Chapter 14 – A Silver Mask
The moon this night was also full, and the silver mask glittered brilliantly in its light. The moon looked exactly as it had thirteen years before.
Masks cannot age, nor change.
But the people had changed.
Xiao Jun had grown from a young disciple of the Beggar Sect to become the Lord of the its Torture Chamber, with complete power over life and death. He’d changed from a youth full of vim and vigor, into a taciturn, cold man.
Had his arm not been severed, he would not have become this way.
He had never seen this person’s face, but this person had changed his entire life.
Was the change his good luck, or his misfortune?
Even he didn’t know.
What type of person hid beneath this silver mask and black cloak? Why had he chopped off his arm?
Xiao Jun had no idea.
In his nightmares, he would frequently see this person, on that same night underneath the full moon, thirteen years ago. Upon awakening in a cold sweat, he would ask himself: “Why? Why? Why…?”
The only person who could provide answers, now stood in front of him like a figure from a nightmare.
In moments, his clothes were soaked with sweat, sticking to his flesh. His tongue stuck inside his mouth; he couldn’t speak a single word.
The person in the silver mask had already sat down in front of him at the food stall. “Of course you haven’t forgotten me,” he said. “Thirteen years ago, I chopped off your arm under the light of the full moon.”
His voice was not as fearsome as his appearance. If you didn’t see him, but heard his voice, you would think he was a very gentle person.
This was the first time Xiao Jun heard his voice.
It was soft and deep, and when he spoke to Xiao Jun it sounded like a gentle mother, sitting next to her child in bed, singing a bedtime lullaby.
And yet, at any moment, he could chop off Xiao Jun’s other arm.
“Thirteen years ago, you had never seen me before, nor had I seen you,” said the person in the silver mask. “And yet, I took your arm and left you to live a life of suffering. All this time, I never came looking for you, and you had no way to look for me. And yet now, thirteen long years later, here I am. Do you know why?”
Xiao Jun shook his head.
“Do you want to know why?” asked the person in the silver mask.
Xiao Jun nodded.
He slowly turned around. “If you want to know, come with me. If you don’t want to come, I won’t force you.”
No one knew where he came from, and no one knew where he planned to go.
And yet Xiao Jun went with him, seemingly bewitched.
Even if this person led him down into hell, he would probably follow.
It seemed his voice had some entrancing power over Xiao Jun.
This was the first time he had heard the person’s voice, but yet, it also seemed as if he had heard it countless times before.
Why was that? Xiao Jun had no explanation.
Fog filled the night, a dreary and hazy fog. The black cloak fluttered in the night wind, making the person look like a specter floating in the dark.
He walked ahead, at a measured pace. Xiao Jun followed, not far behind.
He carried a sword specially designed for killing, a sword that assassins during the Warring States period had favored.
If Xiao Jun drew his sword, perhaps he could plant it straight into the back of the person in front of him, piercing his heart.
But he didn’t draw the sword.
Even though he had never stabbed anyone in the back before, for this person he could probably make an exception.
He knew that if he missed this opportunity, he might never get another. Opportunities like this don’t come twice.
For years, he had been waiting for a chance like this. Now the chance had arrived. Why didn’t he make a move?
From within the dreary fog suddenly appeared several dim lights. Lamplight flickered on undulating water, water undulated underneath flickering lamplight.
Mirror-like water rippled.
“Lotus flowers and willow trees abound, half of the scenery in the city is this lake.”  Tranquil Daming Lake suddenly appeared in front of Xiao Jun. 
The lights came from a boat, which floated on the water some 25 to 30 meters from the shore.
The waves were beautiful, the boat was beautiful.
The person in the silver mask stood there on the shore, beneath a weeping willow. Willow branches rustled gently in the wind. He turned and looked at Xiao Jun.
“Are you getting on board?”
Xiao Jun suddenly drew his sword and chopped three chunks of wood out of the trunk of the willow tree. The sword flashed, and the pieces of wood flew out onto the water. The first piece landed nine meters out, the second, fifteen, the third, twenty-one.
By the time the flashing of the blade dissipated, Xiao Jun had already landed on the first piece of wood.
The chunk of willow began to sink, and he flew up. His left foot tapped the second piece of wood, his right foot tapped the third.
By the time the wood sank and reemerged, he was on the boat.
This was the result of years of bitter training. Xiao Jun believed his lightness arts to be among the top ten in all of Jianghu.
And yet, as soon as his foot touched the planks of the deck, he saw the person in the silver mask walking slowly into the cabin. A curtain of pearls hung in the doorway.
The curtain swayed in the wind, and the strings of pearls clinked against each other, producing a sound reminiscent of wind-bells on a the eaves of a temple.
The pieces of willow still floated on the surface of the water, but Xiao Jun’s heart had already sunk.
In his life, he truly hated only two people, and lived solely for the purpose of seeking vengeance against them.
Now, he had found both of them.
And yet he had also found out that he had no chance or hope whatsoever in going up against either of them.
Two men in gray robes stood outside the door, looking at him. Their faces, seemingly carved from limestone, contained no trace of color or expression.
Each used a right arm to part the pearl curtain, keeping their left arm concealed in their sleeve. It seemed as if they did not wish anyone to see that arm.
That hand was their secret weapon, and a deadly one at that. It was for killing, not to be shown off to others.
Xiao Jun had seen people like this before.
They all had deadly steel pincers, along with nine hundred and ninety-nine lives.
And their lives all belonged to the fearsome person with the silver mask.
The ship’s cabin was not large, but was decorated resplendently. The person in the silver mask had already sat down in a large, soft chair, and sat waiting languidly.
Another gray-robed man brewed tea on a crude clay furnace. The water in the copper pot was already boiling.
“This water is from Baotu Spring , one of the most famous springs under heaven,” said the man in the silver mask. “It has flowed unceasingly for millenniums. The color, fragrance, aroma and flavor of tea brewed with this water is no different from tea brewed with the best spring water from Jingshan .
His voice had grown even more gentle as he spoke about such refined matters.
Were it not for the frightening silver mask, anyone would assume that Xiao Jun had come here upon invitation to partake of fine tea.
“I don’t drink alcohol,” said the man in the silver mask, “only tea. I happen to have a fondness for it. People who drink tea are always much more clear-headed than people who drink alcohol.”
Xiao Jun stood by the window, staring at the distant shadow of Thousand Buddha Mountain.  He suddenly asked, “What happened to their arms?”
“The people here,” he said. “These men with nine hundred and ninety-nine lives.” He continued with another question: “Are they truly men with nine hundred and ninety-nine lives? Or are they nine-hundred and ninety-nine men with one life each?”
“Do you really care about their lives?” asked the man in the silver mask with a cool expression. ”It seemed as if he were laughing. “It really doesn’t matter how many there are, or how many lives they have. It’s the same either way.”
“The same? How so?”
“Because they are mine, as are their lives. I can make them do anything I wish, even die.” His voice was still gentle and mild. “Their arms are like yours, severed by me. Every one of them the same.”
It was truly inconceivable for someone to use such a gentle tone to talk about such horrific matters.
“But they are not like you,” continued the man in the silver mask. “Even though I cut off their arms, they don’t hate me.”
“Because I also gave them arms, arms that are much better than the original.”
“Why don’t you show your arm to Chamber Lord Xiao?” he said said to the man making the tea.
The gray-robed man stood up, then rolled up his sleeve, only a bit, to reveal a steel pincer.
The construction of the pincer was precise and complex, although Xiao Jun could only see a bit of it.
“This is not an arm,” said Xiao Jun, “it’s a pincer.”
“It is an arm,” said the man in the silver mask. “Anything that can be done with an arm, this arm can also do. The water is boiling, the tea cups are on the table. Why don’t you serve Chamber Lord Xiao a cup?”
The gray-robed man gently lifted the teapot with his pincer, then poured a cup for Xiao Jun.
A tea leaf stalk floated up from within the tea. The man softly plucked it out.
The movements of the pincer were dextrous and nimble beyond imagination.
“Things that other people can’t do with their arms, this arm can do. If Chamber Lord Xiao doesn’t believe, why don’t you let him have a look?”
There was a clunk as the steel pincer sliced the handle of the copper tea pot in half, as easily as a pair of scissors cutting through a sheet of paper.
The fire burned in the oven. The gray-robed man reached inside with the pincer and pulled out a blazing chunk of charcoal.
“Can others use their arm to do that?” asked the man in the silver mask.
Xiao Jun said nothing.
His voice filled with pride, the man in the silver mask said: “This arm can do more than that. It can shatter a person’s joint in an instant. It can grip the edge of a blade, tear open a door, snap and iron shackle. If you are hanging from a roof beam, you can hang for a very long time without falling, because this wrist will not get tired or break.”
Xiao Jun could not deny that this arm could do things that normal arms cannot.
“If someone tries to use Qinna techniques to seize the vital point on this arm’s wrist, well, that person will have made a fatal mistake, because this arm has no vital point. In fact, it has no acupuncture points at all.  If you had an arm like this, and were wielding a sword, no one could possibly take that sword away from you.” He asked Xiao Jun, “Would you like an arm such as this?”
Xiao Jun kept his mouth shut, but he could not deny the feelings that arose in his heart.
The man in the silver mask could see this.
“Even though you don’t know who I am, I know everything about you.”
“You are an orphan. Your mother passed away when you were not yet six years old. You’ve never met your father, not even once.”
Xiao Jun felt a stab of pain in his heart, the same as if a person had stabbed him with a needle.
This was a secret he kept buried deep inside, and he’d never imagined this stranger would suddenly speak it out in the open.
The man in the silver mask continued: “From a young age, you were raised by the former Chief of the Beggar Sect, Mr. Dabei, who is now deceased. But even he never told you about your past, and furthermore, did not treat you well in general.”
Xiao Jun’s face suddenly changed, from pale white, to scarlet red.
“How do you know these things?”
“I just do.” His voice suddenly had a very strange tone to it. “I also know that the person you hate the most is not me, but Li Xiao.”
“Three Frightening Laughs, General Li, Li Xiao.” 
No one knew the Laughing General’s real name. This was the first time Xiao Jun had heard it.
“I know that the person you hate most is him,” said the man in the silver mask. “Even though Mr. Dabei never told you about your past, whenever he heard mention of the Laughing General, he would fly into a rage. He clearly utterly detested Laughing General, as do you. And that is because Mr. Dabei surely told you that your mother died a horrific death at his hands.”
“How do you know this?”
“I just know,” he said strangely. “I know many things that others do not know. But, even I make mistakes.”
He let out a long sigh, a sigh filled with regret.
“I never should have cut off your arm,” he said. “The reason I did was because I was taking you for another person.” He didn’t give Xiao Jun a chance to speak. He continued, “Now, I know it was a mistake. Therefore, I wish to offer you compensation. I want to give you an arm, as well as an opportunity.”
“An opportunity for revenge,” said the man in the silver mask. “I can let you personally kill General Li.”
He spoke with complete confidence and certainty, “Furthermore, I can guarantee that you will succeed.”
Xiao Jun said nothing, but he was incapable of maintaining his usually icy calm.
He stood up. Then sat again. Then stood again. Then he began pacing back and forth over the persian rugs which covered the floor of the cabin.
He did not want to accept any favors from this person in the silver mask, and yet, he didn’t want to loose this opportunity.
He would never forget the indignation, hatred and enmity with which his adoptive father spoke of General Li.
To people of Jianghu, this type of enmity, in which you cannot live under the same sky as another person, can only be erased with blood.
—Not with the blood of the enemy, but with one’s own blood.
Xiao Jun finally stopped pacing and faced the man in the silver mask.
“Why do you want to give me this opportunity?”
“Because Li Xiao is my enemy. I also have a family member who was killed by him.”
His voice had suddenly changed. Now it sounded exactly like Mr. Dabei’s, filled with grief, hatred and enmity.
“Since you hate him so much,” said Xiao Jun, “Why don’t you kill him yourself?”
“I want him dead, regardless of who kills him. I don’t care if he gets mauled to death by wild dogs.”
The silver mask glittered in the lantern light. Xiao Jun couldn’t see his face, but he could tell that the enmity which existed between him and Li Xiao was deeper than any other in the world.
“I’m giving you the opportunity, because your chances are greater than mine.”
“Because he doesn’t care about you, and will not take precautions against you. Therefore, you have a chance. I’m afraid that even if Chief Chu came back from the dead, he wouldn’t be able to touch a hair on General Li’s head.” 
“What about you?”
“I’m not good enough.” The man in the silver mask sighed. “Within fifty stances, he would have my head. He wouldn’t even need to use a sword. He could snap my neck with his bare hands.”
He was anything but a modest person. If he said such a thing, it was surely the truth.
“Therefore, you have to kill him in one move. Otherwise, you will undoubtedly be dead.” He spoke in complete earnestness: “You must remember this. When you have a chance, attack. Your attack must hit a vital spot, and that vital spot must be a deadly vital spot.”
—How many chances will I have?
Xiao Jun wanted to ask this, but he didn’t. Even if he only had one chance, he should try.
“You will have a good chance,” said the man in the silver mask. “His carelessness and disregard for you will ensure that. Furthermore, he will never imagine that you have another arm.”
“I have another arm?”
“I promised you that I will replace your arm. And you must promise me that you will use that arm to kill him.”
What he gave Xiao Jun was not a real arm, but a steel pincer. The steel pincer was attached to a two-jointed metal arm, which would rotate and move naturally. Its construction was delicate and complex.
“Using it is simple,” said the man, placing the arm on Xiao Jun’s severed stump. “Your muscles are not dead. Simply send your Qi and inner force in here. It will move the mechanisms in the metal arm, and you can use your killing short sword. Considering your intelligence and inner force, as well as your skill,” he guaranteed, “you should be able to master it within two hours.”
The two joints of the metal arm were made of six steel bones. The bones were not thick, so when the arm was concealed in a sleeve, the sleeve would float gently as if it contained nothing.
“If you’re careful, Li Xiao won’t notice,” said the man excitedly. “When your arm comes stabbing out of your sleeve, that will be the hour of his death.”
Xiao Jun did not want to use such a method to kill someone, but the person he wanted to kill was unkillable. He would only have one opportunity like this one.
He had no other options available. But there was one more thing he wanted to know.
“Who are you?” Xiao Jun asked the man in the silver mask. “Didn’t you promise to tell me? Who are you?”
“Actually, you most likely heard of me long ago. I’m Gao Tianjue.”
Ingot’s head was already muddled, his tongue swollen. His eyes, not small to begin with, were larger than normal. When he moved them about, they moved erratically.
Thankfully, he didn’t want to move them, because he was looking at someone.
In his eyes, no one in the world was better looking.
Big Boss Tang had been stared at by others from the age of thirteen or fourteen. Even at the age of thirty-four, people still stared at her, all types of people. She had grown used to it. But being stared at by this young rascal, she felt a bit embarrassed.
“What are you looking at?”
“I’m an old lady, what are you looking at me for?”
Ingot let out a deliberate sigh. “I’m already an old man. Who else should I look at other than an old lady?”
Big Boss Tang didn’t want to laugh, but she did. She suddenly realized that the little rascal was actually quite charming.
This was a dangerous matter.
A thirty-four year old woman, lonely, suddenly finds a man charming. It doesn’t matter what type of man he is, or how old he is, it is a dangerous matter. Not only dangerous, but frightening.
Were she like Gao Tianjue, she would definitely hide behind a silver mask.
She realized that this charming rascal was dangerous, and she didn’t want him to know that she knew.
Unfortunately, she had no silver mask. She had no mask of any kind.
So Ingot asked her a question. A dangerous, frightening question. A question that would shock anyone.
And of course, Big Boss Tang was shocked.
** This is poem from Qing Dyanasty poet Liu Fenghao. I couldn’t find much info on it in English.
 Daming lake is a famous attraction in Jinan. http://tinyurl.com/oyhwhl6
 Baotu Spring is a famous spring in Jinan. http://tinyurl.com/o8wlzta
 Based on my research, I think Jingshan refers to a place in Taiwan which is famous for hot springs.
 Thousand Buddha Mountain is a famous mountain in Jinan. http://tinyurl.com/l976t6w
 Qinna is a Chinese martial art grappling technique. http://tinyurl.com/n5666ww
 Li Xiao’s Chinese name is 李笑 lǐ xiào. Xiao is the character for “laugh.”
 He’s referring to Chu Liuxiang, titular character of the Gu Long series. http://tinyurl.com/q4lvmqk