The son of the Demonic Cult’s leader has been murdered. Lánhúzǐ (or ‘Bluebeard’), the owner of the Silver Hook Gambling House, initially accuses Lu Xiaofeng of committing the murder. However, he promises to help Lu Xiaofeng prove his innocence if Lu Xiaofeng agrees to help him find the Demonic Cult’s lost sacred artifact.
Lu Xiaofeng finds the artifact but discovers that it is fake; the real one is actually with Lanhuzi. It turns out that Lanhuzi has been plotting to seize control of the cult’s leadership and he has framed Lu Xiaofeng for the murder in order to divert the cult’s attention away from himself.
Lu Xiaofeng defeats Lanhuzi, exposes the plot, and returns the artifact to its rightful owner.
Silver Hook Casino
Chapter 1 – The Night of Saving-a-Beauty Kindness
Autumn night. End of autumn.
The dark and long alley was quiet and lonesome; there was only one solitary lamp.
The old and worn out white lantern had turned almost grey, it hung slanting above a narrow door at the very end of the long alley. Dangling below the lantern was a shiny silver hook, an ordinary hook, just like the one used by an old fisherman.
The silver hook kept swaying in the autumn wind. The autumn wind seemed to sigh, sighing over why would there be so many people in this world who were willing to let themselves being caught by this silver hook?
From the damp, gloomy and cold fog Fang Yufei entered the brilliantly illuminated Silver Hook Casino. Taking off his dark colored cloak, he revealed an extremely well-fitting, specially tailored, exquisite silver-colored satin garment.
Every day, he was happiest around this time, especially today.
Because Lu Xiaofeng was standing right next to him. Lu Xiaofeng had always been a friend he was most fond of, a friend he respected the most.
Lu Xiaofeng was also in very high spirits, just because he was Lu Xiaofeng.
The luxuriously decorated hall was brimming with warmness and gaiety. The aroma of wine mixed with the fragrance of high-quality cosmetics; the intermittent jingling of silver coins was pleasant to the ears, no music in this world was more melodious than this kind of noise.
He liked to hear this kind of noise, just like the majority of people in the world, he also liked luxury and enjoyed life to the fullest.
But actually, the Silver Hook Casino was a very luxurious place. At any time you would find all kinds of extravagant people, prepared to enjoy all kinds of extravagant enjoyments.
And the most extravagant enjoyment naturally was the gambling.
Everybody was gambling, everybody’s concentration was on their stakes on the gambling table, but when Lu Xiaofeng and Fang Yufei walked in, everybody could not help but raised their heads to look.
Some people were indeed like a magnet among a bunch of nails. Lu Xiaofeng and Fang Yufei were undoubtedly this kind of people.
“Who in the world are these two exceptional young men?”
“The one in silver satin garment is the brother-in-law of this gambling establishment’s big boss.” The one answering was a wiry thin man, a typical true gambler.
“Are you saying he is the younger brother of Blue Beard’s new wife?”
“Her flesh and blood younger brother!”
“Isn’t he the Silver Sparrowhawk Fang Yufei?”
“The one and only.”
“They say he is a very famous playboy, proficient in eating, drinking, women and gambling; his qinggong was not bad.”
“That’s why a lot of people say that he is a ‘flower picking bandit’!” the true gambler said with a laugh, “Actually, if he wants a girl, he only needs to do is just beckon with his finger, there is no need for him to go ‘pick flower’ in the middle of the night.”
“I heard his sister, Fang Yuxiang is also a very well-known pretty woman.”
“More beautiful than flower, more exquisite than jade,” another man sighed with his eyes closed, “That woman simply cannot be described with these two words, ‘pretty woman’; she is simply ‘the-cause-of-downfall-of-a-nation’ kind of rarity!”
“Who’s that young fellow next to Fang Yufei? How come his eyebrows slant down just like his moustache?”
“If I am not mistaken, he must be that Four-eyebrow Lu Xiaofeng!”
Some people have become legendary characters when they are still alive. Without a doubt, Lu Xiaofeng was this kind of person.
At the mention of his name, everybody’s gaze was immediately fixed on him, except for one person.
This person was, unexpectedly, a woman.
She was wearing light-as-a-feather, soft silk gown in apple green. So soft that it looked like a second layer of skin hugging her slender and mature body. Her skin was as delicate and smooth as a white jade; sometimes it almost looked translucent, just like an ice statue. Her beautiful face was completely devoid of any makeup. Her pair of clear and bright eyes was the best decoration any woman would dream of in vain. The corner of her eyes did not even look at Lu Xiaofeng, but with all his heart and soul, Lu Xiaofeng’s stare was fixated on her.
Fang Yufei laughed and shook his head, “There are at least seven, eight good-looking women in this room, why do you have to look at her?”
Lu Xiaofeng: “Because she is ignoring me.”
Fang Yufei laughed, “Do you think that all women will kneel down and kiss your foot as soon as they see you?”
Lu Xiaofeng sighed, “At the very least she should give me a glance. I am not the very least the most ugly man.”
Fang Yufei: “If you want to look at her, it is best if you keep your distance.”
Lu Xiaofeng: “Why?”
Lowering his voice, Fang Yufei said, “This woman is an iceberg, if you want to move her, be careful, your hand will catch frostbite!”
Lu Xiaofeng also smiled.
But as he smiled, he walked straight toward the iceberg. No matter how many high mountain ridges he had climbed, right now he only wanted to climb this iceberg.
This iceberg smelled good. It was definitely not the fragrance of the perfume, it was not even the aroma of the wine. Some women were just like fresh flowers; not only were they beautiful, they even radiate fresh fragrance. Undoubtedly, she was this kind of woman.
Right now Lu Xiaofeng was like a honeybee; as he smelled the flower fragrance, he wanted to fly and land on the stamen of this flower.
Fortunately he was not drunk yet; he stopped right behind her.
The iceberg did not turn her head. In her beautiful and delicate hands she was holding some chips. She was pondering whether she should place her bet on ‘big’? Or should she place it on ‘small’?
The dealer started to roll the dice, and then ‘Bang!’ he slapped the dice box on the table. “Place your bet, now!” he shouted.
The iceberg was still thinking. Lu Xiaofeng blinked and with an exaggerated movement he stepped closer and softly whispered on her ear, “This time you should bet on ‘small’.”
Immediately the delicate hand placed the chips down, but she placed her bet on ‘big’.
As the dice box was opened, the number of dots on three dice amount to only ‘seven’.
“Seven dots, small! Eat ‘big’, pay up ‘small’.”
The iceberg’s countenance paled. She turned her head around and shot Lu Xiaofeng a malicious look then she turned and walked away.
Lu Xiaofeng could only force a bitter smile.
Some women were born with a rebellious character in their blood; particularly rebellious against men. Lu Xiaofeng should have thought that she might be this kind of woman.
The iceberg had already walked through the crowd toward the door. As she walked, she maintained a peculiarly graceful bearing.
“There won’t be one woman of this temperament among a hundred thousand; it will be a pity to miss her. If you don’t pursue her, you will regret it!” Lu Xiaofeng was admonishing himself in his heart.
He was always a man who listened to his own advice, therefore, he immediately walked after her.
Fang Yufei met him and slowly said, “Must you really climb this iceberg?”
Lu Xiaofeng: “I am not afraid of frostbite.”
Fang Yufei patted his shoulder, “But you must be careful nonetheless; icebergs are very slippery, you might slip down and fall.”
Lu Xiaofeng: “How many times have you slipped down and fall?”
Fang Yufei smiled. Of course it was a forced smile. It was not until Lu Xiaofeng had walked out the door did he mutter to himself, “Falling down from this iceberg, at the most, you can only fall down once, because this one time you will plunge yourself to your death.”
The dark long alley was still dark. The night had been very deep. The carriages and horses were parked outside the alley. It did not matter what kind of people, whoever wanted to visit the Silver Hook Casino must walk through this dark alley. This had made the Silver Hook Casino several degrees more mysterious and wasn’t it mystery which has always been most appealing to human beings since time immemorial?
The silver hook was still swaying in the wind. Perhaps the number of people hooked by this silver hook was a hundred times higher than the number of fish caught by the old fisherman.
The night was desolate, the lantern grew dim.
The iceberg walked in front, a dull green cloak was added to the number of clothes she was wearing.
Lu Xiaofeng followed behind her. The dull green cloak rose and fell gently under the dim lantern light. He was like a lovely little child who chases after floating clouds in his dream.
There was nobody else in that dark alley; the alley was very long.
Suddenly the iceberg turned around and stared at Lu Xiaofeng. Her pair of eyes seemed colder than the autumn star.
Lu Xiaofeng had no choice but halt his steps; he looked at her and smiled.
“Why are you following me?” the iceberg suddenly said.
Lu Xiaofeng laughed, “I have made you lose some money, I feel very bad in my heart; and so …”
“And so you want to compensate me?” the iceberg said.
Lu Xiaofeng nodded immediately.
Iceberg: “And how do think you will compensate me?”
Lu Xiaofeng: “I know a diner in the city for night-time snacks, they are open all night, the food and wine are not bad at all. The night is now very deep, you must be a little bit hungry!”
The iceberg rolled her eyes. “That’s not a good idea. I have an even better one.”
Lu Xiaofeng: “What is it?”
Unexpectedly, the iceberg smiled. “Come closer, I’ll tell you.”
Of course Lu Xiaofeng came closer.
He did not expect there would be time when this iceberg would melt, which made him not able to think. Suddenly a blow landed on the left side of his face, followed by another blow on the right side of his face.
The iceberg’s hand was truly fast; not only it was fast, it was heavy too.
Perhaps Lu Xiaofeng deliberately did not evade, perhaps he did not expect she would slap him this hard. Whatever it was, he had indeed suffered two palm strikes, and was speechless.
The iceberg laughed again, but this time it was a cold laugh, colder than ice. “I have seen too many men just like you, men like flies and stinky bugs, always make me want to puke.”
When she turned around to leave this time, Lu Xiaofeng had no way of following her even if his face were thicker; he could only look helplessly as this beautiful cloud floated away from him.
The alley was very long, her walking speed was not fast at all. Suddenly from the darkness appeared four men; two men twisted her hands, the other two grabbed her legs.
She cried out in fear and tried to slap these men several times, but it was too bad that these men were unlike Lu Xiaofeng who had compassion toward the fragrant and would yield to the jade; who would head-over-heels place her on a pedestal.
Lu Xiaofeng’s face was still hurt, actually, he did not want to get involved in the commotion. It was a pity that his inborn character was one who loves to meddle in other people’s business. To see four men bully one woman in front of him was simply too difficult for him to bear.
The four men had just finished their business when they discovered that a man whose moustache looked just like his eyebrows suddenly appear in front of them and coldly said, “First, release her, then crawl out of here. Whoever does not obey, I will break his nose.”
These men were definitely not the obedient type, but when two of them were really hit until their noses were crooked, the disobedient became obedient. Thereupon four men meekly dropped down on their knees and crawled along the alley. Blood was dripping down on the ground from the two men’s noses!
Afterwards, whenever anybody would ask them, “Why is your nose crooked?”
Their answer would be, “I don’t know.” They really did not know, simply because they could not see clearly how Lu Xiaofeng made his move.
By this time the iceberg seemed to start melting; she had turned soft because some people had just given her a fright, so much so that she asked for help from Lu Xiaofeng, “I live nearby. Can you walk me home?”
Her home was definitely not near, but Lu Xiaofeng did not complain; in fact, he was hoping that she lived as far away as possible. Because along the way she collapsed into Lu Xiaofeng’s bosom, as if she was too weak to sit up straight by herself. Luckily the carriage’s shutters were closed, the curtain was very thick.
The carriage went on for almost an hour, yet so far they only exchanged a few words.
“I am not a fly, I am also not a bedbug; I am surnamed Lu, called Lu Xiaofeng.” It was only natural that he would be the one who had to strike the conversation.
The iceberg smiled. This time it was a real smile. “I am surnamed Leng [cold], called Leng Ruoshuang [lit. as cold as frost].”
Lu Xiaofeng also smiled; he thought the name fit her very well.
“Do you know those four men?”
Leng Ruoshuang shook her head.
“Why did they bully you?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.
Leng Ruoshuang started to open her mouth, but then she blushed and hung her head.
Lu Xiaofeng did not ask anymore. Men bully women, sometimes they do not need any reason. Much less a young woman like her, whose look could move men’s hearts, herself was a very good reason, enough to have many men to want to ‘bully’ her.
The carriage did not go fast at all, the compartment was very comfortable. Sitting inside was probably as comfortable as sleeping in the cradle.
The fragrance coming out from Leng Ruoshuang’s body smelled like orchid, or perhaps smelled like the sweet-scented osmanthus; simple, elegant, and enchanting. Even if this carriage had to go for three days and nights, Lu Xiaogfeng would not have any reason to complain that the journey was too long.
Suddenly Leng Ruoshuang said, “My house is at the Yongle Lane, right next to the first house on the left.”
[Note: Yongle was the reign name of the third Ming Emperor Chengzu; which leads me to believe that this story happened during the Ming Dynasty.]
Lu Xiaofeng: “Where is Yongle Lane?”
Leng Ruoshuang: “We passed it just a moment ago!”
Lu Xiaofeng said, “But you …”
Leng Ruoshuang: “I did not order this carriage to stop, because I don’t want to go home tonight!”
Suddenly Lu Xiaofeng felt his heart was beating two, three times faster than usual.
If there is a girl like her leaning by your side, telling you that she does not want to go home tonight, I guarantee that your heart will be beating faster than Lu Xiaofeng’s.
Leng Ruoshuang said, “I have suffered a losing streak tonight, I am thinking of going to a different casino and turn my luck.”
Lu Xiaofeng’s heart turned cold instantly. Since a long time ago he had repeatedly warned himself never to be conceited, but it was a weakness that just would not go away.
Actually, how many men have the ability to overcome this weakness?
Leng Ruoshuang: “Do you know that there is a place called Golden Hook Casino around here?”
Lu Xiaofeng did not know; he had not even heard about this place.
Leng Ruoshuang: “You are not from around here, of course you do not know!”
Lu Xiaofeng: “That place is a secret?”
Leng Ruoshuang’s clear eyes cast him a glance. “Do you have other matter to attend tonight?” she suddenly asked.
The answer of course was, “No.”
Leng Ruoshuang: “Do you want me to take you there and take a look?”
Lu Xiaofeng: “I do!”
Leng Ruoshuang said, “But I have promised the Boss there not to take any stranger in. If you really want to go, you must agree to my condition.”
Lu Xiaofeng: “Tell me.”
Leng Ruoshuang: “You must let me cover your eyes, and you must promise not to peek.”
Lu Xiaofeng did want to go to begin with, now he wanted to go even more. His natural character was very curious, he always liked the excitement this kind of mystery brings. Therefore, without even thinking, he immediately said, “I promise.”
Staring at the light gauze gown she was wearing, which was as thin as cicada’s wings, he smiled and said, “You’d better use a thicker cloth to cover my eyes. Sometimes my eyes can see through the cover.”
What is darkness?
If days and nights, year after year, month after month, one has to be in an infinite darkness, how would his heart feel?
Suddenly Lu Xiaofeng remembered Hua Manlou. He thought that although the Heaven had bestowed upon him such a cruel suffering, not only Hua Manlou did not utter a single complain, toward all mankind and all creatures he was still brimming with kindness, compassion and love.
To reach this point was not easy at all.
Lu Xiaofeng sighed; his eyes were covered but a short moment, but he had already felt it was unbearable.
The carriage seemed to go through a night market then passed through running water. He heard voices like the noise of running water.
Now the carriage stopped. Leng Ruoshuang pulled his hand and softly said, “Walk slowly, follow me. I guarantee this place will not disappoint you.”
Her hand was slender and smooth.
Now it felt like they were walking downward. The wind transmitted the sound of night creatures, obviously they were in the wilderness. Then Lu Xiaofeng heard knocks on door, and the sound of a door opening.
Entering the room, it felt like they were walking along a corridor; the corridor was not very long. At the other end of the corridor, he vaguely heard the noise of people talking and shouting, the sound of dice falling into the bowl, silver coins jingling on the table, and the laughter of both men and women.
Leng Ruoshuang: “We’re here!”
Lu Xiaofeng sighed in relief: “Thank heavens!”
Another knock on a door ahead, and then the door opened. The noise inside got louder and clearer as the door opened.
Leng Ruoshuang pulled his hand to enter the door, and softly said, “Stand and wait here, I am going to get the Boss to come over.”
When she let his hand go, the intoxicating fragrance also left him, going farther and farther away. Suddenly there was a loud ‘Bang!’, someone slammed the door shut. The sound of people, the laughter, the dice, everything disappeared as if by magic. All around him was nothing but silence, as if the world suddenly turned dead.
Lu Xiaofeng felt as if he had just fallen from the bustling place into the grave. What was it all about?
“Miss Leng, Leng Ruoshuang!”
He could not help but calling out, but no answer came. Could it be that so many people in the room suddenly had their mouths stitched shut?
Finally Lu Xiaofeng took off the cloth covering his eyes. Then his whole body turned cold. The room was empty, not even one human being was there. Where did all those people go?
It was absolutely impossible for all of them to go out the room together in just a split second like that.
This kind of absolute impossibility, how did it happen?
The room was not too big. There was a bed and a table. There was food and wine on the table. The food and wine was fresh.
Lu Xiaofeng could not stop goose bumps from appearing on his whole body. He suddenly realized that it was impossible for this room to house that many people.
As a matter of fact, anybody could see that there was no one else in the room; not now, not then.
But Lu Xiaofeng clearly heard voices of many people just a moment ago.
If he believed his eyes, then he could not believe his ears. But his ears had always been keen, he had never had any hearing problem. What was it all about?
If the room was indeed empty, yet it was even more impossible for it to produce all kinds of noise without anybody inside.
But this kind of impossibility did indeed happen, not only that, it happened to Lu Xiaofeng.
Could it be that this was a haunted house?
Could it be that the Heaven felt that Lu Xiaofeng had not met enough strange affairs, that this time he had to meet a ghost?
Suddenly Lu Xiaofeng laughed.
He decided that since he could not penetrate this mystery anyway, he might as well try to find a way out before giving this matter further consideration.
But he could not go out.
This room did not have any window. The four walls and the door were all made of several cun [unit of length, equivalent to approximately 1 inch] thick of iron panels.
Lu Xiaofeng laughed again.
Whenever he met a dead end, he would always laugh. He always thought that among his limited number of good traits, his ability to laugh was one of them. Laughing not only can make other people happy, it can also help oneself to relax.
But how could he relax right now?
Of the four dishes on the table, one was pine nut chicken rice (?), one was crab cake in thick sauce, one was goose feet salad, and the other was a dish of hot-plate. Not only these dishes were exquisitely prepared, they were also Lu Xiaofeng’s favorite dishes.
It seemed like whoever set this trap was very familiar with Lu Xiaofeng’s day-to-day habits and what he liked.
The wine was Jiangnan’s aged Young Maiden’s Blush. The pot was still sealed. There was a piece of paper pressed down by the pot:
‘Sire is invited to drink a cup of wine. This message was prepared by Sire’s old friend.’
This ‘old friend’ must be indeed his friend, for only someone who had known him for a long time would understand him well.
But Lu Xiaofeng could not remember who among his old friends would fix this for him.
On the margin there were two more rows of very delicate writings:
‘Sire may stay for three days and have a little rest in here. After three days, I will promptly come again.’
Although there was no signature on the bottom, it was obvious that this message was written by that iceberg, Leng Ruoshuang.
It seemed like she had already predicted that Lu Xiaofeng would certainly fall into this trick.
So they had prepared such a deliberate and intricate trick, just to detain Lu Xiaofeng in here for three days?
Lu Xiaofeng did not believe it, yet he could not guess what other motive they have. Therefore, he sat down, picked up the chopstick, took the hotplate and shoved it into his mouth.
The chopsticks were silver, so there was no poison in the food. Obviously they also knew that it was not that easy to kill Lu Xiaofeng by poison.
Thereupon Lu Xiaofeng picked up the wine pot and patted the seal with his palm. Suddenly ‘Pop!’ a whiff of green smoke puffed out from the clay seal, followed by ‘Crash!’ the wine pot fell down to the floor and broke.
Lu Xiaofeng looked at the wine spilled on the floor. He wanted to laugh, but he couldn’t. He passed out.
The fog had dispersed, the stars filled the sky, the wind transmitted the intermittent cry of cicadas, the soil had been moistened by the dew. Lu Xiaofeng’s clothes were entirely soaked.
Incidentally, when he woke up, he saw streaks of white on the dark blue sky toward the eastern horizon. When he woke up, the earth also woke up.
When he stood up, the gray and dark far-away mountain had already turned dark green. The air also carried the delicate fragrance of the distant woods.
There were smokes coming out from chimneys all over the hill, but he did not see any farmhouses around him. If this was the place where he alighted from the carriage last night, where was the iron-paneled house? If it was not the place he went last night, how did he come to this place?
With great trouble those people set up a trap and deceived him, just so that they could take him to spend the night in this open wilderness?
It was harder for Lu Xiaofeng to believe, but he was not able to tell if they had any other motive.
Therefore, he took off his drenched coat, slung it over his shoulder, and started to stride back to the city.
He was staying at the Five Blessing Inn within the city wall. Right now he was thinking of taking a hot bath, eat some breakfast, take a nap, and only then will he give this impenetrable puzzle a thought.
The Five Blessing Inn’s meat-stuffed steamed bun was very good, the chicken noodle soup was also very good, and the bed sheet was probably changed only yesterday.
Off in the distance he saw the golden lettering of the Five Blessing Inn’s signboard; very soon he would forget the unpleasant experience he had just gone through, because all kinds of pleasant things were waiting for him in there.
Who would have thought that the things that were waiting for him were two swords, four sabers, seven spears with red tassels, and a string of shackle chain?
As soon as he stepped over the gate, he heard a shout and thirteen men surrounded him in the middle, followed by a clanking noise as the iron chain was wrapped around his neck.
The chain was thick and heavy, the person wrapping it around his neck was very deft; obviously he was very proficient in using the chain.
Lu Xiaofeng immediately stretched out his two fingers and pinched; a string of iron chain instantly clamped down into two strings of chain. ‘Ding!’ half of the chain fell down to the ground.
The man holding the other half of the chain was shaken that his knees buckled and he was pushed several steps back. His countenance turned green from the fright. Pointing one shaky finger to Lu Xiaofeng, he stammered, “You … you dare to resist arrest?”
Lu Xiaofeng looked around and noticed that these people were wearing red tasseled cap. He frowned, “Are you from the Yamen [government office in feudal China]?”
The man nodded. Someone on the side shouted, “This is Chief Yang of the police department. You dare to resist arrest; that means you are rebelling.”
Lu Xiaofeng: “You are here to arrest me? What crime have I committed?”
Chief Yang sneered, “Do not rub sand on clear eyes, do not tell lies in front of a Sage. Witness and material evidence are all here, and you are still playing dumb?”
Lu Xiaofeng: “Where is the witness? Where is the evidence?”
There were seven, eight people sitting behind the counter; although they all dressed handsomely, their countenances were very unsightly. One after another they pointed their fingers to Lu Xiaofeng and shouted in succession: “It’s him!” “Last night it was this evil thief with four eyebrows on his face who raped my wife.”
Lu Xiaofeng was dumbfounded.
In a stern voice Chief Yang said, “Last night, in just one night you have committed eight major crimes. These people are the witnesses.”
Another man in red-tasseled cap pointed toward a pile of bundles behind the counter: “Those were found in your room. That is the evidence.”
Lu Xiaofeng laughed: “If I really stole people’s belongings, would I store everything in my room? Do I look that stupid to you?”
“Just listen to you,” Chief Yang said with a cold laugh, “Are you saying that someone else robbed these many things and simply deliver them all to you? Perhaps you are his beloved ancestor?”
Lu Xiaofeng was not able to refute.
Suddenly someone coldly said, “Killing, plundering, and raping women, all are trivial matters. As long as we do not care, the criminal would be beyond the law.”
There was a square table on the far side corner, on the table was a dish of vegetable and a pot of wine. There were three old men, wearing very dark green embroidered robes, with tall hats adorned in white jade and yellow gold, sitting around the table gloomily. Two were drinking tea, the other was drinking wine.
The man talking was the one drinking wine. Isn’t it true that those who drink wine are always more talkative than those who don’t?
Lu Xiaofeng laughed again: “Killing, plundering, and raping women, all are trivial matters? Then what matter is important?”
The old man drinking wine turned around and looked at him. His eyes shot a piercing gaze as he stared at Lu Xiaofeng. “It doesn’t matter what trivial matters you did, you shouldn’t have provoked us,” he said coldly.
Lu Xiaofeng: “What religious organization do you belong to?”
The old man in green: “You don’t recognize us?”
Lu Xiaofeng: “I don’t.”
The old man in green picked the wine cup, he brought it to his mouth and slowly sipped the wine. The hand holding the cup was thin and withered like a crow’s claw, with finger nails about four, five cun long; very dark green finger nails.
Lu Xiaofeng acted as if he did not see.
The old man in green: “Do you recognize us now?”
Lu Xiaofeng: “I don’t.”
The old man in green let out a cold laugh and slowly stood up. Everybody could see that the picture embroidered on the chest of his clothes was a face, its eyebrows clear and its eyes elegant, the face was graceful, like one belonged to an outstandingly beautiful young woman. But when he had stood straight, everybody could see that what embroidered on his clothes was actually a monster with a body like a snake, claws like a bird, and wings like a bat.
Although nobody knew the origin of this monster, although the monster was only an embroidered image on the robe, seeing its fearsomeness, everybody immediately felt chilliness creeping into their hearts; without realizing it, they all wanted to close the lapel of their clothes.
Lu Xiaofeng still acted as if he did not see.
The old man in green: “Do you recognize us now?”
Lu Xiaofeng: “Still not.”
The withered thin face of the old man in green seemed to turn very dark green; he stretched out his hand suddenly and pierced the table.
With a loud ‘thunk!’ his five bird-claw like fingernails went into the table. When he pulled back the hand, five holes appeared on the two, three cun thick of wooden plank.
‘Crash, bang!’ the half section of the iron chain fell down to the ground as Chief Yang’s limbs suddenly turned weak.
There was also unspeakable stench appeared in the room as three constables rushed out of the door; their pants looked wet.
Lu Xiaofeng could not pretend not to recognize anymore, he finally sighed, “Good skill.”
The old man in green with cold laugh: “You can also recognize this as a good skill?”
Lu Xiaofeng smiled and nodded.
Actually, he had early on recognized the origin of these three strange old men; although his face was smiling, his palms were sweating cold sweats.
The old man in green suddenly closed his eyes; with his face toward the sky he slowly recited, “Nine heavens ten earths, all deities and ghosts, all enter our school in fear, absolutely must listen to our command!”
Lu Xiaofeng sighed: “Now I finally know who you are.”
The old man in green sneered.
With a bitter laugh Lu Xiaofeng said, “But I still do not know, how did I offend you?”
The old man in green stared hard at him; suddenly he waved his hand.
Immediately from the rear courtyard came a weird sound of bamboo whistle; it sounded like the wailing of a mourning woman, or the sobbing of a ghost with unresolved grievance in the night.
Then came four large bare-chested men, their chests were full with large needles, carrying a very large wooden board, with dark green chrysanthemums piled up on the board.
The eyes of these large men stared blankly as if they were drunk; although their bodies were pierced with sharp needles, not even a single drop of blood came out, they also did not seem to be in pain, their faces showed mysterious and scary smiles instead.
The old men who drank tea also stood up. The three of them walked toward the pile of dark green chrysanthemums on the board, clasping their palms in respect, and softly murmured, “Nine heavens ten earths, all deities and ghosts, all come to protect thee, together ascend to the pinnacle of happiness!”
Lu Xiaofeng could not restrain himself from drawing near and picked up a chrysanthemum from the board. Suddenly his hand froze, because underneath this chrysanthemum flower there was an eye staring at him.
This eye had more white than black, the eyeball bulged out completely; perhaps this person died of extreme fright.
Lu Xiaofeng retreated several steps backward. He heaved a long sigh and said, “Who is this person?”
The old man in green coldly said, “Now he is a dead man.”
Lu Xiaofeng: “Who was he when he was still alive?”
The old man in green closed his eyes again; with his face toward the sky he slowly recited, “Nine heavens ten earths, the son of all deities met misfortune and perished, all deities and ghosts sob in fear.”
Lu Xiaofeng’s countenance changed. “Could it be that he was your Jiaozhu‘s [Cult Leader] son?”
“Humph,” the old man in green snorted.
Lu Xiaofeng: “Could it be that he died under my hands?”
The old man in green coldly said, “The killer must die!”
Lu Xiaofeng took two more steps backward. He took another deep breath and suddenly laughed. “Some people want to arrest me and bring me to justice, some people want me dead, there is only one of me, what shall I do?”
The old man in green shot a cold look toward Chief Yang: “Are you sure you are going to bring him to justice?”
Chief Yang: “No … no … I am not sure!”
He had just said a few words when suddenly ‘thud, crash!’ he was so scared that his knees gave up and he fell kneeling down on the ground.
Lu Xiaofeng sighed: “It looks like I cannot avoid death.”
The old man in green: “But I also know that before death you will fight with everything you have.”
Lu Xiaofeng: “Absolutely correct!”
He suddenly made his move by snatching a sword and a saber; left hand saber, right hand sword, left hacked down, right thrust forward, he attacked the old man in green for three stances in succession. Not only his style was weird, but the more amazing thing is that he was able to split his mind to do two things at the same time.
The old man in green sneered: “You are playing the axe before the carpenter.”
Using two different kinds of skill together was precisely their Cult’s unique secret. When Lu Xiaofeng attacked for three stances, he had already seen a way to break it; therefore, he was confident that in three more moves he would be able to disarm Lu Xiaofeng from the saber and the sword.
But right this moment suddenly a ‘clang’ was heard, Lu Xiaofeng unexpectedly chopped the sword in his right hand with the saber in his left. The saber and sword collided and both broke.
The old man in green did not understand what kind of diversion Lu Xiaofeng was playing; suddenly he saw the pieces of sword and saber flew toward him.
Lu Xiaofeng himself flew high to the sky. He exerted his strength to throw the broken saber and the snapped sword, but he himself leaped backward to escape.
Nobody can describe this kind of speed; even Lu Xiaofeng could not have thought that he can move with this kind of speed.
When one was fighting for his life, oftentimes one would display a potential, which others would find it hard to imagine.
It was windy outside.
Lu Xiaofeng turned around so that the wind was on his back. Riding the wind, he flew toward the roof ridge on the opposite side.
Nobody pursued him yet, but he could hear the sad and shrill voice of the old man in green transmitted by the wind: “You have killed the son of the deities. Even if you are ascending to the sky or entering the earth, it still is difficult for you to run away from death.”
Lu Xiaofeng did not ascend to the sky, nor did he enter the earth, but he had arrived at the long alley outside the Silver Hook Casino. He hired a carriage, and returned to the place he awoke this morning.
Finally it was somewhat clear to him what actually was going on.
Those people wanted him to spend the night in the open air of the wilderness so that they could lay the blame on him, they wanted to make him the scapegoat.
He also realized that if he was to tell the experience he encountered the previous night, nobody would believe him.
That iceberg-like beautiful woman certainly would not testify on his behalf; much less right now her fragrance, her foot prints and her shadow had already vanished without a trace.
He must find the evidence himself to wash clean the criminal charge, which even if he had a hundred mouths it would still be difficult for him to refute.
The carriage went through a section of the street and sure enough, they went through the location of a night market, and then passed through a running water, before finally arrived at the place he woke up this morning.
Did he really go through the same road last night? Was this really the place Leng Ruoshuang took him off the carriage last night?
But this place was obviously in the middle of the wilderness; not even a single thatched hut was to be seen, let alone the Golden Hook Casino building.
Lu Xiaofeng laid down on a pile of dry leaves underneath a big tree. He watched the dry leaves blown by the autumn wind and land on his body.
The ground was still damp; it was cold and moist.
Lu Xiaofeng was also calm and cool-headed.
I definitely went through the same road and arrived at the Golden Hook Casino, but there was no building in here.
I definitely heard the voices of people, but there was not even a single shadow in the room.
The note clearly said I was to stay for three days, but I was sent away.
The more he thought about it, the more he was at a loss. This kind of unthinkable matter, even he himself did not believe it, much less others?
Since he could not come out with an alibi, would he have to bear this injustice forever?
Lu Xiaofeng sighed. In reality, he could not laugh even if he wanted to.
‘Tweet, tweet, chirp, chirp!’ There seemed to be a little bird singing incessantly behind the tree. Lu Xiaofeng frowned, he tapped the bough. Dry leaves fell down like rain, but surprisingly the little bird was still singing. It did not fly away.
This little bird’s courage was really not small.
Lu Xiaofeng could not refrain from using his hand to prop up his head and looked back. Who would have thought that the ‘Tweet, tweet, chirp, chirp!’ of the little bird suddenly turned into ‘Bark! Bark! Bark!’ of a dog?
How could a little bird turn into a big dog? It was impossible!
Feeling strange, suddenly Lu Xiaofeng saw a boy’s head appeared from behind the tree. He stuck his tongue toward Lu Xiaofeng and made faces.
Turned out the dog’s bark and the bird’s chirp were all made by this little boy. Obviously he was a clever boy. His imitation sounded very much like the original.
The boy squinted his eyes toward Lu Xiaofeng: “I can also imitate the sound of a male dog and a b**ch fighting. If you give me two wen [currency, copper coins], I’ll let you hear it.”
Suddenly Lu Xiaofeng’s eyes brightened; he sprang up and hugged and kissed this little boy, he also shove a silver coin in the little boy’s bosom, while did not stop saying, “Thank you, thank you!”
The boy was puzzled. He blinked and asked, “You gave me this much money, yet you thank me?”
Lu Xiaofeng: “Because you have saved my life.”
He laughed and kissed the boy’s face again before barking twice and then he made a somersault two zhang [unit of length, 1 zhang is approximately 10 ft of 3 meters] away.
The boy looked at him in disbelief. After many, many years later, this little boy grew up to be an adult and often mentioned this matter to his friends. He was certain that he had met a lunatic that day.
“But that sort of lunatic is very rare,” he convinced his friends, “Not only he was very rich, he was very happy as well. I guarantee you will never see a happy lunatic like him.”
If somebody would tell him that this ‘happy lunatic’ had just gone through a bizarre experience, also had just received grievous injustice, so much so that his life was difficult to protect, the boy would certainly not believe it.
If you want others to continually spend money, not only you must let him spend it happily, you must also give him time to earn money.
The Blue Beard was always a principled man; this was his principle.
Therefore, the Silver Hook Casino was not the kind of establishment which open 24 hours a day. It would not open its door before dark, and it would close its door before daybreak, all gambling activity must cease.
The daytime is the time to earn money. If people earn money, only then would they have the money to spend in the evening.
Right now it was not dark yet.
Lu Xiaofeng walked along the quiet and lonely long alley. By the time he reached the Silver Hook Casino, the gambling tables were not open yet.
But the door was actually open. Before dark, no one has ever broken through. Well-mannered frequent visitors all knew the rule here.
Infrequent visitors would not be welcomed in this place.
Lu Xiaofeng pushed the door and walked in. He had barely time to take off the black cloak he just bought and the large hat he had pressed low on his head, covering his eyebrows, when two big and burly men came over and blocked him.
Gambling establishments everywhere must hire a lot of thugs. The Silver Hook Casino was not an exception. Daniu and Xiazi [lit. big ox and blind guy] were the two most fearsome ones among more than a few of thugs.
Blind Guy was actually not blind. Right now, his pair of eyes, which have more white than black, was looking up and down Lu Xiaofeng’s body to size him up. “Have you been to this place before?” he asked coldly.
Lu Xiaofeng: “I have.”
Blind Guy: “Then you must know the rule here!”
Lu Xiaofeng: “Casino also have rules?”
Blind Guy: “Not only it has rules, the rules are stricter than the Yamen.”
Lu Xiaofeng smiled.
Big Ox stared at him: “Before dark, even if the Emperor of Heaven came, we would also ask him to get out of here.”
Lu Xiaofeng: “I cannot even come in to look around?”
Big Ox: “Cannot.”
Lu Xiaofeng sighed. Carrying the cloak in his arm, he walked out, but suddenly he turned around and said, “I bet you five hundred taels of silver that you won’t be able to lift this stone bench.”
One side of the corridor inside the door was adorned with four stone benches. Their weight was indeed not light.
Big Ox sneered and lifted one bench with only one hand. How could others call him ‘Da Niu’ [big ox] if he was not as strong as an ox?
Lu Xiaofeng laughed again and with a bitter smile said, “Looks like I lost. This five hundred taels of silver is yours.”
He really took out five banknotes, worth one hundred taels of silver each and held them out, pinched between his two fingers.
Five hundred taels of silver was not a small amount of money. It would not take them more than twenty taels for the two of them to spend the night at the Apricot Blossoms Pavilion, drinking wine and having fun with women.
Big Ox hesitated, but Blind Guy had already taken the money on his behalf. Even the blind would be able to see the money. Without a doubt the banknotes were genuine.
Blind Guy was smiling ear to ear: “It will soon be dark. You may take a stroll out there for a while and come back here. I might be able to find some thick-pocketed gamblers to accompany you having a good time.”
Lu Xiaofeng smiled: “Can’t I just take a stroll in here for a moment?”
Big Ox quickly said, “You can’t!”
Lu Xiaofeng’s face dropped. “Since before dark no gambling is allowed in here, why did you swindle me by betting with me just now?”
Big Ox: “I did not.”
Lu Xiaofeng coldly said, “If you did not gamble with me, why did you take my five hundred taels of silver?”
Immediately Big Ox’s face turned red, even his neck was blushing. He really had no way to deny.
When you lose an argument with others, use your fists.
Big Ox had just curled his fist when he saw this guy, who seemed to have four eyebrows on his face, suddenly push the stone bench he had just put down with his finger, and to his surprise, a hole appeared on the bench.
Big Ox’s face from red turned to green. His curled fist also slowly relaxed.
Blind Guy coughed twice and nudged Big Ox with his elbow. Smiling widely, he said, “It will soon be dark. This honored guest has made a special trip to visit; if we drive people out, we might look too discourteous.”
Big Ox nodded immediately: “We do not have any lead-filled dice in here, also there is no woman hiding cards in her buttocks. There is no harm in letting him looking around in here!”
Although he looked like a dumb ox, he was actually not stupid at all.
Lu Xiaofeng laughed. “Good, you are a good friend,” he patted his shoulder, “When I am done gambling tonight, I am going to take you two to the Apricot Blossoms Pavilion and have some drinks.”
Apricot Blossoms Pavilion was the most expensive brothel in town, but its style was actually far inferior to this place, its decor was also not as magnificent as this place.
As far as eyes can see, this casino hall was resplendent in gold and jade, rich and beautiful in its majestic splendor. Even the candlesticks were made of sterling silver. Nobody would give further thought of losing a thousand or two taels of silver in this kind of place.
The large hall was full of gambling equipments, large and small. You name it and you will find it here.
All sides the walls were painted white that it looked like a snow cave, with paintings of famous ancient and contemporary artists and scholars hanging from the ceiling.
The largest scenery painting adorned the middle of the hall, but it was the handiwork of an unknown artist. The painting of dreary and fuzzy clouds and mist covered the distant mountain looked like spilled ink.
It was all right if the painting was hanging someplace else, but hanging in this hall among the famous experts’ masterpieces, it looked so out of place that no one usually wanted to look at it.
But Lu Xiaofeng seemed to find this painting to be very interesting. He stood in front of the painting and looked at it from left and right, top to bottom, and seemed to be so fixated that he did not want to move away from it.
Big Ox and Blind Guy looked at each other with a very weird look on their faces.
Blind Guy rolled his eyes until even more white was visible. He suddenly said, “This painting was the handiwork of our Boss’ former brother-in-law; the way he painted was worse than me. On that side is the landscape painting by Jiangnan’s number one scholar, Tang Xieyuan. Now that is a landscape painting!”
Big Ox immediately caught on: “Let me show you the painting then you’ll know this painting is just a dog’s fart!”
Lu Xiaofeng: “I’d rather look at the dog’s fart painting.”
Big Ox: “Why?”
Lu Xiaofeng laughed: “Landscape paintings are everywhere, but dog’s fart painting is very rare!”
Big Ox was dumbstruck, his face turned deep red.
Others looked at another’s dog’s fart painting, why was he so anxious?
Blind Guy quietly signaled him with his eyes. The two of them quietly stepped toward Lu Xiaofeng’s back. Suddenly they made their move; one on the left the other on the right, they grabbed Lu Xiaofeng together.
Surprisingly, Lu Xiaofeng did not fight back.
Blind Guy sneered: “This kid is sneaky. I can tell as soon as I looked at him. He must not be spared.”
Big Ox: “Right, let us take him out first then cripple his arms before we talk again!”
Because with just one strike they were successful, the two men were self-satisfied. They felt like a woman who had just snatched a fat sheep.
Only it was a pity that this sheep was not fat, moreover, it was not a real sheep, but actually a tiger who was wearing a sheepskin.
They wanted to take Lu Xiaofeng out, but suddenly they felt this man weighed more than a thousand catties; instead of lifting him up, they felt they were being raised up.
Lu Xiaofeng raised his arms, and ‘Thud!’ with equal force he struck Big Ox’s head to Blind Guy’s. Since their heads were probably quite hard, they both passed out instantly.
Lu Xiaofeng laid these two men down and looked up at the scenery painting on the wall again. He shook his head and sighed. “You are right,” he mumbled softly, “This painting is indeed a dog’s fart.”
Suddenly he reached out and pulled this more than a zhang long, four or five chi scenery painting [about 10 feet long by 4 or 5 feet wide] down, revealing a secret door behind it.
Lu Xiaofeng’s eyes shone. He smiled: “Although the painting looks like a dog’s fart, the real dog’s fart is actually hidden behind it.”
Opening a gambling establishment is naturally not an honest occupation. It is only natural that the people who work in this line of job also lead very abnormal lives. Even their meal time and bedtime are completely different from those of other people.
Right now was exactly their dinner time; that was the reason why the main hall was left to Big Ox and Blind Guy only. And now those two men were down.
Lu Xiaofeng rubbed his hands. He closed his eyes and traced his finger up and down along the outline of the door on the wall. After running his finger for a while, suddenly he pushed and shouted in low voice: “Open!”
Like magic this secret door really opened. Behind the door there were about a dozen steps of stone stairs going down, and beyond the stairs was a strip of passageway!
The passageway was illuminated by lanterns. Underneath the lanterns was another door. By the door stood two burly men, wielding unsheathed sabers in their hands.
The eyes of these two men were staring blankly into the distance, they looked exactly like wooden statues. Clearly Lu Xiaofeng was standing right in front of them, but it was as if they did not see him at all.
Lu Xiaofeng coughed lightly, but these two men seemed to be deaf.
He heard a soft click as the secret door on top of the stairs closed by itself.
Lu Xiaofeng tried stepping forward, but these two men were still motionless, they did not shout or even try to stop him. He might as well reached out to push the door, and to his surprise, the door immediately opened.
Inside, the room was brightly illuminated. There were three people sitting around a table. Surprisingly, Lu Xiaofeng recognized two of them.
One was a stunningly beautiful, glamorous like a peach blossom woman, with her hand propping her fragrant cheek, sitting by a crystal wine goblet full of amber-colored fragrant wine. With a cold look, she stared at Lu Xiaofeng and coldly said, “What took you so long to get here?”
Written by Jin Yong
Translation by Fox
Edited and proofread by audiowuxia.
For More Chapters…