LXF02-06 PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 15 August 2008 22:03

Chapter 6 - Clever Escape Plan



The WestGarden was located in the western part of the city. It was a huge flower park as well as a garden. The sun had set already, under the tree shade, inside the gazebos and the pavilions were lit with a series of star like lanterns. Flowing through the air with the night breeze was the flower frangrances, and wine fragrances as well. The Moon was round like a mirror as it hung gingerly from one of the trees. Two all, cherry-colored, cotton trees linked together with interconnected roots, and leaned into each other, like two lovers tenderly embracing each other.

Lu Xiao Feng was suddenly reminded of Xue Bing again. Whenever Xue Bing appeared in his thoughts, it was as if somebody pricked his heart with a needle. He was not a heartless man, but he also know that this was not the time to mope about. He had already walked around the park once. There were not that many female visitors tonight, but he has yet to spot any woman wearing red shoes. But he was not getting anxious.

Because Gong Sun Lan did not know there was someone like Lu Xiao Feng looking for her in this park. This had undoubtly given him the edge. The cold dish shaped Moon hhad slowly risen higher and higher in the night sky. The dim and hazy moon light was beautiful enough to intoxicate one’s heart. If Xue Bing was here by my side, she would surely be nagging to me about finding a seat and ordering a huge serving of that famed cooking that this place was known for.

In front of others, she was always very shy, blushing before she would or could even utter a word. But just put her together with Lu Xiao Feng, then she suddenly seemed to turn into a spoiled little kid. Yapping about this thing one minute, nagging about something else the next, there was hardly a moment of peace to be had. Lu Xiao Feng suddenly discovered something - he liked her nagging, liked hearing her nag, watching her nag, liked watching her throwing a mischievous fit in front of him, liked her....

He stopped himself from thinking any further. He was prepared to go take a walk somewhere else.

Just as he was about to turn away, he suddenly noticed a granny come walking out from underneath the shadows of a tree. She was a very old granny and wore a green dress or robe that had been patched over hundreds of times over. There seemed to be a huge rock placed on her back that seemed to have snapped her spine in half.

So when she walked, she was always bent over as if she was looking for something on the ground. The moon light hit her face and revealed it to be one full of wrinkles, like a piece of cotton paper that someone had already wadded up but then flattened out again.

“Sugar roasted chestnuts!” She had hanging from her arm a very big bamboo basket that was covered over with a very thick cotton cloth. “Fresh sugar roasted chestnuts, delicious and hot. Just ten farthings a catty!”

This poor and lonely old woman who had already entered the twilight still needed to come out and yell as loud as her already coarse voice would let her to sell sugar roasted chestnuts.

Lu Xiao Feng suddenly felt very bad for her, after all, he was a very compassionate man.

“Gramps, over here, I’ll buy two catties.” The chestnuts really did smell delicious and hot, and fresh too, just as advertised.

“Did you say ten farthings for a catty?”

The granny nodded, she was still bent over as if she was fascinated by Lu Xiao Feng’s shoes, but in reality it was because she could not stand upright anymore.

“No, ten farthings a catty can’t possibly do!” Lu Xiao Feng shook his head.

“Only ten farthings sire, do you still think it’s too much?”

“Such good chestnuts are worth at least 10 taels of silver a catty and I would not buy it for a farthing less!”

The granny smiled. The smiled made the wrinkles on her face even more prominent. - Is this guy a dummy or is he somebody that had only experienced an incredibly priviledge and expensive existence?

“Ten taels of silver a catty, if you are willing to sell it for that price, then I’ll buy two catties off of you.”

Of course the granny would be willing to sell.

“I would even be willing to sale for 20 taels of silver a catty!” Why must people get a little more greedy when they get older?

“But I have something that I need your help with!” Lu Xiao Feng smiled.

“Sire, what can an old bag of bones like myself possibly help you with?” The granny tentatively smiled back.

“Only you could do this!”

Why?

“Because you are bent over like that so that it looks like you are looking for something on the ground to begin with.” Lu Xiao Feng smiled. “I need for you to find something for me!”

Find what?

“I want you to find a woman who is wearing a pair of red shoes for me. Not just any red shoes, a pair of red shoes with owls embroidered on them.”

The granny smiled as well. There was nothing more appropriate to ask of someone like her. Even if she dove underneath the dresses of others, nobody would ever get suspicious of her.

She took the 20 taels of silver into her hands. Her smile was so wide that her eyes were like little slits.

“Just wait here sire, I’ll tell you as soon as I find it.”

“If you can find her, then I’ll buy 5 more catties off of you when you get back.”

The granny happily went on her way. Lu Xiao Feng was happy too, not just happy, but proud too. Only someone as smart as himself could have thought of such an ingenius method to do this. He suddenly realized he was a genius. But he forgot something - genius’ lives are usually short lived!

The chestnuts were still hot, hot and mouth-watering. Lu Xiao Feng decided to congratulate himself a bit for his hard work. He found a large and relatively clean rock to sit on. After sitting himself down, he peeled off the shell off of a chestnut and was just about to put it in his mouth when he suddenly thought of Xue Bing again. Xue Bing loved to eat chestnuts. On cold days, she would always first place the chestnuts in her lap and use them to warm her hands before slowly eating them one by one. One particular time when Lu Xiao Feng met her, she was just in the middle of eating chestnuts.

That day was freezing. Lu Xiao Feng’s hands felt as if they were about to fall off in the freezing cold. It was her who grabbed his hands and placed them in her lap. Even to this day, that sweet warmness seemed to be still residing at the very tip of Lu Xiao Feng’s fingers. But where is she now? How could anyone expect Lu Xiao Feng to be able to eat this chestnut?

From the distant flower bushes, a sad and lonely song came floating through the night air.

“Messy ebony hair, lost broken night, the hate carrying eye brow thinks of the distant hills, the frangrace carrying cheek tender budding bamboo shoot, for whom to the tears flow, for whom do the tears share?”

The beautiful songstress voice was filled with a kind of thick and unpenetrable memorance.

Lu Xiao Feng gently sighed. Those chestnuts that were kept in place by the sash across his lap fell onto the ground and scattered. Even he himself did not realize that he was such an sentimental and worried man.

He leaned up against a tree beside the rock he was sitting on and closed his eyes.

“What if I don’t ever find her again?”

He suddenly felt terribly depressed and hopeless, not even wanting to move even a little. So motionless was he that he looked like a dead man. It was at this time that the chestnut selling granny reappeared from behind the shadows. Lu Xiao Feng’s eyes were not completely closed, he left a little slit open.

His initial reaction was to sit up and ask that granny if she had found that woman with the red shoes. But suddenly, he noticed that those old and hazy eyes of hers were beaming with a killer, knife-like glow. A granny like this should never have that look in her eyes.

Lu Xiao Feng’s heart suddenly seemed to be pierced by a streak of light, a light of inspiration. He even held his breath. The granny took a look at him, looked at the chestnuts scattered on the ground, at his dried dips, her lips curled into a hideous and sinister smile. Underneath the shade of the tree, Lu Xiao Feng’s complexion was deathily pale.

“Such good chestnuts,” the granny mumbled. “Just one is enough to kill at least 3 men, it would be such a waste to just leave them here.”

So she slowly limped over. Lu Xiao Feng suddenly realized even though the way she walked was slow and cumbersome, her steps were very light. The dress that she was wearing was extremely long so that it dragged on the ground, covering her feet. What kind of shoes were on those feet? Lu Xiao Feng suddenly opened his eyes, staring at her. Incredibly, the granny was not surprised, at least, Lu Xiao Feng did not notice any signs of surprise on her.

She was truly quite an unshakable woman to be able to hold her composure and actually smile like she did during their first meeting.

“There don’t seem to be any woman with red shoes around here, but there were two with yellow and purple shoes!”

Lu Xiao Feng returned her smile.

“There is one woman with red shoes here too, I have already found her!”

“You have already found her sire? Where did you find her?”

“Right here. You!”

“Me?” The granny looked at him in shock. “Why would an old granny like me where red shoes?”

“My eyes can see through things.” Lu Xiao Feng matter of factly claimed. “And I can see right at this moment those red shoes that are on your feet, and that owl embroidered on the shoes!”

The granny suddenly laughed. Her laughter sounded like a series of silver bells, no, even more pleasing to the ear than silver bells.

“You didn’t eat my sugar roasted chestnuts?”

“No.”

“Such delicious sugar roasted chestnuts, why didn’t you eat any?”

Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

“Because I’m a romantic!”

“Romantic people don’t eat sugar roasted chestnuts?” The granny blinked.

“Sometimes we do, but only those non-poisonous kind.”

The granny laughed, silver bell like laughter.

“Lu Xiao Feng really is Lu Xiao Feng after all!”

“You knew that I’m Lu Xiao Feng?”

“How many people in the world have 4 eye brows on their face?” She laughed.

Lu Xiao Feng laughed. His laughter was, of course, not as moving as this granny’s, this was because he was not really laughing anyways. He knew that this granny was about to strike, and also knew that this strike would not be easy to handle. He was right.

At the precise moment that he began to laugh, this granny had taken out a pair of short swords, daggers, from her basket, swords with a bright red silk sash tied to them. At the precise moment that he saw those swords, the swords flashed as their blades have arrived at his throat. Such quick strike! Such quick swords!

Lu Xiao Feng did not dare to catch those swords with his hands, he was afraid that the blades have poison coated on them. Normally he might be a very careless and casual guy, but at these crucial moments of life and death, there were not many more prudent and careful than him to be found in this world. Like a diving fish, he suddenly floated away. Not only was the reaction quick, the movement itself was quicker. But no matter where he went the bright and dancing flash of the swords would follow him.

The sword flashes were colorful and flickering, under the relentless and freezing power of the sword aura, the leaves on the trees were torn off of their branches and gently floated down towards the ground only to be shreded into oblivion an instant later by the sword flashes. Lu Xiao Feng was already soaked in sweat. He had thought that Xi Men Chui Xue and Ye Gu Cheng were the more fearsome swordsmen in the world, but he did not imagine that there was someone like this in the world.

“Gong Sun Beauty of the past, a dance the swords move all directions, observers like mountains lose their color in sadness, world admits defeat and forever bows.”

“Magnificent like Yi shooting down the 9 suns, proud like the Emperors bucking on the dragon’s back, arriving like the thunder loudly madly shaking, gone like the pureness of the rivers and the seas....”

There might not be any mountain like observes here, but the colors on Lu Xiao Feng’s face had already been lost. Even the bright full moon had lost its brightness and colors under this freezing sword aura. Could this possibly be the very sword dance that the Madame Cui Gong Sun of yesteryears had taught to her disciples?

Only now did Lu Xiao Feng fully realize that the silk and sword not only could be used for a dance for someone’s entertainment, but could also be used to kill. At any moment, he could die under these swords. Using and controlling those swords with the red silks made the swords much quicker and much more manuevreable than just simply using one’s hands. And the quickness with which the swords changed their moves and their variances were absolutely mind boggling.

Lu Xiao Feng’s shirt had already been sliced open at several places as he was now forced with his back completely against the trunk of a tree.

“Pch!” The sound reverberated as the swords flew through the air like a pair of red dragons towards him. This time there was no where for him to escape to.

The corner of First Madame Gong Sun’s lips once again curled up into a sinister smile. But she did know that Lu Xiao Feng’s best ability is to be able to find a way to live in situation of certain death. Suddenly, his body slid down on the tree trunk like a snake, and slid down all the way onto the ground.

“Dong!” The blades of the swords had struck the trunk of the tree full on and penetrated deep into them. At that moment, Lu Xiao Feng sprung up from the ground and, with a backwards flick of his hands, snapped the two silk sashes tied to the sword handles in half! This was the equivalent of cutting off two sword holding hands. First Madame Gong Sun’s body sprung as well as she flipped in midair, sending her long dress flying. Finally, Lu Xiao Feng saw her shoes. Red shoes!

The bright moon still hung in the middle of the sky, the red shoes could only be glimpsed for an instant in the moonlight before she was already more than 10 meters away. Of course, Lu Xiao Feng was not willing to let her get away like this. But by the time he began to chase, he was already a step behind. A step that he could not make up.

No matter what he did, the distance between them kept a steady 10 meters. Lu Xiao Feng had met and seen quite a number of the best lightness kungfu masters in the martial world. Of course, Si Kong Zhai Xin was the best among them, but Yan Tie Shan, Huo Tian Qing, Xi Men Chui Xue, Honest Monk were not too shabby either.

But if it had been these men running away from Lu Xiao Feng at this moment, he might have already have caught them. He suddenly discovered that not only was this “granny”‘s sword skills formidable, but also a lightness kungfu master of a level that he had never encountered before. Flowers, trees, gardens, woods, gazebos, platforms, pavilions, mansions, they all flew by underneath their feet and disappeared.

What followed was one roof top after another, one street after another. First Madane Gong Sun still did not slow down, obviously, she was not a granny beset by her old age. But Lu Xiao Feng was a strong young man at the peak of his mental and physical abilities, so he did not slow down either.

First Madame Gong Sun had already realized that getting rid of this guy behind her was not an easy thing at all.

The street they were coming up upon was brightly lit. It was still not too late and this street just happened to be the most bustling and crowded street in the city. There were two or three different tea houses and wine shops one this street along with all kinds of vendors on their sides, several of them were selling household appliances and cooking ingredients while several others were busy selling food such as fish porridge and roasted goose.

First Madame Gong Sun suddenly dove and landed in the middle of the street.

“Help! Help!” She immediately began screaming.

She ran into a tea house as she was screaming. Lu Xiao Feng followed her closely. But a granny screaming for help with a strong young man chasing after her did not look good to people, nor would they stand for such a thing. There were already several angry looking young men shouting and screaming at him, some had even pulled out their knives. Lu Xiao Feng knew he was in trouble. Of course he could easily take care of these brave and righteous young fellows who were just trying to do what they thought was right, but these guys looked like they all could not wait to beat him to a pulp!

Seven or eight of them all of the sudden charged at him simultaneously, some waving sabres, others waving benches, as they surrounded Lu Xiao Feng.

“Mudaf’ka, wah’a’fa a yi ch’sin’ an o’d lade fo in da midl’o ni’? Ja wang ta rap’er?” They were screaming at him.

Lu Xiao Feng did not know whether to laugh or cry. He wanted to explain, but did not have the slightest clue as to how to even begin. He wanted to strike, but could not bring himself to do it. While he was hesitating, a bench came howling down from above. The thing he could do was reach up and block that it with his hand.

“Boom!” His hand was fine, but the bench had shattered. Every one of them were shocked into silence for a moment. It was at that moment that somebody suddenly rushed up and gave each of them a huge slap across their face. But incredibly, none of these angry and righteous young replied to the strike nor did they try and get out the way.

Lu Xiao Feng finally sighed in relief, he recognized this man as one of the two men in the yard outside of the Snake King’s pavilion that had tried to test him yesterday.

“Daya bastads no’ho thas as?” The man pointed at Lu Xiao Feng and said loudly. “Cha’sa Snake King’sa best frind an’sa da bas’ goongfu ‘nda wirl Luk Siu Fung!”

To these young men, the name Lu Xiao Feng did not mean much of anything, but the Snake King’s friend was simply untouchable. So those with sabres in hand put up the sabres, those with a bench put them down as each and everyone of them walked up to Lu Xiao Feng and apologized! But Lu Xiao Feng had already taken the opportunity to charge out of that circle and through the back door. The back door led to a small alley. He had saw First Madame Gong Sun escape through this back door, but now there was only a homeless dog gnawing on a bone in the gutters. Not even a hint of a shadow of First Madame Gong Sun could be seen.

Lu Xiao Feng sighed and turned around, knowing that it was pointless to keep chasing now.

That big man had followed him here and walked up to him now.

“We werre juss goin’ ta go look for ya in ta Wess Gard’n,” with a smile, he told Lu Xiao Feng, trying very hard to not degenerate into his local dialect. “But i’ turned ou’ dat ya turned up ‘ere instead!”

“Did something come up?”

The man nodded.

“We haf fund whirl dat lady is, she....” If there was one thing to be feared in the world it was Cantonese people trying to talk Mandarin. Having to stutter and stumble over and through his words, the man was already sweating bullets in frustration.

But Lu Xiao Feng was even more frustrated.

“Where is she?” He cut him off.

“I’ll tak ya dare!”

The streets were still crowded, but upon seeing this big man come walking their way, the people all quietly and respectfully got out of the way.

“Ma saname is Luk too, I’m Luk Guang.” He seemed to feel that it was an honor to have the surname of Lu as well.

But Lu Xiao Feng was only wishing that he would do less talking and more walking.

“I a’mire ya, your goongfu’s realy da best.” But Lu Guang was trying his hardest to make an good impression.

“Deese are great, wan’ some?” He said as he reached into his shirt and took out a couple of sugar roasted chestnuts, hot and delicious looking sugar roasted chestnuts!

But Lu Xiao Feng looked as if he had just seen a poisonous snake.

“Where did you get these?” He demanded as he grabbed Lu Guang’s arm.

“I boot dem, o’course!” Lu Guang answered after getting over his momentary shock. “I neva took otha people’s thin’s for no reasin!”

“Where did you buy them? Where’s the person that sold them to you?”

“Ova dare.”

Following the direction that Lu Guang pointed at, there really was a chestnut selling vendor. A person was busy roasting a huge pot of them. Chestnuts were not rare by any means, there were tons of people selling them everywhere. Lu Xiao Feng breezed a sigh of relief, but his palms were already covered in a cold sweat.

Thinking back, he realized that the moment when he peeled off the shell of the chestnut back then could have very well been the most dangerous moment in his life. If he had put that chestnut in his mouth, he would not still be Lu Xiao Feng at this moment.

“A dead man is just that, a dead man. A corpse don’t have any names.” Even that moment when Ye Gu Cheng’s sword threatened his chest was not as dangerous as that moment. He suddenly discovered that there were some advantages to being a romantic after all. Besides, at least now he has found where Xue Bing was.

Lu Xiao Feng suddenly felt very happy.

“So your name is Lu too huh? That’s great!” He smiled and patted Lu Guang’s shoulders. “When we have time, I’ll invite you to drink some tea with me.”

Drinking tea is the biggest hobby of Cantonese people, not eating is ok, but not drinking tea is unfathomable.

But unexpectedly, Lu Guang shook his head.

“I don’t drink tea, I only drink wine!”

Lu Xiao Feng laughed, laughed so loud and so hard that other people on the street turned and stared at him. But he did not care.

When he was happy, he wanted everyone in the world to know and be happy with him. By now, Lu Guang had already turned into an alley. This alley was between a bakery and a tailor. The alleyway was very narrow and not possible for two men to walk shoulder to shoulder. There were no doors on either side. It looked like a little space that the 2 shop keepers intentionally put there when they built their shops.

Maybe it was because the 2 shops did not get along, nobody wants have only a wall separating themselves from someone they do not like. But at the end of the alley, there was a small red door. The door was partially covered up. A man was standing in front of the door anxiously waiting. So anxious that he was incessantly rubbing his hands together.

As soon as he saw Lu Guang, the man walked up and whispered something into his ear. Lu Guang’s expression immediately changed dramatically. He turned around to face Lu Xiao Feng with a very guilty smile on his face.

“It’s ‘ere. A... I can’t ga in wid ya.”

Why could he not go in? Could there be something frightening in this building as well?

Lu Xiao Feng had already charged in. He did not care what he might run into as long as he could find Xue Bing.

There was only two rooms in the yard, there were two people inside already. Neither one of them was Xue Bing. Both were men, one of them was Jin Jiu Ling. Lu Xiao Feng was quite surprised by this turn of events.

“What are you doing here? Where’s Xue Bing?”

Jin Jiu Ling did not answer, instead he held out his hand - in his hand was a dress, a light and soft white dress. Xue Bing’s dress. Of course Lu Xiao Feng recognized it, his expression had already changed. Xue Bing’s dress is here, but she is not. This dress could not have possibly have gotten up and walked here and she could not have possibly took her dress off and walked out naked. Lu Xiao Feng suddenly felt weak in his knees. He fell back two steps before collapsing onto a chair. His stomach began acting up again.

Jin Jiu Ling’s expression was very grave as well.

“You recognize this as Xue Bing’s dress don’t you?” Finally, he slowly asked.

Lu Xiao Feng nodded. When he had parted ways with Xue Bing, she was wearing this exact dress.

“If her dress is here, then she must have been here too!”

“Did you see her?” Lu Xiao Feng still held out a glimmer of hope.

But Jin Jiu Ling shook his head.

“When we got here, this place was deserted.”

“How did you find this place?”

“We didn’t find this place.”

“The Snake King?”

This time Jin Jiu Ling nodded.

“He truly is a great friend, he truly gave it his all for this!”

Lu Xiao Feng did not reply. He was asking himself questions in his heart.

“Did I give it my all for him?”

“Beginning this morning, all of the men under his command began searching for Xue Bing for you!”

They are very effective at finding someone, because they have already infiltrated every nook and crany of this city, especially the tea houses, wine shops, inns, small vendors, even those little food selling carts. These are always the places where with the most varied people, and therefore, the best places to gather information.

They started combing through these places for information as to whether or not there have been any suspicious looking strangers recently. Everybody, no matter who, has to eat and drink. There were none in the hotels, so they inquire on whether or not there are empty rooms around that had been rented out to any suspcious strangers. With three thousand men in the city’s underworld asking about the same thing, it was not long before something surfaced.

“Behind the Mai Family Bakery, there’s a little small house. Three or four months ago, it was rented out to someone.”

When questioned, the landlord had this to say.

“The person who rented the house was a very handsome looking gentry, and very generous one too as he just paid a years worth of rent up front. But ever since then, he never showed up back here again, so that house had been kept empty this entire time. Seems like nobody has been in it at all.”

Nobody in this world would go through the trouble to rent a house and just leave it empty. Behind this there had to be a reason, a secret.

“When they found out about this at around dusk, someone was immediately dispatched to here. At that time there seemed to be some female groaning inside of here. The scout did not dare to do anything rash and went back for back up. However, when they got back there was nobody here.”

“How do you know about this?”

Jin Jiu Ling smiled.

“Those brothers that worked with me back then are all famous and powerful now!” He patted the shoulder of the man at his side and smiled. “This here is the Head of the Bounty Hunters in this city, Lu Shao Hua.”

Only now did Lu Xiao Feng took notice that standing at his side was short but strong, not that old but white haired man wearing a green shirt. Even though his get up was that or any normal person, his eyes glittered with power, his nose was hooked like an eagle’s beak, and his waist was slightly pertruding, indicating that besides wearing a soft whip or bent spear or some other sort of flexible weapon, he might have some chains and cuffs hidden underneath the shirt as well. Anybody who had spent just a few days in the martial world would recognize in an instant that he could be none other than one of the top masters of Six Doors, “Bald Eagle” Lu Shao Hua. The very same man recognized by the underworld of the Southeast as the most effective and feared bounty hunter around.

“Even though I am a public servant and work for the government, I have always admired the Snake King. If possible, I would always be more than understanding with those under him!” Lu Shao Hua smiled and said. But in reality he knew full well that if he wanted to keep this city peaceful, it was best not to mess with the Snake King and his people.

“But when at the break of dawn when all 3000 of the Snake King’s men began mobilized without any of us knowing what was going on, I could not just sit idly by and watch as if nothing was happening.” So he also sent out the bounty hunters to gather information and find out what the fuss was all about. This city was the biggest city in the south, a place where the best and the worst of society meet and mingle. To be able to rise to the position as the Head of all bounty hunters at a place like this had to require someone quite special.

Lu Shao Hua contined. “When the information got back to me that this has something to do with the Great Hero Lu, then I immediately tried to find a way to get the information to Boss.”

Even though Jin Jiu Ling had long ago seized to be his boss, he still kept the habit of calling him that. Lu Xiao Feng now understood why Lu Guang did not want to enter this place earlier. With the Head of the bounty hunters in here, it would be best for them to avoid this place.

“Lady Xue’s dress is here, but yet she is not. There’s only one explanation!” said Jin Jiu Ling.

Lu Xiao Feng was listening. He trusted Jin Jiu Ling’s analysis, but his heart was a mess once again.

“The person that kidnapped her here discovered that they have been found, so that person immediately took her away. But because that snow white dress of hers was too conspicuous, that person changed her out of it!”

“Are there clothes here to change into?” Lu Shao Hua opened up the dresser in corner of the room, there were six or seven different sets of outfits still inside of it, some for men, others for women, some meant for old people, others meant for young people.

“There is only one bed here and space enough for one person to live. Yet there are 6 or 7 completely different types of outfits here, this proves one thing.” Jin Jiu Ling concluded.

“It proves that this person must be a master of disguise and at any given moment could appear as a number of different types of people!” Lu Xiao Feng finished his thought for him.

“But there are only clothes, no shoes. This also proves something!” Jin Jiu Ling continued.

“It proves that no matter what kind of person she disguises as, she wears the same shoes!” Lu Xiao Feng concluded.

“Red shoes?” Jin Jiu Ling inquired.

“Correct, red shoes, red shoes made from red silk, like the kind that newly wed brides wear during their wedding!”

“There are several clues that bears out that the handsome gentry that rented out this place was actually a female in disguise!” Jin Jiu Ling declared.

“Really?”

“This place is covered in dust, an obvious sign that nobody has lived here for a long time. The things that are needed for daily living is no where to be found either. But yet there is a mirror here!” Women do like looking at themselves in mirrors, but -

“Men also like to look at themselves in mirrors, and when putting on a disguise using a mirror is a must!” Lu Xiao Feng offered up a couple points of contention.

Jin Jiu Ling walked over to the desk sitting under the window and picked up the mirror.

“There is a hand print left on here,” he said. “It was left there very recently too.”

“A woman’s hand print?” Lu Xiao Feng asked.

Jin Jiu Ling nodded.

“But it could not be Xue Bing’s. She was locked up in here. Even if her hands weren’t tied, at least her pressure point would have been sealed.” The blanket and the bed sheet were a mess, as if somebody had just slept in bed.

“If my guess is correct, then she could have been lying in this bed the entire time.” Jin Jiu Ling concluded.

“The Snake King’s man reported that he heard female groanings so my guess is that Lady Xue must have also been injured as well!” Lu Shao Hua’s comment earned him an angry glare from Jin Jiu Ling. He did not want Lu Xiao Feng to know that fact, he did not want Lu Xiao Feng to be too wracked with worry.

“Even if he didn’t say it, I would have guessed at least as much!” sighed Lu Xiao Feng.

“But there’s not a trace of blood anywhere in this room.” Jin Jiu Ling immediately followed up. “So whatever her injuries might be, they are not serious!”

Those words were entirely to console Lu Xiao Feng. If the injuries that Xue Bing suffered were internal, then no matter how severe the injuries were, she would not leave any trace of blood either. But nevertheless, Lu Xiao Feng liked hearing those words, he needed to be consoled at this moment.

“Obviously, this person took Xue Bing and left in a hurry, that’s why there are clues left here!” Jin Jiu Ling continued.

“When did she leave?”

“Before dark!”

At that time Lu Xiao Feng was on his way to the WestGarden for his appointment. That chestnut selling “granny” had yet to appear. She could have very well left with Xue Bing and then went to the WestGarden. She was quite likely to be the person who rented this place.

“This place was rented out 2 months ago,” Jin Jiu Ling added. “To be precise, the date was the 11th of May.”

“May 11th?” Lu Xiao Feng’s expression changed at that fact.

“The robbery inside the RoyalPalace took place on the 11th of June. The day that she rented this place was exactly one month before then.”

“And also just 3 days before Jiang Chong Wei’s birthday!” Lu Xiao Feng added.

“What does Jiang Chong Wei’s birhtday have to do with this?”

“On his birthday, Jiang Qing Xia had paid him a visit to wish him happy birthday.”

“And it was on that day that she made an imprint of the key to the wine cellar.” Jin Jiu Ling’s eyes were flickering.

“To avoid people’s suspicion that she might have something to do with this, they waited another 20 days or so before making their move!”

“To pull off such a huge heist, a great amount of planning is required, not to mention somehow finding out the details about the security and the layout of the RoyalPalace. Only then could it be pulled off with any chance of success.”

“Of course, she could not appear as a big bearded man all the time. So she must have planned to go to a remote place to get into her disguise that night.” Lu Xiao Feng concluded.

“And this is the perfect place for it!” Jin Jiu Ling agreed.

“Because this place is in the middle of the busiest and most chaotic section of the city, nobody would be suspicious!”

“Looks like she’s quite adept at taking advantages of other people’s mistaken assumptions!” sighed Jin Jiu Ling.

Lu Shao Hua had been quietly listening to this entire exchange. But now he could not keep quiet anymore.

“Could the person who came to rent this place be that Embroidery Bandit?”

“Even though we can’t be sure at the moment, I say that we are at least 60 or 70% sure of it!” Lu Xiao Feng replied.

“More than 70% sure!” Jin Jiu Ling suddenly refuted.

“Really?”

“I would venture to say that we are at least 90%, if not more, sure of it at the moment!”

“What makes you so certain of this?”

“Because of this!” Jin Jiu Ling took out a small red silk purse. “I found this in the dresser over there earlier. Take a look what’s inside!”

Inside the purse was none other than a brand new pack of sewing needles!

______________________________

From the Mai Family Bakery at the head of the alley, Lu Shao Hua bought several fresh out of the oven moon cakes. It was still a full month until the Mid-Autumn’s Festival, and yet moon cakes were already going on the market. Lu Xiao Feng forced himself to eat half of one. This particular street was very quiet. They walked as the ate - the Embroidery Banbit was obvious never going to return to that place again, so there was no point to them staying there a moment longer.

“These needles are all made of the finest iron and smoldered over 100 times, these are no ordinary needles!” observed Jin Jiu Ling.

“Are the tips dipped in poison?”

“No.” answered Jin Jiu Ling. “She left those men alive maybe for the sole purpose of proving that she was not a woman but a man with a huge beard and could embroider.”

And she did not need to kill them to begin with!”

“Do you think that she could be Jiang Qing Xia?”

“No, not possible!” Lu Xiao Feng replied. “Jiang Qing Xia’s martial arts is not weak, but compared to her, she’s not even close!”

He continued. “Jiang Qing Xia’s sole job was just to scout out the layout of the RoyalPalace and to make a copy of the key for her!”

“You think that Jiang Qing Xia is under her command?”

Lu Xiao Feng nodded.

“Jiang Qing Xia is a quite famous person in the martial world, and notoriously proud, how could she willingly serve as someone’s underling?” Jin Jiu Ling wonderd.

“Because she’s much better than Jiang Qing Xia in everything.” sighed Lu Xiao Feng. “Never in my life have I seen a woman with that amazing level of martial arts and cunning!”

“You’ve seen her?” Jin Jiu Ling was shocked at this news.

“Not only seen her, but almost got killed by her!” Lu Xiao Feng smiled miserably.

“How did you meet her?”

“I was going to fulfill an appointment for a friend in the WestGarden!”

“Appointment? What kind of appointment?”

“A life taking appointment!” Lu Xiao Feng sighed tiredly.

“Who did your friend make an appointment with?”

“First Madame Gong Sun, Gong Sun Lan.”

“I don’t think I have heard of that name before.” Jin Jiu Ling frowned.

“That’s because she’s not a famous person to begin with, and never want to either!”

“What kind of person is she?”

“Don’t know.”

“If you have already seen her, then how can you not know what kind of person she is?” Jin Jiu Ling was getting more puzzled.

“I only saw a chestnut selling granny and bought two catties of sugar roasted chestnuts from her. If I had eaten one of them, then you would not be talking to me at this moment.”

“Grandma Xiong’s sugar roasted chestnuts!” Jin Jiu Ling almost yelled.

“Grandma Xiong’s sugar roasted chestnuts?” Lu Xiao Feng did not undertand the meaning of the phrase!”

“Two years ago, there were often people dying on the road.” Jin Jiu Ling explained. “They were all poisoned to death and by their bodies were always scattered some sugar roasted chestnuts.”

“And all of the incidents took place during the night of the full moon.” Lu Shao Hua knew about this as well.

“It was a full moon tonight,” observed Lu Xiao Feng.

“I had been assigned to a couple of these cases previously, but I could never find any clues or leads,” Lu Shao Hua explained some more. “Those who died were not killed by some mortal enemies seeking revenge nor were they killed for money.”

“But precisely because those who died were mostly unknown nobodies, these incidents did not make big waves in the martial world.” Jin Jiu Ling added some more explanation. “Only those who worked in the public service new about it.”

“Two years ago, there was a Escort named Zhang Fang who had just gotten into the business, he died like this too.” said Lu Shao Hua. “But before he died he said two sentences.”

“What did he say?”

“His first sentence was: ‘Grandma Xiong’s sugar roasted chestnuts.’ We asked him who Grandma Xiong was? Why did she poison him? He answered: ‘Because every full moon, she feels like killing’”

Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

“So not only is she the Female Butcher, the Peach Flower Wasp, and Lady Five Poison, but Grandma Xiong as well!”

“Do you think the Embroidery Bandit is also her?”

“I was not sure originally, but several things taken together has pretty much proven that she is the Embroidery Bandit!”

“What things?”

“I had chased her all the way until the street of the Mai Family Bakery before I lost her, now I understand why she ran off in this direction.”

“Because she had lived on that street before and was more familiar with its surroundings than you were!”

“Besides, those outfits in the dresser matched her stature. From her voice, it’s safe to say that she was not old, so she could be very easily disguised as a handsome young gentry!”

But those were not the most important points!

Lu Xiao Feng continued. “Even though she was disguised as an old granny, she still wore a pair of red shoes - bright red silk shoes. Rumors say that on them are sewn an owl.”

“Well, no matter what, at least we know now who that Embroidery Bandit is!” Jin Jiu Ling sighed.

“Pity we can’t find her though, we don’t even have any clue on where to start!” observed Lu Shao Hua.

“We do.” Lu Xiao Feng suddenly said.

“We have a clue?”

“Not only do we have a clue, we have more than one!” Lu Xiao Feng continued. “Number one, we know that Jiang Qing Xia know her. Number two, since there’s a headquarter for her heist here, then there must also be headquarter for her other heists as well!”

“That’s right!” Jin Jiu Ling’s eyes lit up. “No matter what, a master criminal would always have some special habit of his own. That is very hard for them to change out of.”

“That’s why I think that she must have a headquarter in Nan Hai!” Nan Hai was where Hua Yu Gan was.

Lu Shao Hua’s eyes lit up as well. “The Head of bounty hunters in Nan Hai is MengWei. He’s also served under Boss Jin back then. I can ask him to start searching for it right now. Maybe by the time you guys get there they would have already found it!”

“You can ask him to start right now?”

“We have always maintain some sort of communication all these years,” Lu Shao Hua nodded. “And we communicat using the fastest way too!”

“Which way is that?”

“Pigeons.”

“Maybe she’s planning to take Xue Bing there, if we hurry up, we might be able to catch here there!” said Jin Jiu Ling.

“I’ll specifically ask MengWei to be extra careful and quiet when conducting his search so as to avoid alarming her!”

“Are you going to write that letter now?” Jin Jiu Ling asked.

“Yes.”

He had just began to quicken his steps when Jin Jiu Ling suddenly called him back.

“One more thing!”

Lu Shao Hua stopped and waited for his instructions.

“How much kick back silver do you get every month from the Snake King’s men?” Jin Jiu Ling asked, smiling.

Lu Shao Hua blushed, but was still afraid to tell the truth.

“Eight hundred taels, but that’s split for all of us!”

“Do you know that the Snake King is Lu Xiao Feng’s friend?” Jin Jiu Ling’s face darkened. “Do you know that Lu Xiao Feng’s friend is also Jin Jiu Ling’s friend?”

“I know,” Lu Shao Hua’s head dipped even lower. “I’ll stop collecting those silvers tomorrow.”

“Good, from tomorrow forth, I’ll make up for that particular loss in your revenue!” Jin Jiu Ling smiled.

Lu Shao Hua looked at him with eyes overflowing with gratitude. With a deep bow, he left without saying another word, and without needing to say another word.

Lu Xiao Feng watched him leave, then suddenly sighed.

“Now I know why other people say you are the Number One guy in the 300 year history of Six Doors!”

“Why?” Jin Jiu Ling smiled.

“Because not only are you good at buying other people’s hearts, you are good at selling out your friends!”

“Who have I sold out?” Jin Jiu Ling’s smiled looked a little forced now.

“Me!” Lu Xiao Feng smiled tiredly. “If it wasn’t for you dragging me into this mess, I wouldn’t nearly have this much worry and this much headache!”

“But soon you’ll be able to give that headache of yours to somebody else!”

“Who?”

“The Embroidery Thief,” Jin Jiu Ling smiled and slowly added. “First Madame Gong Sun.”

“Should we start on that right now?” Lu Xiao Feng laughed.

“Of course right now, everything else will be have to be set aside at the moment.”

“But there’s still something I can’t sit aside!”

“What?”

“Friendship.”

“I knew you are going to have to go see the Snake King again,” Jin Jiu Ling sighed. “But I wonder if he’s willing to find a friend in me?”

The Snake King was not willing. Because he could no longer make any more friends. How could a dead person make friends?

The little building was absolutely silent, not a light was lit. The men stationed in the yard had all been sent out, only four men were left to stand guard. They were puzzled, but none of them dared to go in and take a look. Without permission from the Snake King, nobody dared to go upstairs. But of course, Lu Xiao Feng was an exception.

“He did not sleep last night, maybe he has finally slept now.”

The door was not fully closed. Lu Xiao Feng pushed it open. Jin Jiu Ling handed him his fire stick for light. The stick was just lit for an instant before it went out again and fell. Lu Xiao Feng’s hands were frozen stiff, so stiff that he could not even hold the fire stick in his hand.

In that brief instant, he had saw the Snake King’s eyes, eyes that were almost popping out of their sockets. He was choked to death on that soft chair of his, choked to death by a bright red silken sash. The kind of silk sash that First Madame Gong Sun had tied to her daggers.

Lu Xiao Feng walked over and took the Snake King’s hand in his. His entire body began shaking. The Snake King’s hands were colder than his, rigis mortis had already set in on them. The room was covered in complete darkness. Jin Jiu Ling did not lit the light again either, he knew that Lu Xiao Feng could not bear to look at the Snake King’s face again. Nor could he find any words to console Lu Xiao Feng. Deathlike darkness, deathlike silence, deathlike loneliness, only under these circumstances can a person truly feel and understand how real and frightening “death” is.

What seemed like forever went by.

“Let’s go, let’s leave right now.” Lu Xiao Feng suddenly said.

“Yes!”

“But I’m not going to give my headache to her.”

He suddenly laughed, a laugh that was filled with a kind of indescribable pain and fury.

Luckily for Jin Jiu Ling he did not light up lanterns because the expression on Lu Xiao Feng’s face was one that he could possibly bear to see.

All he heard was Lu Xiao Feng emphasizing every single one of his words as he spoke.

“I’ll make sure that she’ll never have a headache again.”

Jin Jiu Ling understood what he meant. When a person’s head have been cut off, only then would that person never have a headache again!


 

Last Updated ( Saturday, 16 August 2008 04:04 )