather interesting.”

********************


Yan Qi walked into the guest hall and sat down. Guo DaLu, too, walked into the guest hall and sat down.

Starlight shone in through the window and lighted upon Yan Qi’s eyes. His eyes were very bright. From the side, Guo DaLu gazed at him. Beaming suddenly, he said, “Did you know that, at times, your eyes look like a girl’s?”

Yan Qi drew his face into a pout. “Do I have any other aspects that are like a girl?”

“When you smile, there is a bit of similarity,” Guo DaLu giggled.

In a cool tone, Yan Qi asked, “If I am so much like a girl, why do you keep on following me around?”

Grinning, Guo DaLu answered, “If you really were a girl, then I have even more reason to follow you.”

Yan Qi turned his head away and rose to his feet. After finding a flint, he lit the lamp on the table. It seemed that he did not dare sit alone with Guo DaLu in the dark. As the lamp glowed, it cast his shadow onto the window. All of a sudden, Guo DaLu reached over and pulled him close, like he wanted to hold him in his arms. “What… what are you doing?” Yan Qi exclaimed.

Guo DaLu: “If you stand there, haven’t you just made yourself a live target for that Thousand Hands Thousand Eyes Big Centipede?" His eyes looked around, then suddenly sparkled as he mumbled to himself, “That is a pretty good idea.”

Casting an annoyed look at him, Yan Qi snapped, “What great ideas could you possibly come up with?”

Guo DaLu: “Since that Big Centipede likes using projectile weapons on people, we might as well provide him with a few live targets.”

Yan Qi’s brow creased together. “Who do you intend on getting to be his target?”

“The straw men.” He elaborated on his plan, “We will move those straw men into this room and seat them right here. From outside the window, who can tell that they are not real people?” Yan Qi’s brow unfurled as he listened to this. Guo DaLu carried on, “Once that Big Centipede sees a human silhouette in the window, his hands will start itching.”

Yan Qi: “And then?”

Guo DaLu: “We will be waiting outside. As long as his hands start to itch, we will have ways of dealing with him.”

Yan Qi contemplated over it for a short time before asking dully, “Do you really think your idea is a good one?”

Guo DaLu: “Even if it isn’t good, we should at least give it a try. We cannot just sit here and wait to die. We should devise a plan to lure them out.”

Yan Qi: “Do not forget that those straw men can injure people too.”

Guo DaLu: “But no matter what, straw men are lifeless. They should be a little easier to handle than living, breathing people.”

With a groan, Yan Qi gave in, “Alright. This time I will do as you say. We will see if this idiotic idea of yours will actually work.”

Guo DaLu grinned. “Idiotic ideas are at least a little better than no ideas.”

From outside, the straw mens’ shadows on the windows really did look quite similar to those of real people. This was because, in addition to being dressed in clothes, these straw people were also wearing hats.

It was deep in the hours of the night. The wind blowing on their bodies was cutting like a knife. Guo DaLu and Yan Qi had hidden themselves in a place that was sheltered from the wind, but they were still shivering from the cold. Out of the blue, Yan Qi said, “It would not feel so cold if we had a little bit of wine to drink right now.”

“I did not think you there would be a time when you would want to drink,” Guo DaLu remarked with a grin.

Sighing, Yan Qi responded, “It is called, ‘those near ink will turn black.’ When a person spends every day with a drunkard, sooner or later, he will turn into a drunkard himself.”

Guo DaLu chuckled, “And that is why, sooner or later, there will be a day when you no longer hate women.”

Yan Qi pulled his face into another scowl and did not say anything else.

After a long while, Guo DaLu piped up again, “I just cannot figure it out: how could someone like Wang Laoda develop an enmity with the Big Centipede and Scarlet Serpent? And that animosity seems so deep.”

Yan Qi’s tone was frosty. “If you cannot figure it out, don’t think about it.”

Guo DaLu: “Don’t you find it peculiar?”

Yan Qi: “No.”

Guo DaLu: “Why?”

Yan Qi: “Because I never try to probe into other people’s secrets, especially if they are my friends’ secrets.”

Guo DaLu could only respond to that comment with silence.

After a long time had passed, they suddenly heard a “gu” sound. The look on Yan Qi’s face changed as he asked, “What is making that noise?”

With a wry smile, Guo DaLu confessed, “It’s my stomach.” He really was awfully hungry. Another long while passed until they heard a “ge” noise. “What is making the noise this time?”

Yan Qi bit down on his own lip. “It’s my teeth.” He was so cold his teeth were beginning to chatter.

Guo DaLu: “If you are cold, why don’t you huddle a little closer with me?”

Yan Qi: “Shh…”

Guo DaLu: “What is that supposed to mean?”

Yan Qi: “That is telling you to stop making noise. If your mouth keeps talking nonstop, that Big Centipede is not going to show himself.”

As expected, Guo DaLu immediately did not dare say anything else. He was not afraid of anything, nor was he scared that the enemy was coming. His only fear was that they would not come. It was unbearable having to wait like this. The most agonizing part was that no one knew when those people would show up. Perhaps they would have to wait several days, or perhaps it would be in that very instant…

Guo DaLu was reaching over to cover Yan Qi’s shoulders with the fishing net he was holding in his hands. The net was light and soft, yet extraordinarily sturdy. They did not know what material it was made of. Lin TaiPing had brought it back with him. Guo DaLu was planning to use it against the Big Centipede – an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Although the net was light, Yan Qi’s heart was flooded with a warm feeling.

All of a sudden, like an arrow, a shadowy outline flew in from the other side of the wall. As it twisted in midair, the sky was filled with flashes of cold light, and thirty to forty projectile weapons had been fired like a fierce storm through the window.

This person had come in extremely fast; his projectile weapons were even faster. Guo DaLu and Yan Qi could not even see how he had fired them. After unleashing the weapons, his toe touched the ground, and immediately, he was soaring into the air again towards the roof of the house.

His body had just launched back into the air when, out of nowhere, a large net came falling down over his head. He had been flying upwards at the time so it looked as if he was actually throwing himself into the net. In panic, he struggled to free himself, but the net was like the silken threads of a spider entangling around his body.

Guo DaLu could not contain his shout of triumph. “Let’s see if you can escape now.” Yan Qi had already darted over and sent a kick towards his “Xue Hai” [Sea of Blood] acupoint.

But then, at that moment, from within the net, more than ten points of cold light came flying out. This time it was Guo DaLu and Yan Qi’s turn to be surprised. In that same instant, a hook flew in from outside the wall and caught onto the net. Obviously, attached to the hook was a rope. And of course, holding onto the rope was a hand. The hand gave a tug and the net was yanked upwards.

When the net was being pulled up, both Guo DaLu and Yan Qi had lunged towards it. However, even though they were simultaneously startled, the projectile weapons were not unleashed on both of them at the same time. All the weapons had, in fact, been fired at Yan Qi. That is why Guo DaLu was more alarmed and more panicked than Yan Qi. His mind had not yet contemplated what he should do before his body had already dived towards Yan Qi and thrown itself on top of him. The two of them tumbled to the ground.

Guo DaLu felt bursts of stabbing pain all over. Abruptly, his entire body became completely numb. And then, his senses grew numb as well.

He did not see the fishing net get pulled off, nor did he see the man inside the net free himself and leap upwards. In his state of semi-consciousness, all he heard was two loud shouts followed by a cry of fear and a cry of anguish. However, he could not discern who had produced that frightened cry and who had let out the anguished cry. He only knew that he definitely had not cried out. That was because his teeth were clenched tightly together.

There are some people who, in normal times, will frequently shout and be noisy, but when they are genuinely in pain, they will not even so much as moan. Guo DaLu was such a person.

There are some people who, when they see their friends in danger, will forget about any danger to themselves. Guo DaLu was also one of these people. And once he was in motion, he paid no attention to his own life.

********************

The cry of fear seemed to slowly fade into the distance so that gradually, he could no longer hear it. But what was that sound? Was that someone weeping?

Guo DaLu opened his eyes. Right away, he saw the tears on Yan Qi’s face. When Yan Qi saw his eyes open, he could not help crying out in joy, “You are awake.”

Someone to the side immediately said, “Good people do not live long; a blight will stay for a thousand years. I knew that he would not die.” It was Wang Dong’s voice. His voice was usually emotionless, but now, there was a hint of quivering in it. And then, Guo DaLu saw his face. That cold, detached face was right now filled with joy and elation.

Guo DaLu chuckled. “Did you think that I had died?” He was laughing, but the look on his face was as if he was crying. The instant he laughed, his body was wracked with pain.

Wiping his tears away secretly, Yan Qi instructed, “Lie here quietly. You are not allowed to walk or say anything.”

Guo DaLu answered obediently, “Yes.”

Yan Qi: “You are not allowed to even say one word.”

Guo DaLu nodded.

Yan Qi: “And not allowed to nod your head. Not even allowed to move.”

Sure enough, Guo DaLu did not even move a little bit, but his eyes were wide as he stared at Yan Qi.

Yan Qi exhaled a little breath and explained, “You were hit by a ‘nail of death,’ a sleeve arrow, plus two poisoned needles. This life of yours was basically snatched back from death, so you should cherish it.” His eyes grew red again as he spoke.

Wang Dong sighed at him. “If you don’t allow him to speak, it may be even more difficult for him to bear.”

Guo DaLu: “Correct answer.”

Yan Qi glowered at him and snapped, “It seems the right thing to do is sew this guy’s lips together.”

Guo DaLu: “It is only when I am not talking that I feel pain.”

Yan Qi: “No such thing.”

Guo DaLu: “Yes there is.” He wanted to laugh, but he held it back. He carried on slowly, “Because all I need to do is start talking and I will forget about any pain.”

Yan Qi was gazing at him. That expression in his eyes: was it showing feelings of protectiveness and tenderness? Or blame? Or some other emotion that could not be expressed in words or even understood? His complexion was very pale, like the color of the window paper.

The window paper was white again; the sky had brightened. Although the night had been very difficult to endure, it was at last part of the past.

Guo DaLu could not help asking, “What happened with the Big Centipede?”

Yan Qi: “He has become a dead centipede now.” The cry of anguish that Guo DaLu heard had come from him.

However, a centipede may appear to die, but its body may not actually stiffen. Therefore, Guo DaLu pressed further, “Is he really dead? Completely dead?”

Yan Qi did not answer; it was Lin TaiPing who did. “He is completely and thoroughly dead.”

Guo DaLu: “It was you who killed him?”

Lin TaiPing shook his head. “It was Yan Qi.” With a sudden laugh, he added, “You must not have thought that, even under those circumstances, he would be able to get your revenge for you.” Guo DaLu really had not thought that was possible since at the time, he had been lying on top of Yan Qi. He tried to ask Yan Qi, but Yan Qi had already turned his head away. Lin TaiPing carried on, “I did not think that would happen either, but I watched as, just when the Big Centipede leapt up, a dagger pierced his throat. Then I saw the blood on the ground.”

Guo DaLu: “There was only blood on the ground? Where was his body?”

Lin TaiPing: “He left, and he took the dagger with him.”

Guo DaLu: “A dead person can still walk?”

Lin TaiPing: “Because there was still one last breath left in that person. At most, though, it was just one breath.”

The breath that Guo DaLu had been holding was finally released. His face brightening, he said, “So it seems I did not lose out.”

Lin TaiPing: “Yes. And now, it is four against four.”

With a self-mocking smile, Guo DaLu joked, “Sadly, though, I can only be counted as one half.”

Wang Dong suddenly interjected, “They only have three people left.”

Lin TaiPing: “Hong NiangZi, Scarlet Serpent, and Cui MingFu [Life-Hastening Talisman].”

Guo DaLu: “Do not forget that there still is that ‘Flies, Soaring into the Sky’ King of Eagles.”

Wang Dong: “I am not able to forget that.” His expression had suddenly become very strange, and his eyes seemed to be staring at something far off in the distance.

Guo DaLu counted off, “Hong NiangZi, Scarlet Serpent, and Cui MingFu, plus add in the King of Eagles – is that not exactly four?”

Wang Dong: “Three.”

Guo DaLu: “Three plus one. Why is it still three?”

Wang Dong’s eyes were empty. Nobody could tell what he was looking at. His face looked as if he was in a trance. Nobody could tell what he was thinking. A long time passed before finally, speaking each word slowly and clearly, he said, “Because I am ‘Flies, Soaring in the Sky’ King of Eagles.”

********************

No one asked about Wang Dong’s past because they were ones who respected other people’s secrets. If Wang Dong did not volunteer it himself, they would certainly not ask. In the end, Wang Dong’s secret was told by Wang Dong himself.

Wang Dong was not born with a dislike for being in motion. In fact, when he was a child, not only did he like moving, he loved it, and he moved about tremendously. By the time he was six years old, he knew how to climb trees. He had climbed all sorts of trees, and therefore, he had also toppled down from all sorts of trees. And he had fallen in all sorts of different positions and forms. The worst time was when his head had struck the ground first. That time, the fall had nearly split his head in two. It was only when he was starting to be able to hang from a tree like a monkey, using just the tip of his foot, that he no longer climbed trees. That was because tree climbing had turned into something as safe as sleeping under the covers, not the least bit exhilarating.

From that time onward, everyday, his parents had to send out all of the household servants to search for him. Although by then their family fortune had already deteriorated, they still had quite a few servants. Each instance, by the time they managed to find him and bring him home, they were completely exhausted to the point where it seemed a mere poke with the tip of a finger would cause them to topple over. Yet, he was still frisky, much more vigorous than a shrimp just out of water. After a while, no one was willing to go look for him. They would rather chop eight hundred jin [1 jin (catty) = 0.5 kg] of firewood than find him. They would rather pack up and quit than have to search for him. And so, his father had to abandon that notion and allowed Wang Dong to play outside however long it pleased him.

Fortunately, he would return home once every two to three days, back to bathe, eat, and change his clothes – back to ask for spending money. That was because, at the time, he was still thirteen or fourteen years of age and felt that it was perfectly fine and proper to ask his parents for money. By the time he was a little older and felt that it was time for himself to be independent, his parents rarely got to see him. His elderly father and mother had lost track of the number of times they had secretly sworn, “Next time he returns, we will lock him up with a metal chain and break his two legs with a club. We will see then whether he can still go out and be wild.” But then, the next time he came home, they saw that he was all filthy, hungry and looking thin and sickly, and the elderly man’s heart would soften. At most, then, he would just call him into the study for a session of verbal discipline. Furthermore, his mother would have rushed into the kitchen long ago to simmer a chicken soup. Before his father had finished his lecture, a chicken drumstick would have already been stuffed into their son’s mouth.

Perhaps, in this world, only the parents of an only child will understand what they were feeling. Daughters and sons will never be able to comprehend it. Wang Dong was no exception. He only knew that when a man grew up, he should go out and forge his own way in the world. And so, he left to go explore his way outside.

At that time, he was only seventeen, and he was the same as every other seventeen year old youth on the earth. Right after Wang Dong left his family, his heart was brimming with excitement and filled with aspirations. However, after suffering through a couple days of hunger, he slow started to get homesick. Then his heart started feeling very empty and lonely. As a result, he would desperately try to make some new friends – of course, it was best if it was a “powder and rouge” intimate friend [a (pretty) female close friend]. What seventeen year old lad does not yearn for love and fantasize about romance?

It was when he reached a point where he was hopelessly lonely that “Rescuer of the Poor and Needy” Hong NiangZi came into his life. She appreciated his ambitions and understood his misery. She comforted him, encouraged him – encouraged him to do all kinds of things. “A man who is alive on this earth ought to go out and experience things.” To him, everything she said was an imperial decree. “When a person is alive, he must have money and a name for himself because life is for enjoying.” At the time, he still did not know that there were many other things in life aside from his own pleasures that were much more meaningful. So, in order to become famous, he did not hesitate to do all sorts of things.

He became famous. He had not yet reached twenty when he became the impressively renowned “Flies, Soaring into the Sky” King of Eagles. Becoming famous, indeed, was a very gratifying thing. Muddle-headedly, he did all sorts of things, and muddle-headedly, he made a name for himself. On his body, he wore the most lavish clothing, and he drank wine that cost three liang of silver for just one jin. He knew how to nitpick a tailor’s handiwork. If his shark fin soup had been simmered a minute less than it should have been, he would immediately hurl it into the chef’s face. He not only understood enjoyment, the enjoyments he had were truly quite good.

He should have been very satisfied. But for some reason, he suddenly had feelings of agony and unease, and furthermore, that uneasiness was even worse than before. In the past, once his head touched the pillow, he would sleep very sweetly, but now, he often could not even fall asleep. In the times he was unable to sleep, he would ask himself, “All those things I have done, should I have done them?” “These friends I have made, are they really true friends?” “Should a person think of other things aside from his own pleasures?” And then, all of a sudden, he began longing for home and missing his father and mother. The most skilful chef in the world cannot simmer out a chicken soup like the ones made by a mother’s own hands. All those words of flattery gradually did not seem as pleasant to listen to as his father’s words of discipline. Even hearing Hong NiangZi’s sweet words and honeyed phrases did not move his heart like they used to. However, all these things were not the most important point; the most important was that he suddenly wanted to be an honest and upright person, one who could go to sleep with his mind at ease.



As a result, he started to plan his escape to free himself from that type of life and those sorts of friends. He obviously knew that they would definitely not just let him leave because firstly, they needed him, and secondly, he knew too many secrets.

The one fortunate thing was that, all along, he had never mentioned his family or his parents in front of them. He did not know whether he was afraid his parents would lose him or he would lose his parents. His mother and father were not any sort of extraordinary personage. His friends never inquired about his family background neither; they only asked him, “How did you learn your martial arts?”

His martial arts were learned during the time when he was still a child who was always being unruly outside. A very mysterious old man would wait for him every day in the dark forest and force him to train intensely. From the beginning to the end, he did not know who that old man was, nor did he know how strong the martial art he taught him actually was. It was not until he had his first fight that he knew. This was his unexpected encounter, and it was both bizarre and mysterious. Hence, he had never mentioned this in front of anyone because even if he did say something, nobody would believe him. At times, he did not even really believe it himself.



End of Chapter 22