Chapter 24 – Cause and Effect.
April 19, before dawn.
If there are no lanterns or fires, the time before dawn is always the darkest. If there are lanterns or fires, then this period of time is no different than any other during the day.
Some people are like those lights during the time before dawn. When something exists that others cannot even begin to grasp, that person will appear, and all questions will suddenly be resolved. The current matter was similar.
And that person had now appeared.
Zheng Nanyuan slowly walked in.
It was hard to say whether he really did have rheumatism in his legs, or if they had in fact been injured in the past. The reason he always sat in his wheelchair was because he didn’t want others to see how he walked. He’d always believed his gait to be somewhat amusing and laughable.
Right now, no one thought it laughable. Even if he crawled in, no one would would have thought it laughable.
—He was no ordinary person, no restaurant manager. He had only used that front to cover up his true identity.
—There must be some hidden connection between him and Sun Jicheng. As for his true identity and martial arts ability, they were beyond the imagination of others.
Those things were his secrets. And yet as of now, it seemed they were secrets no longer.
Upon his entrance, the happiest person was Ingot.
“I knew you would show up sooner or later,” he said. “And here you are.”
Frogboy looked thoroughly surprised, and yet he couldn’t help but ask, “It’s such a cold, damp night! It’s not convenient for you to walk around, sir. Why would you take such pains to come here?”
Zheng Nanuan rubbed his legs and sighed. “I didn’t really want to come, but I had no choice.”
“What do you mean?”
Zheng Nanyuan responded, “If Ingot testified that this man is Guo Mie, would you believe him?”
“What about Chamber Lord Xiao?”
“I wouldn’t believe him either,” said Frogboy. “When Great Hero Guo went missing, one of those two hadn’t even come out of his mother’s womb yet, and the other was still walking around with his nose running. What could they testify to?”
“Luckily, by that time, I had stopped walking around with my nose running! I had already learned to bleed!”
“You have to learn how to bleed?”
“Of course,” said Zheng Nanyuan. “When should you bleed, and why? What can you do to make the least amount of blood flow? Mastering these things is not easy. It usually takes twenty or thirty years.”
“So at that time, you were already at the point where you could be considered not young.”
“At that time, I had been a public figure for over thirty years. And so tonight, I had no choice but to come here.”
“Come to testify that he really is Guo Mie?”
“Yes,” said Zheng Nanyuan. “Of everyone here, I’m afraid I am the most qualified to testify to this.”
“Why is that?”
“Because I was there that day.”
This was an incomplete sentence, so of course Frogboy didn’t understand. “What day? And where?”
Zheng Nanyuan didn’t answer. He turned his head to look at Guo Mie, and the two of them stared at each other, their expressions both filled with indescribable emotion.
After a long time passed, Guo Mie slowly nodded his head, and then Zheng Nanyuan responded. “That day was April Fifteen. April Fifteen, seventeen years ago.”
April 15 was the day Sun Jicheng had disappeared from the earth, and it was also the same day that Guo Mie and General Li had disappeared.
Zheng Nanyuan continued: “That day, General Li and Guo Mie met. Madam Gao also went. The three of them fought, and Madam Gao’s arm was severed. She was furious. But Guo Mie and General Li were also injured. General Li was hit by a palm strike from Madam Gao, and the injury was quite serious.”
He did not add many details because he did not want to reveal the personal matters of others.
But he did reveal something very important that neither Ingot nor Xiao Jun had known.
“This matter happened so many years ago, I originally would never have brought up what I’m about to say,” said Zheng Nanyuan. “But it is crucial to the whole affair, so I really have no choice but to speak it out.” He knew that everyone would wait for his explanation, so he opened a jug of alcohol, took a drink, and then continued, “The day they met, they did not take any subordinates along with them. They felt that the matter was a secret between the three of them, and they had absolutely no intention of letting others know about it. But they didn’t realize that we had planned for this event for many years. By the time they began to fight, we had already completely surrounded Moon Water Temple.”
Of course, Moon Water Temple would have been the location of their meeting. But Ingot couldn’t stop from asking, “We? What do you mean ‘we?’”
“There were eight of us,” said Zheng Nanyuan. “We knew that ‘End the heavens, destroy the earth’ and General Li were peak experts in Jianghu. But we were afraid we might alarm them, so we didn’t bring along any subordinates.”
“Which eight people?”
“The Chief Bodyguard of the Imperial Palace, ‘One Sword Defending Eight Wastelands,’ Tie Changchun. The former Chief of the Beggar Sect, Mr. Ren. Mount Cang Temple’s Wu Xueyan. Southern Shaolin Temple’s Grandmaster Fahua. The Helmsman of the Yangtze River 36 Strongholds, Boss Shu. Elite expert from the palace of the Prince of Northeast China, Steward Feng. Chief of the North China Bodyguard Alliance, ‘Stable and Steady’ Wang Zhongping.” In one breath, Zheng Nanyuan spoke seven names.
Seventeen years ago, anyone who spent even just a single day in Jianghu would go pale in the face upon hearing those names.
Seventeen years later, it was still the same. Even Ingot had heard of all of them.
“You said there were eight people,” said Ingot with a bitter laugh. “But I think what you had was sufficient. Each one of those men by himself is worth more than 800 men.”
Zheng Nanyuan didn’t argue this point.
“General Li had committed too many crimes, and was too gutsy. No one dared to make a move,” he said. “Furthermore, the methods of ‘End the heavens, destroy the earth’ were too ruthless and savage. That is why eight people showed up.”
“But you only said seven names,” said Ingot. “Who is the last person?”
“The last one was merely a constable.”
“A mere constable is nothing amazing. Who knows how many tens of thousands of constables there are in the world. But as far as amazing constables, there is only one!”
“Of course, I’ve only heard of him, but if I’m not mistaken, that constable is also surnamed Zheng.”
“I believe so.”
“You’ve heard of him too?” asked Ingot. “His name is Zheng Po, and I believe he also had the nickname Zheng Nothing, right?” 
“I believe so.”
“The meaning of ‘Zheng Nothing,’ wasn’t because he was nothing. What it meant was that regardless of the case, once he got his hands on it, nothing could prevent him from breaking it.” He stared at Zheng Nanyuan. “You must be Zheng Nothing.”
This seemed to be a certainty. But Zheng Nanyuan simply shook his head.
“I’m not,” he smiled. “The boy genius finally makes a wrong guess.”
“You’re not Zheng Nothing?” said Ingot, not expecting this outcome. “Who are you, then?”
“Zheng Nanyuan and Sun Jicheng are both fake names. I never carried the surname Zheng before.”
“Then what was your surname?”
Ingot was shocked. “Then you are one of the four great swordsmen of Jianghu, the greatest expert in the Imperial Palace, ‘One Sword Defending Eight Wastelands,’ Tie Changchun?”
“Yes,” said Zheng Nanyuan. “I am Tie Changchun.”
Ingot stared in shock. After a long time, he was able to open his mouth again. “Tie Changchun, ‘One Sword Defending Eight Wastelands’ Tie Changchun. Even my third brother-in-law completely admires your sword technique.” Ingot gave a bitter laugh. “If I told him that all these years you were working as a restaurant manager, he wouldn’t believe it even if I beat him to death.”
“What of you?” Tie Changchun asked Ingot. “Do you believe?”
“I believe,” said Ingot. “But I don’t understand.”
“What don’t you understand?”
“You knew all along that Sun Jicheng was Guo Mie. You also knew about his relationship with General Li. Why were you here with him these ten and more years? And why drink with him every day? Why would Wu Xueyan, Grandmaster Fahua, Wu Zhongping and the others just leave you here on your own?”
“Because we had an agreement.”
“An agreement? What kind of agreement?”
Tie Changchun sighed. “I need to explain everything from the beginning.”
“Please do, I’m listening.”
“That day, General Li sustained serious injuries, but Guo Mie sealed the wound and stopped the bleeding. And then they were surrounded by the eight of us. Anyone under heaven who found themselves surrounded by us wouldn’t even think of trying to escape. Even they understood that.”
“I understand, too,” said Ingot.
“And yet they did not exhibit even the slightest bit of fear. The two of them seemed determined that if they had to die, they would die together. They would fight us to the death.”
Ingot gave a thumbs up and shouted, “Great! General Li, Guo Mie, you are amazing!”
“Unfortunately, that battle never happened.”
“Why not? Don’t tell me you eight experts were afraid of the two of them?”
Tie Changchun laughed bitterly. “We weren’t scared. It’s just that we couldn’t let them die there that day.”
“Because they still had the riches stolen from the Imperial Palace. As for that point, Wu Xueyan, Beggar Chief Ren, Grandmaster Fahua couldn’t care a bit. But Steward Feng, Chief Bodygard Wang, Constable Zheng and myself did care, a lot. Boss Shu and Wang Zhongping were brother and sister in-law, and couldn’t let each other die. We all knew that if we tried to force General Li and Guo Mie, it would be useless. So we could only make a deal with them.”
“What sort of deal?”
“Each side would pick a champion to fight. If Guo Mie and General Li lost, they would have to hand over the treasures.”
“And if you lost?”
“Then they would still hand over the treasure, but they could add stipulations to our agreement that we would have to accept. And therefore, we reached our deal, because the two stipulations they added were fair and reasonable, and would allow us to maintain justice in Jianghu. Even Grandmaster Fahua, a completely righteous man, did not oppose.”
“What were their stipulations?”
“The first was that we must guarantee the safety of General Li. We could not harm even a single hair on her head, nor arrest her and bring her to justice. At first, Grandmaster Fahua and Wu Xueyan could not accept that.”
“Then what happened?”
“After Guo Mie told us something, Grandmaster Fahua had a change of heart.”
“What did he tell you?”
“He said, General Li had indeed committed many crimes, and had stolen treasures worth hundreds of millions. And yet, she herself had not spent even a single coin. When she wasn’t out committing crimes, she stayed in a ramshackle hut with her baby boy, living a life of poverty, supporting herself by mending clothes.” Tie Changchun sighed. “General Li’s uprightness is truly worthy of intense admiration.”
Perhaps no one in Jianghu could ever find General Li because they couldn’t possibly imagine that the person who had roamed unhindered under heaven would live in such a way. And she did it, not to evade capture, but to retain her purity as a mother, and make sure that her child grew into a good person.
At first, Xiao Jun appeared to be completely numb, but tears glistened in his eyes.
—A ramshackle hut, an old, dilapidated table, and a coughing woman.
Such sorrowful times, and such a painful life. It could only make one feel even more respect for her.
It seemed Ingot’s eyes were red, too. In a loud voice, he said, “General Li, I truly admire you. If you were alive, I would kneel down and kowtow to you three thousand six hundred times.”
Tie Changchun sighed. “Therefore, I decided to myself that even if we did win the duel, I wouldn’t allow General Li to come to any harm. At that time, even though we hadn’t seen the truth with our own eyes, the words had come out of the mouth of Guo Mie. Who could deny them?!”
Ingot stuck out his chest and called out, “He is a true man, and my friend. Because he was willing to make friends with a scoundrel like me, I will feel honored for the rest of my life.”
“It is because of that battle that, down to this day, when I walk, I look like a clown. But I feel no dishonor. To have been able to fight a duel with such a hero is one of the highlights of my life.”
“What was their second stipulation?”
“The treasures of the Imperial Palace had to be returned, but the vast majority of the wealth General Li had stolen was initially earned illegally. General Li wanted us to do something good with that wealth. She didn’t want us to return it to the heartless evildoers she’d stolen it from.”
“A good idea.”
“If the stolen goods weren’t returned, Zheng Po couldn’t compete his mission. But he didn’t oppose. The next day he retired from Department Six and went to live life on a farm.”
Ingot shouted out again, “Great! Zhao Nothing is also a true man. If I can find you, I will kowtow to you!”
“However, the amount of wealth was just too great. It couldn’t be randomly given away.”
“Therefore, each party agreed to again select a person to represent you all to manage the wealth,” said Ingot. “But you couldn’t let anyone know where it came from, so you used the guise of business to avoid prying eyes and ears. You hid in the darkness, using the money to do good deeds.”
“Actually, it was all General Li’s idea.”
“But she could not, and in fact did not want, to appear in public. So the heavy responsibility was placed upon Big Brother Guo’s shoulders. Your legs were in bad shape, so you couldn’t go back to the Imperial Palace to resume your position. Therefore, you joined him in this weighty task.”
Tie Changchun sighed again. “You really are a genius. Even I have to admire you.”
“Jinan is a huge commerce hub, with countless businesses, and that’s why you picked here. In a place like here, as long as you have money to do business, no one will care to much about your background. Furthermore, the Beggar Sect Chief, disciples of Mount Cang and Shaolin, the Yangze River Helmsman, the Bodyguard Alliance Chief, and the Northeast China Prince’s Steward all were protecting you. Therefore, throughout these years, no one discovered your true identities.”
“And throughout these years, we have accomplished a lot,” said Tie Changchun. “Even while in hiding, we have distributed 38,925,643 pieces of silver. There is a lot of wealth, but also a lot of people. I can dare to guarantee, every piece of silver was distributed correctly and at the proper time. I feel no qualms whatsoever about all of it.
“I believe you,” said Ingot. “Only a bastard wouldn’t.”
Tei Changchun let out a very long sigh. “The only thing I regret is that General Li cannot see it.” He sounded somewhat sad. “She died much too early.”
The ship’s hold suddenly grew quiet, and everyone lowered their head, even the girls who had brought in the alcohol and the ones holding the lanterns. Even Frogboy lowered his head. Everyone knew in their hearts that after she had handed over responsibility of the matter, she could not continue on living.
She had made her mistakes, and left behind in her heart were scars that could not be healed, along with inexhaustible regret. She did what she could, and had set her dream in motion. Even though her wound was not extremely severe, she would not be able to live.
In his own heart, Ingot asked himself: “She was the greatest hero of her generation, and yet, she was still just a poor woman?”
But Guo Mie had to keep on living, in order to make General Li’s dreams a reality. In order to help people. For the big picture. He had to live the life of a multi-millionaire. How long would he have to keep doing it?
Until Gao Tianjue found him.
He knew that Gao Tianjue would come for him sooner or later. The bitterness and hatred in her heart was too profound. So when she found him, he could only flee.
Ingot asked himself another question: “Did she do the right thing? Or the wrong thing? If she didn’t do the right thing, then what should she have done?”
Who could answer those questions? Who could dare to say that they knew the answer?
** The ‘Zheng’ from Zheng Nothing is indeed the same character as Zheng Nanyuan’s surname.