LXF03-02 PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 16 August 2008 04:17

Chapter 2 - Dead Man Tell No Tales



September 13th, just past noon. After Lu Xiao Feng walked down Oriental Spring Pavilion, he began to make his way briskly down the street. The sun had already risen.

He decided that this was truly a beautiful city, its streets were wide and flat, its buildings were neatly kept and clean, every single store front was more refined and delicate than those found in other cities.

But he also knew that the most beautiful thing about this city was not its bustling streets or its beautiful architure, nor was it those world famous scenery and landmarks, but its people. No matter where you came from, no matter where you go, once you have visited this city, you will never forget it.

Once past midday, the wind would start to blow. As soon as the wind would blow, the air would be filled with dust. But no dust storm in this world, no matter how large, could cover up the beauty of this city. Even though Lu Xiao Feng was walking at a brisk pace, he had no destination in mind what so ever.

Of the people he wanted to see, he saw none, but of the people he did not want to see, he saw quite a few. The first one he saw was Ou Yang Qing.

Ou Yang Qing was roaming through the jewelery shops outside, standing next to a seemingly elegantly dressed madame with a headful of pearls.

The lady was probably very beautiful, but Lu Xiao Feng dared not to take a second glance. As soon as he saw Ou Yang Qing, he turned his head in the other direction. -- He thought of Xue Bing again. Ou Yang Qing obviously saw him as well, but also pretended not to notice. Suddenly, she grabbed the madame’s hand and boarded an ebony black carriage.

Only after the carriage rumbled out of sight did Lu Xiao Feng turn his head around as he stared numbly at the dust the carriage stirred up as it rumbled away, not sure how he was feeling inside himself.

On the other side of the street, several people were waving at him, but a couple steps away from him was a young man staring at him, hand on sword.

He recognized those men, among them were two master escorts from the Sichuan and Hunan areas, a disciple of Wudang, and a helsman of a bandit group from around Sichuan. But he did not recognize that young man who was staring at him.

The stare was quite a vicious one as well, and it was coupled with an expression that was just looking for trouble. But Lu Xiao Feng did not want any trouble, so he only lightly nodded towards those men before quickly turning around and walking eastward.

Suddenly, a hand reached out from an antique art store on the side of the street and patted him on the shoulder.

“You are here! I knew you would come!”

A old taoist with a headful of a silvery white hair and a barely patched together robe walked out from the store, laughing; behind him was a thin but healthy looking old man with clean and neat clothes. They were none other than the Wooden Taoist and Ancient Pine Hermit.

All Lu Xiao Feng could do was return the smile.

“I knew you would come too!”

The Wooden Taoist threw his head back in laughter. Despite his advancing age, his face was still bursting red with energy and still had a glint of mischieve. Very few people could tell that he was none other than one of the three most celebrated swordsmen in the world.

“I can’t miss this duel!” He patted Lu Xiao Feng on the shoulder again and smiled. “Even if I’m too old to walk here, I would crawl!”

“Is it because you want to see where the weaknesses are in their techniques so you can challenge them later?” Lu Xiao Feng matter of factly countered.

The Wooden Taoist was not offended, instead he sighed.

“I’m old, getting into sword duels or drinking contests no longer interests me. But I’m still always up for a game of chess with anybody who wants to challenge me!”

“Actually, we were just looking for you!” Ancient Pine Hermit suddenly declared.

“Me? What for?”

“We have arranged a meeting with someone this afternoon and wanted to invite you along!” Ancient Pine Hermit answered.

“What do I have to do with the meeting?”

“Because you would certainly want to meet this person as well!” The Wooden Taoist answered before Ancient Pine Hermit was able to. The smile on his face seemingly very mysterious.

“Who is this person?” Lu Xiao Feng had to ask.

The smile on the Wooden Taoist’s face became even more mysterious.

“If you really want to know who this person is, why don’t you come to the meeting?”

Of course Lu Xiao Feng went. He had always been susceptible to temptation, not to mention his unmatched curiosity.

The location of the meeting was a strange one. It was actually in a long been abandoned kiln yard outside of the city. All the dust covered kilns looked just like mound after mound of graves.

“So many great places inside the city, why did you guys pick here for the meeting?” Lu Xiao Feng frowned.

“Because we are meeting a weirdo!” Ancient Pine Hermit replied.

“Strictly speaking, we are meeting three weirdos. One slacker who has never done a day of honest work in his life, and two old men even weirder than I am!” The Wooden Taoist clarified.

“But these two old men aren’t just your average old men, it’s been rumoured that there is nothing that they don’t know and no problems they can’t solve.” Ancient Pine Hermit added.

The Wooden Taoist shot a look at Lu Xiao Feng.

“I’m sure by now you have figured out who we have arranged to meet here!” He smiled.

Of course Lu Xiao Feng knew. At this precise moment, a short and skinny man with a huge head slowly approached on a mule. He was not yet close, but the stench of alcohol was already noticeable. This person seemed to have never had a sober moment in all of his life. Lu Xiao Feng laughed. Everytime he meet Mister Big Shot Son of a Turtle, he could not help but laugh a little.

“Seems like your great self didn’t have to be bailed out of debt by somebody else this time! Truly a rare event!”

Big Shot Sun shot a look at him and exasperratingly rolled his eyes in disgust.

“You are here too, huh? I....”

“You knew I was going to come long ago, right?” Lu Xiao Feng cut him off with a laugh.

Big Shot Sun sighed and mumbled under this breath: “Those who shouldn’t be here are all here, yet those who should be here are not....”

He threw his leg over the mule’s back and jumped down. But his legs were weak and he wobbled, almost making him fall flat onto the ground.

Even the Wooden Taoist could not resist laughing.

“Honestly now, have you ever been sober for one day in your life?”

“No!” Big Shot Sun’s answer was, not very surprisingly, quite straight forward.

“There’s one good thing about this guy,” Wooden Taoist joked. “Sometimes he is literally even more honest than Honest Monk!”

“The way of the wine village is steady on long, other places can’t compare...” In response, Big Shot Sun mumbled. “In wine the heavens are large, the days are long, why would I want to be sober?”

“You really are a very fortunate man, more fortunate than the rest of us!” The Wooden Taoist laughed and replied.

“Because I’m smarter than the rest of you!”

“Oh?”

“At least I won’t spend 50 taels of silver to ask some questions that should never be asked!”

“Where is Mr. Smart Guy and Mr. Know-It-All?” Ancient Pine Hermit asked with a straight face, he never did like to laugh too much.

“Since I arranged to meet you guys here, of course they’re here too!” Big Shot Sun answered.

“Where?”

“Over there!” Big Shot Sun casually pointed at a kiln hole ahead of him.

“What are they doing inside a kiln?” Ancient Pine Hermit frowned.

Big Shot Sun rolled his eyes towards him as well.

“Why do you ask them yourself?”

“And that question would be worth 50 taels of silver?” Lu Xiao Feng asked, trying hard to hold back his laughter.

“Of course! Any question, every question, 50 taels of silver, and also....”

“And also the old rules still apply, we can only wait outside and not go in!” Lu Xiao Feng finished for him.

“Seems like there’s some intelligence in you after all!” Big Shot Sun sighed.

The hole into the kiln was small and ominously dark, even a man as small as Big Shot Sun had to bend down to work his way inside. At first Lu Xiao Feng was worried that his head was bigger than the hold itself. But eventually he did crawl in, looking much like a corpse crawling into his own grave, very humurous and frightening at the same time.

After a little bit of silence, his shouted from inside: “Begin!”

The first one to ask was Wooden Taoist, obviously he was the one who arranged this meeting. But before he even asked, Lu Xiao Feng knew what he was going to ask.

“The duel on September 15th between Xi Men Chui Xue and Ye Gu Cheng, who do you think will win?”

That was the question that everyone was asking and quite a few people would be willing to pay 50 times more than the 50 taels of silver to know the answer.

“You want to get the answer to that for only 50 taels of silver? A little cheap don’t you think?” The one who answered was Smart Guy, Lu Xiao Feng heard him talk before.

“Nevertheless, I might as well tell you!” He continued. “Neither one of them will win!”

“Why?” That was the second question, the Wooden Taoist tossed in another 50 taels of silver.

“The old saying goes that when two tigers fight, one must lose, but that’s wrong.” Smart Guy continued to answer. “More often than not, the result of a fight between two tigers is that both are injured. The real winner is the hunter spectating on the side.”

Quietly listening, Lu Xiao Feng’s eyes flashed a glint of approval. This “Smart Guy” was truly a “smart guy”, only men of real wit and intelligence could understand to answer that question in such a clever way.

“Has Xi Men Chui Xue already arrived here in the capital?” The Wooden Taoist asked again.

“He has.”

“Where is he?”

“In a place that’s very difficult to find, because he does not want to see anyone before September 15th.”

That was another very clever answer, but nobody could say the answer was wrong. The Wooden Taoist sighed, seemingly feeling that those 200 taels of silver was not so well spent.

“Was Ye Gu Cheng really injured by the Tang Family Poison Sands?” This time it was Ancient Pine Hermit who asked the question.

“He was.”

“Other than the Tang family’s unique antidote, is there any other way to combat the poison?”

“Yes.” This time it was Know-It-All who answered. He knew the ins and outs of every weapon or projectile in the world.

Ancient Pine Hermit sighed as well, as if he was happy for Ye Gu Cheng. But Lu Xiao Feng knew he was not Ye Gu Cheng’s friend, Ye Gu Cheng did not have that many friends.

“Why don’t you two ever want to meet anyone?” The Wooden Taoist suddenly asked.

“Because there is nobody in this world who’s worth meeting!”

The Wooden Taoist laughed exasperratingly, that last 50 taels of silver was even more of a waste. He turned to Lu Xiao Feng: “Do you have anything you want to ask?”

Lu Xiao Feng did not really have any questions that he could not explain away himself, but after seeing Ou Yang Qing in the city, he was suddenly reminded of a couple of strange coincidences. Hopefully Smart Guy could help explain all of this to him.

“Is Ou Yang Qing really a virgin?” This was a very strange question. For the life of him, the Wooden Taoist could not figure out why he would ask this kind of question at this moment.

“Yes!” The answer came from inside the kiln, but only after a prolonged period of silence.

“Is Honest Monk really that honest?”

“Yes.”

A puzzled look appeared over Lu Xiao Feng’s face.

“What was he before he became a monk? What was his name back then? Where did he come from?”

“Nobody knows where he came from!” This was almost not an answer anymore. An exasperrated smile appeared on Lu Xiao Feng’s face as well.

Even though he was pretty much wasting money, he still had a few questions: “Do you know who that man with Du Tong Xuan was?”

“He is....” Know-It-All’s answer was suddenly interrupted by a very strange sounding flute. Thankfully, even though the pitch was very high and piercing, it was very short as well, just a distance toot, and then it was gone.

“Who was that man in black with Du Tong Xuan?” Lu Xiao Feng asked again. No answer came. He waited a long time and then asked again. Still no answer. Taking the silver and not answering, this was the first time that has ever happened.

Lu Xiao Feng frowned and was just about to ask again before, suddenly, a blood red little snake shot out like an arrow from the kiln hole, straight into a bush and disappeared. Even though the snake was small, its movements were lightning fast and the direction it shot out at was precisely the direction the sound of the flute came from.

Lu Xiao Feng’s expression changed dramatically.

“Big Shot Sun! Mr. Big Shot Son of a Turtle!” He shouted.

Still no answers. Not even a sound was coming from inside the kiln. Lu Xiao Feng suddenly jumped up and viciously stumped on the kiln. The dilapidated kiln instantly caved in to reveal a huge hole on the side.

The moon light poured through the hole and right upon Big Shot Sun’s face. His face was twisted stiff; his eyes, filled with horror, bulged out like those of a dead fish. His tongue was stuck out of his mouth, but it had already turned a deathly grey, as if somebody had suddenly snapped his neck.

But his neck was not snapped, on his throat were two puncture wounds, the little bit of blood trailing out from them were black.

“That snake just then!” The Wooden Taoist conjectured.

Lu Xiao Feng nodded. Any fool could tell that Big Shot Sun was poisoned to death by that snake. Once a snake like that bit you, you were as good as dead. That was not the strange thing, the strange thing was that Big Shot Sun was the only one inside the kiln.

“Where’s Know-It-All and Smart Guy?” The Wooden Taoist asked in surprise.

Lu Xiao Feng thought for a long time, the slowly replied: “There was never a Know-It-All or a Smart Guy.”

The Wooden Taoist was shocked. He did actually understand, but it was just at the moment, it was not clicking in his mind.

“Know-It-All was Big Shot Sun, so was Smart Guy.” Lu Xiao Feng explained.

“The three of them was just him all along?”

Lu Xiao Feng nodded.

“But their voices....”

“A number of people could change their voices, some could even simulate the rockus of dozens of men fighting a crowd of cats and dogs at the same time.”

The Wooden Taoist did not ask anymore, he had seen more than his own share of weird people and strange happenings in the martial world.

But Ancient Pine Hermit frowned.

“So Big Shot Sun created these two men to cheat other people out of their money?”

“He didn’t cheat anybody!” Lu Xiao Feng coldly rebuked.

“He didn’t?”

“He did take other people’s money, but at the same time he solved a lot of their problems. His knowledge and intelligence are worth a lot more than this little bit of silver.” A hint of anger appeared on Lu Xiao Feng’s face. Big Shot Sun was his friend, he did not like other people belittling his friends.

Ancient Pine Hermit obviously noticed the anger on his face too. He immediately changed his tone and sighed: “I’m only finding it strange that a man as gifted and intelligent as he would use a fake name instead of making a name for himself?”

Lu Xiao Feng’s expression turned sad. “Because he was a good man and never placed much importance on fame and fortune!”

--And also because he was afraid, afraid of trouble, of responsability. That was why he was always running, always hiding. Lu Xiao Feng did not say the rest, he had always liked Big Shot Sun.

“No matter what, his doing this only hurt himself, nobody else.”

The Wooden Taoist sighed.

“A man like this should not have died so soon.”

“He should have known there were poisonous snakes around here.” Ancient Pine Hermit sighed as well.

“But that snake was not here by himself!” Lu Xiao Feng said.

“Why not?”

“Because only snakes that have been trained would go for the throat.”

“So you think that snake was purposefully placed here to kill him?” The Wooden Taoist was surprised at that assertion.

Lu Xiao Feng nodded, anger appearing on his face again: “The snake had obviously been trained to attack only once it hears the flute!”

Naturally, inside the kiln was very dark, and that snake was truly too tiny for Big Shot Sun, who had walked in from the light, to see.

The Wooden Taoist thought back to the sound: “So you think the one who played the flute was the one who killed Big Shot Sun?”

“Mm.”

“Why would he kill Big Shot Sun?”

“Because he was afraid that Big Shot Sun would spill his secret!”

“Who is he? What secret?”

“I don’t care who he is, I don’t care what his secret is,” Lu Xiao Feng’s fists were clenched tight as he slowly declared. “I will find him and his secret!”

The Wooden Taoist sighed again. Only now did he completely understand why only Big Shot Sun could find Know-It-All and Smart Guy, and why they would never meet other people.

But he could never understand how many secrets Big Shot Sun knew that people wanted to keep a secret, nor could he understand how he came to know these secrets. Big Shot Sun would probably take the answers to all these mysterious to the grave with him. Could Lu Xiao Feng really dig them out?

The fragrance of freshly cut flowers permeated the undertaker’s shop. It was supposed to be an clean and refreshing smell, but inside an undertaker’s shop, it had a way of making everybody uncomfortable.

There were two very high quality caskets made out of nanmu, they looked as if a fresh layer of lacquer was applied on them as well.

“I want this one.” Lu Xiao Feng picked one of the two. When picking things for his friend, he always went of the best, even caskets.

“These two caskets were already reserved.” The owner of the store was named Cheng. Maybe it was because he had worked here for too long, but even when he smiles, it looked unnervingly sinister.

“People reserve caskets?”

Boss Cheng nodded: “A customer reserved these two caskets for the night of September 15th. I thought it was a bit strange too, he seemed to know that two people must die on that night!”

September 15th! Two people must die!

“Who reserved them?” Lu Xiao Feng’s expression noticeably changed.

“He had already paid for both caskets, but he didn’t leave his name.”

“What did he look like?”

“An old man with a hump back.”

Lu Xiao Feng did not ask anymore, anybody could be disguised as an old man with a hump back. He picked another casket and was getting ready to leave.

But Boss Cheng suddenly remembered something: “But that customer di leave two names for me to carve onto the caskets!”

“What are they?” Lu Xiao Feng snapped around.

“Two very unique names. One is Ye Gu Cheng, another was Xi Men Cui Xue!”

The Wooden Taoist was a very happy-go-lucky man, but now even his expression was one of extreme worry.

“Neither one will win... the real winner is the hunter spectating on the side.”

Apparently now, one of the hunters actually went ahead and reserved two caskets for them.

“Maybe this is all just a prank.” The Wooden Taoist tried to lighten the mood a little.

Lu Xiao Feng forced a smile: “Most likely.”

With smiles on their faces, they walked along underneath the light of the setting sun. The gentle winds breezed along, stirring their sleeves and shirts. Those who saw them on the street could think only of how proud and stately they looked. But inside of them the shadow of death overshadowed everything. Of course, all of them knew that this was not a prank.

The Wooden Taoist looked up at a puff of white cloud on the blue, distance sky.

“Have you already seen Ye Gu Cheng?” He suddenly asked.

“Mm.”

“Does he look injured to you?”

Lu Xiao Feng did not answer his question directly.

Instead, he casually replied: “With one move, he struck through both of Tang Tian Rong’s collar bones.”

An injured man would never he able to do such a thing to one of the masters of the Tang Family and Tang Tian Rong was one of the four top masters of the Tang Family.

The Wooden Taoist thought for a while.

“But Honest Monk would never lie, and he was indeed injured. So who helped cure him?”

Lu Xiao Feng did not answer, nor could he. Instead he also stared up at that cloud far far away.

“I’ve wanted to visit White Cloud Castle a long long time ago, but still haven’t had the chance to go.” He suddenly stated.

“I have been there.” The Wooden Taoist declared.

“I imagine it to be a beautiful place. Come the right time in Spring and Autumn, the scene would surely be vibrant and colorful with all the blooming flowers!”

“There’s not that many flowers there, Ye Gu Cheng was not someone who liked to drink wine or enjoy flowers!”

“Does he like women?”

The Wooden Taoist laughed a little, seemingly at Lu Xiao Feng’s naivette.

“Someone who likes women could not possibly achieve the level of swordsmanship that Ye Gu Cheng has!”

Lu Xiao Feng did not continue to ask, but a very puzzling look appeared on his face. Anytime that expression appears on his face, it would mean that he was thinking abotu a very puzzlng matter.

After a long pause, the Wooden Taoist spoke up again: “Since he’d already arrived here, he must have found a place to stay!”

“He’s not like Xi Men Chui Xue, it can’t be that hard to find where he is staying!” Lu Xiao Feng observed.

“I want to go find him!”

“I know that you are old friends.”

“What about you?”

Lu Xiao Feng looked up at the sky: “I have a dinner with someone tonight, there’s probably already somebody waiting for me at Oriental Spring Pavilion!”

“Then it seems like we’ll have to part here and now!”

Lu Xiao Feng nodded but then paused.

“If a person who did not like flowers or women suddenly had 6 or 7 girls walk in front of him paving his path with flower petals, what would you think of that?” He suddenly asked.

“This kind of man would never do that kind of thing!” The Wooden Taoist replied.

“But suppose he did?”

“Then he must be crazy!” The Wooden Taoist laughed.

For the life of him, Lu Xiao Feng could not figure out why Ye Gu Cheng would do that either. But he knew at least one thing - Ye Gu Cheng was not crazy.

______________________________

Dusk, just before dusk. The dinner crowd at Oriental Spring had not gathered yet. Lu Xiao Feng found a seat on one of the scattered chairs downstairs, ordered a flask of the favorite tea amongst the citizens of the capital, and waited for Li Yan Bei’s man to arrive.

It was still quite early, he probably should have been wandering around outside, for he still had a lot of people he wanted to find. Hua Man Lou, Xi Men Cui Xue, Honest Monk....

He needed to find all these people, yet he suddenly felt the urge to sit down and quietly think things out. He also had a lot of things to sort out.

The light from the setting sun poured in through the door, taking with them a long and narrow shadow of a man. Seeing the shadow on the floor, Lu Xiao Feng looked up and saw that young man who was angrily staring at him earlier.

The young lad was staring at him again, his long and slender hands still tightly grapsing the handle of his sword. A layer of soft silk was tightly rolled around the handle, probably to make it easier for the user to handle the sword with greater force and also to keep the user’s palm dry by absorbing the sweat. Only those who really understood how to use a sword would know to do this.

With a glance, Lu Xiao Feng instantly recognized that this young man’s swordsmanship was very good, but he still could not recognize him.

He would never forget a face once he had seen it before. But this young man seemed to recognize him. Suddenly, the young man walked directly up to him and stopped directly in front of him. The expression of his face was even scarier than the one Du Tong Xuan had on his face as he walked up to Li Yan Bei. Could this young man possibly have some kind of vendetta or unsettled issue with Lu Xiao Feng?

Lu Xiao Feng could not figure it out, so he just let out a little laugh: “You....”

But the young man interrupted him.

“Are you that four eye-browed Lu Xiao Feng?” He asked ferociously.

“And you are....”

“I know you don’t recognize me, but I recognize you!” The young man sneered. “I’ve been trying to find you for a long time now!”

“Find me? What for?”

The young man answered in the most direct way possible. Not with words, but with a sword. Suddenly, his sword was unsheathed, and just as suddenly, the ice cold and sharp blade arrived at Lu Xiao Feng’s throat.

Lu Xiao Feng laughed. In response, he did not parry, nor dodge, instead he laughed.

“Think I’m afraid to kill you?” The young man demanded, his face turning a steely green.

Even though he had not struck, the move he used was indeed a killing move, fast, agile, and quick. Lu Xiao Feng had seen this kind of moves before. Four months ago, in Yan Tie Shan’s Pearl and Diamond Pavilion, Su Shao Ying, who died under Xi Men Chui Xue’s sword, used the exact same type of techniques.

This young man must be one of the “Three Heroes and Four Beauties” who trained under Du Gu Yi He.

“I won’t kill you, only because I still have a question to ask you.” The edge of his sword inched even closer.

“Are you Zhang Ying Feng or Yan Ren Ying?” Lu Xiao Feng asked a question in return.

The young man’s expression changed for an instant before returning back to what it was. He had to admire Lu Xiao Feng’s powers of recognition just a little bit despite of himself.

“Yan Ren Ying.”

“And you want to know where Xi Men Chui Xue is?”

The veins on Yan Ren Ying’s hand bulged out and red blood vessels appeared in his eyes.

“He killed my master, abducted my martial sister, the seventy disciples of our sect all want to capture him and take him back to E’Mei to sacrifice him to honour our master’s spirit!”

“But you guys don’t know where he is.”

“So I’m asking you!”

Lu Xiao Feng sighed and smiled ironically: “Pity you asked the wrong person!”

“If you don’t know, then who does?” Yan Ren Ying demanded.

“Nobody knows.”

Yan Ren Ying stared into his eyes.

“Out!” He suddenly commanded.

“Out?”

“I don’t want to kill you in here!”

“I don’t want to die here either, but I also don’t want to go outside.”

Yan Ren Ying’s hand flicked, a flower with sword petals appeared and, in an instant, struck 7 times, none of them missed Lu Xiao Feng’s throat by more than an inch. Lu Xiao Feng laughed again.

Again, he neither parried nor dodged, but instead smiled: “You can’t kill me.”

Yan Ren Ying’s palm was covered in sweat, his forehead was as well. In fact, his entire being seemed to become a fully drawn bow, really to explode.

Anybody could see that he was almost nervous to the limit of his own self-restraint. The tip of his sword was no more than three inches away from Lu Xiao Feng’s throat.

The waiters, janitors, and owner of Oriental Spring Pavilion were all visibly shaking, yet Lu Xiao Feng was absolutely still. It was as if every one of his nerves were made from steel strands.

At this precise moment, a rockus suddenly exploded on the street.

“Dead... he’s dead....” Someone shouted.

Yan Ren Ying wanted to turn his head around to see but stopped himself, yet his eyes still involuntarily rolled in that direction for a moment. In that slight instant that his eyes were off of him, the Lu Xiao Feng who was steadily sitting in that chair in front of him had suddenly vanished!

This man’s movements were even faster than his strikes. Yan Ren Ying’s expression changed again as he jumped up, somersaulted, and landed outside. Lu Xiao Feng was standing in the middle of the street with his hand behind his back. Nobody else was on street.

All the others had already hid themselves underneath the overhangs at either side of the street. A white horse was galloping this way from the head of street, on the horse was a person. That person looked like a empty brown cloth bag from a distance, lying on top of the horse.

“Dead! He’s dead!” But who was he? How did he die? As soon as he saw this person’s outfit, Yan Ren Ying’s face turned a deathily pale as he shot towards the horse and grabbed its reins to stop it.

This person’s outfit was almost exactly the same as what Yan Ren Ying had on. Lu Xiao Feng had already figured out who this person was -- but how did he die? Yan Ren Ying took the cold body off of the horse’s back. There was almost no wound on the body at all, only a slight trace of a wound on his throat -- like the puncture wounds from a snake bite.

Only that this wound was not left by a snake bite but by the blade of a sword, a very sharp and very frightening sword. Lu Xiao Feng frowned.

“Zhang Ying Feng?”

Yan Ren Ying gritted his teeth and nodded.

Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

“Can you tell whose sword killed him?” Yan Ren Ying suddenly asked.

Lu Xiao Feng sighed again and nodded. I could tell. In this world there was probably only one person who with such a sharp and frightening sword. Not Ye Gu Cheng could do this. His killer strikes could never be this tidy and efficient.

Yan Ren Ying was staring down at the wound on his martial brother’s throat.

“Xi Men Chui Xue... only Xi Men Chui Xue....” He mumbled.

“He probably found Xi Men Chui Xue,” Lu Xiao Feng sighed. “Shame that....”

Shame that he could not tell where Xi Men Chui Xue was now. Lu Xiao Feng did not need to say the rest, but Yan Ren Ying still understood.

“Another life! Another debt!” He screamed at the top of his lungs, his pale face suddenly covered with tears.

“Xi Men Chui Xue! If you can kill, why don’t you come out!” His screams were desperate.

It was in this desperate scream that dusk suddenly enveloped the world.

And with it the world was suddenly filled with an unspeakable sad and cold feel of death. The dust storms picked up again. Yan Ren Ying, his martial brother’s body still in his arms, jumped onto the horse and furiously galloped away. The horse came from the west.

Yan Ren Ying galloped off towards the west, obviously, he was trying to find where Xi Men Chui Xue was from this horse.

Facing the northwestern winds from the deep Autumns of the northern countries, Lu Xiao Feng saw off the horse and its riders with his eyes.

“I know that horse!” A man behind him suddenly said quietly.

Lu Xiao Feng quickly turned around. The man who spoke was dressed in a green outfit. Even though it was simple, he still had that air of authority about him. He was none other than one of those men who was following Li Yan Bei around this morning.

“I’m Zhao Zheng Wo, from the east of the city, ‘Gan-Er Shang De’, everybody calls me ‘Gan-Er Zhao’.”

“Gan-Er Shang De” was just another slang for head master, meaning that he was the leader of all the beggars around here. In a city, it meant a great deal of power and control.

Of course, Lu Xiao Feng recognized who this man was and what position he held, yet he could not be bothered with pleasantries right now.

“You recognize that horse?” He immediately asked.

“Only the ImperialPalace could have such a well groomed white horse.” Gan-Er Zhao’s voice was even lower. “It doesn’t matter how much power other people have, nobody dares to violate this pact!”

White horses symbolized respect and riches, only the royal family could lay claim to be the most respected and most rich.

“So that horse was from the Forbidden City?” Lu Xiao Feng frowned.

--Could Xi Men Chui Xue be hiding inside the ImperialPalace? That would explain why nobody could find him. But with the number of guards and security inside the ImperialPalace, how could anyone hide within it? Gan-Er Zhao did not say anything in response to his question. This was one of the most forbidden things in the imperial capital, he dared not to say anything more.

Lu Xiao Feng thought silently for a while.

“Could you ask your men to go find out where this horse came from and who was the first to saw it?” He asked.

Gan-Er Zhao hesitated for a while before finally nodding: “That would not be too hard. But I’ve received orders to take you to 13th Mistress’ place.”

“This is more important, you can just tell me where it is and I’ll go find it myself!”

Again, Gan-Er Zhao hesitated for a while.

“Ok, I’ll tell Xiao-Song, the driver to take you to Rolled Curtain Alley. 13th Mistress’ place is last one on the left.”

Once he got on the carriage, Lu Xiao Feng’s mind was in chaos again. The puzzling questions seemed to multiply on ends. Who killed Big Shot Sun? What for? Why was Xi Men Chui Xue’s actions so mysterious?”

______________________________

Rolled Curtain Alley was actually a very quiet and serene lane with a lot of large households. Not a sound was coming from within the tall walls. The wind carried with them the sweet fragrance of pomegranate flowers. The color of dusk had darkened, night was near.

But this day was not over yet. The last household on the left had the tightest gate as well. Every one of Li Yan Bei’s 30 houses were all very secured, no stragglers could be found in front of any of them. Lu Xiao Feng did not knock, instead he lept over the walls and in.

He trusted that Li Yan Bei would not blame him for this, for such was their friendship. The yard was very big with pomegranate trees and goldfishes swimming about in its ponds. The shades for sunbathing were all taken down and the furnace had been put outside for cleaning. Not long from now, the furnace would be put in use inside.

The light were lit brightly in guest hall up ahead. The flower hall on the left was lit as well. Li Yan Bei was sitting inside, sighing.

On the cherry wood table in front of him, there was several layers of balance sheets. His sighs were very heavy, because his heart was heavy.

But he still heart Lu Xiao Feng. He was already a very sensitive person, and Lu Xiao Feng was not exactly being careful with his own movements. When Li Yan Bei pushed open the door to the room, Lu Xiao Feng was on the other side.

“You knew it was me?”

Li Yan Bei forced a meek smile on his face: “Other than you, who else would have the guts to barge in like this?”

Lu Xiao Feng smiled in return. Looking at that layer upon layers of balance sheets and accounts, his heart suddenly turned sour. In this city, Li Yan Bei had battled hard and spilled blood and sweat for 20 years up to now.

To be able to find a place to stand in a city as filled with men and dangers as this was hard, but to fall down was easy.

Why did he place all of his life’s work down on a wager against someone? Was it worth it?

Li Yan Bei’s smile became even more forced.

“I’m not conceding defeat, but a little preparation can’t hurt, it has to be better than jumping the cliff at the last moment. Besides....” -- Besides, if Xi Men Chui Xue loses, he would have to leave immediately, he would have to leave everything immediately! And this was not easy to leave behind!

Lu Xiao Feng understood what he meant and knew what he felt.

“Xi Men Chui Xue had arrived.” He suddenly declared.

“Have you seen him?” Li Yan Bei’s eyes lit up.

Lu Xiao Feng shook his head. “But I do know that his sword is still sharp and he kills as tidy and efficient as he did in the past.”

The light in Li Yan Bei’s eyes dimmed. He turned around and began putting away the balance sheets on the table.

“Killer moves aren’t unbeatable moves.” He slowly declared.

“I’ve already said, there is no unbeatable move in the world, and by the same token, there is no unwinnable moves either.”

Li Yan Bei paused for a long time at that statement.

“That’s why we should go drink first!” He suddeny laughed as he turned around and patted Lu Xiao Feng on the shoulder. “The dishes to help the wine go down should be ready. The special guest I invited to keep you company is here too.”

“Special guest? Who?” Lu Xiao Feng was caught by that statement.

Li Yan Bei’s smile seemed very mysterious: “Of course it’s someone that you would never find annoying!”

On the table were already 4 dishes of fruit, 4 dishes of appetizers, and 8 dishes of entrees to eat with the wine -- a dish of smoked fish, a dish of pickled duck, a dish of crystal pig feet, a dish of roasted goose, a dish of pheasant, a dish of diced donkey, a dish of meat from the inside of the goats horns, a dish of goat intestines, and lastly a dish of singed goat head that had been just brought up.

Lu Xiao Feng blinked.

“Are you trying to stuff me to death?” He joked.

Li Yan Bei laughed again. While he was laughing, a graceful lady dressed in elegant clothing walked in, swing her hips as she did. Lu Xiao Feng seemed to take a step back when he saw her.

“This is that four eye-browed Lu Xiao Feng,” Li Yan Bei said, still laughing. “Didn’t you say you wanted to meet him for a while now?”

The 13th Mistress bowed politely before suddenly letting out a peal of laughter.

“I saw him before.”

“When did you see him?” Li Yan Bei was a bit surprised too.

“When I went out with Ou Yang to buy some pearls earlier,” the 13th Mistress coquettishly continued. “Ou Yang pointed him out to me.”

Lu Xiao Feng managed a meek smile.

“That special guest of yours is her?” He had to ask.

“You know Ou Yang too?” Li Yan Bei asked.

Lu Xiao Feng nodded. Li Yan Bei threw his head back in laughter.

“Of course you do, I should have guessed. If you don’t even a beauty like that, what kind of a hero would Lu Xiao Feng be?”

“Where is she?”

“She’s still in the kitchen, making you some of her best desserts: butter soaked snails.”

Ou Yang Qing was actually making desserts for Lu Xiao Feng?

Lu Xiao Feng could not help but let out an ironic laugh: “Is she trying to poison me?”

“You think she wants to poison you?” 13th Mistress asked.

“I offended her once, some people you can’t offend even once, or else they’ll hate you for the rest of your life!”

“And you think she is one of them?”

Lu Xiao Feng did not deny this. 13th Mistress stared at him, not even blinking one bit. Women should not look at men like this, especially in front of her own husband. Even Lu Xiao Feng was getting a little embarrased, but 13th Mistress did not seem to mind at all.

“What are you looking at?” Li Yan Bei finally asked.

“I’m looking to see if he is really an idiot.”

“Absolutely not!”

“I know he doesn’t look like it, but he really is a full-on idiot!”

“Really?”

13th Mistress sighed.

“If someone was going to leave a long time ago, but suddenly changed her mind when she found out he was going to come; if someone always hated to work in the kitchen, but worked in the kitchen all day when she found out he was coming here for dinner. If there was a women treating you that way, do you know what that means?”

“I know that at least she doesn’t hate me!”

“Even you understand, yet he could not!” 13th Mistress sighed. “If he isn’t an idiot then what is he?”

“I think he’s starting to look like one to me too now.” Li Yan Bei smiled.

Lu Xiao Feng was speechless, of course he understood what that meant, but he could never have dreamt it in his life.

“Actually, you can’t really blame him,” Li Yan Bei added with a smile. “The matters of a woman’s heart is something that men just can’t figure out. Not to mention he is involved and doesn’t see clearly like those of us on the side.”

“I’m not blaming him, I’m just sticking up for little Ou Yang, that’s all.” 13th Mistress coldly replied.

Li Yan Bei threw his head back in laughter again and patted Lu Xiao Feng on his shoulders.

“If I were you, when little Ou Yang comes in later, I would make sure to treat her....”

Before he finished, a strange flute sound could suddenly be heard enminating in with the wind. It was the same sound that Lu Xiao Feng heard at the kiln yard earlier in the afternoon.

Lu Xiao Feng’s face suddenly dropped.

“Going to save Ou Yang....” He shouted. Before he even finished, he was already outside of the window, another flash and he was more than 30 meters away!

The flute came from the southwest, not too far away. After jumping over the western walls of this yard and a small alley way, there was what looked like a long deserted garden.