Chapter 9 – Wagering People Not Lives
August 17th. Night.
Lanterns had been lit, just now. One hundred and nighty-six exquisite cinnabar lanterns.
Big Boss Tang of the “As You Wish Gambling Hall” paid close attention to pomp and ceremony, and believed that people liked brightly lit places. If people were going to spend money, they would likely spend a bit more in a well-lit location.
The interior designer who decorated the gambling hall had recommended ninety lanterns, but Big Boss Tang had insisted on one hundred ninety-six.
It was not a mistake.
As You Wish Gambling Hall brought in more income than any other seven or eight gambling halls combined.
Big Boss Tang rarely made mistakes, and as of now, didn’t actually need to do anything.
The only thing he needed to do was sit at home and count the silver flowing in. If silver didn’t flow in, gold flowed in.
The light of one hundred ninety-six lamps was sufficient. Underneath that amount of light, even the wrinkles on a carefully made up thirty-five year old woman could be seen clearly.
But it seemed as if Xiao Jun saw nothing.
People filled the gambling hall, people both good looking and bad.
All sorts of things happened in the gambling hall, things both good and bad.
But Xiao Jun saw none of them.
Of course all sorts of people came here to gamble, even if it were at the risk of losing a wife.
No one knew what Xiao Jun was doing there, and no one dared to ask.
His facial expression was just too fearsome, and underneath the bright light, it grew even more terrifying.
It looked almost transparent.
Just as the lanterns lit up, Frogboy arrived with Wu Tao and Ingot.
Of course, many of the people in the gambling hall knew him.
He was no prince who abstained from drinking, feasting, women and gambling.
He was a close friend of Big Boss Tang.
Anyone in Jinan who ran this kind of business needed to be a friend of the Flowered Flag Sect, otherwise as soon as one hundred and ninety-six lanterns were lit in the grand hall, they would be smashed to pieces.
And so Frogboy made quite a grand entrance. Even people who didn’t really know him wanted to call out a greeting.
One needed to have quite a bit of face to call out a greeting to Frogboy, and even more to be able to call him “Frogbro.”
It seemed quite a few people had the face to greet him. Not a few called out, “Frogbro, what are you going to play today?”
“I’m not playing today,” he replied with a shake of his head. “I brought two friends here today, they’re going to play. They’re my guests.”
Only people with a lot of face could earn the right to be called Frogboy’s friend, and even though Wu Tao and Ingot didn’t seem that type, people had no choice but to look at them in a favorable light.
Xiao Jun didn’t notice.
He didn’t notice them and they didn’t seem to notice him.
He seemed to only be able to see the things in that other world in which he resided.
And the pai gow tiles in front of him. 
Pai gow is very fun, as long as you don’t lose.
Most gambling is like that, fun as long as you don’t lose.
Unfortunately, he had won eight times and lost nine times.
—Or perhaps was currently losing the ninth.
“What game would the two guests like to play?”
Frogboy’s two guests were immediately led to the largest pai gow table in the house.
“Which position would the two guests like to assume?”
The player currently occupying the Heaven position immediately left.
The dealer was not an employee of the gambling hall.
Those who run gambling halls cannot do any gambling themselves, lest the gambling hall itself be lost.
The dealer, a fat man with gigantic stomach, had an enormous coin purse, and a reckless air.
How could you be a dealer in a gambling hall unless you were the type of person willing to spend recklessly?
Ingot immediately produced Frogboy’s bag of wealth, then looked up at the dealer.
He hoped the dealer would look back at him and display some sort of admiration for his bold extravagantness.
The only thing the dealer wanted to do was knock this young beggar aside and grab back the person who had just vacated the Heaven position.
But he dared not.
Who would dare to be disrespectful to Frogboy’s friends?
The dealer rolled the dice, and they came up three. Heaven Position would go first, the dealer third.
The third place dealer unexpectedly played a club of panthers.  If the young beggar hadn’t interfered and messed things up, the dealer could have won about two thousand silver from the Heaven position with this play, since that position’s pieces were crap.
Ingot had lost, and was completely cleared out.
Then, he was the only person who hadn’t place a new bet on the table. Everyone waited, even the dealer, looking like they weren’t sure whether they wanted to laugh or cry. What would he bet?
The only thing he had left to bet, was himself.
“Why don’t you put yourself down on the table?” said Frogboy. “Don’t tell me you forgot that you’re an ingot?”
The dealer gaped.
Now that Frogbro had suggested it, what would they do if the young beggar actually laid down on the table?
He never imagined that the “ingot” would suddenly shake his head and say: “No, I can’t do that.”
“Because this ingot is far too valuable. I don’t think they could afford to match up against me.”
The dealer let out a sigh, as did everyone else. But Frogboy didn’t give up. “What are you going to wager this round, then?”
“Gold?” A young beggar, he clearly didn’t have a single scrap of gold. Frogboy couldn’t help but ask: “What gold?”
“Nearby. There’s gold everywhere,” he said nonchalantly. “I just need to go grab it. I can any time.”
“When do you plan to do that?”
“Right now.” He strode toward the exit. “Just hold on, I’ll be back in a bit.”
Did anyone believe that he could really get his hands on some gold? Did anyone believe that he would bring it back?
The dealer laughed loudly. “It looks like the Heaven position is now empty. Who would like to come play a few rounds?”
Wu Tao suddenly stood up. “Me,” he said. “I’m here, you leave.”
Choking down a laugh, the dealer said, “Why do I have to leave?”
“Because,” replied Wu Tao coolly, “You can’t afford to bet what I will be betting. And you can’t afford to lose if you did.”
The dealer stared in shock. And then suddenly, he heard a voice from behind him say, “I’m here, you leave.”
He turned around to find himself looking at a face as pale as a corpse’s, as pale a corpse that had been sitting in an icebox for three months.
Who would dare to offend a person such as this?
The dealer left, as well as the two players in the other positions on the table. They got as far away as they could.
Everyone could tell that these two people would be doing some incredible gambling.
Of course Frogboy, didn’t leave. He knew exactly how incredible this round of gambling would be. Incredible to the point of death.
The only thing he didn’t know, was whose death it would be.
In an instant, it suddenly seemed as if all one hundred ninety-six lanterns shone onto two faces.
The faces really did look like the faces of corpses.
Wu Tao sat in the Heaven position, Xiao Jun took the dealer’s spot.
“You’re here, as am I,” said Xiao Jun. “You want to gamble, I’ll join you.”
“Am I worthy?”
“You’re worthy,” said Wu Tao. “What I wish to gamble, only you can afford.”
“What do you want to wager? Lives?”
“Wager lives? How many lives do you have?”
“Just one,” said Xiao Jun. “One is enough.”
“No, it’s not.”
“Why not? Perhaps before you had more than one life, but at the moment, you only have one left.”
“It’s precisely that way: I have only one life. It’s not enough,” said Wu Tao. “Therefore, we can’t gamble.”
“Because if you lose even once, you have no chance to recover your losses. That’s neither fun nor satisfying.”
“Then how do you want to gamble?”
“I always wager people, not lives.”
“Wager people?” Xiao Jun didn’t understand. “What’s the difference between wagering people and wagering lives?”
“They’re completely different. We both have only one life to wager, but as for people, well, there are many people.”
“The person you wish to wager isn’t yourself?”
“Of course not.”
“Then who is it?”
Wu Tao stretched out his hand and pointed a finger toward a man wearing grey clothing, with black hair and a pale face. “This time, I want to wager him. Whoever wins, gets him.”
The man in grey originally had a pale face, but now it had grown green.
Yet he stood there, unmoving.
Frogboy suddenly laughed. “This is some incredible gambling. Incredible through and through. You use people who have nothing to do with you as the stakes. That way, if the gambler loses, nothing happens to he himself.”
“Not necessarily.” Wu Tao coldly asked him: “If you lost, are you sure you could catch that person and hand him over to me?”
“No,” admitted Frogboy, “I’m not sure.”
“Then what happens if you lose?”
Frogboy didn’t respond, so Wu Tao asked Xiao Jun: “How about you?”
Xiao Jun said nothing. He tossed the dice. One came up a four, the other, too low to mention.
It’s not easy to roll so low, and yet Xiao Jun did.
Frogboy leaped up and shouted to the man in grey: “Flee! Flee! He lost you him, you need to flee!”
The man in grey didn’t flee. In fact, not only did he not flee, he walked forward to stand in front of Wu Tao. His pale, greenish face had a smile on it, a somewhat horrifying smile.
“So I’ve been lost and given to you?” he asked Wu Tao earnestly.
“Well here I am, you can collect me up.”
He had inexplicably and mysteriously been selected to be the stakes in a wager, and yet did not seem to find this strange. Furthermore, he handed himself over with not the slightest bit of discontent.
Frogboy stared in amazement.
He had never seen something so incredible in his entire life. Nobody had.
Even more incredible, from within the crowd suddenly appeared twelve additional men, each one wearing almost exactly the same grey clothes. They walked forward to stand in front of Wu Tao, and in the same strange, empty voice, said, “Why don’t you collect me up?”
“I won one person. Why would I collect you all?”
“We are one person,” the thirteen of them responded in unison. “But there is something different about me.”
“What is that?”
“Other people have only one life. You yourself only have one.”
“And all of you?” asked Wu Tao. “How many lives do you have? Thirteen?”
“We have nine hundred and ninety-nine.”
“Nine and ninety-nine lives, all yours?”
Wu Tao sighed. Anyone with that many lives would have no fear of death.”
The thirteen men nodded in unison, and then stretched out their arms.
They stretched out their left arms, except… they had no left arm.
Their left arms had all been chopped off, and in their places had been installed strangely-shaped, gleaming steel pincers. They looked peculiar, ugly, dextrous and deadly.
Up to now, no one had seen them stretch out their arms, nor had anyone seen the steel pincers. For them to suddenly do this only increased the unspeakable bizarre sense of horror.
It seemed that they all used the same stance to extend their arms, a simple stance, but a stance in which the position of each person’s body was very strange. They all complemented each other: the thirteen steel pincers almost seemed as if they were being controlled by some sort of machine. And the thirteen men seemed as if they were some sort of exquisite robot.
Within the flickering light, the thirteen steel pincers shot towards Wu Tao’s ankles, knees, wrists, elbows, shoulders, head, neck and larynx.
In a split second, every joint and vital point on his body became vulnerable to them, and all routes of escape sealed off.
Were he made of wood, it would mean he was about to be snapped into pieces. Were he made of rock, it would mean he was about to be crushed to bits.
Even were he made of iron, he would still be unable to evade the grasp of the steel pincers.
Anyone would believe him unable to escape death. But who could know for sure?
At that exact moment, all one hundred ninety-six lanterns in the great hall all went out.
The brilliant lantern light in the hall suddenly became sheets of pitch black. It was so black that even the gleaming of the steel pincers could not be seen.
Some people like darkness.
Within darkness, some people are capable of doing certain things which they normally would never think of doing.
Some people can only think in darkness.
Throughout history, many deep philosophies and secret plans were given birth to within darkness.
But darkness can be frightening.
People will always have an inexplicable fear of darkness.
Within the darkness of As You Wish Gambling hall, people began screaming and rushing around in panic. But then they stopped.
Because suddenly, thirty-six of the one hundred nighty-six lanterns lit up again.
As the lantern light spread, the crowd found that the thirteen men in grey were nowhere to be seen. Neither was Wu Tao.
Another thirty-six lanterns lit, and the floor manager of the gambling hall shouted, “Big Boss Tang has prepared a hundred jugs of fine alcohol and a hundred tables of food for everyone. Everyone here tonight is an honored guest of Big Boss Tang. It’s all on the house.”
All one hundred and ninety-six lanterns now shone. Everyone in the crowd watched as staff members entered carrying food and alcohol. And they also watched as the young beggar returned carrying a large, heavy bag.
No person can simultaneously extinguish one hundred and ninety-six large lanterns.
No one knew how it happened. Furthermore, no one knew how the thirteen men and Wu Tao had suddenly disappeared, nor where they had gone to.
But everyone could see Ingot walking toward the table, the big back in his hands letting off “clinking” sounds.
Just from the sound of the clinking, everyone could discern that the objects in the bag were very heavy, perhaps as heavy as gold.
The young beggar really had brought back gold to gamble. Where had he acquired such an amount?
Xiao Jun still sat there, his posture exactly the same as before the lanterns had been extinguished, his face still as expressionless, as if nothing had just happened.
Jugs of alcohol and platters of food were already being served.
Frogboy shook his head and sighed. “This person is a real treat-lunatic,” he murmured, “and even seems to be a moneyphobe.”
Ingot heard these strange expressions as he put down his bag, and couldn’t help but ask, “What does ‘treat-lunatic’ mean?”
“It means this person loves to treat people so much that they’ve become a lunatic.”
“And what does ‘moneyphobe’ mean?”
“It means this person is afraid of being too rich, so he spends his money crazily by treating others.” He sighed again. “The lights going out had nothing to do with him, yet he treats everyone.”
“Who are you talking about?”
“Other than Big Boss Tang, who could it be?”
“Ok.” Ingot gave a thumbs up. “This Big Boss Tang seems like a big boss after all. I like him.”
Frogboy sighed again. “You shouldn’t.”
“Why not?” asked Ingot.
“Because he definitely wouldn’t like you.”
“How do you know that?”
It seemed Frogboy was about to say something, then changed his mind and said something else: “Your friend suddenly disappeared, and you didn’t even ask about it. How could anyone come to like an unfriendly person such as yourself?”
“He may have disappeared, but he’ll return. So why ask?” Ingot seemed very confident. “In fact, there will still be time to ask, even after he comes back.”
“Wrong,” said Frogboy, also sounding very confident. “Your friend will not be coming back.”
“How can a dead person come back?”
Ingot laughed, so hard that he bent over at the waist. “What makes you think he’s dead? If he can die, half of everybody else would be dead.”
After he finished laughing, Frogboy asked, “You believe he won’t die? That he will definitely return?”
“What’s in your bag?”
“Do you want to make a bet?” he asked Ingot. “You can bet your bag of gold.”
“You already loaned out all your wealth. If you lose, what will you give me?”
“Ok,” said Ingot. “I’ll make a bet with you. If he doesn’t come back within one hour, then I lose.”
Frogboy laughed heartily. “Then you’ve lost already.”
** Pai gow is a Chinese domino gambling game. http://tinyurl.com/ouyblnw
 I really don’t know much about pai gow, and couldn’t get much information. I’m not sure if I’m correctly translating the game terminology, but it’s not really relevant to the story, so I’ll just go with as direct a translation as possible.
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