A Rain Of Blood Stains Flowers Red - novelonlinefull.com
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Hua Sigu arranged the dishes on the table and Miss Tan tucked in, not paying attention to anyone else.
“Black Tiger” Tao Hong stumbled inside, covered with a thin layer of mud from head to toe. He was burning with rage, but he knew the girl was ten times more skilled than he was, and if he overstepped his bounds again he would eat even more s.h.i.t.
He couldn't fight her, but he had a rather smart mouth on him!
He looked at Miss Tan and clenched his teeth. “Alright, you slu—” He was going to say “s.l.u.t”, but then he remembered what happened last time he said that and swallowed his words.
“We'll just wait and see—wait and see! Hmph!” Then he lurched up the stairs.
Miss Tan didn't even look at him, just kept eating with her head down.
“The Next Lü Bu” Ge Xuesong, though, couldn't sit still. He walked right over to Miss Tan.
Miss Tan set down her chopsticks and c.o.c.ked her head to the side, looking at him. She said icily, “I knew when I hit him that you wouldn't be able to remain seated. Okay!”
She stood up and shook off her red fox-fur cloak, her sharp, pretty eyes staring daggers right at Ge Xuesong, looking as if she might go off at the slightest provocation.
Ge Xuesong cupped a hand over his fist, smiling. “Miss Tan, don't misunderstand, I have no intention of fighting you. It's just that my friend there is not a bad guy, he just lost his head a bit and went shooting his mouth off.”
“I know that!” Miss Tan laughed icily. “So I made an exception and went easy on him, couldn't you tell?”
Ge Xuesong nodded. “I could tell.”
“Then what did you come over here for?”
Ge Xuesong blushed and he stammered, “When I saw you fighting with my friend just now, you were quite impressive. It looked like you were using the internal force skill ‘1,000 Catty Touch'. I just wondered if I was correct?”
Miss Tan gave a slight nod. “So there really is an expert in such a small place, a rarity. What of it?”
Ge Xuesong smiled. “You sent my big, heavy friend flying with just the chopsticks in your hand. You must have practiced the consummate ‘Faithful Daughter' skill, right?”
Miss Tan looked him over and smiled coldly.
Ge Xuesong stepped forward and laughed. “I, Ge Xuesong, have been fond of fighting every since I was little, and I've studied martial arts a few years. Seeing you in action makes me itch to spar with you, Miss. Just to verify your skills, not anything rude, not in a million years. I wonder if Miss would be willing to enlighten me with your pointers?”
Zuo Dahai knew all along that Ge Xuesong knew real martial arts, but he had never seen him in action.
He was surprised to see him now in such a hurry to spar with Miss Tan.
Both sides meant a great deal to his business. It would really not be good if there was a fight——
He hurried over and grabbed Ge Xuesong by the arm. “Brother, why so serious, Miss Tan is no outsider, come, come…”
Ge Xuesong pushed his hand away and laughed heartily. “Manager, relax, I'm just a businessman. Even though I'm daring, I would never dare offend Elder Tan's precious daughter. Besides, Miss Tan is ten times the martial artist I am. Manager, what are you worried about?”
Miss Tan broke in with a sneer, “Ge, you're the one who said it, you'll be eating it in a moment. Don't blame me for not going easy on you!”
Ge Xuesong said, “Miss, have pity on me!”
Miss Tan's big eyes scanned the dining room. There weren't many people here, no more than a dozen including the traveler and the a.s.sistants——The long-robed traveler sitting in the north corner by the window was still brooding in his drink by himself as before, paying no attention to what had happened. Everyone else, though, had their eyes glued, eagerly waiting for the show!
……Many years ago, Miss Tan had beat up two horse thieves around the rear of her premises to help right an injustice. Later, the thieves had come back with help, and had it not been for Old Master Tan's personal involvement, cutting off the ears of the head thief, “Fei Jiaotian” to scare the rest of them off, who knows what would have happened!
After that, Old Master Tan severely punished his daughter and grounded her for half a year, not allowing her to go out, and he strictly forbade her from flippantly showing off her martial arts skill, or else he was really going to let her have it!
Miss Tan had remembered that incident well. Of course she wouldn't forget…
She furtively eyed the door, but when no one appeared she got a little more nerve.
I'll just show him a thing or two, then I'll stop. I'm sure he won't go making trouble at home!
With that thought, she glanced sidelong at Ge Xuesong and nodded. “Okay. However you want to do it!”
Ge Xuesong ripped off his beaver pelt coat with one hand and whipped it out at Miss Tan's head.
Miss Tan merely reached out and grabbed the end of the coat, and with a twist of her delicate wrist, Ge Xuesong's foot gave a little and he almost lost his grip on his coat. But after all, he was no third-rate n.o.body. He raised the qi in his dantian and set his feet and now he stood rooted.
Now they could test their real strength.
They pulled the beaver pelt coat taut between them, and with their internal force concentrated on it, that beaver pelt coat, which was already tough and durable, was even stiffer now, like a steel post.
Ge Xuesong was confident his “Boy Skill” was sufficiently advanced to use that fur coat with all he had to defeat his opponent's “Faithful Daughter” skill and win back a little bit of face that “Black Tiger” Tao Hong had lost.
Little did he know that this daughter of the Tan family had been instructed in everything her doting father knew, and that aside from her “Faithful Daughter Skill”, she also knew “Esoteric Simple Girl Arts”, which made this seemingly pampered daughter a top, first-rate martial artist of the wulin.
“The Next Lü Bu” Ge Xuesong didn't notice it at first, but as soon as they locked horns he could feel that something was wrong——
In the blink of an eye his face was red and shaking, his eyes bulging in rage so much they looked like they might roll out of his head.
A moment later and Ge Xuesong's long hair was quivering and before you knew it, it was sticking out straight like a hedgehog.
Miss Tan's face broke out in the merest thread of a smile.
Ge Xuesong began sweating.
There were not a few people watching, but the way the two were competing was puzzling to them all.
Manager Zuo Dahai didn't know the particulars of their compet.i.tion, but he could see it was a close battle of incredible internal force, and from the looks of it, Ge Xuesong was at a clear disadvantage. He knew internal force was mostly a matter of qi circulating through one's body, and that if one could not control it, it would be hard to keep it from traveling to the Mysterious Gate of the upper dantian, and it was not uncommon for one to die on the spot.
As he watched, he couldn't help but break out in a cold sweat for Ge Xuesong.
Miss Tan had a slight sneer on her face. She suddenly flicked her hand that was holding the coat and Ge Xuesong's body began to sway. His looming defeat was becoming more and more obvious!
It looked as if the headstrong daughter, in her wholehearted effort to win, did not care whether Ge Xuesong was injured or not.
As everyone watched with bated breath as the line between victory and defeat became clear between the two, no one was paying any attention to the traveler named Sang in the north corner——
He brought his foot from off the table and down onto the floor, and the moment his foot touched the floor, Ge Xuesong, who already seemed to be tottering, suddenly jolted and regained his footing!
Ge Xuesong's hedgehog spiky hair suddenly fell back to hanging down like normal.
Then, the traveler Sang's other foot came down and Miss Tan's face froze——
She was worthy of being called a first-rate internal force master. As soon as she felt things going south she let go, all five fingers releasing as she twisted around and spun free, then moved ten feet or so back.
She snorted and looked over at Zuo Dahai with sharp, surprised eyes.
Her gaze shifted to Hua Sigu.
Then shifted again, and again——
Finally resting on the long-robed traveler in the north corner named Sang, who was in the process of throwing another drink down his gullet.
“Hey——” Miss Tan shouted at him.
Then in a flash like a red cloud she whisked over and was standing in front of the long-robed traveler.
Sang slowly raised his pretty, somewhat sickly looking face and sized her up woodenly.
Miss Tan's taut, tender face inexplicably reddened. It was strange, ever since she had first laid eyes on him he had given her a very odd impression——
She couldn't say what the feeling was, but in any case the feeling this person gave her was that he was not an ordinary person. The rage she had been filled with earlier vanished without a trace as soon as she looked into his gloomy, mysterious eyes.
He continued looking straight at her, waiting for her to blow up, but Miss Tan had already softened.
But she had to say something. She looked him up and down, from his fastidious apparel to his refined bearing, and she said flatly, “I called to you, didn't you hear?”
“I hear you now.” His tone was icy. “Are you always so rude when talking to strangers?”
“Who are you?…… What are you doing?”
“I am I!” He slowly got to his feet as he spoke. He bowed slightly. “Miss, please have a seat.”
Miss Tan hmphed. “Was it you playing tricks just now when I was competing with that person?”
The long-robed man said, “Miss, I don't know what you're talking about.”
His melancholy eyes briefly scanned the room and everyone in it. He smiled. “I've been sitting here the whole time, I never got up. How could I play any tricks?”
Everyone nodded unconsciously, agreeing with what he'd said. At least anyone with eyes could agree on that!
“What is your family name?”
“Sang, like mulberry tree, that Sang.”
“What are you doing here?”
Miss Tan looked around with her marvelous eyes. “Where are they?”
He pointed to the baggage roll on the table. “They're right here, aren't they?”
Miss Tan eyed the baggage roll. She found it laughable, but her anger melted away.
“What have you got in there?”
“Miss, are you a buyer?”
“I was just asking, that's all!”
“Then I'm sorry, but I can't tell you right now.”
“Hmph——” Miss Tan gave her whip a good snap and turned and walked away. Everyone's eyes remained glued on her.
She walked right over to Zuo Dahai and stood before him. The latter looked stunned. He stammered, “Miss… what can I do for you?”
“What's that person's name?”
“Uh… I'm not sure, I only know his family name. I'll go ask him right now——”
He headed toward Sang.
“Forget it!” Miss Tan said.
“Alright, Miss!” Zuo Dahai seemed completely obedient to this young lady.
“The day after tomorrow, in the evening,” Miss Tan said, a bit angrily, “my father will be having guests over. Manager Zuo, are you coming?”
“Yes yes yes!” Zuo Dahai laughed. “Your family has guests over every year, I've never missed it. This time of course will be no different!”
“This time it will be a bit different than usual.”
“This time my father has invited all the fur traders at your establishment to come. Mr. Hu will deliver the invitations tomorrow. Mr. Sang, you are also invited.”
All the fur traders present beamed, looking forward to the prospect of attaching themselves to Old Master Tan. Doing business directly with him was no easy feat as it was, it was quite the honor and quite the rare treat for Tan to take the initiative and invite them over.
But Zuo Dahai looked a bit disappointed.
Zuo Dahai had always enjoyed Tan's favor alone, he hid the sky with one hand, Old Master Tan only doing business with him. Exchanging silver that way was very beneficial to him, but it looked like that was all coming to an end.
He was utterly despondent, but he would never let it show on his face. He answered, “Alright——”
The long-robed traveler cupped a hand over his fist. “Miss, you're too kind. In fact the reason I came here was to make a deal with your father. There's no way I'd pa.s.s up your invitation!”
Miss Tan turned around——the anger she had built up earlier had already disappeared, and now her eyes and brows shone with geniality.
“I'm inviting you on behalf of my father! Mr. Sang, I wonder if you could tell me your name?”
“I'm Sang Nanpu.”
“Mr. Sang! Are you proficient in martial arts?”
“I only know a little.”
Miss Tan's beautiful eyes roamed all over him. “Excuse me for my impertinence. I'll see you the day after tomorrow!”
She turned and walked out. On her way, she dropped an ingot of silver on her table and whisked out the door in a red blur. Then came the neigh of her rouge steed.
Ge Xuesong, who had been rooted to his spot for so long, waited until Miss Tan was gone, then he chuckled and went back to his seat.
“Brother!” Zuo Dahai asked, “What was all that just now?”
Ge Xuesong shook his head with a wry smile. “I don't know myself——someone surrept.i.tiously lent me a hand!”
As he said this he couldn't help but look at Sang. He stood and raised his cup and said loudly, “Mr. Sang, would you have a drink with me?”
Sang Nanpu stood and cupped his hand over his fist with a smile. “Strangers meeting by chance should not disturb one another. I've come a long way and am tired. I'd like to rest. I beg your pardon!”
He took up his baggage roll and leather bag and was about to leave when a.s.sisant Manager Xu Li greeted him. “Master Sang, I've got a single room for you! Follow me!”
Sang Nanpu nodded. “Thank you.”
Xu Li went to take his bags for him, but Mr. Sang wouldn't let go of them. They fought over them for a time, then Xu Li gave up and led the way.
“Fiery-eyed Diamond” Zuo Dahai gave Ge Xuesong a look, then suddenly sprang to his feet. Being the closest to the stairs, he got there in a flash and blocked Mr. Sang's way.
“Mr. Sang, you're too modest, how can we let our guests carry their own bags?”
Zuo Dahai reached for the leather bag in Sang Nanpu's left hand and tried to rip it away.
He wanted to get a feel for Sang's martial arts ability, so he thought to use both hands and pull with all his might. With all ten fingers giving her all she was worth he could lift 1,000 catties, so surely a little leather bag would be no sweat?
But evidently this was not the case!
As soon as Zuo Dahai's hands touched the leather bag, Sang Nanpu looked up and smiled. “Manager——You flatter me!”
His left hand holding the leather bag lowered toward Zuo Dahai. It looked like he really wanted to hand it over to Manager Zuo, but Manager Zuo was having trouble taking it.
Someone of Zuo Dahai's martial arts ability, who thought himself incredibly strong, was still unable to manage this little leather bag. When Sang Nanpu's bag lowered into Zuo Dahai's hand, he suddenly felt that bag, which was not even three feet across, weighed a c.r.a.p ton!
Such a hefty force suddenly plunked into Zuo Dahai's hands made him stagger and there was an enormous crack as the wooden board he was standing on split and Zuo Dahai's right foot went through——
Mr. Sang laughed. “Careful!”
His right hand, which had the baggage roll under his arm, reached out to Zuo Dahai and pulled him back and straightened him up.
Zuo Dahai's face sank and he looked Sang Nanpu up and down like he was looking at a ghost.
Mr. Sang was smiling. “Your stairs are in want of repair, you ought to install new ones!”
He bowed slightly to Zuo Dahai and headed up the stairs by himself. a.s.sistant Manager Xu Li saw the look on Manager Zuo's face and stopped and looked at him.
Zuo Dahai shook his head. “It's nothing, go see to Mr. Sang, don't neglect him now!”
Xu Li followed orders and went up after him. Zuo Dahai then turned around slowly. His wife, “Black Hornet” Hua Sigu and the fur traders were looking at him with their raised eyebrows.
He looked down closely at the busted step. There was a hole right in the middle of the three-finger thick plank.
Zuo Dahai chuckled. “This wood is rotted, it's no good!”
He bent down and ripped the plank up and tossed it out the nearby window, as if he didn't want anyone to see it.
Hua Sigu knew what had happened, but she couldn't very well ask her husband about it to his face.
Zuo Dahai went back to the middle table. There was only Ge Xuesong there now, still drinking.
“Manager, what's wrong, did something happen?”
Zuo Dahai rubbed his face. “The saying that there's always someone out there better is absolutely true!”
Ge Xuesong nodded and sneered. “That guy is hiding his true ability. Manager, what do you think he's up to?”
“If I wanted to know I wouldn't have lost face!”
“You didn't learn anything?”
“Is that necessary?” Zuo Dahai took a swig of liquor and stuffed a hunk of meat in his mouth. “Just worry about your furs, I'll worry about my business. Outsider affairs are none of our concern. If the sky falls I'll prop it up myself. No need for us to worry about it!”
“But——” Ge Xuesong frowned. “That guy is also in the fur trading business!”
“Let him worry about himself, hmph——What do we care?”
“You're right! It's just… He who comes, comes with ill-intent. Ice River Town is a little pond, it can't support such a big fish!
“Relax!” Zuo Dahai looked around. When he saw no one was around, he lowered his voice. “For every mountain there's a taller mountain. That Sang fellow is incredible, but that man across the way is no slouch!”
“You mean Old Master Tan?”
“Hmph! Wait and see!”
“If he really came for Tan, now that I want to see!”
Ge Xuesong started with a jerk, as if he were just now remembering the dangerous encounter he'd just had with Miss Tan——
“Old Master Tan really ought to show himself! For going on ten years or more now he's been holed up, probably moldy by now, I mean it——” There was mystery in Ge Xuesong's voice. “What's someone as skilled as he is so worried about?”
“Brother!” Zuo Dahai said icily, “When it comes to fur trading I'm no match for you, but if you want to talk jianghu experience, you're a bit lacking——”
“So what?” Zuo Dahai rolled his blazing eyes. “You think Old Tan has really gone mad for real and just left all his property in the Central Plains and come here to live out the rest of his years and not come out in over ten years?”
“If not that, then what?”
He dipped his finger in liquor and wrote “enemy” on the table, then quickly rubbed it out.
“Understand?” Zuo Dahai spoke all mysterious with his head down, as if he were the only person in the world who knew of this.
“Who?” Ge Xuesong stared at him. “Who has the ability to make even Old Master Tan go into hiding?”
“That I'm not sure of!”
It wasn't clear if he really didn't know or he just didn't want to say, or if he had some misgivings about it, but he just shook his head over and over, looking disappointed and a bit sad.
Ge Xuesong stared dumbly for a moment, then gave a wry smile. “Outside they all say Old Tan is d.a.m.n near a living immortal. I didn't believe it at first, but I never imagined his daughter back there would be like that. Now I know Old Tan really deserves his reputation——”
“Deserves his reputation——” Zuo Dahai aimed his liquor-soaked eyes at him. “If that Sang fellow hadn't saved you, Brother, you like as not would have died!”
“……” Ge Xuesong was dumbstruck.
“My internal force is no match for yours, so this is just layman's talk. But, Brother, the way you looked back there, anyone with eyes could see it. Since Miss Tan trained in, as you said it, ‘Faithful Daughter' skill, have you forgotten what Old Master Tan's specialty is?”
“You really don't know?”
“How should I know?” Ge Xuesong was really at a loss.
“Then I'll tell you!” Zuo Dahai rolled his fiery eyes. “Old Tan has an unrivaled technique called ‘Primordial Thunderbolt', though I haven't seen it. But I've heard people say with someone who knows that kungfu, if you so much as trade palms, the force is enough to blow up your internal organs.”
“Really?” Ge Xuesong's face suddenly sank.
“That Miss Tan is his only beloved daughter. It's said she's already learned all Old Tan knows. How could he not teach her his consummate skill? So I was really worried for you back there!”
“But how did you know it was that Sang fellow who helped me out?”
“I don't, it was just a guess!” Zuo Dahai a.n.a.lyzed it rationally, “Just think, there were only a few people in the room at the time, and you knew them all. If not him, then who?”
“Yes, that makes sense!” Ge Xuesong stood up suddenly. “I'll go ask him about it!”
“No need!” Zuo Dahai grabbed both his arms. “There's no need for that. Whatever you ask him, he won't admit it. For now let's just bide our time and keep an eye on him.”
Ge Xuesong thought for a moment, then sat back down.
Twilight was deepening, the a.s.sistants had already lit the lamps. Outside hung a string of paper lanterns.
“Fiery-eyed Diamond” Zuo Dahai and the leader of the fur traders, “The Next Lü Bu” Ge Xuesong, both had a lot on their minds.
Ge Xuesong was thinking about the Tan family's daughter——She was the prettiest girl he'd ever seen, so he couldn't help but be befuddled.
Zuo Dahai was pondering his business——
“My boy!” He clapped Ge Xuesong on the shoulder, snapping the latter out of his reverie.
Zuo Dahai said, “Let me see that ‘White Archfiend' pelt, and I'll——”
Ge Xuesong was struck dumb for a moment, then he thought of how the man had whiled away half the day being attentive to him. He sneered, “Alright, Manager, name your price!”
He held up two fingers. “I'll give you this much!”
“Stop joking, if I had that much money I wouldn't be so poor!”
Ge Xuesong smiled. “So it's 2,000 then?”
Zuo Dahai held up his other hand. “I'll add this much, 2,500 in all. What do you say? It's not a small amount!”
“Alright,” Ge Xuesong said as he walked. “After the day after tomorrow we can talk about it!”
Then he turned and went up the stairs.
Zuo Dahai hmphed as he watched him go up the steps, so mad he was clenching his teeth. “Black Hornet” Hua Sigu came over.
“Manager, what's wrong? Look! You look like someone hit you!”
Zuo Dahai sighed over and over. It was just the two of them in the room now, he could speak freely——
“Tan wants to smash up our signboard. It will be hard going in the days to come!”
Hua Sigu was taken aback. “You mean the Tan family invitation for the day after tomorrow? It's not that serious!”
“How is it not?” Zuo Dahai said, “In the past it was just me. This year everyone is involved. Tan wants to do business directly, without the need for us middlemen!”
“If that's really how it is, then Old Tan is really heartless. All these years we've never gotten credit for all the hard work we put in, we ought to get his business. Could he really pull down the bridge after crossing the river?”
“Who knows what the h.e.l.l he's up to?”
“If Old Tan is really that ungrateful, then we'll divulge his secret and he can think again about living another day in peace.”
“Shh!” Zuo Dahai said. “Why don't you keep your voice down?”
“There's only the two of us here,” Hua Sigu said angrily. “We've kept our mouths shut all these years, and haven't we always treated him well? And this is the thanks we get!”
“But Tan has treated us well also! Besides, you know how formidable Old Tan is. How could we ever be a match for him? Unless you're tired of living!”
Hua Sigu curled her lip. “Look at you, scared like that. Old Tan is formidable alright, but he's only one person. He doesn't have three heads and six arms does he?”
“Ai ai! You women are like that, can't do anything, but can spoil everything. Enough! I'm not talking to you!”
Hua Sigu reached out and pulled him by the hand. “Don't go yet. I've had this pent up all these years; you've never told me in detail, so tell me now. Just who is Tan hiding from?”
“Who said he was hiding?” Zuo Dahai jerked his hand away, panting with rage. “The more I talk to you the more excited you get!”
He stamped up the stairs in a huff, Hua Sigu glaring at him furiously.
It was dark out, a cold wind blowing in from the open window. Though it was the beginning of spring, it was still cold.
Black Hornet got up in a huff to shut the window. As soon as her hand touched the cas.e.m.e.nt she recoiled in shock——
There was someone standing outside since who knows when.
Maybe the person had only gotten there just now, or maybe the person had been standing there for a long time, a man nearly sixty, with a gaunt face, pale and no beard or mustache. His eyes were hard and he wore a long robe of silk from the capital. It was black so it was hard to make him out standing there.
“Black Hornet” Hua Sigu jumped in shock. Once she got a good look at the person she was even more shocked!
“Mr. Hu… Is that you… How long have you been here?”
——The person standing outside was none other than the Tan family accountant, Mr. Hu, named Hu Jun. He was Old Master Tan's most trusted confidant. Every matter big and small in the Tan household was handled by Mr. Hu. Old Master Tan put all his faith in Mr. Hu, and Zuo Dahai highly respected him as well. Hua Sigu naturally couldn't slight him.
“I've been here for some time!” Mr. Hu said icily. “I was going to come in, but I saw you and your husband talking so I decided to wait outside.”
“Ah——” Hua Sigu's face sank. “Did you hear… anything?”
Mr. Hu snorted and turned and walked in through the main doors.
Hua Sigu hurriedly pulled up a chair for him. “Master Hu, sit. I'll go get our manager.”
“No need! I came to deliver an invitation.”
Mr. Hu pulled a sheaf of invitations from his sleeve as he talked. There were over a dozen of them there.
Hua Sigu put on a smile and said, “You really flatter us, going to all the trouble of personally delivering the invitations!”
Mr. Hu said, “When the time comes these guests must honor us with their presence. You will have to help me with this, Proprietress. It's the day after tomorrow, after noon. Our master, Old Master Tan, will receive the guests personally!”
Hua Sigu smiled awkwardly. “Master Hu, do you know what this is about?”
“Uh.. I don't know myself.” He smiled faintly. “I'm sure it's nothing bad. Proprietress, you can rest easy on that account!”
Hua Sigu said, “Every year all your fur needs are taken care of by our manager, this time…”
“This time will be no exception.” Mr. Hu said, “Only, the means will be a bit different this time.”
Mr. Hu snorted and reached into his robe and took out a square satin package and set it on the table. It seemed quite heavy.
“This is 100 taels of gold!” Mr. Hu stammered, “Our master remembers the many years of Manager Zuo's support. This trifle is but a token of his respect, please accept it, Proprietress.”
Hua Sigu was delighted at once, and the bellyful of grumblings she had been nursing evaporated instantly——
“You… You flatter us… I couldn't possibly!”
“Take it!” Mr. Hu said, “Our master has always been magnanimous, Manager Zuo is well aware of our master's conduct. Proprietress, perhaps you are not so clear on it!”
Hua Sigu said bashfully, “Of course… Of course I am… Old Master Tan is a great philanthropist in this area. It's through his great blessing that we have been able to do so much business… Ai! In that case, I will accept this on behalf of our manager, with thanks!”
She picked up the square package of gold and hefted it in her hand. Judging by the weight, it was pretty heavy, certainly enough for 100 taels!
A hundred taels of gold was no small amount. The amount of business they did each year from the fur trade, including their insider bonuses, was not even that much.
Hua Sigu's mind was completely at ease now, she even felt guilty about all she had said earlier.
Mr. Hu took out a sheepskin account book from his sleeve and flipped it open. It was full of densely packed numbers.
He turned the page and wrote:
“Delivered payment of 100 taels of gold to Zuo Dahai.”
“Proprietress, please check and stamp this. I have to submit an expense report when I return.”
“Alright…” Hua Sigu smiled. “It's just that I don't have the stamp. I'll go get the manager——”
“No need. Proprietress, you can use your thumbprint instead!”
He opened a stamp case and Hua Sigu pressed her thumb in the ink and stamped the ledger. She smiled, “Master Hu, wait just a moment so I can count it!”
She opened the satin package to reveal, sure enough, glittering yellow golden foil notes, twenty of them in all, each worth five taels, 100 total, not a tael missing. Hua Sigu beamed with joy and thanked him repeatedly.
Mr. Hu sat primly and waited while she counted it, then he asked, “Is the amount correct?”
“Yes yes… Thank you, Master Hu, for going to all this trouble! Come, Master Hu, this liquor is still warm, have a cup! I'll go make you something to eat!”
“That won't be necessary——”
Mr. Hu reached out with his thin, pale hand, and grabbed the pewter flagon in Hua Sigu's hand!
Hua Sigu trembled as if she had been electrocuted, nearly dropping the flagon of liquor. Mr. Hu smiled and placed the flagon in front of her on the table. Hua Sigu couldn't help but see the pewter flagon, and she was shocked to see five finger marks pressed into the metal, each print so deep it pushed into the center of the flagon, almost puncturing the metal.
Hua Sigu stared at it wide-eyed.
All along she had thought of Mr. Hu, the Tan family accountant, as a model scholar. She never imagined he was actually a first-rate wulin master. She had really been mistaken.
Mr. Hu smiled deeply. “Proprietress, it's best if one treats people honestly and kindly, wouldn't you agree?”
Hua Sigu was struck dumb. “Yes… Master Hu, you are so right!”
“There's an old saying, A timely warning may avert a national crisis, but a single wrong statement may bring a nation to ruin——” Mr. Hu's face looked like it was covered in a layer of frost. “Proprietress, although you are a woman, I'm sure you are aware of this maxim. Proprietress, you're a smart person, I think I can stop there and say no more.”
“……” Hua Sigu blanched and nodded repeatedly, panic-stricken. She didn't know what to say.
Mr. Hu stood. “It's getting late, I must be going!”
He put his hands in his sleeves and turned and walked out.
“Black Hornet” Hua Sigu stared blankly for a moment, then suddenly got up and ran after him. “Master Hu——”
Mr. Hu turned. Hua Sigu looked inexplicably awkward. She stammered, “Master Hu… That exchange earlier with our manager, that was just raving drunken nonsense, Master Hu you… mustn't take offense, please keep it between us——”
Mr. Hu said, “Proprietress, no need to worry. This matter need not be mentioned again——”
He arched his brows. “Oh——Right, according to our young lady, a new traveler arrived here today, is that correct?”
Hua Sigu said, “That's right, his family name is Sang!”
Mr. Hu said oh again. “I must welcome him the day after tomorrow! Many thanks, many thanks!"
He turned and left.
Hua Sigu looked out into the pitch-black night and breathed a sigh of relief. That was a close call. Mr. Hu seemed to be a first-rate wulin master. Good thing she hadn't been too impudent earlier, because with that person's martial arts, if he had attacked, wouldn't she have been a goner? The saying “Illness enters by mouth and trouble comes out of it” was absolutely true!
With that thought she rejoiced to herself at her good fortune, and she admonished herself, then went and put away the 100 taels of gold. She saw the a.s.sistant, Pillar, coming down the stairs and she ordered him to bolt the doors, then she went straight to the rear compound to rest.
Mr. Hu left “Spring Greetings” and returned to the Tan residence.
As it has been related previously, the Tan residence was a large mansion, the main gates towering twenty feet high or more, roofed with green glazed tiles. It looked even more imposing under the light of a row of ten storm lanterns!
There were over a dozen stone steps out in front, with enormous stone lions crouched on either side and a horse mounting block in the middle. A hundred peach trees were planted running along both walls. They weren't blossoming yet, but one can well imagine what a splendid sight it was when they were!
All of it spoke of Master Tan's imposing air, and one could infer he was not an ordinary person.
Mr. Hu normally did not like to reveal his martial arts ability. He pulled his robe up and carefully picked his way across the slushy, muddy road, finally stepping onto the large slabstone walk that led directly to the main gates.
The night wind blew. The wind soughing through the pines was pleasing to the ear. Mr. Hu shivered with a start.
At that moment, he didn't know if he was seeing things, but he caught the flash of a quickly moving figure coming from the vast Ice River from the west, suddenly rising, then falling as it approached.
It was the beginning of spring and the ice on the river had completely melted. Before, when it was still frozen, it was solid enough to drive a large cart across it, but now it was a faintly ripping viridescent wave——
It was no oddity to see someone walking on ice, but walking on water was something else entirely.
The person didn't look to be on a boat, but was using shockingly incredible lightness skill, perhaps the rumored “Eight Steps Treading the Waves” skill! To use that skill required a smooth flow of true qi raised from the dantian. Every eight steps you took a breath. That kind of lightness skill was often seen on land, but there were very few who dared to try it on water because you had to land on something solid every eight steps, and if you didn't stick the landing you'd sink into the water!
Mr. Hu looked and was startled at once. He quickly hid behind a nearby cypress tree. His eyes were sharp, locked fast on this uninvited guest.
The person's lightness skill was really astonishing. In only the blink of an eye the person had crossed the vast river and was before him, quick as lightning!
Now Mr. Hu was 90% sure it was a person. Though he couldn't make out the person's face, he could tell it was a thin person who was not very tall, with frighteningly pale skin in the moonlight, wearing a thin padded robe like himself, though it was b.u.t.toned up in front and back, revealing pale bluish-white pants, wrapped tightly with satin ribbon at the ankles. It looked quite nimble.
Before he knew it, the person had reached the slabstone road.
The person shook his long robe, eyes twinkling with intimidating light.
Mr. Hu, behind the tree, didn't move a muscle as he watched the person check the surroundings, then look over at the main gates of the Tan residence and lightly stride toward them.
Mr. Hu sneered to himself, thinking you've got a lot of nerve. He started to move, hiding himself behind another tree.
The person had short hair, cut evenly. When he pa.s.sed by, Mr. Hu could see clearly the sword strapped tightly to his back. The ta.s.sel on the hilt was black.
He walked with quick, light steps and stood before the Tan family gates, looking up for a moment, then with a stamp of the foot and with a flap of the sleeves the person was on top of the corner of the wall.
Mr. Hu started in shock. That person's lightness skill was fast. When he landed he didn't stop for a second, but kicked off the top of the wall and whisked down on the other side.
This time was even faster, the jump even farther.
In the moonlight it was like a huge goose soaring into the clouds. He jumped fifty to sixty feet high, somersaulting in the air and landing in front of a pavilion in the main compound.
Mr. Hu, accountant of the Tan manor, could not keep his calm any longer. He used his “Hidden Dragon Ascending Heaven” form to jump up, and with the tip of his foot he caught the glazed tiles on the enclosing wall and he pitched forward and “snick——snick”, whipped out two “jujube nut darts”!
The intruder had his back to Mr. Hu, but he seemed to have eyes in the back of his head because as soon as Mr. Hu's concealed darts were ten feet or so away from him, the person ran forward and spun around like a whirlwind and kicked the two jujube nut darts away without a trace.
The person had been cautious, but still managed to reveal his figure, which made him sulk——
He was heard snorting, then he spun around and came for Mr. Hu where the latter had landed on the ground!
Mr. Hu yelled, “You've got a lot of nerve!”
With his right hand he chopped his open hand at the person and he quickly moved his position as he did so.
The person was really something himself. As soon as Mr. Hu lashed out, he moved away and the latter missed, and he moved ten feet or so away.
Mr. Hu burst forth a second time, using “Dragon Style Second Form Closing-In Palm” and struck at him.
The person dodged half a foot to the left and shot his hand out at Mr. Hu's right side.
Mr. Hu dropped his hand and turned his right foot and used the tip of his foot to kick at the person's temple on the right side.
The person pulled back and sank down, then thrust both palms out, using “Double Collider Palm” internal force and he spat out “Hyahh!” "
The force of the strike was deflected, but Mr. Hu couldn't help but take a step back.
This person really did have a lot of nerve, not holding back at all at someone else's residence.
The person never imagined his powerful palm strike could be blocked like that. In a rage, he raised his right hand and reached behind and with a “schwing” a three-foot steel blade was in his hand.