LXF02-07 Print
Friday, 15 August 2008 22:04

Chapter 7 - Unwavering Persistance



Lu Xiao Feng did not want to ride carriages, but nevertheless he was on a carriage at the moment. People just can not avoid doing some things that they rather not do. “You have to find some way to get some sleep on the carriage, so when you run into First Madame Gong Sun you are in the condition to challenge her!”

Even Lu Xiao Feng knew that Jin Jiu Ling’s words were right. But how could he sleep at a time like this?

“The little Prince has taken a real admiration to Hua Man Lou and has insisted that he stay at the Palace for several days. He’s fully taken care of inside the Palace, don’t you worry about him anymore.”

Lu Xiao Feng knew better than anyone that he had no need to worry about things or people inside the RoyalPalace, nor did he have to worry about the Snake King either. The person that he should be worried about at the moment is none other than himself. No matter how strong a person is, when confronted and weighted down with this much burden and pressure, that person would be hard pressed not to explode, or implode. The horse was pulling the carriage at a very quick pace, and the carriage was bouncing up and down.

He was trying with all his might to concentrate, there were just too many things that he had to concentrate and figure them out. But even if heart felt as if it had been torn into pieces.

At day break, the carriage stopped in front of a little tofu shop at a village on the side of the road. The sweet smell of hot tofu milk permeated through the carriage with the gentle morning breeze.

“I know you don’t feel like eating anything, but you should at least drink a little bit of this hot tofu milk.” Although Lu Xiao Feng did not want to waste any time, he knew better than to not be grateful to the concerns of his friend. Besides, the carriage driver and the carriage pulling horses all needed a little rest.

The lanterns were still lit inside of the shop. A person was squating in the corner and louding gulping down the huge bowl of tofu milk in his hand. The lantern light flickered and shone on his head, his completely bald head. He was a monk. This monk had a square face and huge ears, a face that predicts great luck as any fortune-teller would tell you. But the clothes on him were dirty and torn, and that pair of straw sandals on his feet was almost completely worn to nothing. Honest Monk!

Only when he saw possibly the world’s weirdest monk did a smile appear on Lu Xiao Feng’s face.

“Honest Monk, have you done anything not so honest recently?”

The Honest Monk looked genuinely surprised upon seeing him and almost spilled the tofu milk in his hand.

“Well, from the look of you, I know for a fact that you must have been up to no good last night!” Lu Xiao Feng laughed heartily. “Why else do you look so guilty when you saw me?”

“Honest Monk has only done something not honest once in his life,” the Honest Monk’s face looked like he had just swallowed a rat. “Buddha have mercy, why must Monk keep running into you?”

“What’s so bad about running into me? At least I could pay for your bowl of tofu milk for you!” Lu Xiao Feng smiled.

“Monks don’t need to pay to drink tofu milk. Monks know how to beg for alms.” He quickly gulped down the last bit of his tofu milk and looked as if he was about to scuttle out of there.

But Lu Xiao Feng blocked his way.

“Well, since you don’t need me to pay for you, then why don’t you stay and chat for a while? Ou Yang Qing isn’t here, what are you in a hurry to leave for?”

“‘Gentry runs into soldiers, futile to talk logic’,” the Honest Monk meekly smiled. “Monk run into Lu Xiao Feng, much more unlucky than gentry. Chat this chat that, in the end Monk suffers!”

“What do you mean by that?”

“If Monk doesn’t suffer, then how come the last time Monk ended up crawling on the ground?”

“Alright, I’ll guarantee you won’t be crawling today!” Lu Xiao Feng laughed despite of himself.

“Could still suffer even without crawling,” the Honest Monk sighed. “Monk is only scared to two people in this world, why must Monk run into you again today?”

“Who’s the other person?”

“Even if Monk tell you who that person is, you won’t know!”

“Try me!”

The Honest Monk hesitated a while before finally giving in.

“This person is a female!”

“Monk seems to know quite a number of females!” Lu Xiao Feng joked.

“Quite a number a females know Monk too.”

“Is this woman Ou Yang?”

“Not Ou Yang, Gong Sun!”

“Gong Sun?” Lu Xiao Feng almost shouted. “Is it First Madame Gong Sun?”

“You know about her too? How did you find out about her?” The Honest Monk was shocked too.

“You know her?” Lu Xiao Feng was shouting now. “Do you know where she is?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Because I have some unfinished business with her!”

The Honest Monk stared at Lu Xiao Feng for a while, and then burst into a fit of laughter. He was laughing so hard that he doubled over. Suddenly, he scuttled by Lu Xiao Feng’s side and ended up almost 10 meters away. Even 10 meters away, he was still laughing.

But this time Lu Xiao Feng had made up his mind not to let him get away. He did a somersault and blocked his way again.

“Why are you laughing?”

“When Monk find something funny, Monk laughs. Monk has always been honest.”

“What’s so funny about this matter?”

“Why must you smash the pot and ask to the end?”

“Even if I have to smash a monk’s head open, I’m going to ask this thing to the end.”

He was very serious when he spoke. All the Honest Monk could do was sigh.

“Monk’s head can’t be smashed open, Monk only has one head.”

“Then speak, why is this so funny?”

“Number one: because you are not going to find her. Number two: because even if you find her, you won’t beat her. Number three, because even if you beat her, it’ll be useless.”

“How come?”

“Because as soon as you see her, you won’t be able to bring yourself to hit her. By then you are probably hoping that she would hit you a couple of times!”

“She’s very pretty?”

“There are four Great Beauties in the martial world, you probably know them all don’t you?”

“Yes I do.”

“Do you think they are beautiful?”

“Of course Beauties are beautiful.”

“But First Madame Gong Sun is 10 times prettier than all four of them put together!”

“You’ve seen her?”

“Buddha have mercy,” sighed Honest Monk as he smiled miserably. “Please don’t let Monk see her again. Otherwise even if Monk has 10 heads Monk would still lose them all.”

“Do you know where she is?”

“Don’t know.” When Honest Monk says he does not know, then he does not know. Honest Monk never lies.

“Where did you see her last time?”

“Can’t tell you.” When Honest Monk says he cannot tell you, then he cannot tell you. Even if you smash his head open, he still cannot tell you.

Even Lu Xiao Feng knew that there was no way to get him to talk. All he could do was angrily glare at him for a moment. Suddenly he laughed.

“Actually, Monk don’t just only have one head.”

Honest Monk did not understand.

“Because Monk still have a Little Monk!”

He laughed, laughed so hard that he doubled over. The Honest Monk was so angry that he could not even think of anything to say. He knew that Lu Xiao Feng was teasing him on purpose, but yet he still could not help but get mad, so mad that he almost fainted. Jin Jiu Ling was looking on from the side, even he could not help but laugh a little.

“Monk don’t tell lies and still have one more thing to tell you.” The Honest Monk suddenly sighed.

“Well? What is it?” Lu Xiao Feng asked, but only after some immense efforts to stop his fits of laughter.

“From the looks of the two of you, your faces are just covered with bad omens. With in three days, your heads will be smashed open by someone!”

______________________________

Even though Meng Wei only has one head as well, he was known as “Three Headed Snake”. Among the Nine Famed Bounty Hunters, he was always known as the most ruthless one in his methods and the most merciless one in handing out judgements. Three Headed Snake, of course, had three different faces. When he saw Jin Jiu Ling, not only was his demeanor of the utmost respect, his smile was very dear and genuine. Even Lu Xiao Feng was finding it hard that a person like this would often pour salted water or beat a person to a pulp in dark rooms.

But precisely because there was people like him in this world, everybody should know that it was best not to commit crimes during one’s life. The driver that steered the carriage was also a man under the command of Lu Shao Hua. As soon as they entered the city there was someone from the local bounty group to greet them and lead them to this place. This was also the busy section of town - turns out most people really do find it hard to kick this kind of habit.

That is why there are so few truly unsolved crimes and mysteries in this world. Meng Wei had been waiting for them in a tea house on the corner of a street. Their final destination was a small alley way just in the back, at the very back of the alley way was a small little house.

“The person who rented this house was also a very handsome gentry, and also paid a year of rent up front.”

“Have anybody noticed anything about this house after that?”

“No, seems like nobody has lived in there since the rental.”

-Maybe they arrived before First Madame Gong Sun. After all, after killing the Snake King, she must have stalled a bit of time. Not to mention that she also had an injured Xue Bing with her.

That was why Jin Jiu Ling instructed: “Order those easy to spot men of yours to go away so that nobody notices that special attention is being paid to this place!”

“We have been extra careful this entire time,” Meng Wei assured them. “The only men that has been here have all been very well disguised.”

“Is disguises enough?” Jin Jiu Link coldly snickered. “It’s not like nobody can’t see through the disguises.”

Even Lu Xiao Feng was able to spot in an instant that the waiters in the tea house, the berry selling vendor across the street from the alley, that fortune-teller beside them, and 7 or 8 different customers inside the tea house were all disguised bounty hunters. After a prolonged stay in public service, it is hard to retain the same demeanor and actions as those of a normal person, especially one’s expressions, which is almost impossible not to spot for those who are looking.

“I’ll tell them to leave now.” Meng Wei conceded.

Underneath the little corner of the roof that jutted out over the alley, there was a bald, scab covered beggar with a broken roof tile in hand. When Meng Wei walked by, he actually stuck the roof tile out in the way, begging for money. What he got instead was a kick.

In an instant all those disguised bounty hunters left.

“I only left two men here,” reported Meng Wei. “That way should anything happen they could be used as messengers.”

One was the vendor cross the street from the alley. The little vendor display was left as it was, but the vendor was switched to someone not nearly as conspicuous. But who was the other one?

“Song Hong has been getting much better recently,” Jin Jin Ling looked over at the bald beggar. “Take special care of him, he’ll be a good one in the future.”

Lu Xiao Feng finally understood, that scab covered beggar was one of them too. It was not yet 9 O’clock, the dog days of July were always a little longer, so there was no need to lit the lamps inside the houses. The setting sun shone in through the window to reveal a room covered in a layer of dust. It really did look like nobody had been inside of here in a long time. The set up and look of the room was very similar to the last one.

Inside the dresser was 8 or 9 different sets of outfits, there was a mirror on the desk, and besides the desk was a little bed. There was nothing interesting of note, and hence no clue to be found either. It was as if this whole trip was a waste of time. Jin Jiu Ling had his hands behind his back as he meander around the place. Suddenly, with a quick hop, he jumped onto the roof beam, shook his head, and jump back down.

“Over here!” Meng Wei suddenly shouted from teh kitchen. When he ran out, he had a little wooden box in his hand.

“Where did you find this?” Jin Jiu Ling was ecstatic.

“Inside the furnace.” That is truly a great place to hide something, for something to be hidden there, there must be a secret.

Jin Jiu Ling looked ready to crack the box open for a look see. But Lu Xiao Feng stopped him.

“Careful, there might be some booby trap inside of it.”

Jin Jiu Ling tested the weight of the box a little and smiled.

“This box is really light, if there are any springs or booby traps inside, it should be very heavy.”

Of course, he was a very prudent man, or else he would have already died twenty times over about 10 years ago. Lu Xiao Feng did not say anything more. Springs and booby traps were made of metal, which would cause a huge difference in weight. There was no locks on the box, so Jin Jiu Ling easily opened it up. Suddenly, a burst of prink smoke shot out from inside the box. Jin Jiu Ling tried to hold his breath, but it was no in time. His entire body was propelled backwards and crashed into the dresser. He collapsed onto the ground!

There were no mechanical booby traps inside the box, but there was a little balloon made of fish stomaches. As soon as the box opened, the needles on the lid of the box would pop the balloon and immediately release the poison that had been stored inside the balloon. Jin Jiu Ling, despite all his precautions and experience, could not have suspected this.

There, laying on the floor, he looked just like a popped balloon. His entire body went limp, his complexion was frighteningly pale, and there was a cut on his head. He had banged his head against the dresser just a moment ago and opened a cut on his head.

-Your faces are just covered with bad omens. With in three days, your heads will be smashed open by someone. Honest Monk was being honest after all. Lu Xiao Feng had already took a deep breath and dispersed the poisonous gas with his palm wind. Thinking back to Honest Monk’s words, his heart suddenly felt a bit cold. Meng Wei had ran out of the room as soon as he could, only after the gas had dispersed did he walk back in, grabbing his nose.

By now Lu Xiao Feng had helped Jin Jiu Ling sit up and was protecting his heart with his internal energy, hoping to somehow save his life.

Instead, Meng Wei went over and picked the box up, he seemed more interested in the box than Jin Jiu Ling. But the box was empty, there was nothing inside. After a prolonged inspection, he suddenly shouted.

“Here it is!”

The secret was not inside the box, but on the lid of the box. If carefully inspected, one could see that among the carvings on the lid, there were ancient inscriptions, the kind that dated back to before the time of the First Emperor. There were 6 words in total.

“Leave to Ah-Tu, will return soon.”

The more obvious, the less attention people pay, the harder it is to find. First Madame Gong Sun really did understand how people’s minds functioned. Who could have thought of communicating using this method? - She was telling someone to give something to Ah-Tu, because Ah-Tu was about to go back soon.

But who was the instructions meant for? What was supposed to be left to Ah-Tu? Who is Ah-Tu? These question were impossible to answer at the moment.

“Ah-Tu, Ah-Tu....” Meng Wei frowned and mumbled to himself. “Could it be that Ah-Tu?”

“You know of an Ah-Tu?” Lu Xiao Feng asked, even though he knew the answer.

“There was a beggar that was at the head of the alley, everyone called him Ah-Tu.”

“Where is he now?”

“In order for Song Hong to stay there disguised as him there, we chased him away.”

“Quick, go find him.”

Meng Wei immediately began to leave.

“Wait a minute.”

Meng Wei waited for him.

“Does he know why you chased him away?”

“I only told him that he’s not allowed to beg there.” Meng Wei shook his head. A bounty hunter never needed any reason to chase away a beggar anyways.

“Once you find him, immediately come and tell me, no matter what don’t let him find out.”

“Yes sir, I’ll come back as soon as I find him.”

“Don’t bother coming back here. I’m going to take Jin Jiu Ling to Shi Jing Mo’s place. If you find anything, just go there instead!” Shi Jing Mo was the most famous doctor in this city, of course, Meng Wei knew this too.

“Also, get your men to find some dust and pour it over where we just were, make sure the dust look settled.”

“Yes sir.”

“And put this box back where you found it.”

“Yes sir.”

“Song Hong has to leave here too, get someone else to patrol the head of the alley. Also, it’ll probably wise to put a man in the yard next door, he should also inform me immediately should anything suspicious happen!”

“Yes sir.” Meng Wei stood there and looked at Lu Xiao Feng, as if he wanted to say something, but restrained himself.

But when he made it to the door, he gave in and turned around.

“If Great Hero Lu entered Six Doors, then the rest of us would all have to go back to carrying our babies.” He said with a smile.

______________________________

Lu Xiao Feng was quite proud of himself as well. His handling of this situation was truly quite remarkable. Even if Jin Jiu Ling was sober, he could not have handled it any better than he. Unfortunately, Lu Xiao Feng was not a deity, so there were things that even he could not have expected. Shi Jing Mo was not at home.

This doctor always carried himself very pompously and very rarely went to the patients’ houses but instead had them come to him. But the master of Magnificent Jade Veranda was an exception.

The wounds to Ye Yi Fan’s eyes have not completely healed yet, but he also had not recovered from the shock either as he endlessly mumbled the names of famous paintings that he lost. Why is it the richer the person, the harder it is for them to let these material things go? Could it be precisely because they cannot let go that they are rich?

There was no way to communicate the unexpected change to Meng Wei now, so all Lu Xiao Feng could do was wait in the outer guest hall of the Shi mansion. The strange thing was, for some reason his mind was really clear now. Suddenly, a lot of things popped up in his mind, things that he had not thought about at all before.

While he was in deep thought, news from Meng Wei arrived.

“Ah-Tu is at his home.”

“A beggar has a home?”

“A beggar is still a person, even dogs have their own little holes, nevermind a beggar.”

But you would be charitable to call Ah-Tu’s home a “hole”. It was nothing more than a small, abandoned, brick enclosure that had half collapsed onto itself, creating a little room. Several bricks were punched out on all four sides, passing for windows. It was smack in the middle of the summer heat wave, so the squalid wooden board that were used to cover the “windows” were not nailed up yet. There was light inside.

“Is Ah-Tu still in there?”

“Yes, don’t know where he got himself a flask of wine, but he’s enjoying it all by himself in there.”

“Has anyone talked to him at all?”

“No, but there was someone over there.”

“What was that someone like?”

“A young fellow, with a hat with a red cherry on top, dressed like a dispatcher or baliff for an official or something.”

Not long after this little exchange, a dispatcher with a red cherry hat came strolling pompously up the little dirt hill with a yellow cloth bag with him. After surveying the surrounding area for a while, he jumped into Ah-Tu’s little house. Of course, he did not notice Lu Xiao Feng and Meng Wei, both of them were very well hidden on a particularly large tree.

“Should we go in and get them now?” Meng Wei whispered.

“The person we want to catch isn’t him.” Lu Xiao Feng immediately shook his head.

“You are planning to find that Embroidery Bandit from him?” Meng Wei immediately understood.

“Mmhmm.”

“The inscription on the box said that he was going back, do you think he’s going back to where First Madame Gong Sun is?”

Lu Xiao Feng nodded.

“And that bag must be something that someone wants to give to her, she’s probably already returned to her base now!”

Even Ah-Tu has one, nevermind First Madame Gong Sun. So Meng Wei had to restrain his impatience and wait. He did not have to wait long. That red cherry hat wearing dispatcher strolled out and, humming a little tune, walked back down the little dirt hill. He had done his job, so he looked much more relaxed.

After another long wait, the light from inside the little “house” suddenly went out with Ah-Tu walking out soon after. Before leaving, he made sure to nail close the entrance to his “house” with a door made of a rather large piece of wood. He carried two flax bags on his back with the yellow cloth bag obviously in one of them.

“I’ll follow him, you go back and take care of your Boss Jin.”

“You are going without backup, what if....”

“Don’t worry, I can’t die!” Lu Xiao Feng patted his shoulder.

The moon was still almost full as it shone brightly upon the world. The night breeze carried with it the tiniest hints of Autumn. This was the perfect weather for travel. Ah-Tu did not rent a carriage, nor did he get a horse, but instead, he was just carelessly walking out in front, as if he had not the slightest care in the world. There was nobody else traveling on this highway, only the two of them, one in front, the other behind. Sometimes, Ah-Tu would hum a tune or two, other times, he would bellow scenes from operas or stories out loud; overall, he seemed to be walking ever slower.

Lu Xiao Feng could barely restrain himself from going off to find a whip and give the guy a couple of lashes to hurry him up. After what seemed like forever, the stars were getting more sparse and the moon was about to set, but Ah-Tu still did not pick his pace up. Instead, he found a tree on the side of the road and sat down. He opened one of his bags, dug out half of a roasted duck, a flask of wine, and, remarkably, began to eat on the side of the road.

Lu Xiao Feng sighed, all he could do was find a tree very far away and climb onto it. He waited, and watched. Suddenly, he realized that he was starving. He had not had a decent meal for the last two days. Back then it was because he did not want to eat, but now he simply could not eat.

Ah-Tu tore off one of the legs of the duck and took a bite out of it, which he followed up by drinking some wine. Suddenly, he sighed as well.

“Man it’s boring to just drink alone, if there was a person here with me, that would be great.” He mumbled to himself.

Lu Xiao Feng was truly tempted to go and join him for a meal. But all he could do was watch him eat instead. Finally, Ah-Tu finished. He wiped his hands on his pants and was once again on his way. Lu Xiao Feng was pleasantly surprised to discover that, other than the leg that Ah-Tu tore off, the half of the roasted duck was basically untouched when Ah-Tu left it on the ground. This beggar seemed completely oblivious to the fact that he was a beggar.

Of course, he was not really a beggar, but Lu Xiao Feng felt as if he was about to die of starvation, he was very tempted to pick up that half of a duck and use it to fill up his stomach. But he had to restrain himself. When he thought about all those scabs that covered Ah-Tu’s body, even if he was really about to die of starvation, he would choose death instead of eating that duck.

More walking followed, and before he knew it, Lu Xiao Feng found that it was already day. The nights in the month of July are always relatively short as the sun suddenly rose. Slowly, but surely, more and more people on their way to make it to the city markets appeared on the road. Ah-Tu suddenly began to run as fast as he could on the road. A dirty beggar like him would never attract any attention on the road, whether if he was running or rolling.

But how could Lu Xiao Feng run after him like a wild dog as well? But what could he could besides running? Even if other people took him to be a lunatic, he still had to run. And Ah-Tu was running quite fast too.

When there were nobody else on the road, he walked slower than a snail, but when there were other people on the road, he was running faster than a rabbit. Lu Xiao Feng suddenly discovered that this man was not a easy person to deal with at all. To keep an eye on a person like this was not easy. Fortunately, Ah-Tu did not look back, and he also looked a bit tired as well. Suddenly, he hopped onto a back of a mule-pulled cart carrying discarded pig parts. He leaned up against the outside of the cart and looked like he was getting ready to take a nap.

The driver of the cart turned back and glared at him rather viciously, but did not chase him off. Lu Xiao Feng sighed as he made another discovery: traveling as a beggar has quite a number of advantages that other people could have never guessed.

No wonder there was the saying: “The pauper had it better than the prince.”

The sun slowly rose to the top of the sky. Ah-Tu’s eyes were closed as he looked like he really did fall asleep. Instead, Lu Xiao Feng was covered in sweat, he was roasting under the heat, exhausted, hungry, thirsty, and just could not stop no matter what.

To find First Madame Gong Sun, he had to follow this person no matter what. If he was lucky, he would have run into quite a number of vendors selling cold wine or beef rice on the side of the road. But luck was not on his side, there was not even pie vendor to be found.

Turns out that the people in the south are very particular about eating. To eat, they have to find a comfortable place to sit down and eat. Small vendors like those very rarely sell anything. So it is nearly impossible for small vendors like that to stay in business at all. So all Lu Xiao Feng could do was to bear it.

On the side of the road was fields after fields of irrigated farm land. Only now did the road curl around the base of a green mountain. Ah-Tu suddenly hopped off of the cart and began making his way up the mountainside. Under the shades of the trees and grass on the mountainside, it was at least quite a bit cooler. Ah-Tu, having taken a nap on the back of the cart, seemed to be full of energy.

Lu Xiao Feng had no other choice but to pick himself up as well. He suddenly discovered yet another thing, not only was this dirty and downtrodden beggar physically strong, but also seemed to know a bit of lightness skills. Lucky for him that mountain was not very tall, besides, if Ah-Tu was willing to run up the mountainside, may his destination was not that far off. After all, it was very likely for First Madame Gong Sun’s secret headquarter to be on a mountain. But surprisingly, this mountain was completely deserted, not only was there no buildings to be found on either side of the road, but the mountain roads themselves were very narrow and twisted.

Once at the peak, the air was suddenly filled with a delicious smell, a smell of stewed lamb. There must be a house there, must be First Madame Gong Sun’s house. But surprisingly, Lu Xiao Feng was wrong again. There was no building at the top, but a whole group of beggars eating and drinking.

“Count yourself as lucky,” someone said as they noticed Ah-Tu. “We had just stole ourself a fat lamb and was about to enjoy it ourselves. Since you showed up, why don’t you join us?”

“Well, I must have done something right these last couple of days, no matter where I go I keep running into good stuff to eat!” Ah-Tu laughed as he walked up to them.

But Lu Xiao Feng was relegated to just staring once again. There was no way he could blend in with these beggars and eat that stolen lamb, nor could he allow himself to be seen by Ah-Tu. So all he could do was hide behind a rock, starving so bad that his belly began to hurt.

He was even beginning to feel a bit of regret, he should have picked up and ate that left over duck last night. Ah-Tu seemed to have warmed himself to those beggar almost instantly. They were laughing and feasting to their hearts content, as if they were in 7th Heaven, but Lu Xiao Feng felt as if he had found the deepest reaches of Hell. He had never before suffered anything remotely like this in his life.

Only now did he finally experience how frightening a thing starvation can be. If he could somehow use this little opportunity and catch a little shut eye, at least it would not be all bad.

But there might be other people under the command of First Madame Gong Sun among these beggars, they could have been waiting here to take over for Ah-Tu. So Lu Xiao Feng could not afford to relax for one moment, he had to concentrate on spying all of them. If Ah-Tu secretly handed that yellow bag off to another person to take to First Madame Gong Sun without him noticing, then would not all this suffering he was going through be in vain?

Finally, those beggars finished eating, Ah-Tu gave each and everyone of them a huge thanks before, incredibly, starting to make his way down the mountain. What was the purpose of this excursion to the top of this mountain?

“Could he have actually handed that yellow bag off to someone else? How come I didn’t see it?” Lu Xiao Feng could not figure it out. But since he did not see anything, he had to keep following Ah-Tu.

Half way down the mountain, Ah-Tu suddenly stopped and dug out that yellow bag from one of the flax bags he was carrying. After carefully inspecting it over, he put it back into the bundles on his back.

“Lucky one of those lamb stealing thieves didn’t steal it,” he smiled and mumbled to himself. “Or else my head might not stay on my neck for too much longer!”

What was in that yellow bundle? Why was it so important? Lu Xiao Feng could not see, nor could he guess.

No matter what, at least the thing was still with Ah-Tu. More over, if that thing was that important, then he might have to hand it over to First Madame Gong Sun himself. It looked as if all the suffering that Lu Xiao Feng was going through was not in vain after all.

But the worst thing of it all was that Ah-Tu actually went back down the mountain the same exact way he went up. He could not possibly have gone up the mountain just to eat some lamb could he? Could he have noticed that somebody was tailing him and was purposefully making him suffer a little? No, that could not be it either. He did not look nervous at all, and if he had noticed that someone was following him, he would not have gone back down the same way.

Lu Xiao Feng was even more confident that he could not have been discovered. Even if he starved for two more days, he would still not make any kind of sound at all.

Recently, quite a lot of people had come to the conclusion that his lightness kungfu was among the top 5 in the world.

“When a person is burden with any kind of secret and important job, no matter if there was someone following him or not, his movements would always be purposefully meandering.”

That must be why, Lu Xiao Feng seemed pretty satisfied with this explanation. After making his way down the mountain, Ah-Tu’s movements, as expected, did become much more stable. After another hour or so of walking, he entered a city. After wandering about the streets of the city twice, he entered a restaurant, but then exited out of the back door. Suddenly, he turned and went down an alley way, there was only one door in the entire alley. It was a back door in a remote corner of a flower garden of a particularly large complex.

He looked as if he had just returned home as he casually walked in without even knocking. Once inside the yard, he seemed to be very familiar with the layout of the place as well. A couple of twists and turns and he had made his way through the flower bushes, over a small little bridge, and arrived at a small little pavilion sitting on the edge of a lotus pond. There was light on the upper floor of the pavilion. Only now did Lu Xiao Feng realize that it was past dusk again.

Past dusk, the setting sun could barely be seen above the horizon. The little pavilion was magnificently lit, but nobody could be heard, not even a servant of any kind. Ah-Tu did not here either as he made his way upstairs. In a particularly ornate room upstairs, nobody could be seen, but a very expensive set of dishes and wines had been neatly laid out on a table.

“Looks like his luck really is quite something, everywhere he goes he has something good to eat.”

Even though nobody was there, there was eight sets of chopsticks and wine cups laid out on the table. Ah-Tu sat down, picked up a pair of chopsticks, picked up a piece of “Drunken Chicken”, but shook his head and put it back. He reached behind him and took out that yellow bundle yet again.

“Didn’t expect me to be the first one here again.” He mumbled. He was obviously waiting for people. But what kind of people was he waiting for? Was First Madame Gong Sun among them?

Beside the pavilion was a huge, overshadowing gingko tree covered with leaves and branches, perfect for hiding. And it sat perfectly facing the window of that room.

Like a gecko, Lu Xiao Feng slid up the trunk of the tree facing away from the window and found a part of the tree that was particularly dense with leaves. It was getting dark, even if someone was looking straight out from the window, he would be perfectly safe. At least now that Ah-Tu had reached his destination, he did not have to worry about him pulling some trick anymore.

Lu Xiao Feng was just about to take a deep breath and rest up a while when he heard the faint sounds of clothing flapping in the wind. A shadow of a human being flashed by the the branches of the tree and landed in the pavilion with a pretty “Ingenius Flip Cloud”

“Pretty movements, very refined lightness kungfu too.” Lu Xiao Feng immediately opened his eyes wide to take a look. But he already knew that this person was not First Madame Gong Sun. Even though this person’s skills were top notch, it was still a notch below First Madame Gong Sun’s, and, of course, his.

But this person was a woman too, she looked to be around 40, but she looked half that age. There was still a youthful exuberance and innocence about her, but her style that was hinted by that look from the corner of her eyes was far more seductive that anything a young girl could match. She wore on her a dark purple but form-fitting outfit with a yellow bundle in her hand as well.

Back then, just as she flew by the tree, Lu Xiao Feng had already noticed that she was wearing a pair of red shoes as well.

But now she had already sat down.

“You are first again.” She gave Ah-Tu a sweet smile.

“Men are always on the short end of these things, we always end up having to wait for women.” Ah-Tu sighed.

Now that was something that Lu Xiao Feng could very well relate to. He realized that he was right, this Ah-Tu was not an easy customer to deal with, and his position was not low either. How else could he, a scab covered beggar, be able to sit as an equal to this purple clothed woman with great lightness kungfu and a very refined style? Could he be a martial art master?

Lu Xiao Feng had fancied himself to be very knowledgeable when it comes to people and things in the martial world. But now he realized that there was still quite a lot of masters in this world that he did not know, at least these two sitting in front of him were people that he had never even seen before. The wind suddenly carried with it a wave of silver bell like laughter. The person had not arrived, but her laughter had.

“Seventh Sister is here.” The purple clothed woman observed.

She did not even finish before there was one more person in the room. Of course, it was another female. She had her hair done in two ebony black pony tails, her eyes glowed, her teeth shone, and her smile was sweet. She was a red clothed youth and had a yellow bundle in her hand as well.

She gave Ah-Tu a little smile and then turned toward the woman in purple.

“Second Madame, you are early!”

“The elderly are always on the short end of these things, we always wait for the young ones.” sighed the woman in purple.

“Since when did you ever end up on the short end of things?” She laughed, it was as silver bells were ringing again. “Other people should count their blessings if they don’t end up on the short end of anything you are involved with.”

The woman in purple looked at her and sighed.

“I don’t understand what are you laughing about? Why do you laugh all day and all night?”

“Because she thinks that she’s very pretty when she laughs,” Ah-Tu matter of factly answered. “Not to mention that pair of cute dimples, if she doesn’t laugh, then how could anyone see them?”

The girl in red gave her an angry glare, but started to laugh again. And this time she could not stop herself either. Lu Xiao Feng now knew that the woman in purple was known as Second Madame. Second Madame? Could it be short for Second Madame Gong Sun? If Second Madame Gong Sun was here, then surely First Madame Gong Sun could not be far behind. Lu Xiao Feng finally felt a bit of joy, at least all that suffering he went through was not for nothing. Besides, that girl in red’s laughter was truly something that just makes people happy upon hearing it. Pity Lu Xiao Feng did not know here either.

“Let’s have a wager,” she was still laughing. “Who do you think will be the last to arrive this time?”

“Third Sister, of course,” Second Madame replied. “She takes an hour just to wash her face, even if you burn her eye brows she would not hurry up one bit!”

“That’s right!” The girl in red clapped her hands in excitement and laughed. “It must be her again this time.”

“Wrong, it won’t be her this time.” Suddenly a voice objected from downstairs.

The voice was very gentle, and very slow, as a person slowly came walking upstairs. Even though she was walking slowly now, Lu Xiao Feng had not noticed her she entered the building.

The girl in red looked shocked to see her, but then she immediately laughed again.

“Who would have known that a miracle just happened? Third Madame is not late!”

Not only was her voice gentle, her demeanor was gentle as well, her smile even more gentle as she slowly walked up the stairs, slowly sat down, and slowly placed that yellow bundle of hers onto the table. Only then did she ever so lightly sigh.

“Not only was I not late this time, but I was here before all of you.”

“Really?” The girl in red asked.

“I got here last night and slept downstairs. I had planned on coming up earlier and giving all of you a big shock!”

“So why did you wait until now to come up here?” The girl in red laughed.

“Because I had a lot of things that I needed to do!” Third Madame sighed.

“Like what?”

“I had to comb my hair, and then wash my face, and then put on my clothes, and then put on my shoes....” By this time, even Lu Xiao Feng, who was hanging off of a tree, had to laugh a little.

That girl in red had completely doubled over in laughter.

“These are truly some quite important things.” She said, trying to catch her breath.

“I told you, she takes a hour to wash her face.” Even Second Madame could not help but laugh a little.

“I’m only puzzled by one thing!” Ah-Tu suddenly cut in.

“What one thing?” The girl in red asked, making sure she did before the other two.

“Other than combing her hair, washing her face, putting on her clothes and shoes, how does she have time to do anything else in a day?”

“This is truly a serious problem,” the girl in red was trying her best to hold back her laughter and answer with a straight face. “If she ever gets married in the future, she might not even have time to have kids, that’s quite serious indeed!”

But before she could finish, she was almost rolling on the floor with laughter.

“All I know is that you will certainly have time to have kids,” Third Madame did not seem to be mad at all, instead, she just slowly replied. “In the future you will at least have 70 or 80 kids.”

“Even if I have one a year, how could I have that many?” The girl in red was still laughing.

“If you have them in batches, then wouldn’t you be able to?”

“Only pigs have batches after batches of little pigs, I’m not a....” The girl in red stopped in mid-sentence, she suddenly realized that she was basically making fun of herself.

Second Madame could not hold back her laugh either.

“Hehe, so you aren’t a pig huh? Well, you should immediately declare this to everyone, so as to avoid confusion!” She joked.

“Oh I see how it is,” the girl in red pouted. “Fourth Sister and Sixth Sister aren’t here, so you are all taking this opportunity to make fun of me!”

“So how is it any different if they are here?” asked Third Madame.

“They would at least doing the talking for me, the two of you combined are no match for even one of them.”

Another gust of wind blew by as three more people flew in from outside the window like birds.

“There is at least one thing I’m sure of, I know she’s not a little pig!” One of them smiled and said.

The girl in red clapped her hands again in excitement and laughed.

“Did you hear that? I just knew that Fourth Sister would be on my side.”

“But what is she if not a little pig?” Third Madame asked instead.

“She’s just a little hen, that’s all!” Fourth Sister answered.

“I’m a little hen?” The girl in red was taken aback by the answer.

“If you are not one, then why are you always going: ‘gegegege’, laughing nonstop day and night?”

The girl in red could not laugh anymore, neither could Lu Xiao Feng - Among these last 3 women, he actually knew two of them. One of them was, of course, Jiang Qing Xia, that did not surprise him. But even in his wildest dreams he could not have imagined that their “Fourth Sister” was Ou Yang Qing! That famed prostitute who he had once so angered, that only loved money but did not care for looks, that one and only Ou Yang Qing!

To see Ou Yang Qing together with Jiang Qing Xia, to see that Ou Yang Qing’s lightness kungfu was not below Jiang Qing Xia’s, Lu Xiao Feng had almost fallen off of his tree. This “Red Shoes” organization really did seem to have every kind of person. Ou Yang Qing and Jian Qing Xia were obviously prominent figures of this organization. There were eight pairs of chopsticks on the table, and now seven people had arrived.

The woman in purple was Second Madame, that woman who took an hour to wash her face was Third Madame, Fourth Sister was Ou Yang Qing, Fifth Sister was Jiang Qing Xia, Sixth Sister was a white socksed, green robed, and head completely shaved nun, and that little hen that never stops laughing was number seven. So where was First Madame? How come First Madame Gong Sun have yet to show up? And that scab covered Ah-Tu, what was his relationship to them? Where does he rank?

All seven of them had sat down and placed the yellow bundle in front of them. Only the head seat was still empty, obviously left for First Madame Gong Sun.

“So what did you six sisters bring back this time?” Ah-Tu suddenly said. “Can you let me see it?”

“Of course we can,” the girl in red answered, again making sure she answered before the others. “Since Third Madame was here first, why don’t we let her show us what she brought back first?”

Third Madame did not object nor refuse, instead, she slowly reached out and began to untie the knots on her bundle. She had made 3 knots, but it took her nearly 10 minutes to merely untie the first knot.

“You gals might be able to stand it, but I can’t,” the Second Madame sighed and meekly smiled. “Let me show you what I have first.”

Now Lu Xiao Feng had his eyes wide open as he concentrated on the bundle. What was inside these mysterious yellow bundles? He had wanted to know a long time ago. So he was really more anxious to see its contents than anybody else present. Luckily for him, Second Madame’s movements were not slow and it was not long before she had opened up her bundle. Inside it was 70 or 80 different sized bank deposit books.

“This year was not a very successful year for me, and I took 3 months off as well,” she explained. “So I was only able to take in about one million eight hundred and eighty thousand taels of silver from the bank houses around. But next year I’m sure I’ll be able to get twice as much.”

In the span of one year, she was able to gather more than 1.8 million taels of silver, and still claim that it was a bad year? Lu Xiao Feng quietly sighed. He could not figure out for the life of him what business this Second Madame was involved in. From what he knew, the biggest and most powerful villains in the underworld were only able to take in about half as much as her. He could not think of any other business in this world that was more profitable the crime.

“If we only have a little more than 1.8 million taels, then I guess we’ll have to curb our spending a bit this year.” Third Madame sighed.

“How about you? How was your year?” Second Madame asked.

“It wasn’t a bad year for me,” Third Madame smiled. “There seem to be quite a number of people who don’t want their noses recently.”

Don’t want their noses, meaning that they don’t want their face, meaning that they are shameless. Lu Xiao Feng understood that sentence very well, but what did that have to do with her in take this year? That Lu Xiao Feng did not understand. Luckily, by this time Third Madame had finished untying those three knots on her bundle. Inside was a piece of oil cloth.

She unraveled that layer of oilcloth, only to reveal another layer of red satin. Unbelievably, inside that red satin, was 70 or 80 different sized and different shaped noses! Human noses! Lu Xiao Feng almost fell out of his tree again. How could a woman so gentle and so polite that it would be difficult to imagine her killing an ant cut off 70 or 80 different noses with her own hands?

“Well, since they did not want their noses anymore, I decided to just simply cut their noses off for them!” Third Madame gently said.

“That is such a great idea!” The girl in red clapped her hands and laughed again.

“But next year I won’t be doing this!”

“What are you planning to do next year?” inquired the girl in red.

“Next year I’ll be cutting off tongues!”

“Cutting off tongues? How come?”

“Because recently I discovered that there are people in this world that talks way too much!” Third Madame lightly sighed and slowly explained.

“If I didn’t know you, I would have not believed you were such a ruthless and mean person even if you beat me to death!” The girl in red stuck her tongue a little and laughed like a silver bell.

“I won’t kill you, the most I would do is cut off that tongue of yours!” Third Madame casually replied.

The girl in red immediately retracted her tongue and shut her mouth, as if she was afraid to even let people see it. When it came to cutting off noses or cutting off tongues, this woman, who took an whole hour to wash her face, would not be slow.

“Who does the biggest nose in here belong to?” Ou Yang Qing suddenly asked.

“Why do you want to know?”

“I’m always very interested in those men with big noses!” Ou Yang Qing joked.

“That little girl has been spending too much time in that kind of places,” Second Madame laughed as she admonished her jokingly. “Two years in that place and not only is her heart blacker now, her skin is thicker too.”

“Second Sister must be an insider as well,” Ou Yang Qing giggled. “She seemed to know full well the good things about men with big noses!”

“Pity that the man with the biggest nose is a person with no nose now!” observed Third Madame.

“So who are you talking about?” Ou Yang Qing asked.

“Duan Tian Cheng!”

When he heard this name, Lu Xiao Feng was shocked again. He had heard of this name before, and met the person before as well. Not only was “QuellingThreeMountains” Duan Tian Cheng’s nose huge, his style was too, as was his backing. Cutting off his nose, no matter by whom, was definitely not an easy thing to do.

“Are we still planning to do the same thing as in the past?” The girl in red had kept her mouth shut for a long time and could not restrain herself anymore. “All of us drinking and eating and getting drunk to our hearts content?”

“That is our tradition, of course it won’t change.” answered Second Madame.

“Well then, since we are all here, why haven’t we started?” The girl in red asked.

Lu Xiao Feng’s heart sank. - They are all here? - Is First Madame Gong Sun not coming at all today?

“Who says that we are all here? Could you not see that there’s still a seat empty?” rebuked Second Madame.

“Who else is coming?”

“I heard that First Sister found you a younger sister!” Second Madame smiled.

“Finally, someone younger than me!” The girl in red smiled too. “From now on, if any of you bully me around, I’ll just go and bully her around!”

“Too bad she won’t be here today!” Ah-Tu suddenly said.

“Why not? Does she not want to come?” Second Madame frowned.

“She wants to, but cant!”

“Someone won’t allow her?” Second Madame asked.

Ah-Tu nodded.

“Well if she’s not coming, then who are we waiting for?” The girl in red immediately cut in, anxious to get started.

“A guest!”

“We actually have a guest this year?” The girl in red’s eyes lit up.

“Mmhmm!” answered Ah-Tu.

“How well does he hold his wine?” The girl in red asked.

“I hear he’s not bad!”

“Well, no matter how well he holds his wine, as long as he dare to come today, I guarantee that he will come in vertically, but leave horizontally!” The girl in red laughed.

“Looks like not only could he hold his wine, but he is pretty brave too,” Second Madame’s eyes flickered. “Or else he would have been scared away by that sentence of yours.”

“He is not very brave?” The girl in red blinked.

“He has not ran away yet.” Ah-Tu replied.

“Well if he has not ran away yet, then why doesn’t he come in?” The girl in red laughed. “Could he possibly like the taste of wind better than the taste of wine?”

“He’s already tasted a whole day of wind,” Ah-Tu matter of factly answered. “I would say he’s about had enough by now.”

Someone sighed on the tree outside the window: “I really did have had enough.”

As he sighed, Lu Xiao Feng floated in along with a gentle breeze. He had wanted to come in for a long time now.

Seven people like this, how could they not know that there was a person on the tree outside of the window? Lu Xiao Feng had suddenly discovered that hiding outside was really a very stupid thing for him to do. He felt that he was becoming more and more like an idiot.

But he did not look like an idiot. No idiot, no matter what kind of an idiot he is, would ever have four eyebrows.

The girl in red looked at him, she suddenly clapped her hands and laughed.

“I know who you are, you are that four eyebrowed idiot egg Lu Xiao Feng!”


 

Last Updated ( Saturday, 16 August 2008 04:04 )