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Demi Gods & Semi Devils Book 3
XXIV - Past alliance in the Illuminated side of the lady’s black hair
Chinese title: 天龍八部 - 烛畔鬓云有旧盟Original novel written by Jin Yong (Louis Cha)
Wuxia Novel Fan Translation by forgot password @spcnet
Chapter 24: An Old Union Under the Candlelight
If Xiao Feng wasn’t personally witnessing the scene at this moment, he would certainly dismiss it as a ridiculous lie if anyone told him about it. After his first time seeing Madam Ma outside Wuxi in the Apricot Forest, he met her twice more, and always felt that she was as cold as ice and frost. She appeared severe and not to be offended, and even her smile was never to be seen. But who would have expected that she would actually become like this? Even strangee was that she had framed Duan Zhengchun with her words, so there must certainly be great enmity and hatred between them. But judging from the atmosphere in the small room, with intoxication and fragrance, delicate passion, the two of them glancing at each other, and a gentle and secret love, how could there be any hatred?
On the table, a large flower vase was filled with red plum blossoms, and a great fire was roaring on the heatable brick bed. The buttons at Madam Ma’s neck came loose and exposed the snow white back of her neck and also the edge of her red satin chest garment. Yet the two lit candles by the bed were white, and the red firelight shone on her rosy cheeks. There was wind and snow outside the room, but indoors it was as warm as spring.
He heard Duan Zhengchun say, “Come, drink a cup with me, let’s drink enough to become a couple.”
Madam Ma snorted and said in a bored voice, “What couple? I’m alone in this cold and desolate place, thinking and hoping day and night, always remembering you, my enemy. But you... you... cast me aside to the back of your mind. When did you ever think of visiting me?” After saying this, the rims of her eyes became red.
Xiao Feng thought, “She speaks almost like Qin Hongmian and Ruan Xingzhu. Could it be...could it be that she is also Duan Zhengchun’s former lover?”
Duan Zhengchun said in a low and soft voice, “When I was in Dali, was there ever a day when I didn’t think of you, Little Kang? I wished to grow wings and fly here, hold you in my embrace, and pity you well. That day when I heard the news that you married Deputy Chief Ma, I didn’t eat anything for three days and nights. Since you had a home, if I came to visit you again, I would inevitably tire you. Deputy Chief Ma was a hero of great status in the Beggars Clan, so if I did this and that with you again, it would be doing him a great wrong. Wouldn’t that... that make me a despicable little man?”
Madam Ma said, “Who wanted you to offer politeness to me? I was only thinking of you, wondering if you were healthy and happy, if all your matters were going smoothly. As long as you were well, I would be happy, and life would be meaningful. You were far away in Dali, so probing for news about you was so difficult. My body was in Xinyang, but when was this heart of mine ever not by your side?”
Her voice became lower and lower, and Xiao Feng felt that amidst the intimacy there was bitterness, softness, and lingering emotions revolving endlessly. Hearing it really took away one’s breath, seized one’s spirit, and distressed one’s soul. Yet her words seemed pure and natural, and didn’t have any intentional vixen charm. In his life he had indeed met many people, but he hadn’t expected that in the world there was actually such a splendidly charming woman. Although Xiao Feng was astonished, his face involuntarily reddened. He had previously met two of Duan Zhengchun’s other lovers; Qin Hongmian was bright and straightforward, Ruan Xingzhu was smart and beautiful, and this Madam Ma was extremely gentle and intimate, yet another type.
Duan Chengchun smiled, held out his hand to pull her over, and embraced her. Madam Ma let out an “oh” sound, half willing and half unwillingly, and slightly resisted by shoving with her hands.
Xiao Feng wrinkled his brows, unwilling to watch their shameful performance. Suddenly he heard people beside him treading forcefully on the accumulated snow underfoot, producing a rubbing sound. He thought to himself, “This isn’t good, these two have overturned the vinegar jug (vinegar = jealousy), and will spoil my important matters.” His figure like the wind, he drifted behind Qin Hongmian and the others, and one by one sealed the acupoints on the backs of the four.
These four didn’t know who had done it, and were already unable to move a single step. This time Xiao Feng sealed their mute acupoint, which caused them to be unable to speak. Qin Hongmian and Ruan Xingzhu heard their lover and the woman beside him sharing words of love. Their fury was like fire, their envy like the tide, but they collapsed on the snowy ground, the two of them suffering torment.
Xiao Feng continued to watch through the slit in the window, and saw that Madam Ma was already sitting beside Duan Zhengchun, her head leaning against his shoulder. Her body seemed as if it had only a few bones, she had trouble supporting herself, and a mass of long black hair draped down, covering half of Duan Zhengchun’s face. Her eyes opened and closed a little, only exposing slits, and she said, “The head of my household was harmed by someone; you should have heard the rumors, but did you not dare come visit me? The head of my household is already dead, so you don’t need to continue avoiding the suspicions!” Her voice was both reproachful and coquettish.
Duan Zhengchun smiled and said, “Didn’t I come already? Once I received the news, I immediately left on the same night, traveling night and day. My horse’s hooves pounded incessantly as I rushed over from Dali, afraid that I would be late.”
Madam Ma asked, “Afraid of what?”
Duan Zhengchun smiled and said, “Afraid that you wouldn’t be able to endure the loneliness and would marry someone again. Wouldn’t I have rushed here for nothing? You caused me ten years of yearning.”
Madam Ma spit and said, “Pei, you don’t even know how to say proper words, and set me up as someone who is unable to endure loneliness and marries again? When did you ever think of me, what ten years of yearning, are you not afraid of your tongue rotting?”
Duan Zhengchun held out his arms, embraced her even tighter, and said, “If I didn’t yearn for you, then why would I rush over from Dali?”
Madam Ma smiled and said, “Fine, I’ll take it that you missed me. Duan Lang, how are you going to arrange for me in the future?” She held out her arms and wrapped them around Duan Zhengchun’s neck, placed her cheek on his face, and continuously rubbed softly, her beautiful hair constantly trembling like water ripples.
Duan Zhengchun said, “At present we have wine, at present we’ll get drunk. Why mention future matters? Come, let me carry you. After being separated for ten years, have you gotten lighter or heavier?” He picked up Madam Ma.
Madam Ma asked, “Then you’re still unwilling to bring me to Dali?”
Duan Zhengchun’s brows creased slightly. He said, “What’s so good about Dali? It’s hot and humid, and malaria is in the air. If you go, you won’t be used to the climate and will get sick.”
Madam Ma sighed softly and said in a low voice, “Hmm, you’re only coaxing me with empty happiness.”
Duan Zhengchun smiled and said, “How is it empty happiness? I’ll immediately give you true happiness.”
Madam Ma struggled slightly and dropped down. She poured a cup of wine and said, “Duan Lang, drink another cup.”
Duan Zhengchun said, “I won’t drink anymore; I’ve had enough wine.”
Madam Ma’s left hand reached over and caressed his face. She said, “No, I won’t let you off easily. I want you to get dazedly drunk.”
Duan Zhengchun smiled and said, “What’s so good about being dazedly drunk?” He took the cup and finished it in one gulp.
Xiao Feng was impatient from listening to their flirtatious talk. When he saw Duan Zhengchun drinking, his wine craving couldn’t help but flare up, and he lightly swallowed his saliva. He saw Duan Zhengchun yawning a few times and looking considerably tired.
Madam Ma smiled enchantingly and said, “Duan Lang, let me tell you a story, all right?”
Xiao Feng’s spirits were roused and he thought, “She’s going to tell a story; maybe some clues can be found.”
But Duan Zhengchun said, “But there’s no hurry to talk. Come, I’ll take off your clothes, and you can softly tell me by the pillow.”
Madam Ma gave him a cold stare and said, “Think of it! Duan Lang, when I was young my family was very poor. I wanted new clothes, but daddy couldn’t afford them. All day long I would think, if I could be like neighbor Sister Jiang, who got flowery clothes and shoes at New Year’s, then I would be happy.”
Duan Zhengchun said, “When you were young you must have definitely been rather pretty. Such a cute little girl, even if you wore ragged clothing, you would be very beautiful.”
Madam Ma said, “No, I only loved to wear flowery clothes.”
Duan Zhengchun said, “You’re wearing snow white mourning clothes and look even smarter. What’s so good about flowery clothes?”
Madam Ma said, “You grew up in luxury, and naturally wouldn’t understand the suffering of children from poor families. At that time, even if I had a pair of new shoes, I would be exceedingly happy. When I was seven, my daddy told me that on the twelfth month, he would sell our three lambs and fourteen chickens in town for the New Year, and then cut a piece of flowery cloth and sew a set of new clothes for me. Starting from the eighth month when my daddy told me these words, I looked forward to it, and carefully fed the chickens and tended the sheep...”
When Xiao Feng heard the words “tended the sheep,” his eyes brimmed with hot tears.
Madam Ma continued, “With great difficulty I waited until the twelfth month, and every day I would urge daddy to sell the sheep and chickens. Daddy always said, ‘Don’t be so impatient. Near the end of the year, the chickens and sheep will sell for the best price.’ After a few days, it snowed heavily for several days and nights. That evening, with a “kualala” sound, the sheep pen collapsed due to the snow. Fortunately the sheep weren’t crushed to death. Daddy moved the sheep to one side and said that now the sheep needed to be sold earlier. Unexpectedly, it was in the middle of that night when the sheep cried out and the wolves howled noisily. Daddy said, ‘This isn’t good, there are wolves!’ He carried a spear and went out to drive the wolves away. But the three sheep were being dragged by the hungry wolves, and most of the chickens had been eaten by the wolves. Daddy shouted loudly, drove away the wolves, and wanted to get the sheep back.
“Right away he chased them into the mountains, and I was extremely worried, not knowing if daddy could get the sheep back. After I waited for a long time, daddy returned, limping. He said that he slipped on the snow on the mountain cliff and injured his leg. The spear fell below the cliff, so naturally he could not get the sheep back.
“I was so disappointed and sat down in the snow, crying loudly. Every day I tended the sheep well just because I wanted to wear flowery clothes. But in the end all my hopes and efforts came to nothing. I cried and shouted, ‘Daddy, go get the sheep back, I want to wear new clothes, I want to wear new clothes!’”
Xiao Feng’s heart sunk after hearing this. “This woman is inherently cold! Her daddy was injured, but she didn’t care for her daddy’s injury, and only thought of her flowery clothes. Besides, chasing after hungry wolves on a snowy night is dangerous. Although she was young at that time, it was still wrong of her.”
He heard her continue, “My daddy said, ‘Little girl, let’s raise sheep again one of these days, and when we sell them next year, I will definitely buy you flowery clothes.’ I only cried loudly and didn’t comply. But what was the use of not complying? It was New Year’s in less than half a month, and neighbor Sister Jiang wore a new coat with a yellow bottom and red flowers, and trousers with green chrysanthemums. When I saw them, I became sentimental, and was so angry that I refused to eat. Daddy constantly coaxed me, but I paid no attention to him.”
Duan Zhengchun smiled and said, “If I had known at that time, I would have definitely given you ten, twenty sets of new clothes.” He stretched and the candle flame flickered and shone on his face, full of helpless intoxication and lust.
Madam Ma said, “If I had ten, twenty sets, then I would not want them so badly. That night on New Year’s Eve, I tossed and turned, unable to sleep, so I quietly got up and made my way to neighbor Uncle Jiang’s home. The adults were staying up late on the New Year and hadn’t gone to bed yet. The candle burned brightly, and I saw Sister Jiang asleep on her bed. Her new clothes and trousers were draped over her and seemed even more pretty under the red candle flame. I stared blankly for a long time before I quietly entered the room and picked up her new set of clothes and trousers.”
Duan Zhengchun said, “Stealing new clothes? Aiyo, I only knew that our Little Kang stole men, but it looks like she also stole clothes.”
Madam Ma’s starry eyes shone, and smiling sweetly, she said, “I didn’t steal the new clothes and trousers! I picked up the scissors in the needlework basket on the table, and cut her new clothes into pieces, and her trousers into strips, never to be sewn back together. After I thoroughly cut the new clothes and trousers, my heart felt indescribably happy, even more overjoyed than if I had new clothes myself.”
Duan Zhengchun’s face had contained a smiling expression all along, but after hearing this, his face gradually changed color. Rather unhappily, he said, “Little Kang, don’t talk about these old matters. Let’s sleep!”
Madam Ma said, “No, it’s rare that I have a few days together with you. After today, I’m afraid that the two of us will never meet again, so I want to talk to you more. Duan Lang, do you know why I told you this story? I want you to understand my temperament, which has been the same since childhood. If there is something that I think about day and night but cannot obtain it, yet someone else with good luck gets it, then no matter what I must destroy it. When I was a child I used stupid methods, but as I slowly grew up and became smarter, I used clever methods.”
Duan Zhengchun shook his head and said, “Don’t say anymore. If you let me hear these mood-spoiling words, I will no longer be interested, so don’t blame me later.”
Madam Ma smiled slightly and stood up, slowly untying the white hair tie. Her long hair hung down to her waist, soft as silk. She picked up a comb made from yellow poplar wood, suddenly turned around and smiled, her expression infinitely flirtatious, and said, “Duan Lang, hold me!” Her voice was extremely soft and intimate.
Although Xiao Feng loathed and detested this woman, when he saw her glance under the candlelight and heard her say “hold me,” his heart couldn’t help but palpitate with eagerness.
Duan Zhengchun laughed, leaned against the bed, and wanted to stand up and hold her. But he had drunk too much wine and actually couldn’t stand up. Smiling, he said, “I only drank six or seven cups of wine, yet I actually got this seriously intoxicated. Little Kang, you have the countenance of a flower and a face like the moon, causing one to be intoxicated from one glance. Truly equal to three catties of strong wine, hehe.”
When Xiao Feng heard this, he was surprised. “After only drinking six or seven cups of wine, how can he be drunk? Duan Zhengchun’s internal energy is powerful, so even if he has no liquor tolerance at all, it still doesn’t make sense. Something’s strange here.”
He heard Madam Ma laugh delicately and say intimately, “Duan Lang, come over, I have no strength, you...you should quickly come and hold me.”
Qin Hongmian and Ruan Xingzhu, who were lying outside the window, heard every word of Madam Ma’s coquettish flirting. Their envy was like a fire attacking their hearts and exploding through their chests, but they couldn’t raise their hands to cover their ears.
Duan Zhengchun leaned his left hand against the bed and tried to exert strength to stand up. But as soon as his body straightened, his knees weakened and he sat down again. He smiled and said, “I don’t have any strength either, how strange. When I see you, I’m like a mouse seeing a cat, and my entire body weakens.”
Madam Ma smiled gently and said, “I won’t let you get away with it. You only drank a little bit, yet you pretend to be intoxicated to deceive me. Transfer your breath and use your internal energy, shouldn’t that be enough?”
Duan Zhengchun transferred his inner breath and tried to take a real breath, but how could he have expected that his elixir field (dantian) was boundlessly empty, and he couldn’t even fathom anything accurately. He took three breaths in succession, but unexpectedly the profound internal energy that he had cultivated for over ten years had suddenly vanished, and he didn’t know when it had left his body. He started to panic, knowing that the situation was far from good. But he was experienced in the risks of Jianghu, so his face remained calm and collected. Smiling, he said, “I only have the ‘YiYang Finger’ and ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’ left. I’m so intoxicated that I can only kill people, not hold people.”
Xiao Feng thought, “Although this person is greedy for beauty and lascivious, he isn’t stupid. He already knows that he’s trapped in a dangerous situation, but still says he can “only kill people, not hold people.” Actually he knows the
‘Yiyang Finger’ but not the ‘Six Meridians Divine Sword’. Clearly he’s being falsely intimidating. If he doesn’t have internal energy, he also can’t use his ‘Yiyang Finger’.”
Madam Ma said softly, “Aiyo, I’m feeling dizzy. Duan Lang, could it be...could it be that you put something in the wine?”
Duan Zhengchun originally suspected that she had drugged the wine, but when he heard her say this, his suspicion of her immediately disappeared. He beckoned with his hand and said, “Little Kang, come over, I have something to tell you.”
Madam Ma seemed as if she was going to take a step to walk over, but she couldn’t stand up and leaned against the table. Her face like peach blossoms, she panted heavily and said charmingly, “Duan Lang, I can’t even take a single step. You were afraid that I wouldn’t do it with you, so you put an aphrodisiac in the wine, didn’t you? You’re so indecent.”
Duan Zhengchun shook his head, made a gesture with his hand, dipped a finger in the wine, and wrote on the table, “We’ve already fallen into the enemy’s venomous plan. Try hard to remain composed and calm.” He said, “Now my internal energy has returned. These few cups of poisoned wine can’t bewilder me.”
Madam Ma wrote on the table, “Is this true or false?”
Duan Zhengchun wrote, “Must not show weakness.” Loudly he said, “Little Kang, what enemy do you have who uses this venomous plan to harm me?”
From outside the window, Xiao Feng saw his words “Must not show weakness.” Knowing that the situation was far from good, he thought, “Although Duan Zhengchun is skilled and formidable, in the end he still falls into the hands of a woman. This poison was obviously put in by Madam Ma. When she heard you say ‘I can only kill people, not hold people,’ fearing that your martial arts were strong, she pretended to be poisoned herself. When she asked if what you said was true or false, how could you be fooled so easily?”
Madam Ma’s face showed worry, and she wrote on the table, “Is it true or false that your internal energy has completely vanished?” But she said, “If there is a villain who wants to ruin our plans, then that’s too bad. Feeling bored, he just happens to do this for amusement. You should just sit here and ignore it, and see if he has the guts to take action!”
Duan Zhengchun wrote, “I can only hope that the effect of the medicine wears off earlier and the enemy arrives later.” He said, “Right, whoever plays around with us will fail. Little Kang, do you want to see my lingkong pressure point hitting method?”
Madam Ma smiled and said, “I’ve never seen it before. Since your internal energy hasn’t vanished, then use your ‘Yiyang Finger’ to poke a hole in the paper window, all right?”
Duan Zhengchun knit his brows slightly and winked to convey a hint. He thought, “I have no internal energy, so how can I hit the lingkong pressure point? I’m intimidating the enemy, but how come you don’t understand?”
Yet Madam Ma repeatedly urged, “Hurry up, you only need to poke a small hole in the paper window to force the enemy to retreat. Otherwise everything will be ruined, so don’t let the enemy see through our plan!”
Duan Zhengchun trembled and thought, “She has always been intelligent and clever, so why is she deliberately acting stupid now?”
Just as he was muttering to himself, Madam Ma said softly, “Duan Lang, you’ve been poisoned by the strong ‘Ten Fragrance Bewitching Powder.’ Even if your martial arts are as high as the sky, your internal energy will still completely vanish. If you can still hit the lingkong pressure point and use your internal energy breath to prick a small hole in the paper window, then that would be a miracle.”
Duan Zhengchun was alarmed and said, “I’ve...I’ve been poisoned by the strong ‘Ten Fragrance Bewitching Powder’? How...how do you know?”
Madam Ma laughed delicately and said, “When I was pouring wine for you, hehe, it seemed like I wasn’t careful and a packet of poison fell into the wine cup. Ai, as soon as I saw you, my spirit and soul were upside-down and I was bewildered. Duan Lang, don’t blame me.”
Duan Zhengchun forced a smile and said, “Mm, so that’s what happened, not a problem.” At this moment his thoughts were already as clear as snow. He knew that he was already controlled by Madam Ma, so if he furiously scolded her, it would be of no avail. Thus, he could only pretend that there was no problem, and he did his utmost to remain calm. He tried to make sense of the perilous situation and thought, “She’s always had deep passion for me and would definitely not harm my life. It’s probably only that she wants me to promise to never return home and stay with her for a lifetime. Or she wants me to bring her back to Dali so that we can properly become husband and wife. It’s a way of expressing her love for me; although her method is excessive, it definitely has no evil intent.”
Sure enough Madam Ma asked, “Duan Lang, are you willing for us to become husband and wife?”
Duan Zhengchun smiled and said, “You’re too formidable. Fine, I surrender. Tomorrow, we’ll return to Dali together, and I’ll take you as the Southern Garrison Prince’s side concubine.”
When Qin Hongmian and Ruan Xingzhu heard this, once again their envy was like a fire attacking their hearts. Both of them thought, “What’s so good about this sl*t? You don’t promise me, yet you promise her.”
Madam Ma sighed and said, “Duan Lang, when I asked you a while earlier about how you would arrange for me in the future, you said that Dali was hot, humid, and full of malaria, and that if I went there, I would get sick. Now you’re forced to promise me, but you’re not really sincere.”
Duan Zhengchun sighed and said, “Little Kang, let me tell you, I’m the younger brother of the Emperor of Dali. My older brother has no sons, so after his thousand-year reign, he will give the title of Emperor to me. In the Central Plains I am only a man with martial arts, but when I return to Dali, I cannot do as I please. Don’t you agree?”
Madam Ma said, “Yes, but so what?”
Duan Zhengchun said, “There are difficulties between us in the first place, but you treated me thus, and actually didn’t hesitate to use poisoning methods. Naturally I would change my mind. It isn’t as if I don’t want to have a good person like you by my side every day. Since I promised to take you back to Dali, I definitely won't go back on my word.”
Madam Ma softly let out an “oh” sound and said, “These words are reasonable. In the future when you become Emperor, can you make me Empress?”
Duan Zhengchun hesitated and said, “I already have a first wife, so Empress won’t do...”
Madam Ma said, “Yes, I’m an inauspicious widow, so how could I become an Empress? Wouldn’t that be a joke to the thousands upon thousands of people of Dali?” She picked up the comb again and slowly combed her hair. Smiling, she said, “Duan Lang, when I told you that story just now, did you understand my meaning?”
The cold sweat on Duan Zhengchun’s forehead dripped down, and he strove to suppress his fearful state of mind. But the internal energy that he had diligently cultivated for over ten years had completely vanished to who knows where. Now he was like a drowning man, his hands desperately clawing for life, but unable to grab even a single straw.
Madam Ma asked, “Duan Lang, your body is very hot, isn’t it? I’ll wipe your sweat.” She took out a silk handkerchief from her bosom, walked over to his side, and lightly wiped the cold sweat on his forehead. She said softly, “Duan Lang, you need to take care of your body. After drinking it’s easy to catch a cold, so if you’re unwell, wouldn’t that make me more worried?”
When Duan Zhengchun inside and Xiao Feng outside the window heard this, both felt a fear that was difficult to describe. Duan Zhengchun forced a smile and said, “That night when you were dripping with fragrant sweat, I also wiped your sweat. I’ve kept that handkerchief with me for over ten years.”
Madam Ma’s expression was bashful and she said softly, “Aren’t you afraid of being shameful, having the nerve to bring up old affairs from over ten years ago? Take it out for me to see.”
It wasn’t actually true that Duan Zhengchun had kept that old handkerchief with him for over ten years, but unexpectedly it was actually in his bosom at that moment. It was easy for him to make women happy, and this set of skills was an important reason that caused every woman who had a romantic ill-fated relationship with him to believe that the woman he truly loved was herself. Only because of all kinds of difficult to avoid misfortunes of fate were they unable to forge a blissful marriage. He wanted to take out this handkerchief from his bosom to make her care for their old affection, but who would have known that his fingers could only move slightly, and everything above his palm was completely numb. The toxicity of this ‘Ten Fragrance Bewitching Powder’ was so strong that he actually had no strength to take out the handkerchief.
Madam Ma said, “Take it out for me to see! Humph, you’re deceiving me again.”
Duan Zhengchun smiled bitterly and said, “Haha, I’m so intoxicated that I can’t even move my hands, so take it out for me.”
Madam Ma said, “As if I’ll be fooled! You want to trick me into coming over so that you can use the ‘Yiyang Finger’ to kill me.”
Duan Zhengchun smiled and said, “Such an unparalleled and exceptional beauty like you, even if I am a vicious convict who cannot be unpardoned from ten evils, I would still be unwilling to mark your face with even half a fingernail scratch.”
Madam Ma smiled and said, “Really? Duan Lang, I’m always slightly uneasy, so I must use a rope to bind your hands, and then...then I will use a thread of soft silk to firmly bind your heart.”
Duan Zhengchun said, “You’ve bound my heart long ago. Otherwise, how could I obediently hand myself over?”
Madam Ma scoffed and said, “You were originally a good person, so it’s no wonder that you caused me to get this lovesickness that can never be cured.” While saying this, she pulled open a drawer beside the bed and took out a rope made from ox tendons.
Duan Zhengchun was even more scared and thought, “So she had actually prepared everything long ago, yet I was completely in the dark. Duan Zhengchun ah Duan Zhengchun, today you will lose your life here, but who can you blame?”
Madam Ma said, “I’ll bind your hands first. Duan Lang, I like you beyond words. Are you angry at me?”
Duan Zhengchun knew Madam Ma’s temper well. Although she was a woman, she was even more firm and persistent than ordinary men. Malicious insults wouldn’t make her angry, and strenuous and earnest lament wouldn’t make her change her mind. At present there was no better option than stalling for time and looking for an opportunity to turn peril into safety and escape from his predicament. Thus he smiled and said, “As soon as I see your watery eyes, even anger as big as the sky will melt into nothing. Little Kang, come over and let me smell the jasmine flower in your hair.”
Over ten years ago, because of these very words, Duan Zhengchun and Madam Ma began their ill-fated relationship. Now that their old affair was mentioned again, Madam Ma’s body inclined and fell softly onto his bosom. Her amorous feelings were unlimited, and she was extremely delicate and bashful. She held out her hand to gently caress Duan Zhengchun’s cheek and said intimately, “Duan Lang, Duan Lang, that night when I gave my body to you, I told you that if you were ever unfaithful, what would happen?”
Duan Zhengchun only felt that there were gold stars dancing in front of his eyes, and beads of sweat as large as soy beans oozed down his forehead drop by drop.
Madam Ma said, “Heartless man, my dear man, have you so easily forgotten the curse you gambled on?”
Duan Zhengchun smiled bitterly and said, “I said that I would let you bite off all the flesh on my body mouthful by mouthful.” Originally this vow was purely a joke, just flirtatious talk between a man and a woman when together, but as Duan Zhengchun said this, the flesh on his entire body couldn’t help but tremble.
Madam Ma smiled enchantingly and said, “After so many years, you actually haven’t forgotten the words you said to me. My Duan Lang is really conscientious. Duan Lang, I want to bind your hands and play a new game with you. Are you willing or not? If you’re willing, I’ll bind you; if you’re unwilling, I won’t bind you. All along I’ve always obeyed you in everything, only hoping to make you happy.”
Duan Zhengchun knew that even if he said he wouldn’t let her bind him, she would definitely find another grotesque method. Smiling bitterly, he said, “Since you want to bind me, then bind me. For me to die under a peony flower, even becoming a ghost will be romantic. Nothing can be luckier than dying under your hands.”
Xiao Feng, listening outside the window, couldn’t help but admire his astonishing ability to make teasing remarks in such a critical situation. He saw Madam Ma pulling his hands behind his back, using the ox tendon rope to bind them firmly, and tying seven or eight tight knots in succession. Even if Duan Zhengchun’s internal energy wasn’t damaged, he wouldn’t be capable of struggling free in a short time, not to mention that now his martial arts had completely vanished.
Madam Ma smiled delicately and said, “I hate your legs the most. With one step you left without a trace.” Saying this, she lightly twisted his thigh.
Duan Zhengchun smiled and said, “That year when we met, it was these legs that brought me over. Although these legs have greatly sinned, their contribution isn’t small either.”
Madam Ma said, “Fine! I’ll bind them too.” Saying this, she picked up another ox tendon rope and bound his feet.
She took a pair of scissors and slowly cut open the layers of clothing on his right shoulder, revealing snow white skin. Although Duan Zhengchun was no longer young, he took excellent care of himself. He had lived in wealth and splendor his entire life and had profound internal energy, so the skin on his shoulder was still smooth and sturdy.
Madam Ma held out her hand to gently caress his shoulder, puckered her cherry-like lips, and kissed his cheek, gradually kissing from his neck to his shoulder. She groaned intimately with “oh oh oh” sounds, a gentle and sweet love beyond words.
Amidst this, Duan Zhengchun loudly shouted out “ah,” his voice piercing the quiet night. Madam Ma raised her head, her mouth filled with blood, having already bitten off a chunk of flesh from his shoulder.
Madam Ma spit out the small chunk of flesh onto the ground, smiled charmingly, and said, “Hitting is passion, scolding is love. I love you to death, so I bit you. Duan Lang, you said so yourself that if you cease to be faithful, you would let me bite off the flesh on your body mouthful by mouthful.”
Duan Zhengchun laughed and said, “Yes, Little Kang, how can the words that I said before not count? Sometimes I wonder, what would be the best way for me to die in the future? Dying in bed from illness seems too mediocre. Dying in the battlefield defending the country is of course great, but although valiant, it’s not romantic. It’s like everything is fine except for one small defect, and not how Duan Zhengchun usually behaves. Little Kang, the method you thought of today is formidable and has fulfilled my dream of Duan Zhengchun losing his life to the little cherry-like mouth and pearl-like teeth of the most beautiful woman of this era. Think, if Duan Zhengchun and you didn’t have a romance in which our feelings were carved into our bones, then if it was a second man, even if he gave you enough jewels to fill a bed, you definitely wouldn’t be willing to take a single bite of his body. Little Kang, do you agree?”
Qin Hongmian and Ruan Xingzhu had long since been scared out of their wits. They knew that Duan Zhengchun’s life was coming to an end at any time, but seeing that Xiao Feng was still crouching under the window and watching what was happening, but not helping, they scolded him a thousand times in their hearts.
But Xiao Feng was still trying to fathom Madam Ma’s real intentions, not knowing if she seriously wanted to kill Duan Zhengchun, or if she was only trying to scare him a little, make him suffer some romantic sins, and then forgive him so that hereafter he would always loyally stay with her. If she was doing this all as an awkward joke between lovers, and he rudely and impetuously charged into the room to rescue him, then he would lose a golden opportunity to find out the truth. Thus he still held his breath and observed calmly.
Madam Ma smiled and said, “Yes, even if it’s the Son of Heaven of Great Song or the Emperor of the Khitans, it would be easy for him to kill me, but he can forget about ordering me to take a bite of him. Duan Lang, originally I wanted to slowly bite you to death, bite you thousands of times, but I’m afraid that your subordinates will rush over to rescue you. How about this, I’ll pierce this knife into your chest, only by half an inch, so it won’t take your life. If someone comes to rescue you, I’ll hit the knife handle, and you won’t need to suffer being torn into scraps.” Saying this, she took out a dazzling dagger, cut open the clothing on Duan Zhengchun’s chest, and aimed the dagger point at his heart. She let go lightly and inserted the dagger into his chest, surely enough only piercing a little.
This time, Duan Zhengchun made no sound. Blood immediately flowed out of his chest. He said, “Little Kang, your ten fingers are even whiter and softer than when you were seventeen.”
When Madam Ma pierced the dagger into Duan Zhengchun’s body, Xiao Feng observed her hands without blinking. If he saw her exert too much force and endanger Duan Zhengchun’s life, he would immediately charge in with a palm and cause her body to quake. But he saw that she only pierced lightly, so he still did nothing.
Madam Ma said, “When I was seventeen, I had to cook and do laundry, so naturally my hands were rougher. Over the last few years I didn’t need to do any hard labor, so my skin really became more fragile. Duan Lang, where should I bite you next? I’ll bite you wherever you tell me to; I always obey you.”
Duan Zhengchun smiled and said, “Little Kang, even after you bite me to death, I won’t leave your side.”
Madam Ma asked, “What are you up to?”
Duan Zhengchun said, “When a wife conspires to murder her husband, her dead husband’s spirit will never scatter and will always linger by her side to prevent a second man from getting close to her.”
Duan Zhengchun originally only wanted to scare her a little with these words to warn her not to be too malicious. Unexpectedly, after Madam Ma heard this, her complexion changed greatly, and she couldn’t help but take a look behind her. Duan Zhengchun seized the chance to say, “Yi! Who’s that person behind you?”
Madam Ma was scared and asked, “Who’s behind me? Nonsense.”
Duan Zhengchun said, “Mm, it’s a man smiling at you. He’s holding onto his throat as if it hurts a lot. Who’s that, wearing ragged clothes, continuously shedding tears...”
Madam Ma quickly turned around, saw no one, and said in a trembling voice, “You’re deceiving me...you’re deceiving me!”
Duan Zhengchun originally spoke thoughtlessly, but when he saw her abnormally alarmed, he immediately became suspicious. He began having second thoughts and faintly felt that perhaps there was something fishy about Ma Dayuan’s death. He knew that Ma Dayuan had died under the ‘Throat-Lock Capturing Technique,’ so he deliberately said that the person seemed as if his throat hurt a lot, was shedding tears, and wore ragged clothing. Sure enough, Madam Ma was greatly alarmed. Duan Zhengchun guessed another thirty percent and said, “Ah, how strange, how come this man disappeared in the blink of an eye? Who is he?”
Madam Ma’s complexion was already extremely frightened, but at this moment she was still as calm as usual and said, “Duan Lang, now that you have reached this stage today, what’s the point in scaring me? You know that not cursing won’t do. The two of us were once together; now let me give you a straightforward breakup.” Saying this, she took a step forward and held out her hand to push the dagger handle.
Duan Zhengchun, knowing that he could no longer stall for time, stared behind her and shouted loudly, “Ma Dayuan, Ma Dayuan, hurry and kill your wife!”
Madam Ma, upon seeing that his face showed an abnormally terrified expression, and furthermore upon hearing him shout ‘Ma Dayuan,’ couldn’t help but tremble all over and turned around to take a look. Duan Zhengchun exerted all of his effort to stick out his head and strike her chin. Madam Ma immediately fell down and fainted.
Duan Zhengchun didn’t actually use his internal energy in this strike. Although Madam Ma fainted for a moment, she woke up after a short while and leisurely stood up. Stroking her lower jaw, she smiled and said, “Duan Lang, you love so barbarically and struck me so painfully here. You fabricated these words to scare me, but I won’t be fooled by you.”
With this strike, Duan Zhengchun had already exhausted all the strength that he had gathered for a long time. Inwardly he sighed and thought, “My fate is thus; what can a man say!” Having second thoughts, he said, “Little Kang, you’ll kill me just like this? Then when members of the Beggars Clan accuse you of murdering your husband, who will come to help you?”
Madam Ma laughed and said, “Who said I killed my husband? It’s not like you’re my husband. If you were really my husband, there wouldn’t be enough time to pity and love you, so how would I be willing to harm you? After I kill you, I’ll escape far away and won’t stay here. How would I be able to deal with your Dali subjects when they come searching for you?” She sighed serenely and said, “Duan Lang, I truly miss you and love you, and only hope to hold you in my bosom, kiss you, and dote on you. But only because I cannot have you, I must destroy you. This is my natural temperament and can’t be helped.”
Duan Zhengchun said, “Mm, yes, that day you deliberately deceived that young lady and wanted to use Qiao Feng to kill me.”
Madam Ma said, “Yes, Qiao Feng, that manservant is so useless. He couldn’t even kill you and let you escape.”
Xiao Feng thought, “The skill of Azhu’s disguise as Bai Shijing was so divine that even I couldn’t tell the difference. Madam Ma and Bai Shijing aren’t familiar with each other, so how did she see through the scheme?”
Madam Ma said, “Duan Lang, I want to take another bite of you.”
Duan Zhengchun smiled and said, “Come bite me then. There’s nothing I like better.” Xiao Feng, seeing that he couldn’t delay any longer, extended his fist, pressed it above the clay wall behind Duan Zhengchun, and secretly applied force. The clay wall wasn’t very firm in the first place, so he inserted his fist slowly and finally pierced a hole soundlessly, his palm pressing against Duan Zhengchun’s back.
At this moment, Madam Ma bit off another chunk of flesh from Duan Zhengchun’s shoulder. Duan Zhengchun shouted out loudly, his body trembling. Suddenly he felt that his hands were free. The ox tendon rope that bound his wrists had already been torn off by Xiao Feng’s fingers. At the same time, extremely profound internal energy rushed into all of his channels.
Duan Zhengchun was startled, knowing that strong assistance had arrived from outside. His breath could move at will, and the internal energy was transferred from his back to his arm, then to his finger. With a “chi” sound, the remarkable “Yiyang Finger” was activated. Madam Ma was hit under the ribs by his finger, and shrieking “aiyo,” she fell on the bed.
Xiao Feng, seeing that Duan Zhengchun had already gotten Madam Ma under control, withdrew his hand immediately.
Duan Zhengchun wanted to express thanks, but suddenly the doorway curtain was lifted and a person walked in. That person said, “Little Kang, your old affection for him hasn’t ceased, right? How could you not cleanly do him in after destroying his great martial arts?”
When Xiao Feng saw that person through the window, he was dazed, alarmed, and angry. In this short period of time, many suspicions existed in his mind, and now all of them were unraveled. That day when Madam Ma was in the Apricot Forest in Wuxi, she had taken out the folding fan that he often used, and falsely accused him of going into the Ma home to steal a letter and losing it there. Where did she obtain this folding fan? If it had been stolen by someone, it was bound to be someone extremely close to him. In that case, who was it?
This great secret that he was a Khitan had been concealed for so many years. How could it have been so suddenly revealed? Azhu’s disguise as Bai Shijing was originally flawless, so how could Madam Ma have seen through it?
So the person who had walked in was actually the Beggars Clan’s Law Enforcement Elder, Bai Shijing.
Frightened, Madam Ma said, “He...he hasn’t lost his martial arts, and he sealed...sealed my acupoint.”
Bai Shijing leaped forward and grabbed Duan Zhengchun’s hands. With two “kala” sounds, he twisted and broke his wrists. Duan Zhengchun had absolutely no strength to resist. The internal energy breath that Xiao Feng had transferred to him only lasted for a short while; as soon as Xiao Feng withdrew his hand, he became a crippled person again.
After seeing Bai Shijing, Xiao Feng’s thoughts bubbled forth like a tide in an instant. He didn’t expect that he would have to help Duan Zhengchun again, and also didn’t expect that Bai Shijing would immediately use evil methods. When he awoke from his daze, Duan Zhengchun’s wrists had already been broken. He thought, “This person is loose and lascivious, so letting him suffer a little more today is a good thing. On account of Azhu, I will always save his life in the end.”
Bai Shijing said, “Surnamed Duan, look at how you don’t use your good skills. After eating the ‘Ten Fragrance Bewitching Powder’, you still have thirty percent of your martial arts left.”
Although Duan Zhengchun didn’t know who had extended his palm to help him from outside the wall, but it was bound to be a highly skilled person. It was true that at present he had another strong enemy, but great assistance was behind him, so he didn’t panic. Judging from Bai Shijing’s tone, it was obvious that he didn’t know that he had a helper. Thus he asked, “Honored sir, are you an elder of the Beggars Clan? You and I are total strangers, so why would you immediately resort to evil methods?”
Bai Shijing walked over to Madam Ma’s side and massaged her waist a few times. The Duan family’s ‘Yiyang Finger’s’ pressure point martial arts was exceedingly marvelous, so although Bai Shijing’s martial arts wasn’t weak, he was unable to unseal her acupoint. Frowning, he asked, “How are you feeling?” His tone was deeply concerned.
Madam Ma said, “My hands and feet are limp and painful, so I can’t take a single step. Shijing, do him in, and then let’s leave quickly. I don’t want to stay in this room...this room any longer.”
Duan Zhengchun suddenly laughed loudly and said, “Little Kang, how could it be that you...you haven’t improved at all? Haha, haha!”
Madam Ma smiled and said, “Duan Lang, you have such a good personality that even when death is imminent, you can still laugh so happily and freely.”
Bai Shijing said angrily, “You still call him ‘Duan Lang’? You sl*t.” With a slap of his hand, he heavily struck her by her ear. Madam Ma’s snow white right cheek immediately became red and swollen, and it was so painful that her tears flowed.
Duan Zhengchun shouted angrily, “Stop, why are you hitting her?”
Bai Shijing laughed coldly and said, “On what basis do you have the right to care? She’s mine. If I want to hit her I’ll hit her, if I want to scold her I’ll scold her.”
Duan Zhengchun said, “Such a flower-like and jade-like beauty, how can you bear to hit her? Even if she’s yours, you should gain her favor in a low voice and coax her to be happy.”
Madam Ma glared at Bai Shijing and said, “Listen! Listen to how he treats me, but how do you treat me? You’re not even ashamed.”
Bai Shijing scolded, “Little wh*re, see if I don’t roast you. Surnamed Duan, I’m certainly not going to listen to you. You know how to gain women’s favor, but how come she wants to harm you? Please, next year on this day is your anniversary of death.” Saying this, he took one step forward and held out his hand to push in the dagger in his chest.
Xiao Feng’s right palm extended into the hole in the clay wall again. If Bai Shijing walked another half step closer, he would immediately send out his palm
At this moment, a gust of strong wind blew open the doorway curtain. With a “hu” sound, the strong wind blew everywhere and extinguished the flames of the two candles at the same time. The room was immediately plunged into darkness.
Madam Ma cried out “ah” in fear. Bai Shijing knew that an enemy had arrived, and at this moment he had no time to kill Duan Zhengchun. It was more urgent to face the enemy, so he shouted loudly, “Who’s there?” He protected his chest with both palms and turned his body around. The gust of strong wind that extinguished the candle flames had obviously been sent out by a person of extremely high martial arts. But after the candle flames were extinguished, there was even less movement. Bai Shijing, Duan Zhengchun, Madam Ma, and Xiao Feng stared and faintly saw that the room already contained another person.
Madam Ma was the first to lose her calm and shouted sharply, “Someone’s here, someone’s here!” This person blocked the door, hands drooping down, facial features unclear, and stood motionless.
Bai Shijing asked loudly, “Who is it?” He took one step forward. That person was silent and motionless. Bai Shijing shouted loudly, “If you don’t respond, then I won’t be polite.” He knew from the newcomer’s palm strength in extinguishing the candle flames that his martial arts were extremely powerful, so he didn’t dare to hastily make a move. That person still remained motionless, and in the darkness seemed like an eerie ghost.
Upon seeing the newcomer’s appearance, Duan Zhengchun and Xiao Feng had the same suspicions in their minds. “This person’s martial arts are formidable. Who could it be?”
Madam Ma shouted sharply, “Go light the candle flames! I’m scared, I’m scared!”
Bai Shijing shouted loudly, “Wh*re, stop talking nonsense!” If he acted as she said and turned around to light the candle flames, he would be immediately betraying his vital back to the enemy. He protected his chest with both palms with the intention of waiting for his opponent to make a move first. Unexpectedly, that person was motionless all along. The two of them were in opposition in this way for practically two hours. Of course Xiao Feng wouldn’t make any sounds, and Duan Zhengchun said nothing. It was silent all around; even the sound of falling snowflakes could practically be heard.
Finally Bai Shijing was unable to keep his calm and shouted, “Since you won’t respond, I’ll have to commit an offense.” At this moment, seeing that his opponent still made no moves, he immediately flipped over his hands and took out a cleaved armor steel awl from his bosom and leapt up. Light flashed in the darkness and the steel awl was swiftly thrust at that person’s chest.
With a flash, that person tilted his body and dodged out of the way. Bai Shijing felt a gust of strong wind pressing directly towards him, and his opponent’s fingers had already grabbed his throat. This move was extremely fast; he hadn’t yet withdrawn his own steel awl when his opponent’s fingers had already suddenly caught his throat. This time, he was so utterly scared that his spirit was no longer attached to his body, and he hastily leapt back. In a trembling voice he said, “You... you...”
What he was truly afraid of was not that his opponent’s martial arts were powerful, but rather that just now, that person had actually used the ‘Throat-Lock Capturing Technique.’ This set of martial arts was the supreme skill of Ma Dayuan’s family. Apart from members of the Ma family, no one was able to use it. Bai Shijing and Ma Dayuan were friends for a long time, so naturally he understood his friend’s family’s martial arts. His back dripped with cold sweat and he stared at that person, only seeing that his figure was extremely tall, the same as Ma Dayuan, but his appearance was indistinct in the darkness. That person was still silent and motionless, gloomy and ghostly from head to toe. Bai Shijing felt a faint pain in his neck, and believed that it had been pricked by his fingernail. He composed himself and asked, “Honored sir, is your surname Ma?” That person seemed deaf and ignored him.
Bai Shijing said, “Little wh*re, light the candles.”
Madam Ma said, “I can’t move. You should light them.”
But how could Bai Shijing dare to move casually and give him an opening? He thought, “This person’s martial arts are obviously better than mine. If he wants to rescue Duan Zhengchun, he doesn’t need to wait for others to come and help him. Why doesn’t he pursue and attack after one move?”
It was silent again for a long time. Suddenly, Bai Shijing detected a strange occurrence. Although everyone was silent and motionless in the room, there was still the sound of breathing. There was the sound of Madam Ma’s breathing, Duan Zhengchun’s breathing, and his own breathing, but the person standing opposite him made no breathing sounds.
Bai Shijing held his breath and listened carefully. With his cultivated internal energy, he should have been able to hear the sound of breathing of any person in the room, but the person opposite him didn’t breathe. After a very long time, that person still didn’t breathe. If he was a living person, how could he not breathe?
Bai Shijing heard the sound of his own heartbeat: pu, pu, pu, pu...he heard the sound of his heartbeat becoming louder and louder and felt his chest violently thumping. His heart seemed as if it was going to jump out of its cavity. Unable to exercise restraint any longer, he charged at that person with a loud shout. His cleaved armor awl slashed repeatedly, thrusting towards that person.
With a brush of that person’s left hand, he blocked Bai Shijing’s right arm. His right hand stretched forward to grab at his throat. Bai Shijing was already guarded against his use of the ‘Throat-Lock Capturing Technique’ again, so he lowered his head and dodged under his armpit. But that person didn’t pursue and attack, and instead only blankly stood at the doorway. Bai Shijing raised the awl to stab at his leg, and that person leaped straight up to avoid it. Madam Ma, upon seeing that this person’s figure was stiff and that he didn’t bend his knees when leaping up, couldn’t help but blurt out, “Zombie, zombie!”
With a “teng” sound, that person fell down heavily. Bai Shijing felt even more scared and thought, “If this person is a martial arts expert, then how can he be so clumsy in his rising and falling movements? Could it be that there are really zombies in this world?”
Bai Shijing hesitated slightly, raised his monkey-like body, and with three “chi” sounds, the cleaved armor awl was thrust at that person’s lower body three times. Indeed that person’s knees were unable to bend. He only dodged stiffly, jump by jump, apparently unable to even take steps. When Bai Shijing thrust to the left, he dodged by leaping to the right; when he thrust to the right, he just dodged to the left. Bai Shijing discovered his opponent’s weakness, and the fear in his heart disappeared. But he felt more and more that this wasn’t a living person, and he thrust the awl several times again. Although his opponent’s movements were clumsy, the exquisite variations of his awl technique were all along unable to harm him.
Suddenly, his neck felt cold, and a large ice-cold hand touched him. Bai Shijing was extremely shocked and violently brandished the awl to thrust behind him. With a light “chi” sound, he thrust into the empty air, but that person’s large hand had already grabbed the back of his neck. Bai Shijing’s entire body was limp and painful, he was no longer able to take a single step, and he could only repeatedly pant for breath with “hu hu hu” sounds.
Madam Ma shouted loudly, “Shijing, Shijing, what’s wrong?”
How could Bai Shijing still have spare energy to respond? He only felt that his body’s internal energy was in the process of being squeezed out bit by bit by the large hand on the back of his neck.
Suddenly, a large hand, as ice-cold as iron, touched his face. This hand was seriously not a human hand and completely lacked any warmth. Bai Shijing also couldn’t help but shout out, “Zombie! Zombie!” His voice was shrill and terrified. Starting from his forehead, that large hand slowly moved down and touched his eyes, the fingers sliding back and forth over his eyeballs. Bai Shijing was so scared that he nearly fainted. With only a slight exertion of force, his opponent’s fingers could immediately dig out his eyeballs. But this cold hand moved down again, touching his nose and then touching his mouth. Inch by inch it moved down and finally caught his throat. Two ice-cold fingers clasped his Adam’s apple, gradually tightening.
Bai Shijing was infinitely surprised and shouted, “Brother Dayuan, spare me! Spare me!”
Madam Ma shouted sharply, “What...what did you say?”
Bai Shijing shouted, “Brother Dayuan, it was all this cheap wh*re’s idea, it was she who forced me to do it, it has...it has nothing to do with me!”
Madam Ma said angrily, “So what if it was my idea? Ma Dayuan, you were a useless weakling in life, and now what can you do in death? I’m not afraid of you.”
Bai Shijing felt that when he had spoken up and blamed someone else, the fingers on his throat had loosened slightly. When he stopped talking, the ice-cold fingers slowly tightened again. His heart was frenzied, and when he heard Madam Ma calling him ‘Ma Dayuan,’ he was even more convinced that this monster was precisely Ma Dayuan’s zombie. He shouted, “Brother Dayuan, spare me! Your wife stealthily read Chief Wang’s will and urged you again and again to expose the secret of Qiao Feng’s birth, but you were certainly unwilling... so she... she conceived a scheme to harm you...”
Xiao Feng’s heart trembled; he obviously didn’t believe in ghosts, and was certain that it was a famous martial arts expert deliberately pretending to be a ghost to make Bai Shijing and Madam Ma frantic. That way he could seize the chance to demand a confession from the two of them. Sure enough, Bai Shijing was both mentally and physically exhausted, and let it out. Judging from what he said, Ma Dayuan was killed by the two of them, with Madam Ma being the chief schemer. The reason for Madam Ma wanting to kill her husband lay in her wanting to expose the secret of his own birth, but Ma Dayuan hadn’t allowed it. “Why does she hate me so much? Why must she overthrow me? If she wanted to make her husband the chief, then she shouldn’t have harmed her husband.”
Madam Ma shouted sharply, “Ma Dayuan, you should just strangle me to death. I hate seeing your worthless appearance! You’re a coward who can’t undertake any great matters!”
With a light “kala” sound, a piece of Bai Shijing’s throat cartilage was broken. Bai Shijing struggled desperately, but was completely unable to escape from that person’s palm. After another “kala” sound, his throat shattered. He loudly inhaled a few breaths, but the breaths could never be absorbed into his body again. His limbs convulsed, and his breathing promptly stopped.
After strangling Bai Shijing to death, that person turned around and went out the door, disappearing without a trace.
Xiao Feng thought, “Who is this person? I need to chase after him and investigate clearly.” At once he floated over to the front door. Under the reflection of the white snow, a faint human shadow could be seen gradually going in a northeast direction. Had his eyesight not been exceptionally good, he really wouldn’t have been able to see it.
Xiao Feng thought, “This person’s movements are so fast!” He bent over and tapped the shoulder of AhZi, who lay beside his feet. His internal energy was sent out and he unsealed her acupoint. He thought, “Madam Ma doesn’t know martial arts. This little girl is enough to rescue her father.” He didn’t have time to unseal the acupoints of Ruan Xingzhu and the others. Taking large strides, he rapidly pursued the person ahead of him.
After a while of swift running, the distance between them was no more than a hundred feet. At this moment he saw clearly that sure enough, that person was a martial arts expert. At this moment he wasn’t jumping with straightened legs, and his footsteps were relaxed, as if he were gliding on the snow. Xiao Feng’s qinggong (lightnss skill) originated from Shaolin, and he had also been educated by Chief Wang of the Beggars Clan, a purely masculine sect. He took one large stride, covering ten feet, and his body leaped into the air. He took another stride, and although his movements weren’t very elegant or graceful, they were extremely suitable for hastening on a long journey. After more pursuing, he became closer to that person by ten feet.
After running for approximately the time it took for half an incense stick to burn, the footsteps of the person ahead suddenly accelerated. Like a sailboat that had absorbed a lot of wind, he galloped fiercely with the flow, and in just a moment, the distance between him and Xiao Feng lengthened again. Xiao Feng was secretly apprehensive and thought, “This person is seriously formidable, and is truly one of the top experts in Wulin. Had he not been this kind of person, he wouldn’t have been able to kill Bai Shijing when he raised his hand.”
Xiao Feng was naturally different from others, and was truly a genius in martial arts. The martial arts of the masters he had learned from, Great Master XuanKu and Chief Wang, were already extremely high. But Xiao Feng was like blue emerging from green, and far surpassed his two masters. Any ordinary move in his hands would naturally send out unparalleled tremendous power. Everyone who knew him well said that this kind of martial arts gift was inherent, and couldn’t be obtained by being taught or by painstaking practice. Xiao Feng himself couldn’t explain why, and was only aware that once he learned any move, he could use it, and once he could use it, he could master it. When facing the enemy, he naturally had many ingenious variations. But apart from martial arts, he was nothing more than average and no different than ordinary people, whether in studying books or in craftsmanship. In his entire life he rarely encountered a worthy match. Many powerful enemies had more profound internal energy and more ingenious moves than he did, but once they fought, they would always lose at the most crucial moment by one and a half stances, and moreover be sincerely convinced in their loss and ready to concede. Knowing that in the end they could never match him, no one had ever sought him for revenge to expunge their humiliation.
Now that he had encountered an opponent with such superior qinggong, his heroic ambition couldn’t help but suddenly arise. He accelerated his footsteps and caught up again. The two of them galloped northeast, one ahead and one behind, Xiao Feng all along unable to overtake him, and that person also unable to throw him off. After two hours, after four hours, the two of them had already run a hundred or more li, and were still neither too near nor too distant.
After another hour, the sky gradually brightened, and the heavy snow had already ceased. Xiao Feng saw a small town below a distant hillside, the houses lined up closely like the scales on a fish, and heard the sound of chickens heralding the break of day. His wine craving suddenly arose and he shouted, “Brother ahead of me, I invite you to drink twenty bowls of wine. Then let’s continue to compete in foot strength, all right?” That person didn’t respond, and still ran rapidly with energy. Xiao Feng smiled and said, “You put to death Bai Shijing, that wicked traitor. You’re truly a formidable hero. Xiao Feng concedes defeat; my qinggong is inferior to yours. Let’s buy wine to drink and not compete, not compete.” He spoke as he ran, his feet not slowing in the slightest.
That person suddenly halted and said, “Qiao Feng’s power shakes Jianghu. Sure enough your reputation is well-deserved. While you spoke, you still transferred your real breath naturally. Truly heroic, truly gallant!”
Xiao Feng heard his indistinct voice, which was conspicuously old, so his age should be much greater than his own. He said, “Senior overpraises me. Junior claims connections of higher status and wishes to be friends with senior. I wonder if you’ll dislike it?”
That person sighed and said, “I’m getting old and useless! Don’t chase after me. If we run for another two hours, I’ll lose to you!” As he said this, he walked slowly onward.
Xiao Feng wanted to chase after him and talk to him more, but he had only taken one stride when he thought, “He asked me to not chase after him.” He then recalled that the heroes in the Central Plains despised him, and was afraid that this person also disdained and hated Khitans. At once he stopped and saw that person’s rear view gradually getting distant. After he entered a forest, he sighed and thought, “This person’s qinggong is wonderful and his internal energy is long-lasting. What a pity that I couldn’t meet him!” He then thought, “His voice was indistinct, and he had obviously deliberately lowered his voice so that I couldn’t recognize it. He didn’t even want me to hear his voice clearly, let alone meet him.”
After thinking for a long time, he finally entered the small town, went to a small wine shop, bought wine, and drank. Every time he drank one or two bowls, he clapped the table and boasted, “Good man, good fellow, ai, what a pity, what a pity!”
He said “good man, good fellow” to praise that person’s formidable martial arts, and also because he had handled killing Bai Shijing extremely appropriately. He then stated that it was a pity because he was sighing that he had been unable to become friends with him. He usually loved friends as much as his life. Npw, after being expelled from the Beggars Clan and furthermore developing deep enmity with the heroes of the Central Plains, and having cleanly broken off from his former friends, he was extremely depressed. Today, having unexpectedly encountered a hero whose martial arts were at a level similar to his own, yet having no chance to get to know him, he could only wash away his worries with wine. But the many suspicions that had accumulated in his heart for a long time were already solved, so he also felt greatly happy.
After drinking more than twenty bowls of wine and paying the wine money, he rose and left, thinking, “I wonder how Duan Zhengchun is doing? Ruan Xingzhu and Qin Hongmian’s acupoints have been sealed by me, so I must return and help them.” Thus he took large strides and returned to the Ma home.
On the way back he never used his full strength, so his journey by foot was far slower. By the time he returned to the Ma home, it was already past noon. He didn’t see a single person on the snowy ground outside the house. Ruan Xingzhu and the others weren’t there; he presumed that AhZi had already carried them into the house. He pushed open the door and entered the room, seeing Bai Shijing's corpse still fallen beside the door. Duan Zhengchun wasn’t there. A woman was leaning on the side of the bed, her entire body covered with blood. She was precisely Madam Ma.
She heard the sound of footsteps, turned around, and said in a low voice, “Be charitable, quick, quickly kill me!”
Xiao Feng saw that her face was gray and defeated. In only one night, it seemed as if she had gotten older by twenty or thirty years, and she had become extremely ugly. He asked, “Where is Duan Zhengchun?”
Madam Ma said, “He was saved by this...this evil person! Ah!” Suddenly, she let out a great shout, her voice sharp and extremely earsplitting.
Xiao Feng was caught off guard and given a scare by her. He retreated a step and asked, “What are you doing?”
Madam Ma gasped for breath and asked, “You’re... you’re Chief... Qiao?”
Xiao Feng laughed bitterly and said, “I’ve long since ceased to be chief of the Beggars Clan. Don’t tell me that you didn’t know?”
Madam Ma said, “Yes, you’re Chief Qiao. Chief Qiao, please be charitable and quickly kill me.”
Xiao Feng frowned and said, “I don’t want to kill you. You killed your husband, so naturally there will be members of the Beggars Clan who will do you in.”
Madam Ma pleaded, “I...I really can’t bear it any longer. That little sl*t’s methods are so venomous. I...I won’t let her off even when I become a ghost. You...you take a look...at my body.”
She was leaning in the dark, so Xiao Feng couldn’t see clearly. Having heard what she said, he went over and pushed open the window. Bright light entered the room, and after one glance, he couldn’t help but slightly tremble. He saw Madam Ma’s shoulders, arms, chest, thighs, everywhere cut by someone’s knife into strips of wounds. There were actually densely packed ants crawling on the wounds. Upon seeing her wounds, Xiao Feng knew that the tendons of her four limbs and waist joints had been severed by someone, and she would never be able to move a single step. Acupoints could be unsealed and movement restored, but since her tendons and veins were broken, then they could never be healed, and from now on she would be a paralyzed cripple. But how could there actually be so many ants on her wounds?
Madam Ma said in a trembling voice, “That little sl*t broken the tendons of my hands and feet, and cut wounds on me from head to toe, then...then she poured sweetened honey water on the wounds...she said that the sweetened honey water would attract ants that would bite my entire body, making me ache, numb, and itch for several days and nights and causing me to suffer all kinds of miseries. She said that she would make me unable to beg for either life or death.”
Xiao Feng felt that he couldn’t take another look at her wounds without doing something. He definitely wasn’t a person with a soft heart, but he killed and burned, always fond of being frank and straightforward. He never used malicious methods to torment enemies. He sighed, turned around, and went into the kitchen. He came out carrying a large barrel of water and splashed it on her body, exempting her from the suffering of her body being gnawed by a pack of ants.
Madam Ma said, “Thank you. You have a good conscience. I won’t be able to live. Be charitable and kill me with one strike of the blade.”
Xiao Feng asked, “Who...who slashed you?”
Madam Ma gnashed her teeth and said, “It was that little sl*t. She’s so young, not past fifteen or sixteen years of age, but her heart and methods are so venomous...”
Xiao Feng was alarmed and asked, “It was AhZi?”
Madam Ma said, “Correct, I heard that sl*tty woman call her that. She told her to quickly kill me. But this AhZi, this little sl*t, insisted on slowly and deliberately punishing me. She said that she wanted to avenge her father and give vent to her mother’s anger, and wanted me to suffer such endless misery...”
Xiao Feng thought, “I was afraid that Qin Hongmian and Ruan Xingzhu would drink vinegar (be jealous) and kill Madam Ma. Without her alive, I wouldn’t be able to interrogate her. Who would’ve thought that AhZi, this little girl, is so cruel and malicious.” He frowned and said, “Duan Zhengchun had a love affair with you in past days, but when he saw his daughter tormenting you so cruelly, don’t tell me that he actually didn’t put a stop to it?”
Madam Ma said, “At that time he was already unconscious and unaware of all human affairs. That was...that was caused by the ‘Ten Fragrance Bewitching Powder’.”
Xiao Feng nodded and said, “That’s right. Considering that he’s a hero who can distinguish right from wrong, how could he condone his daughter committing outrages? Hmm, what about those women?”
Madam Ma groaned and said, “Don’t ask, don’t ask, quickly kill me.”
Xiao Feng snorted and said, “If you don’t respond, then I’ll pour some more sweetened honey water on your wounds and leave, letting you perish on your own.”
Madam Ma said, “You men...are all so heartless and malicious...”
Xiao Feng asked, “So your method of murdering Brother Ma wasn’t malicious?”
Madam Ma was surprised and asked, “How...how do you know everything? Who told you?”
Xiao Feng said coldly, “It’s me asking you, not you asking me. It’s you pleading with me, not me pleading with you. Hurry up and speak!”
Madam Ma said, “Fine, I’ll tell you everything. AhZi that little sl*t punished me and her mother repeatedly shouted for her to stop, but AhZi only laughed happily and didn’t listen. Her mother’s acupoint had already been sealed by someone, so she was unable to take a single step. Not much later, five or six of Duan Zhengchun’s subordinates arrived. AhZi that little sl*t carried her mother, father, Qin Hongmian, and Qin Hongmian’s daughter out of the room one by one, but didn’t allow anyone to enter the room so as to prevent them from seeing me. Duan Zhengchun’s subordinates rode on horseback, so they picked them up and left.”
Xiao Feng nodded and thought, “Since Duan Zhengchun was picked up by his subordinates and Ruan Xingzhu and the other two’s sealed acupoints will naturally unseal after several hours, I don’t need to pay attention to them.”
Madam Ma said, “I’ve told you everything, you...you should quickly kill me.”
Xiao Feng said, “It’s not likely that you told everything, right? Isn’t dying easy? Living is what’s difficult. Why did you murder Brother Ma?”
Madam Ma’s eyes glinted viciously and she asked hatefully, “Do you have to ask no matter what?”
Xiao Feng said, “Correct, I have to ask no matter what. I’m a hard-hearted man and won’t take pity on you.”
Madam Ma spat and said, “Of course your heart is as hard as steel. Don’t tell me that if you didn’t say so, I wouldn’t know? You caused me to fall into my present condition. You’re haughty and arrogant, you animal who puts yourself above other people! You Khitan prisoner of war who is worse than pigs and dogs, after death you’ll fall into the eighteenth level of hell and be tormented by evil spirits every day. Why don’t you dare to spill sweetened honey water on my wounds? You mixed breed dog, you bastard...” The more she cursed him, the more vicious she became. Clearly all the complaints and anger that she had accumulated in her heart had to be vented no matter what. Later she cursed him with obscene language, filthy and vile beyond imagination.
From childhood Xiao Feng had hung out with other beggars, so he was used to hearing all sorts of vulgar language. When he was tipsy and merry with the others, he would often use vulgar words to curse people. But it was really far beyond his expectations to hear Madam Ma, who had always been refined and elegant, now cursing him so vigorously and fiercely. Moreover, he had never even heard of many of these dirty and obscene words.
He didn’t make a sound and waited as she cursed heartily. Her face had originally been pale, but during the excitement of her venomous cursing, her entire face became very red and her eyes revealed a happy expression. After cursing him for quite a while, her voice gradually lowered and she finally said, “Qiao Feng, you traitorous dog, you caused me to reach this stage today. See if you don’t die a terrible death in the future.”
Xiao Feng asked calmly, “Are you done cursing?”
Madam Ma said, “For now I won’t curse you, but I’ll continue after I take a rest. You mixed breed dog without a father or mother! As long as this old woman still has one breath remaining, I’ll never finish cursing you.”
Xiao Feng said, “Very good, just curse me. The first time I met you was in the Apricot Forest outside Wuxi. At that time Brother Ma had already been killed by you. In the past you and I were total strangers, so how could you say that it was I who caused you to reach this stage today?”
Madam Ma said hatefully, “Ha, you say that the first time you met me was outside Wuxi. It’s precisely these words, correct, all because of these words. You haughty, arrogant guy who thinks your martial arts are number one in the world!”
She started another bout of cursing that lasted for quite a while.
Xiao Feng let her curse him freely. When her voice weakened, he asked, “Are you done cursing?”
Madam Ma said hatefully, “I’ll never have enough of it, you...you guy who puts yourself above everyone else, even if you’re the emperor, you’re not necessarily extraordinary.”
Xiao Feng said, “Correct, even if I’m the emperor, what’s so extraordinary about that? I’ve never considered myself to be unequalled in the world, just now...just now, the martial arts of that person were better than mine.”
Madam Ma didn’t pay attention to who he was talking about. She only mumbled curses, and after cursing for another while, she said, “You say that you met me for the first time outside Wuxi, humph, so you didn’t see me at the Hundred Flower Gathering in Luoyang?”
Xiao Feng stared blankly. The Hundred Flower Gathering in Luoyang took place two years ago. He had gone with many brothers of the Beggars Clan to the gathering, played rock-paper-scissors and drank wine, and had a carefree time. But no matter what he couldn’t remember having met her at the gathering. He said, “That time Brother Ma went, but he didn’t take you to meet me.”
Madam Ma cursed, “What kind of thing are you? You’re only the leader of a bunch of beggars. What’s so special about that? That day at the Hundred Flower Gathering, I stood beside that yellow peony. Which of the heroes at the gathering didn’t take a look at me? If you seriously didn’t see me, then fine, I wouldn’t blame you. But you clearly saw me yet ignored me. Your gaze swept past my face and didn’t even stop for a moment, as if I were no different from an ordinary woman. Hypocrite, shameless man.”
Xiao Feng slowly understood and said, “Right, I remember now. That day beside the peony flower, it seemed like there really were several woman. At that time I was solely engrossed in drinking wine, and didn’t spare any effort to look at whatever peonies, men, or women there were. If it was a senior female hero, then of course I would go up and pay my respects. But you’re my sister-in-law, so if I didn’t look at you, what kind of serious lacking in manners would that be? Why should you remember it and hate me so much?”
Madam Ma said fiercely, “Don’t tell me that you weren’t born with eyeballs? No matter how famous they were, all the heroes looked at me from head to toe. Some of the people of virtue and prestige, even if they didn’t dare to look at me directly, when other people weren’t paying attention, they still always secretly looked at me a few times. Only you, only you...humph, out of the more than one thousand men at the Hundred Flower Gathering, only you didn’t look at me the entire time. You were the great leader of the Beggars Clan, a hero famous throughout the world. At the Hundred Flower Gathering, the men considered you to be in first place, and the women naturally considered me to be number one. Since you actually didn’t properly take a few looks at me, no matter how beautiful I was, what was the point? When over a thousand men toppled over for me, how could I feel good?”
Xiao Feng sighed and said, “As a child I didn’t like to play with girls. After I grew older, even more so I didn’t spare any effort to look at women. It’s not like I didn’t look at only you. Originally I didn’t even pay attention to a woman who’s a hundred times more beautiful than you. Afterwards, it was too late...”
Madam Ma said sharply, “What? A woman who’s a hundred times more beautiful than me? Who is it? Who is it?”
Xiao Feng said, “It’s Duan Zhengchun’s daughter, AhZi’s older sister.”
Madam Ma spat a mouthful of saliva and said, “Pei, this kind of sl*tty woman, how could you still mention her...”
She hadn’t finished her sentence when Xiao Feng grabbed her hair, lifted her body, and heavily threw her back down onto the ground. He said, “If you dare to say another half a sentence that disrespects her, humph, I’ll let you have a taste of my venomous methods.”
When Madam Ma was thrown down by him, she practically fainted, and all the bones in her body rattled. Suddenly she laughed loudly and said, “So...so our Great Chief Qiao was enchanted by this little b*tch, haha, haha, so funny. You can no longer be the chief of the Beggars Clan, so now you want to be the husband of the princess of Dali. Chief Qiao, I know that you won’t look at any women.”
Xiao Feng’s knees weakened and he sat down on a chair. He said slowly, “I only hope to look at her one more time, but... but... I can never see her again.”
Madam Ma smiled coldly and said, “Why? If you want her, on the basis of your martial arts, don’t tell me that you can’t snatch her?”
Xiao Feng shook his head and said nothing. After a long time, he finally said, “Even if I have heavenly skills, I can’t snatch her back.”
Madam Ma was extremely happy and asked, “Why? Haha, haha.”
Xiao Feng said in a low voice, “She’s dead.”
Madam Ma’s laughter suddenly stopped, and she felt slightly apologetic, feeling that this arrogant and haughty Chief Qiao was somewhat pitiful. But immediately her face revealed a smile, and her smile became more and more happy.
Xiao Feng saw her smile and immediately realized that she was happy because he was brokenhearted. He stood up and said, “You murdered your husband, and even death can’t wipe out your crime. What else do you have to say?”
When Madam Ma heard that he was going to kill her, she suddenly became afraid and pleaded, “You... you spare me, don’t kill me.”
Xiao Feng said, “Fine, I don’t need to in the first place.” He stepped out.
Upon seeing that he had stepped out of the room without even turning around, the anger in Madam Ma’s heart grew again. She said loudly, “Qiao Feng, you dog traitor, back then I was angry that you didn’t even take one look at me, so I told Ma Dayuan to expose your scar. Ma Dayuan was unwilling no matter what, so I told Bai Shijing to kill Ma Dayuan. The way you...you treat me today, your heart is still not the slightest bit moved.”
Xiao Feng turned around and said coldly, “You murdered your husband just because I never took one look at you. Humph, who would believe such a huge lie?”
Madam Ma said, “I’ll be dead any moment now. Why would I deceive you? Originally, what method did I have? I could only hate you for a lifetime. Not only did those smelly beggars revere you as a deity, but who in the world dared to offend you? But heaven has eyes, and that day let me discover Chief Wang’s will in Ma Dayuan’s safe. What was so hard about stealthily tearing open this letter without damaging the envelope’s sealing wax, and then sealing it again after reading it? I stealthily read that letter and found out information worth celebrating. Can you imagine how happy I was at that moment? Haha, that was precisely the golden opportunity for me to vent the resentment in my heart. I wanted you to suffer a complete defeat and fall from grace, to never be able to flaunt around as a hero. I wanted Ma Dayuan to expose you in public and let all the heroes of the world know that you’re a Khitan prisoner of war. I wanted you to not only be unable to remain chief of the Beggars Clan, but also unable to stand in the Central Plains, and even your life would be difficult to protect.”
Xiao Feng was fully aware that her entire body already couldn’t move, and that she would never be able to harm people again. But when such malicious speech reached his ears, he felt a chill on his back. He made a “humph” sound and said, “Ma Dayuan was unwilling to comply with your words, so you killed him?”
Madam Ma said, “Yes, not only did he not obey my words, but instead he ferociously scolded me. He said that from then on he wouldn’t allow me to leave the house. If I disclosed even one word, he would chop this old woman into mincemeat. He had always obeyed me in everything in the past. When was he ever this hateful and severe? All along I had never cared for him or held him in regard. He offended me thus, so naturally this old woman had sufferings in store for him. After over a month, Bai Shijing stayed over as a guest. That day was the fourteenth of the eighth month; he came to my home to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival. He took one look at me, then took another look. Humph humph, this old pervert! I defiled my body and tempted this old pervert to be crazy about me. I ordered the old pervert to kill Ma Dayuan, that useless weakling, but he was unwilling, so I said that I would expose that he had raped me. This old traitor was always honest and incorruptible in front of other people. But in front of this old woman, what disgrace did he lack? I told him, ‘If you kill Ma Dayuan, I’ll naturally follow you for life. Otherwise, you should simply kill me with one palm!’ He was unwilling to kill me, so he had to kill Ma Dayuan.”
Xiao Feng took a breath and said, “Bai Shijing was an unswervingly good man, but was ruined by you like this. You...you also gave the ‘Ten Fragrance Bewitching Powder’ to Brother Ma to consume, and then you ordered Bai Shijing to break his throat, pretending that it was Gusu Murong who used the ‘Throat-Lock Capturing Technique’ to kill him, right?”
Madam Ma said, “Yes, haha, how could it not be? But I don’t know ‘Gusu Murong’ or whoever. That was the old pervert’s idea.”
Xiao Feng nodded.
Madam Ma continued, “I ordered the old pervert to take the initiative to expose the secret of your birth. Pei, this old pervert was actually loyal to you, and was forced by me so fiercely that he picked up a knife, wanting to commit suicide. Fine, I let him off that time and sought Quan Guanqing, that neither dead nor alive guy. This old woman only slept with him for three nights before he obeyed me in everything. He beat his chest and said that he would take care of everything and would be sure to succeed. This old woman presumed that Quan Guanqing that guy alone couldn’t topple you. Thus I also sought Elder Xu’s involvement. You know everything that happened later, so you don’t need me to say it again, right?”
Finally, the last suspicion in his heart had been unraveled, as to why Quan Guanqing was the chief conspirator against him, yet Bai Shijing was the one who had been captured as a traitor. He asked, “Was it Bai Shijing who stole my fan?”
Madam Ma said, “Actually that wasn’t him. The old pervert wouldn’t do anything that wronged you no matter what. It was Quan Guanqing who persuaded Elder Chen. After you left your home, he entered your house and stole it.”
Xiao Feng said, “Although Miss Duan’s disguise as Bai Shijing was flawless, you still saw through her.”
Madam Ma asked, surprised, “This little girl was precisely Duan Zhengchun’s daughter? She was your beloved? Was she really exceedingly beautiful?”
Xiao Feng didn’t respond, and raised his head towards the horizon.
Madam Ma said, “This little... little girl really scared me, and even mentioned the fifteenth of the eighth month, which is precisely the date of Ma Dayuan’s death. But later I made two flirtatious remarks. When I said that the moon in the sky was so round and white, the old pervert had said on that day, ‘There are some things on your body even rounder and whiter than the moon in the sky.’ When I asked her if she liked to eat salty or sweet mooncakes, the old pervert had said on that day, ‘The mooncakes on your body are naturally sweeter than honey and sugar.’ But your Miss Duan’s response didn’t fit, so I immediately saw through her.”
Xiao Feng finally understood why Madam Ma had suddenly mentioned the moon and mooncakes that night. So it had actually been the shameless talk between Madam Ma and Bai Shijing when they were privately communicating on the fourteenth night of the eighth month last year. Madam Ma laughed and said, “Qiao Feng, your disguise was terrible. As soon as I was aware that the little girl was up to no good, and then thought about your figure, hei hei, how could I not know that you were Qiao Feng? I was just about to kill Duan Zhengchun, so by lucky coincidence I could use you to kill him.”
Xiao Feng gnashed his teeth and said, “You caused Miss Duan’s death, so this debt must fall onto you.”
Madam Ma said, “It was she who deceived me first, not me who went to deceive her. I was merely beating her at her own game. If she didn’t come to find me, then after Bai Shijing became the Chief of the Beggars Clan, naturally I would have ways to make the Beggars Clan and the Duan family of Dali become enemies. This Duan Zhengchun then, hei hei, sooner or later wouldn’t be able to escape from my palm.”
Xiao Feng said, “You’re so vicious! You wanted to kill your own husband, you wanted to kill a man whom you had a love affair with, and you also wanted to kill a man who didn’t look at you.”
Madam Ma asked, “Why won’t you look at beauty that’s in front of you? Don’t tell me that I’m not beautiful enough? How could there be such a hypocrite like you in this world?” She was pleased with herself and her cheeks flushed as she said this. She was extremely excited, but finally her physical strength gradually weakened, and her speech was already somewhat disjointed.
Xiao Feng said, “I’ll ask you one more thing. Who’s the ‘Leading Big Brother’ who wrote the letter to Chief Wang? You’ve read that letter and seen the signature.”
Madam Ma laughed coldly and said, “Hei hei, hei hei, Qiao Feng, in the end is it you pleading with me, or me pleading with you? Ma Dayuan is dead, Elder Xu is dead, Zhao Qiansun is dead, the Iron Faced Judge Shan Zheng is dead, Grandpa and Granny Tan are dead, Great Master ZhiGuang of Mount Tiantai is dead. In this world, only I and that ‘Leading Big Brother’ himself know who he is.”
Xiao Feng’s heartbeat accelerated and he said, “Correct, it’s Qiao Feng earnestly pleading with you. Please inform me of this person’s name.”
Madam Ma said, “I’ll be dead at any moment now. What benefit can you give me?”
Xiao Feng said, “To the best of my ability, I will obey whatever Madam commands.”
Madam Ma smiled and said, “What else would I want? Qiao Feng, I hated and resented you for disdaining to look at me carefully, to the extent that it led to such a disaster. It’s not difficult for me to tell you the name of that ‘Leading Big Brother’, but you must hold me in your bosom and look at me carefully for a long time.”
Xiao Feng knit his brows tightly and was really very unwilling. But it was true that she was the only one in the world who knew this big secret. His enmity as deep as the ocean depended on the several words that could come from her lips. Not to mention that her condition wasn’t extremely difficult. Even if it was something extremely difficult and awkward, he could only force himself to do it. Her life hung on a thread, and she could stop breathing at any time. Threatening her would be completely useless. He thought, “If I insisted on refusing and she took her last breath, then I would never know the identity of the enemy who killed my parents. What’s the harm in holding her and taking a few looks at her?” He said, “Fine, I’ll comply.” He stooped and held her in his bosom, and looked at her cheeks with shining eyes.
At this time, Madam Ma’s face was entirely covered with bloodstains mixed with mud and dirt. Moreover, her complexion was wan and sallow because of the torment she suffered that night, so she was extremely ugly. Xiao Feng was already extremely reluctant to hold her in his bosom, and having to also look at her face, he couldn’t help but knit his eyebrows.
Madam Ma asked angrily, “What? Do you hate looking at me?”
Xiao Feng could only say, “No!” This word defied his heart. Ordinarily, even if he met tremendous calamity, he wouldn’t keep his real thoughts to himself. But at this moment, he really had no other alternative.
Madam Ma said softly, “If you don’t hate me, then kiss my face.”
Xiao Feng said firmly, “I absolutely can’t. You’re the wife of Brother Ma. Xiao Feng attaches most importance to loyalty. How could I insult my friend’s widow?”
Madam Ma said sweetly and intimately, “If you regard loyalty, then why are you holding me in your bosom...”
At this moment, someone outside the window giggled and said, “Qiao Feng, you’re too shameless! You killed my older sister, and now you’re holding my daddy’s lover, kissing and carrying on a clandestine love affair. Aren’t you ashamed?” It was precisely AhZi’s voice.
Xiao Feng had a clear conscience, so naturally he didn’t take seriously the talk of an ignorant child. He said to Madam Ma, “Hurry up and say it, who is that ‘Leading Big Brother’?”
Madam Ma said intimately, “I told you to look at me, but you turned around. What are you doing?” Her voice was flirtatious.
AhZi walked into the room, smiled, and said, “How come you’re still not dead? What man would be willing to look at such an ugly wretch?”
Madam Ma asked, “What? You... you say that I look like an ugly wretch? Mirror, mirror, I want a mirror!” Her voice carried extreme panic.
Xiao Feng said, “Hurry up and say it, hurry up and say it. If you say it, I’ll give you the mirror.”
AhZi easily picked up a bright mirror from the table and aimed it at her. Smiling, she said, “Take a look at yourself. Beautiful or not beautiful?”
Madam Ma looked into the mirror and saw her face entirely covered with bloodstains and dust. Fear, cruelty, malice, hatred, suffering, anger, all kinds of ugly feelings were gathered on her facial features. How was she in the slightest the formerly delicate beauty who attracted people’s tender affections? She opened her eyes wide and never closed them again. She was conceited in her beauty throughout her life, but before she died, she saw herself with such an ugly appearance in the mirror.
Xiao Feng said, “AhZi, take the mirror away and don’t offend her.”
AhZi laughed and said, “I want to let her know how ugly she is!”
Xiao Feng said, “It would be terrible if you anger her to death!” He felt that Madam Ma’s body was motionless, and he could no longer hear the sound of her breathing. He hurriedly tested her breathing, but she had already stopped breathing. Xiao Feng was alarmed and shouted, “Aiyo, this isn’t good, her breathing’s stopped!” He shouted out as if he were facing an imminent catastrophe.
AhZi pursed her lips and said, “Did you seriously like her? Is it worth making such a fuss when this kind of woman dies?”
Xiao Feng said, “What does a child like you know? I wanted to ask her something. She was the only person in the world who knew. If you hadn’t interrupted, she would’ve already said it.”
AhZi said, “Aiyo, so I was bad again and spoiled your important matters, right?”
Xiao Feng sighed, thinking that a dead person couldn’t come back to life. Getting angry would be useless. AhZi, this little girl, was arrogant and willful by nature. Even her parents couldn’t control her, let alone other people. On account of Azhu, he couldn’t argue with her on anything. Presently he placed Madam Ma on the couch and said, “Let’s go!”
They investigated everywhere. There were no other people in the house. The old maidservant had already fled to whereabouts unknown. Thus, they obtained fuel and ignited a fire in the firewood room. In a moment, the flames rose.
The two of them stood beside the house, looking at the flames coming out from the window. Xiao Feng asked, “Aren’t you going back to where your daddy and mommy are?”
AhZi said, “No, I’m not going to where my daddy and mommy are. Whenever my daddy’s subordinates see me, they puff their beards and glare at me. I told daddy to kill them all, but daddy was really willful and didn’t comply.”
Xiao Feng thought, “You killed Chu Wanli, so naturally his friends would hate you. How could Duan Zhengchun kill his loyal and devoted subordinates for you? You’re the one who’s acting willfully, yet you say it’s your daddy who’s acting willfully. You’re really a child who talks nonsense.” He said, “Fine, I’m leaving!” He turned around and headed north.
AhZi said, “Hey, hey, slow down, wait for me.”
Xiao Feng immediately halted his footsteps, turned around, and asked, “Where are you going? Are you going back to your martial master?”
AhZi said, “No, at this moment I’m not going back to my martial master. I wouldn’t dare.”
Xiao Feng asked, surprised, “Why wouldn't you dare? What trouble did you get into this time?”
AhZi said, “I didn’t get into trouble. I took a manual from my martial master. If I return, he’ll snatch it back. After I master it, I’ll return, and when my martial master takes it, I won’t be worried.”
Xiao Feng asked, “Is it a martial arts manual? Since it’s your martial master’s, if you plead with him to let you take a look, he won’t refuse forever. Besides, if you practice it on your own, you definitely won’t be able to understand many parts of it. Wouldn’t it be better to have your martial master give you pointers?”
AhZi pursed her lips and said, “My martial master said he wouldn’t give it to me, so he won’t give it to me. It’s useless no matter how much I plead with him.”
Xiao Feng really disliked this arrogant, willful, and spoiled little girl. Then he thought that she didn’t need to be entangled with her notorious martial master, the Old Freak of Xingxiu, Ding Chunqiu. He said, “Fine, do whatever you want. I won’t care about you.”
AhZi asked, “Where are you going?”
Xiao Feng looked at the raging flames in the rooms of the Ma house, sighed deeply, and said, “I was originally going to seek revenge, but I don’t know who my enemy is. In my life, this huge revenge can never be sought.”
AhZi said, “Oh, I understand, Madam Ma originally knew, but what a pity that I angered her to death. From now on, you won’t be able to know who your enemy is. So fun, so fun! Qiao Feng’s fame for fighting prowess is outstanding, but thanks to my punishment, he’s helpless.”
Xiao Feng looked at her sideways and saw that her entire face was full of joy in calamity and delight in disaster. The raging flames shone on her face, making her cheeks seem as red and lovely as apples. Who would’ve thought that concealed underneath those innocent cheeks was vast and limitless malice? In a split second, his hot anger arose, and he wanted to heavily slap her in the face. But he immediately recalled that Azhu had pleaded with him before she died, and asked him to take care of her only younger sister in the world. He thought, “Azhu only made this one request of me before she died. How can I not comply? Even if this little girl is a huge traitor and evildoer, I’ll do my best to correct her errors. Besides, she’s merely young and ignorant, willful and naughty.”
AhZi raised her head and asked, “What? Do you want to beat me to death? How come you’re not beating me? My older sister has already been beaten to death by you. So what if you also beat me to death?”
These words pierced Xiao Feng’s heart like a dagger, and his chest ached. He remained silent and turned around uncaringly, taking large strides on the snowy ground.
AhZi laughed and said, “Hey, slow down, where are you going?”
Xiao Feng said, “I can’t reside in the Central Plains, and I can’t seek revenge for the deaths of my parents. I’m going north of the pass, never to return.”
AhZi inclined her head and asked, “Which path are you taking?”
Xiao Feng said, “I’m going to Yanmen Pass first.”
AhZi clapped her hands and said, “That’s great. I’m going to Jinyang, so it just so happens that I’m taking the same path as you.”
Xiao Feng asked, “What are you going to Jinyang for? How can a little girl go alone on such a distant journey?”
AhZi laughed and said, “Hey, what’s there to fear about a distant journey? I came to this place from Xingxiu. Isn’t that even farther away? I have you as a companion, so how would I be alone?”
Xiao Feng shook his head and said, “I won’t accompany you.”
AhZi asked, “Why?”
Xiao Feng said, “I’m a man and you’re a young girl. Lodging on the journey would be inappropriate.”
AhZi said, “That’s really a ridiculous argument. I don’t think it’s inappropriate, so why would it be inappropriate for you? When you were with my older sister, didn’t you also travel during the day and lodge at night, one man and one woman, on a long and difficult journey?”
Xiao Feng said in a low and calm voice, “Your older sister and I already had a promise of marriage, so it’s not the same.”
AhZi clapped her hands, laughed, and said, “Aiyo, I really couldn’t tell, I knew that my older sister was well-behaved, but who would’ve thought that you were just like my daddy, and my older sister just like my mommy? You didn’t worship heaven and earth to become husband and wife, but you already became a pair.”
Xiao Feng shouted angrily, “Nonsense! Until death, your older sister was all along a proper girl, as clear as ice and as clean as jade. I strictly adhered to etiquette and respected her deeply.”
AhZi said, “What’s the point in scaring me in a loud voice? My older sister was still beaten to death by you. Let’s go.”
When Xiao Feng heard her say “My older sister was still beaten to death by you,” his heart softened, and he said, “You should still return to the Little Mirror Lake and be with your mother. Otherwise, find a secluded place and after mastering the martial arts in that manual, return to your martial master. What’s fun about going to Jinyang?”
AhZi said in deadly earnest, “I’m not going there to have fun. I have an important matter to attend to.”
Xiao Feng shook his head and said, “I’m not taking you there.” Saying this, he took large strides and left.
AhZi used her qinggong and chased after him, shouting, “Wait for me, wait for me!” Xiao Feng ignored her and continued on his own.
Not long afterwards, the north wind shifted and it started snowing again. Xiao Feng charged into the wind and snow, taking rapid steps. When he thought of the injustice that had sunk to the bottom of the ocean, and of never being able to seek his huge revenge, his heart naturally became melancholy. But amidst having no alternatives, he abandoned the load of worries in his heart, which was actually a great relief.
-End of Chapter 24-