LXF03-08 PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 16 August 2008 04:27

Chapter 8 - Initial Skirmishes



The 15th of September, morning. Lu Xiao Feng came walking out from a door in the back corner of the yard behind the bakery, turned out of the yard, and strode along the morning fog covered street. Although he did not sleep the night before, he was not tired. After a cold bath, he felt ever more awake and energetic, his entire body even more ready to face the day.

He had already made a promise to himself that he would get to the bottom of this conspiracy and find the mastermind behind it all. The wax figurine was still in the pocket inside his shirt. He swore to flatten this man’s face like the face on this figurine.

“Clay Man Zhang lives on the Goldfish Alley behind Cherry Street. The front door is lacquered black and has a business sign in the front, very easy to find.”

He had already seen Ou Yang Qing. Even though she did not say anything, the colour on her face had changed to a much healthier shade, she had obviously made it through the danger zone.

--Not only did Xi Men Chui Xue have a killer sword strike, he also have life saving antitodes.

“Saving lives really does seem to be more enjoyable than taking lives.”

Lu Xiao Feng was smiling. He could only hope that a man who killed could turn into a man who saved others’ lives.

He had also seen Sun Xiu Qing. The talkative and frank Sun Xiu Qing of yesterday had also changed, changed into a gentle and patient woman. Because no longer was she the female swordsman that was slashing her way through the martial world, she was a soon to be mother.

“You two forgot to invite me to your toast, you better not forget to invite me for the red eggs!”

“When are you going to invite us to drink your toast?”

Lu Xiao Feng saw the warmth and gentleness in Ou Yang Qing’s eyes and was asking himself on the inside: “Is it really about time I start my own family?”

Of course, it was still too early. But if there was such a thought in a man’s heart, the day when it finally comes true could not be far off.

Leaves do not fall far from the root, people will always eventually settle down. Besides, he really have wandered for far too long. The life of an unattached bachelor might contain quite alot of good times, but the emptiness and loneliness after the good times is not something that many people could bear.

And also something very few people would understand. Those long sleepless nights, that loneliness after the music has stopped and the people have left, those tears and regret after waking up from a drunken night.... How does that really feel? Only in their hearts do they really know the truth.

Clay Man Zhang was an old man. He seemed to have already forgotten that he ever had such a prodigal son like Zhang Ying Feng.

In the minds of the elders, all those youths who would go out and wander the world instead of settling down and devoting themselves in the family business are prodigal sons.

Of course, Lu Xiao Feng did not bring up Zhang Ying Feng’s death. Age, in and of itself, is a kind of sadness. He did not want to add another layer of sadness to this old man’s life. But as soon as the subject of his expertise came up, this hunched over old man almost seemed to have straightened up and the gleam his eyes flickered in pride.

“Of course I can restore this wax figurine to its original form. It doesn’t matter what it was like before, I can make it exactly as it was before.” The old man proudly declared. “You’ve come to the right place young man.”

“How much time do you need?” Lu Xiao Feng’s eyes lit up as well.

“Two hours at most.” The old man was very sure of himself. “Come back and pick this up in two hours.”

“Can’t I just wait here?”

“No.” The old man showed his authority within the field. “I don’t let other people watch me work.”

This was his rule. When doing this, his word was the law, because Lu Xiao Feng could not do what he could. So Lu Xiao Feng had to leave.

Besides, two hours with nothing to do would be perfect for going to get some tea at the tea house on the street ahead.

House of Heavenly Peace was a large tea house. It opened for business right at the crack of dawn, and it was full of customers the moment it opened. Because the tea houses in the capital was not as simple as the tea houses in other places, nor were their costumers there to simply drink tea.

Especially in the morning, most of the people here were actually waiting to either be dispatched or be contracted. The masons, the carpenters, the caterers, the tailors, and all kinds of other craftsmen and merchants would come around tea houses on the morning of the day after winning a big contract or job to find workers. If they show up late, they might end up with unskilled workers.

The inside of the tea house might look chaotic, but in reality every profession has its own little territory within it. The carpenters would never sit with the masons, because sitting at the wrong place meant no jobs.

There were called “pits”. Every profession had several tables that made up of its own “pit” and there was no mistaking it. This was not the first time Lu Xiao Feng had visited the capital, and he was fully aware of these rules. So he picked out a seat by the door and poured himself a cup of “Eight-Hundred-a-Bag” tea.

The tea here was not sold according to weight, instead, it was sold by bags. One flask of tea, one bag of tea leaves. There were “Two-Hundred-a-Bag”, “Four-Hundred-a-Bag”, and the best, “Eight-Hundred-a-Bag”. Eight hundred actually meant eight taels of silver a bag.

Of course, the upper crust of the Capital liked to sound more impressive than anywhere else, and of course, eight taels did not nearly have the same ring to it as eight hundred. Lu Xiao Feng took two sips out of his cup and was just getting ready to call over the waiter to order some sesame roasted peanuts when two people sat down at the table facing him.

Sharing a table in a tea house was pretty common. But the expression on the two men’s face were very strange, the look in their eyes was even stranger. Between the two of them, all four of their eyes were unblinkingly staring at his face.

They were dressed in fine clothes, there was a bright gleam in their eyes, and their temples were bulged out. Obviously, they were both martial art masters.

One of them was relatively older, he was extremely big and tall with an intimidating presence, and even though he was not carrying any weapons on him, he had a pair of vein covered hands with huge, protruding knuckles that looked like they could crush rocks. The younger one was dressed in even fancier cloth, he looked, literally, high browed and seemed to have even more of an aura than the older man. Those bright eyes of his were totally blood shot, as if he had not slept the entire night, as if they were filled with hate and anger.

They were staring at Lu Xiao Feng, but Lu Xiao Feng just simply would not even look at them.

The two of them shot at look at each other. The older man suddenly took out a little wooden box and placed it on the table.

“Sir, are you Lu Xiao Feng?”

Lu Xiao Feng had to nod, and involuntarily persed his lips a little. Those two mustache of his that he liked to keep sure have brought an untold amount of unwanted trouble.

“I am Bu Ju.”

“Hello.” Lu Xiao Feng replied without showing the slightest expression, as if he had never heard of this name before. In reality, of course he had.

There were probably not that many people in the world that had not heard of this name. “Heaven Splitting Palm” Bu Ju’s name controlled the land from Sichuan to Hunan. He was the Master Helmsman of over 36 different clans of pirates and bandits in that area! The corner of Bu Ju’s eyes flinched.

Normally, whenever the corner of his eyes flinch, it meant he was about to kill. But this time he had to endure it.

“Have you heard of me, sir?” He suppressed his indignation.

“No.”

“Well then you should have heard what’s in this box.” Bu Ju mocked.

He opened the box. Inside was three huge, shiny, polished, completely flawless jade rings. Lu Xiao Feng was someone who knew what was what. He easily discerned that each of these 3 jade rings were priceless treasures.

Yet he shook his head again.

“Never seen these things before in my life.”

“I know you never seem them, not many have truly laid eyes on this kind of treasure.” Bu Ju coldly retorted before suddenly pushing the box to Lu Xiao Feng’s side of the table. “But if you do me one favor, they are all yours!”

“What favor?” Lu Xiao Feng pretended not to know.

“These three jade rings in exchange for three of those belts.”

“What belts?”

“No point in playing games, is it a deal or not?” Bu Ju coldy answered, cutting to the chase.

Lu Xiao Feng smiled. He had figured out what they were after the moment they sat down.

--”We’ve already instructed people to start spreading this information to our friends in the martial world!” “Those without that belt on their bodies, with absolute no regard as to who they are, will be executed on the spot if caught trespassing within the ForbiddenPalace!”

He knew it was trouble the moment he heard those two sentences.

“Yes or no?” Bu Ju viciously demanded, he was slowly losing his temper.

“No!” His answer was simple and direct. He was not the type who was scared of trouble.

Bu Ju almost jumped to his feet as his knuckles cracked like falling rocks, the expression on his face was not friendly anymore either. But he did not make a move, because that young man grabbed a hold of him with one hand and took out another object with his other hand and placed it on the table. It was a poisonous prickly vine. None other than the Tang family’s world famous Poison Vine, its poison would literally seal up a man’s throat the moment it touched any of his blood.

In the sunlight, it was obvious that not only was this Poison Vine made of the purest steel, it was very intricately designed, on every single leaf was hidden 7 fine steel needles. Upon impact, the needles would fly out so it did not matter if the vine struck bone or flesh, the person was doomed to death.

These kind of weapons were not usually placed on tables to be seen by others, and very few men could inspect it in such detail. Even Lu Xiao Feng had to concede to himself that this weapon had with it an incomprehensible power. Even lying there on the table, he could still feel it.

“My surname is Tang.” The young man abruptly broke the silence.

“Tang Tian Zong?”

“Yes!” The young man proudly affirmed. He really should be proud of himself. His skill was the best among the brothers and disciples of the Tang family despite being the youngest.

“Are you planning to exchange your projectile here for my satin belt?”

“The weapon is dead, if you don’t know how to use it, I can give you the entire sack of projectiles and it would still be completely useless!” Tang Tian Zong coldly commented.

Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

“Turns out you are just planning on letting me see it.”

“Not many people get to lay their eyes on this kind of a projectile.”

“Well I can also take out those satin belts for you to see, not many people get to lay their eyes on those either!”

“Pity they can’t be used to kill.”

“Well that depends on whose hands they are in doesn’t it? In the right hands, even a rice straw can kill.”

Tang Tian Zong’s expression darkened as he glared into Lu Xiao Feng’s eyes. Suddenly, he pressed down using the hand that was laying on the table and the Poison Vine immediately bounced into the air.

“Chi!” With only a hiss, the projectile traveled shot up more than 6 meters.

“Dong!” He nailed itself onto one of the beams on the ceiling. Not just onto the ceiling, but all the way buried within the wood. Not only was this young man’s weapons ingeniously designed, his hand skills were shocking as well. But Lu Xiao Feng seemed to not have noticed at all.

The look on Tang Tian Zong’s face became even more sinister.

“That is a real weapon capable of killing.”

“Oh!”

Three jade rings plus a life, do you agree to the exchange?”

“Whose life?”

“Yours.”

Lu Xiao Feng smiled again.

“If I refuse, you’ll take my life?”

A smirk appeared on Tang Tian Zong’s face when Lu Xiao Feng asked that question. Slowly, Lu Xiao Feng took two more sips from his cup before he suddenly realized a very crucial point. If Tang Tian Zong and Bu Ju could find him, then others must have been able to keep track of his activities as well.

If Clay Man Zhang could really restore that figurine to its original form, then there would surely be people who would want to kill him and take care of that loose end. Lu Xiao Feng put down his cup of tea, he had decided to stop playing games with these two men. This was his last bit of evidence, Clay Man Zhang could not die.

“Have you made up your mind?” Tang Tian Zong demanded.

Lu Xiao Feng let out a little laugh as he slowly stood up, picked up the 3 jade rings from the table, and put them in his pocket.

“You are agreeing to the trade?” Bu Ju broke out in a smile.

“No.”

Bu Ju’s smile immediately changed to a frown.

“Then why did you take my jade rings?”

“I chatted and kept you two company for a while, so I should get something in return.” Lu Xiao Feng casually explained. “My time has always been very precious.”

Once again, Bu Ju jumped to his feet. This time Tang Tian Zong did not pull him back down, for both of his hands were already inside the leopard skin pouches at his side.

But Lu Xiao Feng did not seem to notice any of this.

“If you really want the satin belts, there is still a way, but I have just one condition.” He said with a smile.

“What condition?” Bu Ju demanded, barely able to contain his anger.

“That each of you would get on your knees right now and kowtow to me three times.”

With a furious howl, Bu Ju attacked. Tang Tian Zong’s hand shot out as well.

“Crash!” A flask suddenly appeared in Bu Ju’s hand as he crushed the flask to smithereens, spilling its content all over the purple satin robe he was wearing. Amazingly, he did not see how the flask got into his hand.

He had wanted to grab a hold of Lu Xiao Feng’s shoulder, but somehow he grabbed this tea flask instead. Tang Tian Zong had one hand out of his pouch with a projectile in hand, but, for some inexplicable reason, he held on to it.

Lu Xiao Feng was already across the street, jovially waving to them.

“You broke the flask, so you pay. I’ll let you guys pick up the bill as well. Thank you very much.”

Bu Ju was just about to give chase when he suddenly noticed some hissing sounds coming from Tang Tian Zong’s mouth. His face was pale as sheet, but then quickly turned to a sickly green before changing again to blood red as cold sweat came rolling down his forehead. His pressure points had been sealed. When did Lu Xiao Feng make his move? Bu Ju’s steely face suddenly turned ghostly pale as he let out a long sigh and fell back into his chair.

“I told you, if you wanted Lu Xiao Feng to listen to you, you have to make your move first.” Suddenly, from outside the door, came a laugh. “As long as he can still make his move, you are going to have to listen to him.”

A person strolled in as he spoke, his head was bald and when he smiled he looked like a statue of Buddha: “I’m honest, I always tell the truth. Do you believe me now?”

Lu Xiao Feng did not see Honest Monk. If he did he would be even more anxious. But though he did not see Honest Monk, he was feel as if he was about to die from apprehension. Not only was he filled with anxiety, he was filled with regret as well.

He should not have left Clay Man Zhang there by himself. He should have at least sit there and guarded the door. Pity that if Lu Xiao Feng could sit down and drink a cup of tea, he would never stand outside and wait for others.

Right now he could only hope that “third man” has not found Clay Man Zhang. He even went so far as to swear that if Clay Man Zhang was still alive and could give the wax figurine back to him, he would swear off all kinds of tea for the next 3 months, no matter how good the tea might be.

Clay Man Zhang was alive, and from the looks of him much happier than he had been before. Because the wax figurine has been restored, that meant he was about to get paid. As one gets older, he would have less and less chance to spend his money, yet his interest in earning money would increase and increase.

Earning and spending money always seemed to be inversely proportional to each other, a rather odd coincidence don’t you think? Only after he entered and saw Clay Man Zhang did Lu Xiao Feng finally sighed in relief. Amazingly, he did not forget to remind himself.

--No tea for the next 3 months, no matter how good the tea might be. Tea could be addicting too. Those who liked to drink would find it very difficult to not be able to drink tea. Luckily for him he did not forget to remind himself one more thing: he could still drink wine, lots of wine.

Clay Man Zhang held out both hands, the figurine in one hand, nothing in the other. Lu Xiao Feng understood exactly what he meant.

Those with real skill always wanted to get paid as soon as they accomplished what they have been asked to do, or else they would be very unhappy even if you are late for just one bit. In reality, the fact that he did not ask Lu Xiao Feng to pay beforehand was already quite remarkable. Only when the empty hand was filled with banknotes did Clay Man Zhang relax his grip on the wax figurine in the other hand. Only then did a smile appear on his face. But Lu Xiao Feng found it impossible to smile. The face on this wax figurine was none other than Xi Men Chui Xue’s face.

Goldfish Alley was a very quiet and peaceful alley. The September sun shining down on one’s back felt neither too cold nor too hot. To be able to walk down an alley like this on a day like this was supposed to be a pretty enjoyable thing.

But Lu Xiao Feng did not feel any joy in his heart. He absolutely did not believe Xi Men Chui Xue killed Zhang Ying Feng, nor did he believe Xi Men Chui Xue would work with those eunuchs. Most importantly, he did not believe Xi Men Chui Xue would tell a lie, nevermind tell him a lie. Yet this wax figurine’s face just had to be that of Xi Men Chui Xue’s.

“Did you make a mistake?” He had wanted to ask Clay Man Zhang, but did not.

He had always been respectful of others skills and position. In this area, Clay Man Zhang had unquestioned authority. If he had implied that Clay Man Zhang had made a mistake, it would have been more insulting than a real slap to his cheek.

Lu Xiao Feng never liked to make others feel miserable, yet at this moment he was feeling miserable. This figurine had been his most promising lead, yet now that he got his lead, he was even more confused than he was before. How did this happen? He could not figure it out.

The not too cold and not too hot sunlight bathed down on his face, and also the face of the wax figurine in his hand. Staring at the figurine, he continued to walk. However, as soon as he walked out of the alley and onto the street, he suddenly, and literally, jumped in place, immediately turned around, and ran back as if someone had whipped him from behind. What did he just discover?

Where Clay Man Zhang meet his costumers was also where he worked. Windows covered three sides of the room. There was a huge table with all manners of pottery, dirt, paint, carving knives, and brushes. Other than making wax figures, he was also in the business of carving out maps and painting some good luck charms that scare away demons.

The third time Lu Xiao Feng entered here, the old man was bent over the table carving. He did not even lift his head up upon this unexpected entrance.

Even with all the windows, it was still somewhat dark in the room. The old man’s eye sight, of course, was not what it once was, his face was almost touching the table.

Lu Xiao Feng cleared his throat a couple of times, no reaction from the old man. He cleared his throat some more, louder this time. Still no reaction. Not even the slightest movement, not even the knife in his hand. How could he carve the map without moving the knife?

Could someone have gotten to this old man? Lu Xiao Feng’s heart sank, but he actually jumped as he scrambled up behind Clay Man Zhang and was just about to pull him up to see what was going on.

“It’s windy outside, go close the door!” The old man suddenly ordered.

Lu Xiao Feng’s heart skipped another beat with that start as he back up and, laughing at his own silliness, gently closed the door. He felt positively like a paranoid old maid.

“What do you want?”

“I’m here to exchange this wax figurine!”

“Exchange what wax figurine?”

“The one you just gave me is the wrong one, so I want the one I gave you back!”

It was only when he walked out of the alley did he realize that this wax figurine that Clay Man Zhang just gave him was a shade yellow while the one that Yan Ren Ying gave him was light green. They had obviously been switched by this old man to frame Xi Men Chui Xue as the killer once again. If this old man was not one of them, he had at least been bought out.

“I had asked you to restore the wax figurine to its original form, not to mold another one for me altogether.”

Slowly, he approached the old man again, not taking his eyes off of the knife in his hand. A knife used for carving maps could be used to kill as well, he did not want to be treated like the map and have someone carve out a couple of ridges on his throat.

Surprisingly, Clay Man Zhang put the knife in his hand down before he slowly turned around.

“What are you talking about? I don’t understand.”

Neither did Lu Xiao Feng, for he saw this old man’s face. This Clay Man Zhang was not the same Clay Man Zhang he had just met.

He almost swallowed his tongue. It took him a while to regain his breath and then he looked the old man over several more times.

“You are Clay Man Zhang?” He finally got around to asking.

The old man cracked a yellow toothed smile.

“There are real and fake Pockmark Wang barbers, but there is only one real Clay Man Zhang, no other shops!”

“Then who was that before?”

Clay Man Zhang squinted his eyes and looked around the room.

“Who are you talking about? I just came back, there wasn’t even a shadow here.”

Lu Xiao Feng felt as if somebody had stuffed a whole mouthful of rotting peaches down his throat.

So the Clay Man Zhang he met before was a fake. It seemed easier to trick him than to steal candy from a baby.

Clay Man Zhang looked down at the wax figurine in his hand.

“But I did mold this figurine, how did you get your hand on it?” He suddenly said.

“Have you seen this man before?” Lu Xiao Feng immediately followed up.

“No.”

“How did you make his likeness without ever meeting him before?”

Clay Man Zhang smiled.

“I have never met Guan Yu either, but I can make a likeness of him too!”

“Did someone bring you a painting of him and asked him to mold his likeness for him?”

“Finally you seem to be getting it.”

“Who asked you to make this?”

“This guy.” He turned around and picked a clay figurine from the table. “When he came, I just happened to have a piece of clay in my hand, so I just kind of naturally made one of him as well. But I forgot to give it to him.”

Lu Xiao Feng’s eyes lit up. But the old man’s hand just happened to have grabbed the figurine by the head, so he could not see what he most wanted to see, that face. Clay Man Zhang sighed and shook his head.

“When you get old your mind just doesn’t work that well anymore, if you don’t forget this one thing you forget that other thing.” He mumbled.

“Maybe your mind doesn’t work that well anymore, but your luck is still working great.” Lu Xiao Feng suddenly joked.

“What luck?”

“If you hadn’t forgotten to give him this figurine, you wouldn’t have made an extra 500 taels of silver.”

Clay Man Zhang’s eyes lit up as well: “You are willing to pay me 500 taels of silver?”

“As long as you give me that clay figurine, these 500 taels will be yours!”

Clay Man Zhang could hardly contain himself as he immediately brought the clay figurine right up to Lu Xiao Feng’s face. Lu Xiao Feng was just about to reach out and grab it when “bang!”, the figurine’s head burst open as seven or eight tiny, icy, shooting stars streaked toward his throat. Inside this clay figurine was hidden a spring action trap and it had been set off not even half a meter away from Lu Xiao Feng’s throat!

Not even half a meter, incredible, lightning-like speed, an attack that nobody could have expected, and seven poison needles that would kill a man as soon as it touchs his blood.

Looks like this time Lu Xiao Feng is doomed! Anybody would be doomed under these circumstances! This kind of distance, this kind of speed, this kind of weapon, nothing up in the Heavens or in the depth of Hell would be able to dodge this attack.

This ambush had clearly been meticulously planned out to the smallest details, not only should it work, it almost could not not work!

Not even Lu Xiao Feng could have dodged this attack. But he did not die, because there was still a wax figurine in his hand. When the springs sprang into action with that “bang,” his hand flicked and the wax figurine jumped off of his hand and perfectly met the seven needles.

Even after impacting on the figurine, the force of the poison needles had not completely dissipated and the figurine still hit Lu Xiao Feng’s throat. Even though the wax figurine could not kill, it still startled him. In that moment of confusion, Clay Man Zhang had already took off and jumped through one of the windows. By the time Lu Xiao Feng realized what was going on, he was already outside.

This “Clay Man Zhang’s” reaction was quite quick as well, as soon as he saw his ambush failed, he bailed.

But as soon as he flew out of the window, there came a series of yelp followed by a loud and rather dull “thud”, as if something heavy just collided with some piece of wood.

After the thud, the yelp stopped. By the time Lu Xiao Feng made his way out of the room, he was already lying on the ground in the middle of the yard, seemingly having fainted. Another man was standing beside his body and holding his head between his arms, it was a bald head.

“Honest Monk!” Lu Xiao Feng nearly yelled.

Tenderly holding his head, Honest Monk tried to put up a brave smile.

“Looks like I should change my name, change it to Unlucky Monk.”

“When did you become unlucky?”

“If I’m not unlucky, then why would people smash their head into my head for no reason?”

By now, a huge and black colored bruise was visible on “Clay Man Zhang’s” head. Lu Xiao Feng did not know whether he should be laughing or puzzled. He knew better than anyone that there was no way the two heads collided by accident, nor could he figure out why Honest Monk would want to help him out.

“Luckily I have a pretty hard head.” Honest Monk mumbled as he gingerly continued to rub his head.

“That’s why you might be unlucky, but Clay Man Zhang here has much worse luck.” Lu Xiao Feng joked.

“Are you saying he is Clay Man Zhang?”

“He isn’t?”

“If he is Clay Man Zhang, then I am Lu Xiao Feng.”

Of course Lu Xiao Feng knew this Clay Man Zhang was not the real one, yet he could not understand why the first, real Clay Man Zhang would want to switch the wax figurines to fool him.

“I might not be pretty, but I’ve came here and asked Clay Man Zhang make a likeness of me as well.”

“So you knew Clay Man Zhang?”

Honest Monk nodded.

“Did you come here to get Clay Man Zhang to make a likeness of yourself too?”

“Don’t know if he’ll be able to get my four eye brows right.” Lu Xiao Feng laughed.

“Even if you had 8 eye brows, he would get them all exactly right, down to every single strand of hair. Shame that all he can do is wait for others to mold a likeness of him now!”

“Why?” Lu Xiao Feng frowned.

“I came around the back, there’s a well in the back.”

“What’s in the well?”

Honest Monk sighed.

“It’s probably best for you to take a look yourself!”

Of course there was water in the well. But in this well, besides water, also had blood. Clay Man Zhang’s blood!

“I wandered over here because I caught a whiff of the smell of blood coming from this well.” With a frown on his face, Honest Monk put his hands together and bowed. “Twas better to not have seen than to have seen. Amida Buddha, Merciful Buddha.”

What he saw was four dead people, and now Lu Xiao Feng has seen them too. All four members of Clay Man Zhang’s family was dead at the bottom of the well.

Lu Xiao Feng did not speak or even open his mouth, he did not want to puke in front of Honest Monk. His entire stomach was turning.

Only now did he realize that the two Clay Man Zhang’s he had met today were both fakes. The first one was solely responsible for switching the figurine and framing Xi Men Chui Xue. And in case Lu Xiao Feng did not fall for that trick, he would have surely returned with the second fake waiting here to take his life!

Such a venomous and devious trap, if one trap failed then there was another trap within that one waiting to be sprung. Lu Xiao Feng suddenly sighed. He suddenly realized that his luck was pretty good, he had survived until now.

Honest Monk sighed along with him.

“I told you a long time ago, you are just entirely engulfed in this aura of bad luck and will surely run into bad luck!”

“What kind of bad luck did I run into now?”

“What were you doing? You were coming to ask a dead man to mold a likeness of yourself. How is that not bad luck?”

Lu Xiao Feng gazed back at Honest Monk.

“Even if I came here to ask a dead man to mold a likeness of myself, what are you doing here?”

That question seemed to have stumped Honest Monk. Luckily for him, at this exact moment, that “Clay Man Zhang” with a bruise on his head suddenly let out a groan. When they came around back, they did not leave laying there and brought him with them.

“Looks like he’s about to wake up,” Honest Monk sighed in relief. “Thank goodness I didn’t headbutt him to death!”

“Were you planning to headbutt him to death?” Lu Xiao Feng stared at him.

Honest Monk immediately brought his hands together again in prayer: “Amida Buddha, wrong, wrong. The Heavens favours life, if I have such designs, would I not be thrown down into the 18th level of Hell?”

Lu Xiao Feng laughed.

“It’s not that bad there, would at least run into a couple of old buddies. Besides, if you don’t enter Hell, then who shall enter Hell?”

{Note: Lu Xiao Feng’s phrase “if you don’t enter Hell, the who shall enter Hell?” is a paraphrasing of a well known Buddhist scripture which reads: “If I don’t enter Hell, then who shall enter Hell?” meant to urge all true believers to take on all hardships, necessary and unnecessary, to better the lives of those whom they touch.}

Honest Monk shook his head furiously and began to mumble to himself: “Must remember to never argue with this man. Must remember to never argue with this man. Must remember....”

“Are you reciting some scripture?” Lu Xiao Feng could not help but crack a smile.

“I’m just merely reminding myself so I won’t have to enter argument Hell in the future.” Honest Monk sighed.

Lu Xiao Feng had something to say, but held it back. He noticed that the man on the ground had finally regained his consciousness and was struggling to sit up while gingerly holding his head. Lu Xiao Feng looked down at him, and when he noticed Lu Xiao Feng too, his eyes were immediately filled with the look of fear. When he noticed Honest Monk, he appeared to be even more shocked. He seemed to recognize this monk.

But there was no expression on Honest Monk’s face, nor did Lu Xiao Feng even open his mouth. The two of them silently stood over him, staring down at him. He might not have been the real Clay Man Zhang, but he was really an old man. Lu Xiao Feng knew there was no need for him to speak, he should know what this situation implies.

The old man sighed: “I know you must have questions to ask of me, and what you want to ask of me.”

Of course, he should know. Anybody, after being ambushed, would want to inquire as to where his attacker came from and who planned the ambush. A man was more than 50 years old, how could he not know?

“But whatever you ask, there is one sentence I can’t say, because once I do, I will die for sure.”

“You are scared of death?” Lu Xiao Feng asked.

“I might be an old man, I might know that I won’t live much longer, but I’m more afraid of death now than I was as a young man!” He said with a strained smile. That was the truth. The older one becomes, the less one wants to die. That is why the ones who are foolishly brave with no regards for their own lives are all young, that is why all those who leaps off buildings are also all young -- when was the last time you saw an old man commit suicide?

“If you are so frightened of death, aren’t you afraid that we will kill you?” Lu Xiao Feng asked with a blank face.

“No, I’m not!”

“Why not?” Lu Xiao Feng was puzzled.

“Because from your appearance, I can tell you don’t like to kill, and you don’t look like you are planning to kill me either.”

“You can tell?”

“I’ve lived to this age, if I can’t tell that, then what have been spending my life doing?” He actually started laughing, laughing like an old fox.

“You are wrong!” Lu Xiao Feng shot him a vicious look and abruptly cut off his laugh.

“Oh?”

“You weren’t wrong about me, I won’t kill you. But you are wrong about the man who sent you here. You didn’t kill me, so it doesn’t matter if you told me the secret or not, he will kill you.”

The smile on the old man’s face froze as fear reappeared in his eyes.

“I’m sure you know how he operates, if you want to leave, I won’t stop you. But I won’t care if you die or not either!”

The old man got up to his feet, but he did not move from that spot.

“I’ve never killed that many, but I’ve saved quite a few!” Lu Xiao Feng continued.

“You... you are willing to save me?”

“You are willing to spill the secret?”

The old man hesitated, not able to make up his mind just yet.

“Take your time and think about it, I....”

He suddenly stopped talking, almost stopped breathing. He suddenly noticed that the whites of the old man’s eyes had turned to a deathly green color. But within those deathly green eyes was a solitary drop of blood, ready to ooze out. By the time he ran to the old man’s side, the corner of his eyes had already cracked open, yet he did not seem to feel any pain at all.

Lu Xiao Feng grabbed his hand, it was cold as ice. Lu Xiao Feng was shocked.

“Quickly, just tell me his name!”

The old man’s lips moved slightly as a strange and unsettling smiled appeared on his face. The smile had just appeared moments before it was frozen. His entire body had turned stiff and all of his skin had already dried to the point of resembling cow hide. Lu Xiao Feng reached out and touched him.

“Boom!” His skin resonated like a drum.

“Wooden Mummy Powder!” Honest Monk almost yelled, he was shocked too.

Lu Xiao Feng lightly sighed.

“Poison in blood, man to mummy.”

“Could he have been poisoned the entire time and only now did the poison take effect?”

“If you hadn’t knocked him out, he might have turned into a mummy as soon as he flew out of the yard.”

“So no matter if the trap worked or not, he was doomed from the get go.”

Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

“Such an elaborate plan, so many lives lost, all for what?”

“For killing you!”

A disbelieving look appeared on Lu Xiao Feng’s face: “If it was all for killing me, the price they were willing to pay may have been way too much!”

“And you may be under estimating your own worth quite a bit!”

“They want to kill me only because they are afraid that I might get in their way!”

“You think they have some other goal?”

“Mm.”

“What would that goal be?”

“With the heavy price they have been willing to pay so far, it must be something huge!”

“But what could it be?”

“Why don’t you go ask your Bodhisattva of Compassion, the Goddess of Mercy?”

“Bodhisattvas will only listen to monks’ prayers, and monks can’t hear Bodhisattva’s words.”

“Then why did you become a monk?”

Honest Monk smiled.

“Because being a monk is better than being Lu Xiao Feng, Lu Xiao Feng has lots of worries and troubles, monks have very little!”

He suddenly began to loudly sing and clap: “You are troubled, I’m not troubled. How much trouble, all self induced. You want to go find more, then I am going to leave!”

The singing had not stopped, but he really did leave.

“How much trouble, all self induced.”

Lu Xiao Feng watched his sillhouette disappeared with a tired smile: “Too bad for me that even if I stop looking for trouble, they start to come looking for me.”

The sky was high, the weather was refreshing. Autumn had truly arrived in full force. Lu Xiao Feng walked out of the alley to find a man standing at the mouth waiting for him. His attire was fancy, but his face was pale. It was none other than the number one fighter within the Tang family, Tang Tian Zong.

Why would he be waiting here? Was trouble about to find Lu Xiao Feng once again?

Lu Xiao Feng cracked a smile: “Where’s your friend? Did he pay for that flask of tea?”

Tang Tian Zong silently glared at him with those bloodshot eyes of his. Suddenly, he fell to his knees and kowtowed three time to Lu Xiao Feng, taking Lu Xiao Feng by absolute surprise.

--”That each of you would get on your knees right now and kowtow to me three times.”

Lu Xiao Feng had proposed that condition himself, but he never expected Tang Tian Zong would go through with it.

A proud young man such as him would usually rather have his head chopped off than to kowtow down to someone, anyone.

But Tang Tian Zong nevertheless did, and not only were they real kowtows, they were pretty loud ones too.

This vain and cocky young man was willing to put himself through such humiliation, all for what?

Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

“Must you go after Ye Gu Cheng? You might not get your revenge even if you do catch up to him!”

Tang Tian Zong stood back up and returned to silently staring at Lu Xiao Feng. He did not say one word or utter one sound.

All that was left for Lu Xiao Feng to do was to untie one of the satin belts from around his waist and hand it over. Tang Tian Zong took the belt in his hand, turned, and walked away.