Chapter 21 – A small star, glittering
“A small star, glittering,
Stars fill the heaven, but the moon does not shine,
People fill the earth, their hearts grieve.”
An autumn night, full of stars. A young boy, and two young girls； three children, one heart and a star. A very, very, very small star. Later, the children grew up. One heart became three. But there was still only one star.
And there was still just one very, very, very small star.
After growing up, they grew old. Some of them died. Some did not die, and yet their hearts died.
The star was as small as ever, and didn’t change. This is because stars do not have emotions, or life. They don’t understand how to pursue love, nor do they comprehend hatred. And so they do not change, nor do they grow old.
This star had been made from a seashell, scooped up out of the ocean.
When one of those people, who had already grown old and changed so much, who was not dead, but whose heart was dead, saw this star, a star that would never change, what feeling would arise in that person’s heart?
Other than the three people, who could know?
April 19, before dusk.
The stars had not yet begun to shine.
The star was made from a beautiful and precious seashell. On the back were carved delicate designs, and two characters. It had obviously been carefully carved by a pair of extremely nimble hands.
Some seashells in the ocean are as precious as pearls, with radiance and luster which will never fade.
But this seashell appeared to be nothing more than a shell picked up off the beach by a pair of beautiful hands. It didn’t look like anything special.
Xiao Jun couldn’t help but ask: “You showed her that star?”
“Don’t tell me that after she saw the star she suddenly couldn’t fight back against you?”
“No, it’s not like that,” said Ingot. “After she saw the star, her hand started trembling, as did the rest of her body. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see her face, so I’m not sure her expression at the time.”
“She was wearing her mask?”
“Then how could she see you?”
Ingot laughed. “You’re a person who pays close attention to details, or at least that’s what you think. You believe nothing can slip past you.” He sighed. “Sadly, you are not like that at all.”
“Do you really think Gao Tianjue can’t see anything when she puts on her mask? If so, then how could I wear the mask to come here? And how could I know what expression is on your face? If you were as attentive as you think you are, you would have noticed that even though the mask does not have eyes, it does have two tiny holes, each a bit larger than the size of a needle, inlaid with pieces of crystal. When the mask is shining and glittering, I’m afraid only an incredibly bright, kid genius like myself would notice!”
Xiao Jun could only keep his mouth shut.
“Preventing others from seeing you is a mark of genius, but to prevent yourself from seeing others would be plain stupid.” He sighed. “Think about it, how could Gao Tianjue possibly be that stupid?”
The Beggar Sect is the largest sect in the world. It has the most beggars, and the most complicated affairs.
The Chamber Lord of its newly founded Torture Chamber, intent on reorganizing the sect, not only must be occupied with numerous complicated affairs, but must also have the wisdom to be able to perceive the minutest details of a matter. He must have an unfailing sense of judgement. But in front of this boastful, laughingly foolish youth with his feigned charm, this conceited Chamber Lord could not say a single word.
It seemed Ingot had more questions. “Can you tell what is special about the star? Why it would have such an effect on Gao Tianjue?”
“I can’t tell.”
“I can’t either,” said Ingot. “That’s because you are not Gao Tianjue, and neither am I.” In a serious tone, he continued, “From my perspective, it just looks like a star a kid might make out of a seashell. But to some people, it seems to have a type of magical power.”
“Some people?” said Xiao Jun. “What people?”
“At the moment, I can’t tell you.”
“Because right now, I don’t know. At the moment, I just know that it is absolutely useful in dealing with Gao Tianjue. More useful than the most fearsome weapon in the world.” 
That was enough. Just based on that alone, the value of this star was incredible.
For some people, this star could be considered far more valuable than the “turn iron into gold” star.
“So, let me ask you. Will you accept the bet?”
Ingot tucked the star away, put on his mask, and tied the black headband on. “Then come with me.”
“Where are we going?”
“To find General Li.”
“You can find him?”
“Of course. I have no choice. Otherwise I have to give you my star.”
“Where is he?”
“On this ship, of course.”
Xiao Jun didn’t say anything.
He now believed Ingot, believed that General Li wasn’t dead, believed that Gao Tianjue, after seeing Ingot’s star, had allowed her acupuncture points to be sealed. But despite believing all that, he couldn’t believe that General Li was on the ship.
The ship was lit with lanterns, even below decks. Not the shadow of a single person could be seen.
That was because this Gao Tianjue who wasn’t really Gao Tianjue had ordered, “Everyone go up top. No one is permitted to come down.”
Even though it was Ingot who gave this order, it was as effective as if it had been spoken by Gao Tianjue. This was because he wore the headband, mask, cloak and boots. All of these things were symbols of mysterious power, an irresistible authority.
No one had ever doubted this power and authority, and no one could have ever imagined that these symbols of Gao Tianjue could be “taken” away.
The area below decks was much larger than anyone who hadn’t been there could imagine. And there was even more space in the hull.
There was nothing in the hull. But without the hull, the boat would sink. And were it filled with objects, the boat would also sink. It was its emptiness that made it important, far more important than any other part of the ship.
There are many things in the world like this.
There were about ten cabins below decks. People lived in some of them, others were filled with grain or other cargo.
Ingot took Xiao Jun along cabin by cabin. Though they didn’t even see the shadow of a person, Ingot was still filled with confidence.
“I know that you don’t believe General Li is on the ship,” said Ingot.
Xiao Jun had to admit it.
Then, Ingot asked him a very incredible question: “Why don’t you believe?”
Xiao Jun thought about the question for a while: “Because it’s just not possible. Who could possibly believe it?”
“So you are saying that it is impossible for him to be hiding on this ship.”
“I understand what you mean,” said Ingot with a smile. “Your way of thinking now is the same as it was two days ago, when you never imagined that we could be hiding in Jinan’s biggest prison.”
Xiao Jun understood what he meant.
If a person like General Li wanted to hide somewhere, he would pick a place no one would ever think to look.
“I get what you mean,” said Xiao Jun. “But did you ever think of how he could possibly get onto the ship?”
Ingot deliberately made a straight face, and in a very serious tone said, “It’s definitely not possible. There are people everywhere, all of them with very sharp eyes, none of them even half blind. General Li has no invisibility technique, nor the seventy-two transformation abilities of the Monkey King that would allow him to turn into a housefly and fly on board.” He let out a deliberate sigh. “When you think about it your way, he definitely could not come onboard.”
“Therefore, it is not possible for him to be on this ship.”
Ingot sighed, then, with a chuckle, said: “Fortunately, you are not, fortunately, you are not.”
“Fortunately I’m not what?”
“Fortunately you are not General Li, and he is not you. Otherwise you would be dead, and I would have lost.”
“Don’t tell me you still think he’s on the ship?”
Ingot didn’t respond. Instead, he gripped an iron hoop nailed into the deck planks and pulled up a secret hatch. “I think you should go see for yourself.”
Underneath was the hull. No people, no cargo, no lamps. Nothing.
Xiao Jun hesitated, but then finally grabbed a small lantern and leaped down. And then, he gaped in shock.
In the corner of the hull was a person!
It really was him. The multi-millionaire who had faked his own death, Sun Jicheng. The man who had fled and then returned to Jinan, the businessman Wu Tao. And the incarnation of them all, Three Frightening Laughs General Li!
Xiao Jun stood in front of him as if in a dream. This was truly something that would not occur even in a dream.
General Li lay there, half sitting, half reclining. His back lay against the bulkhead, and he seemed as if he didn’t even have the energy to sit straight.
Even though the sword had not actually stabbed through his heart, his injury was clearly severe.
But his eyes shone brightly, and when he saw Xiao Jun, he suddenly smiled. It was a smile filled with both comfort and pain. And then he said, “Where’s Ingot?”
Ingot jumped down, shutting the secret hatch behind him. In his best imitation of Gao Tianjue’s bearing, he walked up to stand in front of General Li.
He really did have a bit of genius. He had studied well the ways to imitate a person, and pulled it off quite well.
“That little bastard Ingot is already dead and fed to the turtles,” he said. “You’ll never see him again.”
General Li laughed. “How can a person call himself a bastard? We’re friends. If you’re a little bastard, what does that make me?”
Ingot laughed too.
“How did you know it was me?” he said. “And how did you know I would come?”
“When I hid here, I thought to myself, if anyone could find me here, it would definitely be Ingot.”
Ingot immediately nodded his head in agreement! “Other than me, no one would guess. When it comes to a genius like myself, there is no second in the world.” He sighed. “Sometimes I just can’t help but admire myself.” He suddenly clapped Xiao Jun on the shoulder. “Right now you can’t help but admire me too, right?”
Xiao Jun seemed to be in a dream, staring blankly at General Li.
—Was this person who he had never seen before really his father? Why would he abandon he and his mother? Why would he let his mother die in her hatred, and let him live a life of suffering?
Regardless, the man was alive. Perhaps he had made mistakes, but the mistakes were not so great that amends could not be made.
Xiao Jun looked on this relative who was a stranger, not sure whether his heart filled with hatred or love, sorrow or happiness.
Ingot was incredibly happy. “Who would have thought you would hide on this ship?” he said. “Other than me, no one would have imagined you would use this method.”
“How did you come to realize it?”
“It was when I saw the water armor the people wore when they went to look for you.”
The divers wore tight water armor made from fish skin that covered their entire bodies, even their hair.
That was what General Li was currently wearing.
“The divers’ kung fu was good, and you were injured, but you could still take care of one of them easily.
General Li smiled. “It was incredibly simple.”
“Take off his armor and wear it, then bury him in the sludge at the bottom of the lake, mingle back in with the people returning to the ship and take advantage of the chaos of the shift change to sneak down here. At that time, it wasn’t light yet, everything was dark below and above the water. Nobody could see anything clearly. To do all that wouldn’t be difficult at all.”
General Li smiled and gave a sigh. “As of now, even I have to admire you a little bit.”
“A little bit?” said Ingot, shocked. “I assumed at the least it would be a medium bit or a lot bit. I was definitely sure.”
What he said really was a bit excessive, but he had to have a reason to say something this.
So General Li asked, “Definitely? Why do you say definitely?”
Ingot’s response was incredible: “Because you aren’t blind yet.”
“I’ve never been blind,” responded General Li, baffled. “What does me being blind or not have to do with me admiring you or not?”
“Of course they’re connected. Because you’re not blind, you should be able to see whose clothes I’m wearing.” An immensely proud expression covered his face. “I took these things from Gao Tianjue, and it definitely wasn’t easy.”
“You took all of that from her?”
“How did you do it?”
“I just showed her something, that’s all. As soon as she looked at it, I sealed her acupuncture points. Then I took all this stuff.”
General Li looked at him for a long moment, the look on his face the same as Xiao Jun’s when Ingot had told him the same thing.
Of course what Ingot said was completely unbelievable, so General Li couldn’t help but ask, “What did you show her?”
“A star,” said Ingot. “A very small star.”
Ingot always carried a random assortment of things on his person. People might think them a valueless lot of broken copper and iron, but they were his treasures, treasures that he would not allow others to see. But this time, not only did he let General Li see his star, he didn’t even wait for him to ask. He just pulled it out and put it out in front of General Li’s face, as if afraid he couldn’t see it clearly.
“This star,” he said. “This star fell from heaven, and then was scooped up out of the sea.”
General Li’s expression was changing. Even before Ingot had finished speaking, his expression had begun to change. Just like Gao Tianjue, as soon as he laid eyes on the star, his expression changed, as if someone had stabbed a long, sharp, pointed needle directly into his heart.
This star was something a child might play with. If it fell onto the ground, not many people would even pick it up. If you gave it to someone, they would probably drop it into the gutter.
But in the eyes of the incredibly proud Laughing General, who had roamed Jianghu unhindered, this star seemed to carry all the blessings and curses of the heavens and the earth, of gods and demons. It seemed to him to be more valuable than all the treasures in the world.
He reached out his hand as if to take the star, his hand trembling, just like Gao Tianjue’s. It trembled uncontrollably.
This time, Ingot did not take advantage of the situation to seal his acupuncture points. Instead, he just stepped back.
“This is mine,” he chuckled. “Grownups can’t steal things from children.”
“That’s not yours,” said General Li, his voice hoarse with grief. “I know it’s not.”
“Maybe it didn’t used to be, but now it is. And no one can take it from me.”
“Where did you get it?”
“That’s my affair,” said Ingot with a wink. “Can’t I keep a few secrets for myself?”
General Li stared at him for a long time, then let out a long sigh. “So, you’re a member of the Dragon family,” he said. “What is your seniority among your brothers and sisters? Are you Dragon Eighth? Or the Ninth?”
Ingot responded with his own question, “How do you know I’m a member of the Dragon family?”
“Because I know that this star would not fall into anyone else’s hands.” He spoke with utmost confidence.
Ingot didn’t deny it, but instead asked, “If I wasn’t a member of the Dragon family, would you have already taken the star away from me?”
General Li looked at him for a while. “If you weren’t a member of the Dragon family, you would be dead already.”
“Because I wouldn’t want that star to be in anyone else’s hands,” he said. Then he asked, “Would you be willing to trade it to me?”
“Trade it for what?”
“Anything you want,” said General Li. “Gold, white jade, pearls, emeralds. Anything you want is fine.”
Ingot laughed. “You undoubtedly know that I won’t trade it. Those things you just mentioned can’t be worn as clothes, nor can they be eaten. I don’t need them.”
The things mentioned by General Li are things anyone in the world would love to have. Who knows how many people scheme and bleed and risk their lives for them? But to Ingot, not even a single coin was of any worth.
General Li sighed. “Good. I knew you wouldn’t trade it. How could the children of the House of the Dragon care about paltry treasures and money?”
“And so, seeing you alive and not dead, I’m extremely happy.” Ingot laughed. “Because were you dead, this star would already be in someone else’s hands.”
“Why is that?”
“Because I just made a bet with Chamber Lord Xiao, and this star was the stakes of the bet.”
“What did you bet?”
“He was sad just now because he thought that you had died under his sword.”
“And what did you tell him?”
“I told him there was no way you were dead.” He laughed even more happily. “I said, how could Three Fearsome Laughs General Li, who roamed unhindered across Jianghu, possibly die so easily at your hand?”
General Li’s expression changed again, his face filling with indescribable agony and grief.
And yet, his eyes still glittered, like the cold stars on an autumn night.
Ingot once again clapped Xiao Jun’s shoulder. “You’ve lost, so the star still belongs to me.” He chuckled. “Do you still remember what you owe now that you’ve lost?”
Xiao Jun didn’t say anything. But General Li did. He said something very strange.
“He didn’t forget,” he said. And then, one word at a time: “But he didn’t lose.”
“He didn’t lose?” Ingot seemed to be both shocked and amused. “Don’t tell me I lost?”
“Correct,” said General Li. “You lost.”
Ingot laughed, so hard that he bent over.
“I’m gonna laugh myself to death,” he said. “I haven’t heard something so funny in my entire life.”
“If I told people that Three Frightening Laughs General Li was helping his son to act shamelessly, who knows how many people in Jianghu would die laughing. Then if I took all the bodies of the people who had died laughing and shipped them here, well even if you used 500 large eight-wheeled carts, I’d say it would take at least three days and three nights.”
He laughed until it seemed he was having trouble breathing, as if he really would die.
General Li didn’t have even the slightest hint of laughter on his face. In fact, he looked even more solemn than if he were facing an enemy.
He waited until Ingot finally started to think things weren’t so funny after all, then slowly said, “If people in Jianghu found out about this matter, there would be a lot of deaths. If one person found out, there would be one death. If ten thousand people found out, there would be ten thousand deaths. Except, I can guarantee they wouldn’t be laughing.” His voice grew very cold. “Because it’s not a laughing matter.”
Ingot couldn’t laugh at this point.
“What’s going on here?” he asked General Li. “Why do you say that I lost?”
“Because you are the loser.”
Ingot looked at Xiao Jun, then back at General Li. “Don’t tell me he isn’t your son?”
“He is,” said General Li dejectedly. “He is bone of my bone, blood of my blood.”
“Don’t tell me you’re dead?!” Ingot asked, a deliberate question.
“I’m not dead yet.”
“Then it’s strange. You’re obviously not dead, how could I have lost?”
“Because even though I’m not dead, General Li is. Dead for many years.”
Ingot was shocked.
“General Li is already dead? Don’t tell me you’re not General Li?”
Ingot stared blankly. He stared at this man who was being pursued by all the heroes under heaven, who everyone thought was General Li. Then he looked at Xiao Jun.
“Gao Tianjue told me with her own mouth that he is General Li’s son. I cannot believe that she would tell a lie.”
“Then, he really is General Li’s son?
“And didn’t you just tell me that he is your son, bone of your bones, blood of your blood?”
“You do not seem like the type of person to tell lies, either,” said Ingot with a bitter laugh. “Can you just tell me what is really going on here?”
“It’s not really that complicated. You yourself are the one who has made it complicated, that’s all.”
“Everyone has parents. And parents means more than one person.”
Ingot finally understood, but still found it hard to believe. “Don’t tell me General Li is his mother?”
“Are you telling me General Li is a woman?”
Ingot again stared blankly.
Three Fearsome Laughs General Li, whose name could shake the heavens, was a woman. This was a truly shocking matter.
Despite the fact that down to this day, no one had ever seen what General Li looks like, and no one truly knew whether he was a man or a woman, how could anyone put forth the idea that she was a woman?
In the popular mentality of the men of Jianghu, women are inherently weaker, and can never match up to men.
“General Li is his mother, and you are his father.” Ingot sighed. “Now I understand this part.”
“What else is there that you don’t understand?”
“The more I think about it the less sense it makes. Who exactly are you?”
There aren’t very many men who could claim to match up to General Li.
“Your martial arts, your heroic spirit, your complexion, your resourcefulness, I’ve never seen a second person who can compare to you.” Ingot’s words were spoken in complete sincerity. “If you were General Li, well that wouldn’t be anything strange. In my imagination, General Li should be just like you.” He sighed. “Sadly, you’re not him. So I just can’t figure it out.”
“What can’t you figure out?”
“If you’re not General Li, who are you? I’ve thought a lot about who in Jianghu would match your description. It just doesn’t seem that person exists.”
“You’re right, I really shouldn’t exist.” He gave a sad laugh. “Because I should already be dead.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m Guo Mie,” he said. “I’m the Guo Mie who should have died seventeen years ago.”
Guo Mie and Gao Tianjue, No couple in Jianghu had a higher level of martial arts.
They were the mortal enemies of General Li.
“End the heavens, destroy the earth” took it as their duty to pursue fugitive bandits and robbers. Who knew how many great criminals with excellent martial arts fell to them?
At the time when Three Fearsome Laughs General Li roamed Jianghu unhindered, their reputation was at its peak.
Everyone in Jianghu knew that “End the heavens, destroy the earth” would never let General Li go. If they did not execute such a great thief, they would regret it for the rest of their lives.
And so, everyone waited to see what would happen when the tiger and the dragon had their showdown.
No one was certain who would prevail.
But then “End the heavens, destroy the earth” suddenly disintegrated. Guo Mie disappeared from Jianghu, assumed dead, presumably at the hands of General Li.
Therefore, when Gao Tianjue reappeared, everyone assumed it was because of General Li. She must want revenge for the death of her husband. No one would think twice about it, no matter how vicious the methods she used.
Who could have imagined that she was not going up against General Li, but rather her own husband, Guo Mie?
Of course she knew he was Guo Mie and not General Li. Even though no one else in the world knew, Gao Tianjue definitely knew.
Why did she view her husband as an enemy who must die?
How could Guo Mie be alive?
How could he have a son with the arch-enemy of “End the heavens, destroy the earth,” General Li?
Why would the former Sect Leader of the Beggar Sect tell Xiao Jun that his mother had been killed by General Li?
When surrounded by the pursuing heroes, why would Guo Mie admit to being General Li?
Who had revealed his whereabouts?
In seventeen years, no one had been able to find him, why would everyone suddenly descend onto Jinan in only one night to come after him?
Who could explain these things?
** Everyone knows the most fearsome weapon in the world is a solitary box…