Chapter 19 – A hand and a foot
April 19. Afternoon.
The setting sun of this spring afternoon shone in through the window onto a camellia, which rested in the corner of the room. The leftover alcohol from last night still remained. Some of Tan Lanfang’s hair and fragrance also remained on the pillow.
The room was as quiet and peaceful as when she had left. The only difference was that now the room was empty.
He must have regretted what he’d said last night, and snuck away.
Tan Lanfang forced herself under control, not allowing any pain or disappointment to show on her face. “He’s gone,” she said coolly. “That’s fine. People who should leave cannot be made to stay.”
She didn’t look at Grand Miss Lei’s face. She slowly walked over to the bed and pulled a hair off the pillow.
—Was this one of her hairs? Or his?
She stood there stupidly, looking at the hair, for who knows how long. Then suddenly she felt a chill in her feet that pierced to her bones.
She’d seen a shoe. Ingot’s shoe.
There is nothing frightening about shoes. But when she saw the shoe, her face suddenly filled with an unspeakable panic and fear. And when she turned, she found that Grand Miss Lei’s face had the same expression on it.
“He didn’t leave,” said Tang Lanfang. “Not by himself.”
“Who would leave wearing one shoe?” She grabbed the gauze bed canopy to prevent herself from falling down. “Also, he was completely powerless. He wouldn’t even be able to get past the courtyard.”
“Without my command, no one would enter the courtyard, nor would any of the guards let him leave.”
“And yet moments ago you were convinced he had left,” said Grand Miss Lei. “Why didn’t you think of these things then?”
“I don’t know.” She sat down. “I really don’t know.”
Actually, she did know. She just didn’t want to say. So again, the old man said it for her.
“Because you love him already, but you don’t know if he really loves you. Your heart is twisted up in a knot, and when you didn’t see him here, you felt flustered. How could you possibly think of anything else?”
“What about you?” asked Grand Miss Lei. “Are you flustered?”
“Honestly speaking, my heart is flustered to death,” he said with a bitter laugh. “If something’s happened to him, I’ll go drown myself in the ocean.”
Grand Miss Lei walked over and stroked Tan Lanfang’s hair. “Don’t worry, I guarantee you that nobody in the world would dare harm a single hair on his head. Not even Gao Tianjue would have the guts to do that.”
The old man sighed and shook his head. “That’s what I used to think.”
“What do you think now?”
“I just remembered that Gao Tianjue is a woman.”
“So what if she’s a woman?”
“No so what,” he said with a sigh. “It’s just that if a woman runs into a charming young man like Ingot, sometimes they can do just about anything. No matter how old she is, or who she is.”
With a shriek, Grand Miss Lei said, “Don’t tell me you think Ingot would be interested in an old granny like Gao Tianjue?”
“Old men are always interested in young women, why can’t old women be interested in young men? In any case, Gao Tianjue isn’t that old, and furthermore…”
He didn’t finish his sentence, because he had just caught sight of something very strange.
This was something even more strange than Ingot’s shoe.
Right now, anyone who saw something like this, in a place like this, would be completely shocked.
And then, Grand Miss Lei and Tang Lanfang both saw it, too.
A black cloak, a black headband, and a silver mask which glittered brightly in the afternoon sunlight.
The waters of Daming Lake rippled under the same sun.
Gao Tianjue stood quietly on the shore, looking somewhat changed. She looked tired, as if she had something weighing on her mind.
—Was this change because of the damned scoundrel Ingot?
Ingot wasn’t there. She was alone.
—And what of Ingot? Where was he? Dead by her hand?”
It would be such a pity for a charming youth like him to die. How could she bear to do it?
A small boat floated nearby, anchored under the shade of a willow tree. A gray robed man stood there, head lowered in respect, not daring to look at Gao Tianjue’s face.
After a long time passed, Gao Tianjue slowly climbed into the boat, her footsteps seeming a bit heavier than usual.
Her mood was undoubtedly somber.
Killing is not something that makes you happy, especially when the person you kill is someone you didn’t want to die. Anyone’s mood would be somber in a situation like this.
Everyone has feet, so a foot is nothing strange or frightening.
And this foot had not been chopped off, nor was it dripping with blood in a burlap sack.
It stuck out from underneath the bed, and normally feet do not stick out from underneath beds.
But when Tang Lanfang and Grand Miss Lei saw the foot, they were both shocked.
Because this foot did not belong to Ingot.
It was a woman’s foot, and a good looking one at that, slender, sparkling and perfect. It looked as if it had been painstakingly carved by a master craftsman, from a slab of perfect jade.
How could there be a woman’s foot sticking out from this bed, in this bedroom?
The old man’s eyes stared fixedly.
The more a man appreciates women, the more he will appreciate their feet. Generally speaking, a man of this age knows how to appreciate women.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t appreciate anything, because standing next to him was a very jealous wife.
Grand Miss Lei gave him a slap.
“Lift your eyes up! Or do you want me to dig them out?”
“No, I don’t.”
The old man quickly slid away to stand by the door. He couldn’t stop from sighing.
“If a man can’t even look at a woman’s foot, what is the point of conducting oneself properly?”
This time, Grand Miss Lei pretended she didn’t hear, and instead asked Tang Lanfang: “Didn’t you just say that without your order, no one would dare enter this place?”
Tan Lanfang nodded, but then shook her head: “Besides me, there’s one other person who could come in.”
“Who is Little Cai?”
“A girl.” Tan Lanfang thought for a moment before saying, “She’s my adopted daughter.”
“Is this her foot?”
“No, that’s not possible.”
“Because her foot is like mine, the second toe is a bit longer than the big toe.”
Grand Miss Lei looked at her with a strange expression, then looked at the foot. “Then whose foot is this?”
The old man couldn’t hold back any longer. “If you want to know who she is, why not just pull her out from under the bed and have a look? If you’re not willing to touch her, I can do it.”
“If you dare to touch her, the second you do, I’ll chop off the foot, braise it in soy sauce and cook it until it’s falling apart, then make you eat it.”
The old man lifted his head up. “Why would you ask me to eat someone else’s foot? You know that I won’t eat anyone’s foot except yours.”
Grand Miss Lei couldn’t help but laugh. But as soon as she touched the foot, she stopped laughing.
The foot was icy cold, without the slightest bit of warmth, just like that of a corpse.
As soon as she stretched out her hand, she pulled it back, then called to her husband. “Okay, you do it.”
“How come you’ve suddenly stopped being jealous?” he said, looking surprised.
“Who said I’m not jealous? I’m always jealous of living people, with no exception.” She sighed. “But to be jealous of dead people is going a bit too far.”
Just who was it under the bed? Was it a dead body?
When the old man pulled the person out from under the bed, Tang Lanfang’s heart almost stopped beating.
The sunlight gradually grew dim, as did the reflection of the mountains on the surface of the lake.
Gao Tianjue slowly walked onto the boat. A middle-aged man in a gray robe stood by the pearl curtain, hands at his side respectfully. He reported, “We’ve already sent six shifts of men into the water, but we still haven’t found the corpse.”
“He’s definitely in the water,” said the man, sounding utterly certain. “We’ve had men guarding the banks of the lake since last night. Even if he’s not dead, he wouldn’t be able to escape the shores.”
Gao Tianjue laughed coldly.
The man continued, “Chamber Lord Xiao has been in the cabin the whole time. He won’t eat or speak, as if he’s possessed. He just sits there, not moving.”
Xiao Jun really was sitting there, not moving.
His breathing hadn’t stopped, and his heart still beat, but he looked like a corpse, as if he had died along with General Li.
It seemed as if the sword that had stabbed through General Li’s heart had simultaneously stabbed through his own heart.
Gao Tianjue walked in slowly to stand in front of him, but he showed no reaction whatsoever.
It was as if his eyes, too, had been stabbed out by the sword.
Killing someone usually doesn’t make you happy, but it shouldn’t produce suffering like this.
He had wanted to kill him all along, had lived to slay him with his sword.
His wish had been fulfilled. Why did he appear to be in so much pain and suffering?
Gao Tianjue gave off another cold laugh.
“You’re dead,” she said. “Even if you manage to live to eighty, you’re a living dead person.”
Xiao Jun showed no reaction.
“That’s because you want to be dead,” said Gao Tianjue. “You should want to continue living, but instead you wish to die.”
Xiao Jun showed no reaction.
“If people found out that you had killed yourself, then there would definitely be a lot of happy people. I should call them over, and let them see what has become of the world-famous Beggar Sect Torture Chamber Lord.”
Xiao Jun still showed no reaction.
“Do you know what I want to do as of this moment?” It looked as if Gao Tianjue were getting angry. “I really want to slap you across the face.”
Xiao Jun suddenly had a reaction, because he had just caught sight of something very strange.
His pupils constricted, as if he had just seen a ghost or a poisonous dragon.
But he hadn’t seen a ghost, nor a poisonous dragon.
He had seen a hand.
Everyone has hands, so a hand is nothing strange or frightening.
And this hand had not been chopped off, nor was it dripping with blood in a burlap sack.
But as soon as he saw this hand, he was more shocked than if he had seen a poisonous dragon or a ghost.
The person had already been pulled out from underneath the bed.
It was woman, a woman not easy to see. If you walked around the entire world, you would have a hard time finding a woman like this to see, because there was truly no one else in the world like her.
She was too beautiful, beautiful beyond belief, in a way that is impossible to describe.
Her hands, feet, skin, figure, even her undergarments, were matchlessly beautiful. She was so beautiful that you would not dare to even touch her.
This level of beauty was actually frightening.
But the most frightening was not her beauty, but from her ugliness.
She was exceedingly beautiful, but also exceedingly ugly. Her beauty was unimaginable, but so was her ugliness. Her beauty was impossible to describe, so was her ugliness.
Her hand was as beautiful as a statue’s, her arm glittered like jade. Even the most picky person would not be able to point out any flaws.
Except, she only had one hand, and one arm.
Her hair was black, soft, and shining. Her face was shaped beautifully, every line and every contour.
However, right in the middle of her face was a blood-red X.
It had been carved with a sharp knife, a knife filled with hatred and enmity. When the knife had slashed her, it flayed both flesh and bone.
The wound had long since healed, but the scar was still blood-red.
Grand Miss Lei felt her stomach and even her pores contract.
If she saw a scar like this on another person, she would feel bad, but to see it on this flawlessly beautiful face gave a different feeling.
She felt a trembling dread that was impossible to describe, and she wished she had never seen this person.
But she had already laid eyes on her, and knew who she was.
“No wonder she always wears a silver mask. If I were her, I would definitely never let anyone see my face.”
“And she doesn’t want to look at other people,” said Tang Lanfang sadly. “Or at least, there are some people she doesn’t want to look at.”
“I’ve seen her mask,” said Tang Lanfang. “It has no eye holes.”
Grand Miss Lei sighed. “I understand how she feels. If I were her, I would probably be like this too.”
Now, there was no mask on Gao Tianjue’s face, and yet her eyes were blank. It seemed as if she couldn’t see anything.
When others spoke, she couldn’t hear.
“There’s something I don’t understand,” said Grand Miss Lei. “All those years ago, Gao Tianjue and Guo Mie were amongst the top experts under heaven. It was said that when they worked together, they were invincible.”
“Even I said as much,” said the old man. “As a husband and wife team, they were invincible.”
“How about us two?”
The old man spoke with unbreakable certainty, but his wife didn’t seem convinced. “How can you be so sure? Was the reputation of Madam Silver Lightning and Silent Thunderbolt any less than theirs?”
So, this couple was none other than the Thunder and Lightning couple, who had rocked Jianghu in years past. Even Tang Lanfang was shocked.
But Silent Thunderbolt, who in the past was irascible beyond measure and would never admit defeat, said, “Our reputation was no less than theirs, but that’s because we never fought them.”
This time, Grand Miss Lei actually didn’t argue with her husband. Instead, she sighed. “Maybe you’re right. And that is why I still don’t understand.”
“What do you not understand?”
“They had such incredible skills, how could she be like this now?”
—As of now, Guo Mie was dead and Gao Tianjue was a cripple. If they were truly invincible, who could possibly have defeated them?
“I can’t figure it out either,” said the old man with a sigh. “This is one of the two great mysteries in Jianghu.”
The other was the location of all the infinitely process treasures stolen by the Laughing General. In all the years, no one in Jianghu had been able to track them down.
The old man’s eyes glittered, and he suddenly said, “If you really want to take a guess at who defeated them, well, I can thinkn of only two possible candidates.”
“Themselves?” cried Grand Miss Lei. “You mean Guo Mie killed himself? And Gao Tianjue disfigured her own face?”
“Are you crazy?”
“You’re definitely crazy. Only a crazy person would think this way.”
“He’s not crazy.” Who said this? The previously unhearing, unmoving Gao Tianjue.
Upon hearing her speak, everyone was shocked. Who would have ever imagined that she would say something?
“He’s not crazy?” cried Grand Miss Lei. “And neither are you?”
“He’s definitely not crazy.” Gao Tianjue’s voice was very calm. “Because he’s completely correct.”
“Don’t tell me you you’re like this because you hurt your own self?”
“Yes. End the heavens, destroy the earth, completely invincible,” said Gao Tianjue coldly. “Other than ourselves, who could possibly harm even a hair on our heads?”
Grand Miss Lei stood there in shock, as did Tang Lanfang.
Who could imagine why a person would intentionally injure themselves. This was surely an incredible secret.
No one could or should possibly even ask about the secret.
Grand Miss Lei thought of another question. “What about right now?” she asked Gao Tianjue. “Don’t tell me you sealed your own acupuncture points and stuffed yourself under the bed?”
Gao Tianjue didn’t respond to the question, so Grand Miss Lei continued, “Or was it Ingot? Where did he go?”
Gao Tianjue’s calm voice suddenly became incredibly grim, “It doesn’t matter where he went, you will never find him. Forever!”
Seeing a hand is nothing strange. Who knows how many hands a person sees in a lifetime?
The strange thing was, this hand had stretched out from a place it should not have. Even a hand sticking out from the floor planks would not have been as strange.
Because this hand was a left hand, sticking out from Gao Tianjue’s pitch black cloak. Gao Tianjue had no left hand.
If this Gao Tianjue had a left hand, then it was no Gao Tianjue.
As fast as lightning, Xiao Jun grabbed the person’s wrist. In a deep voice, he asked, “Who are you?”