Chapter 1: Fire on the great river
Among the seven big sword factions in the martial arts world, only Huashan's disciples were female. Since Huashan “Nanyang” Xu ShuZhen took over Huashan, the faction leader had always been a woman. Although from thereafter, the Huashan’s capable followers gradually withered and diminished, they actually never degenerated, because these female disciples were strictly chosen, adhering to Xu ShuZhen’s teachings, extremely strict selection of the disciples, too little was better than too many.
When Huashan school had the most abundant people, the follower disciples reached 700 people, upon passing on to Master Yin Yu, the disciples were only seven, Master Yin Yu’s strict selection was well known to the world.
Master Ku Mei (dry plum) was Master Yin Yu’s main disciple, according to the rumor in jiang-hu, when Master Ku Mei was a young girl, she really wanted to become a Huashan’s follower, once she braved the bone-chilling cold wind and snow summit in the Huashan to kneel four days and four nights. When Master Yin Yu finally promised to take her in, her whole body had been buried in the snow, nearly not returning to life without the utmost help.
At that time she was only 13 years old.
Seven years later, Master Yin Yu went to the far South China Sea, Ku Mei remained behind to take care of things at Huashan. “The four swords of great moon”, an old enemy of the faction, invaded their territory, threatened to burn the “Black Jade View” building and annihilated the Huashan faction. Master Ku Mei experienced 39 light and severe personal wounds, she fought hard and unremitting, finally unexpectedly none of the great moon four swords could live to descend the mountain.
After that fight, the martial arts world called Master Ku Mei “Goddess of Iron”.
Also five years later, Qinghai’s “the grim demon” sent a duel challenge, saying that he must fight a decisive battle summit in the Taishan with Master Yin Yu. If Master Yin Yu were defeated, Huashan faction must become the subordinate of the demon faction (Luo-cha-bang).
This was a critical moment for Huashan faction‘s success or failure, life or death, but Master Yin Yu actually was overpracticing (走火入魔) at that time, Huashan faction already could not evade the fight, Ku Mei went to battle on behalf of her teacher.
She also knew that she was not “the grim demon”’s rival, she was set on dying for the faction in her heart, hoping to perish together with the grim demon.
The grim demon simply did not consider her naturally as his level, he let her pick the kind of challenge to fight with. Unexpectedly, Master Ku Mei ignited a pot of boiling oil with the fire, seared her hand into the boiling oil, brought smile and said: “So long as the grim demon also dare to do so, Huashan faction will admit defeat and concede.”
The grim demon changed color immediately, stamped his feet and went, henceforth he never step one foot again into the Central Plain, but Master Ku Mei’s left hand was also boiled by the oil and fire, burnt to the bone.
This was also the origin of the two words “Ku Mei” (dry plum).
Since that time, “Goddess of Iron” Master Ku Mei became well-known in jiang-hu, she was 29 years old when she had taken over the Huashan faction, until now there had been 30 years hence.
For 30 years, the Huashan’s disciples never saw a smiling face on her face.
Master Ku Mei was such a person, if someone said such a person like her would return to secular life, probably no one in jiang-hu would believe it.
But Chu LiuXiang could not disbelieve it, because this was really the fact ......
The setting sun shone on the billowing river water, east of the river water, 5-6 river boats were anchored in Jiangwan, the ships unexpectedly emitted curling smoke, like from the kitchen chimneys, as if it was a village in the small river.
One of the river boats appeared particularly prominent, not only because the ship was brand-new, moreover, because the persons on the ship were too remarkable.
A bamboo curtain hung on the window, but the bamboo curtain was half raised, letting the setting sun shine in the cabin. A hoary-headed old woman sat quietly on a red sandalwood chair inside the cabin.
She held in her right hand a walking stick, the left hand was hidden in the sleeves, a withered thin face full of healed scars, one ear was missing, one of the eyes was also missing, what was left of the other eye was half open by a slit, brightly sharp, nobody dared to watch intently.
Her face had not even the slightest expression, sitting straight, the whole body did not move the least bit, like she had sat there like a statue since the ancient times.
Her body was very thin and small, but actually she held an indescribable dignity, if someone took a liking to her, he/she would speak softer with respect.
This old woman was already very remarkable, moreover on her side were two extremely beautiful young women: one was a refined, delicate woman, with a lowered-head, she bashfully looked at strangers. The other one was actually energetic and heroic, other people might look at her once, but she would at least stared twice at them.
A brand-new river boat, a wonderful funny-looking old lady, certainly beautiful young girls ......Regardless of where they were, they certainly could appear very prominently, Chu LiuXiang could see that from afar.
He also wanted to approach closer, Hu TieHua actually checked him again and said: “You have seen Master Ku Mei?”
Chu LiuXiang said: “Four years ago I saw her once, at the time, I was accompanying Rong-er (ed.: Su RongRong) when touring Huashan, I have looked at her once from afar.”
Hu TieHua said: “Do you also remember her appearance?”
Chu LiuXiang sighed and said: “You said already that anyone who has looked at her once will never forget her.”
Hu TieHua said: “Then you have a look at her again, the one sitting in that ship, is it her?”
Chu LiuXiang traced his nose and said with a forced smile: “I simply cannot believe my eyes.”
Hu TieHua said with a smile: “Your nose has a problem, your eyes also have a problem? This is actually good news.”
Chu LiuXiang's nose was poorly ventilated, Hu TieHua had thought that it was very amusing, because he felt that one part of his body was at least better than Chu LiuXiang’s.
Chu LiuXiang hesitatingly said: “I think that she is not necessarily returning to secular life, but she may be trying to deceive some observers.”
Hu TieHua said: “Why does she want to deceive some observers?”
Chu LiuXiang said: “Master Ku Mei leaves Huashan mountain, naturally it must be for an important matter.”
Hu TieHua said: “This preposterous place, what important matter will occur? Moreover, don’t you know about Master Ku Mei’s temperament that she never fears anyone in her life? She is not like you, who always like to change your appearance easily, as if you have done something shameful.”
Chu LiuXiang could not speak again, he was looking at the face of the heroic spirit young girl over there and said with a smile suddenly: “I cannot imagine that Gao YaNan, as she grows older, not only she does not appear old, but she has instead look younger, it seems that a person without a concern tends to look younger.”
Hu TieHua drew out his face, coldly said: “In my opinion, she simply looks like an old lady, your eyes seem to really have a problem.”
Chu LiuXiang said with a smile: “But my nose actually seems good, otherwise why should it smell an acid flavor (ed.: sign of jealousy).”
At that time, they suddenly saw a fast boat approaching quickly.
There were only four people on the ship, two people held the oars, two people stood against the wind in the bow, although only two people maintained the oars, but the boat moved quickly like flying, the long and narrow fast boat was like an arrow, in the blink of an eye, it sailed into Jiangwan in the twilight, the black-clothed guy in the bow was looking down with hands clasped slightly, moving towards Master Ku Mei’s river boat.
Although Chu LiuXiang's nose did not work well, but the heaven actually had not treated him unjustly, and had given him a very good compensation, letting his eyes and ears particularly keen.
Although he stood very far from them, he actually saw the rusty brown complexion on this guy face, obviously he lived all year long in the aquatic environment. When he stood, he didn’t seem to be on a weaving fast boat, but like on a steady flat land. At this moment, he made a move, and it showed that not only his time above the water was not short-lived, his lightness kungfu also had some solid foundation.
Immediately, Chu LiuXiang saw him leap onto the river boat, and then he lowered his voice to ask: “Old lady, did you receive the invitation? We are following the order to come and welcome ......”
While he spoke, at the same time he strode into the cabin, when he was going to say “welcome” Master Ku Mei’s walking stick moved, he flew backward like a flying kite for several tens of feets, “puff”, he fell into the river water.
On the fast boat, the three people’s faces had changed color immediately, the one holding the oars brandished the long oars suddenly, another black-clothed guy on the bow said fiercely: “My brother came out to meet you, is it wrong?”
The words were not finished when the cold flash was suddenly present, his ear felt cool, he could not stop putting out his hand to reach up, when his face suddently became ghastly pale.
As soon as the sword light flashed, his ear had disappeared.
But nobody else was near, only the black clothed young girl’s stiletto on her waist seemed as if it was just sheathed in that nearby cabin, the corners of her mouth brought a sneer.
Master Ku Mei was calmly sitting there, on her other side, the purple clothed young girl was reading aloud a volume of her yellow manuscript, not even lifting her face.
In the cabin, the worship incense smoke was still calmly emitting, like nothing ever occurred --- in the meantime, that fastboat seemed to be frightened off, it went much quicker than when coming in just now.
Hu TieHua shook his head, muttered: “She is already very old, but the anger is still very evident.”
Chu LiuXiang said with a smile: “This is called the ginger nature, the older the spicier.”
Hu TieHua said: “But Master Ku Mei anchors the ship here, obviously she should be in good terms with those men in black.”
Chu LiuXiang said: “Mmm.”
Hu TieHua said: “Then when the others meet her as promised, why does she actually expel them?”
Chu LiuXiang smiled and said: “Because these people were not polite to her. Although Master Ku Mei’s skill is deep, but what she cannot endure the most is if the others are impolite to her.”
Hu TieHua shook his head and said with a smile: “Everybody knew Master Ku Mei’s temperament in jiang-hu, these people are actually asking for trouble, they really do not know the limitation of human, that is actually also very rare.”
Chu LiuXiang said: “Because they simply do not realize that she is Master Ku Mei.”
Hu TieHua knitted his brows: “If these people do not know that it is her, how come she can make the appointment to meet here?”
Chu LiuXiang smiled and said: “I am neither a deity, nor a worm in these people’s stomach, if you ask me, whom should I ask?”
Hu TieHua curled his lips, sneeringly said: “Other people keep saying that for Chu LiuXiang, `nothing is unknown, nothing is not understood'? It turns out that you also have some matters which you do not know.”
Chu LiuXiang did not seem to hear his words and said easily: “Not only I have not seen her for several years, but I also do not realize that Gao YaNan can become more attractive, whoever can marry such a girl, he must really be fortunate.”
Hu TieHua drew out his face and said: “You, since you like her so much, I will give her to you.”
Chu LiuXiang laughed while trying to say: “Is she yours? Originally you ......”
He had not completed these words, because he had discovered that the recent fast boat just returned like an arrow.
A tall handsome lightly-clothed youth stood in the bow, the fast boat was cleaving the waves against the wind, he actually looks like a solid nail in the bow, standing motionless.
Hu TieHua said: “They went only for reinforcement, it looks like that this person's lower body strength is not weak.”
The fast boat drove closer as it neared the other boat, it slowed down gradually.
Under the wind, the sleeves of this youth’s dress seemed to be floating. His facial expression was very natural, he also looked very handsome, his face always kept up a smiling face, cupping his fists together, he said: “I do not know whether this is Madame Na's ship?”
His voice was not loud, yet it was actually very clear and bright, even Chu LiuXiang could hear it very clearly.
Although Master Ku Mei still sat motionless, she whispered softly to the black-clothed Gao YaNan, Gao YaNan then slowly arrived at the bow, she sized up this youth several times before she coldly said: “Who are you? What are you doing?”
The youth compensated his words with a smile: “The humble one is Ding Feng, coming purposefully to welcome you. Just now, the subordinates did not extend enough courtesy and had offended you, for that, I am asking for forgiveness from great lady Na and the two girls.”
Not only his words were said persuasively and politely, the smiling face was even more lovable.
Gao YaNan’s complexion became gentler, this young Ding Feng had unconsciously smiled while saying more words, Gao YaNan had also replied several times.
These words were said very softly, nobody else could hear including Chu LiuXiang. He only saw Ding Feng was already on the steamship, he had saluted respectfully to Master Ku Mei, asking for greetings excessively.
Master Ku Mei also nodded, the river boat weighed anchor immediately, hoisted the sails in the dim light of night and unexpectedly left.
Hu TieHua was knocking his nose with the fingertip, muttered: “Why does Master Ku Mei turn into Great lady Na? This is but actually a strange event.”
Chu LiuXiang hesitated while saying: “It looks like these men in black were expecting Great lady Na, but for some reasons, Master Ku Mei actually unexpectedly impersonates Great lady Na and keeps this appointment instead.”
Hu TieHua said: “Why does Master Ku Mei impersonate someone else? Is her reputation not big enough?”
Chu LiuXiang said: “Perhaps because her reputation is too big, therefore she must impersonate someone else! But basing on Master Ku Mei temperament, that she does not hesitate to assume a false name to keep an appointment, this matter is not a small matter.”
Hu TieHua knitted his brows: “What kind of important matter can it be?”
Chu LiuXiang vision flashed, he smiled suddenly and said: “Perhaps she is looking for Gao YaNan’s groom and family, this Ding youth is handsome, his wugong is not weak, he matches well with our cool breeze swords woman (cool breeze is the Huashan's swordstyle).”
Hu TieHua drew out his face as he coldly said: “Funny, yes, funny, your mother is really awfully funny.”
A person whose life was around water, also had a specific habit of living. The evening was the time for them to sleep, talk, and recover. As they had passed through the whole day, nobody wanted to sail a boat in the evening, therefore after dark, if someone wanted to charter a ship, it would not be very easy.
But Chu LiuXiang always had his method.
Chu LiuXiang chartered a ship, Hu TieHua had bought a big pot of liquor by the quickest speed.
Hu TieHua might not have the money, no family, no woman, maybe not even nice clothes, but he actually could not live without a friend, nor without some liquor.
The night was very calm, and also very dark.
In the river, the dim light of night was mixed with chilly wind, was that some smoke? Or fog?
From afar, when Master Ku Mei’s ship had left, it was only half-lit and only half of the sails were hoisted, but it went quickly. Chu LiuXiang’s light vessel had went almost full speed, but it only caught up in the end.
Hu TieHua stood on the bow, the eyes never flickered, staring at that ship in front, he took a big, big gulp at the wine, and unexpectedly had not spoken for a long time.
Chu LiuXiang had paid attention to him for a very long time, before muttering suddenly: “Strange, this person is full of words usually, why doesn’t he speak today? Is it possible that he has a concern?”
Hu TieHua wanted to pretend not to hear, after suppressing his desire to speak for a very long time, he finally could not hold it and said loudly: “I am very happy, who said that I have a concern?”
Chu LiuXiang said: “If you do not have a concern, why don't you speak?”
Hu TieHua said: “My mouth is busy at drinking, who has the free time to speak?”
He had drunk some more with his mouth as he muttered: “Strange, strange, even without seeing the liquor, you would usually want some. Today, actually we have some liquor, and yet you do not drink, is it possible that you have a problem?”
Chu LiuXiang smiled and said: “My mouth is too busy speaking, who has the free time to drink?”
Hu TieHua laid down the wine pot suddenly, turning his head, he stared at Chu LiuXiang while saying:”Actually what do you want to say? Say it!”
Chu LiuXiang said: “One day, you have gotten two nicest wine pots in this world, so you looked for the `swift net' Zhang San, because when he roasts a fish, it is always fragrant and tender, it would match very well with the drink, right?”
Hu TieHua said: “Yes.”
Chu LiuXiang said: “You and he are sitting in the bow grilling fish and drinking wine, suddenly a ship passed you very quickly, there were three people on the ship, including someone whom you were very familiar with, right?”
Hu TieHua said: “Yes.”
Chu LiuXiang said: “You thought the familiar person must be Gao YaNan, you had not seen her for a long time, therefore you wanted to greet her, instead she did not seem to see you. You wanted to jump to her ship to seek some understanding, but you did not dare, because Master Ku Mei was also on that ship. Although you do not fear the heaven, but you do not dare to annoy Master Ku Mei, right?”
This time, Hu TieHua was so disinclined in saying Yes” that once he said it, he followed it straight by pouring the liquid between his lips, down his throat.
Chu LiuXiang said: “Master Ku Mei has never treaded on bustling places in the last 20 years of her life, this time she descended down the mountain unexpectedly, moreover she appeared to recast herself as a lay person, therefore you were surprised and you hurriedly looked for me, right?”
Hu TieHua jumped suddenly, stared at Chu LiuXiang and called out: “I already told you all these things, right?”
Chu LiuXiang said: “Yes.”
Hu TieHua said: “Since I already told you, why do you keep asking me? Were your fantasizing?”
Chu LiuXiang smiled and said: “I spoke again these words once more, because I want to remind you of several things.”
Hu TieHua said: “What matter?”
Chu LiuXiang said: “When Gao YaNan wanted to marry you, you were not willing to marry her even if you die, now that she pays no attention to you, this is also a perfectly justified matter, but ......”
Hu TieHua interrupted him: “Because a man who is a bum, moreover a big bum like Hu TieHua, dreaming of a woman who he cannot obtain is a normal thing, right?”
Chu LiuXiang said with a smile: “That is right.”
Hu TieHua put on a serious face and said: “I have listened to your words so many times, that I do not need you to remind me again.”
Chu LiuXiang said: “Actually I must remind you about something else.”
Hu TieHua said: “Which matter?”
Chu LiuXiang said: “Although you are a bum, Gao YaNan actually likes you, she paid no attention to you intentionally, only because what she was doing just now was an extremely dangerous affair, she did not hope that you interfere.”
Hu TieHua said: “Why?”
Chu LiuXiang said: “Although you do not understand her, she actually very much understands you. If you know that she is in danger, you will certainly bravely step forward, therefore she will rather let you be angry at her than letting you go take a risk for her.”
Hu TieHua stunned and continued: “So, why did she do such thing for me?”
Chu LiuXiang said: “This was for certainly your sake. But you? What have you done for her?”
He sneeringly continued: “You will only get mad at her, sitting here, only drinking your alcohol to drown your own sorrow, hoping to get drunk only a bit faster, getting drunk without knowing about unknown other people’s affairs, regardless of what she may experience, you no longer care.”
Hu TieHua jumped suddenly, his left hand slapped himself once on the ear, the right hand had tossed aside that pot of liquor, blushingly he said: “You old stinking insect said some good stuffs, I was mistaken, I am simply a big, awful bastard who is still alive. Knowing perfectly well what important matter are currently happening, even if I die of thirst, I will not drink anymore.”
Chu LiuXiang smiled, blinking his eyes, he said: “That is one good child, no wonder Gao YaNan likes you, she, if she knows that you unexpectedly are willing to stop drinking for her, she will certainly be very happy.”
Hu TieHua stared while saying:”Who said that I would stop drinking, I just said that these days I will drink very little...... One’s body may break, the blood may flow out, but one cannot abstain from the liquor!”
Chu LiuXiang said with a smile: “Although you are lazy, dirty, and also poor, moreover you like drinking, fighting, but you are a very lovable person, if I were woman, I would certainly like you.”
Hu TieHua said with a smile: “If you were a woman who liked me, I would have already fled to the wilderness, how come I could still sit here?”
Chu LiuXiang and Hu TieHua had gone through many dangerous moments in this life.
They knew that when important matters would occur, one would need to find a way to keep one’s mind sober and one’s spirit relaxed, to cheer oneself up as much as possible.
They could exist up to now, perhaps because they could cheer themselves up whenever they could.
After a long while, the ship in front of them slowed down, the distance between the two ships were reduced gradually, although the fog was thicker, that ship's outline were actually obviously clear.
Did the people on that ship also saw this boat?
Chu LiuXiang wanted to ask the ship master to slow down, to keep the distance between the two ships the same, and then he discovered suddenly that the ship in front had stopped unexpectedly, moreover it looked like it was gradually sinking.
Hu TieHua had found out about this as well and said: “The ship in front seems to get lower and lower? Is the ship sinking?”
Chu LiuXiang said: “Probably.”
Hu TieHua changed color: “If the ship is sinking, why do Gao YaNan and others not make any sound at all?”
By now the distance between the two ships was closer than fifty feet.
Chu LiuXiang suddenly flew high, he had leapt to that ship's bow.
The ship plunged, the cabin was already filled with water.
Master Ku Mei, Gao YaNan, the shy young girl, the black-clothed young Ding Feng, and the boatman who manned the ship had unexpectedly disappeared.
In the dim light of the night, the chilly wind, there was no shadow at all in the river.
A breeze blew by, Hu TieHua unexpectedly shivered, and said: “This ship is obviously a brand new ship, how can it sink suddenly? Where are the people on the ship? Are they captured by the frog people?”
He originally wanted to speak the sentence as a joke, but the few words seemed to set off the shivering, the palms seemed to be covered with cold sweat.
He took a long breath, suddenly he detected some strange smell in the air, a strange stench, when he could not stop himself asking: “What is this smell? You ......”
Chu LiuXiang had not smelled anything, but he actually discovered that there was something black glossy grease that had flowed from the river water upstream, and had surrounded the ship that were slowly sinking.
While Hu TieHua completed his sentence, the sound of a launched arrow was heard, out of the blue, a faraway flame was visible, being launched from a distant place.
Then, with a “peng” sound, instantly, the entire river water resembled being burned, turning into a giant bonfire.
Chu LiuXiang and the others and the ship were surrounded by a sudden flash of flame…
The water was very hot!
Chu LiuXiang and Hu TieHua both soaked in the water, they were perspiring.
But they actually felt very comfortable.
Because it was not a burning great river here, but a big bathing pool.
Hu TieHua used his soaked bath towel, wrung it dry, put it back on his head, shut his eyes and gave a long sigh, he muttered: “The water is similar, but soaking here is a lot different than soaking in that river water, just like people, some are very intelligent, some are actually fools.”
Chu LiuXiang’s eyes were also shut, he spoke without a thought and asked: “Who is a fool?”
Hu TieHua said: “You are the smart person, I am the fool.”
Chu LiuXiang laughed in spite of trying not to, and said: “How do you suddenly become so modest?”
Hu TieHua said with a smile: “I do not want to acknowledge that originally, but I actually have to acknowledge you, if not for you, I feared that I had become some burned ashes, where is my good fortune which will allow me to take a bath here.”
He gave a long sigh, then said: “To be honest, I was simply too scared at that time, also I couldn’t understand how the river water could be burning, I also did not realize that there was water under the fire… If you had not pulled me, I would not have dared to jump down, really.”
Chu LiuXiang smiled and said: “Before the fire, did you smell a strange kind of smell?”
Hu TieHua said: “......I forgot that your nose did not work at that time, so I asked you, by the time I remembered about your nose, the fire had already started.”
Chu LiuXiang said: “Do you know what smell that was?”
Hu TieHua said: “If I know, why am I asking you?”
Chu LiuXiang said easily: “A person with a nose is asking another person who cannot smell anything, this is really a strange event.”
Hu TieHua smiled and said: “If you only let me burn then… but unlucky you, regardless of how many times you have rescued me, I must still ferret this out of you.”
He did not let Chu LiuXiang speak and continued: “Since you have rescued me, you must tell me what smell that was.”
Chu LiuXiang had also smiled and said: “You are at least very honest ......Although I have not smelled anything, I actually saw something.”
Hu TieHua said: “What?”
Chu LiuXiang said: “Oil.”
Hu TieHua said: “Oil? What oil?”
Chu LiuXiang said: “Actually what kind of oil, I am not too clear, but I have heard before that some undisclosed area had produced a certain kind of black, extremely flamable oil, which can burst into fire with such intensity that the fire will never be extinguished.”
Hu TieHua knitted his brows: “Good, I also thought that the smell was like that of lubricants. But how could Yangtze River have that kind of black oil?”
Chu LiuXiang said: “Some people poured it naturally.”
He then said: “If you pour any kind of oil on the water, the oil will certainly float above the water. Therefore, the river may burn, but they have forgotten that since oil floats on the water surface, it is actually not burning under the water surface. So, as long as you have the guts to jump toward the fire, you will jump into the safe water.”
Hu TieHua said with a smile: “If some people want to burn you old stinking insect, this may not be easy at all.”
Chu LiuXiang said: “But these people actually transport the black oil there, dare to set fire in the great river, obviously they are not just common characters, they are certainly well-organized, they have the strength, the source of wealth, and a big courage.”
Hu TieHua said: “Unexpectedly, this Ding young fellow has such a big original story.”
Chu LiuXiang said: “The one setting the fire might be Ding Feng, but he actually cannot be the mastermind ......Who the mastermind is, you also do not need to ask me, because I do not know.”
Hu TieHua knitted the brows, hesitatingly said: “They discovered that we were following, they did not hesitate to sink that new ship, they did not hesitate to set the fire on us in the river to burn us ......Actually what do these people want to do?”
Chu LiuXiang said: “I have already said that this is surely a very astonishing matter.”
Hu TieHua said: “But Master Ku Mei and Gao YaNan have fallen into their clutches?”
Chu LiuXiang said: “They have not.”
Hu TieHua said: “So, they have taken so many efforts, just to must meet with Master Ku Mei and Gao YaNan?”
Chu LiuXiang said: “Mmm, perhaps - -”
Hu TieHua said: “If they have any evil intention to Master Ku Mei, how come Master Ku Mei is willing to walk with them? If they do not have the evil intention to Master Ku Mei, also why do they do things so mysteriously?”
He asked these words, then he closed his eyes, as if he simply did not want to listen to Chu LiuXiang’s reply. He knew that no one could answer these questions.
This place was called “The free, loose pond”. It was a public bathhouse, the price was not cheaper than the private bathing pool. But soaking in the steaming hot cistern while taking a bath, was actually an affective experience. At the same time while taking a bath, one might also enjoy the pleasure of chatting with friends, therefore men from the surrounding area, whether rich or poor, after drinking the early tea in the morning, liked to pour into this place in the afternoon time.
There were the two of them in the bathing pool, but among the light mist that covered other people’s appearance, there were some shadows moving around. People who came here liked to enjoy the place for themselves, flexing and relaxing their nerves. Nobody was trying to observe someone else, nor did they want other people to observe them.
In the bathing pool, there were 2 or 3 people washing their feet, rubbing their backs – meanwhile someone was showering from the clear water trough at the side.
These people probably did not pay any attention to Chu LiuXiang, Chu LiuXiang also did not pay any attention to them. In this kind of place, everybody was stark naked, nobody could observe the status of anyone else, whether one was a noble person, or a famous person with great skill. In this place, this status was removed completely, there was no distinction between the people of different classes.
Chu LiuXiang liked this kind of place very much, he felt that when a person removed his clothing completely and soaked himself in the water, only then he could understand himself completely, see himself more clearly.
Also there were many wealthy merchants who liked this kind of place to discuss business, because they also discovered that when others saw each other’s flesh, only a few would bring themselves to cheat afterwards.
In that side of the corner, two people were talking in whispers, as if they were discussing something. Someone looked very familiar to Chu LiuXiang, but he actually couldn't remember who he was for a while.
The person who showered from the water trough was leaving. At the same time he was twisting the towel like a turban above his head.
This person's two legs were very thin, very long, the upper body was actually very sturdy, the shoulder was also very wide, when he walked he looked shaky, as if he could tumble down at any moment.
But Chu LiuXiang could see that this person's lightness kungfu was extremely high, he also could handle a very heavy weapon, and he was a martial arts world master.
A person with good lightness kungfu often used light sharp weapon and maybe even only hidden weapons. Not many people in jiang-hu used a large weapon when they have good lightness kungfu.
Chu LiuXiang’s corners of his mouth showed a happy expression, as if he had guessed correctly who this person was.
Observing others' action while soaking in the basin, analyzing their statuses, and guessing their origins, was also one of the many kinds of pleasure of taking a bath here.
That person with the long legs just arrived at the entrance, when from the other side of door, a person crashed in suddenly.
This person's facial expression was very scared, as if he was being pursued by a ghost. When he crashed in, he plunged quickly into the hot tub.
The water splashed four times at Hu TieHua.
Hu TieHua stared at the person, ready to open his mouth to curse him. But as soon as he realized who the person was, his face's scowl changed immediately into a happy expression. He ridiculed the person while saying: “You, rash person, you don’t snare fish in the bottom of the river, instead you come rushing in here, do you want to catch some fish in this turbid water?”
Chu LiuXiang also laughed in spite of trying not to, he said: “I think you must be really careful, otherwise you may be caught within his `swift net'.”
The person who crashed in from the outside, was precisely the one Chu LiuXiang and Hu TieHua had just mentioned, “the swift net” Zhang San. Not only this river person’s character was excellent and he roasted fish well, moreover, he was also vigilant, clever, glib, friendly, and greatly loyal as a friend.
This person was good in a lot of ways, except for one thing.
As soon as he saw a good pearl, his hand immediately itched, he would try to think of a way to obtain it. Any other gems like gold, silver, jade, agate rocks, every other kind would not move his heart.
He only loved the pearls.
When he saw a pearl, he was like Hu TieHua seeing some nice wine.
But just now he saw Chu LiuXiang and Hu TieHua, actually he seemed a lot happier than seeing a pearl, the face cheered up widely and he said with a smile: “Help the distressed, I, Zhang San, am really lucky to have found such great, honored persons.”
Hu TieHua ridiculed him: “Look at you being so senseless, is it possible that you have met a ghost?”
“The swift net” Zhang San sighed and said with a forced smile: “Meeting a ghost is not what happened, but what I suffer is probably more ominous than meeting a ghost.”
Hu TieHua knitted his brows: “Any person who is unexpectedly more ominous than the ghost, I want to take a look...”
Zhang San: “You ......”
He just opened his mouth, when there was some quarrelling sound outside.
That long leg person who just went out to leave, at this moment had suddenly drew back.
A hoarse voice of a man was heard: ”Miss, this place is unsuitable for you.”
The other person said: “Others can come here, why am I unsuitable, why am I unsuitable?”
The sound was anxiously quick, but it was also sweet and pretty clear, it was like the voice of a young girl.
That man worryingly said: “This is a place for men who take a bath, how can a girl just go in?”
That young girl said: “You say that I cannot go in, I am bent on going in, I must go in.”
She sneered twice, and then talked louder: “The smelly thief, you run away here, you think that this girl will not dare to go in? I am telling you, even if you run away to hell, this girl will pursue you and face the God of Death.”
Hu TieHua extended his tongue, he could not help laughing and said: “This girl is actually really more ominous than ......”
He glanced at Zhang San, and then he discovered that Zhang San’s face was so frightened that it had lost its color, he suddenly took a dive inside the hot water and did not dare to raise his head again.
Hu TieHua knitted his brows and said with a smile: “With us here, what do you have to fear? Why do you drink the water that other people use to wash their feet?”
Chu LiuXiang also smiled.
He always liked running into an interesting person, this girl outside certainly seemed to be very interesting, he actually hoped that she really dared to rush inside.
What woman also dared to rush inside the men's bath house?
The noise outside became more ominous, that bathroom's storekeeper yelled: “You cannot go in, you cannot ......”
The words were not completed, when a “Pa” sound was heard. This person obviously felt the slap of the hand, therefore he no longer spoke.
Then, two people had crashed in from outside.
Unexpectedly, they were really two women.
Who would have thought that these women really dared to rush inside the men’s bath house. Very quickly, that long leg person’s body shrunk back and he plunged into the water and squatted inside.
Not only was this bold woman’s age very young, but she was also beautiful: the straight bridge of the nose, the red-cherry mouth, and the eyes were big and extremely bright, no such bright star could be seen in the sky.
She dressed up especially well, she wore a scarlet archery clothes, embroidered with flower and golden phoenix, and a pair of dress boots that matched the color of the clothes. On her head, she wore a purple golden crown that matched the purple golden belt. When someone looked at her for the first time, she looked like the son of a rich and influential person who had just returned from the archery target range.
But where in the world could someone find such a beautiful man?
With her was a 14-15 year-old small girl, who had a round face, her face seemed ready to burst into laughter, the eyes were also showing a little sweet happy expression.
Chu LiuXiang and Hu TieHua looked at each other, laughing quietly inside.
Both could see that this young girl’s gold crown was originally decorated with a grain of pearl, moreover that piece was surely not small, but now the pearl had actually disappeared.
Where was the pearl?
“The swift net” Zhang San’s problem must have incurred this crime!
But “The swift net” Zhang San’s skill in the river was pure, the skill on the land was not weak, he had good lightness kungfu skill and could use the hidden weapons well, so why should he be afraid of this girl?
This scarlet young girl’s big eyes roamed inside the room, she stared at each man in the pool for several times each. When Hu TieHua was observed by her, his scalp felt itchy.
A naked person soaking in the basin, and being stared at by a girl - -
This was not something that one could feel good about.
That small girl’s face was red, she hid behind the scarlet young girl, as if she did not dare to look around, but she actually often glanced secretly at Chu LiuXiang.
Chu LiuXiang thought this was extremely interesting.
Suddenly the scarlet young girl said loudly: “Just now, a man who looked like a monkey had run here, has any of you seen him?”
No one spoke.
The scarlet young girl said:”If you speak up, I will have a reward for you. If you dare to conceal him, just watch out.”
Hu TieHua blinked and said suddenly: “The girl said of a person who looks like a monkey?”
The scarlet young girl said: “Right, you saw him?”
Hu TieHua said easily: “Such person, I saw one really.”
In the water, Zhang San’s heart nearly jumped outside from his chest; in his heart, he wished he could sew up Hu TieHua's mouth so he could never drink another drop of liquor for the rest of his life.
Chu LiuXiang also thought that was very funny.
He knew certainly that Hu TieHua would never betray his friend, but mostly he just wanted to let Zhang San suffer a small hardship, so he could get rid of his ‘pearl’ problem.
That scarlet young girl’s eyes had shone and said: “Where is that person? If you speak, I’ll give you some reward.”
Hu TieHua said: “What reward?”
The scarlet young girl “Humph”, and tossed something into the water, Chu LiuXiang’s sharp eyes saw a spindle of bright yellow gold unexpectedly.
This girl did not just dispense with little money.
A person who could just toss out a spindle of gold, the background was naturally uncommon.
Chu LiuXiang thought that was more interesting.
Hu TieHua fished that spindle of gold from the water, he seemed afraid to believe that it was real. After looking carefully, only then he beamed with joy and said: “Many thanks, miss.”
The scarlet young girl said: “That person? Where is he?”
Hu TieHua traced his nose and said easily: “That person ......”
He also knew that each person in the bathing pool was staring at him now, each person looked down on him as a person who betrayed his friend for a spindle of gold. They looked repugnantly at him.
But Hu TieHua did not blush, did not worry, slowly he put out one of his hands, and pointed that towards Chu LiuXiang's nose and said grinningly: “That person is here, you have seen him?”
When he said this, some people were stunned, some people could not bear laughing.
Chu LiuXiang himself did not know whether to laugh or cry.
The scarlet young girl's face was blanched white with anger: “You ......You dare to joke with me!”
Hu TieHua said with a smile: “How do I dare to joke with miss. Please look at this person, doesn’t he look just like a monkey ......Do you really think it’s not him?”
The scarlet young girl had stared at Chu LiuXiang once, he saw that Chu LiuXiang was so embarassed that she also couldn’t help laughing.
That small girl was already covering her mouth, not able to stop laughing.
Hu TieHua felt satisfied with himself, he smiled while saying: “This is the only person here that looks like a monkey, please miss look again, if it’s not him, I don’t know who else it might be.”
The scarlet young girl showed a calm face, she obviously did not know how to cope with this kind of person.
She was actually also young, she had never seen such a really thick-skinned man.
That small girl glanced at Chu LiuXiang once, she couldn’t help saying with a smile: “Miss, let us just leave!”
The scarlet young girl “Humph” and suddenly said loudly: “Why do I want to leave? Why should I leave?”
She said that anxiously quick, repeating the words twice as if she was afraid that other people could not hear her clearly. Even though she said them twice, that was still faster than some people would say the words once.
That small girl said: “That thief is probably really not here ......”
The scarlet young girl had sneered several times and said: “Actually I’m not just looking for him. All over the world, any place I have experienced, only this kind of place I have not come to, I intent on taking a look here, see if anyone dares to drive me out!”
Hu TieHua clapped his hands and said with a smile: “Right, a person, who lives in the world, must live like miss to have an interesting life. I really admire such a girl like you.”
The scarlet young girl said: “Humph!”
Hu TieHua said: “It is a pity that Miss's courage is not very big.”
The scarlet young girl stared while saying:”What did you say?”
Hu TieHua said grinningly: “Miss, if you also dare to jump into this basin, then you really have a big courage, that will really be unheard of!”
The scarlet young girl's face was now yellow with anger, she suddenly put out a hand to her waist and pulled on the purple golden belt, with a “choke” sound, she held a long sword in her hand.
This sword was thin and slim, precisely the flexible sword made out of good Burmese iron. She usually hid it in the waistband, and as it shook against the wind, it extended very straight.
This kind of sword on the belt was just flexible and yet soft, if the swordsmanship skill was not deep, playing this kind of sword was not easy.
There were two person’s faces who were surprised in the bathing pool, probably they did not think that this arrogant, willful, rude, and unreasonable girl, unexpectedly could also use this kind of soft sword.
She tiptoed forward and leapt onto the edge of the bathing pool, with a backhand swipe of the sword, she had swung at Hu TieHua's top of the head.
This sword move was seriously quick, accurate, and also ruthless.
Hu TieHua shouted, “Ai, ya“ and sank into the water. Other people thought he already got hit by the sword, but after a few moments, they realized their error when he extended his head again in another part of the pool, he said with a smile: “I just wanted the spindle gold from Miss, instead you want my life?”
The scarlet young girl’s eyes were ablazed with anger and said fiercely: “You, if you are a man, come out, come out!”
Hu TieHua sighed and said: “I am certainly a man, but a pity I have not put on my pants, how can I dare to come out?”
The scarlet young girl clenched her teeth, stamped the feet and said: “Good, I will wait for you outside, you will not be able to escape.”
She was a woman, the face had been somewhat red and when she said these words, she turned to leave, trembling with fury.
That small girl glanced at Chu LiuXiang once with a grin and said: “Your friend’s joke has gone too far, you should hurry and prepare things for him after his death!”
After speaking of “prepare things after his death”, she also lowered her head and turned around.
Chu LiuXiang sighed, muttered: “It looks like she is not just joking, I need to spend some money to buy the coffin.”
Hu TieHua said with a smile: “No need for the coffin, just cremate me, and pour out the ash in the best liquor.”
Clearing his throat, he also said: “Actually I play a joke on her intentionally, but this girl is really too ominous, too fierce, too unreasonable, moreover she keeps insisting on killing people, if I do not teach her now, how will she behave later?”
Chu LiuXiang said lightly: “I only fear that it’s not you who will give her a lesson, but she who will teach you a lesson.”
“The swift net” Zhang San suddenly quietly extended his head from the water said quietly: “It’s true, I think you better slip away.”
Hu TieHua stared while saying:”Slip away? Why do I have to slip away? You think that I am really afraid of that girl?”
Zhang San sighed and said: “You know who she is?”
Hu TieHua said: “Who is she? Is she an Empress Dowager's daughter?”
He then also said: “Looking at her swordsmanship, she is indeed from a well-known family, attacking very quickly, too. But to bully people based only on these swordsmoves, that is still not going to be enough.”
Zhang San said: “Perhaps you could mess with her, but you absolutely cannot mess with her grandmother.”
Hu TieHua said: “Who is her grandmother?”
Zhang San’s corners of his eyes twitched twice with no reason, word by word he said: “Her grandmother is from `Countless blessings, long life garden', Great lady Jin. She is Great lady Jin’s 39th granddaughter `the fire phoenix' Jin LingZhi.”
Hu TieHua were stunned.
Hu TieHua was the kind of person who would never concede anything until he died, but he indeed did not want to mess with “Great lady Jin” -- not only he could not mess with her, simply nobody else could mess with her.
If by wugong skill, the Stone Avalokitesvara, “Water Matriarch” Yin Ji, Xie YiRen ......These persons’ wugong perhaps were higher compared to Great lady Jin.
But if discussing about the family influence, actually nobody in jiang-hu could compare with this Great lady Jin.
Great lady Jin altogether had ten sons, nine daughters, eight sons-in-law, 39 grandsons and granddaughters with 28 additional granddaughters from her daughters.
Among her sons and son-in-laws, some were escort leaders, some chiefs of police, some faction leaders. One could say that any one of them was the finest masters in jiang-hu.
Only one person did not dwell on the martial arts, but he already held the golden horse and jade hall, a high-ranking government official. Also another one became a mighty general for the military.
She had nine daughters, but only eight sons-in-law, because one daughter became a nun and an Emei clan follower, she was now Emei leader “Master Ku Yin (bitter pain)”.
Her grandsons and granddaughters mostly had grown up and become famous, “The fire phoenix” Jin LingZhi was the smallest one, and also the one whom Lady Jin most liked.
But most importantly, Great Lady Jin’s family was educated the right way, the whole family walked in the right way, certainly not one of them did any kind of evil things. If someone mentioned about Great lady Jin, everybody respected her very much.
Such person, who wanted to mess with her?
Hu TieHua was stunned momentarily, only then he sighed and stared at Zhang San: “You already knew that she was Great Lady Jin’s granddaughter?”
Zhang San nodded while saying:”Mmm.”
Hu TieHua said: “And yet you still stole her pearl ......Is it possible that you are delirious with hunger or maybe you have become insane from drinking too much?”
Zhang San gave a forced smile while saying:”I did not dare to do it originally, but that pearl ......Oh, she should never wear that bead, I looked at it only once and my soul flew away, unconsciously I did it ......Oh, how could I know that she would dare to pursue me into the man's bath house?”
They heard the fire phoenix say loudly outside: “You cannot escape now, why don’t you come out quickly!”
Hu TieHua knitted his brows: “This girl's temper is really bad.”
He patted Chu LiuXiang's shoulder suddenly, and said with a smile: “I know that you always have your ways with women, only you can cope with this girl, so it looks like to me that it’s time for you to go into action.”
Chu LiuXiang smiled and said easily: “I am not good, as soon as the woman see me looking like a monkey, it’s all up.”
Hu TieHua said: “Who says that you look like a monkey? Who says so? That person’s eyes really have a problem certainly, can't he see that you are the world’s handsomest, most celebrated man?”
Chu LiuXiang closed his eye, and closed his mouth.
Hu TieHua said with a smile: “Actually, this is also a good opportunity, perhaps in the future you will be Lady Jin granddaughter's husband, we will be your friends, we may also be benefitted from the association with you.”
Chu LiuXiang seemed to have fallen asleep, not hearing a single word.
Zhang San said quietly: “On thirty six count, you leave at the end of the count, I will stand guard, you ......”
Hu TieHua, dripping wet, jumped suddenly from the water and said loudly: “No matter whether she is Lady Jin’s granddaughter (Jin=gold) or she is Lady Yin's granddaughter (Yin=silver), it is fine. I cannot let her be persistently unreasonable, if she cannot be reasoned with, regardless of who she is, I can also be as unreasonable.”
Chu LiuXiang then opened his eyes and at last said: “Also nobody says that you are always reasonable.”
Hu TieHua had wrapped the towel around him and rushed away.
Every other persons in the bathing pool also jumped out immediately, who did not want to see the upcoming spectacle?
When that long leg's person passed by, he smiled suddenly to Chu LiuXiang.
Chu LiuXiang also smiled to him.
The long leg person said with a smile: “If I guess correctly, your excellency must be ......”
He looked at someone behind him, stopped talking suddenly, but continued smiling.
Walking behind him was precisely the person who looked very familiar to Chu LiuXiang.
This person blushed like a boiled crab, was it something inborn? Was the redness caused by the hot water, like some Chinese plum being soaked in hot water? After seeing Chu LiuXiang, he would automatically blush?
He had never looked at Chu LiuXiang even once from the beginning to the end, only the person besides him secretly glanced at Chu LiuXiang, but when Chu LiuXiang looked at him, he lowered his head, and walked on in a hurry.
“The swift net” Zhang San said quietly: “These two people don’t look like good people, maybe I have seen them before.”
Chu LiuXiang, as if thinking, said along: “Mmm, probably I have also seen them.”
Zhang San said: “That person with very long legs, the lightness kungfu is surely extremely high, the manner is also very proud, his background must be famous, but I have actually never seen him.”
He smiled, then said: “The person I have never seen, certainly rarely travels in jiang-hu.”
Chu LiuXiang said: “Mmm.”
Zhang San said: “Although this place has a big port, but usually very few martial arts world heroes pass by. Today, there are so many people all of a sudden, this is also a strange event.”
Chu LiuXiang smiled suddenly and said: “You speak so eloquantly, just because you want me to stay here with you, right?”
Zhang San blushed.
Chu LiuXiang said: “But someone else is fighting for you outside, you should also go out to at least take a look!”
Zhang San: “Good, I’ll go out, with you in the same place, I will dare to go anywhere.”
Chu LiuXiang said: “Before you exit, do not forget to bring the pearl that you hide at the bottom of the pool.”
Zhang San’s face became redder, he shook his head and said: “Why can’t I hide anything from you ......”
The loose, free pond's door was not big.
The bathroom door would not be big, because it would be covered by a very thick curtain screen, to prevent the influx of the cold wind from outside, ant to prevent the steam from leaking out.
Now the curtain screen had been set aside, the outside was already crammed packed by a throng of people.
That a girl had unexpectedly dared to step inside a man's bathhouse was already an extraordinary flash news, much less this girl also bring a long sword to kill people.
Hu TieHua slowly put on his clothes.
“The fire phoenix” Jin LingZhi this time no longer was angry, she just stood palely, in case some people dared to look at her once, she replied by staring back ominously with her big eyes.
Hu TieHua slowly buckled the knot and said: “Do you really want my life?”
Jin LingZhi said: “Humph.”
Hu TieHua said: “Miss, you are so young, why must you kill people in anger?”
Jin LingZhi stared while saying:”I just kill the person who should be killed, why should they be spared? Why should they be spared?”
Hu TieHua said: “How many people have you altogether killed?”
Jin LingZhi said: “1000, 10,000, it doesn’t matter.”
Hu TieHua said: “What if you cannot kill me?”
Jin LingZhi clenched her teeth and said: “If I cannot kill you, I will give you my head!”
Hu TieHua said: “I do not want your head, if you cannot kill me, I hope you will not so easy to kill people again. There are not that many people in this world who truly deserve to die.”
Jin LingZhi scoldingly said: “Good - -”
She said that word when the sword’s light struck like white silk towards Hu TieHua’s throat.
Not only her swordsmanship was also quick and ruthless, moreover the move simply wanted to kill the other party.
Hu TieHua quickly dodged and feinted.
Jin LingZhi stared at him, her sword moved quicker, piercing forward 8x8 times. Usually a woman’s swordsmanship was light and lively, but her swordsmanship was quick and formidable. The sword wind surrounded the place, causing the people to move backward.
Although this place let the customers change clothes, but the place was not big, Jin LingZhi’s sword tip moved tightly, almost not leaving any crevices for the opposite party to fend.
It was a pity that she happened to fight Hu TieHua. If it was someone else, his body must have already been pierced in 8x8 different holes.
Hu TieHua usually could not calm down in other matters, but once he was fighting someone else, he could calm down. That’s because he had an extremely rich experience in fights, only very few people could be compared favorably with him. As soon as other people started to fight, they would unavoidably became somewhat anxious. But in his opinion, fighting was actually like eating together (potluck).
Even if he met someone whose wugong was higher than him, he will never became the least anxious. Therefore while other people could not see the moves clearly, he could see clearly, others could not feint the moves, he could.
He seemed to move around randomly, Jin LingZhi's sword was quicker, he evaded more quickly.
Upon Jin LingZhi’s 19th sword moves, she stopped suddenly, she stared while saying:”Why don't you hit back?”
Hu TieHua smiled and said: “It’s you who want to kill me, I do not want to kill you!”
Jin LingZhi stamped her feet and said: “Good, just see if you hit back, just see if you hit back?”
Her sword struck forward, her swordsmanship suddenly changed.
Until this moment, when she attacked, although it was ruthless and spicy, the swordsmanship was not especially marvelous, the swordsmanship from “Countless blessings, long life garden” was not perceptibly well-advanced.
But as soon as her swordsmanship changed, the sword light seemed to roll forward like wire net, like solid cocoon, like Yangtze River, incessant, not only the style was exceptional, moreover it did not have the least flaw.
Even a person, who could not judge the quality of goods properly, could also see that this kind of swordsmanship was very uncommon.
The majority of sword style in this world would have flaws. If it did not have any flaw, it would not passed the improvements of human’s intelligence and ability.
But since there were many people’s intelligence and ability were exhausted to improve this set of swordsmanship, then this set of swordsmanship had become extraordinarily good.
“The swift net” Zhang San hid behind the door and said quietly: “This looks like the `willow silky swordsmanship’ from Emei sect.”
Chu LiuXiang said: “Right.”
Zhang San said: “Her seventh aunt is Emei’s Ku Yin, the leader, this set of swordsmanship must have been taught privately by her seventh aunt.”
Chu LiuXiang nodded and had not answered.
Listening to Jin LingZhi shouted out: “Good, you have not hit back ......See if you can still not hit back!”
While talking, her swordsmanship changed again.
The rolling sword moves suddenly became intermittent and sparse.
The omnipresent sword anger suddenly vanished.
Her left hand was lifted up, the long sword struck diagonally, the sword light seemed to dim, the attacking movement became really slowly, as if it was there, and then, it wasn’t.
A person who could not judge the quality of goods this time would not be able to see the ingenuity of this kind of swordsmanship.
Some people even thought that this girl’s heart had become timid, her strength had been used up.
But when Chu LiuXiang saw her attacking moves, his face actually had changed his countenance.
He saw that this move was precisely Huashan faction’s first move of the swordsmanship style “The 13 cool breeze moves”, which was called “the gentle cool breeze”.
End of Chapter 1