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Tuesday, 22 July 2008 05:46

Chapter 2 - GuanDong Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses


The lantern that hung atop the main doors had already been extinguished.

A person stood underneath let out a thundering laugh. His voice shook the lantern hard enough that the dust that had gathered gently drifted down from above onto his face.

But he didn't seem to mind.

No matter what happened, Ye Kai never seemed to mind.

That's why he was still wearing that filthy, torn, ugly shirt that he had on from the night before. Wherever he went, a foul odor that smelled like the combination of decaying weeds, animal hides, and rotting corpses followed him along.

But by the way that he was standing there, it seemed as if he was expecting everyone to appreciate the disgusting stench that he was emitting.


There was still something hanging from the hole in his shirt. But it wasn't the chrysantheum from the night before. It was a pearl flower ornament.

Who knows from the top of which young girl's hair had he plucked it from?

He never picked flowers off of their stems, but he never hesitated to pluck jewels off of a girl's hair.

Fu HongXue's gaze suddenly retracted from the distance and focused in on him.

Ye Kai had already reached the middle of the street, right in front of the man in white. His footsteps were wobbly as he staggered along. He resembled a drunk, like T'ai-Bo the poet immortal, who tried to catch the moon in a river. But once his eyes opened, he looked even sharper than the eagle-shooting Genghis Khan.

Ye Kai shut his eyes, looked over at the man in white, and said, "I think you were standing here as well last night."

"Yes." the man in white replied.

"You're still here today." Ye Kai said.

"Yes." the man in white replied.

"What are you waiting for?" Ye Kai asked.

"Waiting for you." the man in white said.

"Me? I'm nobody important, why would you be waiting for me?" Ye Kai said with a smile.

"In Third Boss's eyes, no one in the entire world can match your heroic air." the man in white said.

Ye Kai let out a big laugh and said, "I've just found out today that I'm actually a hero. But what kind of a person is this Third Boss of yours?"

"He is someone who recognizes and admires heroes." the man in white said.

"Excellent! I adore those kinds of people. Where is he now? I want to let him offer me a cup of wine!" Ye Kai said.

If he allowed someone to buy him a cup of wine, he was giving that person a lot of face.

"I've been instructed under the Third Boss's orders to invite you to have a small drink with him tonight." the man in white said.

"If its only for a small drink then I won't go. But if its for a large drink then I'll definitely be there!" Ye Kai said.

"The 'Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses' has a wine cellar three thousand bottles deep. You'll be able to drink to your heart's content." the man in white said.

Ye Kai wore a large smile and said, "If that's the case, then it'd be hard to keep me away even if you wanted to."

"Thank you." the man in white said.

"Since I've agreed to go, then why are you still standing here?" Ye Kai said.

"I was ordered to invite six people. I've only succeeded in getting five to come." the man in white said.

"And that is why you can't leave?" Ye Kai said.

"Yes." the man in white said.

"Who weren't you able to invite?" Ye Kai said.

He didn't wait for a response before letting out a laugh and said, "I know who it is. It looks like not only does he not like treating others to wine, he doesn't like others treating him to wine either."

The man in white could only smile awkwardly.

"You could stand here for three days and three nights and he probably still wouldn't be persuaded. I'm not sure that there's a single thing in this entire world that could persuade him." Ye Kai said.

The man in white could only sigh.

"There's only one way to reach a person like him." Ye Kai said.

"Please enlighten me." the man in white said.

"No matter where you want him to go, asking will get you nowhere. But if you're able to provoke him, then he'll go even if you don't ask, and even if he's not invited."

"But it's a pity that I really don't know how I could." the man in white said.

"Just watch." Ye Kai said.

He suddenly turned around and strode over towards Fu HongXue.

Fu HongXue looked like he had been waiting for him the entire time.

Ye Kai walked up in front of him, walked up really close, and in a strange and mysterious manner he asked, "Do you have any idea who I am? And what relations I have with you?"

"Who are you? And what relations do you have with me?" Fu HongXue asked.

His pale white face was still completely lacking of emotions. But green veins in the hand that held his sabre suddenly rose up.

Ye Kai laughed and said, "If you want to find out, then meet me at the 'Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses' tonight and I will tell you."

Before Fu HongXue could say another word, he quickly turned around and walked away. He walked rather fast as if he was afraid that Fu HongXue would follow from behind.

But Fu HongXue didn't move. He only lowered his eyes and looked at the sabre in his hands as his pupils slowly shrank.

Ye Kai had already ran back to the man in white. He tapped him on the shoulder and said, "You can return now. I can guarantee that he will show up at the 'Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses' tonight."

"Will he really be there?" the man in white said doubtingly.

"Even if he doesn't show up, it'll be my fault. You've already fulfilled your duty." Ye Kai said.

"Thank you!" the man in white said graciously.

"You don't have to thank me, you should be thanking yourself." Ye Kai said.

The man in white look surprised and said, "I should thank myself?"

"If the famous 'Single Sword, Soaring Flowers' who shook the martial arts world twenty years ago can stand here for an entire day and night, what's the big deal about me doing him a small favor?" Ye Kai said with a smile.

The man in white looked strangely at Ye Kai, after a long while, he slowly said, "It seems that you know quite a lot."

"Luckily, not too much." Ye Kai replied.

The man in white smiled as he saluted him and said, "I will see you tonight."

"Definitely!" Ye Kai said.

The man in white bowed and slowly turned around. He pulled the pike and flag up from the ground and wrapped it back up. With a single stab, the tip of the pike hit the ground as his entire body catapulted into the air.

At that moment, a horse raced out from one of the alleyways.

The man in white's body was perfectly steady as he landed right on top of the horse's saddle.

With a loud neigh, the horse had already galloped some thirty meters away.

Ye Kai looked on at the man in white on his horse as they galloped off into the distance. He let out a gentle sigh and said, "It appears that this 'Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses' really is a place of hidden dragons and crouching tigers, with experts as numerous as the clouds ..."

He stretched out his arms and let out a big yawn. Then he turned around to look for Fu HongXue, but he was no longer in sight.

________________________________________

Blue skies. Yellow sand.

Yellow sand accompanied the skies. The sky accompanied the yellow sands.

In the far distance, a giant white flag was flapping in the wind.

It was as if the flag stood at the ends of the earth.

It was as if the 'Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses' stood at the ends of the earth!

The boundless, endless wastelands. A road had been etched out by the trampling hooves of horses, long and straight. Headed straight towards that majectic white flag. And under that flag was the 'Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses'.

Fu HongXue stood in the middle of the desert by the side of the road, staring at that flag for who knows how long. Finally, he slowly turned around.

A red streak suddenly appeared in the yellow dust filled sky. It shot towards him like a shooting star.

A rouge colored horse. A person clothed in red.

Fu HongXue had only taken three steps before he heard hoofbeats coming from behind.

He didn't turn around. After a few more steps, the horse and its rider blazed passed him.

The rider turned to look at him, a piercing set of eyes caught sight of the sabre in Fu HongXue's hand. A pair of slender white hands pulled at the reins of the horse.

A talented horse. A beautiful woman.

But Fu HongXue looked like he didn't even notice them. When he didn't want to look, his eyes couldn't see anything.

Her bright eyes were still staring at his face as she suddenly said, "So you're that person? That Master Hua couldn't even invite?"

She was beautiful, but her voice was even more beautiful.

Fu HongXue didn't hear it.

The rider raised her eyebrows and loudly exclaimed, "Listen here! If you dare to not show up tonight, then you're nothing but a bumbling mosquito rotten egg. And I'll kill you and feed your worthless body to the dogs."

The whip in her hands lashed out viciously like a snake towards his face. But Fu HongXue didn't seem to see it coming. As the whip neared his face, it suddenly cracked with a *PA* as it left a small red mark on his cheeks.

Fu HongXue still showed no reaction. But the veins in his sabre hand had started to protrude.

"So he's nothing but a wooden blockhead." the rider smirked.

Her laughter trailed off as the rider and horse dashed into the desert, leaving nothing but a streak of red.

Fu HongXue raised his hand and felt the whip mark on his face as he started to shake.

His entire body started to shake, with the exception of his hand that was holding the sabre. It remained as still as a mountain!

________________________________________

Ye Kai was still yawning.

If anyone had been noticing, he already yawned at least thirty or forty times today.

Yet he still refused to go to sleep.

He was wandering to the east and west, looking left and glancing right, as if every single thing sparked his interest.

Yet he showed no interest in sleeping whatsoever.

He was just walking out of a general store and headed towards a small noodle shop that was across the street.

He really enjoyed chatting with many different kinds of people but for some reason he found all of the owners in this place rather strange.

Actually, he probably was the one who was strange.

He never walked very fast either, but his walk was very different from Fu HongXue.

Although Fu HongXue was a cripple and walked rather slowly, his posture was still always as straight as a spear.

Ye Kai walked around very lazily, as if all the bones in his body had got up and left. He looked like he would fall over with the poke of a finger.

As he walked through the middle of the street, a swift horse dashed right down the center.

A rouge colored horse, its rider as beautiful as peach blossoms - the kind of peach blossoms that had thorns.

Before the horse had reached Ye Kai, the rider screamed loudly, "Hey you! Are you trying to get yourself killed? Get out of the way!"

Ye Kai lifted his head and looked at her but showed no signs of wanting to move.

It seemed like all she could do was to stop her horse, but instead she unfurled her whip as it dragged along the ground.

She was much less courteous this time than she was with Fu HongXue.

But Ye Kai simply raised his hand and the tip of the whip was caught in his grasp.

His hands seemed to possess some mysterious demonic powers, they always did things that you would've never thought possible.

The woman clothed in red's face became so red that she looked like she was buried in make-up.

With just three of his fingers, Ye Kai trapped her whip in his grasp. No matter how hard she pulled, she was unable to retract it.

She was half-startled and half-impatient as she angrily said, "What ... what do you want?"

He looked at her out of the corner of his eye, his face still had the same lazy expression, "I just wanted to lecture you about a few things."

The girl in red gritted her teeth and said, "I don't want to hear it."

"You don't have to listen if you don't want to, but I don't think it'll be a pretty sigh if girl fell off her horse in the middle of the street." Ye Kai said.

The girl in red suddenly sensed a surge of energy coming towards her from the whip, she felt like she could fall off her horse at any second. She couldn't help it any longer and said, "If you have something to say, hurry up and speak. If you have gas, hurry up and fart it out."

Ye Kai laughed and said, "You shouldn't be so vicious. When you're not, you can be an attractive young girl. But when you are, you turn into a mother tigress who's hated by everyone."

The girl in red held in her anger and said, "Anything else?"

"Yes. Whether it be a rouge horse or a mother tigress, if you trample over someone, you still have to be held accountable for their life." Ye Kai said.

The girl in red was pale with anger as she said, "Now can you let go already?"

"Just one more thing." Ye Kai said with a smile.

"What?" the girl in red asked.

"When a man like me happens upon a woman like you, it'd be a crime not only to myself but to you as well, if I were to let you go without asking your name." Ye Kai said.

"Why in the world should I tell you my name?" the girl in red said.

"Because you don't want to fall off your horse." Ye Kai replied.

Her face turned yellow as her eyes glanced away. "Fine. I'll tell you. My last name is Li, and my first name is GuGu."

Ye Kai smiled as he let go and said, "Li GuGu ... Li (your) GuGu (aunt) ... that name is ..."

But just as he realized, she and her horse had already darted away.

All he heard was the girl laughing, "So now do you understand? I'm this turtle rotten egg's good auntie!"

She was still afraid that Ye Kai might chase after her so she waited until she was a good distance away before she leapt off her horse and into one of the doors by the side of the road.

She acted as if once she was inside that door, then no one would be able to threaten her.

The eighteen tables inside that door were all empty.

Only the mysterious owner was there at his small table playing with dominoes.

It was still light outside, this place never took guests during the day.

Although the type of business that this owner ran was not anything noble, he still had very strict rules.

If you wanted to come here, you had to abide by his rules.

The temples on either side of his forehead were white. Every single wrinkle on his face hid away all his happiness, all his sadness, and a countless number of his secrets. But his two hands were still as soft and slender as a young girl's hand.

His wardrobe was extremely flashy, almost to the point of extravagance.

A gold jar lay on the table. The wine in his cup had an amber tint and glistened like a precious stone.

He was slowly assembling his dominoes on the table into the shape of an eight-sided diagram.

As soon as the girl in red entered, her steps became much lighter. She walked over leisurely and said, "How are you, uncle?"

This wild and rowdy girl upon stepping foot inside that door had suddenly changed into an extremely well-mannered and gentle young lady.

The owner did not turn to look at her. He simply nodded his head, smiled and said, "Have a seat."

The girl sat down across from him. She looked like she wanted to say something but he wagged his hand and said, "Wait."

She actually sat obediently, not uttering a single word.

He stared at the eight-sided diagram of dominoes on the table. He had a very serious expression on his pale, emaciated, weather-beaten face.

The girl in red couldn't hold it in and suddenly asked, "Can you really see many different things in this set of dominoes?"

"Mmm." the owner said.

"What do you see today?" she said as her eyes widened.

The owner took a sip from his gold cup and said, "There are some things that you're better off not knowing."

"And what happens if we do know?" the girl asked.

"Heavenly secrets are difficult to comprehend. Misfortunes will befall you." the owner said.

"If we know that misfortunes are going to happen, then can't we figure out ways to avoid them?" the girl said.

The owner shook his head slowly and said with a stern look, "Some misfortunes are unavoidable, completely unavoidable ..."

The girl in red looked at the dominoes quite puzzled, and mumbled, "How come I stare and stare but can't seem to see anything?"

"Its exactly because you can't see anything that I'm glad." the owner said.

The girl in red looked rather confused before she let out a smile and said, "I'll stop bothering you about this for now. I just wanted to ask you, are you going to stop by our house later tonight?"

The owner knitted his eyebrows and said, "Tonight?"

"Dad has invited several very special guests to our house tonight so he wanted uncle to come along too. A carriage will be here to pick you up very shortly." the girl in red said.

"I think it'd be better if I didn't go." the owner said.

"Actually, dad knew that you wouldn't come. But he still made me come all the way here, and made me have to suffer embarassment from that little devil. It almost angered me to death!" the girl in red said.

A voice suddenly said, "The little devil didn't pick on auntie first, it was auntie who wanted to trample the little devil to death."

The girl in red was startled.

Ye Kai stood at the door smiling lazily at her.

The girl's face changed colors as she shouted, "How dare you come into here?"

"The one who shouldn't be here is you, not me." Ye Kai said.

The girl in red stamped her feet as she turned around and said, "Uncle, why haven't you kicked him out yet? Listen to the crap that he's saying."

The owner just smiled leisurely and said, "It's about to get dark soon. Why don't you just return home? Don't make your dad worry."

The girl in red looked startled and upset as she loudly stormed out of the door.

She was walking so hurriedly that she almost tripped over the door.

"Be careful when you run, auntie. If you trip and kill yourself, no one will be responsible for your death." Ye Kai said.

As she walked out, the girl in red slammed the door behind her. After a few seconds, she opened it just a crack and said, "Thanks for your concern you rascally nephew of mine, but auntie won't die that easily."

Before her sentence was finished, the door was slammed shut again. A horse could be heard neighing as the sound of hoofbeats disappeared off into the street.

Ye Kai let out a sigh as he smiled and said, "A fine rouge horse, and a fine mother tigress."

"You're only half right." the owner said.

"Which half?" Ye Kai said.

"The people around here have all given her and her horse a nickname. She's called the rouge tigress, and her horse is called the rouge servant." the owner said.

Ye Kai started to laugh.

"She's also the only daughter of the host that you'll be meeting tonight." the owner said.

"So she's the daughter of the Third Boss of the 'Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses'?" Ye Kai said.

The owner nodded his head and said, "So you'd better be careful not to let that rouge tigress bite your leg off tonight."

Ye Kai suddenly realized that he wasn't as aloof and mysterious as his appearance made him out to be. So he asked, "What exactly is the Third Boss's surname?"

"Ma, Ma FangLing." the owner replied.

"Ma FangLing, why would he have such a feminine name?" Ye Kai said.

"The father's name is Ma KongQun, his daughter's name is Ma FangLing." the owner said.

Those all-knowing eyes of his looked at Ye Kai and continued, "I knew that you really wanted to ask about the daughter, not the father. If I hear the melody, there's no way that I'd miss its meaning."

"If tonight's host is as witty as you, then I, Ye Kai, definitely won't regret going there tonight." Ye Kai said.

"Ye Kai?" the owner said.

"Ye as in 'leaf', like the leaves on a tree. Kai as in 'open', like when one opens a door. Its also the same Kai as in 'happiness'."

"Now that's a unique name." the owner said.

"And what about you, boss?" Ye Kai said.

"My name is Xiao BieLi." the owner said.

"Xiao, as in 'mournful'? Bie, as in 'parting'; and Li as in 'separation'?" Ye Kai said.

"Do you think that my name is somewhat unlucky?" Xiao BieLi said.

"I wouldn't say unlucky ... its just that your name may make someone feel rather distressed and melancholy." Ye Kai replied.

"In life, there are no everlasting parties. We all must part eventually. When you leave here today, won't we be parting as well? That's why I think my name is very much appropriate." Xiao BieLi said.

"But ever since the beginning, parting has always been the cause of much sorrow. Since you bear a name that brings with it so much gloominess, I think you should have to drink a cup of wine." Ye Kai said.

Xiao BieLi downed his cup in a single gulp and said, "Actually, the most depressing thing in life is not parting. Rather, it is getting together."

"Getting together?" Ye Kai said.

"If there was no gathering, what need would there be for parting?" Xiao BieLi said.

Ye Kai fell silent for a while, and then started to mumble to himself, "That's exactly right, without gathering, there would never be any parting ... without gathering, there would never be any parting." He kept repeating those words over and over, looking rather affected.

"That's why you are wrong, and you should have to drink a cup of wine as well." Xiao BieLi said.

Ye Kai walked over and poured himself a cup of wine. After finishing the whole thing, a wide smile came across his face as he said, "If I wasn't just wrong, then where would this cup of wine be? That's why sometimes it's good to be wrong."

Suddenly the rumble of wheels and the neighing or horses was heard as a carriage pulled up to the door.

Xiao BieLi let out a sigh and said, "With all the talk about parting and leaving, it looks like that time has really come. The carriage from the 'Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses' has arrived for its guests."

"But if we were to never part, then how would we ever get to meet again?" Ye Kai said.

He put down the cup in his hands and walked out without turning back.

Xiao BieLi watched Ye Kai as he was walking out and shouted to him, "If we were to never part, then how would we ever get to meet again? Although it is a pity that after parting, some people never do get to meet again."

A grand carriage pulled by eight horses waited outside the door.

A person clothed in a snow white robe stood outside to greet guests.

A flag hung from the top of the carriage read, 'GuanDong Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses'.

Ye Kai walked over as the person in white greeted him and said, "Welcome! You're the first to arrive, please step right inside."

This person was a few years younger than Hua MenTian, but he still looked to be around forty or so years of age. He had a round face and a short beard. Even when there wasn't a smile on his face, he would still make one feel very comfortable.

Ye Kai looked at him and asked, "Do you recognize me?"

"I don't believe we've met." the person in white replied.

"Since you don't, then how do you know that I'm a guest of the 'Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses'?" Ye Kai said.

"Although you've only been here for one evening, your fame is widely known all throughout the border regions. In addition, if it weren't a hero such as yourself, how would you be able to wear on your shirt, the pearl ornament of the most beautiful girl in the world?" the man in white replied.

"You recognize this pearl ornament?" Ye Kai said.

"That pearl ornament was originally a present of mine." the man in white said.

He let out a sigh and continued, "It is a pity that although I'm quite the hopeless romantic, I've yet been able to garner the smile of a beautiful girl."

Ye Kai laughed as he patted him on the shoulder and said, "I've been complimented before many a times. But by compliments that put me in such a happy mood, this has definitely got to be the first."

The carriage looked very comfortable and tidy, spacious enough to sit as least eight people.

But the only person who came so far was Ye Kai.

After he had met Hua MenTian, he already believed that the 'Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses' was a place of hidden dragons and crouching tigers. But after meeting this other man in white, he felt that not only did they know a lot of people, they knew how to put them to good use as well.

Even the receptionist in the house of a grand marquis may not be as clever a speaker and amiable person as he.

Whoever is able to make a person such as him into a loyal servant must be exceptional indeed.

Ye Kai suddenly became rather anxious in wanting to see just what kind of person this Third Boss was so he blurted out, "Where are the other guests?"

"One of the expected guests should be someone that you invited." the man in white said.

"That you don't have to worry about. He will definitely be there and he will definitely find his own way there as well. I'm asking about the other four guests." Ye Kai said.

"They should've been here by now." the man in white said.

"But they're not." Ye Kai said.

The man in white suddenly smiled and said, "That's why we should just go. If they were meant to be there, then they will be there."

________________________________________

The night drew closer.

The wastelands of the desert appeared even more desolate and vast.

The grand flag of the 'Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses' was already hidden in the remotest corners of the darkness.

The man in white sat across from Ye Kai smiling.

His smile looked as if it would never tire.

The sounds of the hoofbeats were like thunder as they charged through the endless silence of the night.

Ye Kai sighed and said, "If I'm the only one that shows up tonight, I'm afraid that I'll never be able to leave."

The man in white looked as if something had pricked his ear. He tried to keep his smile and asked, "Why do you say that"

"I've heard that the 'Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses' has a wine cellar full of about three thousand jars of wine. If I'm the only one who shows up to drink, won't I be drunk to death by the time the night's over?" Ye Kai said.

"You needn't be afraid. There is no lack of worthy drinking companions in the 'Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses'. Perhaps maybe I can accompany you for a few cups as well." the man in white said.

"If there are experts abound, then my death is guaranteed for sure." Ye Kai said.

"There are plenty of drunkards, I don't know about experts." the man in white said.

"I was referring to expert drinkers of course. If so many people all came at once to toast to me, it'd be a miracle if I did make it out alive!" Ye Kai said.

"The Third Boss's intentions for inviting you tonight are merely so that he may meet a great hero. Of course wine will be involved in the festivities. But even if he was to urge you to drink, I can assure you that we have no intentions of purposely getting you drunk." the man in white said with a serious look.

"But I'm still slightly apprehensive." Ye Kai said.

"About what?" the man in white said.

"I'm afraid that you all won't push me to drink." Ye Kai said.

The man in white let out a laugh.

It was at this time that the voices of singing suddenly filled the desert.

The voice sounded sorrowful, and the words sounded like they came from some mysterious sutra or manuscript text. But each word was extremely clear: 'Emperor of the skies, emperor of the earth. Blood drips from the eyes, the moon doesn't shine. Once one enters the 'Hall of Ten-Thousand Heroes', sabres are severed, intestines are shattered. Emperor of the skies, emperor of the earth. Tears like blood, intestines are shattered. Once one enters the 'Hall of Ten-Thousand Horses', forget about ever going home.'"

The voice was sharp and sorrowful, not only did it sound like a mysterious chant, it could've just as well been the crying of a ghost in the night.

The expression on the face of the person in white suddenly started to change. With one hand he pushed open the window and said, "My apologies."

Before those two words were even finished, his body had leapt outside the window. In the blink of an eye, he could no longer be seen.