Happy Heroes 24 Print
Friday, 11 July 2008 11:41

Chapter 23 – Hong NiangZi: Heart like a Serpent and Scorpion

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Everyone has a past; no one can avoid talking about their past in front of their good friends. Sometimes, it will be like telling a story. Most of these stories are not very captivating – listening to someone boast is not as interesting as doing the boasting yourself. But everything has its exceptions.

When Wang Dong spoke, everyone stared at him with wide eyes while they listened without even interrupting at all. The first person who opened his mouth to interrupt was, naturally, still Guo DaLu. He had, in fact, restrained himself for an awfully long time, but as he listened to this point, he could no longer contain himself. He first exhaled out a long breath before finally asking, “Where did that elderly gentleman wait for you?”


Wang Dong: “In the grove behind the graveyard.”

Guo DaLu: “You went every day?”

Wang Dong: “Regardless of wind or rain, there was not a day that I did not go.”

Guo DaLu: “In total, how many days did you go?”

Wang Dong: “Three years and four months.”

Guo DaLu blew out another lengthy breath of air. “Then that means you went over one thousand times.”

Wang Dong nodded.

Guo DaLu: “From what you said, if you did not learn fast enough, you would suffer a beating, and the beating would not be a light one.”

Wang Dong: “In the first year, I rarely had instances where I did not get a thrashing.”

Guo DaLu: “If you were beat everyday, why did you still go?”

Wang Dong: “Because at the time, I thought that type of experience was very mysterious and moreover, was fresh and thrilling.”

Guo DaLu pondered over that, then beamed as agreed, “If that was me in your place, I would have gone too.”

Lin TaiPing could not help asking, “You never asked the elderly gentleman for his name?”

Wang Dong: “I asked several hundred times.”

Lin TaiPing: “Did you know where he had come from?”

Shaking his head, Wang Dong replied, “Every time, by the time I arrived, he was already there.”

Lin TaiPing: “Why didn’t you go earlier?”

Wang Dong: “No matter how early I went, he was still there first.”

Guo DaLu raised an eyebrow. “Why did you not follow him and see where he went back to?”

With a wry smile on his face, Wang Dong told him, “Of course I tried.”

Guo DaLu: “And the result?”

Wang Dong: “The result was each time, I would get a brutal beating, and then I would return home obediently.”

Knitting his brow together, Guo DaLu muttered, “He waited everyday for you in that place and forced you to learn martial arts, but he would not let you know who he was.”

Wang Dong: “And what was even more bizarre was that he never once asked me who I was.”

Guo DaLu sighed, “Such a weird encounter is rare in this world. It seems only a weird person like you could have such weird encounters.”

“At the time you were planning to disassociate yourself from them, even Hong Niangzi did not know?” Yan Qi jumped in.

Wang Dong: “I never mentioned anything in front of anybody.”

Yan Qi: “But Hong NiangZi… wasn’t she quite nice to you?”

The expression on Wang Dong’s face grew even uglier than what it had been before. Finally, after a long time had passed, he stated in a cold voice, “She was quite nice to many people.”

Yan Qi realized he had asked the wrong thing and immediately changed the subject. “Later, how did you leave them?”

In a detached tone, Wang Dong answered, “One time, they were planning on stealing the manuals that are stored in Shaolin Temple, and they told me to go first to survey the situation there. I seized that opportunity to sneak away.”

Exhaling a long breath, Yan Qi said disbelievingly, “These people would actually dare scheme against Shaolin. They have nerve.”

Guo DaLu: “After you escaped, they never found you?”

Wang Dong: “No.” He suddenly rose to his feet and walked over to the window. The night was very dark, very cold. He stood there by the window, lost in thought for a long time, before finally carrying on, “After I returned here, I rarely went out.”

Guo DaLu: “Did you suddenly change and become someone who did not want to move?”

Wang Dong: “I truly did change, and I changed very quickly, changed a lot…” His voice was hoarse and filled with grief as he continued, “Because it was only when I came back that I found out, two years after I had left, my mother…” He did not finish. His hands were clenched tightly into a pair of fists, and his entire body was trembling. He could not continue what he was saying. This time, even Guo DaLu did not ask; he neither had the heart to ask, nor did he have the need to ask. They all realized what had befallen Wang Dong and understood what he felt in his heart. What had happened when he finally returned, hoping to repay his parents’ kindness and love for him and do as a filial son should?

Lin TaiPing’s head was lowered; his eyes seemed to be brimming with tears. Guo DaLu’s heart was aching and his eyes were a little red. Now he finally knew why Wang Dong had become so poor, so lazy, and so strange: because his heart was filled with sorrow and remorse. He was punishing himself. If you had to say that he was running away, then what he was running away from was certainly not Hong Niangzi or Scarlet Serpent or any other person. He was running away from himself. As Guo DaLu recalled the first time he saw him lying there on the bed in the dark, allowing the mice to crawl all over his body, he could not hold back his long sigh. Unless a person has completely lost his will to fight, even if he could withstand hunger, he still would not endure the mice. That night, if Guo DaLu had not muddle-headedly barged in and muddle-headedly become his friend, would Wang Dong still be alive this day? Guo DaLu did not dare to even contemplate this question.

At last, Wang Dong turned his head back towards them and said slowly, “It has been nearly three years since I came back. In these three years, they must have been searching for me nonstop.”

Forcing a smile onto his face, Guo DaLu remarked, “Of course it would be difficult for them to find you. Who would have ever thought that ‘Flies, Soaring into the Sky’ King of Eagles would stay in such a place and live such a life?”

Wang Dong: “But I knew all along that, sooner or later, there would be a day when they found me.”

Yan Qi blinked at him. “It has been so long already. Why will they not let it drop?”

Guo DaLu: “Have you calculated it out yourself? Do you owe them? Or do they owe you?”

For a long time, Wang Dong was silent. “There are some accounts that will never be worked out clearly,” he finally said.

Yan Qi: “Why?”

Wang Dong: “Because everyone has their own way of calculating and every method is different.” His expression grew even grimmer as he carried on in a deliberate tone, “To them, there is only one way to settle this all out.”

Yan Qi: “Which way?”

Wang Dong: “You should know which one it is.”

Yan Qi did not say anything. He did know. Some accounts could only be settled with blood. A little blood was not enough. Large amounts of blood were required. Blood from you alone would not be sufficient; it needed blood from many people. Yan Qi gazed at the wounds on Guo DaLu’s body. After a long time, he said regretfully, “It seems that this account is getting harder and harder to work out. I wonder when it will finally be completely settled.”

Wang Dong sighed, “Rest assured; we will not have to wait for very long because…” He closed his mouth suddenly. Everyone’s mouths had closed; even their breathing had paused. This was because they had all heard the sound of footsteps. The footsteps were very light and were walking unhurriedly across the snow-covered courtyard.

“Who is coming?”

“Could it be that the time has come to settle the debts?”

 

Lin TaiPing struggled to pull himself up and rush out the door but then stopped. Guo DaLu pointed at the window; Yan Qi shook his head in reply. There was only one set of footsteps. Right then, this individual was slowly walking up the stone steps to their door. All of a sudden, from outside, someone knocked. This person was actually audacious enough to openly and regally knock on the door. It was something they had never expected.

At last, Wang Dong asked, “Who is it?”

Outside, someone chimed lightly, “Me.”

Wang Dong: “Who are you?”

The person outside suddenly laughed, the sound of her laughter like bells, but much more melodiously clear and enchanting than bells. “You do not even recognize the sound of my voice. You really are a little heartless one.” The visitor was a woman – a woman whose voice was very pleasant to listen to and who seemed to still be very young.

From Wang Dong’s expression, they could deduce who this woman was. Wang Dong’s face was white as paper. Yan Qi patted him lightly on the shoulder and pointed first at the door, then at the back of the room, meaning, “If you do not want to see her, you can go to the back and take cover. I will take care of her for you.” Wang Dong certainly understood his intent, but he shook his head. He understood his own plight much better than anyone else. He had already retreated to the last step possible. It meant that he could retreat no further and moreover, he did not want to retreat.



“Why have you not come to open the door yet?”

None of the others had ever seen Hong NiangZi in person, but anyone who heard her voice could imagine how enchanting a woman she was.

“Is it because there is another woman in the room and you are afraid I will see her? You should know that I do not like to drink vinegar [* get jealous] like you do.”

Abruptly, in large steps, Wang Dong strode over, then stopped again. “The door is not locked,” he said in a low voice.

With a light push, the door had opened. A person stood outside the doorway as she welcomed the lamplight that shone out from the room. All the light seemed to converge on her; all their eyes, of course, were focused on her. She seemed to radiate a glow from her body – a glow that was so red it dazzled the eyes, so red it could make the heart beat faster.



Naturally, the garments Hong NiangZi [Red Lady] wore on her body were red, but the glow did not seem to come from her clothing. As a matter of fact, besides her clothes, every part of her body seemed to glow, especially her eyes and her dimples. Each one of them felt that her eyes were on him, that she was smiling right at him. If a smile really had the magical power to bring down a city wall, it undoubtedly would be the same type of smile as hers.

Yan Qi shifted his body unintentionally, or perhaps intentionally, so that it obstructed Guo DaLu’s view. No matter what, if he could prevent his friend from seeing this woman’s captivating smile, then it would be the best thing to do. Shouldn’t every person make sure his friends have distanced themselves from sin?

Her gaze floated over them. Unexpectedly, she exclaimed, “Why must you men all have that d*mn, frigging look…?”

This was the first sentence she said. At this point, she paused a moment, as if she was deliberately allowing the words, “d*mn frigging” to leave a slightly deeper impression on these men’s minds. She seemed to know that the men in this house enjoyed using those words and also liked hearing them. From her lips, though, these words seemed to carry a particular feel.

In that moment that she had paused, there was someone who could not restrain his curiosity. “What look do we men have?” The voice had come from behind Yan Qi. Yan Qi could block Guo DaLu’s eyes, but he could not obstruct his ears, nor could he stuff up his mouth.

Hong NiangZi: “Why is it that every time you see a woman, it is as if you have seen a ghost, and you do not even dare to let out a fart?” She wrinkled her nose, and the smile that Yan Qi did not want Guo DaLu to see appeared on her face. Softly, she added, “There should at least be one person amongst you who will invite me inside first.” In reality, she had not even finished this comment before she was already inside the room. Every person there knew who she was and what she was there to do. Seeing her walk in should have made them enraged and tense.

However, Yan Qi suddenly sensed that as Guo DaLu and Lin TaiPing looked at her, not only did their eyes not contain any hatred or nervousness, they in fact seemed to carry a smile. Even Yan Qi, himself, was wavering slightly and was a bit uncertain. In his mind, Hong NiangZi should not be someone like this. Ever since she had said “d*mn, frigging,” the atmosphere inside the room seemed to have shifted and people’s impression of her had completely changed. A devilish seductress who was venomous like a snake and scorpion should not speak in such a manner. Only now did Yan Qi discover that her arms were carrying a food basket.

She plopped the basket heavily onto the table and removed her hands lightly before letting out a little breath. “A woman just carried such a heavy basket and walked for half a shi chen [1 shi chen = 2 hours] just to bring something to all of you. Her arms are so tired they could snap. Do all of you not even have a little bit of gratitude toward her?”

Wang Dong’s voice was icy as he stated, “No one asked you to bring anything here. In fact, nobody wants you here.”

It was only then that Hong NiangZi glanced at him from the corner of her eye. She seemed to be angry, yet not really angry, smiling, yet not really smiling. Gnawing on her lip, she addressed him, “Let me ask you: are these people your friends?”

Wang Dong: “Yes.”

With a faint sigh, she said, “You can watch your friends suffer from hunger, but I cannot.”

Wang Dong: “Whether they are suffering from hunger or not does not concern you.”

Hong NiangZi: “Why should it not concern me? Your friends are also my friends. As their dasao [eldest brother’s wife], how can I just watch as my brothers endure hunger?”

Yan Qi could not help butting in, “Who is Dasao?”

Hong NiangZi giggled, “You are all Wang Laoda’s good friends. How could you not know who Wang Dasao is?”

Lifting up the cloth that was covering the basket, she said charmingly, “Today Dasao is treating. You do not need to be polite. If you do not eat, then you are just pointlessly not eating.”

Yan Qi: “And if we eat?”

“Then you are pointlessly eating,” she laughed in reply.

Yan Qi looked at her. The expression on his face was like he had just been slapped.

After a long while, she turned to face Wang Dong. “Do all of you believe that the stuff I brought has been poisoned?”

Wang Dong: “Yes.”

Hong NiangZi: “And I not only want to poison other people, I also want to poison you?”

Wang Dong: “Yes.”

Hong NiangZi’s eyes grew red. Whipping her head around suddenly, she grabbed a chicken drumstick from out of the basket. Her voice was hoarse as she demanded, “If that is so, the chicken drumstick must have poison inside?”

Wang Dong: “Very likely.”

Hong NiangZi: “Fine… fine…” She took a bite out of the drumstick and swallowed. Snatching up a pitcher of wine, she challenged, “Inside the wine, is there also poison?”

Wang Dong: “Also very likely.”

Hong NiangZi: “Fine.” She took a drink of the wine as well. Basically, she consumed one mouthful of anything that was in the basket before she lifted her head and, with wide eyes, challenged Wang Dong, “Now what do you think?”

Wang Dong did not even think before answering instantly, “Still the same as before.”

Hong NiangZi: “You still think they are poisoned?”

Wang Dong: “Yes.”

Her tears were about to spill over, but she forced herself to hold them back. A long time went by until she nodded her head slowly and said dejectedly, “I know what you are thinking.”

Wang Dong: “You should have known long ago.”

Hong NiangZi: “You believe I had taken the antidote first before I came?”

Wang Dong: “Hmph.”

Her voice was anguished. “All along, you have believed that I am a woman whose heart is more venomous than a serpent or scorpion, and you still think that the reason I have been kind to you is only because I want to use you.” As her words reached this point, she, at last, could not stop her tears from flowing.

As they listened to this point, their lips did not say anything, but Guo DaLu and Lin TaiPing’s hearts, which had already been softened long ago, were starting to feel that the way Wang Dong was treating her really was rather unreasonable. No matter what, in the past, they had once had feelings for another. If it had been Guo DaLu in his place, he may have already taken her into his arms by now.

But there still was not even a trace of expression on Wang Dong’s face. This man’s heart practically seemed to be forged of iron.

They watched as Hong NiangZi took every item she had pulled out and slowly placed them one at a time back into the basket again. Biting her lip, she told Wang Dong, “Fine. If you think they are poisoned, I will take them and leave.”

Wang Dong: “It would be best if you hurried up and took them away.”

Hong NiangZi’s body was quivering, and with a tremble her voice, she said, “If you believe that all along, I have always acted with bad intentions toward you, then I will never come here to see you again.”

Wang Dong: “You never should have come in the first place.”

Hong NiangZi: “I… I only want to ask you one thing…” She suddenly rushed right up in front of Wang Dong, and demanded in a hoarse voice, “Let me ask you: ever since you met me, did I ever do a single thing that has wronged you?”

Wang Dong suddenly could not speak.

Hong NiangZi had clenched her hands tightly into fists, but she still could not stop her entire body from shaking as she rasped, “It is true; I really am not a good person. I really have brought harm to many men. But what I feel for you… When did I ever harm you? Tell me. Tell me.”

“There is nothing for us to say to each other now,” Wang Dong responded, his tone cold.

She was silent for a long while, then slowly nodded her head once again as she sadly said, “Fine. I’ll leave. I’ll leave… You can rest assured. This time, after I leave, I will never come back again to find you.” She turned around deliberately, picked up her basket, then walked out slowly.

Guo DaLu stared at the outline of her lonely and fragile back, watched her gradually head towards that cold and dark courtyard… The wind was blowing very hard in the courtyard, swirling up the flakes of snow that had accumulated. In the blink of an eye, the wind had scattered those flakes, blown them away completely. Would she also be like the snow, blown apart in the blink of an eye, completely blown away? Guo DaLu felt an aching in his heart. His only wish was that Wang Dong’s heart would soften and would allow this poor woman to stay. But Wang Dong’s heart seemed to be cast of iron. He watched with open eyes as she walked outside, not a trace of emotion on his face. Guo DaLu stared as she crossed over the threshold, nearly unable to bear it and wanting to ask for Wang Dong for her to stay.

All of a sudden, Hong NiangZi’s body twitched, like she had been whipped unexpectedly. Then, she collapsed. The instant she hit the ground, her four limbs had already convulsed together. That pale face had turned a dark purple color, her eyes had rolled backwards, and her mouth was spewing out white foam. The foam had traces of blood inside.

Yan Qi’s face transformed rapidly as he exclaimed, “The food she brought really was poisoned.”

Guo DaLu rushed in to point out, “But she, herself, definitely did not know; otherwise, why would she be poisoned too?”

But Wang Dong still stood there like a stone statue, not moving at all, as if he did not even see any of this.

Even Yan Qi was slightly anxious and he could not help blurting out, “Wang Laoda, no matter what, you should first go take a look at her…”

Wang Dong: “Look at what?”

Yan Qi: “Look and see what type of poison she has ingested. Can she still be saved?”

Wang Dong: “Not worth looking at.”

Unable to contain himself, Guo DaLu yelled, “What is wrong with you? How can you not even have a bit of humanity in you?” If Yan Qi had not been holding him down, he would have been trying to pull himself up already.

They watched as Hong NiangZi continued to convulse and gasp incessantly, but she still was calling out continuously, “Wang Dong…. Wang Dong…”

At last, Wang Dong could not help himself and let out a lengthy sigh. “I am here.”

Hong NiangZi was struggling to stretch out her hand. “You… come here… please…”

Gritting his teeth together, Wang Dong answered, “If you have anything you would like to say, I am here listening.”

Hong NiangZi: “I did not know… truly did not know that stuff was poisoned. I really did not come here to harm you… you… you must believe me.”

Wang Dong had not yet replied before Guo DaLu could not restrain himself from loudly shouting, “I believe you. We all believe you.”

She gave a sorrowful smile. “Scarlet Serpent and the others think that you have wronged them. Even though they want to come kill you, I… I never had that idea.” Her knees were drawn to her chest. Her clothes were already soaked with cold sweat and she struggled to continue, “I may not be a good woman, but to you, I have always been true and sincere. As long as you understand my feelings, even if I… I should die, I will do so willingly…” After finishing the last sentence, she seemed to have used up the last of her strength so that she could not even struggle.

Guo DaLu was clenching his teeth as he demanded, “If you heard that, why are you still standing there not moving?”

Wang Dong: “How should I be moving?”

Guo DaLu: “She has become this way all because of you. Can you not think of a way to save her?”

Wang Dong: “How do you think I should save her?”

Lin TaiPing suddenly interrupted, “If you could neutralize the venom from the weapons that struck Xiao Guo, you should be able to neutralize her poison.”

Shaking his head, Wang Dong replied slowly, “That was different, completely different.”

Guo DaLu: “What is different?”

Wang Dong suddenly was silent again. Although, with difficulty, he was keeping control of himself, his eyes seemed to show the light of tears. Those were not just tears of sorrow but also seemed to be tears filled with rage. His fingers were trembling.

Yan Qi mulled, “If even Wang Laoda cannot cure her of the poison, then there is only one person in the world who can.”

Guo DaLu: “Who?”

Yan Qi: “Scarlet Serpent.”

Guo DaLu: “That’s right. We should go demand the antidote from Scarlet Serpent.”

Yan Qi heaved a sigh. “I am afraid that will be very hard to do.” Demanding the antidote from Scarlet Serpent was basically as difficult as making a tiger skin his own coat off. Naturally, Guo DaLu understood this idea.

The sound of Hong NiangZi’s gasping was gradually growing weaker, but she still continued to call out Wang Dong’s name faintly. “Wang Dong…. Wang Dong….”

Guo DaLu was heartbroken as he listened to the sound of her voice get quieter and quieter. Unable to hold himself back again, he yelled, “If none of you can save her and you are not willing to get the antidote from Scarlet Serpent, then are you just going watch like this as she dies in front of you? Are you all even human?”

Sighing another time, Yan Qi asked him, “Then what do you think we should do?”

Guo DaLu: “Even Scarlet Serpent would not just watch as she dies from poison. You guys…”

The whole time, Lin TaiPing had been sitting there staring off into the distance, but now, he cut in and declared loudly. “That is right. Scarlet Serpent will definitely not just watch as she dies, so we should first take her back.” Although this plan was not a good one, it could be considered the only plan out of no possible plans.

With knit brows, Yan Qi stated, “The question is, who will bring her back?”

Guo DaLu: “Hmph.” Though he did not say anything, he was staring at Wang Dong from the corner of his eye. Of course it should be Wang Dong who took her back. If he even had a tiny bit of conscience left, he should not just watch as she died there.

But Wang Dong did not show any trace of reaction, as if he did not understand what they were saying, or as if he was an idiot. Naturally, Wang Dong was not an idiot. He was pretending to be stupid.

Once again, Guo DaLu could not control himself and hollered out, “Fine. None of you are going to take her back; I will take her back.” Using the most strength he had ever used in his life, he jumped to his feet. Yan Qi immediately wrapped his arms tightly around him.

Wang Dong turned his head to look at them. His eyes were filled with sorrow and pity. Nobody knew what he was actually thinking in his heart. After a long time, he finally stomped his foot and announced, “Alright. I will bring her back.” He turned his head back and was going to pick up Hong NiangZi.

All of a sudden, like an arrow, Lin TaiPing dashed over and forcefully ran into him, knocking him back seven or eight feet so that he fell into the corner of the wall. In that instant, Lin TaiPing had already picked up Hong NiangZi. The look on Wang Dong’s face changed rapidly and he cried, “What are you trying to do?”

Lin TaiPing cut off his words. “Only I can bring her back. Yan Qi needs to take care of Xiao Guo. You are a nail in her eye. If you go, they will not let you off so easily.” His lips were still speaking as he walked outside.

Wang Dong leapt to his feet and rushed over toward him, shouting loudly, “Hurry and put her down. Hurry…”

Amidst the shouting, Lin TaiPing suddenly cried out in alarm. That Hong NiangZi, who had been gasping her last breath, all of a sudden shot up from his arms like a poisonous serpent. With a somersault in midair, she had flown out three zhang [3 zhang = 10 ft], and in the blink of an eye, she had faded into the darkness. All they heard was her chime-like laughter resonating back from a distance. “B**stard surnamed Wang! You watch the dying but you refuse to rescue. You truly have a callous heart. You are not a good person.” When she spoke this last sentence, she was already far away. All that was left was that laughter, clearer than the sound from silver bells and more pleasing to the ear, floating on the wind.

Such a cold wind.

Silver bells that could absorb the soul.

Lin TaiPing was crumpled on the snow-covered ground. On his chest, there was now a dark spot of blood.

No one moved. No one spoke. Even the last traces of that sweet laughter were blown away by the cold wind.

They did not know how much time had passed before Wang Dong finally walked over slowly and picked up Lin TaiPing. His expression was colder than the wind, darker than the night.

Guo DaLu’s tears were falling. Yan Qi was looking at him and his face was covered with tears also. In a gentle voice, he comforted, “Do not be grieved. This cannot be blamed on you.” Things were still fine before he said this, but once he said it, how could Guo DaLu hold it back? How could he bear it? He all of a sudden broke down and started weeping like a child.

Another unknown amount of time passed until Wang Dong slowly lifted his head. “He is not dead yet.”

Yan Qi was stunned and thrilled at the same time as he blurted out, “He can still be saved?”

Wang Dong nodded.

Yan Qi: “What must be done in order to save him?” Once he said this, the expression on his face changed again. This was because he suddenly comprehended. There was only one method in the entire world that could save Lin TaiPing – the most terrible method. He gazed at Wang Dong, unable to control the fear from showing in his eyes, because he knew what Wang Dong was thinking.

Wang Dong certainly knew what Yan Qi was thinking. His face, surprisingly, was very calm as he said without emotion, “You should know what has to be done to save him.”

Yan Qi shook his head forcefully. “That method will not work.”

Wang Dong: “It will.”

Yan Qi’s voice was loud. “Absolutely will not.”

Wang Dong: “Even if it will not work, it still has to work because we are in a position where we have no other choice.”

Yan Qi suddenly collapsed, falling into a chair. He seemed unable to carry on.

Guo DaLu was staring at them with wide eyes, his face still streaked with tears. He could not help asking, “Which method are you two talking about?”

No one answered him; no one even opened their mouths.

Guo DaLu asked in angst, “Why won’t you tell me?”

Yan Qi breathed a light sigh. “Even if you know, it is no use,” he answered.

Guo DaLu: “Why would there be no use? If I had not come up with some stupid idea, Lin TaiPing would not be like this now. I am in more anguish than anyone else, and more anxious to save him than anyone else.”

In a cold voice, Wang Dong said, “You are only able to save one person right now.”

Guo DaLu: “Who?”

Wang Dong: “Yourself.”

“The injuries you sustained were not light,” Yan Qi told him gently. “If you let your mind wander to foolish thoughts, I am afraid you will not even be able to preserve your own life.”

Guo DaLu glared at them. He suddenly asked, “Were the weapons that struck me poisoned?”

Yan Qi: “Uh huh.”

Guo DaLu: “Who saved me?”

Yan Qi: “Wang Laoda.”

Guo DaLu: “Since Wang Laoda was able to cure my poison, why can he not cure Lin TaiPing’s?” Yan Qi refused to open his mouth to answer. Guo DaLu continued to press, “The poison on their projectile weapons should be of the same type, right?”

Yan Qi was quiet for another long period of time. At last, he exhaled a lengthy sigh. “Why must you ask until everything is so clear?”

Guo DaLu snapped back loudly, “Why can I not ask until things are clear? If you guys do not tell me, I will… I will…” He smacked the bedcovers fiercely, so angry that he could not speak.

With clenched teeth, Yan Qi relented, “Alright. I will tell you. The venom that was used to poison you and Lin TaiPing is truly one that belongs solely to Scarlet Serpent, and so, only his special antidote can cure it.”

Guo DaLu: “But Wang Laoda…”

Yan Qi: “When Wang Laoda was planning on separating himself from them, he secretly hid away some of Scarlet Serpent’s special antidote in preparation for any eventuality.”

Guo DaLu: “Where is the antidote?”

Speaking each word deliberately, Yan Qi replied, “It was completely used up while saving you.”



“Completely used up?” Guo DaLu exclaimed.

Yan Qi: “Not even a bit was left.” Gnawing on his lip, he continued, “That antidote was supposed to be used to save himself, but he used it all to save you. I had originally thought that he had kept some, but he was worried that your poisoning was too severe and the antidote portion was not enough, so…” As he reached this point, his eyes grew red and he could speak no further. Only he knew this because at the time, Lin TaiPing had been standing guard outside.

Guo DaLu’s hands were balled up into two fists. Beads of sweat the size of soy beans were dripping over his face. After a long while, he finally muttered, “I am the one who harmed Lin TaiPing. The only bit of antidote that could save him was used up by me. I really have my ways; I am so amazing.”

Yan Qi stated sadly, “This is something nobody could have thought of. You did not ask us to…”

His voice raspy, Guo Dalu interrupted, “That is right. I did not ask you to save me. You guys insisted on doing it that way. But why did you never think about the fact that this way, I will not be able to continue living with an unburdened heart?”

Wang Dong’s face hardened. “You have no choice but to continue living. Since I have already saved you, even if you want to die, you will not be permitted to.”

Guo DaLu: “But Lin TaiPing…”

In a quiet voice, Wang Dong cut him off, “You do not need to worry about him. If I can save you, then of course I have ways to save him.”

Guo DaLu grit his teeth together. “I now finally know what method you are going to use save him.”

Wang Dong: “Oh?”

Guo DaLu: “You are going to go ask Scarlet Serpent for the antidote, right?” With his jaw clenched tightly, he added, “You were not willing to go before only because you know Hong NiangZi too well. But now, for Lin TaiPing, even if you had to give your own life in exchange for the antidote, you would still insist on going.”

There was an indifferent smile on Wang Dong’s face as he responded, “Do you really think that ‘Flies, Soaring into the Sky’ King of Eagles is such a good person?”

Guo DaLu: “I do not know any King of Eagles. I only know Wang Dong, and I am also very aware of what sort of person Wang Dong is.”

Wang Dong: “Oh?”

The sparkle of tears could be seen in Guo DaLu’s eyes. “This person, Wang Dong’s face always appears to be cold and hard, but in reality, his heart is softer than tofu and hotter than fire.”

Wang Dong was silent. At last, he said softly, “Since you really understand me, then you should know that if I want to do something, nobody will be able to stop me.”

Guo DaLu: “You should know me very well too. When I want to do something, nobody can stop me either.”

Wang Dong: “What do you want to do?”

Guo DaLu: “Go get the antidote from Scarlet Serpent.”

The look on Yan Qi’s face changed and he protested, “How can you go?”

Guo DaLu: “I must go, and furthermore, only I can go.”

Yan Qi: “But your wounds…”

Guo DaLu: “It is because I am wounded that there is even more reason you should let me go.” He did not let anyone speak and carried on, “We only have two people left now. Two people to handle three of them is arduous enough already, so you guys must not get injured too. Otherwise, it will only be the road of death for all of us.”

Yan Qi: “These words are logical, but…”

Guo DaLu cut off what he was saying. “But we absolutely cannot watch as Lin TaiPing dies from the poison. Therefore, you really can only let me go, since I am hurt already and cannot help out in any way. In addition…” He chuckled lightly before continuing, “Scarlet Serpent and those others at least are still human beings. They would not strike a vicious blow to someone who does not even have the strength to defend himself.”

Wang Dong gave a cold smirk. “You think they will not kill you?”

Guo DaLu: “I think they likely will not.”

Wang Dong: “Do you understand them or do I?”

Guo DaLu: “You.”

Wang Dong: “Then I will tell you: there is only one type of person they will not kill.”

Guo DaLu: “What type?”

Wang Dong: “A dead person.”

Suddenly, the sound of laughter that was like silver bells was carried in on the wind. Yan Qi dashed out and saw a light yellow kite floating down slowly from the sky. The kite was a four-sided shape and drawn on it with a bright red brush were some curvy symbols. Now Yan Qi knew that this was not a kite, but rather, was a “life hastening” talisman that meant your funeral was coming shortly after you saw it. No one could read what was written on the talisman. Only someone who had been to hell before could understand it.

Wang Dong could understand it.

That light yellow kite was covered with bright red talisman charms. The red was like blood, like the fire in hell. Wang Dong stared intently at it. He could not stop a look of fear from showing within his cold gaze.

Yan Qi did not look at the kite; his gaze was fixated on Wang Dong’s eyes. Although he did not comprehend the meaning of those charms, he could comprehend that look in Wang Dong’s eyes. He could not help asking, “What is written on it?”

Wang Dong was quiet for a long time. He still had not given an answer, but instead, pushed open the window and stared out into the dim light of the night sky. The stars were gradually becoming sparse; the night was approaching its end. In the ashen light of the night, there was another kite slowly rising up.

Wang Dong breathed a slight sigh. “The sky will be bright soon.”

Yan Qi: “The sky will definitely be bright again.”

Wang Dong: “And I definitely must go.”

Yan Qi’s face went pale. “Why?”

Wang Dong: “Because if I am not able to hurry to the spot beneath that kite before daybreak, Lin TaiPing will die.”

********************

The sky was going to be light soon.

Dawn usually brought to people brightness, joy, and hope. But now, what it brought for Wang Dong and the others was only death.

“Before daybreak, if Wang Dong is not standing beneath the kite waiting, Lin TaiPing will die.” That was the meaning behind the symbols on the talisman. It was saying Wang Dong had no choice but to go, no choice but to die.

Guo DaLu cried out, “I told you already that only I can go. Nobody even think about trying to stop me.”

Wang Dong’s voice was distant. “Fine. You can go, but regardless of whether you go or not, I still must go.”

Guo DaLu: “Since I am going, why do you still need to go?”

Wang Dong: “Because the person they want is me, not you.”

Yan Qi rushed in to point out, “Even if you go, they may not give you the antidote. You should understand this even better than I do.”

Wang Dong: “I understand.”

Yan Qi: “This is just their ploy to ‘entice the soldier.’ It is only trap. They have undoubtedly set up an ambush there and are just waiting for you to bite the hook.”

Wang Dong: “I also understand this point more than you do.”

Yan Qi: “But you still insist on going?”

Wang Dong: “You want me to just watch as Lin TaiPing dies?”

Lin TaiPing’s breathing had grown weak already. His teeth were grit tightly and his face was starting to show an aura of death. Anyone could tell that he was not far away from death.

In a gloomy tone of voice, Yan Qi said, “We cannot watch him die, but we also cannot watch as you send yourself into death.”

Wang Dong’s smile was nonchalant as he asked, “How do you know for sure that I am sending myself to die? Maybe I will return very quickly with the antidote?”

Yan Qi gave him a fierce look. “Are you trying to deceive us or deceive yourself?”

Wang Dong finally heaved a sigh. “I know that the hope of being able to come back here is not a big one, but as long as there is even a bit of hope, I will go.”

Yan Qi: “What if there is not even a bit of hope?”

Wang Dong: “I will still go.” The way he said this sentence was resolute and decisive. There was no leeway for him turn back.

Yan Qi suddenly rose to his feet and declared loudly, “Alright, you go. I will go with you.”

Wang Dong nodded his head slowly. “Yes, you come too. Those who can go should go and leave those who are not able to move right here to wait for people to come slaughter them.”

Yan Qi could not speak.

“Then what is it you want us to do?” Guo DaLu blurted. Why don’t you just say it out clearly?”

Wang Dong: “I go alone; you guys bring Lin TaiPing down the mountain and wait for me.”

Guo DaLu: “And then?”

Wang Dong: “And then you think of a way to get a carriage. Regardless of whether you have to steal or rob, you must get ahold of one.”

Guo DaLu: “And then?”

Wang Dong: “And then you will sit inside the carriage and wait. If the sun sets and I still have not come to find you, then you will hurry and get out of this place.”

Guo DaLu: “And after we get out of here, where do we go?”

Wang Dong smiled; it was a rather dismal sort of smile. “The world is big; what places are there that you cannot go?”

Guo DaLu was nodding his head slowly now, too. “Yes. Good plan. You should get credit for thinking up such plan!”

Wang Dong: “It may not be a good plan, but it is the only plan we have.”

Guo DaLu: “Very nice. You are risking your life for Lin TaiPing, but you are allowing us to be like dogs and flee with our tails between our legs. You are a good friend, but you want us to be animals.”

Wang Dong’s face hardened. “Do you have some other idea?”

Guo DaLu: “I only have one.”

Wang Dong: “Say it.”

Guo DaLu: “If we live, then we will all live together happily. If we die, then we will also die together cheerfully.”

Guo DaLu was Guo DaLu. He was not Wang Dong, nor was he Yan Qi. Perhaps he did not have Wang Dong’s calm and composure, and maybe he did not have Yan Qi’s resourcefulness and intelligence. But he was d*mn frigging frank, and he had d*mn frigging guts.

********************


When the wind blew, the cold, ash-colored fog rose up from remote areas. The ghost light had disappeared inside that fog.

Who said that there were no ghosts in this world? Who said?

Right at that very moment, floating in the fog, was that not a roving soul that even hell had refused to take in? Nobody could see his face clearly. That was because his face was also the color of cold ashes. He seemed to have become one with this dreary and hazy fog. His nose had melded into the mist; his lips had also melded into the mist. All that was left was that pair of eyes that looked like ghost lights. There was no light in those eyes, and you could not distinguish between white and dark parts of it, yet they were filled with a malicious quality, as if they were cursing every matter in the world, every person. No matter where the gaze of these eyes touched, that place seemed to immediately be tainted by an ominous fate. Right then, those eyes were slowly surveying all directions. Every secluded area, every flake of snow that had collected, he did not let a single one slip by his gaze.

And then, the faint trace of a smile was seen in his eyes. No one could ever imagine how vicious that smile actually was, how frightful.

At that moment, laughter like the chime of silver bells rang from within the fog – not silver bells, but bells that absorbed the soul. Hong NiangZi materialized from that dense fog like an apparition and, with a smile, said, “Everything is all ready?”

The wandering soul nodded his head slowly. “Unless he does not come. If he comes, he has no hope of going back alive.”

Hong NiangZi’s eyes were sparkling as she asked, “Do you think he will come?”

Wandering soul: “What do you say?”

She blinked at him. “Why must I be the one to say?”

Wandering soul: “You understand him better than I do.”

Smilingly, she walked over towards him and looked at him from the corner of her eye. “Are you sipping vinegar [jealous]?”

Wandering soul: “Hmph!”

Hong NiangZi: “Do you really think I am interested in him?”

That malicious look in his eyes grew even stronger as he spat, “When he was around, you never even spent one day with me.”

Hong NiangZi: “Have you already forgotten who told me to do it?”

The wandering soul did not answer.

Hong NiangZi’s smile was chilly as she reminded, “In order to win him over, you told me to go sleep with him, but now, you are turning around and blaming me. Do you have a conscience?”

Wandering soul: “No.”

HongNiangZi giggled, “I never thought that, once in a while, you would speak the truth.”

Wandering soul: “And you?”

Hong NiangZi: “In front of you, all my words are true.”

Wandering soul: “If I did not tell you to go sleep with him, would you not have done it?”

Hong NiangZi: “I still would have.”

Wandering soul: “Why?”

In a captivating voice, she stated, “Because I am fond of sleeping with men.”

Through clenched teeth, he questioned, “What type of men do you like to sleep with?”

Hong NiangZi: “Besides you, I like any type of men.” That malicious look in his eyes had transformed into one of pain, but his eyes unexpectedly lit up. As Hong NiangZi looked into his eyes, she asked him, “Are you done with your questions?”

Suddenly, he seized her by the hair and, with a backhand swipe, slapped her hard across the face while he rasped, “You cheap b**ch.”

Hong NiangZi was neither frightened nor angry but rather, smiled even more sweetly. “I have always been a cheap b**ch, but you are even cheaper than me.” The wandering soul slapped her again. Her smile did not cease. “You not only like it when I go sleep with other men, you also like to ask me and ask me everyday. I have lost track of the number of times you have asked me these same words.” Without allowing him to speak, she continued, “It is because you like those words. You like being tortured by me. Only in times that I am torturing you are you a human and are you happy.”

With a low growl in his throat, the wandering soul pulled her roughly towards him.

Hong Niang Zi chortled, “You want to again…?”

All of a sudden, they heard someone coldly cut her off, “Now is not the time for flirtatious and teasing banter.” That voice was so cold it was like ice. That was because it was coming from beneath the accumulated snow.

“It turns out he is already inside the snow,” Hong NiangZi laughed. A face suddenly emerged from the snow – a face even more frightening than that of a corpse. Hong NiangZi addressed the face, “How is it down there?”

Scarlet Serpent replied, “Very nice and cool.”

Hong NiangZi giggled, “It is rather difficult to find a place in this world that is more pleasantly cool than there.”

Scarlet Serpent: “Did you want to burrow in here and have a sleep with me too?”

Hong NiangZi: “As long as you wait patiently inside there, I will come in sooner or later.”

The wandering soul gave a chilly laugh as he said, “Too bad he has no appetite for you.”

Scarlet Serpent glanced up at the sky, then pointed out quickly, “The time is getting late. You should hurry up and die.”

Wandering soul: “Do you think he may not come?”

Hong NiangZi: “He will.”

Wandering soul hurriedly asked, “Why is that?”

Hong NiangZi: “Because besides you, he is treats all his friends quite well.”

The wandering soul lifted his head to look at the sky also. The dawn sky had already turned white. It was time for all the lonely souls and drifting ghosts of the world to go back. “I am going to die now.”

Hong NiangZi: “Hurry up and go die then.”

Walking slowly over towards the front of a neglected grave, the wandering soul took out a porcelain bottle and placed it on the burial mound. And then, he suddenly disappeared into the grave.

Hong NiangZi breathed out a very long sigh and murmured, “If he would stay in there forever, that would be so nice.”

Scarlet Serpent: “Why?”

She lowered her head and gazed at him, her eyes teary and her voice gentle. “Is it not nice that there is only the two of us here?”

Scarlet Serpent’s response was cold: “That will have to wait until all the other women in the world are dead before we talk about it.”

She tore over to him, spat into his face, and sputtered hatefully, “Are you human?”

With a wicked smile, he answered, “No.” Then, before he had finished, that face had already disappeared back into the snow.

Hong NiangZi was still for a while, like she had matters troubling her heart. After much time had passed, her body flew up into the sky and immediately faded away into the fog.

When the wind blew by, that dense fog that was the color of cold ashes seemed to make the earth grow hazy. The heavens and the earth were all ash-colored. Desolate. Cold snow. There was no one; there was not even a ghost. All that remained was a single kite drifting slowly downward. Not a kite – it was the talisman charm of the life-hastening ghost.

The kite was down. The heavens were covered in grayish-white; nothing could be seen.

WangDong was strolling unhurriedly down the road. His face still did not carry a trace of emotion on it. Even if there was fear in his heart, it would never show on his face. No matter who it may be, if a person experienced the pain and torment that he had experienced, then that person would also learn how to store his emotions in his heart – all sorts of feelings would get stored. Feelings, though, are like wine. The deeper and longer you store them, the stronger and more intense they will become

Right now, he was alone. Naturally, his friends had not come along. Did they desert him, or was he able to convince them? No one knew. No one was able to tell from the look on his face. But everyone knew that ‘there is no banquet in the world that will not come to an end.’ Regardless of how good friends you may be, sooner or later, there will be a time when you will have to part your ways. In life, gatherings are impermanent and ever-changing. Whether it be coming together or moving apart, why should you take it to heart?

The sky was hazy, but at least there was now light. And though he was walking slowly, at least he had reached his destination. Life is like this also; many things are like this. Why should you be so rushed?

The wind was still very cold, cold like a blade slicing into his face. He walked slowly through that desolate graveyard, silently counting the number of tombstones. Some of them were toppled over; some had been eroded away by the wind and snow so that the characters on them were no longer discernible. Who lay inside these graves? There was no longer anyone who cared. When they were alive, did they not also have their own times of glory and shame, joy and sorrow? Yet now, they had nothing. So then, why should you always place thoughts of life and death, honor and shame on your mind?

Wang Dong gave a faint sigh, but then, his footsteps suddenly ceased. It was because he could hear the sound of Hong NiangZi’s laughter.

With her silver bell-like laughter, she chimed, “I had known that you would come, and now you have come.”

Wang Dong: “I have come.” He had spotted her already, standing beneath a snow-covered, leafless tree, still dressed in bright red garments, almost like the first time he had laid eyes on her. But time that has slipped away will not come back, and happiness and sorrows that have passed will fade from memory – even if they are not yet forgotten, sooner or later, they will fade.

Hong NiangZi stood in that place staring at him. In her eyes, was that anger? Resentment? Love? Hate? At last, she smiled. “You really did come for the purpose of getting the antidote for Lin TaiPing?”

Wang Dong: “Yes.”

She was biting her lip. “For me, you were not willing to come?”

Wang Dong: “Not willing.”

The sound of her laughter was very sorrowful. “Why is it that you always treat other friends better than you treat me?”

Wang Dong: “Because you are not my friend.”

Hong NiangZi: “I am not your friend? Could it be that you have forgotten how happy we were when we were together in the past?”

Wang Dong: “I have forgotten.”

Hong NiangZi shook her head at him. “No matter how firm the words you speak from your lips may be, I know that your heart has not forgotten in the least.” Her eyes were misty as she gently carried on, “Do you still remember? There was one day where we lay on the summit of Mount Hua with the white clouds as our blankets and the earth as our bed, and it seemed that we were the only two people left in the space between heaven and earth.” Her voice grew even more enchanting, more soft and tender. “And then, there was another time where we were lying together in that large boundless desert, counting the stars in the sky, until the two of us were buried beneath the sand… Are you able to forget these things?”

Wang Dong did not speak anymore. No one would ever be able to forget those things. Was he really able to forget? As he faced the first lover he had ever had in his life, was his heart really able to stay as calm as his face was?

Hong NiangZi stared intently at him, her eyes showing the reflection of tears. “I will never be able to forget any of these things. That is why I hate you; I hate you for not saying a single word to me before you left. I hate you so much I want you to die. But…” Her head lowered. “So long as you are willing to change your mind and heart, so long as you are willing to say one sentence, I will leave with you right now. Even if it is to the ends of the earth, I will still follow you."

Wang Dong suddenly yelled, “I am not going anywhere.” His voice was loud, as if he was trying to wake himself up from a dream.

She bit down on her own lip again as she asked, “If you will not go anywhere, then why did you come here?”

“I was forced,” he replied in his cold tone.

“Aside from this, there was no other reason?”

Wang Dong: “No.”

Hong NiangZi: “You did not want to come see me?”

Wang Dong: “No.”

Hong NiangZi’s suddenly became an ugly shade of blue, like a blue scorpion. The tenderness and sweet look in her eyes had disappeared. Stamping her foot forcefully, she announced, “Fine. The antidote is back there. Go get it yourself.” Wang Dong turned his head and saw the porcelain bottle on the grave. “This time, we were willing to give the antidote to you only because we still think of you as our friend. You had best take it and then hurry up and leave.”

There was still no expression on Wang Dong’s face. Regardless of what she said, he did not believe a single word. He knew that they definitely would not give him the antidote so easily. But he still walked over. He had no choice but to take that antidote. If that bottle was in water, then he would jump into the water. If that bottle was in a blazing fire, he would jump into the fire.

The snow was cold and soft. Wang Dong had only taken six or seven steps before he was able to reach his hand out and take ahold of the antidote. He reached out his hand. The bottle was very cold, like a corpse’s hand. He picked up the bottle. His hand was colder than the bottle. This was because he could already feel the breath of death.

A pair of hands suddenly stretched out from within the grave, sealing the “Huantiao” acupoint on his knee. At the same time, another pair of hands emerged from the snow and, with a wave, fired two cold points like stars into his ankles. He fell to his knees, kneeling in front of the grave. And only then did he see that there was a hole in the grave. That grave was actually fake; it was empty.

Hong NiangZi’s chime-like laughter rang out again. Her smile was sweet as she stated, “Now, there really is no need for you to go anywhere…”

********************

Wang Dong knelt in front of the grave, his face still expressionless, but his complexion was now frighteningly pale. He understood these people very well and understood their schemes. He was waiting, waiting for them to execute their schemes.

At last, a voice was heard coming out from the grave: “You have lost.” He knew this was Cui MingFu’s voice. Regardless of where Cui MingFu was speaking from, his voice always sounded as if he was inside a grave.

“I have lost.” He could only admit defeat.

Cui MingFu sneered, “This time, you have no chance of recovering your losses.”

Wang Dong: “I don’t.”

Cui MingFu: “Do you know what you have lost?”

Wang Dong: “I only have my life to lose.”

Cui MingFu: “You have something else.”

Wang Dong: “What else do you want?”

Cui MingFu: “You should know. When hands reach out from a coffin, what are they asking for?”

Wang Dong: “Money?”

Cui MingFu: “Correct. I want money.”

Wang Dong: “If money is what you want, then you have gone to the wrong person.”

Cui MingFu: “I never go to the wrong person.”

Wang Dong: “I should be the one asking for money. I should have a claim in that shared ‘account.’ ”

Cui MingFu: “Of course you have your share, but you should not have pocketed the other four portions yourself.”

Wang Dong did not speak, but the look on his face suddenly grew very strange.

Cui MingFu: “In those few years, our income was not bad.”

Wang Dong: “Not bad at all.”

Cui MingFu: “Is it true that only the five of us knew how much our income actually was?”

Wang Dong: “Yes.”

Cui MingFu: “And is it also true that only the five of us knew how much of it we had actually saved and where we had hid it?”

Wang Dong: “Yes.”

Cui MingFu: “Was there a sixth person?”

Wang Dong: “No.”

Cui MingFu: “And whoever took that sum of money, regardless of who it was, would have enough to comfortably enjoy his lifetime?”

Wang Dong: “Even the most wasteful person would have enough.”

Cui MingFu: “But it was only after you left that we realized the only person who would be enjoying anything was you.”

*******************

Wang Dong: “You believe I took the sum of money with me?”

Cui MingFu: “Not a single cent is left of that money. Who do you think took it away?”

Wang Dong released a lengthy breath. “I now finally know for what reason you are here.”

Cui MingFu’s smile was chilly. “I had known long ago for what reason you had left. That sum of money was enough to make any person doublecross his friends.”

Wang Dong suddenly started laughing.

Cui MingFu: “Do you think we are very funny? Think we are a bunch of idiots?”

Wang Dong: “I am the idiot. Anyone who gets that sum of money would not choose to live the way I have been living unless he is an idiot.”

Cui MingFu: “What kind of life are you living?”

Wang Dong: “A life of poverty.”

Hong NiangZi: “Poverty?” She suddenly jumped up and, with her silver bell-like laugh, asked, “How poor are you?”

Wang Dong: “Very poor.”

Hong NiangZi: “We heard that in a single night, someone had lost tens of thousands of liang of silver at Kui Yuan Guan in Xiancheng. Who was this person?”

Wang Dong: “Me.”

Hong NiangZi: “We also heard that someone bought several hundred liang of silver worth of wine from Yan Mao Yuan Wine Shop at the foot of the mountain. Who was that?”

Wang Dong: “Me.”

Hong NiangZi: “There was also someone who recently put in all new furniture in his manor. Even the chairs in the small house at the back are made from sandalwood and are at least worth seven hundred liang of silver. Who was that?”

Wang Dong: “That cannot really be counted.”

Hong NiangZi: “We have already inquired about. Even though this place is called ‘Wealthy Manor,’ aside from the name, there is nothing else that has been wealthy about it since the previous generation.”

Wang Dong: “That is correct.”

Hong NiangZi: “And in these years, you have not gone out and done any business?”

Wang Dong answered nonchalantly, “If a person can stay at home and live comfortably, why would he go out?”

Hong NiangZi: “Money certainly cannot fall from the sky.”

Wang Dong: “But it can be dug up from the ground.”

In a charming voice, Hong NiangZi said, “I did not think you would admit to it so quickly.”

Wang Dong: “Could I not admit to it?”

Hong NiangZi: “No.”

Wang Dong: “So, since the answer is no, why wouldn’t I admit it?” He gave a smile, but that smile was very forced. “If all of you wanted to investigate someone’s background, you would dig up information on three generations of his ancestors. If you want someone to tell you something, even a mute would have no choice but to speak. I should at least understand this point better than anyone else.”

“That’s why there is no need for you to try and leave,” Cui MingFu coldly told him.

Wang Dong sighed, “Sadly, many people frequently will still do things that they should not be doing.”

Cui MingFu: “Fine. Let’s leave.”

Wang Dong: “Leave? To go where?”

Cui MingFu: “To get back our three shares.”

Wang Dong: “Fine. You guys go ahead and get it.”

Cui MingFu: “Where do we go to get it?”

Wang Dong: “Go wherever it pleases you.”

Cui MingFu: “If you do not tell us, how would we know where the money is hidden?”

Wang Dong: “Why should I tell you? I never said anything.”

“You still will not admit it?” Cui MingFu roared.

Her smile was icy and uncaring as Hong NiangZi asked him, “Do you want money or your life?”

Wang Dong: “When I know I can continue living, of course I would want my life. If I cannot live, then I can only take the money.”

Cui MingFu: “What must be done in order for you to tell us?”

Wang Dong: “If you promise to give me back my life, I will give you back your money.”

Cui MingFu was quiet for a time, but suddenly agreed, “Fine. I will give you your life back.”

Wang Dong: “One life in exchange for one share of the money.”

Cui MingFu: “How many lives do you have?”

Wang Dong: “Mine is one, Guo DaLu is one, Lin TaiPing is one, and Yan Qi is one. Four lives; four shares of money.”

Cui MingFu: “One life, four shares of money.”

Wang Dong: “That will not work.”

Cui MingFu: “Even if it will not work, you must make it work. You are alive and moving, but money is inanimate. Do you think that we would be worried about not finding the money if we were able to find you?”

Wang Dong also became silent for a long while. At last, he said slowly, “Alright. Then first return the life.”

Cui MingFu: “Whose life would you like us to return?”

Wang Dong: “Which person are you asking to return the money?”

Hong NiangZi started laughing loudly as she spoke, “I knew all along that he at least can be considered an intelligent person. At least he knows that no other person’s life is worth as much money as his own.”

Cui MingFu: “We will first neutralize your poison but will not unseal your acupoint.”

Wang Dong: “If my acupoint is not unsealed, you can still take my life at any time.”

Cui MingFu: “My promise to spare your life is enough.”

Hong NiangZi chortled, “Yes. Being alive is always better than being dead. You should think on the bright side.”

Wang Dong was silent for another little while before finally exhaling a long sigh. “It seems I have no other path to take.”

His voice icy, Cui MingFu told him, “The instant you took that money, you had set yourself on a path to ruin.”

Wang Dong: “Someone who has had their ‘Huantiao’ acupoint sealed is not able to walk down any path.”

With an alluring smile, Hong NiangZi purred, “If you cannot walk, then I will carry you on my back. Don’t forget you used to always be on top of me.”

Cui MingFu interrupted in a cold tone, “You walk with me.”

Hong NiangZi blinked her eyes at him. “Then who will carry him?”

Someone suddenly burrowed out like a snake from the snow. “Me.”

Wang Dong leaned against Scarlet Serpent’s back. Scarlet Serpent’s body felt lithe, damp, and cold as ice.

The fog had nearly dissipated, yet the sky was still dark and overcast. The sun could night be seen; brightness could not be seen. There was no brightness because there was no hope.

Scarlet Serpent spoke unexpectedly, “This is the road back to your home.”

Wang Dong: “I just hope that it is not the road back to my ‘old home’ [lao jia; place of origin; to go back to ‘lao jia’ means to die].”

Scarlet Serpent: “Did you hide the money in your house?”

Wang Dong: “If it were you, where would you hide it?”

Scarlet Serpent: “Of course it would be in a place that is within easy reach. Money is like women: it is best to keep it somewhere where you can easily reach over and touch it.”

Laughing, Wang Dong complimented, “I never knew you understood women too.”

Scarlet Serpent: “It is because I understand them that I do not want any.”

Wang Dong: “You only want money?”

Scarlet Serpent: “Money is better than women. Money will never deceive you. Nothing in the world is more faithful and true than it.”

Wang Dong: “That is why money can be put in the guest hall, but women cannot.”

Scarlet Serpent: “The money is in the guest hall?”

Wang Dong: “What place is more spacious and conspicuous in a person’s house than the guest hall?”

Scarlet Serpent nodded his head in agreement. “True. The more conspicuous a place is, the less people will pay attention to it.”



Cui MingFu was always one who was unwilling to walk in front of other people. There truly are people like that in this world. The number of times he had underhandedly attacked someone from behind was too many to count, and so, he never allowed others to walk behind him. He stuck very close to Hong NiangZi, like he was her shadow. In fact, Hong NiangZi could actually feel his icy breath – a breath that carried in it the odour of a rotting corpse. The look on her face was rather unsightly, but Cui MingFu could not see her face. He could only see her neck, and he was gazing upon it right then with an expression of admiration because that pale, smooth neck had developed goosebumps on it from the caress of his breath.

Hong NiangZi, though, was staring at Wang Dong, who was walking in front of her, and all of a sudden asked, “Do you think he really will take us to the money?”

Cui MingFu: “He has no other choice.”

Hong NiangZi: “But I sense something is not right.”

Cui MingFu: “What is not right?”

Hong NiangZi: “He is not such an easy person to handle, nor should he be one who is so scared of dying.”

A cold smirk touched Cui MingFu’s lips as he stated, “He can be whatever person he wants. It does not matter anymore.”

Hong NiangZi: “Why?”

Cui MingFu: “Because he is now a dead person.”

Hong NiangZi: “Dead person?”

Cui MingFu: “Did you really think I would let him keep his life?”

“Of course I knew you wouldn’t,” Hong NiangZi said in her enchanting way, “but, at the moment, he still is not dead.”

Cui MingFu clarified, “He may not be totally dead, but he is more than halfway there.”

Hong NiangZi: “He still has friends.”

Cui MingFu: “One is on the brink of death and the other two are as good as dead. Any one of us is enough to take care of the two of them. What are you worrying about?”

She gave a little giggle. “I’m not worried. I just feel it is a pity.”

Cui MingFu: “What is a pity?”

Hong NiangZi: “It is a pity that I did not get to sleep with those three youngsters.”

All of a sudden, Cui MingFu sunk his teeth into her neck, like a mad dog biting a female dog.

The sky was gloomily dim, causing the guest hall to be quite dark. The windows were open. From outside, two shadows could be faintly seen inside. “Who is in there?” Scarlet Serpent demanded.

In a casual tone, Wang Dong responded, “It seems that lately, your eyes are not very good.” Scarlet Serpent’s vision had always been poor. Anyone who had spent his entire life immersed in different sorts of poisons would have poor vision. However, a person with even worse vision would still only need to look a little longer before being able to determine that those were only two straw men – straw men clothed in hemp and mourning apparel. Wang Dong gave an unexpected laugh. “If you have not seen clearly yet, then I might as well tell you: if I die, they will be my filial sons; if you die, I’m afraid you, too, will only have them as your filial sons.”

Scarlet Serpent: “Having filial sons like those is better than having a prodigal son.”

Wang Dong: “And that is why you would rather have no children and grandchildren?”

Scarlet Serpent: “It is even better when you do not have a single friend.”

Hong NiangZi suddenly rushed towards them and demanded, “Where are your friends?” She was asking Wang Dong because nobody else there had friends.

Wang Dong: “They are waiting for me at the foot of the mountain.”

Hong NiangZi: “Why at the foot of the mountain?”

Wang Dong: “If you were them, under such circumstances, where would you go to wait for me?”

Scarlet Serpent interjected, “She would never wait for you in the first place.”



End of Chapter 23