Chapter 10 – The First Star
April 17th. Night.
The night grew deeper, the lantern light brighter. The aroma of alcohol, meat and fish filled As You Wish Gambling Hall, as well as the fragrance of makeup and perfume. When all the smells mixed together, it actually smelled somewhat foul.
Many things in the world are like this.
Ingot patted the big bag that he had carried in. “Did you hear that? Mr. Chicken here said I’ve lost already.  I worked so hard to get you here, I really don’t want to lose you so quickly.”
The cloth bag couldn’t hear what he said, but Frogboy could.
“I’m not Mr. Chicken, I’m Mr. Tian.”
“Mr. Chicken, Mr. Tian, whatever. They’re both about the same.”
“About the same?” asked Frogboy. “Why do you say that?”
“Well, you can eat chickens and you can eat frogs,” he chuckled. “Right now, I feel like eating chicken. Penniless chickens are not a common thing to be able to eat.”
“Hold on a moment.”
“I’m in a real hurry, why should I wait?”
“Because I have two things I still need to tell you,” responded Frogboy. “You really need to remember them.”
“Ok. Go ahead, I’m listening.”
“Frogs and chickens are different,” he said. “There are least three areas of difference.”
“Frogs have four legs, chickens only have two. Frogs can jump, very high, in fact. Chickens can’t. And chickens can lay eggs, frogs can’t.”
“That’s true,” said Ingot, clapping. “I never imagined you were so knowledgable. I really admire that.”
“You should come back often to learn things from me. You, too, can become more and more knowledgable.”
“Mr. Tian, what is the second thing you wanted to tell me.”
“You must never casually believe what other people say,” Frogboy said. “If someone randomly drags a bag in from outside and says it is full of gold, you shouldn’t just believe it.”
Ingot jumped up like a frog and let out a shout like a rooster whose neck had just been stepped on.
“You don’t believe me? You don’t believe my bag is filled with gold? Do I look like a liar?”
“Yes, you do,” said Frogboy with a smile. “Very much so.”
Ingot stared at him with an angry look, and then suddenly laughed.
“Yeah, I guess I do. Sometimes when I look in the mirror I think the same thing. Anybody who thinks I won’t deceive people is a real fool.”
“I’m no fool. Therefore, I want to see the contents of your bag.”
“Okay, go ahead and look.”
Not only did Ingot unexpectedly agree, he personally handed the bag over to Frogboy.
The bag contained no gold, not even a single bit.
It was filled with a random assortment of copper and iron bits.
Frogboy laughed. “That’s gold?”
Ingot didn’t laugh. In a very serious tone, he said, “Of course. All of it is. One hundred percent, died-in-the-wool pure gold.”
Frogboy looked at him, his expression like that of a bridegroom who, upon entering the bridal chamber, found that he had stepped on a pile of dog feces.
“Are you crazy?” he asked Ingot. “What’s wrong with you?”
“I’m not crazy, and I don’t have anything wrong with me. But I do have a star.” He seemed very serious. “Therefore, even though the bag only contains a random bunch of iron and copper, in my hands, it can become gold. One hundred percent pure gold.”
“You have a star?” Frogboy looked even more astonished. “What kind of star?”
“A star of blessing.”
“A star of blessing?” As of now, Frogboy did not think he was crazy. But he asked another question: “Where did this star of blessing come from?”
“It fell down from heaven,” said Ingot. “A star of blessing from heaven, with one tap, it can turn iron into gold.”
Frogboy’s expression suddenly changed. In dead earnest, he asked, “Can you let me see this star?”
Ingot felt around his garments and then pulled out a star. It appeared to be nothing more than a simple five-pointed star carved out of wood, with a character engraved on either side.
It was impossible to see clearly from a distance what character it was. Frogboy accepted it with two hands and looked at it, then handed it to Xiao Jun. Xiao Jun’s facial expression changed, he handed it respectfully back to Ingot.
“So what did you see?” asked Ingot casually.
“A star,” said Frogboy grimly. “A star of blessing.”
Ingot tapped the star onto the bag. “So what is in this bag?” he asked Frogboy.
“Gold. One hundred percent pure gold.”
Ingot laughed. “Therefore, am I able to eat chicken now?”
How could a bag of iron and copper suddenly become gold? Why would Frogboy admit to this?
What was this star of blessing? How could it have the magical power to turn iron into gold? Nobody knew.
Most of the tables had already resumed play. The losers wanted to retake their losses, the winners wanted to win more. When gamblers gamble, it is difficult to distract them.
And little in the world could distract Ingot’s appetite.
He had already begun wolfing down food and drink. It was free, and when it came to free food, he never let himself be second place in line. Even though someone had just said he would lose a bet, he still had to eat.
Frogboy had already begun to admire him: “This little punk can really hold his own and also let go. Even if he lost his own life, he wouldn’t care.”
Xiao Jun appeared to be off somewhere else as usual, except he suddenly said in a cold voice: “He didn’t lose. You did.”
And it was true.
Frogboy turned his head to see the supposedly dead Wu Tao walking in, not a scratch on him, not a hair missing.
But Frogboy had some missing hairs.
Whenever he ran into a situation he couldn’t comprehend, he would pull violently at his own hair. He pulled his hair and said to Wu Tao, “How did you get back?”
“It seems I walked back,” said Wu Tao. “Using my two legs.”
“And the other people?”
“What other people?”
“The people who were about to smash every vital point in your body?”
“They’re back too.”
“Where are they?” Frogboy didn’t understand. “How come I can’t see them.”
“Because,” said Wu Tao coolly, “They didn’t come back completely. Only a bit of each came back.”
How could a bit of someone come back? At first Frogboy didn’t understand, but then… he did.
Wu Tao had a bag in hand. When he opened it, Frogboy understood completely.
Inside the bag were thirteen steel pincers, exactly the same pincers that the thirteen men had been wearing.
The pincers were their killing weapons, but also their means of defense. They would not arbitrarily give them to someone else, any more than a person would casually chop off their arm to give to another.
What about the rest of their body parts? No one asked, nor did they need to.
Ingot laughed, then rushed over and clasped Wu Tao’s shoulders with two chicken-grease covered hands. He glanced back at Frogboy, “So, is he dead?”
Frogboy laughed bitterly. “I don’t think dead people can walk.”
“So, he’s back, right?”
“And did you just make a bet with me?”
“Did you lose, or did I lose?”
“So now what?”
Frogboy laughed, and then suddenly asked a question: “Didn’t I say that if I lost I would owe you a person?”
“Then I need to think for a moment about how to get a person to pay you with. Although, I never said exactly what type of person I would owe you.” Frogboy chuckled. “After all, I could provide you with a blind, ugly, fat, stinky, bald, diseased, cleft-lipped *****. She could accompany you every day, from morning till night. You couldn’t refuse, you would have to accept her.”
Even he could be fooled. Others might not think it possible, and of course he had never thought it possible.
Frogboy laughed heartily, and it seemed he was preparing to go out and find such a horrible young lady. He laughed proudly. “By chance, I happened to know of exactly such a girl who lives in the area. And by chance, she happens to be looking for a young man just like you.”
He really did seem like he was about to leave to find the horrific-sounding girl, when Wu Tao suddenly asked him to stop. “There’s something that, by chance, I need to consult with you about.”
Frogboy instantly stopped. “One of my best attributes is that I am extremely wiling to help others.” He smiled happily. “Anyone who comes to me asking for advice, I will give them some, no matter what.”
“Well that is excellent.”
“With which matter do you need my advice?”
“It seems there are a total of one hundred ninety-six lanterns here.”
“You didn’t count incorrectly. Not at all.”
“How is it possible that one hundred ninety-six lantern could all be extinguished at exactly the same time?”
Frogboy’s tilted his head. “That is a truly odd thing, but not impossible,” he said. “If ten concealed weapons experts were here, and they all shot out ten projectiles, then the lamps would go out.” What he said made sense. “This is a place of crouching tigers and hidden dragons . Even if a hundred such masters were here, I wouldn’t find it strange.”
Wu Tao could not deny that what he said made sense. And yet, he suddenly flew up into the air, placed his left hand onto one of the crossbeams in the roof, and grabbed one of the lanterns with his left hand. Everyone cheered as he floated back down and placed the lantern in front of Frogboy.
“If the lanterns were extinguished by means of a concealed weapon, then there would definitely be a hole in the lantern.” He asked Frogboy: “Do you see any holes?”
“The lantern is lit, and the paper is wrapped around all eight sides very tightly. Even the slightest hole would ruin the beautiful craftsmanship, and anyone would be able to see it.” He continued, “If there is no hole, could the lantern have been extinguished by means of concealed weapon?”
Frogboy shook his head and laughed bitterly. “As of now, you don’t need to consult me any further. I know how the lanterns were extinguished.”
Everyone looked shocked. Even Ingot couldn’t figure it out.
“These lanterns are all the handiwork of the famous Qian Erdai from the Capital City. Even though the characters in his name mean ‘number two stupid,’ he is actually not the least bit stupid, and has incredibly dextrous hands. At the topof each of his exquisite lanterns is a spring mechanism. With a mere touch, a small metal cover will clamp down over the lampshade and the wick, thus extinguishing the lantern.”
“Above the lamps are hooks,” said Wu Tao, “also attached to spring devices, all of which are connected by thin copper wires to a handle. All one hundred and ninety-six lanterns can actually be extinguished by about ten people. As long as they all pull the lever at the same time, all one hundred ninety-six lamps would be extinguished simultaneously.” He continued coolly, “All you need to pull off a trick like this, is people with hands. It’s a lot easier to find people with hands, than to find top notch experts who can shoot and never miss.”
Ingot listened, spellbound. “I think I need to go find Qian Erdai and get me some of his lamps to mess around with.”
“However,” said Wu Tao, “to cause all the lamps here to go out at exactly the same time, is actually not very easy. I think perhaps only one person could make that happen.”
“Big Boss Tang.”
“No, no way,” said Frogboy, shaking his head. “Why would he do something like that?”
“Because someone asked him to. And there’s only one person who that could be.”
“You,” said Wu Tao, looking at Frogboy coldly. “Everyone in Jinan City knows that Young Master Tian and Big Boss Tang are good friends.”
“Me!” Frogboy looked baffled. “Why would I do something like that? I’m not crazy, and extinguishing the lamps doesn’t benefit me at all.”
“It does,” said Wu Tao. “My death will benefit everyone, it doesn’t matter who you are.”
“And what does the lanterns being extinguished have to do with you living or dying?” asked Frogboy. “Why do they have to be out for you to die?”
“Because once the lanterns are extinguished, Lord Xiao Jun could make a move,” replied Wu Tao. “His fists skills, palm skills, blade skills, lightness arts, and concealed weapons are all incredibly refined. That precise moment when the light is extinguished, he could attack my vital parts with concealed weapons. Who’s to say I wouldn’t be dead? At least,” he said coolly, “that’s what you thought.”
At that moment, Xiao Jun had been sitting directly in front of him. All Wu Tao’s paths of retreat were blocked by the deadly thirteen steel pincers.
If Xiao Jun had made a move and attacked the vital points on his torso, it would have been difficult to avoid.
An expert like Xiao Jun could attack someone directly in front of him even with his eyes closed. Having already determined the position of the vital points, once the lights went out, he would have an advantage.
Frogboy sighed. “Everything you said makes sense. If he wanted to take your life, that was definitely the best opportunity.”
“And so you gave him the opportunity,” said Wu tao.
“He wasn’t confident enough to take it?”
“No, he’s not,” said Wu Tao. “Perhaps he is too young, and lacks the ruthlessness to such a thing.”
“If he had, would you be dead now?”
Wu Tao suddenly leaned his head back and laughed. “I roamed Jianghu for twenty years. The number of people who sought after my life are not few, and among them, at least nineteen are experts of the same level as Xiao Jun. And they all had opportunities like he did.”
“But they weren’t confident enough to take them?”
“They were all ruthless people. They knew that if a good opportunity is lost, it may never return. Opportunities like that cannot be missed.”
“So where are all those people now?”
“Dead. Nineteen, completely and thoroughly dead. Just before they died, they all realized something.”
“When you have an opportunity to kill someone, it usually means that someone has an opportunity to kill you. And if that someone can kill you, why wouldn’t they?”
“It makes sense,” sighed Frogboy. “If more people in Jianghu realized this, there would be a lot less dead people.”
** In Chinese, adding the character 田 tian (which literally means field, but is also a common surname, and the surname of Frogboy and his father) to the character 鸡 “chicken” makes the word 田鸡 “frog.” So, Frogboy’s name contains the character “chicken” in it.
 I had to keep the original idiom, which is the same as the title of the movie and book of the same name “crouching tigers, hidden dragons,” which means powerful people lay in hiding