Chapter 6 – Den of Immortals
April 17. Morning.
Within two hours of sunrise, every disciple of the Flowered Flag Sect had made contact with their street-level informants, and distributed a picture and instructions.
The picture had been drawn by one of the most famous sketch artists in Jinan, drawn based on descriptions provided by the staff of “Big Zhao’s” restaurant. It depicted two people.
A middle-aged man named Wu Tao, sharp-faced with narrow eyes, a long nose and a wide mouth, dressed up like a traveling merchant.
Another, a young beggar called Ingot, round-faced with big eyes and a smile that produced two dimples. Completely adorable.
The instructions had been dispatched with “Level 1 Flowered Flag” urgency: expend all effort possible to track down the whereabouts of these two people.
Within an hour, even the local bailiffs and constables attached to the Jinan local government had joined the search.
This was because the three squads of the Jinan constabulary had received an anonymous tip that the businessman Wu Tao was very likely one of the four famous criminals wanted in all parts of China. In fact, he could well be the famous bandit who had three times broken into the Imperial Palace to make off with treasures, a person people in Jianghu viewed as second only to the “Bandit Chief” Chu Liuxiang . The “Laughing General.”
On the wooden bench sat a large tray of onion sauce and flatbreads, a big bowl of tender stewed meat, and a large plate of spiced, stir-fried vegetables.
Old Master Tian usually ate breakfasts such as this. He believed that if you ate a good breakfast, you would have plenty of energy to accomplish things throughout the day.
Today, he didn’t eat much.
Today, he had something weighing on his mind, and felt somewhat emotional.
“The Laughing General, surnamed Li,” he said. “He’s really got guts. And skills.”
“His name is Li… what?”
“I don’t know. Nobody knows.”
“Okay,” said Frogboy, “Well then, why do people call him the Laughing General?”
“Everyone acknowledges that his skill and ability is only slightly lower than that of Chu Liuxiang, so they call him General.”
“What about the ‘Laughing’ part?”
“After every heist, he lets out three big laughs.” Old Master Tian sighed. “Back then, when people heard that laugh, some became so frightened that they actually pissed their pants.”
“Gone?” said Frogboy, confused. “What does that mean?”
“Gone means gone. By the time people heard that laugh, gone.”
“What was gone?”
“Gold, pearls, jewelry, ancient jades and paintings. Anything and everything the General wanted to take, gone.”
Old Master Tian sighed again. “Ten years ago, he himself was gone. Like a bowl of alcohol poured down your throat. Suddenly, just gone.”
“Not gone,” said Frogboy. “When I pour a bowl of alcohol down my throat, it goes into my stomach.”
“Still gone. When the alcohol reaches your stomach, it turns into piss. The alcohol is gone.”
He didn’t laugh, because what he said was no joke.
Frogboy didn’t laugh either.
He understood what his father meant. “The Laughing General who went missing for so many years turned into Wu Tao.”
Old Master Tian suddenly turned and looked at Xiao Jun. “The Beggar Sect’s Torture Chamber was just founded. There should be countless affairs to handle. You shouldn’t be here.”
“Correct.” When one word sufficed to express his intent, Xiao Jun wouldn’t use two.
“And yet here you are.”
Xiao Jun thought for a moment. “Because of the Laughing General.”
He spoke the truth. Never before had he lied, so Old Master Tian found his answer satisfactory.
“Of course you’re here for him,” said Old Master Tian. “And so must have Three Panthers Niu been here for him. I suspect many people in Jianghu now know he is in Jinan.”
Frogboy still didn’t understand. “But, Wu Tao was not in Jinan before.”
“In Jinan or not, it doesn’t matter.”
“Why is that?”
“Because the person they should have come after wasn’t him.”
“Not him? Who, then?”
Of course it was Sun Jicheng.
After the Laughing General disappeared, he turned into Jinan’s multi-millionaire Sun Jicheng.
It wasn’t as if Frogboy hadn’t considered this.
He was no fool.
He just liked to ask questions, questions of all sorts, even questions he already knew the answer to.
“If people should have been coming after Sun Jicheng because they suspected him of being the Laughing General, then why would they suddenly be interested in Wu Tao?” he asked. “Don’t tell me Wu Tao and Sun Jicheng have some kind of connection?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“A big connection or a small connection?”
“A big one. A very big one. A deadly one.” He sighed. “Deadly for several people so far.”
Xiao Jun, his eyes staring off into the distance, slowly, one word at a time, said, “Sun Jicheng is dead. His killer is also dead. Why have his subordinates instigated such a huge search in Jinan?”
This was the critical question, a question that had already been asked multiple times, but that no one had been able to answer.
But this time, it was different.
As of now, there was someone who could answer the question, and that person was none other than Old Master Tian.
“Actually, the answer to the question is quite simple,” he said. “I can answer it in eight words.”
“Eight words?” asked Frogboy. “Which eight words?”
“Sun Jicheng actually isn’t even dead at all!”
This shocking statement would certainly surprise most people.
But Frogboy and Xiao Jun were not most people.
They were a minority amongst a minority.
And they were not surprised.
But Frogboy had another question to ask: “He clearly died, and everyone clearly saw his corpse. How could he not be dead?”
“Because Sun Jicheng didn’t die,” said Old Master Tian, “and that body was not his.”
“Whose was it?”
“Someone who looked very much like him, no doubt specially selected and manufactured for the specific purpose of acting as his double in death.”
“Specially selected, I understand,” said Frogboy. “But manufactured… What does that mean? What sort of manufacturing?”
“He selected someone who looked a lot like him, and then, using some special technique, made some alterations to the face.” Old Master Tian continued his explanation: “According to the rumors in Jianghu, the Laughing General got along well with Hua Shiniang. Hua Shiniang’s appearance altering arts are the best under heaven. Surely he learned a thing or two from her.”
“So he hid the person away in his cellar, just waiting for the time when it was necessary to replace him in death.”
“And by necessary, you mean when his secret was exposed.”
“So he strangled Liu Jin’niang, used Qiu Budao’s Divine Shaolin Palm to kill his body double, then forced Qiu Budao to drink poisoned wine. All to convince people that it was a crime of passion.”
“So even if people suspected Sun Jicheng to be the Laughing General, after he died, no one would come after him.”
“Right,” said Old Master Tian. And then he said, “Wrong.”
Frogboy laughed bitterly. “Is it right, or wrong?”
“You are right, he is wrong,” said Old Master Tian coldly. “He picked the wrong person to kill.”
“I don’t think he was wrong at all,” said Frogboy. “Liu Jin’niang made his clothes so well that they fit like a second skin. She obviously knew his body structure quite well. She no doubt would have been able to see that the body double wasn’t him, because every person’s body structure is different. If I were him, I would definitely have picked Liu Jin’niang.”
Old Master Tian suddenly got angry again. Slapping the table forcefully, he said, “But you’re not him! You’re just a little bastard who understands shit. In fact, you don’t even understand shit!”
Frogboy said nothing in response.
He could see that his father truly was angry, and he didn’t know why.
So he dared not open his mouth. But Xiao Jun did. “There’s definitely a flaw in his plan.”
He’d spoken seven words.
Actually, to express his full meaning would require probably thirteen or fourteen words, such as: “Sun Jicheng’s plan was thorough, but flawed; therefore, people realized he hadn’t died.”
But he’d spoken only seven words because he knew Old Master Tian would understand his meaning.
Old Master Tian nodded. “Of course there was a flaw,” he said. “Only lunatics believe in the perfect crime.”
“Sun Jicheng himself could sense it, therefore, he couldn’t help but return to check things out for himself.”
Old Master Tian laughed. “He probably thought it was safe, that no one would guess that he might come back.”
“So he came back,” said Xiao Jun. “And thus Wu Tao appeared in Jinan.”
That was the conclusion they reached.
But Frogboy had another question. “If Wutao is Sun Jicheng and the Laughing General, then who is Ingot the beggar?”
Old Master Tian, his face calm, said nothing.
Xiao Jun likewise remained silent.
“If Ingot has something to do with all of this, why is he with Wu Tao? Does he also know he is the Laughing General? How could he know?”
Old Master Tian yet again got angry. “Why don’t you go ask him yourself?”
Frogboy sighed. “I want to, but I’m afraid finding him won’t be that easy.”
“If I were Wu Tao, I would get rid of him after he witnessed me kill Old Mr. Wang.”
He looked at his father out of the corner of his eye, and then suddenly laughed. “Of course, I’m not Wu Tao. I’m just a little bastard.”
Actually, Frogboy wasn’t a bastard.
Intelligent, quick-witted, courageous and insightful, with quick reflexes, he possessed extremely refined judgement. Because of his spotless track record of good judgements, not a disciple existed in the Flowered Flag Sect who didn’t admire him.
And this time, his judgement was once again seemed spot on. Neither Old Master Tian nor Xiao Jun could object to his conclusion.
And yet he was actually wrong.
Wu Tao didn’t kill Ingot to silence him, and in fact seemed to have no inclination whatsoever to ever kill him.
And they hadn’t fled.
They were still in Jinan. In a place where no one would find them.
Even if Frogboy were ten times as intelligent, he would never come to the conclusion that they would go to this place.
No one could possibly imagine that they would hide there.
Jinan was an ancient and famous city, long since established as the seat of government, full of enriching places and sights.
Large and sprawling, the prefectural yamen looked much more dignified and imposing than the average yamen. 
The prison in Jinan was particularly sturdy, heavily guarded; for those locked away in this prison, escaping would be as impossible as climbing up to the heavens.
No one had ever researched how to escape it.
After all, who would want to be locked up in prison just to research that?
Actually, some people do. At least two.
Every prison has a dark side, and Jinan’s was no exception.
The inmates of this prison, upon hearing the three characters, “Den of Immortals,” would be so frightened that their pants would be soaked with urine.
The Den of Immortals was of course not an actual den with actual immortals, nor a place immortals would ever visit.
The Den of Immortals was Jinan prison’s most horrific cell block; only the most wicked devils would be locked up there.
Currently, two prisoners were locked up in the Den of Immortals; two people who’s crimes piled up as high as a mountain, fiendish death row inmates who awaited execution in the fall.
Early on the morning of April 17th, during that time when it is most dark, the two prisoners were pulled out of their dreams to suddenly find that this most dark, ghastly part of the prison suddenly had two more people in it.
They couldn’t clearly see who the people were, only that one looked to be quite tall.
The convicts were extremely happy, thinking they were fellow evildoers come to rescue them.
The tall, shadowy figure politely said, “I’m here to send you off.”
“Send us off to where?” said one of the convicts, sounding even more happy.
“For people like you,” said the man even more politely, “where else could I possibly send you other than the eighteenth layer of hell?”
The convicts were suddenly both nervous and furious. They wanted to leap up, but their bodies were immobilized.
The shadowy figure had used a single finger to immobilize them.
These two men had killed countless people; they were clearly not weak. But compared to this demonically powerful man, they had become like bedbugs.
Sweating, they asked him, “Do you have some grudge against us?”
“Did we offend you?”
“If there’s no grudge and we didn’t offend you, why would you take the risk to come here?”
The answer to their question was an answer they could never have predicted. Upon hearing it, they couldn’t cry even if they wanted to, neither could they laugh. They could only die, with their eyes still open.
The man who had broken into the prison replied: “I want to sleep here for a little bit.”
This demonic figure was of course Wu Tao. Other than Ingot, who else could be standing next to him as he killed the two prisoners?
The only strange thing was that Ingot hadn’t been kidnapped and forced along.
He had come of his own free will.
In the dark little room at Big Zhao’s, Wu Tao had used an incomprehensible technique to instantly slay the Huainan Eagle Claw Sect top expert Old Condor Wang. Then he grabbed Ingot and threw him out the window.
Before Ingot even had a chance to touch the ground, Wu Tao had already grabbed him again.
And then Ingot found himself seven or eight buildings away, on a rooftop.
“Holy crap!” cried Ingot. “Where did you learn your kung fu? Are you a man or a ghost?”
“Sometimes I’m a man, sometimes I’m a ghost,” said Wu Tao coolly. “Sometimes half man half ghost, and sometimes neither man nor ghost. Sometimes I don’t even know what I am.”
There seemed to be some unspeakable sorrow hidden in his voice, but apparently Ingot didn’t notice.
The young beggar was aware that he knew a lot more than he should, so he asked, “Are you going to kill me now to shut me up?”
“Kill you to shut you up?” he laughed lightly. “What do you know? What reason do I have to kill you?”
“Well, at the least, I know you killed someone.”
“So what if I killed someone?” His voice once again seemed to be traced with sorrow. “Am I the only person in the world who has ever killed someone?”
Ingot looked at him and then sighed. “Actually, I know that guy wasn’t killed by you.”
“He was frightened into death. When you attacked, you broke his two Eagle Claws, and then you whispered something into his ear. Then I heard him fart. It was pretty stinky.” He continued, “I heard a long time ago that when people are frightened into death, that is what happens.”
“It seems you know a lot.”
“I know that man was fated to die.”
“Why?” asked Wu Tao.
“He didn’t actually know who you are, he just wanted to take you back to ask some questions. But, to do so, he planned to use a critical strike to break your four major joints. A person like that, willing to use such ferocious, ruthless and sinister methods… Well, he was fated to die eventually.”
Wu Tao looked at him for a while. At first his face was expressionless, but then after a while, a strange look appeared in his eye, a look impossible to describe with words.
“Get out of here,” he said. “Quickly.”
“I’m not going anywhere. I can’t.”
“If people can track you down, then they definitely know that I am with you. If you leave and I don’t know where you went off to, then when they catch me, they’ll probably end up beating me to death.”
He grabbed Wu Tao’s sleeve. “So I’m going with you. We’re stuck together.”
Wu Tao again stared at him for a while. “Do you know who I am?”
“I’m not an ordinary businessman.”
“And I’m not an ordinary beggar.”
“Don’t you want to know who I am?”
“Of course. But I don’t want you to know who I am. So if you don’t ask me, I won’t ask you.”
“Nothing good will come out of you following me,” said Wu Tao. “If I’m a person, then I’m not a good person. And If I’m a ghost, I’m definitely an evil ghost.”
His voice suddenly became very grim. “Originally, I just wanted to use you to help me pass the time. But I could also see that you have some kind unique background. Maybe when the need arises, I could use your family’s social standing to threaten people.”
“I know. Of course I know.”
“If you come with me, you’ll have to share all the sufferings and miseries and unfair hardships. I might even have to sell you out,” he said coldly. “If someone attacks me, as long as I have a chance to escape, I might use you to block the attack.”
“You won’t regret it?”
“Going with you is my idea, why would I regret anything?” Ingot suddenly laughed. “Maybe I’ll use you too. If someone attacks us, who’s to say I won’t use you to block the attack? It’s hard to say.”
Wu Tao wasn’t laughing.
At first, it seemed like he wanted to, but in the end he didn’t.
“Where are you going to go?” asked Ingot.
“I need to sleep. Build up my energy. Whatever I end up doing, I need to build up some energy.” He laughed coldly. “People must think I’m as exhausted as a stray dog. I want to give them a little shock.”
“Sleeping is always good,” said Ingot. “But is there anywhere in Jinan where you can actually get a good rest?”
“There’s a place they definitely won’t look for me. They would never think that I would go there.” He seemed completely confident.
“A place no one would think of?”
“Actually, there is one.” Ingot winked. “At least one person could think of it.”
Wu Tao stared at him. “You know the place I’m talking about?”
Ingot laughed, and his dimples appeared again. “Not only do I know which place you’re talking about, I also know that getting in is a lot easier than getting out.”
And so Ingot followed Wu Tao into the Den of Immortals.
** Chu Liuxiang is the titular character of Gu Long’s Chu Liuxiang series. http://tinyurl.com/q4lvmqk
 A yamen was a type of local governmental complex in ancient China. http://tinyurl.com/q2ssvr8
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