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Only when he was right in front of him did Zhao Wuji conclude that Third Watch Liu was without a doubt, really blind. Because his eyes were dead.
A person who could see would never have eyes like that, wouldn't even be able to fake it.
Third Watch Liu suddenly said, “Are you looking at my eyes?”
Zhao Wuji was just about scared stiff. This man couldn't see, yet he seemed to have a pair of mysterious, bizarre eyes hidden in some mysterious place on his person. It seemed no move anyone made could get past him.
Third Watch Liu said, “Do you want a closer look?” Zhao Wuji really did want a closer look. Third Watch Liu said, “Take them and have a look.” He popped out one of his own eyes with his finger and that spot immediately became a black hole. That dead gray eye, which was made of either gla.s.s or maybe crystal, rolled around in his palm as if it were alive.
Even though you knew the eyes was fake, it was still enough to give you a fright.
Third Watch Liu said, “Have you got a good look at it now?”
Zhao Wuji finally let out the breath he'd been holding. “Yes.”
“Get a good look now, because this is the price of my mistake.” His deathy pale face suddenly looked grieved. He said slowly, “Twenty years ago, I misjudged someone, and even though he gouged my eyes out I didn't say a word of complaint because everyone who makes a mistake must pay a price. No one is exempt from that.”
“I understand,” Zhao Wuji said.
“Do you think your friend's affair was a mistake?” Third Watch Liu said.
“Yes,” Zhao Wuji said.
“Should he pay a price?”
“An even if my blade hacks into him, he shouldn't say a word of complaint?”
“But you are willing to take that blade in place of him?” Third Watch Liu said.
“I am,” Zhao Wuji said.
“Because he's my friend. Besides, he's already injured, he can't take another strike.”
Third Watch Liu said, “Do you know how heavy my blade is?”
“It's all the same, no matter how heavy it is,” Zhao Wuji said.
“You won't regret it?”
Zhao Wuji said, “I've never regretted anything my whole life.”
Third Watch Liu slowly put his fake eye back in. Those dead gray eyes seemed to be staring at him.
What could a pair of artificial eyes see?
Zhao Wuji said, “Now, you can strike whenever.”
“Alright,” Third Watch Liu said.
He had been holding his short staff under his arm. He reached over with his other hand and drew a blade.
The blade concealed in the short staff was shiny.
Zhao Wuji stuck his chest out. Since he had decided to receive this blow there was no need to shrink back.
“Wait,” the Bodhisattva of Venom said.
“What for what?” Third Watch Liu said.
“He has other creditors. You ought to at least wait until he's paid off his other debts.”
Zhao Wuji said, “A debt owed sooner or later will be repaid. Who goes first and who goes later is all the same.”
The Bodhisattva of Venom said, “You really intend to pay off all your debts today?”
“Why invite you here if I didn't?” Zhao Wuji said.
“In that case, you're not Zhao Wuji,” the Bodhisattva of Venom said.
“I only know one Zhao Wuji.”
“Zhao Wuji of Gale Lodge.”
× × ×
There was hardly anyone in the jianghu who didn't know those from Gale Lodge.
Gale Lodge was not an ordinary faction. They were a large and secretive organization, and their influence extended everywhere.
Their mission could be summed up in only six words:
“Help the weak, eliminate the strong.”
So they not only made people fear, they were equally respected.
The Bodhisattva of Venom said, “Even though Gale Lodge's master is Venerable Soaring Cloud, the ones who really carry out orders are Zhao Jian, Sikong Xiaofeng, and Shangguan Ren. I know that Zhao Wuji, Zhao Jian's son.”
Zhao Wuji sighed. “I didn't expect you to be so well-informed.”
The Bodhisattva of Venom said, “If you are that Zhao Wuji then you should not be here today.”
“Where should I be?” Zhao Wuji said.
“At the wedding ceremony in the main hall of Zhao Manor, waiting for everyone to congratulate you.”
He stared at Zhao Wuji, then slowly said, “Sikong Xiaofeng and Shangguan Ren will certainly be in attendance as well. With them there, who in the world would dare go and ask you to repay a debt?”
Zhao Wuji said, “If I owe someone I have to pay it back, and I have to do it myself. It has nothing to do with Gale Lodge nor with my father.”
The Bodhisattva of Venom said, “If you really are that Zhao Wuji, then today is a red-letter day for you.”
“Red-letter days are not usually debt repayment days.”
Zhao Wuji said, “But after today I will be a different person, because I already have my own family, a wife. I can no longer be as free and headstrong as before.”
His eyes suddenly lit up. “My wife is my lifelong companion, we must respect each other. I don't want her to marry a faithless man who shirks his debts.”
The Bodhisattva of Venom said, “So you have to settle all your affairs before you marry her, pay off all your debts?”
“Yes,” Zhao Wuji said.
Old Lady Black suddenly let out a faint sigh. “I bet she is a gentle, beautiful woman, and very lucky.”
Zhao Wuji said, “Being able to marry her is my good fortune, not hers.”
Old Lady Black said, “So you have to give her a clean, honorable person to marry.”
“As long as a person can live with a clear conscience, it doesn't matter even if he loses an arm or a leg.”
Old Lady Black said, “So even though you couldn't find those two flower thieves, you still had to invite me over.”
Old Lady Black slowly made her way over and said evenly, “How are you prepared to repay me? With an arm, or a leg?”
There was a gleam in her eye that was even colder than Third Watch Liu's blade!
Zhao Wuji didn't look away, he just asked, “How would you like me to repay you?”
Old Lady Black looked at the Bodhisattva of Venom. “How do you want him to pay?”
The Bodhisattva of Venom thought for a moment, then said slowly, “There are more than a thousand different species of venomous snakes in the world, but only nine of them are the most venomous.”
Old Lady Black said, “Obviously I don't know as much about that as you, nor do I want to think about it.”
The Bodhisattva of Venom said, “Three of the snakes he owes me belong to the Nine. Aside from me there's only two others at most who could capture those three species alive.”
“Which two?” Old Lady Black said.
“Whoever they are, neither of them is Zhao Wuji,” the Bodhisattva of Venom said.
“So you figure he wouldn't be able to replace them.”
“So I didn't come here to get paid back in the first place.”
“Why did you come?” Old Lady Black said.
“To pay a debt of grat.i.tude,” the Bodhisattva of Venom said.
“A debt of grat.i.tude?”
“Mr. Liu was right about what he said just now, that the venom in my blood has reached a critical limit.”
Old Lady Black's eyes narrowed. “You mean you didn't know?”
The Bodhisattva of Venom sighed. “By the time I realized it I was already possessed by those five snakes. There was no stopping at that point.”
“You mean it was Zhao Wuji who saved you?” Old Lady Black asked.
“If he had not unwittingly killed those five snakes for me, I would likely be a stiff corpse right now.”
“Whether he did it on purpose or not, he still saved your life,” Old Lady Black said.
“So not only does he not owe you anything, you actually owe him your life.”
Old Lady Black said, “The life of the Bodhisattva of Venom is worth something for sure. How do you plan to pay him back?”
“I can repay his debt to you for him,” the Bodhisattva of Venom said.
“You're gonna go catch those two flower thieves?”
“I can add a bit of interest to it,” the Bodhisattva of Venom said.
“Add what interest?” Old Lady Black said.
“How about the Swarm of Bees?”
“You sure you can do that?” Old Lady Black said.
The Bodhisattva of Venom laughed. “My venom can't just cure people, it can take lives as well.”
Old Lady Black laughed too. “Fight venom with venom. There would be nothing better than using your venomous snakes to take care of that swam of venomous bees.”
“You agree?” the Bodhisattva of Venom said.
“Why wouldn't I?” Old Lady Black said.
The Bodhisattva of Venom looked at Zhao Wuji and smiled. “Well then you are already clear of our debts.”
Zhao Wuji said nothing, not a single word.
What would you want him to say at that moment?
The Bodhisattva of Venom said, “Do I still owe you?”
Zhao Wuji said, “You never did owe me.”
“Then you have to agree to one thing,” the Bodhisattva of Venom said.
“Today is your big wedding day. You ought to treat me to a drink.”
Zhao Wuji laughed. “A drink will not do. If we're gonna drink, we have to drink thirty to fifty cups at least.”
Third Watch Liu suddenly put in, “You can't drink.”
“Why?” Zhao Wuji said.
“Because you're injured,” Third Watch Liu said.
“I am?” Zhao Wuji said, surprised. “Where?”
Third Watch Liu said coldly, “Wherever my blade cuts, you wil be injured there.”
His blade was still in his hand, a bright, shiny edge on it. It was thin and sharp.
The light reflected off the sword lit up Third Watch Liu's deathly pale face. There was no expression on his face.
Anyone ought to be able to tell that he was by no means a person who was easily moved.
If you owed him a blade cut, you had to let him have it. There's no way you could not, and he would never not ask for it.
No matter what it was, he would never change his mind.
× × ×
The soul departing beat sounded again.
GONG GONG GONG. It was the third watch.
The blade pounded out the third watch beats.
× × ×
Zhao Wuji's palms were sweaty.
It wasn't that he wasn't afraid, it was just that no matter how afraid he was, there was no escape.
Third Watch Liu eyes him coldly. “Where do you want my blade to cut?”
Zhao Wuji sighed. “Do I really have much of a choice?”
“You don't,” Third Watch Liu said.TWO
The blade flashed, the man fell.
The blade cut at the neck, but did not come down too heavily.
But that thin, sharp blade still severed the major blood vessel at the back of his neck on the left. Blood spurted, a nearly ten-foot jet of blood.
Pale green blood.
× × ×
How could fresh blood be pale green? Did his blood already have too much venom in it?
Zhao Wuji's blood didn't have any venom in it.
The blade didn't cut him.
The blade flickered. He was prepared to take it, but the blade flashed down on the Bodhisattva of Venom's neck.
The Bodhisattva of Venom didn't dodge it.
It wasn't that he didn't want to dodge it, it was just by the time he dodged it was already too late.
He never dreamed that the one the blade cut into would be him.
Old Lady Black didn't imagine it either, much less Zhao Wuji.
They watched the Bodhisattva of Venom fall, watched his pale green blood spurt out from under the edge of the blade.
Although they saw it all clearly, they didn't understand.
Zhao Wuji couldn't help but ask, “Didn't you cut the wrong person?”
Third Watch Liu said, “I've only slipped up once in my life.”
It obviously wasn't this time. Ever since his eyes had been gouged out he had never made another mistake.
Zhao Wuji said, “The one who owed you a blade cut was me, not him.”
Third Watch Liu said, “Since you owed me a blade cut, wherever I cut is all the same.”
“But you shouldn't have cut him.”
“He was always the one I should have cut.”
“Why?” Zhao Wuji said.
“Because you can't die today, and you shouldn't die! The one who ought to have died was him.”
× × ×
The Bodhisattva of Venom was not moving, but the venomous snakes in the hemp sack on his back were moving.
One after another they slithered out of the sack and into his pool of blood. They licked his blood, his venomous blood.
“Wasn't he carrying a hemp sack on his back?” Third Watch Liu said.
“Yes,” Zhao Wuji said.
“What's in the hemp sack?”
“Seven, aside from the two that died earlier,” Zhao Wuji said.
“Have all seven slithered out?” Third Watch Liu said.
“But that hemp sack is not yet empty.”
The hemp sack indeed was not empty.
The Bodhisattva of Venom had fallen flat on his face, and even though the snakes had slithered out of the sack on his back, the sack was still bulging.
Third Watch Liu said, “Why don't you open it up and take a look, see what's in the sack?”
“I'll do it,” Old Lady Black said.
She lifted the mouth of the sack up with her gold bow and a dozen pellets the size of wutong tree seeds rolled out and into the pool of blood.
The snakes withdrew at once from where the pellets lay.
Zhao Wuji had thought it strange before. The Bodhisattva of Venom was good at taming snakes, so why could he not tame the venomous snakes in his hemp sack?
Now he knew why.
Touching those pellets to those snakes was like a person touching a snake.
× × ×
Old Lady Black used her gold bow to pluck a pellet up out of the pool of blood.
She didn't say anything, and there was no need to. There was already a tacit understanding between mother and son that no one else could understand.
She picked up the pellet and her son's bowstring sprung and a silver arrow shattered the pellet to bits.
Immediately she caught the scent of saltpeter and sulfur.
Third Watch Liu said, “What is the smell?”
Old Lady Black was still thinking when Zhao Wuji answered, “It's thunderbolt!”
× × ×
A thunderbolt was a clap of thunder and a flash of lightning.
A thunderbolt wasn't fragrant, nor was it foul. You could imagine it, you could see it, but you certainly could not smell it.
How come Zhao Wuji could smell it?”
When he said it was thunderbolt, he wasn't talking about a clap of thunder and a flash of lightning, but the concealed projectile weapons on the ground.
× × ×
Old Lady Black was an old hand in the jianghu.
She had roamed the jianghu since she was sixteen, and she was now sixty-one.
She had been married three times.
All of her husbands were well-known concealed weapons masters, and she herself ranked among the top thirty concealed weapons experts——a bow and arrow was considered a concealed weapon.
But she didn't know as much about this kind of concealed weapon as Zhao Wuji did.
Because this was the special weapon of the “Thunderbolt Lodge”.
At least half the reason the Thunderbolt Lodge was such a force within the wulin was because of this concealed weapon.
The reason the Thunderbolt Lodge's master, Thunderclap Tian, was ranked second among the top thirty concealed weapons experts, was because of this concealed weapon.
The juniors of Gale Lodge knew all about this weapons since they were kids.
Because Gale Lodge and Thunderbolt Lodge were mortal enemies.
The only reason they still existed was because neither side was confident of victory should they have it out in battle.
× × ×
The silver arrow still had momentum after shattering the pellet, and it it zipped into the window lattice and stuck there, quivering.
Old Lady Black looked at her son approvingly before turning and saying, “That's Thunderbolt?”
“For sure,” Zhao Wuji said.
When he was sure, he was always right.
Old Lady Black said, “Then how come it's not as mighty as a thunderbolt as the legends say?”
“Because of the blood on the ground,” Third Watch Liu said.
He stooped down slowly and with two fingers picked up a thunderbolt pellet that had rolled by his foot.
He couldn't see, but he could hear.
The sound of wind soughing through the trees, the sound of the pellets rolling, the sound of hte sprung bowstring, no sound within three hundred feet of him could escape his ears.
This thunderbolt seed looked fresh and dry, like a hard nut just dropped from a tree.
Third Watch Liu flicked his middle finger and the thunderbolt seed shot out like an arrow.
His finger was like a three-hundred pound bow, flinging the pellet hundreds of feet away, across the expansive flower garden and hitting a large lake stone in the far corner. There was a huge boom and smoke shot up into the sky.
Old Lady Black's face sank.
Now she finally saw the thunderbolt's power. It was far more violetn and frightful than the legends said.
The smell of saltpeter and sulfur was carried on the wind, and there was a hint of four o'clock flower fragrance with it.
The thunderbolt seed should not contain that fragrance.
Zhao Wuji said, “What is that smell?”
Third Watch Liu said, “Why not go over and see.”
Zhao Wuji didn't need to go over and see, but his face sank all the same.
The smoke and powder fell on a blossoming peony, a scarlet peony, which suddenly withered, every petal dropping off one by one as it turned pitch-black.
Zhao Wuji croaked, “Aromatic poison!”
The thunderbolt seed really did contain within it poisonous four o' clock flower powder.
Third Watch Liu said, “If not for the poisoned blood on the ground neutralizing its poison, the deadly poison in that thunderbolt seed would have been enough to kill us just now.”
Even though it had exploded over three hundred feet away and the wind was not blowing directly toward them, they still felt a wave of dizziness overcome them and they felt nauseous.
Third Watch Liu said, “Did you forget that the Bodhisattva of Venom's venom not only cures people, it can kill people too?”
The sack of poisonous thunderbolt pellets was obviously intended to be used on Zhao Wuji's wedding guests when they drank their wedding toast.
Those worthy of being invited by Zhao Jian to his “Gentle Breeze Villa” were naturally the elite of Gale Lodge.
A flame from a single lamp was enough to ignite three or four thunderbolt seeds, and it would naturally be brightly lit today in the main hall of Gentle Breeze Villa. Who knew how many lamps and candles would be lit.
If the Bodhisattva of Venom had been allowed inside, he could have quietly spread a few thunderbolt seeds around next to each lamp, and once they got hot enough to melt their outer wax sh.e.l.ls, what would happen then?
The thought of that made Zhao Wuji soak through his clothes in a cold sweat.
Third Watch Liu said, “You certainly never imagined that the Bodhisattva of Venom had joined Thunderbolt Lodge.”
Zhao Wuji truly never imagined that.
Third Watch Liu said, “And you certainly never imagined they would dare strike Gentle Breeze Villa.”
If they dared do that it would mean a declaration of war against Gale Lodge!
And once they started up it would be a fight to the death. It would be a violent war, Zhao Wuji could well imagine that.
Third Watch Liu said, “Even though it was not successful, all they lost was the Bodhisattva of Venom. He's not part of the core of Thunderbolt Lodge. Perhaps they didn't care whether he lived or died?”
But had they been successful, Gale Lodge's elite would very likely have been wiped out in one stroke.
Zhao Wuji clenched his fists. “Actually, the result is the same whether they succeeded or not.”
“How so?” Third Watch Liu said.
“Since they had the nerve to do something like that, doesn't that mean they've already made up their mind to go to war with us?”
His voice was emotional and intense. “The thousands of disciples of Gale Lodge of course will never cower in fear!”
Gale Lodge only had brave fighters who would die in battle. Not a one was a flinching coward!
He could already see Gale Lodge's disciples fighting a b.l.o.o.d.y battle as soon as the thunderbolts exploded and smoke and flames rained down.
Among them was his dear seniors and their close friends.
They would die with him at any moment, go through any adversity together.
He was prepared for this as well.
Maybe they were not sure of victory, but once the war began they would never worry about life or death, victor or defeat!
He believed all Gale Lodge disciples were capable of this!
× × ×
Third Watch Liu suddenly laughed.
This was the first time he had laughed. Zhao Wuji looked at him in surprise, wondering why he laughed.
“I laughed at you,” Third Watch Liu said.
“At me, why laugh at me?” Zhao Wuji said.
“Because you've made another mistake.”
He didn't let Zhao Wuji respond but continued, “The Bodhisattva of Venom is now dead and Gentle Breeze Villa is safe and sound, so this incident never really happened. The reason Thunderbolt Lodge only sent the Bodhisattva of Venom to attack was because they aren't about to act recklessly. Even if someone went and asked them they would never admit that they had such a plan.”
Zhao Wuji said, “But——”
Third Watch Liu cut him off. “The stalemate between them and Gale Lodge has been preserved for twenty or thirty years, and it might very well go another twenty or thirty years. Who knows, in the end the two sides might make up and become friends. There's no need to think too much about it.”
“What should I think?” Zhao Wuji said.
Third Watch Liu said, “You ought to think about your gentle, beautiful bride and all your friends who made a special trip to come drink with and congratulate you.”
There was another gleam in Zhao Wuji's eyes. He was still young.
He was a young man burning with pa.s.sion, easy to infuriate, yet he was quick to cheer up as well.
Third Watch Liu said, “So you ought to hurry up and get on your spirited horse and get over there, change into your wedding clothes and go to the ceremonial hall and kowtow to heaven and earth along with your bride.”
Zhao Wuji said, “But I——”
Third Watch Liu said, “You don't owe me now, and you don't owe Old Lady Black either. But, if you don't go and keep your bride waiting, I will be angry.”
Old Lady Black said, “I will be even more angry!”
Zhao Wuji looked at her, then at Third Watch Liu. He suddenly realized that good people could be found everywhere in the world.
The world in fact was full of warmth, the world was actually quite lovely.
He was happy again.
Disaster was still far off, but a glorious future full of happiness and love was right in front of him.
He jumped and said, “Alright, I'll get going.”
Third Watch Liu said, “But there is still one thing you must remember.”
Third Watch Liu said, “You must remember to under no circ.u.mstances allow anyone to get you drunk.”
He smiled. “A bride will not be happy to have a drunken husband puking his guts out in her bridal chamber.”
Old Lady Black said, “That's absolutely right.” Her old face suddenly became young. “I remember when I was a bride I kicked my dead drunk groom out of the bed for the whole night and didn't speak to him for at least three days.”
Her face suddenly reddened and she giggled. “Luckily, there are some things you can still do without talking.”
Third Watch Liu guffawed.
Zhao Wuji was convinced he had probably never laughed that loud in his life.
Zhao Wuji, of course, laughed too. “I will remember that. If anyone tries to drink with me then, I——”
“You'll what?” Old Lady Black said.
Zhao Wuji winked. “I'll hide under the bed first. That's at least better than being kicked in there.”
Old Lady Black laughed. “That's really a great idea.”THREE
His debts were cleared, everything was settled. It was still not too late, if he hurried back now he could still make it in time.
Zhao Wuji was in a great mood.
What made him the most happy was that Xiangxiang not only didn't make things hard for him, she led his horse to the gate and stood waiting for him.
There was naturally some bitterness bottled up in her eyes, but at least her tears had dried.
She hung her head and said softly, “Since you are set on going, I won't keep you. Anyway, even if I wanted to keep you I wouldn't be able to.”
“Thank you,” Zhao Wuji said.
He really did feel grateful, grateful for her understanding, and even more grateful for her forgiveness.
Regardless, he more or less still felt that he had somewhat wronged her.
Xiangxiang suddenly raised her head and fixed her eyes on him. “But I know in the future you will still come see me.”
Zhao Wuji sighed to himself and said gently, “I won't come again.”
“Coming again would just add to the grief, why come again.”
Everyone does some self-indulgent things when they are young.
What young person is not a romantic?
But later he made up his mind to be a good husband, and he was determined that he could do it.
Xiangxiang bit her lip. “Well I don't believe it.”
Zhao Wuji said, “You don't believe it!”
Xiangxiang said, “I don't believe you will never again look at at another woman.”
Zhao Wuji said, “When a man sees a good-looking woman, only a blind man or a hypocrite would not want to look, but looking is all I will do.”
Xiangxiang was not willing to let it go. “I also don't believe she will be able to keep you under control by herself.”
Zhao Wuji said, “She might not be able to control me, but I know there will be someone later who will help her control me.”
“That person will be able to control you?” Xiangxiang said.
“He is the only one who will be able to control me.”
“Who is this person?”
“Myself,” Zhao Wuji said.