The twenty-fifth day of the first month of the lunar calendar.
Gao Jianfei wasn’t dead.
His judgment had been correct, and he’d had enough guts, so he hadn’t died.
The only thing he was sorry about was that he had no idea how he ended up leaving that place, and no idea where the mysterious cave was located.
After drinking the alcohol from the bottle, he had immediately fainted and passed into a coma. Later, he found himself back in the cheap inn, sleeping on the plank bed in his small room.
How had he returned? When had he returned? He didn’t know.
No one else knew, either.
No one knew where he had been for the past two days, and no one cared.
Luckily, this was evidence that his experiences in the last two days were not a dream.
—A solitary box. A solitary, dark brown, oxhide box.
When Little Gao awoke, he found the box.
It had been placed on the little table next to his bed. The color and shape was exactly like the box he had opened before. Even the spring lock was the same.
If this box was really as unique as the other box, how could the man possibly leave it here for him?
Little Gao didn’t believe it was, but he couldn’t help but be intrigued, and couldn’t help but open it to take a look.
Thankfully, he hadn’t forgotten the lesson he learned last time.
It wasn’t very fun to get knocked out every time you opened a box.
So by the time the box opened, Little Gao was already standing outside the window. Cold wind blew in through the window like a knife. Whatever type of knockout powder there was, it would definitely be swept clean away by the wind.
This time, Little Gao slowly entered through the window and circled around the room.
As soon as he saw what was in the box, he was a little bit disappointed.
The only things inside were some pearls, jewelry and jade, along with a pile of gold leaf.
It was enough to buy the whole street, enough to be able to hire a whole city of people to devote their lives to him.
Three days had passed.
During the three days, he’d gone out carrying the solitary box, but his life hadn’t changed at all.
He still lived at the cheapest inn, and ate the cheapest boiled cabbage noodle soup.
It seemed as if he didn’t know what he could do with the contents of the box, and didn’t know that he had already become filthy rich.
Because he hadn’t thought about it and didn’t want to know.
He really had no concept of the value of money. And he wasn’t willing to let his lifestyle be changed by anything.
But on the twenty-fifth day of the first month of the lunar calendar, his life changed. It changed in a very strange way.
It was a bright day. After eating noodles at the noodle shop, he began preparing to go back and sleep.
There had been no word from Sima Chaoqun and Zhuo Donglai, and he didn’t know when exactly he should prepare to duel.
But he felt no nervousness.
After giving him the enormous gift, the mysterious black-clothed man had not sent any messages either.
He was prepared to give the box back to him at any moment, so he carried it with him at all times. But he was afraid he might never see the man again, and so the box had turned into a burden for him.
But Little Gao wasn’t too worried about it.
There didn’t seem to be anything in the world that could affect his mood.
If someone wanted him to wait for two days, he would wait for two days. If they wanted him to wait for two months, he would wait for two months. In any case, he knew that eventually in life he would reach a time when he had to wait for news about something, so what was the point in getting anxious?
He had already made a firm resolution; before this decisive battle, he wouldn’t do anything.
He must definitely keep his body in top physical condition, and maintain a good, balanced mood.
This afternoon, as he walked back along the long, snow-packed street, he realized that someone was watching him. Little Gao didn’t need to turn back and look; he had already guessed who the person was.
Last night when he was eating, he had noticed someone staring at him, the way a cat stares at a mouse.
The person wore raggedy clothes and a floppy hat; his body was not very tall, and he had a big beard; his footsteps when he walked were very light. It seemed he practiced kung fu.
Little Gao had never seen this person before, and had no idea why he might be watching him.
He never thought of himself as the type of person who would attract the interest of others.
After walking for a bit he couldn’t hear the footsteps behind him, so he let out a relieved sigh. And then suddenly, from the alley right next to him, flew forth a rope.
It was a coarse rope, tied by slipknot into a noose. In an instant, it had encircled Little Gao’s neck, wrapping around it in a strangely accurate fashion.
When a person’s neck is encircled by a noose, one’s eyes will bulge out, one’s tongue will protrude, and one’s breathing can be cut off at any moment.
Little Gao understood all of this. So when the rope pulled, he flew along with it, like a kite.
The person in the alley pulling the rope was the man with the beard.
He pulled hard, but unfortunately the rope had already snapped, and the part wrapped around the neck of his target already thrown back toward him.
Big Beard turned around and ran. He ran for a while, and then had a strange feeling.
Because, as it turned out, Little Gao was not chasing him.
He ran two more paces, and then stopped, looking back to see if he was being pursued.
He turned around and looked at Little Gao, shocked. “Why aren’t you chasing me?”
The question was very clear, and Little Gao’s response even clearer. “Why should I chase you?” he retorted.
Big Beard started. “Don’t you know that I just tried to use that rope to strangle you to death?”
“If you know, then why would you let me go?”
“Because you didn’t actually strangle me to death.”
“But you must at least want to ask who I am, and why I want to strangle you to death.”
“No, I don’t want to ask.”
“Because I really don’t want to know.” When he finished speaking, he turned around and started walking away, not even looking back.
Big Beard was speechless.
He had never met a single person in his life like Little Gao.
And Little Gao had also never met a person like him before. Even though Little Gao didn’t chase him, he chased Little Gao, and once again pulled out the rope. He quickly tied a noose and threw it around Little Gao’s neck.
He threw accurately, and Little Gao was once again caught.
Unfortunately, even though he was caught, it didn’t do any good.
No matter how hard the man pulled, Little Gao just stood there. Not only was his neck unharmed, but he didn’t move an inch.
“What kind of a person are you,” asked Big Beard. “How come I can’t strangle you?”
“Because in addition to my neck, I also have fingers.”
When the noose slipped around his neck, he had simply used a finger to block it, right in front of his larynx.
He flexed his finger, and Big Beard was suddenly pulled toward him. He turned around, and Big Beard’s head bumped into his chest.
“Your rope game isn’t very good,” said Little Gao. “Can you play any other games?”
“I can play blade games,” said Big Beard.
He still wasn’t standing firmly, but a dagger appeared in his hand, stabbing toward Little Gao’s soft midsection.
Sadly, his blade wasn’t fast enough. Little Gao used a finger to tap his wrist, and the dagger went flying away.
“It looks like you’re letting me go again.” Little Gao sighed and shook his head. “Whatever game you play, they’re all useless against me.”
Big Beard had already fallen onto the ground. He suddenly used a move called “Straightening Carp.” His body flipped up, and his two legs wrapped around Little Gao’s head like a mahua dough twist. (1)
Even Little Gao never thought this would happen.
Big Beards legs were extremely nimble and flexible, and also very strong. Little Gao almost couldn’t breathe. The odor from the pants that covered the legs was quite ripe.
Little Gao couldn’t take it any longer. Using a very strange method, his body twisted, rolled, turned, and heaved; Big Beard was thrown off and slammed onto the ground. His pants split open, revealing his two legs.
His pants had been about to split from the very beginning, and when they split they were nearly completely destroyed, and revealed almost all of the two legs.
And now, Little Gao was shocked into speechlessness. It was as if he had just seen a beautiful fresh flower blossom out from a pile of muck.
Everyone has legs, but Little Gao had never before seen a pair of legs that looked as good as these.
Not only had Little Gao never seen anything like them before, most people in the world had never seen anything like them.
Only a few people in the world had ever laid eyes on these legs.
They were slender, long and fit, their contour even, soft and graceful, the muscles flexible, the color of the skin milky white, like that of fresh milk.
Little Gao would never have dreamed that a dirty, stinky person like Big Beard would have legs like these.
What was even more unimaginable was that this bearded man who had just tried to use a rope to strangle him to death, and then tried to use a blade to kill him, would suddenly start crying. He covered his face with his hands and cried like a child, sounding grieved and heartbroken.
Little Gao had planned to leave without even turning his head, as he had moments before, but couldn’t hold back from asking, “Why are you crying?”
“I like crying, I’m happy to cry, I want to cry. It’s none of your business!”
A grown man with such a big beard, speaking words that sounded like as unreasonable as a child, so much so that his voice seemed to have changed to that of a child’s… What kind of freak was this, and how could Little Gao possible continue to worry about him?
Little Gao decided to ignore him and leave, but Big Beard suddenly shouted, “Stop!”
“Why should I stop?”
“You’re going to leave just like that? It’s that easy for you?”
“Why can’t I go? Don’t you still want to strangle me to death, or stab me to death? Leaving like this, I’m actually treating you very well. What else do you want?”
“I want you to dig your eyeballs out,” Big Beard said. “Take your two eyeballs and dig them out of your eye sockets!”
Little Gao laughed again. “I’m not insane, why would I dig my eyeballs out?”
“Because you saw my legs,” said Big Beard. “These legs are not for just anyone to see.”
Little Gao had to admit that the legs were very special, and especially good-looking.
But he hadn’t looked on purpose, and looking at someone’s legs didn’t count as something incredible.
“If you’re not happy,” he said, “You can look at my legs. Look at them as long as you want.”
“I’m not a dog, and I didn’t fart.”
“Of course you’re not a dog, because you’re stupider than a dog. All the dogs under heaven are smarter than you, whether they are big dogs or small dogs or male dogs or female dogs, they are all one hundred times smarter than you. Because you’re a pig.” Big Beard was getting more and more angry. Suddenly he jumped up. “You pig, don’t tell me you still can’t tell I’m a woman?”
“How could you be a woman? I don’t believe it,” he said numbly. “How could a woman have a beard?”
Big Beard appeared to be on the verge of going crazy with anger. Suddenly, she ripped the beard off and threw it at Little Gao’s face.
Her body flew forward as well, waist twisting, her two legs once again entangling Little Gao.
Two smooth legs, completely lacking any hair.
This time Little Gao really couldn’t move, he could only look at her and force a smile. “I have no hatred or enmity with you, why do you have to treat me like this?”
“Because I’ve taken a fancy to you.”
Little Gao was petrified. Luckily the beardless Big Beard quickly went on: “Don’t feel full of yourself. What I’ve taken a fancy to isn’t you yourself.”
“What did you take a fancy with?”
“That box of yours,” sad the beardless young woman. “If you just give me this box, I won’t come bother you again. You’ll never even see me again.”
“Do you know what’s inside this box?”
“Of course I know,” said the young woman. “Your box has gold and jewels worth at least eighty to one-hundred thousand pieces of silver.”
“How do you know?”
Little Gao was obviously astonished, because he had never opened the box in front of anyone.
Not only did she not answer the question, she asked one: “Do you know who my father is?”
“He’s a god among thieves. A thief god with miraculous hands. He’s stolen things from everywhere under heaven, and has never been caught.”
“Great! Great skill!”
“But, he falls short of my grandfather. Do you know who my grandfather is?” she asked Little Gao.
“He’s a great robber. If he sees people, he robs them. If he sees ghosts, he robs them.”
Little Gao let out a sigh. “So it turns out your family has three generations in the same profession.”
“You’re finally smartening up,” Lady Big Beard said. “How could a third generation member of this profession not know what things are inside your box?”
“I’ve heard before that masters of this profession have that ability. From the way someone walks, they can figure out the value of what that person is carrying.”
“Absolutely correct,” said the young woman. “But, I can’t tell what type of person you are.”
“Your box has gold and jewels in it, but the only thing you eat every day is a bowl of boiled cabbage noodle soup that costs three or four coins. Are you some kind of miser? Or just some freak?”
“The box I have might be full of gold and jewels, but unfortunately they aren’t mine. Even if I wanted to give them to you, I couldn’t. And I can guarantee you, even if your skill was ten times greater than it is, you should forget about trying to steal it.”
The young woman suddenly sighed.
“I know I can’t steal it from you. But regardless, I had to give it a shot, even at the risk of my life. I’ll keep trying even if I die!”
“Because if I don’t come up with fifty thousand pieces of silver in the next three days, I’m dead for sure.” Her eyes rolled as tears streamed out. “I’m thinking that, other than you, where else can I get fifty thousand pieces of silver?” Her tears fell like raindrops. “I can see that you’re a good person. Please, help me. I’ll be grateful to you for my entire life.”
Little Gao was already starting to soften. “Why do you have to come up with fifty thousand pieces of silver in three days?”
“Because Sima Chaoqun’s Great Protection Agency will definitely require fifty thousand to escort me home safely. My home is in Northeast China, without them to take me there, I’ll be dead on the roadside at any time, with no one to take care of my corpse.”
Little Gao laughed coldly. “Charging fifty thousand to escort someone to Northeast China. I think that’s just too dark-hearted.”
“I don’t blame them,” said the young woman. “Escorting me won’t be easy. If I was Sima Chaoqun, my starting fee might even be higher.”
“Because the people who want to kill me are too fiendish and terrifying. Nobody is willing to go up against them. You would never believe that there is anyone under heaven as brutal and ruthless as them.” Her body began to quiver, and even though ash covered her face, you could still see that it twisted with panic-stricken terror.
It seemed she truly feared for her life.
“Who are they?” blurted out Little Gao.
It seemed like the young woman didn’t hear his question. Tears pouring down, she said, “I know they won’t let me go. I know that they can kill me any time they want.”
It seemed as if she had some evil and inauspicious premonition, like a wild animal who knew a snare lay ahead, with hunters coming from behind to complete the kill.
Although premonitions of this sort of usually unexplainable, they are often correct.
At that moment, from the tops of the short walls on either side of the narrow alley, hidden weapons shot forth. From the left, a rain-like cluster of silver needles, from the right, several shining flashes.
Gao Jianfei’s reaction was extremely fast.
He used the box in his right hand, as well as his cloth-wrapped bundle, to block the rain of needles coming from the left side.
He was already carrying the young woman, who was still had her legs wrapped around him, so he tilted to the left and flew up.
But at the same time, he heard her emit a sighing moan, and he felt her two legs slacken. She fell to the ground.
Little Gao wasn’t pulled down with her. On the contrary, he shot up, tapping his left foot with his right, borrowing strength to create strength. He flew up nearly nine feet into the air. Behind the walls on either side of the narrow alley he could see a person fleeing. They were extremely agile, their lightness kung fu not weak.
By the time they had fled several meters away to stand on the eaves of the buildings, Little Gao had alighted onto the top of the wall. Suddenly, the two figures spun around and stared at him. Hideous masks covered their faces, and their eyes brimmed with fierce, ruthless maliciousness. One of them spoke to him in a cold, raspy voice: “Friend, your kung fu is good. To master a lightness kung fu like ‘Climbing the Cloud Ladder’ is not an easy thing. It would really be a pity for you to die at such a young age.”
“Thankfully, I don’t want to die at the moment. And in fact, I can’t.”
“Then you’d better listen to some friendly advice. You shouldn’t get involved in this matter.”
“Why can’t I get involved?”
“If you provoke us, it’s like getting tangled up with the devil. Whether you’re eating or sleeping, no matter what you’re doing, you could suddenly find a hidden blade pressed against your throat. Or when you wake up, you might find a meat cleaver slowly slicing your neck.” His voice was sinister. “No matter who involves themselves in this matter, they won’t meet a happy end.”
Little Gao let out a sigh.
“This thing doesn’t sound very fun. But sadly, I have an innately strange temper.”
“When people don’t want me to get involved with things, it just makes me want to get involved more.”
The other man let out a cold laugh. “Then you can go back and await death.”
In unison, the two men flipped up into the air and flew away.
Their technique was fast, but Little Gao could still catch them. However, there was someone lying on the ground. After she had fallen, she hadn’t moved at all. Her long, glistening legs were quickly turning purple from the freezing cold.
Actually, she had nothing to do with Little Gao, but Little Gao couldn’t let her and her two bare legs freeze to death in the snow of the narrow alley.
Her injury was on her back. A very, very tiny wound, it was already swelling up and burning.
—The hidden weapon was poisoned, definitely poisoned.
But luckily, she had met Gao Jianfei, who from a small age had lived on a remote mountain infested with poisoned bugs, ants and snakes. He would definitely have a poison antidote on his body.
So, she didn’t die, and in fact, she regained consciousness almost immediately.
When she regained consciousness, she found herself laying on Little Gao’s wood plank bed in the small inn. The wound was spread with medicine and covered with a strip of coarse cloth.
She looked at Little Gao for a long time, and then softly asked, “You’re not dead yet?”
“Not quite yet.”
“Then, I’m not dead yet either?”
“Not quite yet.”
“How could I not be dead?” She seemed surprised. “They already chased me down, how could I not be dead?”
“Your luck was good, you met me.”
The beardless young woman suddenly got angry. “I’ve been forced to the end of the rope by these people, chased everywhere like a wild dog, hiding everywhere. Then I got poisoned by hidden weapons. How could say that my luck is good?” She stared at Little Gao. “I really want to hear your explanation. How could this possibly count as good luck?”
Little Gao could only smile wrily.
The young woman stared at him for a long time, then sighed. “I know you won’t give me the box. So you might as well leave me alone.”
“You shouldn’t get involved in this matter. My life or death has nothing to do with you. You don’t even know me.”
“I didn’t know you before, but now I do know you a little bit.”
“Dog farts!” she cried. “What do you know about me? Tell me!” (2)
Little Gao didn’t say anything.
He had never met someone like this. Never had and never would again. (3)
“What place is this?” she asked him. “Why would you bring me a doghouse like this?”
“Because this isn’t a doghouse, this is where I live.”
The young woman yet again stared at him, eyes wide.
“You’re a pig, you really are a pig,” she said loudly. “The whole street knows you live here, and you bring me here? Will you only be happy if you watch me die by their hands? Are you just waiting for them to come cut me to pieces so you can be happy?”
Little Gao laughed.
One didn’t often meet a woman as unreasonable as this.
The young woman grew even more angry.
“You’re laughing? What’s there to laugh about?”
“What do you want me to do,” asked Little Gao. “You want me to cry?”
“You pig, how can pigs cry? When did you ever see a pig cry?”
“You’re right.” Little Gao had suddenly realized something. “Pigs really can’t cry. But pigs also can’t laugh.”
The young woman seemed about to go crazy. She sighed. “You’re right. You’re not a pig, you’re a person. A good person. I beg you, just send me back. Send me back immediately. The faster the better.”
“Send you back where?”
“Back to where I live. They won’t be able to find me there.”
“If they can’t find it, then how can I find it?”
“It never occurred to you that there’s someone here who definitely knows how to get there?”
“It’s me!” she shouted.
It was an average-sized courtyard residence, and it housed sixteen families. (4)
These sixteen families were clearly down and out. Only people with no means would live in a place like this.
If you can’t imagine how a family of eight could live in a small room the size of a pigeon cage, then you should come to this compound, and see how some people in this world are forced to live.
Lately, the sixteen doors within the compound had become seventeen doors. The landlord had split the wooden firewood shack in the back of the courtyard into two sections and rented one of them to an outsider. A person who wore a floppy hat and had a long beard.
After seeing the place where this beardless young woman lived, Little Gao laughed again.
“It looks like your Excellency’s palace is smaller than my doghouse.”
He had returned her back.
Were it day, the compound would be filled with chickens flying, dogs leaping, pigs squealing, people talking loudly, husbands and wives arguing, in-laws squabbling, old men spitting, kids peeing; even a housefly entering the compound would be noticed.
Luckily, it was now dark, and they slipped in over the back wall.
If a person wanted to hide, it would be difficult to find a better place than this.
How could this young woman find such a place? Little Gao had no choice but to admire her.
What he couldn’t figure out was that just now, she had seemed completely clear and conscious. All the poison seemed to have been expelled from her body, and yet she had suddenly slipped back into a coma. And this time she was unconscious for even longer than the first time. Little Gao always thought his poison antidote was extremely effective, but now he was a little doubtful.
Was the poison that afflicted her too powerful, and had already entered her marrow and arteries? Or was his antidote not strong enough?
Whatever the reason, Little Gao had no options left.
Her condition was unstable. Sometimes she would slip into unconsciousness, sometimes she would wake up. When unconscious, she would be soaked with cold sweat and rave deliriously. When awake, she would gaze at Little Gao with listless, expressionless eyes, as if she was afraid he would abandon her.
Little Gao could only stay by her side. Even his custom of eating boiled cabbage noodle soup was cast aside. When he was hungry, he would buy a few mantou or some bread from outside the back of the courtyard to allay his hunger. When tired, he would sleep in a chair for a while.
He didn’t know why he was doing this, why he would completely change his life habits for a woman, and a stranger at that.
She was beyond doubt beautiful.
The first time Little Gao had used a damp cloth to clear her dusty, sweaty face, he had discovered that not only were her legs beautiful, her face was also extremely pretty.
But if anyone had told him that the reason he stayed was because he was falling in love with her, Little Gao would deny it to his death.
He had never thought about women before. He’d always considered them to be like one grain in a big wok of cooked rice.
Then why was he doing this?
Was it because of her miserable situation? Was it because of her two imploring eyes, silent, but filled with gratitude?
Or could it be that the relationship between two people can just never be explained by others?
It seemed that two or three days had passed. Little Gao was dirty and tired, but he felt no regret.
If the same thing happened again, he would make all the same choices.
These few days, she hadn’t spoken a single word, but looking at the expression in her eyes, you could see that he had already become the closest person to her in the world. He was the only person she could rely on. What kind of feeling was that?
Little Gao knew the feelings in his own heart. Never before in his life had someone depended on him like this.
One day when he woke up, he found her gazing at him numbly. She looked at him for a long time, and then suddenly said, “You’re tired. You should lay down and sleep a bit.”
Her voice was soft and weak. Little Gao didn’t even think about it. He lied down on the half of the bed that she’d left open for him. The two of them seemed to think that this was a very natural thing, just as natural as the flowers blooming when the spring wind blew over the land.
As soon as Little Gao lied down, he was asleep.
Being so tired, he slept deeply. He didn’t know how long he slept, but by the time he awoke, dusk was falling.
The person sleeping next to him had already gotten up, washed and dressed. She’d changed clothes, and had tied back her long, flowing hair with a silk ribbon. She sat at the foot of the bed, gazing at him.
As the sky outside grew dark, the whisling, cold wind slowly died down.
Everything grew calm and quiet. Suddenly, she softly asked him, “Do you know my name?”
“No, I don’t.”
“You don’t even know my name. Why would you treat me so well?”
“I don’t know.”
Did he really not know?
He only knew that he after meeting a woman like this, he had done these things.
He didn’t understand anything else.
She sighed quietly. “Actually, I don’t know who you are either, and I don’t know your name.” She gazed at his face. “But I know that you’ll make space for me to go lay down.”
He made space for her, and she lied down. She lied down next to him, and then into his arms.
Everything that happened was natural, just as natural as things growing when the spring rain moistens the earth.
So natural, so beautiful, enchantingly beautiful.
A silent, cold night. A silent, long street.
Walking hand in hand down the snow-covered street, they found a small food stall underneath the eaves of the street where they ate a bowl of lamb bread soup, hot, fragrant, and spicy. (5)
They didn’t drink any wine.
They didn’t need wine to arouse their feelings.
Afterwards, they walked hand in hand back to the cheap inn. Little Gao still had some things there he wished to collect.
As soon as they rounded the street corner, they saw something very strange.
Her hand, enclasped by his warm palm, grew ice cold.
The inn had closed already, but a man stood in the faint lantern light outside the doors.
He stood there like wood, unmoving in the cold, night wind. His face was purple from the cold, but he stood there very calmly.
Little Gao clasped her cold hand, and quietly said, “Don’t worry. He’s here for me.”
“How do you know?”
“He’s from the Great Protection Agency. I saw him once on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month.”
“If you see someone once, you never forget them?”
They still hadn’t walked forward, but the man bowed respectfully toward Little Gao and saluted him.
“Your servant Sun Da is here to pay respects to Hero Gao.”
“How do you know who I am?”
“On the fifteenth day of the first lunar month, your servant saw Hero Gao,” said Sun Da steadily. “I saw you in the room where Yang Jian was killed.”
“Don’t tell me that once you see someone you never forget them?”
Little Gao laughed. “I remember you too. You’re the one person who I didn’t knock down that day.”
“Hero Gao showed me mercy.”
“What are you standing there for? Are you waiting for me?”
“Yes,” said Sun Da. “Your servant has already been waiting here two days and one night.”
“You’ve been standing there the whole time waiting?”
“These past two days, Hero Gao’s whereabouts were uncertain. Your servant was worried he would miss Hero Gao, and wasn’t willing to take a step away.”
“What if I didn’t return just now?”
“Then your servant would keep waiting.”
“What if I didn’t return for three days and three nights. Would you wait keep waiting for me for three days and three nights?”
“Even if Hero Gao didn’t return for three months, your servant would still stand here waiting.” Sun Da was very calm as he spoke.
“Who sent you here?” asked Little Gao. “Was it Zhuo Donglai?”
“Yes, it was.”
“Would you really do anything he asked you to do?”
“Mr. Zhuo’s orders are like a mountain. Down to this day, no one has ever dared disobey.”
“Why do you all obey him like this?”
“Your servant doesn’t know. I only know how to obey orders, I’ve never thought about why.”
Gao Jianfei sighed. “He really is amazing. Not only does he have courage, resourcefulness and foresight, he has the ability to be a general. I’ve always wondered, why isn’t he the chief of the Great Protection Agency?”
Sun Da had no reaction. It seemed as if he hadn’t heard at all. From within his garment he produced a large red invitation envelope. He handed it forward respectfully with two hands.
“This is what Mr. Zhuo asked your servant to deliver to Hero Gao.”
“You waited here for two days and one night just to deliver an invitation to me?”
“Did you ever consider that leaving it at the front desk would be the same as delivering it yourself?”
“Your servant never considered this. There are a lot of things your servant has never considered. Thinking about things too much isn’t always a good thing.”
Little Gao laughed again.
“True. That’s true.” He took the envelope. “I should learn from you.”
Gao Jianfei didn’t need to open the envelope to know that it wasn’t an invitation to pay a friendly visit, but rather a letter of challenge.
A simple and clear challenge.
“The first day of the second lunar month. What day is today?” asked Little Gao of Sun Da.
“Today is the thirtieth day of the first lunar month.”
“The day he picked is tomorrow?”
Sun Da gave another respectful salute. “Your servant takes his leave.”
He turned around and walked away. He had walked a short distance when Little Gao suddenly called for him to stop.
“You’re called Sun Da?” he asked the staid young man. “Are you Sun Tong’s brother?”
“I am.” Sun Da stopped for a moment, but he didn’t turn his head. “Your servant is Sun Tong’s brother.”
Cold night. As cold as the edge of a knife.
As he watched Sun Da’s reflection on the snow slowly disappear into the distance, Little Gao suddenly asked a question of the woman who had been standing at his side this whole time. “Did you notice something?”
“You’re a very good-looking woman. From birth, men want to see a woman like you. But from beginning to end, Sun Da didn’t look at you even once.”
“Why would I want him to look at me? Why would you want him to look?” It seemed she was a little upset. “Don’t tell me you need other men to stare at me for you to be happy? Is that what you mean?”
Little Gao hadn’t made her upset. When a woman is being held by her lover, she can’t really be mad at anything.
“Actually, I knew all along what you meant,” she said softly. “I just wanted to tell you, Sun Da is a complicated person.” Her voice became even softer. “But I didn’t want you to tell me that other thing. I don’t want to know about that kind of thing.”
“What things do you want to know about?”
“I want to know why Sima Chaoqun invited you to meet him tomorrow at the Wild Goose Pagoda.”
“Actually, he didn’t invite me,” said Little Gao, “it was I who invited him. On the fifteenth of the first lunar month, I invited him.”
“Because I thought of something. I’ve always wanted to know, is the forever invincible Sima Chaoqun really invincible?”
Before he finished speaking, he found that her hand had suddenly once again grown ice cold.
He thought she was going to plead with him, plead for him not to go tomorrow, so that she wouldn’t be scared and worried.
He never would have thought that she would actually tell him, “You must go tomorrow. And you must defeat him. But you must promise me one thing.”
“Don’t touch me tonight. Starting right now, don’t touch me.” She had already pushed Little Gao away. “I want you to go back with me now and get a good rest.”
Little Gao couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t because of the two long, beautiful legs next to him. And it wasn’t because he was nervous or anxious about tomorrow’s early morning battle.
He’d fallen asleep at first.
He was confident in himself, and confident in the woman next to him.
“I know you’ll wait for me to return,” he told her. “Maybe by the time you wake up, I’ll already be back.”
“Why do I have to wait for you to come back? Why can’t I come with you?”
“Because you’re a woman, and women usually get nervous easily. When I’m going up against Sima Chaoqun, life and death, victory and defeat, could all be decided in an instant. If you’re watching, you’ll get nervous. If you’re nervous, I’ll get nervous. And if I’m nervous, I’ll be dead.”
“Can you find someone to go with you who won’t make you nervous, but that can watch out for you?”
“Because I couldn’t find one.”
“Don’t tell me you have no friends?”
“I used to have no friends at all, now I have one. But unfortunately he’s in Luoyang.”
“If you ever end up in Luoyang, you’ll definitely hear of him. His surname is Zhu. He’s called Zhu Meng.”
She said nothing, not even a single word. And Little Gao didn’t notice how the expression on her face had changed.
He had started to practice his strange and unusual movements again.
These drills could not only make his muscles flexible, and fill him with vigor, they could also clear his thinking and stabilize his mood.
Therefore, he went to sleep quickly, and deeply. Usually he would be able to sleep until daylight.
But this night he woke up half way through the night, awakened by a strange feeling.
It was a time when heaven and earth were peaceful. It was so quiet than only the sound of snowflakes gently falling onto the eaves could be heard.
That noise wouldn’t wake anyone.
At first, Little Gao felt very strange, and didn’t understand why he had suddenly woken up.
But then he understood.
—There was only one person left in the room. The person sleeping next to him was gone.
When a person is on the top of an immeasurably tall building, and then falls off, what feeling do they have?
That was the exact feeling in Little Gao’s heart right now.
He suddenly felt a wave of dizziness in his head, and his body collapsed. He bent over uncontrollably and vomited.
Because in that instant, he knew that she would never again return to his side again.
Why did she leave?
Why did she go so quietly, without a sentence, without a word left behind?
Little Gao didn’t understand, because he couldn’t think.
In his silent, freezing night, at this most frigid of hours, he could only think of one thing.
—He didn’t even know her name.
(1) Mahua is a classic type of Chinese snack, made from twisted fried dough. http://goo.gl/DNiwA6
(2) Two quick notes. I’m changing the translation a bit. In their banter moments, they actually keep using the word for “relationship.” As in, “you have no relationship with me.” It doesn’t mean romantic relationship, it just means some sort of connection. I changed it to “knowing” because I think it sounds better in English and also carries the same meaning.
(3) I’m removing a line that I think is totally superfluous in English. The original says, “he had never met someone like this, he never had before, and never would again. But now, he unexpectedly had met a person like this.” In Chinese I think it sounds fine, but in English it’s just awkward to have this level of repetition.
(4) By courtyard residence, I mean the classic Chinese siheyuan style building. http://goo.gl/xIHjtR
(5) This is 羊肉泡馍 yang rou pao mo, a Shaanxi specialty
(6) This temple and pagoda are both famous landmarks in modern-day Xi’an. http://goo.gl/WV66S http://goo.gl/FCWYv6
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