Chapter 13 – A Silent Song for the Dead
April 18. Night.
As Ingot sat in Big Boss Tang’s luxurious abode dining on delicious food and alcohol, Xiao Jun also was eating. He sat at a roadside stall, illuminated by a single lamp, eating a dish egg and onion stir-fried in lard.
Everyone must eat, regardless of whether they want to or not. If you don’t eat, you die.
There are many things in the world like this, things you have to do whether you want to or not.
Xiao Jun was not a picky eater. As long as something was edible, he would eat it. Most of the time, he didn’t notice the flavor of the food, and often, he didn’t even know what it was he ate.
This was because he was unlike most people in the world. Usually, when people’s mouths are in motion, their brains are not.
But Xiao Jun was different.
When he ate, he would think of many things, many questions. Right now, he was thinking about a very strange question.
He couldn’t stop from thinking: “Why am I not dead?”
From the previous night up until this moment, he had thought about this question over and over again, because in truth, he should have been dead.
The second time the lanterns had simultaneously been extinguished at As You Wish Gambling Hall, he had been holding a master-crafted, refined steel short sword modeled after “Fish Intestines,” one foot three inches long. 
In that fleeting moment, his body had already flown forward approximately three and a half meters. Wu Tao’s throat should have been right there, in the same position as his sword. He had already calculated its precise distance and position.
His calculations were always extremely precise.
The speed of his movement and sword could not be matched by anyone.
Of course, the sword attack contained secondary elements. As it stabbed forth, the power of the sword suppressed the movements of everyone within a radius six meters.
He put all the power, knowledge, experience and skill of a lifetime into this attack.
But the sword was empty.
Everything within the range of the attack was empty, completely empty. There was nothing. No light, no ability, no reaction, no result, absolutely nothing.
In that moment, Xiao Jun felt as if he were falling off of a building hundreds of meters tall, straight into a state of complete despair, a state of absolute powerlessness.
The most frightening thing was…
His own power seemed to have been emptied. It was as if some incomprehensible, impossible to resist force had sucked him dry.
At that moment, even a child could have knocked him over.
He had never experienced such a feeling before.
He now knew that he had encountered an unprecedentedly fearsome opponent, someone more frightening than anything which could appear in a person’s worst nightmares.
Even more horrifying, he could sense that this person had already sent a fatal attack flying towards him.
He could not not resist or evade.
He had developed his power and skill for many years, had gained wisdom and experience through countless life-and-death battles. Yet suddenly, he had become empty, completely ineffective.
In that moment, there was only one thing he could do. Wait for death.
But he didn’t die.
As the fatal strike approached, its aura of death completely suppressed his movement and breathing, and he knew beyond a doubt that he would die. And then, suddenly, someone saved him. A hand saved him.
The hand was like wind, a wind from nowhere, a hand from nowhere.
The hand stretched out from an incomprehensible, mysterious direction to grasp his shoulder, filling him with impossible power.
His body flew into the air, avoiding the deadly attack.
When he descended, he had no idea of his position. The only thing he could hear was rushing wind coming from all directions.
—The sound of sleeves rustling, concealed weapons flying, blade edges slashing, and shouts and cries both miserable, shrill and horrific. 
No one could possibly describe the sounds he heard.
Unless you heard them with your own ears, you would have no way to imagine what they sounded like.
And if you did hear them, you would never be able to forget them for the rest of your life.
Xiao Jun felt himself about ready to vomit.
But he did not vomit. Because the sounds all suddenly ceased, and then three laughs rang out.
Everything became deathly still. The resplendent, brilliant, bustling hall had suddenly turned into a tomb.
Luckily, Xiao Jun’s heart still beat.
He could hear it: “thump, thump, thump.” It thumped for a long time, and then suddenly a flame bloomed to life in the darkness, a flame booklet.
The flame booklet was in Frogboy’s hand.
He sat in the same position as before. It seemed as if he had’t moved at all, or maybe couldn’t.
There was someone new next to him.
At some point, Old Master Tian had come to sit in the chair next to him. He sat there strumming a sanxian, a sanxian that produced no noise.
A noiseless sanxian, whose strings had been broken.
—A noiseless sanxian, and a fading old man; the sound of a noiseless sanxian is more desolate than any other sound in the world.
His fingers played the sound of a funeral song.
But the melody of the funeral sound could not be heard, because he never had any intention of letting anyone hear.
Frogboy lit a lantern, the one that Wu Tao had just moments ago grabbed down.
As the lantern light spread, he caught sight of Xiao Jun.
But Xiao Jun wasn’t looking at him. Xiao Ju was looking at the people on the ground.
Dai Tianchou, Tu Qu’e, and President Jin all lay on the ground, not breathing, their bodies growing cold.
Dai Tianchou’s Thirteen Officials Virgin kung fu, trained over the course of years and years, had been broken. Although, his Golden Iron Bell mail tunic, impervious to blades and spears, had not been broken.
But he bled. Blood streamed from a spot behind his left ear.
That area was his Achille’s heal, the only weak spot on his entire body, and also his greatest secret.
A person who practiced that type of kung fu would never reveal their Achille’s heal to anyone.
How could the secret have been known to the person who killed him?
The hall had previously been lit by one hundred and ninety-six lanterns, but now, it was lit by only one.
The gloomy light shone onto Xiao Jun’s face, as well as onto the faces of the eight bodies on the ground.
Other than the three just mentioned, five more corpses could be seen, four of whom Xiao Jun recognized. All of them were top experts of the martial world, including great heroes and great villains.
Every one of them had surely come to take someone’s life, but now their lives had been taken by that someone.
Every one had been killed by a single deadly blow, and all of their faces were twisted with horror.
None of them had ever imagined that they would die in such a tragic fashion.
“I was counting the whole time,” he said. “From the moment the lights went out until just now when I lit my flame booklet, I only was able to count from ‘one’ to ‘eighty-eight.’”
A kung fu which could take the lives of eight martial world experts in such a short time, was truly terrifying.
The killer had already departed.
Wu Tao had already departed.
A fatal blow, eight heroes dead, three laughs, then, away with the breeze. What kind of skill was this? What spirit?
Frogboy looked at Xiao Jun, then sighed.
“I’m only alive because of my father,” he said. “What about you? I had assumed you would be the first to die, how come you aren’t?”
That was the question Xiao Jun just couldn’t figure out the answer to.
—Why wasn’t he dead? Who had saved him? Why had that person saved him?
Not a small amount of alcohol had been consumed. Big Boss Tang’s cheeks were flushed the color of a pale rouge, and her eyes shown even more brightly than before.
She sighed softly, then told Ingot:
“Therefore, we’ve prepared to stop business for half a month, starting today. We will completely redecorate the main hall. Gamblers are generally very superstitious. Who would dare to gamble in a place where eight people died in a split second?”
“So, eight people died. Other than Dai Tianchou, Tu Qu’e and President Jin, who else died? Who were the other five people?”
“I’m not too sure,” said Big Boss Tang. “I heard that one was a Mr. Su Zhong from Wudang Sword school, one was a martial uncle of Qiu Budao and another was one of the highest ranking members of Shaolin’s secular disciples.” She sighed. “Whoever killed eight experts of that level in an instant, must have extremely powerful martial arts and ruthless skill. It’s really frightening.”
Ingot slapped the table with his palm.
“I don’t believe it,” he cried. “Beat me to death, and I still won’t believe it.”
“What don’t you believe?”
“I don’t believe that they were all killed by Wu Tao,” he said. “He’s just not that wicked and merciless.”
“Other than him, who could it be?” said Big Boss Tang. “Who else has such fearsome kung fu?”
“If I could examine the eight corpses, perhaps I would be able to see.”
“See what method the killer used. Was it really Wu Tao’s technique? In any case, no one could see anything. Whoever did kill them could easily shift the blame to Wu Tao, turn him into a scapegoat.”
“That does make sense,” said Big Boss Tang. “Sadly, you can’t examine the corpses.”
“Because Old Master Tian already took them away. They’ve already been placed in coffins and sealed up. Nobody can examine them.”
Ingot’s big eyes suddenly narrowed, as if he were plotting something.
“Why would Old Master Tian be in such a hurry to take the bodies away? Could it be he feared someone would find out that not all of the fatal injuries were caused by Wu Tao? Perhaps he intentionally notified the friends and family of the various victims, with the purpose of sending them after Wu Tao for revenge?”
Big Boss Tang laughed, looking at Ingot with eyes as clear as spring water. She raised a glass to him and drank.
“You might not be very old, but you’re exceedingly clever. How could you possibly think up an idea like that? Furthermore, with his reputation, how could Old Master Tian do such a thing?”
“Why couldn’t he?” said Ingot. “Who knows whether or not some of his own enemies were among the eight killed. Maybe he took advantage of the situation to kill them.” He thought for a moment. “I was brought here by Gao Tianjue, so he was there at the time, too. Who knows whether or not he was the killer? With his martial arts, it wouldn’t be difficult to kill eight people. Maybe Old Master Tian and he are friends, and yet Old Master Tian fears him. And that’s why he did it.”
Big Boss Tang stared at Ingot for a long moment, then suddenly asked him: “Are you really only seventeen or eighteen?”
“Looking at you, you do seem to be seventeen or eighteen, but sometimes I feel like you’re actually a seventy- or eighty-year-old man.”
“Because only old men have such suspicious frames of mind.”
Ingot stared back at her for a long moment, lowered his voice, then quietly said, “Can I tell you a secret?”
“Actually, I’m already seventy-seven.” His expression was quite serious. “I’ve just taken really good care of myself, so I look much younger.”
Big Boss Tang laughed, and with a curved smile said, “In that case, this old granny will have to toast you a few more times.”
The bodies had been placed in coffins and sealed. Now the woodshed in the back of “Forest Memory” lumber yard had eight more coffins.
Old Master Tian had been keeping guard there from morning until the sky grew dark. He did not eat a grain of rice nor drink a drop of water or alcohol. Nor did he speak.
Frogboy had never seen his father in such a serious mood.
Finally, when the night was exceedingly dark, people came to light the lanterns. Old Master Tian asked Frogboy, “Could you see how they died?”
“Somewhat,” said Frogboy. “Each one was killed by a single fatal blow. The technique used was bizarre. It instantly hardened and then burst their arteries and Qi channels, the same way a person might smash a piece of charcoal between their fingers.”
“Could you tell which technique this person used?”
“I couldn’t. I’ve seen many people dead from crushed arteries and Qi channels, but I’ve never seen a technique like this before.”
“Of course you haven’t.” Old Master Tian sighed. “Because only one person under heaven uses a deadly technique like this.”
“Is it General Li?”
“If not him, then who?”
“A person more fearsome than him,” said Old Master Tian. “More fierce, more ruthless, more extreme in action.”
“Who is more extreme than General Li?”
A remote lane, a ramshackle meal stall, a flickering oil lamp. An old man, his face long since darkened by the smoke of the oil lamp, looked at Xiao Jun, who had just finished his bowl of fried eggs. With a tone of partial sympathy, he asked, “Would you like a bowl of broth? On the house.”
Xiao Jun shook his head and slowly stood up. His colorless, expressionless face suddenly shone with a look of fear and astonishment.
If you didn’t see it yourself, you would probably never think that a person’s face could change in such a way.
But the old man saw.
He couldn’t imagine what would cause this one-armed man’s face to change, this man who spoke so strangely and ate so slowly.
But it did not take long for him to understand why. He turned his head and saw the same thing that Xiao Jun saw, something that would frighten the wits out of anyone.
Moments ago, the area around the lonely food stand didn’t even contain the shadow of a ghost. But now, there was a person there.
The person wore black. A black cloak, a black scarf, black boots, and black eyes.
This black was not a normal black.
Shining like lacquer, denser than ink, this black was like the joyless black of the sky in the moments before the breaking of dawn.
His long black cloak hung to the ground, just like the dark cloak of the oft-referred to blood-sucking demons.
But his face was white.
Not a normal white, and not the pale, deathly white of Xiao Jun’s face.
His face was more horrifying than the face of a corpse.
It was a pale, silvery color, as if he wore a silver masked forged in the fires of hell. It shone.
But not a normal shine.
This was a dim, flickering shine, like the shine in the eyes of a person as they approached death. Though bright, it carried with it a feeling of pain, torment, fear and hopelessness.
It was impossible to tell when this person arrived, or whey they had come from.
Perhaps only Xiao Jun knew.
It seemed as if he recognized this person. He looked like a child who had suddenly run into a demon who constantly plagued his nightmares. It appeared as if his throat were being clutched by the hands of a demon. It took him a long time to speak.
“It’s me.” It seemed as if the person were laughing. “I’m surprised that you remember me.”
Xiao Jun definitely recognized this person. Even though he had only seen him once, he would never be able to forget him.
Anyone would remember this person after seeing him only once, but as for Xiao Jun, his memories was deeper and more painful than anyone else’s.
It was something that had happened a dozen or more years ago.
Xiao Jun remembered it more clearly than anyone. It was the night of the full moon, thirteen years and three days ago.
That night, the moonlight shone mirror-like, and the cold night air cut like a knife.
He saw a blade that he had never seen before, or rather, the flash of a blade.
The instant that blade flashed, his left arm was lopped off.
Xiao Jun never found out who that person was, or why they had severed his arm.
He had never seen that person before that night, and never saw them again. And he’d never imagined that he would see him standing in front of him now.
** Fish Intestines was the name of a sword used by the famous historical assassin Zhuan Zhu. It was called Fish Intestines because he hid it inside a fish during a banquet when he killed King Liao of the Wu State. Zhuan Zhu: http://tinyurl.com/odrgsbn. Click the link and scroll down to see an artists rendering of it: http://tinyurl.com/nmnfc8d
 Gu Long does something here in Chinese which generally you don’t do in English writing, and that is he uses a TON of adjectives. Here’s the literal translation: “and the sound of hoarse, sad, shrill, miserable, fierce, brutal, and ruthless shouts and shrieks and bawls.”