LXF03-12 Print
Saturday, 16 August 2008 04:35

Chapter 12: The Death of the Nemesis


 

Even though the moon was slowly setting in the west, it looked even rounder.

As if the moon was a bright and round lantern hanging below the upturned eaves of the Hall of Supreme Harmony. The men were above the upturned eaves.

A lot of men, but nary a sound.

Even Si Kong Zhai Xing and the Honest Monk had shut their mouths. Because they were able to feel that suffocating pressure and intensity as well.


Suddenly, with a sound like a dragon howling, sword aura filled the air.

Ye Gu Cheng's sword had been unsheathed.

In the moonlight, the sword looked pale white as well.

The pale white mooon, the pale white sword, the pale white face.

Ye Gu Cheng stared the tip of his blade.

"En garde!"

He did not look at Xi Men Chui Xue, not even a glance, nor did he look at the sword in Xi Men Cui Xue's hand, nevermind Xi Men Chui Xue's eyes.

This was a huge mistake in swordsmanship.

Duels between masters are like battles between armies, only when one gain a full knowledge thyself and the enemy can victory be in reach.

Thus one must pay careful attention and analysis to the foe's every move, every glance, every expression, even every reflex of muscle. Not even the slightest of details could afford to be lost.

Because any slight detail could be the key in deciding the duel.

How could an experienced and undefeated master like Ye Gu Cheng not understand this principle?

This was a mistake he would never have made under normal circumstances.

Xi Men Chui Xue's gaze cut, like a blade, through not only his hands, but his face, and seemingly his heart.

"En garde!" Ye Gu Cheng repeated.

"Not now." Xi Men Chui Xue surprisingly replied.

"Why?"

"Because your heart has not calmed yet."

Ye Gu Cheng did not reply.

"If a man's heart is in chaos, his sword will be too." Xi Men Chui Xue continued. "If a man's sword is chaotic, then he will die."

"Are you saying that I've already lost?" Ye Gu Cheng coldly sneered back.

"At this moment, if you lose, it's not because of skill."

"And that's why you don't want to fight at this moment?"

Xi Men Chui Xue did not deny the conclusion.

"Because you don't want to take advantage of the situation?"

Xi Men Chui Xue did not deny this either.

"But this duel must go on."

"I'm willing to wait."

"Until my heart and mind calm down?"

Xi Men Chui Xue nodded: "I trust I shall not have to wait for too long."

Ye Gu Cheng suddenly looked up and stared at him. A grateful color seemed to appear within his gaze, but it was quickly dissipated by the gaze of the sword in his hand.

Feeling grateful towards your foe is also a fatal mistake.

"I won't make you wait long either. But while you wait, can I have a talk with someone?"

"Talking calms you down?"

"Only talking to one particular person can calm my heart and mind."

"Who?"

This was a question he did not need to ask.

Of course, Ye Gu Cheng was referring to Lu Xiao Feng, because only Lu Xiao Feng could possibly answer the questions boiling within him.

Lu Xiao Feng simply sat down, sat down atop the Forbidden City, upon the glass tiles so slippery that one could barely keep one's footing.

The bright moon was behind him and framed his head, like the halo that shone forth from the head of the divine.

Ye Gu Cheng silently stared at him for a long time.

"You are not a god." He suddenly concluded.

"No, I'm not."

"So I just can't figure out how you came to know so many secrets."

Lu Xiao Feng smiled: "Did you really believe there are secrets in this world that nobody can figure out?"

"Maybe not, but this plan of ours...."

"Your conspiracy really was quite something, very meticulously planned. Pity no matter how careful and perfect a plan is, there are always miscalculations that leave clues.

"Where did we make our mistake? And how did you figure it out?"

Lu Xiao Feng answered in deep thought: "I really don't know exactly how I figured it out either. But I kept thinking that the people who should not have died were dying."

"Are you referring to Zhang Ying Feng, First Madame Gong Sun, and Ou Yang Qing?"

"And 'Mr. Big Shot Grandson of a Turtle'."

"Were you puzzled as to why someone would try to kill him?"

"Not anymore."

"Oh?"

"This conspiracy has been in the works for a long time. Manager Wang had been in contact with the people from the Southern Prince's palace for a long time too. And the place they chose to have their meetings was none other than the brothel where Ou Yang Qing works."

"Because they were certain that nobody would suspect eunuchs and lamas would be at a brothel."

{Translator's Note: This refers to events that happened in Chapter 4 of Book 1. Not to mention this sounds like the setup to a bad joke. So an eunuch and a lama walked into a brothel...(feel free to supply the punchline).}

"But you were not so certain. Because you knew that Big Shot Sun and Ou Yang Qing were not normal people, so you were always worried that they might have somehow figured out this conspiracy, so you had to kill them to be sure."

"In truth, I didn't have to kill them."

"You really didn't."

"But this was too big of a deal for me to not take that risk."

"And it was precisely because of that, I knew there was a huge secret hidden behind this duel. And it could not have possibly just been because of Li Yan Bei and Old Man Du's bet."

Ye Gu Cheng sighed: "You should also know by now why Zhang Ying Feng had to die too."

"Because Zhang Ying Feng, desperate to find Xi Men Chui Xue, wandered into that eunuch nest and unwittingly discovered you were there as well. So he had to die."

"So you must know that the third wax figurine he made was of me."

"And because of that wax figurine, Clay Man Zhang died too."

"You were just a moment too late that day."

Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

"Because I wandered into quite a number of distractions along the way."

"I killed First Madame Gong Sun with the intentions of blaming it all on her."

"And you also wanted to shift my suspicions towards Honest Monk."

Ye Gu Cheng let out a cold laugh at the thought.

"Do you really truly believes he's all that honest?"

Lu Xiao Feng suddenly let out a little laugh in reply.

"I might often misjudge people, do the wrong things, or wander down the wrong paths, but sometimes those mistakes leads me straight to the answer."

"How so?"

"Had I not suspected Honest Monk, I would have never asked Ou Yang Qing, and would have never discovered that Manager Wang and the lamas of the Southern Prince's Palace were there on that day as well."

"Did you begin to suspect me when you discovered this?"

Lu Xiao Feng sighed.

"To be honest, I never suspected it was you. Even though I never believed that you could have been ambushed, and even more sure nobody in the Tang family could hurt you, I still never suspected you. Because...." He turned and stared into Ye Gu Cheng's eyes. "Because I had always thought that you were my friend."

Ye Gu Cheng looked away. Was it because he felt that he could no longer face Lu Xiao Feng?

"Using the bet between Li Yan Bei and Du Tong Xuan as a smoke screen and this duel as the reason, you planted a man alongside Du Tong Xuan who will act as your double." Lu Xiao Feng continued. "When you appeared, you were literally covered with flower petals, not because you were afraid that people could smell your festering wound, but because you were afraid that people would notice there was no odor."

Lu Xiao Feng sighed again: "Amazing plan, quite ingenius indeed."

Ye Gu Cheng did not turn around.

"But the most ingenius part was the satin belts."

"Oh?"

"Wei Zi Yun had intended to use the belts to limit the number of people from the martial world entering the Forbidden City. Yet you got Manager Wang to steal another bundle of the color shifting satin to make into a whole bunch of belts of your own and gave them to the Master of White Cloud Outlook to distribute. Once more people showed up, Wei Zi Yun had no choice but to shift all security to the area surrounding the Hall of Supreme Harmony. That's why it was so easy for you to enter the Imperial Palace to carry out your conspiracy."

Ye Gu Cheng was staring up at the stars, not saying a word.

"Best laid plans. Even if you knew Xi Men Chui Xue would never fight an already wounded man, but you forgot about Tang Tian Zong, still set on avenging his brothers."

"Tang Tian Zong."

"If Tang Tian Zong hadn't suddenly ambushed of your double, my suspicions probably still would not have shifted to you."

"Oh?"

"When I discovered that secret, I immediately thought of the Southern Prince, and then Manager Wang. Only then did I fully comprehend your conspiracy, and how frightening of a conspiracy it really was."

Ye Gu Cheng suddenly broke into a laugh.

"Why are you laughing?"

"I shouldn't laugh?"

Gazing at him, Lu Xiao Feng slowly nodded: "As long as a man can still laugh, he should take every opportunity to laugh some more."

But there are many different kinds of laughter, some are joyous, some are forced, some are seductive, and some are bitter.

What kind of laughter was Ye Gu Cheng's?

It did not matter which kind of laughter it was, as long as he could still laugh, at this moment, at this place, then he was still an extraordinary hero.

Suddenly, he gave Lu Xiao Feng a pat on the shoudlers: "I'm going now."

"You don't have anything more to say?"

Ye Gu Cheng paused.

"Only one more sentence."

"What is it?"

Ye Gu Cheng turned away.

"No matter what happens, you will always be my friend."

Looking at him walking away with assured steps towards Xi Men Chui Xue, Lu Xiao Feng suddenly noticed the autumn winds had turned freezing like the winds of dead winter....

By now, the moonlight had begun to fade, fade like the stars.

The stars faintly glittered like a dream, lovers' dream.

A lover will forever be the most adored. Sometimes, a person would be more adored than a lover, but those things happen very rarely.

Hatred is not an absolute emotion either, for within that hate, there might be found a certain amount empathy and respect.

Pity there are not too many nemesis who deserves love, and even less who deserves respect.

Resentment is different.

Hatred is for the past, but resentment is for the future. Hatred is passive, but resentment is active.

Could you say that Xi men Chui Xue hated Ye Gu Cheng? Could you say Ye Gu Cheng hated Xi Men Chui Xue.

There was no resentment between them, only hatred. A type of innate and instinctive, wonderful but foolish, foolish yet wonderful hatred.

Perhaps, what Ye Gu Cheng really hated was -- If there was already a Ye Gu Cheng, why must there be a Xi Men Chui Xue?

Maybe what Xi Men Chui Xue hated was the same.

Why must the distance between love and hate always be so difficult for people to measure?

But, at long last, the time for the duel has arrived.

Truly arrived. For at this moment, there was not a single person, not a single event, in this world and the next, that could stop this duel.

This moment might be fleeting, but for this fleeting moment, quite a number of people have already lost their everything.

Thinking about those people, Lu Xiao Feng suddenly felt an indescrible pinge of bitterness in his heart.

Was this duel worth it?

Was the wait worth it for those people?

Nobody could answer, nobody could explain, nobody could decide.

Not even Lu Xiao Feng.

But he also felt that pressing and menacing sword aura. But he might have felt more pressure than anybody else.

Because Xi Men Chui Xue was his friend, and so was Ye Gu Cheng.

--Once a person is thought of as a friend, then that person forever will be a friend.

That was why Lu Xiao Feng's gaze never left Xi Men Chui Xue and Ye Gu Cheng's swords. He made careful and meticulous analysis to their every move, every glance, every expression, even every reflex of muscle.

He was afraid for Xi Men Chui Xue--

Xi Men Chui Xue's sword was a sword of a god, a god of swords. But at this moment, he was no longer a god, he was a man.

Because he has felt human love, human emotions.

Humans are weak and soft, and will always have weak points, will always be vulnerable, it is for this very reason that humans are really human.

Has Ye Gu Cheng already grasped Xi Men Chui Xue's weak point?

Lu Xiao Feng was afraid, for he knew it matters little how many weak points exist, for any one of them could be fatal.

For he knew, even if Ye Gu Cheng went easy Xi Men Chui Xue, Xi Men Chui Xue would never allow that for himself.

Victory means life, defeat means death. For people like Xi Men Chui Xue and Ye Gu Cheng, there was no wiggle room at all to these absolutes.

But the strangest thing of all was that he was also afraid for Ye Gu Cheng.

He never felt Ye Gu Cheng had experienced human love or emotions.

Ye Gu Cheng's life was the sword, and the sword was Ye Gu Cheng's life. After all, life itself is a war full of various type of battles, big and small.

But no matter what kind of battle, there is usually just one goal--victory.

Victory meant glory, it meant honour.

But now, to Ye Gu Cheng, victory had lost its meaning. Because while defeat meant death to him, victory also meant death.

Because no matter if he wins or loses, he would never be able to get back the honour he had lost. And everybody knew there was no way he could leave the Forbidden City alive tonight.

So even though both men had reasons why he should win, both had factors saying he must lose.

In the end, who really wins and who really loses in this duel?

Moonlight and starlight faded even more as all the brilliance in the world concentrated and those two swords.

Two flawless and untarnishable swords.

Two unleashed swords!

The momentums were not very quick and the distance between Xi Men Chui Xue and Ye Gu Cheng were still quite large.

Though their blades have not met, their moves had began to change. Though their bodies were moving quite slowly, their blades were moving extremely quick. For even before they exchanged one blow, their swords were already responding to each other.

To others, this duel did not look the least bit spectacular or impressive, but Wei Zi Yun, Ding Ao, Yin Xian, and Du Fang all have begun to sweat.

For all four were among the best swordsmen of this era, and could tell that this type of swordplay have reached the relm of absolute connection with the heart, the absolute pinnacle of martial arts.

Had his oppoent been anyone other than Xi Men Chui Xue, every change, every deception, every variation would have spelt certain death for his foe.

It was as if they had become one with their swords, as if they were moving the swords not with their arms or minds, but their hearts.

Suddenly, Lu Xiao Feng's fists were wet with cold sweat as well. For he suddenly realized that dispite how quick his variation looked, Xi Men Chui Xue's moves were rather stiff and mannered; at least, they were not up to par the free flowing nature of Ye Gu Cheng's moves.

Ye Gu Cheng's sword were like a breeze on the outter edges of a cloud.

But Xi Men Chui Xue's sword felt almost as if there was an invisible thread tugging at its very tip - his wife, his family, his feelings - an invisible thread.

Lu Xiao Feng could also tell, in the next 20 variations or so, Ye Gu Cheng's sword would undoubtly pierce Xi Men Chui Xue's throat.

At this speed, twenty variation passes in a blink of an eye.

Even Lu Xiao Feng's finger tips felt as cold as ice.

By now, nobody in the world could change Xi Men Chui Xue's fate, not Lu Xiao Feng, not even Xi Men Chui Xue himself.

The distance between the two men had closed to mere meters.

The two swords have been thrusted out at full strength.

This was the final strike, the deciding strike.

It was only at this moment did Xi Men Chui Xue realize his strike was ever so slightly slow, by the time the tip of his sword touches Ye Gu Cheng's chest, Ye Gu Cheng's sword would surely have pierced through his own throat.

This fate was one that he could no long accept.

But he suddenly also discovered that Ye Gu Cheng's strike was slightly off target, maybe by no more than a centimeter or two, but that was the difference between life and death.

How could this error have happened?

Was it because Ye Gu Cheng knew that for him, there was no difference between life and death?

The blade of the sword is ice cold.

The ice cold blade of the sword pierced through Ye Gu Cheng's chest, he could almost feel the sword tip touching his heart.

Soon after, he felt a strange pain, like the pain he felt when he watched his first love die of sickness on her bed.

It was not just pain, but also horror, disappointment, and hopelessness.

Because he knew, everything joyous and beautiful in his life was about to end in this one instant.

But he felt no hatred towards Xi Men Chui Xue, only an unexplainable gratefulness.

For at this last instant, Xi Men Chui Xue's sword slowed down too. He was prepared to retract this fatal strike.

Ye Gu Cheng could tell.

He could tell that Xi Men Chui Xue did not want to kill him, but nevertheless did. For Xi Men Chui Xue knew that he wanted to die under this blade.

- If death is certain, then why not die under Xi Men Chui Xue's blade?

- To be able to die under Xi Men Chui Xue's blade is, at least, so much more honourable than dying under the blade of others.

Xi Men Chui Xue understood how he felt, so he granted his wish.

That was why he was grateful.

This was the kind understanding and empathy could only occur among the heroes of the world.

At that instant, the two men looked into each others eyes, and Ye Gu Cheng let out one final breath from the deepest regions of his heart.

"Thanks."

He never said that word, but his eyes said it all too clearly.

He knew that Xi Men Chui Xue would understand.

He fell.

The bright moon has disappeared, the stars have disappeared as well. Disappeared within the approaching dawn.

This peerless swordmaster finally fell.

But would his fame and honor disappear as well?

From of edge of the sky, a puff of white cloud floated over. Was it coming to carry his soul back to the outter heavens? Or did it come by to pay one last special respect to this unparalleled swordsman?

The dawn might be approaching, but the world felt even colder, even darker.

The color on Ye Gu Cheng's face was like the colors of the coming dawn: cold, lost, and mysterious.

There was still one last drop of blood on the sword.

Xi Men Chui Xue gently blew the blood off the tip of his sword and looked around at the world, the slow and unstirred world. A wave of unspeakable loneliness suddenly washed over him.

He put his sword away, bent over, and picked up Ye Gu Cheng's body. The sword was cold, the body was even colder.

But the coldest place of all was within Xi Men Chui Xue's heart.

The earth shattering duel had come and passed, and the foe who was even more worthy of respect than a friend had died under his blade.

Would there ver be anything in this world that stirs his heart once again? Stirs his blood?

Has he decided to lay down his sword forever, just like he will lay down Ye Gu Cheng's body into his grave?

No matter what though, he could never allow anyone to disgrace either one of these two things.

Because the respect he felt for both were one and the same.

Suddenly, Ding Ao lunged forth and, sword in hand, blocked his path.

"You can't take him with you, dead or alive, you can't take him with you." He threatened.

Xi Men Chui Xue did not even seem to see him.

"This man is a guilty of high treason, thus those who pay homage and respect to him are guilty by association." Ding Ao continued.

"Are you going to stop me?" Xi Men Chui Xue asked point blank.

"Are you saying I can't?"

The veins on Xi Men Chui Xue's temple began to bulge out.

"Perhaps it is true that nothing in the world can Xi Men Chui Xue and Ye Gu Cheng, but pity now Ye Gu Cheng is nothing more than a corpse now and there are still 3000 imperial guards alive and well here."

Ding Ao had just finished before he heard someone laughing behind him.

"Ye Gu Cheng might be dead, but Lu Xiao Feng is still alive and well too." The voice pointed out.

Lu Xiao Feng again.

Ding Ao snapped around: "What do you intend do?"

"I just want to merely remind you that both Xi Men Chui Xue and Ye Gu Cheng are friends of mine." Lu Xiao Feng matter of factly replied.

"Are you going to protect these traitors? Do you know what kind of crime that is in and of itself?"

"I know one thing for certain."

"And what's that?"

"I know that I would never do things I shouldn't do. But I don't care if I lose my head, I will go until the end to do the right thing."

Ding Ao's expression changed noticeably.

Du Fang and Yin Xian both arrived with the imperial guards. The bows were drawn, the sabres and swords have been unsheathed. Once again, everything was teetering on the knife's edge.

Suddenly, another man lunged forth.

"You guys might have 3000 imperial guards, but at least Lu Xiao Feng has one more friend, a friend who isn't afraid of losing his head either!" He shouted.

This man was none other than Bu Ju.

"This humble Taoist might have placed himself outside of the politics and society," the Wooden Taoist immediately followed, "but even those on the outside make friends on the outside."

He turned towards Honest Monk: "How about Buddhist monks?"

Honest Monk shot the Wooden Taoist a rather aggressive look: "If Taoist monks can have friends, why can't Buddhist monks have them?"

In the middle of answering, he turned and shot a similar look at Si Kong Zhai Xing.

"How about you?"

Si Kong Zhai Xing sighed rather ruefully.

"Not only are all the guards here master martial artists, but they are officials of law. I'm a mere thief, and you know the thing that thieves fear the most are officials. So..."

"So?" The Wooden Taoist asked.

"So I really don't want to admit Lu Xiao Feng is my friend, but pity I don't have a choice but to admit he is." Si Kong Zhai Xing replied with a exasperated laugh.

"Very good." The Wooden Taoist commented.

"Very bad." Si Kong Zhai Xing corrected.

"Bad?"

"If they want to keep Xi Men Chui Xue here, do you think Lu Xiao Feng would allow that?"

"Never."

"And if they were to go up against Lu Xiao Feng, do you think we would allow that?"

"Never."

"Then, by that logic, aren't we going to have to go up against them?"

The Wooden Taoist's silence admitted as much."

"So, I just did a quick calculation, if we were going to fight. Then each one of us would have to take down at least 317 of them."

He took a deep breath and continued: "The saying goes 'two fists can't beat four hands'. So I guess taking on 600 plus hands with my own two hands must not be a good feeling."

The Wooden Taoist suddenly broke out into a smile.

"Are you forgetting that you have 3 hands?"

Si Kong Zhai Xing smiled in response.

Their smiles were very relaxed. Here, in the shadows of the Son of Heaven, inside the Forbidden City, facing the glittering mountain of sabres and spears, they somehow was still able to look relaxed and at ease.

But Ding Ao and his martial brothers were beginning to get nervous, the guards were even more in awe of the task that might be facing them.

Should this fight occur, its carnage and repercussion would be unimaginable.

But it seemed as if this fight was destined to take place.

Wei Zi Yun's face was as grave as death. Fist clenched, he slowly began to speak: "Everyone here is a master that I have humbly admired for a long time. I dare not disrespect any of you, but duty...."

Lu Xiao Feng interrupted him.

"We appreciate your situation, but I hope you appreciate the temperament and disposition of people like us."

"Please continue."

"People like us, some are greedy, some are womanizing, some are avarice, and some are even quite cowardly. But when push comes to shove, at the crucial moment, we put friendship above everything else."

Wei Zi Yun pondered silently for a long time before letting out a sigh and nod: "I understand."

"I know you would."

"But there is one more thing you should appreciate."

"Oh?"

"The repercussion of this savage fight would undoubtly be grave and crippling for both sides, on whose shoulders will the fault and the responsibility fall upon?"

Lu Xiao Feng did not reply. His heart just as heavy and Wei Zi Yun.

Wei Zi Yun's eyes scanned around at the situation surrounding him. He sighed tiredly.

"No matter who the responsibility falls upon, looks like this battle can't be stopped by anything or anyone."

"Maybe there is still one person who could." Lu Xiao Feng hesitated before slowly answering.

"Who?"

With a strange expression on his face, Lu Xiao Feng stared far into the distance, into the depth of the Forbidden City.

At this precise moment, someone in the great hall beneath them shouted: "Imperial Edict!"

An eunuch, dressed in yellow, scroll in hand, hurriedly came scrampering this way.

There, atop of the very spine of the great hall, everybody kneeled in preparation for the reading of the edict.

"By the Mandate of Heaven, the Son of Heaven decrees. Summons Lu Xiao Feng to the South Library. All other non-palace personnel are to leave the Forbidden City immediately."

The infallible words of the Son of Heaven cannot be defied.

All other non-palace personnel, of course also includes the dead. Thus before this battle even occurred, it was resolved.