LXF01-07 Print
Friday, 15 August 2008 21:40

Chapter 7 - Master and Sect



Waxing moonlight. Dawn's still more than 6 hours away.

Lu XiaoFeng had already return to the inn he was staying at and ordered a table of fine wine and food.

"No matter what," he laughed, "I can at least still eat and drink all I want one more time."

"You should get some sleep." Hua ManLou adviced.

"If you were going to duel with someone like Huo TianQing at sunrise, could you sleep?"

"No, I couldn't."

"You know what's the best thing about you?" Lu XiaoFeng laughed. "You never ever lie. Shame that sometimes you sound like such a liar when you tell the truth."

"I wouldn't be able to sleep, but only because I wouldn't understand him at all!"

"He really is quite an enigmatic man."

"How long have you known him?"

"About 4 years. Four years ago when Yan TieShan went to TaiShan to watch the sunrise, he went along as well. Athief and I just happened to set that date and place to meet up at the top of TaiShan to see who could do more somersaults."

"How well do you know him?"

"Not much."

"You said that despite his young age, he has great seniority!"

"Have you ever heard of Heaven Pine, Cloud Crane, the Two Elders of ShangShan?"

"The Two Elders of ShangShan has long been considered the North Star of the martial world. Even if I was deaf, I would have heard of his name."

"Well, I heard that he is their little martial brother."

Hua ManLou's expression changed visibly.

"If the 2 of them were alive today, they would probably be around 70 or 80 years of age. Huo TianQing is at most not yet 30. How could there be such a huge gap in the age of martial brothers?"

"There have been husband and wives who were 40 or 50 years apart in age, much less martial brothers...."

"So that's why even a man who has been famous for 40 years like Shan XiYan could only be his martial nephew."

"That's right."

"Back then Heaven Hunter Elder was famous throughout the world, but he only took the Two Elders of ShangShan as his disciples. How did a Huo TianQing suddenly come out of nowhere?"

"The Hua family only had 6 kids," Lu XiaoFeng smiled and shot back, "so how did you suddenly come out of nowhere?"

Parents have kids, masters take in disciples, this kind of thing just isn't anybody else's business.

But a look of concern had shown up on Hua ManLou's face.

"I have never met Shan XiYan before. But I know that his lightness kungfu and his palm technique are known as 2 of the wonders of the martial world. Don't know how well Huo TianQing compares to him."

"I have never seen Huo TianQing fight either. But seeing how he was able to pull off a skill like Swallow Thrice Stir Water while holding onto a heavy guy like Yan TieShan, I would say that there's not that many people in the world that is better than him."

"How about you?"

Lu XiaoFeng didn't answer. He never liked to answer those kinds of questions. In truth, other than himself, there probably isn't another person in the world that knows how good his kungfu really is.

But this time Hua ManLou seemed to be determined to find an answer and continued to ask.

"Are you positive that you can beat him?"

Lu XiaoFeng still did not answer. He merely poured another cup of wine and slowly drank it.

Hua ManLuo suddenly sighed. "You aren't positive. That's why you are careful not to drink too much wine."

Lu XiaoFeng usually didn't drink wine like this.

Ever since arriving here, Princess DanFeng actually turned very quiet. She had been sitting there and listening the entire time. Only now did she suddenly speak up: "You just said that you and a thief were doing somersaults at the top of TaiShan, who was the thief?"

"The King of Thieves!" Lu XiaoFeng let out a little laugh. "Stole everywhere and anywhere in the world and never found a match yet. But not only does his victims not get mad, they feel honored."

"Why?"

"Because there aren't that many people good enough for him to steal from. Besides, he never steals anything that's worth anything. He only steals because he bet against someone that he could."

Lu XiaoFeng laughed a bit at that comment and continued.

"One time, he bet someone that he could somehow steal the World's Greatest Miser, Cheng FuZhou's wife's toilet!"

Princess DanFeng couldn't help but let out a little peal of laughter at that.

"So what happened?"

"He won the bet."

"So why did you compete doing somersaults with him?"

"Because I know for a fact that I can't out steal him. And yet I really really wanted win from him those 50 jugs of wine that he had just won."

"That's right. Use your strength to attack their weakness. Why don't you do that against Huo TianQing?" Princess DanFeng observed. "You don't have to fight to the death with him."

Lu XiaoFeng sighed. "There are some people in the world that, no matter what kind of trick you try and pull on them, it won't work. XiMen ChuiXue is one of them, Huo TianQing is another."

"You think that he really wants to fight you to the death?"

"With the way Yan TieShan treated him, he has to somehow pay him back. He had decided long ago that he would gladly give his life to pay back this debt." Lu XiaoFeng's expression was dead serious.

"But you don't need to be just like him!"

Lu XiaoFeng smiled some, as if he didn't want to talk about this subject anymore. He stood up and slowly walked up to the window.

The window had been propped open from the very start. He suddenly realized that sometime ago an old man wearing a long robe had brought a stool outside and was sitting in the middle of the court yard smoking a pipe.

It was deep into the night, but the old man showed no sign of weariness. He just quietly sat there, as if he had intended to sit there until sun rise.

"The weather is turning a bit cold," Lu XiaoFeng suddenly smiled and spoke, "if you don't mind our company, then why not come in a have a couple of drinks with us and make the long night pass faster?"

But the old man did not respond one bit. It was as if he was deaf and did not even hear Lu XiaoFeng's words. All Lu XiaoFeng could do was keep smiling.

"It's not polite to refuse other people's good intentions!" Princess DanFeng, however, was less than thrilled and sneered.

She suddenly rushed to the window and, with a flick of her arm, sent the cup of wine in her hand hurling toward the old man. The flight of the cup was fast but steady, not a drop of wine inside the cup was spilled.

The old man suddenly let out a cold snicker, reached out, and caught the cup. He then poured the entire content of the cup onto the ground and actually began to eat the cup. Piece by piece, he swallowed the cup, which made all kinds of cracking sound inside his mouth.

Princess DanFeng was shocked by what she just saw.

"Is there something wrong with this old man?" She had to ask. "He does not drink wine, but eats wine cups?"

Lu XiaoFeng's eyes flickered in the moonlight.

"That may be because the wine was something I offered," he observed with a smile. "And the wine cup was not."

At this moment, a meat-bun vendor actually walked from outside into the court yard.

At this time of day, so deep into the night, does he really hope to get some business here?

"Hey, you!" Princess DanFeng blinked. "Are you selling those meat buns?"

"As long as you got money, of course!"

"How much?"

"Very cheap! Ten thousand taels of silver a piece, and not a tael less."

Princess DanFeng's face changed colors a bit. "Ok, then let me get 2 of these 10,000 taels of silver meat buns." She chortled. "Send them on over."

"'Kay!"

He had just took out two meat buns when a yellow dog jumped out from a corner of the wall and came charging at him, barking loudly.

"What? Could it be possible that you want to buy some of my meat buns like that girl over there?" The vendor stared at the dog. "Don't you know that these meat buns of mine were originally made for beating dogs?"

He really actually did start beating the dog with the meat buns. The dog immediately stopped barking and took a couple of bites out of the meat buns. Suddenly, the dog yelped and rolled on the ground, turning from a live dog to a dead dog.

Princess DanFeng's face changed complexion yet again. "There's poison inside the meat buns?!"

"Not only poison," the vendor casually smiled, "the meat itself is human meat."

"How dare you try and sale this kind of meat buns?" Princess DanFeng angrily demanded.

"I'm just doing my job," he rolled his eyes at her, "whether or not to buy it is up to you. I didn't force you to buy them."

Princess DanFeng's face almost turned yellow in anger. She could barely stop herself from rushing forth and slapping him several times.

But Lu XiaoFeng had quietly grabbed a hold of her hand. It was at this moment that they heard someone slowly sigh: "Such starlight such a night, for whom do the wind come through the open window?"

A dirty and filthy looking gentry, with his hand behind his back, had slowly wandered into the court yard.

He suddenly turned to the vendor and smiled.

"So how many did you kill today?"

"My meat buns can only kill dogs, not humans," the vendor rolled his eyes again. "Give them a try and you'll see."

He tossed a meat bun to the gentry, who actually immediately caught the bun and ate it.

"Looks like you are telling the truth," he said as he patted his stomach. "Not only that, these can cure illnesses too."

"What kind of illness?" A voice asked from outside the walls.

"Hunger!" The gentry replied.

"Oh I have got that. A very bad case of it too." The person outside replied. "Quick, give me a meat bun and cure it."

"'Kay!"

The vendor took out another meat bun and tossed it up toward the top of the wall. A beggar, who had suddenly appeared on top of the wall, opened his mouth and caught the meat bun with his teeth and swallowed it. The vendor's tosses were quick, this beggar was downing the meat buns just as quick. In a blink of an eye 7 or 8 meat buns had disappeared into the beggar's belly.

"Seems like that would cure that hunger of yours at last!" The gentry observed.

The beggar frowned.

"You guys tricked me, you can't die from poison from these meat buns, but you can die from over stuffing yourself with them!"

"Not a big deal!" Another person had shown up outside the walls. "Dying from stuffing yourself? From starvation? From anger at your wife? Don't worry, I got just the medicine."

A herb selling medicine man, carrying a medicine case and a small bell came slowly stumbling in. Turned out he was a cripple as well.

A quiet little court yard, as if some people had planned to party here, suddenly turned into a crowded and noisy mess. Soon a make-up selling merchant, a lumber jack, and a grocery seller joined as well.

Princess DanFeng's eyes were getting sore from all the staring she was doing. Even though she had never really had much real martial world experience, she had realized by now that these people were coming for them.

The strange part was that all these people were staying outside, crammed in the court yard, and did not seem the least bit interested in coming inside and troubling them.

"Do you think these people are here to avenge Yan TieShan?" She could not stop herself from quietly asking Lu XiaoFeng.

"How could Big Boss Yan have friends like these?" Lu XiaoFeng smiled and shook his head.

"They all seemed to know kungfu."

"A city has always been a place of crouching tigers and hidden dragons." Lu XiaoFeng observed. "As long as they do not bother trouble us, why go and trouble them and meddle in their business?"

"Since when did you become the kind of person that don't go meddle in other people's business?" Hua ManLou suddenly interrupted with a laugh.

Lu XiaoFeng shared in the joke. "Just now."

The night patrols's gong could be heard. Three rings, it was past midnight.

{Note: In ancient Chinese cities, there were night patrols who walked the streets beating a small gong that signaled the time. The night was divided into 5 equal sections, with the night patrol ringing the corresponding times. Hence, 3 rings signal midnight.}

The pipe-smoking old man suddenly stood up and yawned: "How come the person that invited us all here isn't here yet?"

Turned out that he was neither deaf nor mute.

Princess DanFeng was getting even more be fuddled. Who had invited these people here? And what for?

"He should be here very soon," the gentry observed.

"I'm going to go have a look see," the meat bun vendor offered.

His hand went into action again, tossing out meat buns from inside his basket. The scores of meat buns that he tossed out actually, one on top of another, landed in a stack that ended up more than 10 meters high.

With little effort, the meat bun vendor jumped on top of this stack of meat buns like a rooster at the top of a fence. He was steady as can be, not wavering the least bit in the wind.

Not only was his skill with his hands fast and precise, his lightness kungfu was top rate as well.

"Looks like walking the martial world really isn't easy at all," Princess DanFeng sighed and muttered under her breath. "Only now do I understand that."

"At least you understand now, that's always a good thing," Hua ManLou replied with a smile.

"In coming!" The vendor suddenly shouted.

That seemed to gave everyone a boost in energy. Even Princess DanFeng's heart was about to leap out of her throat. She had been find out what kind of person this person was.

But she could not help but be slightly disappointed when she saw him.

In young maidens' minds and imagination, if this person was not a suave and handsome young swordsman, he no doubt be at least an awe-inspiring and incredibly powerful hero of the martial world.

But the person that came turned out to be a bald old man with a thin and yellow complexion. He was wearing a gray and dusty rough textured piece of cloth that just barely covered his knee caps. On his feet he wore white clothed socks and gray shoes that were typical of an old farmer who had come in town to the market for the fair.

But his eyes shone. Radiant and powerful, they flickered in the moon light.

Weird thing was that everyone in the court yard was obviously waiting for him, but now that he had shown up, nobody went up to say anything to him, they only quietly made a little path for him.

This bald old man's eyes looked around for a moment before he suddenly began walking towards Lu XiaoFeng.

He didn't seem to be walking fast at all, but within 2 or 3 steps, he had stepped into the door.

The door had been open all along. He did not knock on the door, nor did he say anything. He just merely, and very casually, sat down opposite of Lu XiaoFeng, grabbed the jug of wine that was sitting on the floor, and sniffed the wine.

"Good wine."

"It is indeed very good wine," Lu XiaoFeng nodded.

"Split it half and half?"

"Sure."

The old man did not say another word. He merely lifted up the jug and began noisily chugging the wine.

In a flash half of the jug was gone and his yellow face had turned into a flushed red color, as if his entire being had been rejuvenated.

"Oh that was good," he said as he wiped his mouth with his sleeve.

Lu XiaoFeng did not reply. He just took a hold of the jug and chugged, not any slower than him, not any slower than anyone.

After the whole jug was finished, the bald old man suddenly burst out laughing. "Good stuff! Wine is good, company isn't too shabby either!"

"Only when the company isn't shabby is the wine good!" Lu XiaoFeng replied as he wiped his mouth.

"Haven't seen you in 3 years," the old man looked at him, "and you still haven't drank yourself to death?"

"Only the good die young, evil seed lives forever. I'm kind of worried about you. You are a good man."

"Who said I was a good man?" The old man shot a look at Lu XiaoFeng.

"Everyone in the martial world says that not only does Shan XiYan have balls, he is loyal too, that he is the best damn man in the world."

"You are an evil seed, and I'm a good man? Pretty damn interesting stuff," the old man laughed heartily.

Princess DanFeng stared at him, almost not believing her own very eyes.

She could have never imagined that this bald, dirty, cursing old man would be the famous hero whose twin iron palms shook the world, Shan XiYan.

No matter what, it's not an easy thing to be referred to as a "hero".

But this old man really just did not look a single bit like a "hero" at all. Could that possibly the secret to his success? Princess DanFeng could not figure it out. She suddenly realized that the things she could not figure out on her own seemed to be getting more and more numerous.

Shan XiYan's laughter had already stopped. With those shining eyes of his, he stared at Lu XiaoFeng: "You probably didn't think I was gonna come looking for you."

"No, I didn't," Lu XiaoFeng admitted.

"Actually, I had already known by the time you arrived in TaiYuan."

"Nothing unusual about that," Lu XiaoFeng smiled. "If even you didn't know that I was coming, then that would be quite unusual."

"But only now did I come to meet you!"

"You are a busy man."

"I'm not busy at at all. I didn't come, because you were a guest of my martial-uncle. Since there was no way I could compete in being the host with him, so I could only pretend not to know."

"I had thought that because I shaved off my mustache, even old friends didn't recognize me anymore!" Lu XiaoFeng laughed.

Shan XiYan laughed heartily at the joke. "I had always thought that mustache of yours was annoying as hell to look at!"

"I don't care if you found them annoying, some people didn't find them annoying." Lu XiaoFeng casually shot back.

Shan XiYan's laughter stopped again: "Huo TianQing is my martial-uncle, there are many people out there that don't believe it. But you should know better."

"I know."

"That old pipe smoking weirdo is Fan Eh. Do you know him?"

"Could he be the famous Mr. Fan Da whom, by himself, took down Flying Fish Pound, the famouse Mr. Fan whose pipe is used to strike only a person's 36 major and 72 minor pressure points?"

"That's him."

"The Twin Aces of the Northwest refers to Fan and Jian. Then that dirty and filthy gentry over there is probably the sole progenitor of the 'Divine Finger Snap', the famous Mr. Jian Er?"

{Note: "Divine Finger Snap", or "Tan Zhi Sheng Tong" is one of the most famous kungfus in the works of Jin Yong, I thought it was very cool that Gu Long acknowledges his friends' works in this way.}

Shan XiYan nodded: "That poor beggar, the lumberjack, the meat bun vendor along with the grocery seller, that make-up powder merchant, plus the keeper of this little place and the fat guy who was greeting people at the front door; the 7 of them are sworn brothers. Some people call them the '7 Heroes of the City', other call them the '7 Comrades of the Northwest'."

"All these famous heroes and comrades must be in quite good spirit tonight to actually all gathered here in this little court yard to cool off," Lu XiaoFeng casually observed with a smile.

"You really don't know what they are doing here?"

"No idea."

"They are all from my sect. In terms of seniority, some of them are actually 2 generations under Huo TianQing."

"That man is rather lucky," Lu XiaoFeng broke out into another smile.

"Sixty years ago, our Founding Master established in the first rule of Heaven Hunter Sect that should always respect and obey our elders above all. That rule and seniority is never challenged nor questioned."

"Of course not."

"Founding Master dedicated his entire life to the study of martial arts. Only until his late years did he start a family."

"The master himself, Heaven Hunter, actually had a family?"

"Very few people in the pugilist world knew about this event. Founding Master was 77 when he finally had a son."

"And that son is none other than Huo TianQing?"

"Correct."

"I finally understand how in the world, despite his young age, he could have such seniority." Lu XiaoFeng sighed.

"It's also why the burden on his shoulders is so overbearing."

"Oh."

Shan XiYan suddenly changed his demeanor into one of extreme earnest: "Not only does he have to continue the Founding Master's lineage, he is also the only person who could make sure that the Heaven Hunter sect survive to the next generation. We all owe nothing short of our lives to our Founding Master. So we would gladly give up our lives in order to make sure that nothing would ever happen to him. I'm sure you understand our sentiments."

"Yes, I do."

Shan XiYan sighed deeply.

"That's why, if he happens to die due to some unfortunately circumstances tomorrow morning. The hundreds of disciples in our Heaven Hunter sect would not be able to go on living either."

"Why would he die?" Lu XiaoFeng frowned.

"If he loses to you, even if you don't kill him, he would not allow himself to continue living."

"I know what kind of person he is too. But he might not lose."

"Of course he might not."

"If he happens to beat me," Lu XiaoFeng casually observed, "then doesn't the hundreds of disciples of your Heaven Hunter sect gain huge face?"

"You are my friend. I don't want you to lose to him either and damage our friendship."

"You really are a good man."

Shan YanXi's face seemed a little redder.

"If you guys do fight, no matter which one of you win, the result will be too terrible to imagine," He sighed. "Martial-Uncle Huo was at least an acquaintance of yours before this, why go through with this?"

"Now I understand," Lu XiaoFeng smiled. "You want me to, before sunrise tomorrow, leave this place so he won't be able to find me."

Shan XiYan did not reply. Did not reply in admission.

"Now I understand," Princess DanFeng suddenly coldly interrupted. "You invited all these people here to force him to leave, this way Huo TianQing would win without even having to fight, or else you guys would fight him. It will soon be dawn, so even if he defeat all of you, he would not be in good shape to go up against Huo TianQing once dawn comes."

She stared at him and let out a cold laugh. "Not a bad idea really. Probably something only a hero like yourself could come up with."

Shan XiYan's face turned green, then pale before he suddenly burst out in laugher.

"So true! So true! But even though I, Shan XiYan, isn't much or a 'hero', I certainly won't do a thing like that!"

"So what kind of thing will you do?" Princess DanFeng asked. "If he refuses to leave, then what will you do?"

Shan XiYan suddenly stood up and walked out. The entire court yard, though filled with people, was completely silent. One by one, he looked everyone in the eye with his brilliant eyes.

"If he doesn't leave, then what will you do?" He suddenly asked.

The meat-buns vendor rolled his eyes and coldly replied: "Well isn't that obvious? If he doesn't leave, I'll leave."

Shan XiYan smiled again. But within this smile there seemed to be an indescribable sadness. "If you leave, I leave," he slowly nodded. "Everybody leave."

"If that's the case, then it wouldn't be a problem if I leave a bit early would it?" The vendor replied.

The flipped his hand over and suddenly, with knife that he had somehow pulled out, stabbed toward his own throat.

Not only was this move sure and steady, it was fast, very fast. But somebody was faster than him.

"Dang!" Sparks filled the court yard as the knife in his hand broke into 2 pieces. Something, along with the broken tip of the knife, fell harmlessly onto the ground.

It was one of Lu XiaoFeng's chopsticks.

The other one of the pair was still in his hand. The knife was made of steel, but the chopstick was made of ivory!

There probably isn't too many people that could use an ivory chopstick to break a steel knife.

Princess DanFeng suddenly realized why Shan XiYan did all of this. Huo TianQing can't beat Lu XiaoFeng, other people might not know, but Shan XiYan would know this better than anyone.

That meat-bun selling vendor stared at the piece of the knife that was still in his hand in shock. After a prolonged period, he suddenly stomped his foot on the ground and shouted at Lu XiaoFeng: "Why did you go and do that?"

"No reason really," Lu XiaoFeng smiled. "I just wanted to ask you a question."

"What question?"

"When did I say I wasn't going to leave?"

The vendor was speechless.

"Fighting is such a tiring and troublesome thing to do," Lu XiaoFeng lazily sighed. "Who would want to fight anyways? I much rather go and find some place to take a nap!"

The vendor stared at him, looking as if he was about to cry, but at the same time looking like he want to laugh.

"Good stuff, Lu XiaoFeng really is Lu XiaoFeng!" He suddenly shouted. "From this day forth, whenever you want me to do anything for you, if I even bat an eye, then I'll become your grandson."

"I don't want a grandson like you." Lu XiaoFeng laughed. "As long as you lower the price of your meat buns for me a little next time, I'll be satisfied."

He casually grabbed his big red cape that was hanging on the side of the bed and finished his cup of wine.

"So who wants to come with me to a little village outside of the city to eat Pot Face Zhao's stewed dog meat?"

"Me." Hua ManLou said with a smile.

Mr. Fan suddenly bang his pack of tobacco. "Me too."

"Well, if he's in then I'm in too," Mr. Jian commented.

"Count me in too!" The meat bun vendor shouted at the top of his lungs.

"You only sell those dog beating meat buns, and yet you still dare to go eat dog meat?" Mr. Jian observed with a laugh. "Aren't you afraid that those dogs might go and make trouble once they get inside your stomach?"

The vendor shot him an icy look. "Death doesn't even scare me, nevermind that!"

"Haha, well, you got balls!" Shan XiYan burst out laughing. "Let's all go and eat that damn dog meat. Anyone who doesn't go is a damn son of a turtle!"

Hua ManLuo smiled.

"Seems like it's still wroth it to do good," he slowly said.

"Once in a long while is no big deal," Lu XiaoFeng replied, "but I can't make a habit of this."

"Why not?" Hua ManLuo could not help but ask.

"Only the good die young, I'm sure you have heard of that saying before." Lu XiaoFeng said with a straight face.

Even though he put forth a straight face, his eyes were filled with tears.

Princess DanFeng looked at them for a bit before suddenly, and very gently, sighed and quietly said to herself: "Whoever says that it isn't worth it to do good is a damn son of a turtle."

______________________________

The dog meat was sold out. But they did not care.

They did not want really want any dog meat to begin with. What they wanted was that emotion that warms one's body even more than dog meat. Nothing in the world goes down with wine better than that emotion.

Not to mention that, upon the occasion of the rising of the sun, a person on horse back had chased them down and delievered a letter from Huo TianQing.

"Dawn will always come, what matter may it be that today's matters be settled morrow? Tomorrow comes, what matter may it be that tomorrow's matters be settled morrow's morrow?

"Others trouble me not, what for should I trouble others?

"Golden Roc business, could be settled whenever. Next time Princess visits, will be the day the wandering stops. Once the magnificent treasure lose luster, it becomes the yellow flowers of tomorrow and shines through the ages. Personal loyalty is but two words. TianQing bid farewell."

Just this one letter was like having a hundred cups of wine for 3 days straight, not to mention that heart warming emotion that even a rainstorm could not cool.

______________________________

The raging thunderstorm started around noon, by that time everyone was drunk. "Not leaving until intoxicated." It was because they were drunk that they had left.

Lu XiaoFeng was drunk but not quite, almost intoxicated but not really, not even he himself could figure out if he was really drunk or sober. He was doing nothing but standing by the window staring out into the raging thunderstorm.

Princess DanFeng looked at him for a while.

"If you didn't go, would all of those men all die there?" She suddenly asked.

Lu XiaoFeng was silent. Silent for a long time.

"Do you understand what the saying: 'some things must, some things must not' means?" He slowly replied.

"Of course I understand. It means that with somethings, if you believe it should not be done, then no matter what other people do to you, tease you, threaten you, even if they put a knife against you neck, you will not ever do it; but if you believe it should be done, then even if it means the loss of your life, you would do it."

Lu XiaoFeng nodded.

"That is exactly why someone would volunteer to swallow burning charcoal to save his comrades and why another would use an club weighing over 40 kilograms to kill a tyrant."

{Note: Lu XiaoFeng makes 2 historical allusions here. The latter of which was a famous assasination attempt on the life of Qing Shi Huang Di, the first Emperor of China that barely missed his carriage. It was masterminded by Xiang Liang, the uncle of the more famous Xiang Yu, who eventually brought the Qing dynasty to an end. The second one is from Feng Sheng Bang.}

"This is also why Huo TianQing would repay Yan TieShan with death," Princess DanFeng immediately followed, "and why Shan XiYan and those men would not bat an eye to use their life to protect Huo TianQing."

"No matter how they go about it, as long as they can live up to those 2 phrases, then they won't be betraying those 2 words: loyalty and trust."

"But in this world, how many people can really not betray those 2 words?"

Cup in hand, Hua ManLou was quietly murmuring: "Once the magnificent treasure lose luster, it becomes the yellow flowers of tomorrow and shines through the ages. Personal loyalty is but two words.... good show, good show Huo TianQing! I almost underestimated him."

He lifted the cup and happily downed the wine within, seems like he was a bit drunk as well.

"Really a shame about that Su ShaoYing, he was quite a boy as well. He shouldn't have died, shouldn't have died...."

His voice grew fainter and fainter. Putting his head down onto the table, he seemed to have fallen asleep.

Princess DanFeng quietly walked up to the window and gingerly took Lu XiaoFeng's hand in her hand.

"Are you still mad at me?" She asked in a tender voice.

"When did I get mad at you?"

Princess DanFeng gave a winsome smile and bow her head slightly coquettishly.

"Are you afraid to find the wrong person today?" She quietly asked.

Her breathing was gentle, her fingers felt like they were slightly quivering, and her hair carried with them a scent that was sweeter than fresh flowers.

Lu XiaoFeng might have been a gentleman, and might not have been, but he was definitely a man.

A man that was teetering on the brink of intoxication.

Outside the window, the down pour kept coming down, looking like sheet after sheets of dense bead curtains, cutting off the trail walking walkers and the walkers walking trails.

Inside the room was quiet and dark, as if it was dusk.

If one look inside a door that was open in the back of the room, one could see a newly made single bed.

Lu XiaoFeng suddenly discovered that his heart was beating furiously, suddenly discovered that ShangGuan DanFeng's heart was also beating furiously.

"Your heart is jumping."

"Whose heart is beating faster?"

"How could we tell?"

"I'll touch your heart, and you touch mine...."

Suddenly, within the sounds of the rainstorm that sounded like tens of thousands of horses stampeding, there came the sound of horse hooves like that of a torrential downpour. About a dozen riders were approaching this place at a rapid pace despite of the raging rainstorm.

The riders all were green, with white bamboo hats. As they rode past the window, they suddenly all lifted up their arms.

Several "swooshes" could be heard, even more compact than the sound of rain drops and even more hurried than the sound of the horse hooves. Several streaks of black could be seen, some flying in through the window, some hitting the wall outside.

Lu XiaoFeng tilted his body and had already pulled Princess DanFeng to the side of the window.

But Hua ManLou, who had been laying on the table, stood up and shouted: "Sulfric Saltpetre Thunderclap!"

He hadn't even finished those words before, with a deafening bang, where ever the black streaks hit, be it inside or outside, burst into flames towering over several scores of meters. Flames that was blood red with a shade of cruel green.

"You two get out of here, I'll go save Pot Face Zhao!" Lu XiaoFeng shouted.

Pot Face Zhao had already gone to sleep, just a bit earlier they had even heard his snoring.

But the flames looked as if they were about to block off the door way, even the walls outside was on fire, despite of the pouring rain.

Hua ManLou grabbed a hold of Princess DanFeng and charged outside. Those riders had already ran off into the distance. Their maniacal laughter could be heard through the rain as well as a message from one of them.

"Lu XiaoFeng! That was nothing more than a little bit of a warning! If you don't face up to the facts and stop soon, then we'll make sure that nobody could bury your body!"

By the time the final words were heard, the riders and their horses had disappeared behind the curtains of rain drops.

Turning around, Pot Face Zhao's little place was completely engulfed in an inferno. Lu XiaoFeng was nowhere to be seen.

ShangGuan DanFeng gritted her teeth and turned to Hua ManLou: "You wait here, I'm going to go inside for him."

"If you go in there now, you won't be coming back out." Hua ManLou replied.

"But he...."

"Don't worry," Hua ManLou smiled. "He'll make it out. Even fires much bigger than this didn't kill him."

At this moment, from afar, there suddenly came a series of savage cries and desperate screams, just like those bellowed out by a herd of locked up beasts. But the screams stopped very quickly.

Once the cries stopped, the sound of horses neighing in fright that was covered up by the screams could be heard.

ShangGuan DanFeng's expression changed dramatically. "Could those guys have already met their doom at someone else's hands?"

"Boom!" Suddenly, a hole was blown open on the flame-engulfed house's roof... like a flaming cannon ball, a person came flying out through the hole and, in the middle of the air, amid the pouring rain, did a flip and landed flat onto the ground. Rolling on the ground, the person put out the fire on his body, but on his cloth and in his hair, there were several obvious spots where the fire had charred to crisp.

But he did not seem to care at all and popped right up. It was none other than Lu XiaoFeng.

"Looks like you really can't burn this guy to death!" ShangGuan DanFeng sighed and mumbled to herself.

"Yeah, it really isn't an easy task to burn me to death." Lu XiaoFeng concurred, smiling.

He might be smiling, but his face was entirely blackened by the smoke.

Looking at his face, ShangGuan DanFeng laughed. "But you originally had 4 eye brows, now you almost don't even have one!"

"Not a big deal if all of my eye brows are gone," Lu XiaoFeng casually replied. "The real shame was those jugs of wine...."

"Where's Pot Face Zhao?" Hua ManLou suddenly interrupted him.

"Don't know."

"He wasn't inside?"

"No."

ShangGuan DanFeng's face changed again.

"Could he be with the Green Shirt Pavilion as well? Could he have been with those guys from the very beginning? Otherwise how would they know that you are here?"

She bitterly continued: "You risk your life to save him, and in the process your eye brows gets burned off. But it turned out that he was that kind of a man."

"I only know that he makes the best tasting dog meat."

"And you don't know anything else about him?"

"And I don't know anything else about him."

ShangGuan DanFeng could only stare at him and sigh.

"Why do other people say that you have 2 brains?" She mumbled to herself. "The way I see it, he doesn't even...."

She suddenly stopped, because she suddenly saw someone walking towards them in the rain.

A very big and tall person, wearing a bamboo hat and carrying a bamboo stick upon his shoulder. On that stick was hung a string of objects, she could not quite make out what they were.

But she could tell that this person was none other than Pot Face Zhao.

Lu XiaoFeng smiled.

"You can't be this paranoid about everyone," he casually admonished, "there might not be as many bad people as you think in this world, there are still some...."

His suddenly stopped as well, because he had made out that the objects hanging off of Pot Face Zhao's bamboo stick was a string of hands.

Human hands. Even though the blood marks had been washed away by the rain, they were obviously only recently cut off. Thirteen or fourteen hands, tied together by a belt, hanging off of the bamboo stick.

Inside Pot Face Zhao's belt was a knife, a butcher's knife, used to kill dogs.

"Turns out not only can you kill dogs, you can kill humans too!" Lu XiaoFeng observed as he looked at him with a look of surprise.

Pot Face Zhao cracked open a smile at that comment.

"I don't know how to kill dogs, I have only killed humans."

Lu XiaoFeng stared at him for another prolonged period of time.

"You are not Pot Face Zhao." He finally sighed.

"Who said I was Pot Face Zhao?" That person laughed.

When he laughs, other than cracking open that big mouth of his, nothing else changes on his face.

"Who are you?" Lu XiaoFeng asked.

The person's eyes flashed at the comment.

"Even you can't tell who I am? Well I guess my skills at disguising can't be anything but the best in the world now."

Lu XiaoFeng shot him another look, the suddenly he burst out in laughter.

"Too bad your somersaulting skills aren't up to par...."

"This guy is that little thief that you were talking about earlier?" ShangGuan DanFeng did not even wait for him to finish before shouting.

"That's right." The person sighed. "I'm guy who competed doing somersaults against him, SiKong ZhaiXing. But I'm not a little thief, I'm a big thief!"

"I know," ShangGuan DanFeng sweetly replied. "Not only are you a big thief, you are the King of Thieves! You have no peers in thievery in the world!"

"I'm not being cocky or arrogant about this," SiKong ZhaiXing said, sticking his chest a little further. "When you are talking about stealing things, even Lu XiaoFeng over there is afraid to go up against me. Now you tell me who can compete with me?"

"You could have disguised as anyone, why a pot face who kills dogs for a living?" ShangGuan DanFeng asked.

"Well, there's a reason behind this," SiKong ZhaiXing laughed and replied. "You see, if you disguise yourself as a pot face, then it'll be really hard for other people to see through your disguise."

"Why?"

"When was the last time you saw a couple of people inspecting the face of a person with a pot face very closely?"

ShangGuan DanFeng laughed as well.

"It looks like there's something to disguising yourself isn't there?"

"Quite a bit actually."

"Since when did you get here?" Lu XiaoFeng frowned.

"Two days ago."

"What for?"

"Waiting for your!"

"Waiting for me?"

"Because if you want to go find Old Man Yan, this would be a place that you must pass. Besides, now that you are in the general area of TaiYuan, there was no way you wouldn't come and get a bit of Pot Face Zhao's dog meat."

He sighed in resignation.

"Even I have to admit that his stewed dog meat is without peer in the world," he continued.

"That's why you said that the dog meat were all sold out, because you were afraid that would reveal your true identity."

"Well, no matter what," SiKong ZhaiXing replied, laughing heartily, "at least I was finally able to trick you, you devil you."

"So what were you doing waiting for me?"

"What do I do?"

"You are actually going to steal from me?"

"As long as you can say it, I can steal it!" SiKong ZhaiXing boasted.

"What do you want to steal from me?"

"You sure you want me to tell you?"

"If you are afraid to say it, then I won't force you," Lu XiaoFeng casually answered.

"Why would I be afraid to say it?" SiKong ZhaiXing demanded, staring hard at him.

"So what is it that you want to steal?" ShangGuan DanFeng finally gave into her urge and asked.

"You."

ShangGuan DanFeng's eyes were wide in shock.

"Someone offered up 20,000 taels of silver for me to steal you."

"Can't believe that I'm actually worth 20,000 taels of silver..." she did not finish, because she was blushing to the very base of her ears.

"But the reason that person want me to steal you is not the reason that you are thinking of," SiKong ZhaiXing laughed.

Still blushing, ShangGuan DanFeng could not help but shout back: "How do you know what kind of reason I'm thinking of?"

SiKong ZhaiXing blinked his eyes, but did not reply.

"What does that person want?" ShangGuan DanFeng asked. "Who is that person?"

SiKong ZhaiXing still did not reply.

"He won't tell you," Lu XiaoFeng sighed. "In his business, if he told his employer's secrets, then who would come to him for a job next time?"

"Thieves have employers going to them and offering jobs?" ShangGuan DanFeng asked.

"I have already told you, he's different. He never steals anything that worth anything."

"But I still have to eat!" SiKong ZhaiXing added. "That why I only steal when other people come to me and ask me to with a huge wad of cash."

"Only that there isn't that many people that can offer up that much money for you to accept a job."

"Correct, depressingly few."

"So even if you don't tell me, I already know who hired you this time."

"Whether or not you know is your business, whether or not I tell you is my business."

"No matter if I know it or not, you would never tell me, right?"

"Right."

"Then how come you suddenly changed your mind just now and let me in on this secret?"

"You risked your life to save me in the fire, and almost lost your eye brows in the process" SiKong ZhaiXing sighed. "How could I have the nerve to steal your friend?"

"Looks like your are not entirely incorrigible."

"Correct again."

"If you have the nerve, could you really just steal me away?" ShangGuan DanFeng, not able to hold it inside anymore, interrupted in a loud voice.

"Don't forget," SiKong ZhaiXing boasted, "that I am the King of Thieves! There's nothing in the world that I can't steal."

"I would like to hear how exactly you plan on doing this." ShangGuan DanFeng sneered.

"Have you ever heard of any herbalist telling other people his business secrets?"

"No."

"Well, this would be my little business secret," SiKong ZhaiXing righteously, "so I can't tell you."

ShangGuan DanFeng stared at him in anger.

"'Ten pot faces, 9 freaks', I say that you are a pot face to begin with!" She suddenly said.

"Who said that?" SiKong ZhaiXing shot her a look and asked.

"Me! If not then tear off that pot face mask of yours and let me see what you really look like!" ShangGuan DanFeng replied.

"That can't be done!"

"Why not?"

"What if you fall for me? Then Lu XiaoFeng would make us do somersaults again! That last time I ended up sick and nauseas, no way I would go through with that again."

ShangGuan DanFeng blushed and, despite all her efforts, laughed.

"Whose hands are these?" Lu XiaoFeng asked.

"Belong to those guys who set the house on fire."

"You chased them down?"

"I am pretending to be Pot Face Zhao after all. If someone burns down his house, I should at least help him get a little bit of justice."

"So you cut off their hands so that they could not burn down houses any more." ShangGuan DanFeng observed.

"I'm also planning to sell those horses of theirs to pay back Pot Face Zhao."

"Where are those guys now?" Lu XiaoFeng asked.

"Over there in the woods, I left them there especially for you."

"What for?"

"They tried to burn you to death," SiKong ZhaiXing replied, "don't you want to interrogate them and ask them why?"