LXF03-11 PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 16 August 2008 04:30

Chapter 11: Rescue at the Palace


 

September 15th, night.

The moon was clear as the water.

Lu Xiao Feng walked out of the ebony colored door of that meant death to its trespassers and made his way towards the Hall of Supreme Harmony under the shadow of the walls. He was in the middle of finding a good place to make his way up when he noticed a person standing there, alone in the shadows of the great hall, not moving an inch but in obvious distress and trouble.

He did not need to look a second time to know this person was Bu Ju. He noticed long ago that Bu Ju's lightness kungfu was tip top; getting to the golden, almost cloud covered, summit of this great hall, however, takes top level skills.


He had not forgotten the smile that Bu Ju had just given him, so he wanted to go over and return that smile back to Bu Ju. But once he made his way over, the only expression on his face was sympathy.

Sometimes sympathy can hurt as much as ridicule.

Bu Ju only saw him for an instant before quickly looking away.

'There once was this sparrow that fancied itself quite accomplished," Lu Xiao Feng suddenly said. "Because it could fly. So when he saw a tiger, he challenged the tiger to see who can fly higher. Do you know what the tiger did?"

Bu Ju shook his head.

He was going to leave, but stayed because he could not figure out why Lu Xiao Feng was telling him this story. Curiosity is something that everybody has.

"Obviously, the tiger couldn't fly, so it just took a deep breath and swallowed the sparrow," Lu Xiao Feng let out a small laugh before continuing. "Ever since then, no sparrow ever challenged a tiger to a flying contest again. Because sparrows finally understood that being able to fly high doesn't make you anything special."

Bu Ju laughed. His laughter was filled with gratefulness, his heart was filled with warmth. Suddenly, he discovered this Lu Xiao Feng was not quite the ******* he had imagined him to be.

"Have you ever seen a tiger climb rope?" Lu Xiao Feng asked, patting Bu Ju on the shoulder.

"No."

"Me neither, but I've always wanted to see it."

"Have you ever seen a tiger that carried a rope with him?"

"No."

"Well now you have."

He had brought a rope with him all along, but was too embarrased to take it out. He would rather die than to lose face.

With a smile on his face, Lu Xiao Feng took the rope in his hand and looked up.

"I'm not even sure if a sparrow can get up that high." He sighed with a miserable look on his face.

From below, the upturned eaves on the Hall of Supreme Harmony looked like hooks. Even the moon was hooked.

Nobody could jump that high in one leap, not even Lu Xiao Feng.

But he had other ways.

To Bu Ju, looking on from below, he resembled a gecko one moment and a chimp the next as he made several quick hops before disappearing from sight.

The others had gone up from the front, but he did not see because by then, he had already snuck his way to the back of the hall. But he was sure that none of them were as swift or agile as Lu Xiao Feng.

Because he already thought of Lu Xiao Feng as a friend.

A rope had already dropped down from over the upturned eaves. His heart felt even warmer. - To have someone like Lu Xiao Feng as a friend is quite nice indeed.

The roof of the hall was covered with gold colored glass tiles. Under the bright moon, it looked as if they were standing in a golden world.

Lu Xiao Feng secured the rope on one of the upturned eaves and turned around. He froze.

There should have been only 5 people up here, but the moment he turned around, he saw there was at least a dozen, each with a color-changing satin belt. And that did not include the 5 people he knew. Honest Monk and company were on the other side of the roof.

He did not get a clear look at these men's faces before another person came bounding over the top of the roof, white faced and sneering, none other than Fourth Warden of the Imperial Guards, Ding Ao.

"What is going on here?" Lu Xiao Feng had to ask.

"I was about to ask you the same thing." Ding Ao sneered back.

"Me?"

"How many satin belts did we give you?"

"Six."

"But now we have 21 men here, where did they get their satin belts from?"

"I was about to ask you the same thing." Lu Xiao Feng answered with an exasperated sigh.

Two more men came walking over the spine of the roof, Yin Xian in the front with "Hunan Swordsman" Wei Zi Yun following behind him.

Yin Xian was walking very fast, obviously very nervous, but Wei Zi Yun was a picture of calm, his pace much more leisure and composed.

On a surface as steep and slippery as glass tiles, a slow pace was much more difficult to maintain than a quick one. Nevermind the circumstances made it even more difficult to keep one's composure.

At this moment, Lu Xiao Feng understood that this Chief Warden of the Imperial Guard was fully deserving of his fame. His martial prowess and composure was not below that of any master out there in the martial world.

Yin Xian quickly charged over.

"Did you two get anywhere?" He demanded.

Lu Xiao Feng shook his head, not knowing what else to do.

"This isn't something that can be figured out with a word or two," Wei Zi Yun offered. "Now isn't the time for thorough investigations either."

"Then what should we be doing?" Yin Xian asked.

"Put up extra guards and be ready for any sudden changes." Wei Zi Yun paused for a bit before continuing. "Send out the order, I want the security level of this area to turn up a notch, and nobody is allowed to move about without permission."

"Yes, sir." Yin Xian acknowledged.

"Fourth brother, you transfer over some off duty guards from Pure Heaven Gate, we might need them when the time comes. But from this point on, we only allow people to leave, not enter."

"Yes, sir!" Ding Ao took his leave as well. They had obviously developed a special set of skills and was able to make their ways up and down the hall with just one somersault.

Only now did Wei Zi Yun look over towards Lu Xiao Feng, he smiled.

"Why don't we take a look around?"

"Great!"

This was not a place one can see all at once. It almost did not look like a roof, more like a town square, but with the spine of the roof in the middle, it also looked like a hill side.

There were 13 men on this side, most of them standing alone on the farside of the slope, not chatting with anyone, instead quietly waiting for the duel to begin.

They were not carrying any weapons with them, but they were their hats extremely low and there appeared to some very delicate disguises on some of their faces. They obviously did not want to be recognized.

They did not seem to notice Wei Zi Yu and Lu Xiao Feng walked by right in front of them at all.

Where did they come from? Why are they being so mysterious?

Wei Zi Yun's pace was still that slow, his voice was still that quiet.

"Have you figured out who they are, where they are from?" He slowly asked.

"Oh?"

"These last couple of days, quite a number of underground people have arrived here at the capital. Rumor has it among them were several retired masters of the previous generation, not to mention some famed fugitives with very powerful enemies still looking for revenge."

"No wonder they didn't want to be recognized."

"These men may be secretive, but it doesn't seem like they are up to no good. Maybe it is just because they want to remain unknown but still see the two foremost swordsman in the world duel."

"I hope so." Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

"What I can't figure out is how did they get their hands on those satin belts?"

"Is it possible to get those belts outside the Palace?"

"Absolutely not," He explained. "These belts were tributes to the last emperor from Persia, so there wasn't much to begin with. In the last couple of years, we are down to the last roll or two. Even the royal concubines treasure these belts to no end."

Lu Xiao Feng did not say anything for Si Kong Zhai Xing suddenly popped into his head.

"I do know that the 'King of Thieves' has also arrived in the capital, and is even here." Wei Zi Yun had saw through Lu Xiao Feng's expression.

"Do you think he stole these satin belts?" Lu Xiao Feng had to ask.

Wei Zi Yun smiled.

"We had just decided on this plan yesterday morning. Before that decision, these satin belts would have been completely worthless to him. He would not have taken that much risk to steal them."

"But last night...."

"The 4 of us did not sleep last night," Wei Zi Yun casually cut him off. "Even if a fly got in here, we wouldn't have let him got out."

His voice was full of confidence, just what Lu Xiao Feng needed to hear.

"So he's not a suspect in your mind." He asked after letting out a sigh of relief.

"No."

"Then who is?"

"There are only 4 men who could have stolen the satin belts." Wei Zi Yun lowered his voice even more.

"Four?"

"The four of us."

Lu Xiao Feng let out another sigh of relief. He had wanted to say precisely just that, but instead it was Wei Zi Yun who did. It seemed not only was this Hunan Swordsman thorough in his logic, but fair too.

"You probably have thought about this too. I have heard that people were offering 50,000 taels of silver to buy one of these satin belts. Money comes even easier to those men in the criminal world, so they were probably offering even more."

"Greed kills men, for greed tempts men's heart," Lu Xiao Feng sighed. "Money can literally make some people do anything."

Wei Zi Yun sighed as well.

"Yin Xian has traveled everywhere, has friends from all over, throws money around like it's dirt. Ding Ao is still young, can't help but be a bit wild. Du Fang might be steady and reliable, but he is still quite ambitious and have long had the urge to start his own sect, creating his own legacy. So he has always kept contact with his friends from the outside. These are all very costly habits, something a salary of a 6th level imperial guard can't possibly afford."

{Translator's Note: Gu Long has proven to be wildly inconsistent with the name of the 4th warden of the Imperial Guard, at first it was Du Fang, but after this one last usage, he switches over to Du Wan for the rest of the book. I guess I'll make the correction in the copy-editing process and just stick with one name, but at least for now, please keep in mind that Du Fang and Du Wan are the same person.}

He turned and looked into Lu Xiao Feng's eyes.

"But they are all my brothers, without tangible evidence, I can't say anything, no matter what I think. Because I can't risk damaging our relationship."

"Are you asking me to find some tangible evidence for you?"

A smile appeared on Wei Zi Yun's face.

"You are already knee deep in this matter, don't you think figuring out the truth would be good for everybody involved?"

A different kind of smile appeared on Lu Xiao Feng's face.

He suddenly discovered he was right about this man, he really was an old fox.

Fewer men were on the other side of the rooftop. Other than Honest monk, Si Kong Zhai Xing, the Wooden Taoist, Tang Tian Zong, and the newly arrived Bu Ju, there were just Yan Ren Ying and the Ancient Hermit.

Si Ma Zi Yi, amazingly, was not here.

"Master Si Ma had an emergency and had to return down south and let me have his satin belt instead." The Ancient Hermit would later explain.

Lu Xiao Feng understood how Si Ma Zi Yi felt. A person like him had to go back home.

He did not feel worthy enough to meet Lu Xiao Feng face to face again.

Some older sect masters in the martial world loved the pomp and circumstance, the fluff of it all, and would never offer to buy some mysterious satin belts from nowhere, and people would never try to sell it off onto them.

That was why some people never bothered to show up.

"I have ordered all 4 gates to the Forbidden City closed. From this moment on, nobody will be able to enter." Wei Zi Yun informed Lu Xiao Feng.

"What about Ye Gu Cheng?"

"The Master of White Cloud Castle had arrived long ago."

"Where is he?"

"They had agreed to duel at midnight, so I have already arranged that they be given a room to rest in one of the dwellings outside of Grand Legacy Gate. From the looks of it...."

"What? How does he look?"

"He looks very ill," Wei Zi Yun sighed. "Looks like the stories about him not fully recovered from his injuries were not unfounded."

He did not say anymore but instead suddenly broke out into a smile.

"Seems like those friends over there are waiting for you to go over, if you please."

There really was several pairs of eyes staring at Lu Xiao Feng over there. -Si Kong Zhai Xing's eyes were smiling. Honest Monk's eyes were angry. Bu Ju and Yan Ren Ying's eyes were grateful.

Lu Xiao Feng walked over and patted Yan Ren Ying's shoulder and smiled: "How come you were late?"

"I... I was actually too scared to come."

"Scared? Why were you scared?"

Yan Ren Ying seemed to blush.

"If it wasn't for Master Honest's help, I would probably be standing down below anyways."

"Master Honest?" Lu Xiao Feng cackled. "That's the first time I've ever heard anybody call him that."

He wandered over to Honest Monk, smile still on his face, as if he was going over to pick on Honest Monk.

Who knew that he had just taken two steps before suddenly reaching out and, quick as lightning, grabbed Si Kong Zhai Xing's wrist.

The person most shocked was Si Kong Zhai Xing himself.

"I already returned those satin belts to you, what more do you want from me?" He almost yelped.

"That's exactly what I want to ask you." Lu Xiao Feng coldly demanded. "Where did you get those 2 satin belts?"

"Do I have to tell you?"

"If you don't, then this hand of yours will never steal anything ever again."

The sounds of bones grinding were already enminating from Si Kong Zhai Xing's hand.

"Even if I told you, you wouldn't believe me." Si Kong Zhai Xing sighed and put up a brave smile.

"Try me!"

"I didn't steal those two satin belts, somebody bought them for me, because that person owed me."

"Who is this person?"

"Look, this person went through all that trouble, not to mention spent tens of thousands of taels of silver to buy me those belts. And all this person wanted in return was for me to keep a secret. Even if I'm not a good friend, you can't expect me to sell out this quickly can you?"

"How quickly can you sell out?"

"Two or three days, at least."

By then, this whole matter would have already settled, by then this piece of information would not mean anything anymore.

Lu Xiao Feng's eyes glowed.

"Did that person just ask you to keep a secret for two or three days?"

Si Kong Zhai Xing did not answer yes, nor did he say no.

"So there is no way you'll tell me right now?"

"Go ahead and crush my hand, it won't make a difference." Si Kong Zhai Xing casually replied. "I've been thinking about going into a different line of work anyways."

Lu Xiao Feng knew full well that while he might be completely shameless when it comes to thievery, he would never betray a friend. So he suddenly broke out into a smile.

"Actually, even if you don't tell me, I already know."

"You do?" Si Kong Zhai Xing smiled back. "Why don't you tell me?"

Lu Xiao Feng whispered a name into Si Kong Zhai Xing's ear.

Si Kong Zhai Xing suddenly found it impossible to smile, but Lu Xiao Feng's eyes remained aglow. He knew his guess was correct.

All these small, seemingly unconnected threads were finally starting to come together, but there was still one final piece missing.

Si Kong Zhai Xing sighed again.

"And he accuses me of being a monkey demon," he mumbled to nobody in particular, "if you ask me, he...."

He was suddenly interruped as Yin Xian flew onto the roof.

"The Master of White Cloud Castle has arrived!"

Under the moonlight, a white shadow appeared, shifting and floating with the wind. His lightness kungfu was not beneath that of Si Kong Zhai Xing.

Si Kong Zhai Xing sighed again.

"I didn't know Ye Gu Cheng was this agile and fast as well."

A strange emotion appeared in Lu Xiao Feng's eyes, only after a long pause did he finally let out a sigh.

"If he wasn't this fast, how could he possibly execute that Outter Heaven Angel?"

The moon hung overhead.

The spine of the roof was filled to capacity. Beside those 13 mystery men of unknown origins, there were 8 or so sabre carrying men in Imperial Guard uniform as well. They were obviously highly skilled practioners within the guard who were interested in catching a glimpse of these two famed swordsmen.

It was actually a much better view from above up there on the spine of the roof.

In the moonlight, it was obvious that Ye Gu Cheng's complexion was very pale. But Xi Men Chui Xue's complexion was just as pale, and seemingly a little angry too.

The two men both wore white, white as the snow, not a spec of dirt on them, and their faces were completely devoid of emotions as well.

At this moment, it was as if the two of them have turned into their swords: cold, cruel, and sharp. Completely devoid of human emotion.

As they look into each others eyes, their eyes seemingly began to glow.

Everybody stood a fair distance away. Even though their swords were still sheathed, the aura of their swords were suffocating.

-Such strong auras were actually eminating from their bodies.

-The source of the fear was them, not the swords in their hands.

"Many years since last we met, how have you been?" Ye Gu Cheng suddenly said.

"Fortunately, everything is fine, thank you for the help."

"The past is the past, why bring it up again? Both of us have to give our all in today's duel."

"Yes."

"Very well."

His voice had already seemed weak, but after an exchange or two, even his breathing began to get labored.

But there was still no emotion on Xi Men Chui Xue's face, as if he did not notice, instead he presented his sword.

"This sword is a world class weapon, the blade is one meter and 24 centimeters long and it weighs exactly 4.3125 kilograms."

"Good sword."

"Very good sword."

"This sword is the pinnacle of sword making knowledge and skill from over the seas." Ye Gu Cheng presented his sword too. "Slices through floating hair. Blade 1.1 meters, weight 3.25 kilograms."

"Good sword."

"Always has been."

Even though the swords were in front of them, neither sword has been unsheathed. -The drawing of ones sword is an essential part of a sword skill. The two of them were obviously about to duel in that as well.

"Both of you gentlemen are famed sword masters of our times. I am certain there is no poison on the blades, nor will there be any hidden weapons present." Wei Zi Yun suddenly piped up.

Not a sound was heard, only the sound of men breathing hung on the air. Everybody waited for him to continue.

"But because the unprecedented nature and level of this duel, I humbly ask if the two participants can mutually inspect each others sword, for the sake of everybody else present."

"My sentiments exactly." Ye Gu Cheng immediately concurred.

Xi Men Chui Xue did not. Only after a long pause did he finally gave a little nod.

A month ago, he would have never agreed to this. How could he part with his weapon this close to the moment of life and death?

But he has changed.

"I will only hand my sword over to one man." He slowly declared.

"Would that someone be Master Lu Xiao Feng?" Wei Zi Yun inquired.

"Yes."

"And you, Master Ye?"

"No point in having two men do the job of one. Master Lu have my deepest trust as well."

Si Kong Zhai Xing nearly scoffed.

"This is the same guy who would even steal steamed buns off of a monk, and there are still people who trust him? Strange world indeed."

He was mumbling quietly to himself, but at this moment, everybody heard every word.

While the Wooden Taoist tried hard to keep himself from laughing out loud, Bu Ju suddenly spoke up.

"Hero Lu is kind and chivalrous. I would gladly place my life in his hands, nevermind a sword."

Yan Ren Ying immediately followed: "I, Yan Ren Ying, might be a small nobody, but my admiration for Master Lu is as great as Chief Bu's."

Of course, Yan Ren Ying was not a simple nobody, and Heaven Splitting Palms Bu Ju's thunderous voice was even louder than the fame of his name. The way the two of them immediately spoke up made it seem as if the two of them were afraid others might get the wrong impression of Lu Xiao Feng.

What could Si Kong Zhai Xing do but laugh?

"Don't forget everybody is here to watch Xi Men Chui Xue and Ye Gu Cheng."

"I know."

"But right now, it seems like everyone is looking at you."

Lu Xiao Feng let out a little laugh at that remark before making his way over to where Xi Men Chui Xue stood. Without a word, he took Xi Men Chui Xue's sword in hand before turning towards Ye Gu Cheng and doing the same.

"Really are quite a pair of swords." He mumbled to himself.

"Will Master Lu please exchange the sword so that the two gentlemen may inspect each others sword?" Wei Zi Yun said.

"You want me to hand Xi Men Chui Xue's sword to Ye Gu Cheng and Ye Gu Cheng's sword to Xi Men Chui Xue?"

"Precisely."

"No."

"Why not?" Wei Zi Yun was a bit taken aback at the reply.

"I just got my hands on these two priceless swords, how do you expect me to be willing to give them up that easily?" Lu Xiao Feng explained.

Wei Zi Yun was dumbfounded.

Everybody was dumbfounded.

Lu Xiao Feng held both swords under his arm. With a simple move, both swords were drawn. The aura of the swords were blinding. Even the full moon hanging overhead seemed to lost some of its luster.

Everybody was asking themselves the same question: "If I got my hands on those two swords, would I be willing to give them up that easily?"

"Only the worthy can wield divine tools, I trust everyone hear has heard of such a saying?" Lu Xiao Feng asked rhetorically.

Nobody replied. Nobody knew what to do.

"Well I have, and I can tell right now there is nothing fishy about either of these swords." Lu Xiao Feng answered himself.

By the time he finished, the swords were sheathed once again. With quick flicks of his arm, Lu Xiao Feng tossed a sword back to Xi Men Chui Xue and the other back to Ye Gu Cheng before calmly strolling back to his old spot on the roof.

"What the hell did you just do all that for?" Si Kong Zhai Xing demanded out of curiosity.

"I just wanted to make it clear to all fo them, next time you got something like this, don't look at me." Lu Xiao Feng casually explained. "I have enough headaches already, I can't be bothered with this kind of pointless exercises anymore."

"This is pointless?"

"There is no past, no history between these two men. Yet at this moment neither would like nothing better than to stab their sword through the other's throat. If this isn't pointless, then what is?"

Si Kong Zhai Xing understood. He was hoping that Xi Men Chui Xue and Ye Gu Cheng would show some restraint and not go for the fatal blow. A contest of skills does not have to end in death.

Of course, others understood as well. Wei Zi Yun humphed a couple of times to himself before proceeding: "The midnight hour has passed and there is an early morning session scheduled at the court tomorrow. So it is my hope that the duel be limited to one hour in duration and past that a draw will be declared. When two masters meet, the difference really comes down to one single move, so I believe a one hour time limit is more than enough."

He did not bring up the sword exchange again, so the duel was finally about to commence. Once again, everyone steadied themselves in anticipation.

Xi Men Chui Xue held the sword in his left hand and let his right hand drop down naturally, as he seemed completely oblivious to what had just happened. To observers, he reminded them of an unsheathed sword, cold, piercing, cruel.

Ye Gu Cheng, on the other hand, looked even worse for wear. He moved the sword so that he held it flush against his back, but his movement was seemingly sluggish and was coughing non-stop, but very lightly.

Compared to Xi Men Chui Xue, he looked positively ancient and weathered. Sympathy had appeared in many eyes among the observers for the outcome of the battle could already be predicted.

But Xi Men Chui Xue's face the same, as if he did not see any of this at all. He had always been a passionless man.

His sword was even more passionless!

Finally, Ye Gu Cheng was able to stop his cough and hold his head high to stare back at the sword in his hand.

"Swords are bringers of death," he began, "in the 30 years since I started training as a boy, I could have died at any moment under the blade of a sword or any other weapon of death."

Xi Men Chui Xue listened in silence.

Ye Gu Cheng took a minute to catch his breath before continuing: "So for tonight's duel, neither you nor I need to hold anything back. For a student of the sword, to die beneath the blade of a master swordsman is a death to be desired, a death without regret."

"Yes." Xi Men Chui Xue replied.

Some in the audience were silently cheering. They had shown up to watch two of the greatest swordsmen of all time duel to the best of their abilities. If they held back, then what was the point?

Ye Gu Cheng took a deep breath: "En garde!"

"Wait." Xi Men Chui Xue suddenly said.

"Wait? How much longer do we still have to wait?"

"Until the wound stops bleeding."

"What bleeding? Who is wounded?"

"You!"

Ye Gu Cheng let out a deep sigh and looked down at his chest, suddenly, he looked on the verge of following over.

Following his eyes, everybody suddenly noticed that his snow white shirt was stained with the bright red colors of blood.

So he was wounded after all, and the wound have not healed. Yet this proud person gritted his teeth and showed up anyways, not willing to back down despite certain death.

"My sword might be a bringer of death, but it would never kill anybody with a deathwish." Xi Men Chui Xue coldly mocked.

"Are you saying I came here to die?" Ye Gu Cheng fiercely demanded.

"If you aren't, then come back here next month, I'll wait one month for you as well."

He suddenly leapt into the air and flew off the roof.

Ye Gu Cheng tried to chase him down.

"You...." Was all he could yell out before blood filled his mouth. His body could not hold up any longer.

Right now, not only could he not chased down Xi Men Chui Xue, even a small child might give him trouble.

Looking at each, once again, everybody was dumbfounded.

From the very beginning, the circumstances of this duel was in flux, and now, at the last critical moment, it took the strangest turn of all.

Si Kong Zhai Xing suddenly burst out laughing, almost doubling over.

"What are you laughing at?" Honest Monk shot him a look.

"I'm laughing at those guys that spent tens of thousands of taels of silver to get their hands on those satin belts." Si Kong Zhai Xing managed to spit out between chuckles.

But he had laughed to early, for at this precise moment, Lu Xiao Feng suddenly took off, shouting at the top of his lungs.

"Stop!"

Si Kong Zhai Xing might have laughed a moment too soon, but Lu Xiao Feng was a moment too late.

Tang Tian Zong had already dove behind Ye Gu Cheng and, with a quick flick of his hands, threw up a dark mist of sands into the air.

The same Ye Gu Cheng who was having trouble standing upright suddenly, in shock, took off in a somersault with the elegance and agility that did not seem possible for a man in his condition.

Pity his move was a moment too late too.

The sons and disciples of the Tang family rarely ever miss once they make their move, not to mention Tang Tian Zong had prepared ahead of time and chosen his moment carefully, making it almost impossible to defend against his move.

"Ah!" With a sickening scream and a thud, Ye Gu Cheng's body fell back onto the roof midsomersault. On that snow white robe of his, there appeared another mist of black.

This was precisely the famed "Soul Chasing Sands" of the Tang family. When released in close proximity, it was even more powerful than the Poison Bamboo Darts.

Everyone in the martial world knew, if one pellet of the poison lands on your face, then you had to slice away that half of your face, if it landed on your hand, then you chop off that hand.

But now countless number of them have landed on Ye Gu Cheng's body. He suddenly rolled over to Tang Tian Zong's feet. and screamed: "The antidote, give me the antidote!"

"My two eldest brothers have all been crippled for life by your hands," Tang Tian Zong coldy replied through his gritted teeth. "With this much enmity between you and my family, why would I give you the antidote?"

"That... that's between you and Ye Gu Cheng, it has nothing to do with me!"

"And you are not Ye Gu Cheng?" Tang Tian Zong mocked.

Struggling to control himself, Ye Gu Cheng shook his head and suddenly ripped a layer of skin off of his face. It was a mask made out of human skin.

His face was ugly and thin, his eye sockets were extraordinarily sunken. It was none other than that mysterious black clothed man who was Du Tong Xuan's bodyguard.

Lu Xiao Feng had met him twice, once in the bath, and another time was at the Oriental Spring Pavilion.

From his skills and agility, Lu Xiao Feng could tell he had not come to the capital just to be Du Tong Xuan's bodyguard, but never would he have dreamt that he would become Ye Gu Cheng's double.

Even with the full moon overhead, moonlight was no match for lamp light, and Lu Xiao Feng knew Ye Gu Cheng was wounded, so his face would be sickly. Not to mention he was never that familiar with Ye Gu Cheng's voice nor his various mannerisms.

Add on top of that Ye Gu Cheng was new in the martial world, so there was not that many people who had seen him to begin with.

If not for all of that, this disguise would have never fooled everyone present, no matter how ingenius and perfect it was.

"Who the hell are you?" Eyes red with fury, Tang Tian Zong demanded. "Where is Ye Gu Cheng?"

The pretender opened his mouth to answer, but no sound came out. Even his tongue was cramping, making it impossible for him to speak.

The Soul Chasing Sands of the Tang family was truly capable of chasing your soul away in a blink of the eye!

Tang Tian Zong immediately produced a wooden flask and poured its entire contents down the man's throat. If he wanted to find Ye Gu Cheng, he must save this man's life.

For other than him, nobody knew where Ye Gu Cheng was, nor did anybody knew why this peerless and world famous swordsman sent a stand in to this duel.

"What in the world is happening?" Si Kong Zhai Xing wondered out loud. "Even I'm confused out of my mind."

"You might be confused, but I'm not." Lu Xiao Feng replied coldly.

"You know why Ye Gu Cheng didn't show up? Then where is he?"

Lu Xiao Feng's eyes were aglow, but he did not answer. Instead he suddenly jumped over to Wei Zi Yun's side: "Do you know of a eunuch in the palace that goes by the name of Wang?"

"Manager Wang?"

"Yes! Him! Does he have access to those satin belts?"

"He was a reading pal of the current Emperor while His Majesty was studying in the South Library. After His Majesty ascended to the throne, he really solidified his position as His Majesty's favorite...."

"I'm just asking you this: other than the 4 of you, could he get his hands on those satin belts?"

"Yes!"

The glow in Lu Xiao Feng's eyes turned even brighter: "Has His Majesty turned in for the night?"

"His Majesty is very diligent in his duties and never misses morning court. So His Majesty turns in very early every night."

"Where?"

"Even though His Majesty's ascension was long ago, His Majesty retained the love of books from His Majesty's days as the crowned prince. So His Majesty often spends the night in the South Library."

"Where is the South Library? Take me there."

Yin Xian had heard enough: "You want us to take you to see His Majesty the Emperor? Are you insane?"

"I'm not insane, but if you don't take me there, you will soon all be."

"He really is insane," Yin Xian concluded. "Not only is he spewing all that crazy talk, he want to help the rest of us literally lose our heads."

Lu Xiao Feng sighed: "I don't want you to lose your heads, I want to help you guys save your heads."

Wei Zi Yun was silent in thought the entire time: "I guess I'll trust you one more time."

"Are you actually going to take him to the Emperor?" Yin Xian almost yelled.

Wei Zi Yun simply nodded.

"Come with me, all of you...."

"Thump! Thump! Thump!" Suddenly, they were interrupted by the sound of a human head rolling down from the top of the roof.

A headless corpse wearing the uniform of the Imperial Guards quickly followed the head down.

Shocked, Wei Zi Yun turned to see the other 6 Imperial Guards were already accosted by 12 of the mysterious men. In the hand of the 13th man was a bright and curved sabre. A bright, curved, and bloodstained sabre.

Just a moment ago, these 13 men did not seem to know each other, but now it turned they were together all along.

"How dare you commit murder here?" Yin Xian shouted in fury. "Do you know that this is punishable by death?"

"As long as the head that rolls isn't mine, why should I care if a few more rolls?" The man retorted.

Hand on sword, Yin Xian prepared to strike.

"If you move a muscle, then there will be one less head attached to a body on this roof."

Yin Xian did not move, but that did not stop him from unleashing a torrent of curses. Curses so vulgar, nobody could believe it was possible for a person of his stature to utter such words.

"Shut up!" The 13th man shouted.

"I can't move, now I can't even curse?" Yin Xian mocked.

"Who are you cursing?"

"If you can't figure it out, let me curse some more to help you out."

The more he cursed, the more vulgar he got. The mysterious man was driven to such fury that he lifted his sabre to strike.

"Psh!"

Half a sword suddenly popped out from the front of his chest, spraying blood everywhere.

As a voice behind him mocked: "He's in charge of the cursing, I'm in charge of the killing...."

The mysterious man could not make out what was said afterwards as at that instant, Ding Ao, who was standing behind him, had drawn his sword and, in front of him, Yin Xian, Wei Zi Yun, and Lu Xiao Feng all made their move.

The last thing he heard in his life was the sound of bones breaking.

The sound of a lot of bones breaking.

The moon remains clear and silent overhead.

Along the gold colored glass roof tiles of the Hall of Supreme Harmony, blood flowed quickly down the crevices.

Those 13 mysterious men in black had all fallen. Nobody cared who they were anymore.

The only thing on everyone's mind now was something even more mysterious, even more important--

Why did Lu Xiao Feng force Wei Zi Yun to take him to the Emperor in the South Library?

Why did the always careful and deliberate Wei Zi Yun acquiesce to his request?

This duel between Xi Men Chui Xue and Yu Gu Cheng might be a huge deal in the martial world, but it still only concerned those of the martial world. Why disturb the Emperor over it?

What kind of secret was behind all of these questions?

Si Kong Zhai Xing looked over at the star gazing Xi Men Chui Xue for a moment, then turned to Honest Monk, who was staring down at him.

"Monk, do you know what is going on here?"

Honest Monk shook his head.

"I'm not the person you should pose that question to."

"Then who should I ask?"

"Ye Gu Cheng."

September 15th, late night.

The moon was round like a mirror.

When the young emperor stirred from his dream, the moon was shining directly through his window and onto the jade colored bed curtains.

Under the moonlight, the fluttering bed curtains looked like a cloud or a mist. But within the mist, there seemed to be a shadow of a person.

This was the Forbidden City. The emperor was still young and never needed to be attended to at night. So what kind of a person would dare to spy at the emperor's bedside at this time of the night?

The emperor immediately leapt up. Not only was he able to keep his composure, but his moves were quite agile too.

"Who is there?"

"You humble servant Wang An, here to serve tea for Your Majesty."

The emperor has treated Wang An as a confidant ever since he was a young prince, so while he did not order tea tonight, he did not want to make his loyal servant look back either.

"No need for your services right now, you may leave." He dismissed the servant with a wave of his hand.

"Yes, sire."

Every sentence uttered from the emperor's mouth must be obeyed. If the emperor ordered someone to leave, even if both of his legs were broken, that man would still have to leave, by crawling if necessary.

The strange thing was this time Wang An did not leave. In fact, he did not even budge, as if he did not have any intention to leave.

"You haven't left?" The emperor frowned.

"Your humble servant has something to report."

"Speak."

"Your humble servant would like for Your Majesty to meet someone."

He dared to wake the current Emperor in the middle of the night to meet someone?

Did he forget who he was, that what he has done so far was already punishable by death?

Since becoming an eunuch at 7 and entering the palace at 9, he had always been a quiet and prudent man. Now that he turned 60, why would he suddenly change and do something like this?

Even though his face dropped, the Emperor was still able to remain calm.

"Where is this person?" He finally asked after a long pause.

"Right here." Wang An made a gesture with his hand and 2 lamps outside of the curtains were quickly lit.

Another man appeared along with the lamp light.

A proud and strong young man, wearing a yellow robe.

Even though the lamps were lit, the man still seemed to be standing in a mist.

The Emperor could not see clearly, so he parted the bed curtains aside and walked out. His expression suddenly changed. Changed to one of unspeakable horror.

For standing in front of him was a mirror image of himself - the same build, the same face, and even wearing the same clothes.

"Bright yellow robe, collar and cuffs in black but golden trim, on which sewn 12 silk dragons flying amidst five colored clouds. One each in front and back, one each on either side of waist, one each on the cuffs, one each on the shoulder, and four on the collar. The bottom of the robe opens in the center."

This was the Dragon Robe the Emperor wears to morning court.

There is only one Emperor, the Son of Heaven, Master of Everything and Everyone. Nobody would ever be allowed to passed off as his double.

Who is this young man? How could he have the same face and build as we, the Emperor? What is going on here?

Wang An silent stared at the 2 men in front of him, on his face was an indescribale smirk.

The young Emperor shook his head. Even though even his finger nails have turned cold, he was still able to gather himself.

He had the feeling that beneath Wang An's smile there hid a terrible secret.

"This is a close relation of the Emperor," Wang An patted the young man on the shoulder. "He is the son of the Southern Prince, and is the first cousin of his father's side to His Royal Majesty the Emperor."

{Translator's note: This title actually excludes the Ming dynasty as a possible setting for the Lu Xiao Feng story. Brothers of the Emperor were not given any titles during the Ming dynasty. Meaning the Lu Xiao Feng stories either takes place during the Qing dynasty, or isn't historically accurate.}

The Emperor could not help but give the young man another look up and down.

"Were you summoned to come?"

"No." The son of the Southern Prince's eyes were downcast.

"Do you know the penalty for entering the Forbidden City without summon?"

The son of the Southern Prince's eyes were even more downcast.

"Royal descendants are subject to the same laws and penalties as all royal subjects. Even though we are merciful, we still...."

"Still cannot grant clemency to such a crime." The prince's head suddenly snapped up and stared back at the Emperor.

"Correct."

"If you knew the law, then why did you break it?" The prince demanded.

"You..." The Emperor was angered.

But the prince would not allow the Emperor to finish his sentence.

"Knowing breaking the law makes the act even worse. Even though we are of heart to save you, but the rules our forefathers laid down would not allow it..."

"Who are you?" The Emperor shouted in anger. "How dare you treat us with such disrespect?"

"We are subject to the Mandate of Heaven, named by the past Emperor, none other than Son of Heaven and the Emperor."

By now, the Emperor's fists were clenched tight, but his entire body had turned ice cold.

He had finally realized how terrible of a conspiracy this was, but even now, he was having trouble believing it.

The prince continued: "Manager Wang."

Wang An immediately bowed: "Your servant."

"Take him away and execute him at dawn."

"Yes, sire."

"On the account he shares the blood of our fathers, grant him a complete corpse and then ship him back to the Palace of the Southern Prince."

"Yes, sire."

The prince then shot a look at the Emperor and sighed.

"I really can't understand it, passing up a life of luxury as a little prince and coming to the capital to die. Why?" He mumbled to himself.

The Emperor let out a cold laugh. By now, he had obviously realized the full scope of the conspiracy.

""Royal descendants are subject to the same laws and penalties as all royal subjects," Wang An spoke up. "Since you already know that, what more do you have to say for yourself?"

"Just one sentence."

"Well go ahead, I'm listening."

"Such a preposterous idea, how did you guys come up with it?"

Wang An blinked a couple of times before breaking out in laughter.

"I didn't want to tell you, but I can't keep quiet anymore."

"Go ahead."

"To be honest, this whole thing has been in the plans ever since the old prince visited the capital and I discovered that the young prince looks just like you."

"He bought you?"

"Not only do I live to gamble, I like to visit prostitutes."

When he got to here, that tired and worn face of his suddenly lit up in a proud smile. But then he purposely sighed a bit: "So I have quite alot of expenses and is always looking for an avenue to make money."

"You have quite a lot of guts too."

"No, almost none at all. If something wasn't a sure thing, I would never do it."

"And this is a sure thing?"

"I was originally very worried about Wei Zi Yun and those little rat bastards, but now I've found a way to distract them."

"Oh?"

"If a chess player hears there were two chess masters playing outside in the yard, would he stay inside?"

The answer is obviously no.

"Same with those who studies the sword. If they found out two world famous swordsmen were dueling out front at the Hall of Supreme Harmony, they wouldn't be able to stay inside either."

"Are you talking about Xi Men Chui Xue and Ye Gu Cheng?" The Emperor suddenly asked.

Wang An was quite taken aback by the question: "You know about these two men?"

"With their fame and skills, you can't really blame Wei Zi Yun and rest of them for getting tempted." The Emperor casually observed.

"Everyone is human." Wang An nonchalantly observed.

"Luckily, there are some around us that are almost not human."

Just as he finished the sentence, there was a quick crack on the 4 corner pillars as 4 secret doors slid open and 4 men stepped out.

These 4 men were all not even one meter in height, their face, build, and cloth were all the same.

Especially their faces, the small eyes, big nose, protruding forehead, and shrunken mouth came together to form a rather comical face.

But there was nothing comical about the swords in their hands.

Half a meter long, the reflections of the swords were blinding. Three of them had 2 swords and the fourth with just one sword. The seven swords flickered and filled the room with flashes that made it almost impossible for anyone in the room to see anything.

But even if you were blind, you would still know who these men were - Mount Heaven's Hate, Seven Star Pond, Flying Fish Fort's Yu Brothers.

These four brothers were quadruplets and even though they were not tall, their swords skills were top notch made even more formidable by a seemingly telepathic ability that they share. While it might not be the best 7 seven formation in the world, there were not many in the world who could defeat them when using their family's Flying Fish Seven Star Swords.

Not only were their styles were strange, but their personalities were even weirder. So it was quite a shock that they would actually enter the palace and become the Emperor's personal bodyguards.

The reflections shone onto the Emperor's face.

"Kill!"

The reflections immediately began to move like shooting stars and fell upon the son of the Southern Prince and Wang An.

But Wang An's expression remain unchanged as the young prince calmly waved his hand: "Break."

As soon as he said that, a streak of sword flashed across the room like lightning, but shone like the rainbow.

The flashes intersect and "bang", "bang", "bang", "bang", sparks joined the flashes before everything disappeared into one flash.

Only one singular flash remained, because only one single sword remained in tact.

A long and ancient sword.

Of course, this sword did not belong to the Yu Brothers.

The Yu Brothers' swords were already shattered, and the Yu Brothers themselves have already collapsed onto the floor.

This sword was in the hand of a man dressed in white. Snow white robe, pale white face, ice cold stare. This man's had an aura of pride about him, an aura that was even more suffocating than that of his sword.

This was the Fobidden City, the Emperor was standing in front of him.

Yet it seemed as if even the Emperor was but a spec in his eye.

The Emperor's matched him in calmness.

"Ye Gu Cheng?" He casually observed.

"Didn't expect the Heavens to have heard of such an average citizen from the wilderness like myself."

"Outter Heaven Angel, one strike breaks seven stars, quite a skill."

"Always has been."

"You were a good man, why turn to crime?"

"Those who win are king, those who lose are the thugs."

"Thugs are thugs."

Ye Gu Cheng let out a cold snicker and brought his sword up to his chest.

"En garde."

"En garde?"

"Your Majesty's knowledge and composure already has few equals in the martial world. Your Majesty would undoubtly be amongst the top ten masters if Your Majesty enters the martial world."

The Emperor laughed.

"Good eye."

"Right now, let the king not be king and the thug not be thug, between king and thug, let the stronger be the victor."

"Quite a 'let the stronger be the victor.'"

"My sword is in hand."

"Pity there's a sword in your hand, but none in your heart."

"No sword in heart?"

"The sword is straight, the sword is direct, the sword is strong. How could an evil heart hold a sword?"

The expression on Ye Gu Cheng's face changed a bit.

"In this moment, in this place, the sword in my hand is enough."

"Oh?"

"The sword in hand can injure others, the sword in heart can only hurt yourself."

The Emperor laughed, it was a loud and hearty laugh.

"Draw your sword."

"We have no sword in hand."

"Are you afraid to fight?"

The Emperor smiled: "Our skill is Son of Heaven's Sword, bringing peace to all under Heaven, calming the populous, ensuring good fortunes for one and all, and guaranteeing victories within a thousand miles. Our body is our sword. No blood dared to be spilled within 5 steps of the Son of Heaven."

He paused and stared straight into Ye Gu Cheng's eyes. "You should understand our meaning by now."

The pale white face of Ye Gu Cheng has turned green as his hand clenched his sword tightly.

"Are you not putting up a fight?"

"We are only subject to the Mandate of Heaven, dare you to make a move!"

The veins on Ye Gu Cheng's hand looked like they were about to pop as cold sweat gathered on the tip of his nose.

"With things at this stage, if you don't kill him, he will kill you!" Wang An could not keep quiet any longer and to coax Ye Gu Cheng to make his move.

"Don't worry," the young prince chimed in. "The world famous Master White Cloud Castle will not succumb to the weakness of a woman."

Ye Gu Cheng's face fluctuated between green and white before he finally stumped his feet and shouted: "I've never killed an unarmed man before, but I'll make an exception tonight."

"Why?" The Emperor replied.

"Because even though you have no sword in hand, there is a sword in your heart."

The Emperor did not reply.

"Like I said, the sword in hand can injure others, the sword in heart can only hurt yourself."

The sword in his head took off.

The full moon hung mid sky.

It seemed even rounder than usual.

Within the autumn breeze, the pure fragrance of the sweet olives floated. But carried within the fragrance was a murderous intent.

The wind breezed in through the window, the moonlight shone in through the window. Both wind and moon were cold.

But the sword was even colder.

Once the cold sword was unleashed, red hot blood must surely spill soon after.

But at the precise moment, a person suddenly flew in through the window.

His body seemed lighter than the breeze, ligther than the moonlight itself. But his name was as heavy as Mount Tai in the martial world.

Only one person can stop Ye Gu Cheng's poised strike.

Only one person can shock Ye Gu Cheng.

"Lu Xiao Feng!"

Ye Gu Cheng shouted. "What are you doing here?"

"Because you are here."

Ye Gu Cheng suddenly let out a long and tired sigh. "Why did I come here? Why did you also come here?"

Lu Xiao Feng replied with a sigh of his own. "You shouldn't have come here, I didn't need to come here. Pity both of us are here now."

"Pity."

"A real pity."

Ye Gu Cheng sighed again, but the sword in his hand once again turned to flash.

A sword from the west, an angel from the outter heavens.

But this sword flash was not directed towards Lu Xiao Feng.

As Lu Xiao Feng braced himself, the flash of the sword had already broken the window as the man followed closed behind, as if his sword and his body had turned into one.

Speed isn't just a stimulus, it is a very enjoyable rush.

Fast horses, fast boats, fast cars, and flying can all give a person this type of incredible pleasure.

But when you are running for your life, you would not be able to enjoy this rush.

Ye Gu Cheng loved speed. At White Cloud Castle, on nights when the moon was bright and the breeze fresh, he always enjoyed throwing his body against the wind as he flew underneath the moonlight.

It was always at those moments thta he felt the most at peace in his heart and mind.

At this moment, the moon was bright and the breeze fresh, and, surrounded by golden pavilions and jade bricks, he was running at his fastest, yet his heart was a mess.

He was running. And there was so much he did not understand--

Where did this plan go wrong? Where was the flaw?

How did Lu xiao Feng discover the secret? Why did he show up?

Nobody could answer those questions for him, just like nobody knew where the wind that was blowing by his face came from.

The moonlight looked wretched and lost, as if in a mist. Ahead, in the shadows of the imperial city, a person stood, as if clothed in white snow.

Ye Gu Cheng did not get a clear view of this person, all he really saw as a shadow of a person that was whiter than the mist, whiter than even the moonlight.

But he already knew who this person was.

Because he suddenly felt an irrepressable sense of aura, as if an invisible mountain had just crashed down upon his shoulders.

His pupils dilated, his muscles tensed.

Other than Xi Men Chui Xue, no other human being could possibly made him feel such pressure.

By the time he clearly saw Xi men Chui Xue's face, he had stopped.

Xi Men Chui Xue had his hand on his sword, but his sword was still in its sheath. The sword aura did not emanated from the sword in the first place.

He was far sharper than his sword, far more lethal.

when their gaze met, it was like two swords meeting point to point.

Neither one moved, for this type motionless pressure was far stronger and more frightening.

A falling leaf drifted into the scene with the wind. It floated between the two men and immediatel fell straight to the ground, for not even wind could move between them.

This pressure and intensity might be invisible, but it is far from immaterial.

"Do you study the sword?" Xi Men Chui Xue suddenly broke the silence.

"I am the sword."

"Do you know where the essence of the sword lay?"

"Do tell!"

"Sincerity."

"Sincerity?"

"Only when your heart is sincere and just can you scale the summit of the sword. The insincere are noth worthy to study the sword."

Ye Gu Cheng's pupils dilated once more.

But Xi Men Chui Xue held his gaze.

"You are not sincere."

Ye Gu Cheng did not say anything for a long time.

"Do you study the sword?" He suddenly asked.

"Study has no limits, the sword even more limitless."

"Then you should know that those who study the sword need only be sincere to the sword and not to other men."

Xi Men Chui Xue did not say any more, for all that had to be said was said.

At the land's end is Tian Ya, at the word's end is the sword.

{Translator's note:Tian Ya literally means Heaven's Limit (or End). It's the proper name in Chinese for the end of the world. I left it in Chinese because the phrase would sound redundant in English. If there are any suggestions for how to translate this phrase better, please don't hold it back.}

The sword was in hand, ready to be unsheathed.

At this moment, there was a sword flash, but not their swords.

Ye Gu Cheng looked up. Only now did he realize that he had been surrounded on all side by a veritable human wall. Several dozens of cold and unfeeling swords flashed about, literally creating the links in this net.

Not only was there a sword net, but there was a forest of lances and a mountain of sabres.

Moonlight reflected off of the polished blades and shone cold light onto the metal armours. The power and intimidation of the Forbidden City was something unimaginable for any ordinary human.

Even the ever calm and collected Wei Zi Yun had drops of visible cold sweat on his nose. With long sword in hand, he directed the troops into formation, eyes lever leaving Ye Gu Cheng.

"Master of White Cloud Castle?" He demanded, gravely.

Ye Gu Cheng nodded in reply.

"Master resides outside of the clouds, your sword was divine, you were divine, why must you soil thyself with greed for the dirt of this world and do such an unwise thing?"

"You don't understand?"

"I don't."

"No, you wouldn't understand." Ye Gu Cheng coldly replied.

"Perhaps I never would, but...."

"But we do understand that the treason you committed means death to you and your family." Eyes beaming like a hawk, Tu Fang, "the Divine Eagle of the Steppe", shouted out from his position behind Wei Zi Yun.

Even though he made his name as a youth with his lightness kungfu and the eagle claws, he had been a swordsman since turning fourty.

His sword was long but narrow, thus looking very similar to the swords used by the Southern Seas Sword Sect, but in reality, his moves came from the true teachings of the Kun Lun Sect.

Ye Gu Cheng shot a look at his sword out of the corner of his eyes.

"Do you know what your crimes are?" He sneered.

Tu Fang did not understand the question.

"You didn't make it studying the sabre, isn't good enough with the sword, and yet you dare to treat me with such disrespect. That crime also carries th epunishment of death."

Tu Fang's face dropped as the tip of his sword quivered in anticipation as he prepared to charge forth.

Once he charged force, others would surely follow. Ye Gu Cheng's unparalleled sword skill would matter little as he would surely be cut down in a bloodbath.

But before Tu Fang could charge forth, someone had already stopped him.

"Wait!"

Xi Men Chui Xue suddenly interjected.

"Wait for what?"

"I want to say something."

At this moment, at this place, even though the swords have been drawn and the bows have been pulled, if Xi Men Chui Xue wanted to say something, nobody could say no.

Wei Zi Yun nodded ever so slightly and Tu Fang put his charge on hold.

"If I joined forces with Master Ye, is there anybody in the world who can stop us?"

Nobody!

And there was nobody who did not know the answer either.

Wei Zi Yun took a deep breath as sweat drops appeared on his nose again.

Xi Men Chui Xue maintained his gaze at Wei Zi Yun.

"Do you understand my meaning?"

Wei Zi Yun shook his head in reply.

Of course, he understood what Xi Men Chui Xue was saying, but he would much rather pretend to not understand. He had to buy some time to think of a plan.

"I began studying the sword at the age of seven, and made my bones in seven years. I've yet to meet a worthy foe." Xi Men Chui Xue continued.

Ye Gu Cheng suddenly sighed and interrupted Xi Men Chui Xue. "'Only I fear in porphyry towers, under jade eaves, in those high places the cold wind would be more than I could bear'.... The loneliness that one knows at the top, how could these men understand it? And why do you bother trying to explain it to them?"

{Translator's Note: Ye Gu Cheng quotes a famous Chinese poem here written by Su Shi (aka Su Dongpo). The poemm is about the loneliness he felt as he drank by himself on August 15th, the Mid-Autumn's Festival, with only the full Harvest Moon to keep him company. He starts off by asking whimsical questions at the moon and concluding that he would love to fly up to the moon, only he was afraid that it would be too cold up that high. A most appropriate lament for this occasion. The poem have been converted into song and sang by both Teresa Teng and Faye Wong. Full Chinese text with English translations here.}

Xi Men Chui Xue's gaze returned onto Ye Gu Cheng. His face froze in an indescribable expression. Only after a long time did he speak again: "Tonight is also a night with a full moon."

"Yes."

"You are Ye Gu Cheng."

"Yes."

"You have a sword in hand, as do I."

"Yes."

"So I finally have found a worthy foe."

Wei Zi Yun spoke up: "So you aren't willing to let him be executed according to the law?"

"Are you a subject to the Mandate of Heaven, to His Majesty the Emperor?"

"At this moment, I only wish for a duel with Master Ye. Life, death, fame, and shame means nothing to me."

"In your eyes, this duel isn't just more important than the law, but life itself." Wei Zi Yun concluded.

Xi Men Chui Xue's gaze shifted once more, this time to something far away.

"'What's to celebrate about life? What's to fear about death?' If I find someone who truly understands me, then I can die without regrets. To have a foe like the Master of White Cloud Castle here, it would be even more so."

{Translator's note: The questions Xi Men Chui Xue poses here is taken directly from Liu Tang of the Heroes of the Water Margins fame.}

To a person like him, a true foe really was more desirable and even harder to come by than a true friend.

Seeing the deep and faraway loneliness on his face, an indescribale expression appeared on Wei Zi Yun's face as well.

"Life and death might be light as the feather of a swan, but the law is as heavy and unmoving as the mountains." He sighed. "Even though I understand your meaning, I..."

"Are you going to force me to help him fight our way out before having our duel?"

Wei Zi Yun's fists clenched has sweat began to drip off the tip of his nose.

"This duel is going to happen, so you better make up your mind soon." Xi Men Chui Xue stated matter of factly.

But Wei Zi Yun could not possibly make up his mind under these circumstances.

He had always been calculating and decisive, never a step behind, never a moment of hesitation. But this time he simply could not take the risk.

Suddenly, out of the forest of humanity, someone walked forward. And it seemed everyone was able to let out a little sigh of relief upon seeing this person.

For if there was anybody who could solve this matter, then that person would have to be Lu Xiao Feng.

There seemed to be a mist, yet there was no mist.

The bright moon was slowly setting to the west, yet the fog had not appeared.

Lu Xiao Feng walked into the scene with the moon hanging over head, his eyes locked squarely on Xi Men Chui Xue.

Xi Men Chui Xue's eyes were not looking back at him.

Lu Xiao Feng suddenly broke the silence: "So this duel really must happen?"

"Mm."

"And afterwards?"

"And nothing afterwards."

"So you are saying that, no matter if you win or lose, you won't meddle with this matter anymore?"

"Yes."

Lu Xiao Feng suddenly broke out into smile, turned around, and patted Wei Zi Yun on the shoulder.

"Still can't make up your mind?"

"I...."

"If I were you, I would be begging for them to get the duel started as soon as possible."

"Explain."

"Because no matter which one of them win or lose this duel, there's only good in it for you guys. What are you still waiting for?"

Wei Zi Yun was still mulling it over.

"The good I'm talking about here is good that happened to the old fisherman."

{Translator's Note:Lots of allusions in this portion of the story. What Lu Xiao Feng is referring to here is a famous folk tale about a clam and a snipe (a type of bird) had each other within their respective shells and beaks and refused to let go until an old fisherman came by and caught both.}

Lifting his head, Wei Zi Yun looked at Ye Gu Cheng, then at Xi Men Chui Xue, finally at Lu Xiao Feng, and let out a long and tired sigh.

"Tonight might have a full moon, but this isn't atop of the Forbidden City."

"Are you saying you are going to allow them to go back to the Hall of Supreme Harmony?"

Wei Zi Yun actually smiled.

"If this duel is going to happen, then why let those who went through all the trouble to come here go back empty handed?"

Lu Xiao Feng smiled too.

"'The Hunan Swordsman' indeed! So very free and easy-going."

Wei Zi Yun patted Lu Xiao Feng on his shoulder and smile.

"And Lu Xiao Feng really is Lu Xiao Feng."