LXF03-05 Print
Saturday, 16 August 2008 04:21

Chapter 5 - Honest Monk


 

Fourteenth of September, morning. The sunlight beared down upon the northwest corner of the Forbidden City. Even though the Sun was shining down, this corner was dark and run down. If one had not actually been here, one could have never imagined that within the walls of this splendid and magnificent Forbidden City, there existed such a dark and unkept corner. At least, Lu Xiao Feng never did.

Underneath this spectacular and grand City Wall, was, amazingly, a shanty town with poor and simple little buildings made of small wooden boards and dirt bricks. The streets of this “town” was narrow and potted with one little smoke blacked restaurant after another on each side, alongside little tea shops that sound like chicken coups and little stores whose grounds were covered with eggs and soy sauce.

The air was filled with the stench of smoke, of alcohol, of salted fish, and of stinky tofu, not to mention a whole assortment of other weird smells that one could not place, plus the perfumed fragrance women put in their hair, as well as the strange mouth-watering smell of barbecued ribs and roasted dog meat. All of this was mixed together to form an indescribable and unimaginable attack on one’s nostrils.

Lu Xiao Feng could not have dreamed in his wildest dreams that this kind of smell actually existed in the world, he simply could not believe that this place was actually inside the Forbidden City.

But he really was inside the Forbidden City. It was a eunuch friend of Gan’er Zhao’s that led them in.

Gan’er Zhao was really quite well acquianted guy, he really had all kinds of colorful and interesting friends.

“The northwest corner of the Forbidden City is a strange place. I can guarantee that even you, Master Lu, would never go there. Even if one wants to go, it’ll probably be impossible most of the time.”

“Why?”

“Because that’s where the eunuch’s houses are. It is very difficult for an eunuch in the ImperialPalace to get out of the City. So whenever they have time to waste, they would go there. So there are all kinds of wacky and crazy stuff going on there.”

“You want to go there to investigate?”

“I know this eunuch named An-Fu that can let us in.”

“But why would we want to go to a place like that?”

“Because, from the information that I’ve gathered, that horse came from around there.”

“Then what are you waiting for? Go find An-Fu!”

“There is one more thing that I have to say!”

“What? Say it!”

“Eunuchs are all freaks, not only do they have weird temperaments, they have this stink on them!”

“Where did the stink come from?”

“Because even though there are one less thing on them, they actually get alot more headache. Bathing, especially, is a headache. So they often go months without bathing.”

{I don’t know, I don’t want to know, I don’t want to think about it}

“Are you telling me to just grin and bear it for a bit?”

“Precisely because they are freaks, they are especially paranoid of others looking down on them. So if that Little An’zi does anything that might offend the Great Hero Lu, I’d kindly ask the Great Hero Lu to just let it slide.”

“Don’t worry, as long as I can find Xi Men Chui Xue, I wouldn’t even care if that little eunuch tries to ride around my head.”

When he said that, Lu Xiao Feng was laughing. Not only did he find this whole situation funny, it was somewhat interesting to him in a sense.

But he was not laughing now. He had suddenly discoverd that not only was this whole situation not funny, it was not that interesting either.

This eunuch that went by “Little An’zi” might have been riding around on his head, but he had been holding on to his hand pretty tightly, as if to show some affection, going as far as to actually stroke his mustache a little in fun. Lu Xiao Feng could feel his entire buddy almost imperceptibly shudder.

Nobody could imagine what it felt like to be touched by an eunuch unless it had happened to them before.

“And exactly how many people in the world have been touched by an eunuch?”

Lu Xiao Feng suddenly felt his entire mouth get flooded by a sourness and bitterness that almost made him puke. The fact that he had not puked by now was quite a feat in and of itself.

The last time, after he had spent 10 days digging up earthworms, he had thought that he had to have been the worst smelling human being in the world. Only now did he realize that, compared to a eunuch, he was smelled positively like a scented candle. And it seemed as if Little An’zi was certainly thinking about treating him like a scented candle. Not only was he holding his hand, it looked like he wanted to get a little whif here or there. Not only was he touching his mustache, it looked like he could barely hold back from trying to get a little feel of some other places on his body.

Seeing the look on Lu Xiao Feng’s face, Gan’er Zhao could just barely hold back his laughter. The fact that he had not burst out laughing by now was also quite a feat in and of itself.

The stench inside the tea house seemed to be even worse than it was outside. The waiter was also a weird, androgynous, looking kind of a guy, always sneaking a peek at Lu Xiao Feng or giving a wink to Little An’zi. Lu Xiao Feng was having a hard time with this guy as well.

He came into this tea house entirely because Little An’zi steadfastly invited him to have some tea together. No matter what, drinking a cup of tea had got to be better than being dragged around by a eunuch all over the place. Besides, the tea turned out to be truly high class good tea. That and Little An’zi finally let go of his hand.

“I smuggled this tea out from inside the Palace myself, you can’t possibly get this on the outside.”

“I truly have not tasted such good tea!” Lu Xiao Feng conceded.

“If you want, you can come back whenever you like to drink it.” Little An’zi smiled so hard that his eyes narrowed to a slit. “Maybe this is fate, the moment I saw you I felt like we could become good friends.”

“I... I will... I’ll be sure to visit often in the future!” Lu Xiao Feng suddenly discovered that he was having problems enounciating, for a moment he felt like a stutterer.

Luckily, for Lu Xiao Feng, an old eunuch came strolling in at that moment, forcing Little An’zi to let go of his hand once again and go over to greet him. Eunuchs have an odd gait, their legs always spread further apart than they should be.

That old eunuch’s gait was even worse than the rest of them, but his attire was much fancier. He kept making this gesture with his hand whenever he talked to someone where he put the his thumb and middle finger together like a dancer would. Only with him, it made him look like an old maid. Lu Xiao Feng had to look away to gather himself.

“That’s our boss, Manager Wang,” Little An’zi suddenly returned. “Now that Manager Wang is back, Sixth Brother Ma’s gambling games is going to start soon, want to play?”

Lu Xiao Feng immediately shook his head furiously.

“I actually have a favour to trouble you with!” He managed to force a smile onto his face.

“Anything, just ask!” Little An’zi looked like he was going to make a go at grabbing Lu Xiao Feng’s hand again. “No matter what, as long as you ask, I’ll do it!”

“I was wondering if you could possibly ask around a little and see if there have been other people visiting here recently!”

“Sure! I’m going to ask around right now!” Little An’zi smiled and added. “I can take this opportunity to go and visit my wife too.”

And with that, he finally left, but not without grabbing Lu Xiao Feng’s hand for just a moment. Gan’er Zhao kept his eyes down and hid his face and miraculously held off bursting out laughing again.

Lu Xiao Feng shot him a mean look.

“How did a eunuch get a wife?” He could not help but quietly ask though.

“It’s all fake and show, obviously.” Gan’er Zhao answered. “But there are realy quite a number of eunuch wives!”

“Oh?”

“There’s not much for the eunuchs and the maids to do in the ImperialPalace, so they sometimes pair off. Some of the more ‘resourceful’ eunuchs would actually spend some money and buy some girl from the outside to be their wives.”

“Being a eunuch’s wife can’t exactly be a pleasant life.” Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

“Not pleasant at all,” Gan’er Zhao let out a sigh as well. “Actually, the eunuchs themselves lead sad and pitiful lives as well. It’s not like their days are anymore pleasant either.”

Lu Xiao Feng was suddenly feeling very uncomfortable inside his heart.

“I don’t think there is a chance that Xi Men Chui Xue would be hiding here.” He immediately changed the subject.

“Maybe he is counting on the fact that nobody would think he could live here!”

“At first, I was thinking that as well, but now...” Lu Xiao Feng let out a defeated smile. “Now that I’ve seen this place. I know I’d go crazy if I have to stay here one day, nevermind Xi Men Chui Xue!”

He had always been much less picky and neat than Xi Men Chui Xue.

“But that white horse really did come from around here!”

Lu Xiao Feng paused.

“And Zhang Ying Feng probably did die around here too!” He speculated. Looking out into the narrow street and small buildings outside. “It’s nearly impossible to hide a body here after you kill someone!”

“So the only thing to do is to ship it out on the back of a horse.”

Lu Xiao Feng nodded, but immediately frowned.

“Still, if Xi Men Chui Xue isn’t here, then who killed Zhang Ying Feng? Who else would have such a fast of a strike?”

That was a question that Gan’er Zhao could not answer.

The two of them drank their tea and stared blankly at nothing for a while before Little An’zi returned, with some real information as well.

“Two nights ago, Sixth Brother Ma did bring someone here, a pretty proud young man.”

Lu Xiao Feng’s spirit immediately took a jolt.

“What was his name? Was it Zhang Ying Feng?”

“That I didn’t hear anything about!”

“Where is he now?” Lu Xiao Feng followed up.

“Who cares!” Little An’zi laughed. “Sixth Brother Ma is an old rascal, he’s probably already hid that strong and spirited that young man somewhere secret already.”

His eyes narrowed as he looked Lu Xiao Feng once over again, as if he was planning to somehow hide Lu Xiao Feng somewhere as well. These kind of people, this kind of place, anything seemed possible.

“So where is Sixth Brother Ma’s gambling place?” Lu Xiao Feng suddenly stood up. “I’ve suddenly got an itch to give it a go!”

“Sure, I’ll take you!” Little An’zi smiled and grabbed a hold of his hand again. “If you don’t have enough on you to play with, I’ll lend some. All you have to do is ask.”

Lu Xiao Feng suddenly sighed.

“I really would like to borrow something from you, but I don’t think there is any chance you would have it.” He mumbled under his breath.

The only thing he wanted at that moment was a pair of handcuffs to keep this guy’s hands away from his.

______________________________

Sixth Brother Ma’s surname was not Ma, nor was he an eunuch. He was a tall, burly, and muslce-bound man with a chestful of hair and a pockmarked face. On that face of his was always this unseasonably arrogant and proud smile.

Standing in a crowd of eunuchs, he positively resembled a rooster strutting amongst a group of hens, proud and satisfied.

The eunuchs that surround also look up at him like a harem look up at their masters, with a look that was part respect, part fear, and part admiration.

Lu Xiao Feng could not help but think of them as funny, sad, and sickening.

--The saddest and most pitiful people would always have a little bit of them that was a bit sickening.

The room was like a nest or a cave, its air filled with smoke and its stench stinking up to the high heavens. Of the people that had gathered around the betting table, 9 out of every 10 was a eunuch, grabbing the dies, twisting their ears, pinching their feet, sniffing their fingers after pinching their feet, pinching their feet after they finish sniffing their fingers, and once in a while grabbing this or touching that.

The House was, of course, Sixth Brother Ma. Standing in the middle of it all, exuding so much pride that it seemed like there was a red light shining out of each of the pockmarks on his face. Gan’er Zhao did not come in. As soon as he got to the door, he slipped out of there.

“I’m going to see if I can find some more information else where, be back in a bit.”

He was quite a master of slipping away, not even Lu Xiao Feng could stop him. So Lu Xiao Feng had to go in all by his lonesome.

Little An’zi was actually escorting him by opening up a path in front of him.

“Make way, make way! Step a side for a bit would you? I have a friend here who wants to give it a try!”

As soon as he saw Lu Xiao Feng, Sixth Brother Ma’s eyes bulged out. They were filled with animosity, as if a rooster had suddenly discovered that another rooster had trespassed into his coup.

He sized Lu Xiao Feng several times over with those beady eyes of his before finally, and coldy, speaking up: “What do you want to play? Are you going to play for something big or some small potatos? Something real or just pretend?”

The eunuchs all laughed, their laughs sounded like the group of hens chirping, giving Lu Xiao Feng goosebumps all over his entire body.

{Note: “Goosebumps” in Chinese is “ji pi”, which, literally translated, means “chicken skin”. So with this final play on words, Gu Long have brought this entire analogy/metaphor full circle. But alas, it does not translate over into English.}

“My friend is the real thing, of course he wants to play big, the bigger the better!” Little An’zi declared before Lu Xiao Feng could.

“You want to play big?” Sixth Brother Ma glared at Lu Xiao Feng. “How much do you have on you?”

“Not much, not too little either!”

“So how much do you really have?” Sixth Brother Ma snickered. “Let’s see it before we go further.”

Lu Xiao Feng laughed too. When he had absorbed enough psychological punishment, he would laugh too.

“Would this be enough?” He casually grabbed a crumpled up bank note from his inner shirt pocket and tossed it onto the table.

Everybody in the room burst out laughing again. This banknote looked like a piece of toilet paper. One of the smaller eunuchs, laughing, began to uncrumple the banknote with his that pair of fingers he had just used to pinch his feet. He flattened the banknote out and read the note. His eyes almost leapt out of their sockets.

“Ten thousand taels!”

Incredibly, this toilet paper looking piece of banknote was worth ten thousand taels of silver. Not only that, but it was from the “Four Great Eternals” that guarantees to pay out.

Now it was Little An’zi’s turn to laugh.

“Like I said before, this friend of mine is the real deal.” He puffed his chest out in pride.

Sixth Brother Ma’s presence had been cut in half, his temper as well.

“Such a huge banknote, how can we divide that up into chips?” A forced smile appeared on his face.

“No need,” Lu Xiao Feng casaully answered. “I’ll put it all down on one toss.”

“Ten thousand taels on one toss?” Sweat began appearing on Sixth Brother Ma’s face, a sweat drop for every pockmark on his face.

“Just one.”

Sixth Brother Ma hesitated and looked down at the several dozen taels of silver in front of him.

“We don’t play hands that big around here!” He muttered.

“I know you won’t be able to cover the bet, so if you lose, I’ll only demand two sentences from you.”

“And what if you lost?”

“If I lose, this ten-thousand tael banknote is yours!”

Sixth Brother Ma’s eyes regained the light they had.

“Which two sentences do you want from me?”

Lu Xiao Feng gazed right back into his eyes, and slowly said, emphasizing each word: “Was the man you brought back here two nights ago Zhang Ying Feng? How did he die?”

Sixth Brother Ma’s expression changed, the collective expression on the eunuch’s faces changed as well.

“This little bastard isn’t here to gamble, he’s here to cause trouble, take him down for me!” A voice suddenly and coldly declared from the door.

This voice was high and effiminant, belonging to none other than that of that old maid look-alike, Manager Wang.

“Kill this little bastard!” Sixth Brother Ma was the first to jump into the foray, but the eunuchs all followed him in, biting, scratching, beating, tearing.

Of course, Lu Xiao Feng would not allow himself to get bitten by them, but he was not about to start really beating down these sad creatures either.

His only option was to go after one person--when catching thieves, go for the head, if he could subdue Sixth Brother Ma, maybe it would scare the other eunuchs away.

But surprisingly, this Sixth Brother Ma really knew a thing or two. Not only had he learned the Northern Sects’ Dragon’s Lair Leg and Flood Fist, he was pretty good with them too. His fist strikes were rather vicious and forceful. Pity for him the person he ran into was Lu Xiao Feng.

With a gentle push of his left palm, Lu Xiao Feng was able to parry his strike and, very gently with his right fist, struck him in the chest. Just like that, that almost huge, bulky body of his tumbled backwards. By this time, the room was overflowing with people.

So when he fell backwards, he still landed on some people. By the time he got back onto his feet, his face was pale as death and there was a hint of blood at the corner of his mouth.

This stopped Lu Xiao Feng in his track. He did not put much force into that punch just now, it certainly should not have hurt him to this degree.

How could this be? Sixth Brother Ma’s throat was making all kinds of croaking sounds and his eyes were beginning to bulge out.

Lu Xiao Feng suddenly realized what had happened.

--Someone had stabbed him just below his ribs on the left side. The blade was still in him with just the handle sticking out of his side.

Nobody could survive after being stabbed like that. Who did it? The room was so crowded and so chaotic that not even Lu Xiao Feng saw who did it. The only evidence he had now was the sabre itself.

He rushed over and pulled the knife out, causing blood to spew out onto everything. Once again, Sixth Brother Ma fell back. It looked as if he wanted to say something as he fell, but nobody could make out what it was.

The eunuchs were already in a panic.

“Help! Help! Killer! There’s a killer here!” They screamed as they rushed out of the door in chaos.

Even though Lu Xiao Feng would never have allowed himself to be captured by these eunuchs, he had no idea as to what they planned to do with him.

Nor did he want to dwell too deeply into that topic. “Thirty six strategems, leaving is the best”. With a quick shrug of his shoulders, he literally took off.

{Note: The phrase: “Thirty six strategems, leaving is the best,” is a common Chinese saying referring to the 36 strategms that commonly linked to Sun Tzu. In it, it is stated that if all else fails, retreat and regroup. In popular saying, it is often used, as it is in this case, in a tongue-in-cheek manner to disguise running away as something of a strategy than what it truly is.}

“Bang!” With a loud crash, he smashed through the roof.

As he leapt out through the roof, he could see that people were gathering around the building from every direction, some carrying sticks, others carrying knives.

His only option for escape was to scale the wall. But these walls were the walls of the Forbidden. They looked to be at least 40 meters tall. Nobody in the world could hope to scale over them. Even if the man who shocked the world with his lightness kungfu, Chu Liu Xiang, was reborn, he would not be able to do it either.

{Note: Chu Liu Xiang is a reference to, arguably, Gu Long’s most famous character. He was a master thief that Gu Long featured in several mysteries similiar to, but generally shorter than, Lu Xiao Feng’s mysteries. More than a few critics have noted the similiarities between Chu Liu Xiang and Lu Xiao Feng, both in terms of character and plot. A big difference, however, is that Chu Liu Xiang was a much smoother operator and would never find himself in such an embarrasing predicament such as the one Lu Xiao Feng found himself in at the beginning of this chapter.}

Luckily for Lu Xiao Feng, he still had that sabre in his hand. He suddenly took off again. As his body came to a stop about 15 meters up, he brought the sabre above his head and stabbed down hard as the blade disappeared into the wall.

His body was now completely flat against the wall. He pulled the sabre out as he slid up the wall like a gecko. When he got close to the top of the wall, he tapped his toe and somersaulted in midair. With a simple “Narrow Chested Clever Tumble Through the Clouds”, he gently landed on top of the wall.

Suddenly, from the top of the wall came a cold chuckle.

“Still trying to get away? You can run but you can’t hide!”

Lu Xiao Feng had only heard the voice, but could not see the person, nor could he tell if this person was already attacking.

So with another flick of his toe, he took off and somersaulted again. Only now did he spot the person. Amazingly, this person was sunbathing among the battlements on the castle wall. He was wearing a dirty and torn green robe, a pair of completely worn through straw sandals, and he was so bald his head was literally sparkling under the Sun.

This guy was a monk.

“Honest Monk!” Lu Xiao Feng almost shouted, and almost missed his landing and fell off the wall.

Honest Monk burst out laughing, a big and hearty laugh.

“Calm down, monk isn’t trying to catch you, I’m talking about this little guy.” He brought up two of his fingers, between them was a small flea. He let out another laugh and continued. “These two fingers of mine might not be as powerful as yours, but no flea in the world could hope to escape them.”

With a little extra force, he crushed the flea.

“The Heavens favours life,” Lu Xiao Feng coldly mocked, “why did you have to kill?”

“If I don’t kill, then the flea would eat me alive.”

“An enlightened monk would gladly sacrifice his own body to feed the eagle, so what’s the harm in letting the fleas feed on you?”

{Note: Lu Xiao Feng is referring to a well known buddhist fable. In the fable, a monk came saved a crane from an eagle. But the eagle complained to the monk that he will die of starvation now because of the monk. The monk the proceeded to cut off an amount of meat from his body that is equivalent to the weight of the crane. This, of course, killed the monk, but the eagle survived.}

“Pity that I only have so much blood and can’t afford to feed it to the flea.”

“So you would kill instead?”

Honest Monk did not reply.

“And if you have killed, then you probably have killed people before as well.”

Honest Monk still did not respond.

“Why aren’t you talking?” Lu Xiao Feng mocked.

“I can’t lie, so I’m not going to talk.” Honest Monk sighed.

Lu Xiao Feng’s glare was like a knife as he looked down upon Honest Monk: “You’ve never lied?”

“At least I’ve never lied to a sad and pitiful person.”

“I’m sad and pitiful?”

“You’ve been busting your tail running this way and that all day,” Honest Monk sighed, “how can you compared to this relaxed and laid back existence?”

“I heard you’ve been quite busy as well!” Lu Xiao Feng coldly declared.

“Who said that?”

“I just did.” Lu Xiao Feng let out a little bitter laugh and continued. “Two days ago you were at Zhang Jia Kou, you arrived at the capital only yesterday. Since you’ve arrived you have been busy spreading rumours and news for Ye Gu Cheng, standing in as witnesses for business transactions, and now you’ve enetered the Forbidden City.” A monk like that doesn’t seem to be leading a relaxed and laid back existence.”

Honest Monk laughed.

“Well, I may not have nothing to do, but at least I heart and mind is worry free.” He countered.

“Well you might not been troubled, but you have been a bit surreptitious.”

“I have never been surreptitious or sneaky!”

“Then what are you doing in a place like this?”

“Because I know there is someone here looking for a white horse that only the dead ride!”

“Looks like not only are your sources all working, you like to meddle in other’s business as well!” Lu Xiao Feng bitterly chuckleed.

“I have to mind this matter!”

“Why?”

“Because even though I don’t have any sons, I have a nephew!”

“You mean Zhang Ying Feng is your nephew?”

Honest Monk nodded.

“Now I don’t even have a nephew anymore.” He sighed.

Lu Xiao Feng had nothing more to say, because he was caught quite off guard by that revelation. This whole day has been filled with crazy events, every event seemed to have some kind of connection with the every other event, but just not on one thread. Ye Gu Cheng, First Madame Gong Sun, Big Shot Sun, Ou Yang Qing, Li Yan Bei, Zhang Ying Feng, these were all the victims and from the surface, there was nothing connecting them at all.

But Lu Xiao Feng could not help but feel that there has to be one common thread, one common connection between all of them. The person that got to Ye Gu Cheng, Ou Yang Qing, and Big Shot Sun was obviously the same person, even using the same method. Yet there was no earthly reason those three would be connected in anything.

“Zhang Ying Feng really did die here!” Lu Xiao Feng broke the silence.

“Is that what your findings have led you to believe?”

Lu Xiao Feng nodded.

“His death has some kind of close connection with a guy from around here that goes by ‘Sixth Brother Ma’!”

“Have you talked to Sixth Brother Ma?”

“Just as I was about to, someone killed him to shut him up!”

“But you don’t know who killed him!”

“All I know is that his death is very closely related to one Manager Wang!”

“And who is Manager Wang?”

“An old eunuch that looks like an old maid.”

“Why would they want to kill Zhang Ying Feng?”

“I never said they killed Zhang Ying Feng.” Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

“Then who did kill him?”

“No matter who it may be, it’s not Xi Men Chui Xue.”

“Why not?”

“Because I can guarantee you Xi Men Chui Xue is not here, and have never been here!”

Even though he sound very sure of himself, in his heart he had more than his fair share of doubt. Other than Xi Men Chui Xue, there did not seem to be reason for anybody else to kill Zhang Ying Feng. Other than Xi Men Chui Xue, who else could have had such a sharp and fast blade?

Honest Monk suddenly sighed again.

“So now that you have talked for a while, I’ve finally came to a realization.”

“And what would that be?” Lu Xiao Feng certainly did not share in the realization.

“That, at this moment, I’m a completely confused out of my mind monk, and you are a completely confused out of your mind Lu Xiao Feng!”

Lu Xiao Feng laughed at that remark, a tired and exasperrated laugh. The Sun had slowly risen even higher in the sky, shining down directly upon Honest Monk’s bald head.

Lu Xiao Feng stared at him, started at him for a long time.

“I seem to keep running into Buddhist and Taoist monks all over the place these last two days!”

“You are a fortunate person, only fortunate people run into Buddhist and Taoist monks all the time!”

“How did I suddenly turn into such a fortunate person?”

“You just do, you don’t even know it!”

“I actually know,” Lu Xiao Feng laughed coldly. “Because I’m once against meddling in this business, that’s how I became such a fortunate person.”

“Oh?”

“Monks are suppose to stay in monasteries and cut themselves off from the outside world, from the events of the outside world. But this matter seemed to have attracted an unusually high a number of monks!”

Honest Monk, the Wooden Taoist, Gu Qing Feng, and Sheng Tong from that little temple, all seemed to be closely related to this whole matter.

“Monks all wear white socks,” Lu Xiao Feng continued. “If there are societies based on green shirts and red shoes, there could very well be one based on White Socks.”

Honest Monk laughed again.

“You might be confused out of your mind, but your imagination is still working fine.” He shook his head and mused.

“Nevertheless, I keep getting the feeling that there is a monk behind all of this, doing something that would be best to not ever see the light of day.” Lu Xiao Feng coldly countered.

“Oh?”

“You are a monk.”

Honest Monk suddenly put his mud covered feet in the air.

“Too bad this particular monk don’t wear white socks, but meat socks!” He joked.

“Meat socks is still white socks.”

“But my skin isn’t white!”

Once again, Lu Xiao Feng had nothing more to say.

--Of course, there was much talk he was not ready to say just yet. So he was getting ready to leave. But only when he was getting ready to leave did he realize that he could no long leave.

If he was to head East, there two men on the battlements, with their hands behind their backs, slowly heading his way. If he was to head South, there were two men heading his way in that direction as well. If he was to jump off of the wall, on one wide was eunuch central, and on the other side a dozen or so rows of archers and soldiers waiting for him.

A resigned smile appeared on his face.

“From the looks of it, the Forbidden City isn’t exactly the best place to chat up monks.”

______________________________

The battlements were exceptionally wide, enough to allow two men to walk side by side without crowding into each other. Of the two men coming from the east, one was an old man with a thin and bright face that had an air of pride and sophistocation; the other man had a deathly pale face and a cold sneer on his face. Of the two men approaching from the south, one had eyes that pierced the air like an eagle, even his nose was curved like an eagle’s beak; and the other was none other than Yin Xian.

All four of them was adorned in the most expensive of attire, and carried themselves in a proud, stately way that seemed befitting of their stations. Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

“Well, the Chief Wardens of the Imperial Guard is all here, what do you think we should do?”

Honest Monk laughed.

“Lucky for me, I didn’t kill anyone, nor am I a suspect,” he leapt to his feat and, still laughing, suddenly asked, “May I inquire as to who among you is the ‘Hunan Swordsman’ Master Wei Zi Yun?”

“That would be me.” The thin, bright faced old man replied.

“And who among you is the ‘Divine Eagle of the Steppe’ Master Tu Fang?”

“Me.” The eagle-eyed middle aged man curtly answered.

“The one besides Boss Wei over there would be ‘Star Plucking Hand’ Ding Ao. My name is Yin Xian.” Yin Xian cut in. “Good day, Master Monk!”

“I’m no Master Monk, just a plain old monk, an honest to goodness monk.” Honest Monk pointed over at Lu Xiao Feng and continued. “This guy, however, isn’t honest at all. He’s the guy you are all looking for, not me!”

“We were looking for him anyways.” Ding Ao coldly replied.

“Are you guys going to invite me for a drink?” Lu Xiao Feng actually joked.

“You trespass into the Forbidden City, commit a murder, and still have the nerve to want a drink?” Du Fang’s face turned a shade more grave.

He was never one with much sense of humour, when confront with this kind of men, all Lu Xiao Feng could do was force a silly smile.

“Trespassing into the Forbidden City, that part is true. But that committing a murder part is not.”

“That sabre in your hand is quite real!” Ding Ao chuckleed.

“The one with the knife in his hand isn’t necessarily the killer, and the killer doesn’t necessarily have the knife in his hands!”

“You weren’t the killer?” Du Fang demanded.

“No.”

“If he says he didn’t, then he didn’t.” Yin Xian abruptly stated. “I know for a fact this man would never tell a lie!”

“I have never met anybody who would never tell a lie before!” Ding Ao coldly dismissed.

“In that case it seemed like you ran into two today!” Wei Zi Yun smiled.

Ding Ao had nothing more to say.

“If Yin Xian says he would never lie, then he isn’t the killer!” Wei Zi Yun matter of factly concluded.

Du Fang wanted to say something, but eventually decided against it.

“Besides, even if ten more Sixth Ma was killed, it still has nothing to do with us,” he added. “Master Lu has probably figured out that is not what we are here for!”

“As for the crime of trespassing into the Forbidden City, you can be forgiven this time, because you still have to break that law again tomorrow night!” Yin Xian added with a smile.

“The Master of White Cloud Castle and Xi Men Chui Xue are both eternal and incomparable swordsmen,” Wei Zi Yun said. “Their duel tomorrow night are sure to be a world shakingly spectacular event.”

“I don’t believe any who practices martial arts would want to miss this duel!” Yin Xian added.

“Even though we are here among royalties, we are still martial arts practioners. We want to see these two generation defining swordsmen in all their glories as well, to see their unmatched sword skills.”

“In truth, now that we know about this, we should be doubling up security and placing ambushes to prevent them from entering!” Yin Xian offered.

“But we don’t want to be that kind of kill joy and spoiling everybody’s plans. Nor do we want to offend all the heroes of the martial worl!” Wei Zi Yun methodically explained. “If a man came out of the martial world, then he’d do well not to forget his humble origins. I trust Master Lu understand that point perfectly!”

“I do.” Lu Xiao Feng’s demeanor suddenly turned very serious and respectful as well, because he just discovered that this Hunan Swordsman was truly an earnest and sincere gentleman.

“Nevertheless, we still have some responsibilities and cannot be lax in our protection of His Majesty, nor can the FobiddenCity become the playground of the martial world where people come and go as they pleased.”

“I understand that point perfectly as well!”

“To be honest, the purpose of our meeting right now is to let Master Lu fully understand this point.”

Even Lu Xiao Feng had to concede this point. Below them, at the foot of the wall, the blades of the axes and sabres were glistening in the sun, the arrows were tightened on the fully pulled bows; on top of the wall, there were 4 men whose abilities and fame moved and shook the martial world ten years ago. If they were to attack all at once, nobody in the world would be able to fend off even the first wave!

“All this talk leads to basically one thing, we sincerely hope that Master Lu would do us a favour!” Wei Zi Yun concluded.

“Please don’t hesitate to ask!”

“We just hope that not too many people show up tomorrow night; preferably no more than eight in numbers!”

Lu Xiao Feng finally understood their point. They had probably already calculated, with the power and the abilities of the Imperial Guard, even if trouble was to take place, they would still be able to quell the situation if only 8 people had shown up.

But there was still one point that had Lu Xiao Feng tripped up.

“But why would this be a favour from me? I can’t decide for other people, nor could I possibly know how many people are coming.”

“We want Master Lu to decide for others!”

Lu Xiao Feng was even more confused.

“Other than Master of White Cloud Castle and Xi Men Chui Xue, we would like Master Lu to be responsible in picking the other six.” Wei Zi Yun explained further before Lu Xiao Feng could ask.

“You mean, come tomorrow night, only the 6 people I pick will be able to enter?”

“That’s exactly what we mean!”

Lu Xiao Feng smiled, it was a pained, resigned, and exhausted smile. He suddenly discovered that not only was this Hunan Swordsman a true and earnest gentleman, he was also a calculating and cunning old fox. If he picked who could enter, then if some trouble should happen, he would, obviously, have some responsibility and would be compelled to help deal with the situation.

“Here is 6 satin belts,” Wei Zi Yun continued. “If Master Lu should want someone to be able to attend the duel, then give one to him and tell him to wear it on him when he shows up!”

“This satin were imported from Persia and is one of the treasures of the ImperialPalace,” Yin Xian further explained. “Under the moonlight it would change colours, so it’s impossible to fake!”

“We’ve already instructed people to start spreading this information to our friends in the martial world!” Wei Zi Yun continued.

“Those without that belt on their bodies, with absolute no regard as to who they are, will be executed on the spot if caught trespassing within the ForbiddenPalace!” Ding Ao coldly emphasized.

“With that said, we humbly ask Master Lu please accept these.” Wei Zi Yun took out a bundle of satin belts and brought them over to Lu Xiao Feng.

Lu Xiao Feng looked down on these satin belts, which were glowing in the sun, like they were a pile a red hot burning coal. He knew better than anyone else that accepting these belts would bring untold amount of worry and trouble onto himself.

Obviously, Wei Zi Yun saw the hesitation on his face.

“If Master Lu does not want go along with this, we won’t force you, it’s just that....” He calmly declared.

“It’s just that?”

“It’s just that with our responsibility to the safety of His Majesty, we will have to close down the Forbidden Palace and humbly ask Master of White Cloud Castle and Xi Men Chui Xue to kindly have their duel somewhere else.”

“In that case I accept this responsibility, that way if others whine, at least they’ll only be whining about me!”

“So we humbly request that Master Lu would consider this some more.” Wei Zi Yun casually offered.

“Looks to me like I don’t have much of a choice.” Lu Xiao Feng sighed and let out a little laugh at his own predicament.

Wei Zi Yun did not say anything and just smiled.

“Why is all everytime there is some terribly trouble some thing to do, it always falls to me?” Lu Xiao Feng sighed again and mumbled to himself.

Honest Monk suddenly laughed.

“Because you are Lu Xiao Feng.”

And that seemed to be reason enough.

______________________________

With the belts resting comfortably on his shoulders, Lu Xiao Feng slowly made his way down the wall. The army of soldiers that was waiting below the walls had suddenly disappeared with the same efficiency with which they appeared. The Imperial Guards of the Forbidden City were, of course, some of the best trained troops in the world.

Although their individual martial arts skills might not be great, but their strong bows and sharp blades, along with their tactical placement and movement, would make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a martial art master of any kind to be able to fend them off. On top of that, other than Wei Zi Yun and the other Chief Wardens, there were probably many more masters amongst the Imperial Guards.

“Other than the 6 people you picked, anyone else caught trespassing inside the Forbidden City would be executed on the spot without exception!”

“Do you believe what they said?” He suddenly asked.

Honest Monk was walking in front of him, his head snapped back at the question.

“Which part?”

“If you didn’t have a belt, would you dare enter the Forbidden City tomorrow night?”

Honest Monk smiled.

“I don’t have the courage, but I do have a belt.”

“You have a belt? Where?”

“Over there on your shoulder.”

Lu Xiao Feng smiled as well.

“Why must I give you a belt?”

“Because I’m a monk, an honest to goodness monk.”

“That seems like a good enough reason,” Lu Xiao Feng nodded with a laugh.

“More than enough.”

Lu Xiao Feng picked out one belt and placed it on Honest Monk’s shoulder.

“You should probably change your outfit!” He mused.

“Why?”

“This belt’s color doesn’t match your outfit!”

“No matter, we monks don’t care about that. Besides, this belt’s color is going to change anyways!”

“I just want to remind you that while you can change your outfit, you can’t change that belt.” Lu Xiao Feng matter of factly observed.

Honest Monk laughed again.

“You give me something, I’ll give you something back,” he suddenly offered. “Because you gave me this belt, I’ll give you something as well.”

“What?”

“A sentence.”

“I’m listening.”

Honest Monk gave Lu Xiao Feng one quick look over and began: “Your eyes are dark, the color of your face is like dirt, my advice to you is quickly go find a place to get some sleep, preferably sleep all the way until tomorrow night. Else....”

“Else what?”

Honest Monk sighed.

“Even if a dead man has 5 belts on him, he still won’t get in the Forbidden City.”

“Is that a threat? Or a warning?”

“It’s just the honest truth, everything I say is just the honest truth.”

Honest Monk went off. Lu Xiao Feng suddenly realized that his gait was very odd as well, odd like those eunuchs.

--Are monks not that different from eunuchs?

--But monks could still secretly go and visit prostitutes!

--If eunuchs could have wives, why could monks not go visit prostitutes?

Lu Xiao Feng sighed and decided not to think about that matter anymore, he still had much more pressing matter to ponder.

The Wooden Taoist, Gu Qing Feng, Ancient Pine Hermit, Li Yan Bei, Hua Man Lou, Yan Ren Ying, the Tang brothers, the lamas, those mysterious swordsmen, not to mention all the other masters from the 7 main sword sects.

None of them would probably want to miss out on tomorrow night’s duel, yet there were only 5 belts left. What would be the right way to distribute these belts? Maybe there was no right way to distribute them.

Lu Xiao Feng could not help but sigh again.

“Those who didn’t get a belt might come for my life,” he mumbled to himself. “Looks like I really should just sleep all the way until tomorrow night!”