Chapter 14 – First Pay, Then Kill
Hu Kun stood next to the upper railing of the ‘Ascendant Immortal Teahouse’. He felt very satisfied with everything.
This was a high class, elegant place. The decorations were beautiful, and the furnishings were exquisite, and every chair and table was made using excellent hardwood. The bowls and the cups were made from the famous Jingdezhen porcelain of Jiangnan.
The clients who came here to drink tea and wine were, generally speaking, lofty and lordly people.
Although the entrance fee here was at least twice as high as that of any other place, he knew that the customers here wouldn’t care, because that is the nature of ‘extravagance’.
Normally, he always liked to stand here. He’d watched as these noble, lordly people walk about beneath him, always making him feel as though he were above all of them.
Although he wasn’t even five feet tall, this gave him the feeling that he was a head taller than everybody else.
Thus, he liked this sort of feeling.
He also liked lofty, lordly matters, just like how he loved power.
The only thing which irritated him slightly was that fearless Du Shiqi.
When this person drank alcohol, he was fearless. When he was gambling, he was fearless. And when he was fighting, he was even more fearless, as though he really had nine lives.
“Even if he does have nine lives, I definitely cannot allow him to live past the start of next month.”
Unfortunately, he wasn’t really certain that he would be victorious.
Whenever he thought of this, he would always feel a bit irritated. Fortunately, just at this moment, the person he was waiting for arrived.
The person he was waiting for was named Tu Qing. He had spent over thirty thousand taels of silver to invite this man to come from the capital to kill Du Shiqi.
The name ‘Tu Qing’ was not a very famous, well-recognized name in the martial world. This was because the things he did precluded him from becoming too famous.
He didn’t want prestige. He wanted wealth.
He specialized as an assassin-for-hire. The minimum price he accepted for any mission was at least thirty thousand taels of silver.
This is an ancient, mysterious profession. A person in this profession being ostentatious or making a name for himself was a person who was breaking some cardinal rules.
But within their own circle, Tu Qing was definitely a famous man, and the price he commanded was higher than that of others.
Because he never failed to assassinate his target!
Tu Qing was seven feet tall, dark-skinned and gaunt, with a bright pair of eyes that were as keen as a hawk’s.
Although the clothes he wore were form-fitting and were made from the best of materials, they weren’t colorful at all.
He had a cold, quiet attitude. In his hands, he carried a dark, grey bundle that was long and narrow.
His hands were dry and steady.
All of this was very much in keeping with his status, making others feel that no matter how high a price he charged, he was be worth it!
Hu Kun appeared to be extremely satisfied as well.
Tu Qing found a seat in a corner and sat down. He didn’t even raise his head up to take a single look.
His movements needed to be clandestine and secretive. He definitely could not allow others to notice any hint of a relationship between himself and Hu Kun. Even less could he allow others to find out what he was here for.
Hu Kun let out a breath. Just as he was about to return to the secret room behind him to drink two cups of celebratory wine, he suddenly saw a pale-faced man walk in. His walking posture was extremely bizarre and unusual, and he tightly gripped a sabre in his hand.
A pitch-black sabre! The sabre was still sheathed, but he himself seemed like a naked blade, ruthless and sharp.
His eyes were like the edges of a sabre as well. He glanced around the room, then his gaze fixed onto Tu Qing. Tu Qing lowered his head, drinking his tea.
There was a cold sneer playing across the lips of this stranger. He found a seat nearby and sat down.
Suddenly, with a cracking sound, an excellent wooden chair cracked underneath his weight.
He wrinkled his forehead as he supported himself with one hand on the table. Again, with a sudden cracking sound, that wooden table, worth at least twenty silver taels, was shattered into many fragments.
By now, anyone could tell that he came here to cause trouble!
Hu Kun’s pupils were contracting.
Can it be that this person had also been invited here from outside, except by Du Shiqi to deal with him?
His bodyguards and hired thugs were just about to charge out, but with a gesture, Hu Kun stopped them.
He could already tell that this stranger definitely could not be handled by the likes of them!
Since Tu Qing had arrived, why not use this opportunity to display his skills?
Hu Kun was a businessman, a very intelligent businessman. Whenever he spent even a single ingot of silver, he’d expect to earn itself back.
In addition, perhaps this stranger hadn’t come here for him. Perhaps he had come here for Tu Qing.
This stranger was, of course, Fu Hongxue.
Tu Qing was still drinking tea, his head lowered.
Fu Hongxue suddenly walked to him. He coldly said, “Stand up.”
Tu Qing didn’t move. He didn’t speak either. But a majority of the other customers had already quietly slipped away by now.
Fu Hongxue repeatedly himself. “Stand up.”
Tu Qing finally lifted up his head. He seemed to have just noticed this man. “It’s more comfortable to sit than to stand. Why should I stand up?”
Fu Hongxue said, “Because I like your chair.”
Tu Qing looked at him. He slowly put down his tea, slowly stretched out his hand, picking up the bundle on the table.
The bundle was, without a doubt, filled with his weapons.
Hu Kun’s hands tightened. His heart rate suddenly sped up.
He liked to watch people kill other people. He also liked to watch people bleed.
Over the past five years, there hadn’t been many things that could excite him; not even women did the trick. Killing people was the very last thing which could stimulate him. But he was disappointed.
Tu Qing rose to his feet. He picked up his bundle, then quietly stepped aside. He always acted in a very careful, prudent manner. Naturally, he wouldn’t make any moves in front of so many people.
Hu Kun suddenly said, “Today, my humble shop will close early. Aside from those who have business with me, everyone else, please leave.” Thus, those who wanted to watch the fun had to leave. Suddenly, only two people were left in the main hall. Tu Qing continued to sip his tea, head lowered. Fu Hongxue’s head was raised, and he was staring at Hu Kun, stationed at the upper flowered railing.
Hu Kun said, “You have business with me?”
Fu Hongxue said, “You are Hu Kun?”
Hu Kun nodded. He smirked. “If Du Shiqi told you to come here to kill me, you’ve found the right person.”
Fu Hongxue said, “If you are looking for someone to kill Du Shiqi, you’ve found the right person as well.”
Hu Kun was obviously caught off guard. “You?”
Fu Hongxue said, “I don’t look like a killer?”
Hu Kun said, “You two have a feud?”
Fu Hongxue said, “It isn’t necessary to be feuding with someone to kill them.”
Hu Kun said, “Why do you usually kill people?”
Fu Hongxue said, “To make myself happy.”
Hu Kun said, “What does it take to make you happy?”
Fu Hongxue said, “A few tens of thousands of taels of silver usually make me happy.”
Light shone in Hu Kun’s eyes. “I can make you happy. Will you go kill Du Shiqi for me today?”
Fu Hongxue said, “I’ve heard it said that you aren’t a very stingy person.”
Hu Kun said, “Are you certain you can kill him?” Fu Hongxue said, “I can guarantee that he won’t live beyond the start of the next month.”
Hu Kun laughed. “I am very happy to help my friends be happy as well. Only, I’m afraid you came a bit too late.”
Fu Hongxue said, “You already found someone else?”
Hu Kun glanced at Tu Qing out of the corner of his eye, smiled, and nodded.
Fu Hongxue coldly said, “If he’s the man you found, then you found the wrong man.”
Hu Kun said, “Oh?”
Fu Hongxue said, “Dead men can’t kill anybody.”
Hu Kun said, “He’s a dead man?”
Fu Hongxue said, “If he isn’t a dead man, he should have killed me by now.”
Hu Kun said, “Why?”
Fu Hongxue said, “Because if you can’t make me happy, I’ll definitely go seek out Du Shiqi.”
Hu Kun said, “If you seek out Du Shiqi, you’ll tell him to be on guard against him.”
Fu Hongxue said, “I will help Du Shiqi kill him.”
Hu Kun said, “First kill him, then kill me.”
Fu Hongxue said, “If Du Shiqi is alive, then you must die.”
Hu Kun said, “Thus, he should kill you right now.”
Fu Hongxue said, “Unfortunately, a dead man can’t kill anybody!”
Hu Kun let out a sigh, then turned towards Tu Qing. “Did you hear what he just said?”
Tu Qing said, “I’m not deaf.”
Hu Kun said, “Then why don’t you kill him?”
Tu Qing said, “I’m not happy.”
Hu Kun said, “What will it take to make you happy?”
Tu Qing said, “Fifty thousand taels.”
Hu Kun appeared startled. “Du Shiqi only costs thirty thousand taels, but he costs fifty thousand?”
Tu Qing said, “Du Shiqi doesn’t know me. He knows me!”
Hu Kun said, “Therefore, you can ambush Du Shiqi, but you cannot ambush him.”
Tu Qing said, “In addition, he’s holding a sabre. So my risk is greater.”
Hu Kun said, “But you are still certain that you can kill him.”
Tu Qing coldly said, “I’ve never missed the mark on my target!”
Hu Kun let out a sigh. “Fine. Kill him. I’ll give you fifty thousand taels.”
Tu Qing said, “Pay first, then kill.”
Brand new thousand-tael bank notes, a total of fifty of them.
Tu Qing counted them twice, as though he were a miser. He wet his fingers with his saliva as he counted, then wrapped them up in a square cloth and stored them in the money pouch hanging off his belt.
Money which was earned through blood and sweat is always especially precious. Although he rarely sweated while earning money, he often shed blood.
Blood is naturally more valuable than sweat!
Fu Hongxue coldly watched him, no expression on his face at all. But Hu Kun smiled, and suddenly said, “You must be a very rich man already.”
Tu Qing didn’t deny it.
Hu Kun said, “You are married.”
Tu Qing shook his head.
Hu Kun’s smile became even more friendly. “Why don’t you store the money here with me? I’ll give you interest, three percent interest.”
Tu Qing shook his head again.
Hu Kun said, “You aren’t willing? Can it be that you distrust me?”
Tu Qing coldly said, “The only person I trust is myself.”
He patted his money pouch. “All of my money is here. There’s only one way it can be taken!”
Hu Kun naturally did not dare to ask, but the look in his eyes as good as asked, “What way?”
Tu Qing said, “By killing me!”
He stared at Hu Kun. “This belongs to whoever kills me. Would you like to give it a try?”
Hu Kun laughed. His laughter was very forced. “You know I won’t try, because…”
Tu Qing coldly said, “Because you don’t have that much courage.”
He suddenly turned towards Fu Hongxue. “How about you? If I kill you, is there anything which you will leave behind for me?”
Fu Hongxue said, “Only a lesson.”
Tu Qing said, “What lesson?”
Fu Hongxue said, “Don’t keep the weapon with which you kill people wrapped inside a bundle. A person who intends to kill others, as well as a person who is about to be killed, is impatient. They won’t wait for you to unwrap your bundle.”
Tu Qing said, “That is a very good lesson. I will keep it in my mind at all times.”
He suddenly laughed. “Actually, I’m also an impatient sort of person. If I had to unwrap my bundle in order to kill people, I’d go crazy with impatience.”
He finally stretched out his hands and unwrapped his bundle. What sort of weapon was in that bundle?
Hu Kun really wanted to see what weapon he used. His gaze unconsciously affixed itself upon it.
Who would have thought that before the bundle was unwrapped, Tu Qing already made his move. His weapons for killing weren’t hidden within the bundle. His entire body, from top to bottom, was covered with weapons. With a clinging sound, seven cold rays of light shot out from his waist and his clothes. From the back of his collar shot out three flowery crossbow bolts. Two iron lotus flowers flew out from his hands. Two sharp knives shot out from the tip of his boots as well.
* [An iron lotus flower is an ancient Chinese weapon which looks like a flying claw; a flexible metal chain attached to an iron claw.]
As soon as the hidden projectile weapons flew out, he jumped up into the air, both legs striking out in rapid succession. In the blink of an eye, he had used four different types of lethal weapons. That eye-grabbing bundle of his was still placed on the table. This was truly outside of other people’s expectations. Even Hu Kun was greatly shocked. This technique alone was worth him spending fifty thousand taels of silver for.
He was certain that Tu Qing wouldn’t miss his mark this time either. But he was wrong, because he did not know that this pallid faced stranger was Fu Hongxue.
Fu Hongxue had already pulled out his sabre.
A sabre without equal in all the world. Unimaginable, unthinkable sabre techniques.
No matter how vile the hidden projectile might be, or how devious the plot, once they met with this sabre, it was as though ice and snow had met the sunlight.
A flash of sabre light. A series of light clinking sounds, like small golden bells being sounded. All the hidden projectiles in the air fell to the floor. Every single one of them had been cut in half, right down the middle. Even a master craftsman using a carving knife to slowly whittle away at them might not be able to make such neat, perfect cuts.
Only after the sabre light disappeared could the blood be seen. Blood, flowing down from the face!
Tu Qing’s face.
A sabre cut had been left on his face, carving down from the middle of his eyebrows, all the way down to his nose. If thirty percent more force had been used in that chop, without question his head would have been split in two as well.
The sabre was already sheathed again.
Fresh blood flowed down from his nose. It entered his mouth, tasting hot, salty, and bitter. Every single muscle on Tu Qing’s face had become contorted with pain, but his body didn’t move. He knew that his career as an assassin had just come to an end.
This was a secretive line of work. One must silently, invisibly kill his target, then silently, invisibly disappear.
Nobody who had such a sabre wound on his face could be suited for this line of work.
Fu Hongxue stared at the sabre wound. He suddenly waved his hand. “You, go.”
Tu Qing’s lips were twitching as well. “Where shall I go?”
Fu Hongxue said, “So long as you don’t kill others, you can go anywhere you wish.”
Tu Qing said, “You…why aren’t you killing me?”
Fu Hongxue said, “You insisted on fifty thousand taels before you would kill me. For me to kill you, I would at least demand fifty thousand taels as well.”
He coldly continued, “I’ve never killed for free either.”
Tu Qing said, “But I have more than merely fifty thousand taels on me. If you killed me, they would belong to you.”
Fu Hongxue said, “That’s another matter entirely. I adhere to the same rule; first get paid, then kill.”
Rules are founded on principles.
Regardless of the nature of one’s profession, if one wishes to be successful, one must follow their principles.
Tu Qing no longer opened his mouth. He silently removed two stacks of bank notes from his money pouch, a total of fifty notes.
Once again, he carefully counted the notes twice, then placed them on the table. Lifting his head up, he glanced at Hu Kun. “This is still yours.”
Hu Kun was coughing.
Tu Qing said, “You can give him fifty thousand taels and tell him to kill me.”
Hu Kun suddenly stopped coughing. “How much more do you have on you?”
Tu Qing closed his mouth.
Hu Kun stared at him. Light shone in his eyes.
Tu Qing had already lifted up the bundle on the table, and was slowly heading out!
Hu Kun suddenly said loudly, “Kill him, I’ll pay fifty thousand taels.”
Fu Hongxue coldly said, “If you want to kill this person, you have to make the move yourself.”
Hu Kun asked, “Why?”
Fu Hongxue said, “Because he is already injured. He no longer has the capability to defend himself.”
Hu Kun’s two hands tightened on the railing. With a thudding sound, three flying daggers slammed into the wooden railing.
The flying daggers came from Tu Qing’s bundle. The bundle was filled with weapons as well.
Tu Qing coldly said, “I never kill people for free, but for you, I am willing to break this rule and make an exception. Do you want to try me?”
Hu Kun’s face had changed long ago.
He really could not guess how many more weapons remained in the bundle, and how many more remained on Tu Qing’s person!
But he could already tell that regardless of what type of hidden projectiles Tu Qing might use, all that Tu Qing needed was a single one in order to kill him.
Tu Qing finally left. As he reached the doorway, he suddenly turned around and stared at Fu Hongxue, then stared at Fu Hongxue’s sabre. It was as though he had never seen a person like this, never seen a sabre like this.
He suddenly asked, “Your honorable surname?”
Fu Hongxue said, “My surname is Fu.”
Tu Qing said, “Fu Hongxue.”
Fu Hongxue said, “Correct.”
Tu Qing lightly sighed. “Actually, I should have thought of the possibility that it was you long ago.”
Fu Hongxue said, “But you didn’t think?”
Tu Qing said, “I didn’t dare to think.”
Fu Hongxue said, “Didn’t dare?”
Tu Qing said, “If a person thinks too much, he won’t kill people anymore.”
It was dark outside already. There were no stars, no moon. As soon as Tu Qing left, he disappeared into the darkness.
Hu Kun let out a long sigh, then mumbled to himself, “Why didn’t you kill him? Aren’t you afraid that he will reveal your secret?”
Fu Hongxue said, “I have no secret.”
Hu Kun said, “Are you no longer interested in killing Du Shiqi?”
Fu Hongxue said, “Killing people isn’t a secret.”
Hu Kun let out a sigh. “There are eighty thousand taels worth of bank notes on the table. Kill Du Shiqi, and they will be yours.”
Fu Hongxue said, “First pay, then kill.”
Hu Kun forced out a laugh. “You can take them away now.”
Fu Hongxue took the bank notes, also counting them twice, before slowly asking, “Do you know where Du Shiqi is right now?”
Hu Kun naturally knew. “In order to discover his whereabouts, I’ve spent fifteen thousand taels.”
Fu Hongxue lightly said, “Killing someone was always a very wasteful thing.”
Hu Kun let out a sigh. He watched as he put the bank notes into his clothes, then suddenly asked, “Killing people isn’t a secret?”
Fu Hongxue said, “No!”
Hu Kun said, “You aren’t afraid of killing in front of a multitude of people?”
Fu Hongxue said, “Killing can be done at any place.”
Hu Kun laughed, he really laughed. “Then you can go find him right now.”
Fu Hongxue said, “Where is he?”
Hu Kun narrowed his eyes. “Going all out.”
Fu Hongxue said, “Going all out?”
Hu Kun said, “Going all out, gambling-wise, alcohol-wise. I can only hope that he hasn’t yet lost everything, and that he hasn’t yet drunk himself to death.”
Not only was Du Shiqi winning, he was very sober as well.
Whenever a person is winning, he is always very sober. Only losers will be muddle-headed.
He was in the middle of shuffling the cards.
Thirty two wooden domino cards. Each and every one, he seemed to control. Even the dice seemed to be obeying his commands.
He wasn’t playing any tricks or using any sleight of hand. When a person’s gambling luck came upon him, there is no need at all to cheat.
Earlier, he had used a ‘long thirteen’ card and taken money from everyone at the table. By now, it seemed as though he had won twenty thousand taels. Originally, he definitely could have won some more.
Unfortunately, the people playing with him had gradually diminished, because everyone’s money-pouch was now empty.
He hoped that one or two fresh faces would enter. Just at this moment, he saw a stranger with an ashen face walk in.
Fu Hongxue was watching him shuffle the cards. His hands were enormous and very strong.
Du Shiqi took the part of the bank again. Out of four hands, he won everybody’s money on two of them, but only made a total of two hundred or so taels.
Everybody else at his table seemed to be without vitality already.
In a casino, money is blood. How could people without blood have vitality?
Did this stranger with such a pale face have a flourishing flow of blood in his veins?
Du Shiqi suddenly raised up his head and smiled at him. “Friend, would you like to play a few rounds as well?”
Fu Hongxue coldly stared at him. “Just one hand.”
Du Shiqi said, “Only one hand? Victory or defeat, to be determined in one hand, then?”
Fu Hongxue said, “Right!”
Du Shiqi laughed. “Great! Only this sort of gambling is really fun.”
He straightened his waist. All of the joints in his body immediately cracked, and all of the muscles underneath his robe moved hither and to without stopping.
This was the result of eighteen years of bitter training!
He was eight feet, two inches tall. He had large shoulders, but a slender waist. Supposedly, he could snap a cow’s head with one head. Everyone who saw him couldn’t help but gaze upon him with awe and veneration, as though they were officials gazing upon the emperor.
The eighty bank notes had already been taken out. Brand new bank notes, in a pale white hand.
Du Shiqi said, “How much do you have?”
Fu Hongxue said, “Eighty thousand.”
Du Shiqi let out a light breath. His eyes were so bright, it was as though two torches had been lit in them. “Eighty thousand taels on one hand?”
Fu Hongxue said, “Regardless of who wins, only one hand.”
Du Shiqi said, “Unfortunately, I don’t have that much.”
Fu Hongxue said, “No harm.”
Du Shiqi said, “By no harm, do you mean that isn’t a problem?”
Fu Hongxue nodded.
Du Shiqi laughed. “Did you steal this money? Is that why you don’t care?”
Fu Hongxue said, “They weren’t stolen. They were used to purchase a life!”
Du Shiqi said, “Whose life?”
Fu Hongxue said, “Yours!”
The smile on Du Shiqi’s face froze. Everybody nearby had clenched their fists. Some had clenched their sabres.
But Fu Hongxue didn’t even glance at him. “If I lose, these eighty thousand taels are yours. If you lose, you must leave with me.”
Du Shiqi said, “Why must I leave with you?”
Fu Hongxue said, “Because I don’t want to kill you here.”
Du Shiqi laughed again, but his laughter was very forced. “If you lose, are you still going to kill me?”
Fu Hongxue said, “No matter what, I must kill you.”
Du Shiqi said, “What you seem to be saying is that regardless of who wins, we’ll still stake our lives and fight each other. Only, there are too many people here, all of whom are my people, and so you want to fight elsewhere.”
Fu Hongxue coldly said, “I don’t want to kill too many people.”
Du Shiqi laughed. “You seem to be certain that you can kill me.”
Fu Hongxue said, “If I wasn’t certain, why would I come?”
Du Shiqi laughed loudly.
Fu Hongxue said, “Eighty thousand taels of silver can be used for many things. After you die, your friends and brothers can use them!”
Suddenly, a knife chopped out from behind them, aimed at the back of his head.
Fu Hongxue didn’t leave, but Du Shiqi had already seized the hand wielding that knife.
With a clanging sound, the knife dropped to the floor. With a cracking sound, the blade of the knife split.
Du Shiqi’s face sunk. In a fierce voice, he said, “This affair has nothing to do with any of you. You are only allowed to watch, not to interfere.”
No one dared to move.
Du Shiqi laughed again. “You are all my good brothers. First watch me win these eighty thousand taels of silver.”
With one pull, he tugged open his jacket, revealing his copper-like chest. “How shall we gamble?”
Fu Hongxue said, “You choose!”
Du Shiqi said, “We’ll play Pai Gow. One flip of the cards, two eyes staring at it. This way is the best.”
Fu Hongxue said, “Fine.”
Du Shiqi said, “Shall we still use this set of cards?”
Fu Hongxue nodded.
Du Shiqi blinked his eyes. “Do you know how many matches I’ve won with this set of domino cards?”
Fu Hongxue shook his head.
Du Shiqi said, “I’ve won over sixty hands. My luck is extremely good with this set of domino cards.”
Fu Hongxue said, “Even the best of luck will have to turn at some point.”
Du Shiqi stared at him. “You are self-assured when it comes to killing. You are certain of winning in gambling as well?”
Fu Hongxue lightly said, “If I wasn’t certain, why would I gamble?”
Du Shiqi laughed loudly. “This time, you’re wrong. When it comes to gambling, not even divinities can be certain. In the past, I’ve also seen many people like you who were certain of winning. By now, they’ve all so lost so much that they’ve hung themselves.”
The thirty-two domino cards were divided into four rows, with eight cards in each row.
Du Shiqi pushed out one row. “There’s only the two of us gambling, and both of us are starting with a blank slate.”
Fu Hongxue said, “I understand.”
Du Shiqi said, “So we should gamble with four cards.”
Fu Hongxue said, “Fine.”
Du Shiqi pushed forwards four cards with two fingers. “If the dice roll is odd, the first set of cards is yours.”
Fu Hongxue said, “You shuffled the cards. I’ll roll the dice.”
Du Shiqi said, “Fine.”
Fu Hongxue picked up the dice. Casually, he tossed them out.
Du Shiqi said, “I’ll take the second set.”
Two sets of wooden domino cards. With a cracking sound, they came together, then separated.
Light shone in Du Shiqi’s eyes. A smile appeared on his lips. His friends all let out a breath as well.
Everyone could tell that he had a very good set of cards.
Fu Hongxue only coldly said, “You lose.”
Du Shiqi said, “How do you know that I’ve lost? Do you know what cards I am holding?”
Fu Hongxue said, “You have a ‘heaven’ card, and a ‘human’ card, forming a ‘Heaven’s Bar’.”
Astonished, Du Shiqi stared at him. “Did you look at your own cards?”
Fu Hongxue shook his head. “I don’t need to look. My cards form a ‘Mixed Five’.”
Du Shiqi couldn’t help but reveal his cards. He really did have a ‘Mixed Five’.
‘Mixed Five’ just so happened to defeat ‘Heaven’s Bar’.
Du Shiqi was stunned. Everyone was stunned.
And then, there was a commotion. “This brat must have cheated. He marked the cards.”
Fu Hongxue smirked. “Who do these cards belong to?”
Du Shiqi said, “Mine.”
Fu Hongxue said, “Have I touched the cards at all?”
Du Shiqi said, “No.”
Fu Hongxue said, “Then how could I have cheated?”
Du Shiqi let out a sigh. He smiled bitterly. “You didn’t cheat. I’ll go with you.”
Those who gripped their daggers earlier wanted to use their sabres again. Those clenching their fists once more wanted to punch out.
Du Shiqi said in a fearsome voice, “Although I’ve lost at gambling money, I haven’t lost yet in gambling lives. What are you guys kicking up a racket about?”
The disturbance immediately calmed. No one dared to open their mouths.
Du Shiqi laughed again, and his laughter was still very cheerful. “Actually, you should all know that I definitely won’t lose when it comes to gambling lives.”
Fu Hongxue said, “You are certain of yourself?”
Du Shiqi smiled. “Even if I’m not certain, I have nine lives. At most, you can only take one away.”
No stars. No moon. No lanterns.
Du Shiqi suddenly let out a sigh. “Actually, I don’t have nine lives. I don’t have a single life at all.”
Fu Hongxue said, “Oh?”
Du Shiqi said, “My life is already Yan Nanfei’s.”
Fu Hongxue said, “You know who I am?”
Du Shiqi nodded. “I owe him a life, and he owes you a life. I’m willing to pay you back for him.”
He stopped for a moment. His face was still carrying a smile. “I only hope you’ll let me know one thing.”
Fu Hongxue said, “What is it?”
Du Shiqi said, “How did you recognize the cards?”
Fu Hongxue didn’t directly respond. Instead, he asked, “Do you know that every person has a fingerprint on their fingers?”
Du Shiqi said, “Yes, I do. Some have ‘circle’ fingerprints, other have ‘whorl’ fingerprints.”
Fu Hongxue said, “Do you know that no two fingerprints are alike in all the world?”
Du Shiqi did not know that.
At that time, nobody knew things like that.
He bitterly laughed, “I rarely look at people’s hands, especially men’s hands.”
Fu Hongxue said, “Even if you often look at other’s hands, you wouldn’t be able to tell. The differences are very minute.”
Du Shiqi said, “But you can tell?”
Fu Hongxue said, “Even if two biscuits were made using the very exact same mould, I would be able to tell them apart.”
Du Shiqi sighed. “That must be a natural talent.”
Fu Hongxue dully said, “Right. It is a natural talent. Only, this is a natural talent that was practiced in a secret room without the slightest hint of light.”
Du Shiqi said, “How long did you train for?”
Fu Hongxue said, “I only practiced for seventeen years, for only six to ten hours a day.”
Du Shiqi said, “Did you train your sabre skills in the same way?”
Fu Hongxue said, “When you are training your eyesight, you must always grip your sabre. Otherwise, you will fall asleep.”
Du Shiqi forced out a laugh. “Only now do I realize the true meaning of the words ‘natural talent’.”
The real meaning of ‘natural talent’ is ‘bitter training’. Bitter training without pause.
Fu Hongxue said, “That set of dominoes was made using wood, and the wood had its own grainy patterns. Every single pattern was different. I watched you shuffle the cards twice. There isn’t a single one of those thirty-two cards which I don’t recognize.”
Du Shiqi said, “But if that set of dice came out odd, wouldn’t you have lost?”
Fu Hongxue said, “That set of dice definitely wouldn’t have come out odd.”
Du Shiqi said, “Why?”
Fu Hongxue dully said, “Because I am a natural talent at casting dice as well.”
They had already arrived at the end of the long alleyway. The streets outside were even darker.
The night was now very deep.
Fu Hongxue suddenly jumped onto a roof, the highest roof. Every dark nook and cranny was within his eyesight.
He didn’t kill people for others to watch. This couldn’t be seen by others either.
Du Shiqi finally caught up with him. “What, exactly, do you want me to do?”
Fu Hongxue said, “I want you to die!”
Du Shiqi said, “You really want me to die?”
Fu Hongxue said, “You are already a dead man.”
Du Shiqi didn’t understand.
Fu Hongxue said, “Starting now, you need to be dead for at least a year.”
Du Shiqi thought for a while. It seemed as though he somewhat understood, but still didn’t fully understand.
Fu Hongxue said, “I’ve even prepared the coffin for you. It’s at the graveyard just outside of the city.”
Du Shiqi blinked. “Are there some other things in the coffin?”
Fu Hongxue said, “There’s three other people.”
Du Shiqi said, “Three people?”
Fu Hongxue said, “But many people don’t want for them to continue on living.”
Du Shiqi said, “Are you going to make sure that they continue to live?”
Fu Hongxue nodded. “So I must help them find a safe, secret place. I cannot let anyone find them.”
Du Shiqi’s gaze slowly brightened. “And so I’ll take the coffin back and arrange a glorious funeral for myself.”
Fu Hongxue said, “You must die, because no one will think to ask a dead man about their whereabouts.”
Du Shiqi said, “In addition, you’re the one who killed me. Everyone will believe that you made an arrangement with Hu Kun, that you will kill me in exchange for him protecting them.”
By now, he finally understood. This was actually a simple matter. Only, Fu Hongxue was executing it in a very complicated way.
Fu Hongxue said, “I must be extremely cautious. They are simply too sinister and evil.”
Du Shiqi said, “Who, exactly, are ‘they’?”
Fu Hongxue said, “Yang Wuji, Xiao Siwu, Gongsun Tu, and a ‘Demon Decapitating Sabre of Heaven’s Monarch’.”
He didn’t say Gongzi Yu’s name. He didn’t want to shock Du Shiqi too much.
But the names of these four men was already more than enough to shock even someone with eight times as much courage as an ordinary ma.
Du Shiqi gazed fixedly at him. “They want to deal with you. Naturally, you won’t let them off easy either.”
Fu Hongxue didn’t deny that either.
Du Shiqi suddenly let out a sigh. “I’m not afraid of them, because I’m already a dead man. A dead man need fear no one. But you…”
Fu Hongxue didn’t deny it.
Du Shiqi said, “After you handle the affairs here, are you going to go find them?”
He looked at Fu Hongxue, then looked at that black sabre. He suddenly chuckled. “Perhaps the one who should be afraid isn’t you, but them. One year from today, perhaps they will all be dead men as well.”
Fu Hongxue’s gaze was distant. His person seemed to be distant as well.
All around them was darkness, far off into the distance.
After a long time, he slowly said, “Sometimes, I wish I had nine lives as well. To deal with people like them, one life really is too few.”
A bleak and desolate mountain valley. Barren and infertile soil.
There were only ten or so households in the mountain village. At the base of the mountain there was a small house, with a bamboo and chrysanthemum garden.
From far away, Du Shiqi looked at the chrysanthemums beneath the bamboo stand. His eyes seemed to be filled with tenderness.
Once he arrived here, it seemed as though he had turned into one of the honest, unsophisticated farmers.
It seemed as though Fu Hongxue’s heart was sighing with emotion as well.
He just left the small house. Zhuo Yuzhen and the children were sleeping.
Sleep peacefully. There’s definitely no one who will find you here.
What about you? Are you leaving?
I’m not leaving. I’ll be staying here a few days as well.
He very rarely lied, but this time he really did lie.
He couldn’t not lie, because he couldn’t not leave. Since he must leave, why cause unnecessary pain?
Fu Hongxue lightly sighed. “This is a good place. A person who is able to peacefully live out his life here must be a person of great bliss indeed.”
Du Shiqi squeezed out a smile. “I grew up here. Originally, I could have been a very blissful person as well.”
Fu Hongxue said, “Then, why did you leave?”
Du Shiqi was silent. After a long time, he suddenly asked, “Did you see those chrysanthemums beneath that patch of bamboo?”
Fu Hongxue nodded.
Du Shiqi said, “A little girl planted it. A little girl with big eyes and long hair.”
Fu Hongxue said, “Where is she now?”
Du Shiqi did not reply. He did not need to reply. The tears in his eyes spoke everything on his behalf.
The chrysanthemums were still there, but the one who had planted them was gone.
After another long period of time, he slowly said, “Actually, I should have come here to keep her company long ago. She must have been very lonely these past few years.”
When people died, would they still be as lonely as before?
Fu Hongxue took out that stack of bank notes. He gave them to Du Shiqi. “Hu Kun wanted to use these to purchase your life. No matter how you all use it, you need have no regrets.”
Du Shiqi said, “Why don’t you give them to her personally? Are you leaving now?”
Fu Hongxue nodded.
Du Shiqi said, “Aren’t you going to bid her farewell?”
Fu Hongxue dully said, “Since I am going to leave, why say farewell?”
Du Shiqi said, “For you to have done so much for her, she must be very dear to you. At least, you should…”
Fu Hongxue interrupted him. “You’ve done many things for me, but you aren’t a dear one to me.”
Du Shiqi said, “But I am a friend.”
Fu Hongxue coldly said, “I have no dear ones, and I have no friends.”
The sun was setting in the west. It was sunset again.
Fu Hongxue strode beneath the setting sun. His footsteps did not stop, but grew slower, as though he had suddenly begun carrier a heavy burden on his shoulder.
Did he really have no dear ones, no friends?
Du Shiqi saw his solitary back disappear into the distance. He suddenly loudly said, “I forgot to tell you something. Hu Kun is dead already. He was hung to death by someone with a rope at the top banister of the ‘Ascendant Immortal Teahouse’.”
Fu Hongxue didn’t turn his head. “Who killed him?”
Du Shiqi said, “Don’t know. Nobody knows. I only know that the person who killed him left behind two sentences.”
Those two sentences were left behind using fresh blood: “This is my first time killing someone for free. It is also the last time I kill someone.”
The setting sun became even dimmer, but Fu Hongxue’s eyes suddenly shone with light.
Tu Qing finally put down his knife. His butcher’s knife.
If this sort of person made up his mind about something, he definitely would not change.
But I…don’t I, too, hold a butcher’s knife in my hand? When can I put it down?
Fu Hongxue tightly gripped his sabre. The light in his eyes dimmed.
He couldn’t put down this sabre yet. If people such as Gongsun Tu were still alive in the world, he couldn’t put down this sabre!
He definitely could not!