Chapter 12 – Ingot’s Seven Stars
April 18th, dusk.
Ingot had no idea what time it was, nor where he was, nor had he any clue what had occurred after the lights went out at As You Wish Gambling Hall.
He wanted to ask about all these things, but he didn’t. The girl who had bathed him started asking questions first.
“I know people call you Ingot, but what is your surname? What’s your given name? Where is your family? What family members do you have… are you married?”
Her succession of five questions made it seem like she was sizing him up as a prospective mate.
“I’m called Ingot, and I’m just a beggar,” he said. “How could a stinky beggar have a family, much less a wife?”
“You’re lying,” said the girl. “You are definitely not a beggar. I could tell that when I bathed you just now.”
“How could you tell?”
“Your skin is delicate and you have fair complexion. Your feet are as delicate as a woman’s. How could you be a beggar?” She chuckled. “If you think a woman wouldn’t want to marry you, you’re wrong. I’ll marry you any time. Just now when you lay sleeping in the bathtub, I realized that I really like you.”
How could such words come out of the mouth of such a young girl? Ingot laughed bitterly.
“Did I hear incorrectly? What you said just now, I think you didn’t actually say. My ears must have a defect.”
“You ears don’t have any defect. In fact, I can guarantee that your entire body is without defect. You’re as robust as a bull.” The girl was still laughing. “I could also tell that you are definitely a boy, and definitely able to marry a wife. Even if you married three wives, or five, you would be fine.”
She did not blush, nor did she seem embarrassed in the slightest.
She sat there next to the bed, looking like she was ready to jump in at any moment.
Ingot wasn’t the type of boy to get embarrassed easily. He was gutsy, and thick-skinned. But currently, the only thing he could do was shrink deeper into the bed and change the conversation topic on this girl who seemed to have much thicker skin than him. “Is it starting to get light outside?” A tiny bit of lit seemed to seep in from the window. It looked somewhat like dawn light.
“Yes, it will be light soon,” said the girl. “At the most, twelve or fourteen hours from now.”
“Twelve or fourteen hours?” cried Ingot in shock. “Don’t tell me it just got dark? I slept a whole day?”
“Don’t tell me you didn’t know?” said the girl, laughing again. “I had to bathe you for two hours before I could get you clean.”
She brought up the bathing matter again, but Ingot changed topics again just as quickly.
“How did I get here?” he asked her. “Who brought me here?”
“A very scary person. Even I am scared of him.” She really did appear to be frightened.
Upon mention of him, her laughter ceased completely.
“What’s his name?”
“I can’t say, even if you beat me.”
“Because he told me not to. He said that if I spoke his name, he would slice off my nose, mix it with rice, and feet it to the cats.”
Ingot could sense that she spoke the truth, given that her face had grown pale white.
He had personally experienced that person’s fearsomeness already.
Just thinking about those ice-cold hands, and that stench of death, he felt goosebumps all over his body.
“He grabbed me in one move, threw me across the room, then caught me himself. Who wouldn’t be frightened of someone like that.” Ingot sighed. “I just can’t figure out why he would bring me here. Why not just dump me in the gutter?”
“Because he likes you, too,” laughed the girl. “And at the least, this place smells better than the gutter.”
“What is this place? How far is it away from As You Wish Gambling Hall.”
“How far is ‘not far?’”
“Why do you want to such a detailed answer?”
“Right now, I can barely even take a single step,” said Ingot. “I want you go go there for me and ask around.”
“Ask around about what?”
“I want to know what happened after the lanterns were extinguished last night.”
“I just know that some people got killed,” said the girl. “I don’t want to know anything more.”
She suddenly laughed happily again. “Anyway, this place can’t be considered very far from As You Wish Gambling hall, because this place is As You Wish.”
“This room is in the courtyard behind the main room you were in. It’s Big Boss Tang’s house, and I’m Big Boss Tang’s adopted daughter. I’m surnamed Cai; people call me Little Cai.” 
“Little Cai? An appetizer? What kind of appetizer? Meat or vegetarian? Stir-fried lamb kidney or cold, shredded radish?”
He laughed heartily. “Just hearing your name makes me hungry. I could eat any kind of appetizer whatsoever. I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.”
Little Cai didn’t laugh. She stared at him for a while, then suddenly placed her soft, white face in front of his and said, “Okay. Eat. I’ll feed you.”
Again, Ingot was incapable of laughing.
But this time, the reason he didn’t laugh was not because of this audacious girl.
This time, he didn’t laugh because he had just thought of something extremely serious.
“You just bathed me, right?” he asked her. “And you were the one who took my clothes off?”
“Of course,” said Little Cai, with a purposefully coquettish expression. “”How could I let anyone else take your clothes off?”
“Where are they?”
“Burned,” she said, “along with all the toys and junk that were inside.”
“What?” cried Ingot. “How could you burn my things?”
“Why not? They were making the whole room stink. Don’t tell me you wanted me to save them like they were treasure or something?”
Ingot was struck speechless, his expression like that of a person who had just swallowed eight or nine stinking duck eggs. “You’ve killed me,” he said. “You’ve really killed me.”
“Sadly, I haven’t killed you,” she said with a sigh. With a flourish, she pulled out an embroidered bag from within her garment. “See? What’s this?”
Ingot sprang to life, snatching the bag from her. She sneered and laughed coldly.
“You look like a very easy going person. Why would you treat a pouch like a great treasure?”
“You don’t know what’s inside.”
“How could I know, I never looked inside,” she said. “I’m not in the habit of secretly looking at other peoples’ things.”
“You’re a good girl,” said Ingot happily. “Of course you wouldn’t have a habit like that.”
“Although, if you decided to let me see, I wouldn’t refuse to look.”
“I might not necessarily let you look,” said Ingot quickly. “I’m not sure you even want to look. After all, how could a beggar have anything worth looking at.”
“What if I said you had to show me?”
“You wouldn’t,” said Ingot. “You’re not that type of person.”
“How do I know what kind of person I am?” she replied. “I’m just an idiot.” She sighed deliberately. “Even though I just couldn’t bring myself to burn your pouch, I could have hidden it away. Why did I have to return it to you? If I’m not an idiot, what am I?”
Ingot thought for a while, and then for a while longer. Then he suddenly said, “You’re right. Okay, I’ll show you.”
The pouch didn’t contain any treasures, just seven stars.
Nobody would regard these seven stars to be treasures, not even a three-year-old child.
They didn’t appear to be very interesting at all. Whichever way you looked at them, there wasn’t anything at all that made them look valuable. If someone offered them to you, you wouldn’t take them. If you randomly picked them up, you would throw them away immediately.
The seven stars were not made from any special material. Even though one appeared to be crafted from jade, the others weren’t. They were made from scraps of copper and iron and wood. One even appeared to but cut out of cardboard.
But each star had a character inscribed on it. Before Little Cai could look closely at the characters, Ingot asked, “So you had your look, right?”
“Do you think they’re cool?”
Given that they weren’t cool, Ingot gathered them back up. His dimples appeared. “I told you, beggars don’t carry anything interesting.”
Little Cai’s dimples also appeared.
“Then why don’t you give me one,” she said with a sweet laugh. “How about the one made from old wood?”
A star of blessing from heaven, with one tap, it can turn iron into gold. She knew about this star, so did she know about what happened that night after the lights went out?
Ingot wanted to ask, but didn’t.
His lips appeared to have been sealed as tight as if they had been sewn shut with thread. He didn’t say a single word. Because he suddenly realized that someone was standing at the end of the bed looking at him.
When had this person arrived? Where had they come from? He had no idea.
He only knew that moments ago, there was no one else in the room. Then suddenly there was someone standing at the edge of the bed.
It was a woman, but as for what type of woman, who could tell?
There are not many women in the world like her.
She had a wide forehead, high cheekbones, and a large mouth. She possessed a very dignified air, the type that made her seem unapproachable.
And yet, her lips, soft and graceful, and slightly curved, gave her a permanent gentle and charming smile, the kind that made her seem very approachable.
Her eyes were not large, but exceedingly bright, filled with maturity and wisdom, the kind that would make people feel comfortable talking with her about anything because they knew she would understand.
Her age could not be very young, and she wasn’t extremely beautiful.
But as soon as Ingot laid eyes on her, he was struck into a daze. He didn’t even notice Little Cai jumping off the bed.
His heart started beating, much faster than usual.
Neither in the past, nor in the future, would there ever be another woman who could make Ingot’s heart beat so fast.
Ingot didn’t really care about much. Whatever things happened in life, it wasn’t very important to him.
What other people thought or did or said wasn’t important to him either.
But it appeared that seeing this woman for the first time was something very important.
He absolutely could not allow her to view him as some simple-minded, love-struck fool. So he sighed.
“Another woman? Are all the men in this place hiding somewhere? They don’t dare to see me?”
“Who do you want to come see you?” said the woman, her voice deep and beautiful, like a musician expressing memories of a past lover by means of the strings on his instrument.
“Big Boss Tang.” Ingot coughed twice. “I really want to see Big Boss Tang.”
The woman laughed. When she laughed, her beautiful lips rose, and within the tenderness and joy seemed to reside shades of cool sorrow, although not the type of sorrow that aroused pity.
“You’ve already seen Big Boss Tang,” the woman said. “Me.” With a smile, she asked Ingot, “Do you think that all the Big Bosses in the world are men?”
Ingot shook his head. “No, but I think you should really let me put on some clothes, then treat me to some food and alcohol.”
Looking nonplussed, Little Cai said, “Why should we treat you to food and alcohol? On what basis do you demand us to?”
“No basis!” said Ingot. “But if you don’t treat me, then you have to pay me what you owe.”
“Since when do I owe you something?”
“You owe me a bath.”
“I owe you a bath?” Little Cai didn’t understand. “What does that mean?”
“What it means is, you bathed me one time. If you don’t treat me, then you must let me bathe you one time.” With a straight face and in dead earnest, he said, “If you want to bathe me, then I have to let you. But I’m a person. You can’t just bathe me any time you want. And if you bathe me, then of course I’m allowed to bathe you.”
Little Cai, stupefied, stared at him in shock.
“Can you talk like a human? Or are are you speaking nonsense on purpose?” She turned to Big Boss Tang. “Ma, is this little bastard brazen, or what? How can he say such ridiculous things?”
Big Boss Tang smiled. “He does sound a bit unreasonable, but, then again, so do you.”
Little Cai pouted and rolled her eyes, appearing to be on the verge of tears.
But she didn’t cry. It seemed she had just thought of something. “I’m a woman. Women innately have the right to be unreasonable. But what basis does he have to be unreasonable?”
Ingot sighed. With a bitter laugh, he shook his head and said, “I bow to you. How could I not bow to someone who speaks such truths.”
Big Boss Sun laughed. “She won’t treat you, I will.”
Ingot appeared to be extremely happy. “You’re quite perceptive. It’s not often that you have a chance to treat someone like me.”
Exquisite, delicious food and alcohol filled the table, and all of it was the type that Ingot liked.
He was so hungry he could surely eat every item on the table, but he hadn’t even touched his chopsticks.
He didn’t touch the food with his hands, either. He just sat there eagerly, his mouth watering.
The young serving girl who stood behind him finally said, “The food is getting cold. Why don’t you eat?”
“I’m a guest today!” shouted Ingot. “How can I eat if the host doesn’t accompany me.” He seemed very resolute. “I won’t eat even if I starve to death.”
Even though his body had no energy, he spoke in a very loud voice, loud enough that anyone nearby could hear.
And so, Big Boss Tang entered a few moments later, her face flushed, looking like she had just washed her face with hot water. Her long, black hair was coiled into a loose bun. Barefoot, she wore a soft silk gown that sometimes concealed those feet and sometimes revealed them.
Her feet were delicate and beautiful, and looked like they had been carved out of a chunk of flawless, white jade.
Ingot again felt his heart beating quickly.
“I’m here to accompany you,” she said. “But, I’m not going to eat anything. I’ll just drink a bit with you.”
“How much is a bit?”
Big Boss Tang looked at this young man, then suddenly laughed. When she laughed, she suddenly seemed to become younger.
“Can you really drink?” she asked.
“Why don’t you check and see?”
“Very well.” She sat down. “However much you drink, I’ll drink too.”
“Why would I lie to you?”
“You won’t lie to me in anything?”
With a beautiful laugh, Big Boss Tang said, “Adults shouldn’t lie to kids. Adults who do, are not good people. Do I look like a scoundrel to you?”
Ingot shook his head. In all seriousness, he said, “You’re not a scoundrel. And I’m not a kid.”
He suddenly changed the topic.
“Who was that bastard?”
“The bastard who brought me here and drained me of all my energy?”
Big Boss Tang waved away the serving girl, then poured a cup of alcohol for herself and Ingot.
She drained the cup in one drink.
Her drinking method was refined and straightforward, just like her personality.
“Twenty years ago in Jianghu, there was an organization called ‘End the Heavens, Destroy the Earth.’ It was called that because of the names of the two people who founded it. One was named Gao Tianjue, the other was named Guo Mie.  They founded the organization for one purpose only.”
“To pursue great criminals at large in the world. They would not give up until capturing all of them.”
“Seems like a good organization,” said Ingot. “How come I’ve never heard of it?”
“Nine years ago, Guo Mie suddenly disappeared. Allegedly, he was killed by Laughing General Li. Around the same time, Gao Tianjue lost an arm. After that, the organization dispersed like the clouds. Who would have thought that they would suddenly appear in Jinan, now. And it seems they are more powerful than ever.”
Ingot couldn’t help but ask: “Are they here for General Li?”
“Of course,” said Big Boss Tang. “Those thirteen men with the arms severed and replaced with pincers were their people.”
“And Gao Tianjue is here too.”
Big Boss Tang nodded. “It was he who brought you here. He didn’t want you drawn into the revenge killing. Here, not only are you safe, but people won’t come looking for you.”
“This Gao Tianjue is one of a kind!” said Ingot loudly. “Why does he care about my safety? If I died, he shouldn’t care less.”
Big Boss Tang seemed to agree. “He is one of a kind. His personality, his ruthlessness, and especially his martial arts. Even if Guo Mie came back to life, he might not be his match.”
“So when he brought me here, you had no choice but to receive me.” Ingot gave a deliberately cold laugh. “And I bet you have no intention of letting me leave.”
“I dare not,” said Big Boss Tang forthrightly. “I have no death wish.”
Ingot sighed. “Actually, I don’t have a death wish either. Beggars don’t have a desire to die any more than big bosses.”
He drank another cup of alcohol, then asked the question he most wanted to know the answer to.
“Last night when the lanterns were extinguished in the gambling hall, who killed who?”
** It’s common to put the character for “little” or “small” before someone’s surname to create a nickname. Cai is a common surname. But when you combine those two characters, it creates a homophone for the word for small dishes or appetizers. Sounds exactly the same, although different characters. It looks like this: Her nickname is 小蔡, and small dishes is 小菜.  The “Tianjue” part of Gao Tianjue’s name literally means to end the heavens. And the “Mie” of Guo Mie means “destroy.” Their names are 高天绝 gāo tiān jué and 郭灭 guō miè