Happy Heroes 18 Print
Friday, 11 July 2008 11:28

Chapter 17 – Whose Skin Will Be Flayed?

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HuoBoPi’s pawnshop was called “Li Yuan Pawnshop.” It was across from Mai LaoGuang’s barbecue meats restaurant. Mai LaoGuang’s shop sign had already been taken down and right then, some people were whitewashing the storefront.

As their thoughts turned to Mai LaoGuang, Guo DaLu and Yan Qi could not help feeling a twinge of sadness. After all, they had had many happy moments there. They were not melancholy and moody people, but they were very easily moved by many things.

A horse-drawn carriage was stopped in front of Li Yuan Pawnshop. The door of the pawnshop was closed. It seemed that it was not planning on opening for business today.

A glance passed between Guo DaLu and Yan Qi. In the small side alley that they had just walked through, they saw HuoBoPi creep out of a side door, his shoulders hunched, his eyes sneakily assessing all four directions, and his arms wrapped tightly around a cloth bundle. Seeing no one, he jumped straight away into the carriage. The carriage door closed immediately, and even the blinds on the windows were lowered.


An old woman walked out at a snail’s pace from inside the pawnshop. In her hands, she carried a bucket of garbage. Guo DaLu, of course, knew who she was. She was not HuoBoPi’s wife but merely someone who cooked and did odds and ends for him. Since she was so old, aside from providing her with meals, HuoBoPi would not pay a single coin to her as wages. However, when there were things he wanted her to do, he would use her like she was a strapping young man. Guo DaLu had always found it strange that the old woman was willing to keep working for him. With an employer like HuoBoPi, if for some rare chance she had an unexpected misfortune and died suddenly, there may not even be a coffin for her.

HuoBoPi’s voice was heard shouting loudly from inside the carriage. “Close the door. Make sure you do not allow anyone to go inside. I will be back tomorrow morning.” With that, the driver flicked his whip and the carriage darted down the avenue.

Guo DaLu and Yan Qi dashed out from the narrow lane. One on each side, they jumped onto the shaft of the carriage. The window immediately flew open and HuoBoPi thrust his head out looking visibly shocked. When he saw them, he was even more stunned. “What do you want to do?”

Guo DaLu let out a laugh and answered, “Nothing. We just want to take a free ride in your carriage to the city.”

HuoBoPi shook his head and snapped, “That won’t work. I had said that no one could ride in this.”

With a wide grin, Guo DaLu said, “If it won’t work, then you make it work. Since we are already on the coach, are you going to push us off?”

Yan Qi smiled as he added, “Plus, you had wanted to hire us to make this trip with you anyway.”

HuoBoPi: “The one I wanted to find wasn’t you two…” He suddenly seemed to realize that he had said the wrong thing and immediately pressed his lips together.

Yan Qi: “Not us? Could it be that you changed your mind?”

HuoBoPi’s face looked like it was starting to go pale. Putting a smile on his face, he consented, “If you want to ride with me, it is fine, but you must pay a fare. The cost of the carriage was three qian. This is perfect, each person pays one qian.” As his left hand took their money, his right hand opened the door for them right away.

There was one good thing about people like HuoBoPi: as long as you had money for him, he was able to make you feel that each cent was not spent unjustly. He even offered to them the two seats that were relatively better.

Now that Guo DaLu was in the carriage, he started to move onto another plan.

HuoBoPi’s arms were still tightly clutching that cloth bundle. He piped up, “Yan Qi, how about we make a bet?”

Yan Qi: “What are we betting on?”

Guo DaLu: “I bet that there is a mouse inside his cloth bundle. Do you believe it?”

Yan Qi: “Nope.”

Guo DaLu: “Fine. I will bet ten liang of silver with you.”

HuoBoPi interrupted them with a laugh, “You do not need to bet. I know that the two of you want to see what is inside this bundle of mine, correct?”

Guo DaLu confessed, “It seems there is a bit of that idea.”

HuoBoPi: “You can see, but there is a fee for looking.”

Guo DaLu really had not thought that he would agree to this so easily. He had been certain that the bundle must have something that HuoBoPi did not want people to see.

Once HuoBoPi’s left hand had received the money, his right hand immediately untied the bundle. Inside, there was merely some old clothing. Guo DaLu looked over at Yan Qi; Yan Qi looked back at Guo DaLu. They two of them could only give a bitter smile.

HuoBoPi smirked, “Are you two thinking now that your ten liang of silver was spent in vain? Too bad you cannot take it back anymore!” A smug smile on his face, he started to tie up the cloth bundle again.

All of a sudden, Yan Qi noticed, “One of the items of clothing inside the bundle seems to belong to Lin TaiPing. Is that right?”

HuoBoPi gave a couple of dry coughs. “It seems so. Anyway, he has pawned it to me.”

Yan Qi protested, “The pawn ticket has not expired yet. He could redeem it at any time. How can you take it away?”

It was gradually getting more difficult for HuoBoPi to laugh. “Naturally, when he wants to redeem it, I will have his clothes to give him.”

Guo DaLu inquired, “How much did he pawn this garment for?”

HuoBoPi: “One liang, five qian.”

Guo DaLu: “Alright, I will redeem it for him right now.”

HuoBoPi: “Out of the question.”

Guo DaLu: “Even with money it’s out of the question?”

HuoBoPi: “You have money but you also need the pawn ticket. That is the policy when you run a pawnshop. Did you bring the pawn ticket along?”

Guo DaLu glanced over at Yan Qi again. Neither of them spoke, but they both felt that something was peculiar. What did HuoBoPi want to do by bringing Lin TaiPing’s clothes into the city? Though the material on the garment was quite good, it was already old and worn. Why was he hugging it so tightly, as if it was a treasure?

 Once the carriage pulled into the city, HuoBoPi announced, “We are in the area. You can get off the carriage.”

Yan Qi: “You do not want us to stroll around with you?”

HuoBoPi: “It is not necessary now. ‘One’s own biological son is not as good as the coin by one’s hand.’ If you can save one, then you should do so.”

Yan Qi: “What if we were willing to do it for free?”

HuoBoPi smirked, “Even more out of the question if it is free. The only business transactions that are reliable are the ones that are completed in cash. Things that are free always come with some trouble.”

Exhaling a sigh, Yan Qi said, “Well then, let’s get off the carriage.”

HuoBoPi: “My apologies for not seeing you out.”

Yan Qi and Guo DaLu had just gotten off the coach when he closed the door with a “bang!” Guo DaLu watched as the carriage drove forward. He gave a sigh also and remarked, “That man is such a sly old scoundrel. I really cannot see through to what cunning scheme he may have.”

Yan Qi murmured to him, “He leaked out something a moment ago. He said that we are not the ones he was looking for. Did you hear that?”

Guo DaLu nodded.

Yan Qi: “Could it be that he was only looking for Lin TaiPing, that we were just along for the ride?”

Guo DaLu: “What would he want with Lin TaiPing?”

Yan Qi: “I have always had a feeling that Lin TaiPing also has a secret.”

Guo DaLu mumbled to himself for a while. Unexpectedly, he speculated, “Do you think he might actually be a girl dressed up as a man?”

Yan Qi threw a glare at him and snapped, “I think you have listened to too many stories. Such novel things do not occur in the real world.”

Guo DaLu did not reply.

When the carriage turned onto another street, at the same time, they both quickened their steps and chased after it. They still were not willing to give up. The carriage stopped in front of the doorway of a large inn. The fact that someone like HuoBoPi was willing to splurge and stay in such an inn was yet again another strange event.

Fortunately, the sky had grown dark already. Winter nights always arrive especially early. They circled to the back of the inn. With a flip, they brushed over the wall and were inside.

No one has bad luck forever. This time, their luck seemed to be particularly good. They had just descended onto a treetop when they saw HuoBoPi crossing the rear courtyard towards the row of rooms in the wing and enter into one of them.

It was still very cold. Not even the shadow of a person was seen in the courtyard.

They swept down off the tree. In three or five up and downs, they had already jumped onto the roof of that row of rooms. They both suddenly realized that each other’s lightness kung fu was quite good. It was as if they both were born with the makings to do things like this. Each of them made a note to himself: in the future, he would have to ask the other how he had trained to get such lightness kung fu. It seemed that these two had changed; for some reason, they wanted to know each other’s secrets.

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Icicles had formed on the eaves of this roof also. Needless to say, the windows were tightly shut. Luckily, a fire was burning inside the house, and so a small skylight was open to allow air in. Looking in from this opening, they could just clearly see everything that was happening inside.

In the room, aside from HuoBoPi, were two other people, their attire splendid and their manner haughty. The expressions on their faces were dark, as if all the people in the world owed them money and had not paid them back yet. In one glance, Yan Qi could tell that, not only were the martial arts of these two not weak at all, they were actually experienced people of jianghu. On the face of one of them was a long knife scar, making him seem even more daunting. The other man may not have had a scar on his face, but one of his arms had been chopped off. His empty sleeve was tucked into his waistband. A curved saber was also inserted slantingly into the waistband.

It was not often that such a saber was seen in jianghu. A man who could still wield that saber with only one arm was obviously very skilled. In addition, were he not someone who frequently went through life and death situations, he would not have sustained such a serious injury. To be one who frequently faced life and death and, yet, still be able to live to this day and to also carry such a proud manner meant that he was not one to be provoked. Guo DaLu could not figure out why HuoBoPi would do business with people like these.

HuoBoPi had unwrapped the bundle, pulled out Lin TaiPing’s garment, and presented it on the table in front of the two men. A self-satisfied expression was on his face, like he was offering up a treasure. What sort of treasure could Lin TaiPing’s worn garment be?

The large man with the knife scar picked up the article of clothing and looked over it carefully. He passed it to the one-armed man. As the man turned it over, Guo DaLu noticed that there seemed to be something embroidered on the lining of one of the corners, but he could not tell whether it was words or flowers that had been stitched. The one-armed man also turned the corner over to look. He slowly nodded his head and affirmed, “This is right. It is his garment.”

HuoBoPi smiled at them. “Of course it is not wrong. I have always been one who was reliable when it comes to business matters.”

The one-armed man asked, “Where is he now?”

HuoBoPi did not answer but instead, stretched out his hand.

One-armed man: “You want it now?”

Grinning, HuoBoPi replied, “Anyone who runs a pawnshop will only complete his business transactions when the actual goods are present. I am certain you two sirs know that as well.”

The one-armed man said coldly, “Fine. Give it to him.”

At once, the man with the scar reached down and lifted up a cloth bundle. He placed it onto the table with a “thump.” A very heavy cloth bundle. “There is only one thing that could make HuoBoPi willing to bring out five hundred liang: something that will make him five thousand liang.” Evidently, Yan Qi’s words had not been wrong. There was at least five thousand liang inside that cloth bundle.

Guo DaLu threw a glance over at Yan Qi. He finally understood. These two men must be looking for Lin TaiPing and, in fact, very urgently such that they were willing to offer up five thousand liang of silver as a reward. HuoBoPi had known about this a long time ago, but only when he saw the garment did he realize that Lin TaiPing was the person they were looking for. Therefore, he had wanted Lin TaiPing to accompany him to the city so that he could present him directly to these two men. If he could personally deliver the person they wanted to them, the reward would naturally be even greater.

But what had Lin TaiPing done that made it worthwhile for people to spend so much money in order to find him?

The instant HuoBoPi saw the money, he suddenly became extremely lovable, his smile so wide that his eyes could not be seen.

The man with the knife scar asked, “Now can you tell us where he is?”

Regardless of what Lin TaiPing had done, if he wanted to hide from these two men, then they could not be allowed to find him. Guo DaLu was ready to rush in through the window. But right then, the smile on HuoBoPi’s face froze.

His eyes stared straight at the doorway; his mouth was gaping open, yet unable to speak. The look on his face was like someone had suddenly stuffed his mouth full of mud. Guo DaLu's eyes followed the direction of his gaze. He immediately became stunned as well. No one knew when, but someone had entered the doorway.

She was merely a very ordinary old woman. There was nothing shocking about her. But even in Guo DaLu’s dreams, he would not have thought that he would see her here at this moment, this place. It was only a while ago that he had seen her standing in front of the door of Li Yuan Pawnshop carrying a bucket of garbage. And then, they had ridden a horse drawn carriage here without stopping along the way. How did this old woman get here? Could she have flown?

When HuoBoPi saw who it was, he looked as if he had seen a ghost. He rasped, “You… what are you doing here?”

In the old woman’s hands was a covered bowl. She walked into the room extremely slowly. Shaking her head and sighing, she chided, “It is time for you to take your medication. Why do you always forget? I came here specially to bring it to you. Hurry and drink it.”

As HuoBoPi took the bowl from her, all that was heard was the “ge ge” rattling sound of the lid against the bowl. His hands were shaking, and he had also broken into a cold sweat.

There was still not a trace of expression on the face of the one-armed man or the man with the knife scar. All the while, they had been watching the old woman with a cold stare. Then at that moment, they suddenly struck together, two dark beams of light flying towards that covered bowl.

Their attack had not been slow, but as those two dark beams reached the woman, they unexpectedly disappeared. The old woman, though, unmistakably had not moved. The expression on the knife-scarred man’s face shifted slightly. The one-armed man’s face, though, was still blank as he smiled icily and said, “I did not realize that you were a fighter of high skill. Good, very good.”

The old woman was gave a surprising laugh. “Not good, not good at all.”

One-armed man: “What is not good?”

Old woman: “What is good? Now that you have encountered me, you will have bad luck. What could be good about that?”

The one-armed man suddenly jumped to his feet and stood up straight. In a sharp tone, he cried, “Who are you really? How dare you meddle in our business?”

Old woman: “Who cares about your business? Your business is not worth my time to manage. Even if you invited me to take care of it or got on your knees and begged me, I would not bother.” Old women have a tendency to go on and on when they talk.

One-armed man: “Then what are you here to do?”

Old woman: “I came here to tell him to take his medicine. Hurry and take it. After you have had your medicine, you should go sleep.” With a look of anguish on his face, HuoBoPi pinched his nose and swallowed the medicine. The old woman praised, “Good. Now go back and sleep.” As if she was towing a little child, she dragged HuoBoPi towards the door.

All of a sudden, there was a flash of saber light. The one-armed man soared into the air. A curved saber that shone like snow came chopping down right at her head. The saber skills of someone who could strike while in mid-air certainly could not be weak.

But there was only a single flash of saber light before it disappeared. A curved saber that shone like snow had suddenly broken into two pieces. “Dong.” It fell to the ground next to the one-armed man.

For some reason, he was now kneeling on the ground in front of the old woman, his forehead covered in beads of sweat. He looked as if he wanted to stand, but using his entire body’s strength, he still could not rise to his feet.

Heaving a sigh, the old woman nagged, “I had already said earlier, even if you were on your knees begging me, I would not concern myself with your business. This person did not actually listen. Could it be that his ears are even deafer than mine?” She hobbled outside, all the while prattling on with her words. HuoBoPi followed obediently behind her, not daring to even exhale a slightly bigger breath.

With a head also coated in sweat, the man with the knife scar spoke up, “Qianbei [* (in respect) elder; older generation], please wait a moment.”

Old woman: “Wait for what now? Would you like to kowtow to me as well?”

The knife-scarred man answered, “Since qianbei you have already stretched forward a hand and intervened in this situation, I do not have much I can say. I only hope that, qianbei, you would leave a name or title so that when I return to my master, I have something to report to him.”

Old woman: “You are asking for my name?”

He replied, “I respectfully request it.”

Old woman: “You are still not worthy to know my name. And even if I told you, you would not know it.” She added unexpectedly, “But you can go back and tell that master of yours that an old friend advises him, the young child really deserves compassion. It would be best if your master does not drive him too hard, otherwise other people may frown upon his actions.” She shuffled slowly out the door.

The knife-scarred man immediately chased after her to the door. He seemed to have more that he wanted to ask. But outside the door, there was not even a shadow. The old woman and HuoBoPi had suddenly disappeared.

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This old woman who cooked and cleaned was actually an elite skill fighter. Her martial art was so powerful that it was inconceivable to others, even in their dreams. It was understandable now why, that day, after Golden Lion and GunZi had searched the pawnshop, their attitudes had been so respectful when they left. If they had not had to suffer mutely at her hands, then they must have recognized who she was. At last, Guo DaLu and Yan Qi understood. However, there was something that puzzled them even more.

The two of them exchanged a glance, then at the same time, soared backwards. Behind them was a large tree. There were no leaves on that tree, only snow that had collected on it. Yan Qi could only crouch in the fork of its branches. Guo DaLu, though, sat his buttocks down right onto it before immediately jumping back to his feet like he had been stabbed by a knife. The snow was as cold as a knife.

Yan Qi sighed at him and shook his head. “Before you sit down, do you ever take a look to see what is beneath your butt?”

With a painful smile on his face, Guo DaLu admitted, “I did not pay attention. I was thinking about something.” The branch was very wide. He squatted down next to Yan Qi. “I was thinking about that old woman. She evidently is amongst the uppermost fighters in wulin. Why would she work as a maidservant at HuoBoPi’s pawnshop?”

Yan Qi thought out loud, “Perhaps she is like Feng QiWu and wants to hide from the pursuit of others.”

Guo DaLu: “This reason, at first, seems to explain things sufficiently, but when you think over it carefully, there are many points that do not make sense.”

Yan Qi: “Oh?”

Guo DaLu: “The world is so big; there are many places that can be used as a hiding place where people cannot track you down. This is especially true for a powerful fighter like her. Why would she need to be someone’s servant, to listen to someone else’s orders and get pushed around?” He was shaking his head as he continued, “And even if she really wanted to be someone’s servant, she should at least find a person who is a little more decent and a place that is more presentable. Why would she choose HuoBoPi?”

Yan Qi: “You cannot figure it out?”

Guo DaLu: “I really cannot.”

Yan Qi: “If you cannot solve it, then of course other people will not be able to either.”

Guo DaLu chuckled, “If I cannot figure something out, then there are not many who can.”

Yan Qi: “Maybe what she wants is that people cannot figure her out?”

Guo DaLu: “But there are lots of other things that I haven’t been able to work out as well.”

Yan Qi: “Say it out for me to hear.”

Guo DaLu: “From observing her martial art, there are very few people in the world who are a match for her.”

Yan Qi sighed, “Her martial art truly is very strong. Not only have I never seen anyone with skills as powerful as hers, I have not even heard of it.”

Guo DaLu: “That is why I believe that she really has no need to fear other people, nor does she need to hide.”

Yan Qi: “Do not forget: ‘amongst the strong there is a hand that is stronger; there is always one mountain higher than the next.’ ”

Guo DaLu: “That’s just a saying that is so old its teeth are falling out.”

Yan Qi: “Sayings that are old enough for teeth to fall out usually are the ones that make the most sense. The older the saying, the more sense it has.”



End of Chapter 17

Last Updated ( Friday, 11 July 2008 11:30 )