HSNT – Chapter 13

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Chapter 13: Slaughterhouse

Part 1

The second month, the twenty fourth.

Chang’an.

Before dawn.

The sky was a dark sheet, darker than any other time during the day.

Gao Jianfei sat alone in the darkness, so cold that it seemed his blood would soon freeze.

“I did no wrong,” he kept telling himself. “I didn’t let Zhu Meng down, and I didn’t let her down. I did no wrong.”

Love is fundamentally not wrong.

It is never wrong to fall in love with someone.

When he fell in love with Die Wu, he didn’t know she was Zhu Meng’s woman, never even imagined she could be.

But every time he thought of the look on Zhu Meng’s face when he saw Die Wu, he felt a knife-like stab of guilt and remorse.

And so he’d left.

At first, he’d wanted to rush over to Die Wu as she laid there in a pool of blood, forget about everything and just hold the only woman in his life, take care of her forever, love her forever, regardless of whether or not her legs were severed, just love her.

But Zhu Meng had already rushed over to hold her, and so he’d left quietly.

He could only leave.

—How far could he go? Where could he go to? How far did he have to go to be able to forget?

Who could answer these questions for him?

As daylight approached, the ground seemed to grow colder. Little Gao laid down on the snowy ground and stared up at the darkness of the heavens.

Then he closed his eyes.

With his eyes opened, he could only see a sheet of darkness, why not close his eyes?

“Will I die like this?”

He had closed his eyes, so he could only hear the cold voice of a person say, “This winter in Chang’an at least four or five people died like this in the cold, frozen like rocks. Even stray dogs couldn’t bite a piece off of them.”

Little Gao ignored him.

—When life suddenly becomes this painful, why not just die?

But it seemed this person wouldn’t let him die.

His jaw was wrenched open, and he felt something burning go down his throat and into his stomach.

His stomach suddenly felt like a roaring furnace, and warmth filled his body.

He opened his eyes and saw someone standing in front of him like a rock. In his hand was a box.

An ordinary person, an extraordinary box.

If this person wanted someone to live, he would find it difficult to die. And if he wanted someone to die, he would find it difficult to keep living.

Little Gao understood this.

“It’s good alcohol.” He sat up, trying as hard as possible to act nonchalant. “Is it Lu Zhou liquor?” (1)

“Seems so.”

“You can’t conceal the truth about this kind of thing from me. When others were still drinking milk, I had already started drinking alcohol.” Little Gao laughed, and it seemed as if it were a happy laugh. “Some people are born heroes, some people are born swordsmen, and some other people are born alcoholics.”

“You’re not an alcoholic.” The man looked coldly at Little Gao. “You’re a bastard.”

Little Gao laughed heartily. “Bastard, then. Anyway, what’s the difference between bastards and alcoholics?”

“There’s a difference.”

“What difference?”

“When you see it you’ll understand.”

“See what? Where?”

The man suddenly grabbed him by the side and flew with him into the air. They passed over countless rooftops before coming to a stop.

“Here,” he said. “Here you can see.”

They stood on the eaves of a tall building, overlooking an expansive garden.

The building was the first pavilion of the Chang’an Restaurant.

Part 2

The sky was growing bright, and in the murky, early-morning light, the red flowers were as elegant and bright as before. The strange thing was, the snowy ground also seemed to be covered with flowers.

“If you think those are flowers, you’re wrong,” said the man with the box. “It’s not flowers, it’s blood.”

Little Gao’s heart sank.

He knew it was blood, and he knew whose blood it was.

When Zhu Meng had arrived, he’d left his subordinates here, in preparation for the battle to the death with Zhuo Donglai.

“You must have known that Zhuo Donglai wouldn’t be unprepared,” said the man with the box. “His men weren’t here, they were outside. He knew you would have your forces stationed here, so he surrounded you from outside.”

Zhuo Donglai had mobilized three-hundred and twenty men, all of the best men he could muster.

“Even though he had several times as many men as you, Zhuo Donglai wasn’t willing to act rashly.”

“Because he knew that the men who had come from the Lion Clan were true men who didn’t fear death, and were here to go all out, regardless of the risk to their lives.”

“Risk to their lives?” the man with the box laughed. “Do you think risking one’s life does any good? If you risked you life going up against me, would it do any good? Would I be so scared that I wouldn’t make a move?” His question was sharp and without emotion, in a way that made it impossible to respond to. He didn’t even give Little Gao a chance to respond. “Sometimes risking one’s life only amounts to delivering oneself up to death. Zhuo Donglai wasn’t afraid of those men.”

“Who was he afraid of?”

“You!”

Little Gao laughed, a bitter laugh. “Don’t tell me you’ve forgot about my battle with Sima at the Great Wild Goose Pagoda?”

“But Sima is not in Chang’an.”

“Where is he?”

“In Luoyang,” said the man with the box. “He’s not like Zhuo Donglai. He has the same heroic spirit as Zhu Meng. It’s just that he’s controlled too much.”

“If Sima was in Chang’an, and was sent by Zhuo Donglai, how could he possibly deal with you and Zhu Meng? If his subordinates made a move first, would you let him go?”

Little Gao looked at the flower-petal-like bloodstains on the snow, and cold sweat broke out on his back.

If it hadn’t been for Die Wu, they would have had an excellent opportunity to execute Zhuo Donglai before the banquet.

“That was your one and only chance, and you let it slip away, because you left,” said the man with the box. “Of course, you should have left, because you’re a true man, and wouldn’t fall out with Zhu Meng because of a woman.” His voice was bitingly cold. “But did you ever think that you left at a time when Zhu Meng needed you the most? You left him a woman with severed legs, because you thought yourself a true friend. But I think you’re a truer friend to Zhuo Donglai, because you left him Zhu Meng and the Lion Clan’s eighty-six brothers.”

Little Gao couldn’t say anything, not even a single word. His clothes were completely soaked with sweat.

“So they risked their lives,” said the man with the box, “and sadly it didn’t do much good. After you left, this place became a slaughterhouse. Do you know what a slaughterhouse is like?”

Little Gao slowly lifted his head and stared at him, his voice hoarse with sorrow. “I don’t know. Do you?”

“Of course I know, because I was here when it happened.”

“You sat here and watched all those people slaughter each other like livestock?”

“I not only watched, I watched very carefully. I saw every sword stroke very clearly.”

“Did it make you happy to watch?”

“Not very happy, but not very sad,” said the man with the box, coolly. “Because it’s your issue, and has nothing to do with me.”

Little Gao had been struggling to hold back his fury, but it finally burst forth like flames from a furnace.

“Are you human?”

“Yes.”

“If you’re human, how could you sit by and watch others be butchered like animals?” The strength of his question would move anyone who had emotions. “Why didn’t you save them?”

The man laughter was cold enough to soak through to one’s marrow. “Why didn’t you stay behind and save them? Why did you you lay down in the snow to wait to die?”

Little Gao said nothing.

“If you really want to die, you don’t need to go look for death, because Zhuo Donglai has already planned it for you. He’s made arrangements with someone who can send you to your death at any time.”

“Sending me to my death isn’t an easy thing,” laughed Little Gao coldly. “Who is this person?”

“It’s true that not many people can send you to your death, but this person has never failed in an attempt to kill someone.”

“Oh?”

“You must know that some people in Jianghu make a living by killing others. The higher their prices, the less likely they will fail.”

“And he found the person with the highest price?”

“Yes.”

“You know who this person is?”

“I do. He’s surnamed Xiao, the same character ‘xiao’ as in the expression ‘the whistling of the sword energy.’(2) His full name is Xiao Leixue.”

“And you are Xiao Leixue.”

“Correct.”

Little Gao was completely composed. Only this kind of stabbing surprise could have pulled him out of his sorrow and confusion into composure.

The morning fog began to rise. He looked at this mysterious man, more mysterious than the fog itself, and sighed.

“This is really disappointing. I really never imagined that you would kill others for money.”

“I also never imagined it,” said Xiao Leixue. “It’s been a very long time since I killed anyone for money. That sort of thing isn’t very interesting.”

“So why are you making an exception?”

Xiao Leixue didn’t answer directly. His ash-like gray eyes filled with a mysterious expression.

“Everyone has a rope attached to their body, and most people are slowly bound tighter and tighter by it throughout their lives. For some people, the rope is family, wife, and children. For others, it is money, achievements, and responsibilities. People like you and Zhu Meng aren’t bound by those types of ropes, but you make ropes of your own nonetheless.” He stared at Little Gao. “Emotions. Your emotions are too powerful, and they are your rope.”

“And you?” asked Little Gao. “What is your rope? What kind of rope could fasten you?”

“It’s a contract.”

“Contract?” Little Gao didn’t understand. “What contract?”

“A contract of assassination.”

Xiao Leixue’s voice seemed to be coming from a distant place. “Right now I’m a hermit with more wealth than most countries. But twenty years ago, I was nothing but a nameless vagabond. I was like you, without friends, without relatives, without roots. Without anything except for this box.”

“The box is a weapon designed to kill people, so you started making a living by killing people?”

“The people I killed deserved to die. If I didn’t kill them, they would eventually have been killed by someone. Even though my prices are high, I’m very trustworthy. If I take a contract, I always complete it.” His voice was filled with ridicule, self-ridicule. “It’s because of this that I’m not able to sleep at night.”

“But eventually you washed your hands of it,” said Little Gao coolly. “Because you had made enough money.”

“Correct. I did eventually wash my hands of it, not because I had made enough money, but because one night after killing someone, I found that I couldn’t sleep.” He grasped his box. “People in my profession all agree that that is the most fearful thing that can happen.”

“So why are you still bound by your rope?”

“Because the contract I’m referring to is my earliest contract. It stipulates that at any time or place, he can ask me to kill someone. It doesn’t matter when or who, I can’t refuse.”

“And you never fulfilled the contract?”

“Never,” said Xiao Leixue. “Not because I didn’t want to, but because that person never came looking for me to fulfil it.”

“So, the contract is still valid.”

“Correct.”

“Why would you sign a death contract like that?” Little Gao seemed surprised. “The price he payed must have been enormous.”

“Correct.”

“How much did he give you?” asked Little Gao.

“He gave me a life.”

“Whose life?”

“My own. When I signed the contract, he could kill me at any place or time.”

“Killing you isn’t easy. Who is this person?”

Xiao Leixue refused to answer. “I can only tell you that the contract has been returned to me and there is a name on it.”

“The name of the person for you to kill?”

“Correct.”

“And the name is Gao Jianfei?”

“Correct.”

Xiao Leixue looked calmly at Gao Jianfei. Gao Jianfei looked calmly back at him. They were extraordinarily calm, as if killing and being killed were ordinary matters.

A long time passed.

Then, Gao Jianfei asked, “Do you know where Zhu Meng’s corpse is? I would like to go pay my respects.”

“There is no corpse of Zhu Meng,” said Xiao Leixue. “For the moment, he’s not dead.”

Little Gao’s breathing suddenly ceased. “He killed his way out again?”

“He didn’t kill his way out. Zhuo Donglai let him go. Otherwise he would never have had a chance.”

“Why did Zhuo Donglai let him go?”

“Because Zhuo Donglai wants to leave him for Sima Chaoqun,” said Xiao Leixue. “Zhu Meng’s death will cause a huge sensation in Jianghu. He usually leaves those types of things for Sima Chaoqun to accomplish.” He slowly continued, “To build up a hero isn’t an easy matter.”

“Right. It’s definitely not.”

After saying this, they both closed their mouths. Far in the distance could be seen a wisp of red smoke climbing up. In the midst of this murky early morning light, it looked almost like a stream of blood piercing the snow.

Then the wisp of smoke was dispersed by the wind. In a very strange voice, Xiao Leixue said, “There’s a special place I need to go to, and you’re coming with me.”

Where did the wisp of red smoke rise from? Did it have some special significance?

—Was it a signal? Was it a warning?

What was this special place? Why did Xiao Leixue want to bring Little Gao with him?

Sometimes people will pick a special place to kill someone. Was this place another slaughterhouse?

It wasn’t a slaughterhouse, and actually didn’t appear to be special at all. It seemed to be just a tiny village temple. A tiny temple situated on a remote path.

The gods of this small temple were a couple, earth spirits, and had clearly been long neglected. On this bitterly cold early morning of the second month, there definitely would be no incense burning.

Little Gao stood mutely next to Xiao Leixue, looking at the images of the spirits. They had seen the hypocrisy of the world, experienced together the transformations of time. He suddenly felt an indescribable loneliness.

He suddenly felt that these two simple spirits, who from ancient times had never been regarded as important, were more blessed than the mighty immortals and shining gods who resided at the top of the highest heavens.

—Die Wu. Why did you have to be Die Wu? Why couldn’t you be another woman?

He hadn’t asked about whether she was alive or dead, or where she was.

He couldn’t ask.

Because she didn’t belong to him, and he only hoped that he could take the few days they’d had together and make it into a dream.

Part 3

What was special about this place? Why did Xiao Leixue bring him here? What was he going to do?

Little Gao didn’t ask. Xiao Leixue said, “They know everything. Everything I did all those years, they know about all of it.”

“They?” asked Little Gao. “Who are ‘they?’”

“Them.” He was looking at the statues in the shrine. “This Earth Spirit grandfather and grandmother.”

Little Gao didn’t understand, and Xiao Leixue knew this.

“Twenty years ago, the people who could afford to hire me as an assassin all knew about this place,” he explained. “They would come here and leave the name of a location and a person. The location is where I would go to get the money, and the person was who I was to kill.”

—A remote village temple, a secret corner, a loose red brick, a carefully rolled strip of paper, an exorbitant price, a life.

So simple, and so complicated.

“If I believed that the person should die, then I would go to the location and retrieve the money. There is only ever money, never a person. My clients have never seen my face.”

“And what about those who have died by your hand?”

“People who force others to spend so much money on an assassination are usually worthy of death,” said Xiao Leixue. “So this little village temple is probably Chang’an’s greatest center of business.” Cynicism filled his voice. “Our profession is one of humanity’s most ancient professions, and definitely the most ancient profession for men.”

Little Gao understood.

As for the most ancient profession of women, it was a bit more ancient because women have access to the most natural of resources.

“Sixteen years. Sixteen years and three months. Such a long period of time.” Xiao Leixue sighed. “In that period of time, people were born, people grew old, people died. But this place doesn’t seem to have changed at all.”

“You haven’t been here in sixteen years?”

“Not until the day before yesterday.”

“After sixteen years, why would you suddenly come back?”

“Because I saw something I last saw sixteen years ago, what people in Jianghu call ‘blood fire’ smoke.”

“That’s the same as the smoke we just saw?”

“Yes.” Xiao Leixue continued, “When the blood fire appears, some important person in Jianghu will suddenly die. So, some people call it the ‘command of death.’ A bewitching command of death.” His explanation continued, “When someone leaves a message for me here, they must then go to the outskirts of the city and set off the red smoke. Starting in the early morning, three times. What you saw just now was the third time.”

“So when you came here the day before yesterday, you received the contract that you must fulfil.”

“Yes.”

“The person who traded your life for the contract was Zhuo Donglai?”

“No, it wasn’t him,” said Xiao Leixue coldly. “He’s not worthy.”

“But you think Zhuo Donglai is behind it.”

“I know. Of course I know.” His words were very strange: “After that person disappeared from the world, I could never figure out where he went to hide. Only now do I know.”

“That person” who he referred to was undoubtedly the person with whom he had entered into the contract.

—Who was this person? What mysterious relationship did he have with Zhuo Donglai?

Little Gao didn’t want to ask these question. He was exhausted, so completely exhausted that he felt he would collapse at any moment. But then, his vitality arose once again.

“I know that I’m in your hands. If I die under your hand, I can die satisfied, because I know that it’s at least better than dying under the hands of someone else. But, killing me won’t be easy.” He stared at the box in Xiao Leixue’s hand. “If you want to kill me, you have to open your box first. You have to open it before I draw my sword.”

His sword was in his hand. It was no longer wrapped in black cloth. Alone in Chang’an, he had long since prepared to draw it.

Xiao Leixue slowly turned around and looked at the hand holding the sword. Suddenly, a very strange expression filled his eyes.

The knuckles of the hand that held the box suddenly grew white. The veins bulged.

—When the treasured sword appeared, gods and ghosts trembled in fear.

—Whose tearstains marked the sword?

—Grandmaster Xiao’s.

—The treasured sword had already been forged. Why would he shed tears?

—Because he had foreseen a calamity. He foresaw within the spirit of the sword, that his only son would die beneath this blade.

—His only son is Xiao Leixue?

—Yes.

Part 4

Mist roiled in the bathing room. Zhuo Donglai was bathing, and it seemed as if he urgently desired to purge last night’s bloodstains from his body.

Located behind his quarters, the bathing room had been built as sturdily as a hidden treasure room.

Because he would not allow anyone to enter when he was bathing.

Because when bathing, people must be naked, and he was no exception.

Other than when he was a baby in his mother’s arms, Zhuo Donglai had never allowed anyone to see him naked in his entire life.

Zhuo Donglai was deformed, hypoplasticly deformed. (3)

His left leg was somewhat shorter than his right. The reason for his hypoplasia was that while in his mother’s womb, he had been squeezed by another person.

And that person was his younger brother.

Zhuo Donglai was a twin, and should have had a younger brother. A younger brother with whom to share their mother’s love and nourishmen.

But he was born first, and by that time his brother was dead in his mother’s womb. Dead along with her. “I’m a murderer, a natural-born murderer.” Zhuo Donglai would often call out in this way during nightmares. “My first act in life was to kill my mother and brother.”

He’d often believed that his deformity was a punishment from heaven. But he wasn’t completely convinced.

His incomparable determination and willpower overcame the congenital defects. After he grew up, no one could see that he was lame, and no one knew how much time had spent, how much pain and sweat he had experienced, just to be able to walk like a normal person.

But unfortunately there was something else that he was powerless to change, no matter what price he paid.

He could never really be a man. There was one part of his body that would always look like a baby’s.

The veins on the back of Zhuo Donglai’s hands bulged, popped out by the hot water. He liked to bath in scalding hot water.

His bathing facilities had been specially designed to replicated Japanese ‘furo’ bathtubs. (4)

When he soaked in the boiling water, he felt as if he were back at his brother’s side, feeling his heat and pressure.

—Was he abusing himself? Was he punishing himself?

Did he amuse himself by abusing and punishing others?

Right now Zhuo Donglai wasn’t thinking about these things. Right now he was thinking about something much more amusing. He was thinking about Little Gao and Xiao Leixue.

One was the greatest master in the world, who carried the most fearsome weapon under heaven.

But his fate had been preordained, his life certain to be taken by the treasured sword forged by his father.

The other person should die by his hand, as there was no way for him to escape.

But that person had the treasured sword.

—Which of these two people would die?

Zhuo Donglai found this question very amusing, extremely amusing.

He couldn’t help but laugh.

And yet before the cold laugh could come out, his smile froze.

His pupils constricted.

Only when he was truly frightened or anxious would his pupils constrict. And now he had that feeling.

He could sense that someone had used an unfathomable technique to open the door to this secret room, and stood like a ghost behind him.

This truly was unbelievable. He never imagined that someone in the world would have this type of unbelievable skill.

But he had to believe.

He suddenly thought of a person. The one and only: “Xiao Leixue. I know it must be you.”

“Yes.” His voice was deep and hoarse. “It’s me.”

Zhuo Donglai suddenly let out a long sigh. “Gods and ghosts can’t be relied on. And all the sayings about spirits are just as unreliable. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have come.”

“Why?”

“Because you should be dead, dead beneath Little Gao’s ‘Tearstains.’ Your death was destiny, your demise preordained by the spirit world.” He sighed again. “Now I know that this type of talk is ridiculously absurd.”

“What about before?” asked Xiao Leixue. “Before, you believed?”

“I didn’t believe, and I didn’t disbelieve.”

“So you thought of a way to get me to go after Gao Jianfei. You wanted to see which of us would be able to kill the other.”

“Yes.”

“And regardless of who died, you wouldn’t be sad.”

“No, I definitely wouldn’t be,” said Zhuo Donglai. “Whoever died, it would benefit me. And if you both died, it would be too wonderful for words. I would definitely take care to arrange all of your affairs after your death.”

What he said was the truth. Zhuo Donglai always spoke the truth.

Because he didn’t need to lie.

In front of most people, he had no need to lie, and in front of others, lying was useless.

Xiao Leixue could see this.

He liked fighting with people like this, it cut out a lot of needless frustration.

Having a fight with a person like this was much more enjoyable than having that person as a friend.

“I always tell the truth, too,” said Xiao Leixue. “You’d better believe every word I say.”

“I definitely believe.”

“I know you’ve never seen me. You surely must wish to see what kind of person I am.”

“Yes, it’s killing me.”

“And yet, if you turn your head and even glance at me, you’ll never see anything ever again.”

“I won’t turn my head,” said Zhuo Donglai. “At the moment I don’t wish to die.”

“Speaking the truth is a really good habit. And I really hope you’ll keep on living.” Xiao Leixue’s voice was very flat. “If you speak one lie, I’ll see that you die in that wooden tub.”

“As I said, I don’t wish to die at the moment.” Zhuo Donglai’s voice was also very calm. “I definitely don’t want to die naked in a wooden tub. You should believe me that I won’t turn around.”

“Very good.”

Xiao Leixue seemed to be satisfied with the situation, and so he finally asked the question he so wanted to ask.

“Twenty years ago, I signed an assassination contract with someone. You know about this?”

“I do.”

“The most important part of the contract was left blank. It lacked a person’s name.”

“I know about this, too.”

“Someone sent the contract back to me, and a name had been filled in. Do you know whose name it is?”

“I do.” Zhuo Donglai suddenly laughed. “I was the one who filled in the name. How could you not know?”

“Was the contract between me and you?”

“No,” said Zhuo Donglai. “I”m not worthy.”

“Was it you who delivered it to me?”

“Yes,” said Zhuo Donglai. “Someone sent me to deliver it. First I took the contract to the little village temple. Then I went to the outskirts of the city to light the fire. To make sure you would see it, I lit the fire three times every day.”

“Someone sent you.” Xiao Leixue’s voice suddenly became more hoarse. “Do you know who this person is?”

“I know,” said Zhuo Donglai. “Everyone who knows about him thinks he died long ago. Many people don’t know his name, but I do. I know. There is no one in the world who knows more than me.”

“You know that he’s not dead?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know where he is?”

“Yes.”

“Very good.” It seemed as if Xiao Leixue’s voice had been ripped to pieces. “You can stand now.”

“Why must I stand?”

“Because I want you to take me to see him.”

“Can I not go?”

“No.”

Zhuo Donglai stood. When matters could not be argued with, he would never argue.

“You can put on your marten fur and your shoes,” said Xiao Leixue. “But you’d better not do anything else.

Zhuo Donglai stepped out of the bathtub and put on his marten fur.

He moved very slowly, his every movement very cautious.

He could hear the animosity and killing spirit in Xiao Leixue’s voice.

Xiao Leixue wouldn’t kill him or chop off his legs. But if Xiao Leixue thought even one of his movements was out of place, there would definitely would be some part of his body removed.

He would never give anyone this chance.

Xiao Leixue was certainly watching him very carefully, watching his every movement in extreme detail.

“I know that you’re a very arrogant person, that your reaction and speed are extremely quick, and that you have practiced your family’s qigong extremely well,” said Xiao Leixue. “In the future, not very many people will be able to defeat you. I think even Sima Chaoqun is no match for you, because he cannot achieve the same state of calmness that you can. I’ve never seen someone as calm as you.”

“I’ve thought this before too,” said Zhuo Donglai with another laugh. “Everyone gets narcissistic sometimes, especially late at night when no one is around and they are a little drunk.”

“You’ve never seen me, and have never seen me fight. How do you know that I’m more powerful than you?” asked Xiao Leixue coolly. “Did you ever think that perhaps you could kill me?”

“I never thought of it,” said Zhuo Donglai. “I never even considered thinking about it.”

“Why not?”

“Because I control my thinking.” Zhuo Donglai’s laughter seemed to contain a bit of sadness. “If a person wishes to continue on living, they will not think about that kind of thing.”

Xiao Leixue laughed coldly. “So you’d rather turn into someone who follows orders like a dog, not daring to make a move?”

“Correct,” said Zhuo Donglai. “There are many situations in the world like this.”

Part 5

The door to the small courtyard was closed.

Zhuo Donglai knocked. First three times, then once.

This secret knock had been devised by he and the old man. But there was no response from within the courtyard.

“He’s not here?”

“He’s here,” said Zhuo Donglai. “He’s definitely here.”

“So you’re notifying him that someone is here that shouldn’t be, and you want him to flee?”

“I’m sure you know that he wouldn’t flee. He’s never fled before in his life. Besides, he knew all along that you would come looking for him.”

And yet no response came from the little courtyard. Zhuo Donglai knocked again, harder than last time.

Then suddenly the door opened, just a sliver.

It had been open the whole time, neither locked nor bolted from the inside.

The old man hadn’t left.

Within the peaceful courtyard, the flowers were as fragrant as always, the ancient pine tree was there as always, and the old man sat in the pavilion as always, facing the snowy ground, as if he were watching Die Wu dance as always.

But Die Wu would never dance again.

And the old man would not grow older again.

Only thinking and emotion will make people grow old. If a person cannot think, and cannot feel, they will not grow old.

The old man had no thoughts, and could not think, judge or plan anything.

The old man was without emotions, and would never again feel heartache, pain, happiness, frustration, lovesickness or memories.

Only dead people have no thoughts or emotions, and only dead people cannot grow old.

The old man was dead.

He appeared to be alive, sitting in the pavilion with an incomparable air of elegance and leisure. But he was dead.

His eyes, which had carried a mixture of the wisdom of old age and the mischievousness of a child, no longer shone like the sun shining on the sea. They would never again glitter with the brilliance of the sun and the blueness of the sea.

His eyes had become gray, like the sky when it is just about to grow dark and begin snowing.

After seeing his eyes, Zhuo Donglai couldn’t take another step forward.

His whole body went stiff, as stiff as the body of the old man.

And then he saw Xiao Leixue.

Xiao Leixue didn’t appear to be very tall, but he was still taller than most people, and very thin.

His hair, pitch black, without a trace of white, sat coiled on top of his head, bound with a pale gray cloth.

He wore a garment made from the same cloth. The fit was not suitable and the tailoring was poor.

He carried a box in his hand, an old-fashioned and ordinary box.

This was all that Zhuo Donglai saw, because he could only see Xiao Leixue’s back.

The person who had been behind him like a shadow this whole time suddenly blew past him like the wind.

What did he look like, the most mysterious and fearsome person in Jianghu? Zhuo Donglai still couldn’t see his face.

But some people who never display emotion on their face will sometimes unconsciously reveal their emotions through their back.

Xiao Leixue’s back was taut, every single muscle, and then it began quivering, as if it were being lashed by an invisible whip.

The old man’s death was the whip.

One could tell from the tone of voice when he spoke that this man was no friend of his.

There must have existed some sort of indelible hatred between them.

Most likely, he forced Zhuo Donglai to bring him here because he wished to use the old man’s blood to wash his heart clean from the hatred and enmity.

But the old man had already died. Why would he have such a fierce reaction, filled with pain and sorrow?

But even more surprising was Zhuo Donglai.

He was not a broad-minded person, and would never allow anyone to encroach on his dignity.

No one in the world had ever insulted him the way Xiao Leixue had, and this type of insult could only be washed away with blood.

If he killed Xiao Leixue, no one would find it strange or feel sorry.

Even if he literally drank Xiao Leixue’s blood, no one would be upset.

Xiao Leixue was not the type of person people felt compassion for, and Zhuo Donglai really should have killed him. As soon as he had an opportunity, he should have done so.

This was his best opportunity.

At the moment, Xiao Leixue’s back was like a fertile, unprotected field, just waiting for someone to trample it underfoot.

At this moment, his emotions were the most agitated, and he was most likely to make careless errors or mistakes.

And yet Zhuo Donglai didn’t move a muscle.

The opportunity was like a cloud that suddenly floated past, fleeting, never to return. Zhuo Donglai’s breathing suddenly stopped, and his pupils constricted.

He finally saw Xiao Leixue, the most mysterious and fearsome person in the world.

Xiao Leixue had suddenly turned to face Zhuo Donglai.

He had an ordinary face, but his eyes looked like a sword that had just been unsheathed.

“If someone had wanted to kill me, just now was the best opportunity. There will never be an opportunity like that again.”

“I know.”

“Why didn’t you make a move?”

“Because I don’t want to kill you.” He spoke truthfully. “I never thought of killing you.”

“You should have thought about it,” said Xiao Leixue. “You must know that I will kill you.”

“You will kill me?” His eyes never left Xiao Leixue’s face. “I thought you would never kill people for free.”

“I’ll make an exception this time.”

“Why?”

“Because you killed him.”

Zhuo Donglai’s eyes shifted to the old man in the pavilion. “You think I killed him? You think he would die under my hand?”

“Originally, you could never make a move against him, not even against one of his hairs. Your martial arts aren’t bad, but in the time it would take to lift his hand, he could send you to your grave.”

“Maybe even one finger would be enough.”

“But things changed. Before his death, someone crippled him.”

“You can see that his internal qi skills were crippled?”

“Yes, I can.”

“You saw just now?”

“Yes.”
“But, I knew all along. I knew it many years ago.”

“Oh?”

“When he arrived here, his skill had already been crippled. That is why he came to live here in the first place. I’m sure you can imagine why.”

Xiao Leixue couldn’t argue.

Twenty years ago, the old man had not been old, and in Jianghu there were few who could match him.

He could roam under the heavens, flitting about like a cloud. Why else would he choose to hide here, residing under the roof of someone he detested, unless he had lost his inner power?

“He obviously wouldn’t think highly of someone like me, but he still came here. Because he knew there were some good things about me.”

“What good things?”

“I’m reliable. Very reliable. My character is reliable and my word is reliable.”

“Oh?”

“No one in Jianghu knew that his inner power had been lost. And no one knew he was staying here. My lips were sealed.”

This, Xiao Leixue couldn’t deny.

“Many in Jianghu sought after his life,” said Zhuo Donglai. “If I wanted to betray him, he would have been dead by another’s hand long ago. And if I personally had wanted to kill him, there would have been no need to wait until now.”

It seemed this was a fact as well.

“Also, he saved my life. So when he was in the most danger, he came to me. Do you think I would slay my own benefactor?”

“You would. Others wouldn’t kill their benefactor, but you would.”

Zhuo Donglai laughed bitterly.

“However, despite the fact that his power was lost, his mind remained,” said Xiao Leixue. “And inside it were inexhaustible precious deposits, buried treasures of knowledge, and secrets more valuable than any pearls or jewellery in the world.” He looked coldly at Zhuo Donglai. “You didn’t kill him before because he was useful to you.”

Zhuo Donglai said nothing. A period of time passed, and then he let out a long sigh. “Correct,” he admitted. “I killed him.”

Xiao Leixue’s fist clenched. It was the fist holding the box, the box that could kill anyone in the twinkling of an eye.

“Actually, he was very useful to me all this time.” Zhuo Donglai heaved a sigh. “But sadly, he reached the point where he could no longer be allowed to go on living.” He looked at the box in Xiao Leixue’s hand. “You’re prepared to make your move?”

“Yes.”

“Before you do, can you tell me one thing?”

“What thing?”

“Is the reason you’re going to kill me that you want to avenge his death?” Zhuo Donglai didn’t wait for Xiao Leixue to respond. He answered the question himself. “No, it’s not. It’s definitely not to avenge his death. I can see that you hated him, more than anyone in the world. If he was alive now you would kill him.”

“Correct,” admitted Xiao Leixue immediately. “If he wasn’t dead, I would kill him.” His voice was again hoarse with bitterness. “But before I made my move, I would have asked him something. Something that only he could tell me, a secret only he could explain.”

“What secret?”

“You don’t know what I wanted to ask?”

Zhuo Donglai responded, “What if I did know? Would you let me go?”

Xiao Leixue stared at him coldly, and didn’t say another word. He sighed.

“Unfortunately,” said Zhuo Donglai, “I don’t know. I really don’t.”

“That is unfortunate.”

What question did Xiao Leixue want to ask?

With the old man dead, no one in the whole world could explain the secret.

Zhuo Donglai was dead; anyone should be able to see that his death was inevitable.

Xiao Leixue had already begun opening his box.

—What is the most fearsome weapon under heaven?

—It’s a solitary box.

The box was fearsome, and the person carrying the box was even more fearsome.

Zhuo Donglai’s pupils yet again began to constrict.

His eyes stared at Xiao Leixue, his face dripped with cold sweat, the muscles in his body quivered.

A “beng” noise sounded out as the box opened. Opened just a sliver.

A sliver like that of the seductive eyes of a lover.

Part 6

Regardless of the time or place, if this box opened even a sliver, then someone would be brought to judgement like an animal.

And then the place would become a slaughterhouse.

**

(1) Lu Zhu is a pretty famous type of baijiu http://goo.gl/ml1UBn
(2) Here the ‘xiao’ character is doubled up to make up an onomatopoeia to describe a whistling sound.
(3) This is a medical condition in which parts of you don’t grow correctly. http://goo.gl/eoHHmx
(4) Here’s info about furo baths: http://goo.gl/kei1b


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