The 18th day of the first month of the lunar calendar.
A place no one knew about.
How could a bunch of randomly shaped metal parts be the most fearsome weapon in the world?
Little Gao hadn’t completely regained consciousness yet, but this question was still wrapped around his heart like a poisonous snake.
When he finally completely regained his senses, he was frightened into silence by the sight in front of his eyes.
He suddenly found that he was in a place that could only exist in the most bizarre dreamscape.
It seemed like a mountainside cave, but Little Gao couldn’t be sure. Whoever arrived here would have the same reaction as he, and be entranced.
He had never seen a place with so many amazing and fascinating things.
Light emanated from multi-colored, Persian crystal lamps, illuminating enormous, bizarrely-shaped stalactites. Gand-made, finely decorated rugs, strange and beautiful, covered the floor. Strange weapons hung on four sets of wooden racks. Sevearl of them, Little Gao had never seen before, or even heard of.
There was also a piece of coral nearly nine feet tall, several elephant tusks about three feet long each, a horse carved from flawless white jade, a collection of various plants, fruits and vegetables made from jadeite and agate, and a huge golden Buddha from Siam, draped with strings of jewels, sparkling and shining, as large as lychees.(1)
Furthermore, on a large table were laid out jade and gold drinking vessels as well as crystal bottles, filled with fine alcohols from every corner of the earth.
Standing next to the soft bed where Little Gao lay, were four exceedingly beautiful women wearing gauze gowns as diaphanous as cicada wings. They looked at Little Gao, giggling. One of the girls had blonde hair and blue eyes, skin whiter than snow, and a pure, innocent smile; another had skin as dark as puce, as supple-looking as satin, lithe and glossy, almost sparkling. Little Gao was completely entranced.
The weapons, the treasures, the beautiful women, all were things that normal people would never be able to see.
Could it be that this place did not lay within the mortal realm?
If it really was hell, who knows how many people in the world would be willing to go to hell?
—Who are you? What is this place?
The girls only laughed, they didn’t speak.
Little Gao wanted to get up, but his shoulders a girl who appeared to be as delicate as a pendant on a fan held him down by the shoulders.
He didn’t dare touch her.
He knew that he wasn’t the type of person who could easily resist temptation.
Wat drove him crazier was the blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl, who grasped his face with both hands and blew gently into his ear.
Little Gao could feel himself changing, and he was changing in a very awkward and embarrassing way. (2)
Suddenly his body twisted, warping in an unimaginable way and bending in a completely unexpected direction. (3)
The girl holding his shoulders and the girl grasping his face felt something slide past their hands, and suddenly realized the person they had been holding was no longer there. Upon turning their heads, the found him hiding there behind the golden Buddha statue.
“You’d better not come over here,” he said loudly. “I’m not a good person, if you dare make a move in my direction, I won’t be polite.”
He was actually somewhat afraid of these girls, but if they really approached him, he wouldn’t be too sorry, and he wouldn’t be too scared.
Unfortunately, they didn’t go over, because the master of this place had already appeared.
Dashing and thin, of very tall stature, he had a glossy black silk gown casually draped over his body. His long, pitch-black hair hung down loosely over his shoulders.
Though dressed casually, he had the bearing of an emperor.
Especially his face.
His profile was distinct and well-defined.
His face, pale white, completely devoid of color, looked as if it had been carved from white marble; it carried an indescribable, cold grandeur.
As soon as they saw him, the girls dropped gracefully to the ground and prostrated themselves. Little Gao suddenly said, “You’re definitely the master of this place.”
“Yes, I am.”
“I don’t know you, and you don’t know me. How come you brought me here?”
“I don’t know either.”
“You don’t know either?” cried Little Gao. “How could you not know?”
“Because I didn’t make you come with me, you came along with me on your own.”
Little Gao was shocked. So shocked that he couldn’t even open his mouth for while.
“I came along with you? Don’t tell me you’re the person with the box?”
“Yes, I am.”
Little Gao held his head with his hands. It seemed like he was about to pass out.
An ordinary person wearing coarse clothes, miraculously turning into someone like an emperor.
This kind of thing only happened in myths, and yet Little Gao had just seen it happen.
“Exactly what kind of person are you?” Little Gao stepped out from behind the Buddha statue. “Are you a top-notch assassin who wanders from one corner of the earth to the other with your box? Or are you some kind of incredibly rich recluse who’s abandoned the world of mortals? These two types of people are complete opposites. Which one are you?”
“What about you?” the man retorted. “What kind of person are you? A hot-blooded kid who’s curious about everything in the world? Or a cold-blooded swordsman who views human life as trash?”
“I’m a student of the sword. If someone studies the sword, they should devote their life to it, and not fear death. What about you? Why do you kill people? For money? Or because killing people makes you happy?” Little Gao stared at him. “Does it make you happy to know you can decide whether people live or die?”
The black robed man turned and walked to the large table. He poured himself some wine from one of the crystal drinking vessels, then slowly drank it down.
Afterwards, he continued in an indifferent voice: “As far as I’m concerned, it’s not a happy thing. But sadly, I am like most people in the world; I sometimes have to do things that I don’t really want to do.”
“Why did you kill Yang Jian?”
“For Zhu Meng. Because I owe him a life.”
“Zhu Meng saved your life?”
“Most people find it hard to avoid dangerous and challenging circumstances. I’m no different. You’ll also face circumstances like that one day, and you can never predict who will be there to save you, just as you can never know what kind of people will die by your hand.”
“Not die by my hand, but by my sword,” said Little Gao. “The people who’ve died by my sword are all people who’ve devoted themselves to the sword. I’m like them, so if I died by their sword, then I would die without complaint.”
The black-clothed man suddenly took a long, strangely shaped sword down from the shelf. He looked coolly at Little Gao. “And what if I used this sword to kill you right now?”
“I think it would a great pity,” said Little Gao. “Because I still don’t know who you are.”
“You already know enough, enough for me to kill you.”
“You already know that I killed Yang Jian, and you already sneaked a look at my solitary box.”
“But I didn’t see anything,” said Little Gao. “I still want to know how that could be the most fearsome weapon under heaven.”
“You really want to know?”
“I do. I really do!”
The man suddenly drew the sword, and its cold aura blasted against their faces. Its flickering light was dark green in color.
“This sword is called Green Willow, a relic left behind by Taoist Gu from Mount Ba.(4)” He gently caressed the blade. “Years ago, Taosit Gu swept China with his Cyclone Dancing Willows 49 sword forms. It’s hard to say how many famous swordsmen died under this sword.”
He put down the long sword, and from the rack picked up a flower-shaped broadaxe.
“This is the axe that Hidden Hero Wu Lingqiao from Mount Huangshan used long ago. (5) It weighs eighty pounds. Even though he only used 11 different stances, each stance was extremely lethal. It’s said that at the time, no one in Jianghu could hold up against seven of them.”
Next to the broadaxe hung a weapon that looked like somewhat like a spear, and yet wasn’t. Instead of a spear head, it had a sickle-shaped blade, attached to shaft with a metal chain.
“The Iron Chain Flying Sickle can mow people down like grass,” said the black-clothed man. “It’s said that this weapon comes from Japan. Its weapon forms are secretive, never before seen in China.”
He pointed at some of the other weapons on the rack; a pair of Judge’s Brushes, a set of Emei spikes, a Tiger Cross blade, a hooked Wu sword, a polearm, a Persian cutlass and large white bamboo pole. “In the past, these weapons were used by the greatest masters of the time. Each one has its own unique weapons forms, and it is impossible to say how many souls of martial arts masters are collected in them.” (6)
“But I’m asking about your solitary box,” blurted Little Gao, “not these weapons.”
“My solitary box,” said the black-clothed man, “is the essence of these weapons.”
“I don’t understand. How could a solitary box contain the essence of thirteen different weapons? I looked inside, and all I saw was a bunch of random pieces of metal tubes and parts.”
“There’s a mystery to it, of course you wouldn’t be able to see. But you surely understand that all weapons in the world are made up of random pieces of metal. If you put the pieces of metal together, then they become a weapon.” He finally gave a more detailed explanation: “To have a sword, you need the body, the blade, the hilt, the cross-guard, the grip. If you put these five different things together, then you can make a sword.”
Little Gao finally seemed to understand, at least a little. “Are you saying that you can use the metal parts in the solitary box to make a kind of weapon?”
“Not a kind of weapon, thirteen kinds of weapons. Thirteen completely different types of weapons.”
Little Gao was shocked into silence.
“Thirteen different methods can be used to make thirteen weapons of completely different shape and style. And yet each of these weapons is different from commonly seen weapons, because each one contains the abilities of at least two or three other weapons. The essence of all the weapons forms of all these weapons, are contained in my solitary box.” He looked at Little Gao. “Now do you understand?”
Little Gao was now completely speechless.
He finally understood how exactly Yang Jian, Cloudy Sky and the seven others appeared to have been simultaneously killed by three different types of weapons and yet were killed by a single person.
Of course he’d realized this before, but he hadn’t been able to completely believe it.
Without being able to see with your own eyes, who could believe that such an ingenious, complicated weapon existed in the world? (7)
But Little Gao had no choice but to believe.
So he let out a long sigh. “Whoever forged this weapon definitely is a genius.”
The black-clothed man’s white, noble-looking, cold face was suddenly filled with a strange expression. It was an expression you might see on the face of a pious believer upon sudden mention of their venerated deity.
“No one can compare to him,” said the black-clothed man. “His swordsmanship, his wisdom, his way of thinking, his patience, his blacksmithing skill. No one compares to him.”
“Who is he?”
“The same person who forged ‘Tearstains.’”
Little Gao was yet again shocked.
He suddenly had a very odd feeling that there must be some strange and mysterious relationship between him and the black-clothed man.
The feeling left him surprised, happy, and frightened.
But he still wanted to know more, about the solitary box, the sword, this amazing person, and what they had to do with each other. But the black-clothed man didn’t seem willing to allow him to know much more. He had already changed the subject: “Even though there has never been a weapon as remarkable as this solitary box, using it is not very easy. Without a remarkable person to use it, it can’t release the slightest bit of power.”
He was not showing off, and had no air of arrogance in his voice. He was simply describing the facts. “Not only must this person be proficient in the forms of all thirteen weapons, and must completely understand their composition, he also must have extremely dexterous hands to be able to assemble the pieces within the box, in only a moment’s time.” He continued, “In addition to all of this, he must have an abundance of experience, extreme agility and reflexes, and exceedingly good judgement.”
“Because all opponents are different, and the required weapon and weapon forms are also different. In an extremely short period of time, you must make a judgement about which weapon can effectively overcome your opponent. Before your opponent makes a move, you must decide which parts to put together to form which weapon. You must also completely assemble the weapon. If you are slow in even one step, you’ll die by your opponent’s hand.”
Little Gao laughed bitterly. “It really isn’t an easy thing. A person like this… you could search heaven and earth and I’m afraid you’d only find a few.”
The black-clothed man looked at him quietly. A long time passed, then he said, “To open the solitary box also isn’t easy. And yet you opened it very quickly. Your hands are already dexterous enough.”
“It seems they are.”
“Your martial arts already have a good foundation, and it seems like you practice the mystical Indian yoga arts from the peaks of Mount Everest.” (8)
“Yes, it seems so.”
“The old man who passed ‘Tearstains’ down to you has a connection to my solitary box. So up until now, you’re not dead.”
“Don’t tell me you actually want to kill me? Why haven’t you?”
“Because you need to stay here. I want to pass on to you my martial arts, pass on to you the box, pass on to you everything here.”
His words were something that others wouldn’t even have the luck to hear even in their dreams.
—Unparalleled wealth, extremely mystical martial arts, and the most fearsome weapon under heaven.
A young person with nothing in the world who suddenly gets everything, whose luck in life changes in an instant.
What would this young person be feeling in their heart?
Little Gao had no reaction, as if someone had mentioned something that had nothing to do with him.
The black-clothed man continued: “My only requirement is that before you master all of my martial arts, you cannot step foot out of this place.”
The requirement wasn’t too harsh, and actually quite reasonable.
“Unfortunately you forgot to ask me something,” said Little Gao. “You forgot to ask if I’m willing to stay here.”
This question really shouldn’t be asked. Only crazy people and fools would refuse a requirement like this.
Little Gao wasn’t crazy, and he wasn’t a fool. The black-clothed man asked him, “Well, are you willing?”
“No, I’m not.” He continued without an explanation: “And I won’t.”
The black-clothed man’s pupils suddenly pulsed, changing into the point of a needle, the tip of a sword, the stinger of a bee, piercing Little Gao’s eyes.
Little Gao’s didn’t blink. A long time passed, and the black-clothed man asked, “Why aren’t you willing?”
“No real reason, actually,” said Little Gao. “Maybe it’s because I’m too bored here, and I’ve always valued a free and comfortable life.” He stared at the mysterious, fearsome man. “Or maybe it’s because I don’t want to become a person like you.”
“Do you know what kind of person I am?”
“I don’t. But I can tell that you are the type of person who lives in the shadows. Whatever face you use when you step outside, it seems you’re always stepping out within the shadows.” He sighed. “Even though you have immeasurable wealth and the most fearsome weapon under heaven, I get the feeling your life isn’t very happy. In fact, I even feel sorry for you.”
The cold light emanating from the man’s eyes slowly began to disperse, disperse into a murky shadow, and then into nothing.
“Everyone has the right to choose their way of life,” continued Little Gao, “including myself. I want to live under the sun. Even if I have to kill people, I’ll openly challenge them to a duel, and win a fair victory.”
The black-clothed man laughed.
“You think Sima Chaoqun will really give you a fair fight?”
“I challenged him openly and fairly. It’s one on one, how could it be unfair?”
“Of course you wouldn’t understand now,” the man sighed. “I’m afraid by the time you do understand, it will be too late.”
“No matter what, I have to go. Right now, I’m about to die from starvation. I just hope you’ll let me stay to have a meal, then let me go.” He seemed happy again. “I can tell you’re not a stingy person, and my requirements aren’t very high.”
“Definitely not too high,” the man said coldly. “But sadly, you forgot to ask me something.”
“No one who has every visited this place has ever left alive.”
Little Gao suddenly laughed. “I believe you. But luckily there’s an exception to everything.” He laughed happily. “I believe you’ll definitely make an exception for me.”
“Why will I make an exception for you?”
“Because we’re friends, not enemies. And I’ve never offended you.”
“You’re mistaken,” said the man. “You’re not my friend. You don’t qualify to be my friend.”
His eyes suddenly shone forth with a strange light. “If I make an exception for you, it will only be for one reason.”
“Because you feel sorry for me.”
The expression in his eyes suddenly changed into one of bitter and anguished cynicism. “This world only contains people who hate me or fear me. There’s never been a single person who felt sorry for me. For this single reason, I think there’s no harm in giving you a chance.”
“A chance? What chance?”
The black-clothed man stood up, and casually grabbed two crystal bottles from the long table. Then he asked Little Gao to pick one of them.
“Why do you want me to pick?” asked Little Gao. “They both look the same. All the bottles look the same.”
“There’s one small difference.”
“One bottle has poison in it. Deadly, gut-wrenching poison.”
Actually the two bottles had another difference about them. One of the bottles had a little less wine than the other.
Because the black-clothed man had already poured some of the wine into a glass and drank it.
He still lived.
Little Gao saw this, but he still chose the other bottle.
The black-clothed man looked at him coldly and asked, “You’ve decided?”
“I’ve decided. And I won’t change my mind.”
“Didn’t you see me drink the glass of wine just now?”
“And don’t you know which bottle I drank from?”
“Then why wouldn’t you pick that bottle?”
“Because I don’t want to die.” Little Gao laughed, even more cheerfully. “You know I’m not blind, and not stupid. I can obviously see which bottle you drank from. But you want me to make a decision, because most people in this situation would choose to drink from the first bottle.”
That was a fact.
“Luckily I’m not most people, and you wouldn’t lump me in with most people. If that bottle really had no poison in it, you wouldn’t use that method to test me. If you wanted to overcome me, you would definitely use a more challenging method.”
It was definitely not an easy decision.
Even many very intelligent people might come to the conclusion that the poison was in the bottle the black-clothed man drank from, but might not have the guts to drink from the other.
“The poison is yours, of course you have the antidote. Even if you drank eight or ten bottles it wouldn’t be a problem. Of course, I can’t drink a drop, so I have to pick the other bottle.”
The black-clothed man looked at Little Gao with a very strange expression. “And if you choose incorrectly?”
“Then I guess I’ll die, and that’s that.”
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he took the bottle and drank a mouthful.
And then he collapsed.
(1) I’m substituting lychee for long’an. Both fruits are similar in size and shape, but I’m pretty sure long’an is not as commonly known among western audiences.
(2) I’m not sure if it comes across in my translation, but the “change” in his body he’s referring to is …. Uh yeah, you can guess….
(3) Okay, my translation differs from the original Chinese, because I think the original can’t be translated well into English directly. The original says, “his body suddenly twisted, from a position that no person could imagine, twisting in a direction that no person could imagine.”
(4) Mount Ba is a mountain in Sichuan. http://goo.gl/uby2jU
(5) Mount Huangshan is one of the most famous mountains in China. http://goo.gl/X7fqtz
(6) Here are links to pictures of some of the weapons. I did my best to translate everything correctly, and tried to find ‘official’ or existing translations of as many of the weapons as possible. If I made any mistakes, please let me know. I’m especially not sure of my translation of Tiger cross blade, which I’ve seen before in movies and stuff but am not sure how to translate into English.
Flower-shaped broadaxe http://goo.gl/DZmRK5
Judges’ brushes http://goo.gl/xGL43z
Emei spikes http://goo.gl/BbHJmA
Tiger cross blade http://goo.gl/HzRKs4
(7) He actually uses like four or five adjectives in Chinese that all basically mean the same thing. Precise, delicate, complicated, etc.
(8) The word he uses to describe Mount Everest is actually “Holy Mother of the Water,” which apparently is what they call Mount Everest in Tibetan.
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