No Pollution, No Public Harm Chapter 41-50

Chapter 41

Content warning: This chapter contains a reference to human trafficking and a brief description of animal mutilation. 

"You people didn't close the door." Zhang Meizhen extended a finger and tapped the door frame. Her face was made up with fiery red lips, her hair white and her face even whiter. The contrast between the red and the white was too great and made a person temporarily overlook her wrinkles, leaving only an impression of imposing gaudiness. She winked at Yu Yan and asked, "A police officer?"

Yu Yan stared at her, dumbstruck, and subconsciously stood up straighter. "Ah… yes! Auntie… Jie… Erm… Madam…"

"Call me Grandma." Zhang Meizhen patted his head like she was petting a dog and entered without hesitation, conveniently passing the box of strawberries she was carrying to Old Master Yang. "Wash them and share them with everyone."

Old Master Yang was someone who spent his entire day at home burning incense and studying weiqi game records but now, without a word, he rolled his sleeves up and prepared to do as she bid. Next to them, Han Dongsheng hurriedly took the box from him. "Let me do it!"

Old Master Yang looked at his thick and broad back, and sighed soundlessly. He turned his head around. "But that is also just a guess."

"Other than those punks, who else could it be? You don't have to avoid the topic around me, I've washed my hands clean of them thirty years ago. Ever since that Wang Jiusheng became the leader, I couldn't even be bothered to find out what they've been up to." Zhang Meizhen leaned back against the sofa and took off her heels, tossing them aside. She smiled at the bewildered Yu Yan, "I was originally from Travellers' Sect."

As she spoke, the very black triad-like Grandma Zhang swung a key ring in her hand. There was an accessory in the shape of a bat hung on it, its colour an exceptionally bright red. It looked as though it was made of plastic but when removed from the ring and held in one's hand, the weight could be truly felt. It was real, genuine agate.

Yu Yan asked, "What's that?"

"Travellers' Sect's Five Bats Token," Zhang Meizhen said. "If we were in ancient times, it could be considered a sacred item, just like your Grandpa Yang's firewood staff. Now, it's still considered an antique anyway but there isn't much meaning to this nonsense, it's not worth much money."

Yu Yan spent a long time making the gr— sound but still could not say the word "Grandma." In the end, he gave up. "...Your Travellers' Sect, what do they do?"

"The Travellers' Sect in ancient times consisted of five types of people comprising 'carriage, boat, shop, foot and broker'—drivers, boatmen, shop attendants, porters and intermediaries. These people wander all over, up north and down south. There were good people and there were also those who swindled and tricked others. Back during the days of the old society, they all belonged to the lowest class and hence, couldn't be considered a reputable and righteous sect. The Five Bats represent these five main trades. At the start, the five main trades were as close as though they were born from the same womb but as time went by, they each had their own territory and livelihoods. Inevitably, they started fighting for power and there were frequently internal conflicts. After a brief period of glory in history, they very quickly fell into decline," Sect Leader Yang explained slowly at the side. "After liberation, the old trades were no more and the people's hearts were even more scattered. For the sake of integrating with society and also to preserve old traditions, their north branch master at Yanning, Wang Jiusheng, even started a delivery company. It's called… what was it again… Fu something Da."

Yu Yan and Yu Lanchuan said in unison, "Futongda!"

Old Master Yang said, "That's it!"

Yu Yan said, "Second to none when it comes to losing parcels."

Yu Lanchuan said, "Throws packages like they're throwing grenades."

Yu Yan said, "Eight days for deliveries within the same city."

Yu Lanchuan said, "Their complaint number is busier than the hotline, I've never been able to get through."

Yu Yan said, "We just arrested one of their delivery workers last week. He was behaving improperly to a girl!"

Old Master Yang, "..."

The people were already so deeply angered?

"Wang Jiusheng, the north branch master, is nothing good. After falling into his hands, there was no way Travellers' Sect would become anything good either. The current generation is not only unreasonable, even the old rules are no more. In my opinion, this Travellers' Sect is just a mud hole where local bullies and ruffians gather." Zhang Meizhen scoffed. "This lousy delivery company is at least a proper business and can be considered a loincloth to hide their shame. There are plenty of other disciples who go around swindling people. Not only do they not care about that; once a victim hunts them down, they even cover up for one another. Wang Jiusheng always puts on an act of 'I'm an entrepreneur, why would I be related to those low class people.' He has plenty of lackeys below him that he can order around as he likes anyway, you won't be able to get anything you can use against him."

"Which is to say, that qigong master who ran away is very likely to be hidden by his fellow sect members now." Yu Yan asked, "This matters involves a human life after all. That old boss of Futongda… erm, that branch master, is there any chance he would cooperate with the police? Give me a way to contact him."

Han Dongsheng put the washed strawberries on the table. The few seniors of the martials arts community reached out to take the strawberries to stuff their mouths, and looked at Yu Yan who had said something foolish like they were watching a show.

Yu Lanchuan said, "I think it would be more effective if you complained about him at the post office."

"All right, fine." Yu Yan spread his hands. "What ideas do you guys have? Can we infiltrate their inner circle?"

"Travellers' Sect has many people and is also messy. I heard that it's common for their people who caused an incident in one part of the country to run away to another place and look for protection from fellow sect members there. They would create a false identity and continue to mess around." Zhang Meizhen thought awhile, then said, "The Five Bats Token opens doors but whether or not it works depends on the person's face."

Yu Yan's eyes brightened. "Housing in Yanning is expensive, temporary accommodation is also expensive. They shouldn't have many dens. If we can infiltrate them, we might be able to find where that qigong master is hiding."

"Erm… about that." Old Master Yang carefully glanced at Zhang Meizhen and interjected. "Even though this 'qigong master' of yours is likely to be from Travellers' Sect, the missing old people cases might really have nothing to do with them."

Yu Yan asked, "Why?"

Old Yang was about to speak but stopped himself.

"What's there that can't be said," Zhang Meizhen cut him off placidly. "The enmity between Traveller's Sect and Beggars' Sect goes a long way back, they wouldn't gather a pack of old men and old ladies to beg for them. It's not possible for the situation you're worried about to happen. Furthermore, that master depends on eggs to swindle and get money. He had finally nurtured a group of believers, each and everyone of them a money tree that drops cash whenever he shakes them. He hasn't collected enough money yet, he still needs to keep this group around to get their retirement funds. How could he bear to harm them?"

Yu Yan hesitated for a while. "But right now, other than this 'qigong master,' we don't have any other clue… Furthermore, this person should indeed be detained. It's bad enough that he's deceiving people into buying his energised eggs at a high price, he even insists that they wait until the hour of the zi—which is around midnight—and eat the entire carton in one go! One carton can have six large eggs! Those old men and old ladies said that after eating the eggs, they felt their qi rushing forth from the pit of their stomach and their power increasing. I really have to admit defeat. The farts caused by the egg whites that can't be digested easily can also be called 'power.' Isn't the skill they're learning a little too smelly!"

Yu Lanchuan's ears could detect the stink. Silently, he put the strawberries back. He had no appetite now.

Yu Yan said gravely, "Right now, there aren't any problems from this yet, so he's lucky. But I think it's only a matter of time before there's a problem. Those 'fart kungfu' practitioners are all exceptionally devoted. If we let it be, by the time their 'master' has hid from the storm, make his return and come up with some new problem, it would be too late."

"Officer, this is not a matter of catching one person. Even though those Travellers' Sect people turned over a new leaf a long time ago, to put it in a less pleasant way, they were all from the black triads in the past. When Elder Yu was still around, they had already dared to come all the way to No. 110 Courtyard to kidnap people," Zhang Meizhen said. "Don't think they won't dare attack the police. They can beat you up until you're incapacitated and you won't even have seen clearly the person who did it. The main perpetrator will then pick a place to hide while the others work together to create a false alibi. They'll push the matter from person to person, and you can continue to dream of catching them one day. I think you better think further before you speak."

Yu Yan frowned. In truth, it was pretty difficult to handle things when these local bullies started to act like rogues. They were like cockroaches in the house—no matter how strong the repellant was, victory was short-lived. Unless the entire neighbourhood was destroyed, after a mere few days, they would start popping up again.

These people were indeed bad but ultimately, they had not commited murder or arson. Any punishments wouldn't be severe; at most they would be detained for a few days and then the police would have to let them go.

When these dregs of society were released from the detention center, most of the time, they would become even more fearless. Some of them would even take revenge on the police officers who handled their case. Police officers were also humans, everyone had parents or children at home. At most, they only knew a few amateur techniques for fighting or taking down opponents. They wouldn't turn into martial arts experts just by putting on their uniforms. There were times when the police really couldn't afford to offend those ruffians.

At that moment, Han Dongsheng suddenly said, "Why don't I give it a try…"

Once he spoke, everyone's eyes fell on him.

"Ai, in the first place, this is my family's problem." Out of habit, Han Dongsheng smiled but immediately after, he didn't know why he was smiling so he stopped. He rubbed his thick palms. "Even though I've put my martial arts skills aside long ago, I should still be able to think of a way to escape if anything happens. Plus, my flesh is thick, I can handle being hit."

"Huh?" Yu Yan was stunned. He firmly rejected the idea. "This definitely won't do!"

The police handling the case fearing danger and letting civilians go in their place, what was this?

"Comrade Officer, whether or not you can make use of me, I'll definitely go and investigate. If I didn't know all these, that would be it. But since I found this clue today, regardless of whether they are legit or illegal, I need to check them out first. There's no way I can stay at home and wait for the news." As before, Han Dongsheng still had the appearance of a yes-man but his mouth was saying softly, "My surname is Han after all. I cannot bring shame to my ancestors."

What was so great about his surname being Han?

As an outsider, Yu Yan could not understand. Whatever that "Fuliang Yue" was, he had only heard Old Master Yang bring it up as an aside. The legends were all from the start of the century. No matter how bright their glory was back then, it had all been extinguished along with the passing of a century.

What was more, Mr. Han was a middle-aged man with the body of a pregnant woman and if his face was covered, he might even be offered a priority seat on public transport. What kind of fighting ability could he have?

Yu Yan said wearily, "Ai, please don't be impulsive-"

But Old Master Yang said suddenly, "It's good if Xiao-Han checks it out."

Zhang Meizhen chuckled. She unhooked the Five Bats Token key chain and tossed it to him.

Han Dongsheng reached up and caught it. "Everyone, let's discuss properly first and act together. That would be better than acting on our own. Comrade Officer, what do you think?"

Yu Yan didn't think much of it. He could only look at Yu Lanchuan, hoping for their ever-dependable alliance leader to say something.

In the end, the alliance leader said, "Sounds good. Coincidentally, I would also like to meet Travellers' Sect."

Yu Yan, "..."

Something had possessed Yu Lanchuan!

Yu Lanchuan had recalled something and a hint of a cold smile was revealed on his face. He seemed to be biting on a series of grudges, old and new, between his teeth. "How about this weekend? I can free up a day."

When Zhang Meizhen returned home, Gan Qing was scrubbing the floors as though nothing had happened. She had earphones in her ears and looked as though she was completely immersed in the music, not even looking up when someone came in.

Zhang Meizhen directly walked up to her and pulled out one of her earphones.

"Ai." Gan Qing seemed to have been startled. She looked up and smiled at her. "Meizhen-jie, you're back."

Zhang Meizhen looked at her steadily.

Gan Qing asked, "Your lipstick today looks good. Which shade is it?"

But this topic that could usually draw a lengthy comment from Zhang Meizhen did not work today.

Zhang Meizhen didn't answer her. "More than ten years ago, the Yanning police caught a gang of human traffickers. Among the people implicated were the Black Bats of Travellers' Sect. The Black Bats are 'intermediaries.'"

Intermediaries were the middlemen in business transactions. They were about the same as intermediaries who conducted purchases and sales of real estate, and could be considered a proper profession.

However, in ancient times, other than real estate, physical objects and livestock, the trade of these intermediaries included one more type of transaction—humans. But even in the feudalistic society back then, by the time of the Song and Ming dynasties, the selling and buying of humans were no longer allowed by law. Those professional human traffickers were known as "slave traders" and were basically all followers of evil and terrible ways.

Within Travellers' Sect, the fish and the dragons alike muddled together. They took in anyone, the sweet-smelling good and the stinky evil. For them to decline into their current feeble state was only natural.

"The Black Bats would of course protect their own but that matter was already in the news and had a huge impact at that time. Travellers' Sect's north branch master, Wang Jiusheng, spent a great effort to whitewash himself into a private entrepreneur. There was no way he could contain the matter so he handed over those few who were involved in it and even injured a group of the Black Bats," Zhang Meizhen continued to say. "Because of that, the Black Bats did not submit to Wang Jiusheng and wanted to pull him down. Wang Jiusheng thickened his face and ran to No. 110 to look for Elder Yu to back him up. He wanted to drive the Black Bats out of the sect. Among the Black Bats were some from the younger generation who didn't know how high the sky nor how thick the earth was, and there was no limit to their madness. In order to warn Elder Yu to keep out of matters that were none of his business, they even kidnapped Elder Yu's grandson who was still in junior high."

Gan Qing blinked and put on a confused look. "What kind of underworld society are you talking about? It has long since been outlawed, hasn't it?"

Zhang Meizhen ignored her. "When we found the child the next day, we found that he was completely unharmed. Instead, there were a few Black Bats who were in a miserable state, both humans and dogs. One of the vicious dogs had even been disemboweled, its intestines pulled out far and wrapped around the neck of an unconscious Black Bat. Someone had even written a few words on the Black Bat's chest with the dog's blood—'Travellers' Sect, Cowardly Turtles' Sect, the big turtle can't manage the small turtles[1].'"

Gan Qing, "..."

She had a vague recollection of this unfortunate incident… Had she been that much of a terror when she was young?

Zhang Meizhen smiled. "Elder Yu was the one who found the words. At that time, he felt that even though this friend who had lent a helping hand behind the scenes was righteous, they were probably a troublemaker. He was afraid there would be further troubles so before handing them over to the police, he wiped away those words. But Wang Jiusheng had already seen them. Wang Jiusheng came from a background of hardship and had worked his way through the ranks in Travellers' Sect since young. When he was young, other people would bully him and call him a cowardly turtle. When he grew up, he was like a salted fish turning over a new leaf, and he changed his name to Jiusheng. Throughout his entire life, he abhorred the two words 'cowardly turtle.' Just seeing a turtle dish on the table could make him turn hostile, what more having someone use dog blood to insult him indirectly. But he was a subtle and crafty person. He didn't let anything show at that time but he kept a grudge in his heart."

Gan Qing suddenly sensed something and her eyes swiftly widened.

Zhang Meizhen glanced at her, then stood up and walked to the bathroom to remove her makeup.

"Meizhen-jie!" Gan Qing stood up abruptly, one earphone dangling at her chest. "He kept a grudge in his heart, and then?"

"I don't know any more than that," Zhang Meizhen said. "That friend who wrote in dog's blood was vicious in their methods. It was obvious which sect their skills were from but those people lived in hiding and were not easy to find. However, Wang Jiusheng knew people from all walks of life in Yanning, his might was far-reaching and he had so many followers. Even if he couldn't find them in one or two years, give him three or five years… huh, who knows?"

T/N:
[1] The word used here is 王八 wángbā. It is an informal term for "turtle" or "tortoise," but is also an offensive insult that means "coward" or "bastard." The "wang" here is the same "wang" as Wang Jiusheng.
A note on Travellers' Sect: Unlike Beggars' Sect which is a fairly well-known fictional wuxia sect that appears in many wuxia stories, Travellers' Sect seems to be something the author came up with herself. I couldn't find any references to it other than this story and Youfei, which is also by the same author.

Chapter 42

The tiny hair salon was in a semi-basement. The poster stuck on the window showed a bob cut and had one corner blown loose by the wind.

The locals were particular about following the tradition of not cutting one's hair in the first month of the lunar calendar. Hence, the end of the year was the peak season for hairdressing. The tiny salon that was usually completely empty also turned lively, with people coming and going every now and then. The heating in the shop was inadequate in the first place; the little bit of heat that took so much effort to accumulate was completely dissipated by the customers going in and out, and the breeze blew the cut-off hair ends all over the floor. "Kevin" and the other hairdressers held their scissors with shivering hands. A moment's carelessness, and the customer's fringe would be cut to resemble The Devil's Trill.

At that moment, a rundown car stopped at the entrance. It even blocked the entire lane in a very mannerless way.

The driver had a cigarette in his mouth. He jutted his chin at the two people sitting in the backseat. "You two get down here."

This was an unlicensed cab. The passengers were a pair of mother and daughter. They spoke with non-local accents; perhaps they were there to visit relatives or perhaps for sightseeing.

The mother looked to be around the age of forty. She looked at the dirty and rundown narrow alley in confusion. "Where is this place? It doesn't seem to be the place we want to go to. Driver, did you go to the wrong place?"

"It's the right place." The driver was not the least bit concerned with the feelings of his female passengers and expelled a cloud of smoke inside the enclosed space of the little car, his mood extremely good. "Get down and walk straight ahead. You'll reach after the distance of one stop. I've got something to do so I'm not driving any further."

The two passengers had newly arrived at the city and it was the first time they met such an outrageous cab driver. They suspected that something was wrong with their ears.

The mother asked, startled, "Walk straight ahead… for how long?" 

"One stop." The driver extended his hand lazily and smacked the steering wheel. The car let out a long blare of the horn. "If I might trouble you to get a move on, I still have something to do."

"You took our money right after we got in and now you want us to carry so many things and walk in the wind?" The girl beside her mother was around fifteen or sixteen years old. She erupted in rage. "Are you hoodlum?"

The driver narrowed his eyes and exhaled a mouthful of smoke. He replied, "Exactly."

This male driver had a scar at the corner of his eye. It looked like a centipede, extending all the way to the root of his ear. He looked at them out of the corner of his eye, obviously harbouring ill intentions. The girl's mother was a little nervous now and pulled on her daughter's hand. "Speak nicely-"

The girl said, "Why the hell would I speak nicely with an asshole? Give us our money back!"

From the front seat, the male driver turned his body around—he wasn't wearing his safety belt—and extended his fingers that were holding the cigarette until it seemed to almost burn the girl's nose. Pointing at her, he said, "Say that again."

The ash fell on the girl's hand and she shrieked. She angrily shook her hand and looked down, and saw that this hoodlum's clothes were bulging at the waist, revealing something… that looked like a knife!

The mother quickly restrained her mouthy daughter, took their luggage and bolted out of the cab. After walking about two to three meters, the girl finally dared to turn around and quickly snapped a photo of the unlicensed cab's number plate.

This unlucky mother and daughter would probably never want to come to Yanning again.

The hoodlum driver slowly got down from the cab and took a long stretch of the body. A man with his hair dyed blond ran out of the hair salon and solicitously opened the door for him. "Liang-ge, you're here!"

The hoodlum driver—Liang-ge—said an indifferent yeah and moved his legs to go in. He threw the half-smoked cigarette directly onto the floor and grounded a trail of ash with his foot. "It's so fucking cold."

The blond guy didn't even blink. "I saw that chick just now took a photo of your car with her phone…"

"Let her take all the photos she wants," Liang-ge said. "The number plate's fake anyway… So it's this kid?"

The blond guy followed the line of his gaze. In the corner of the hair salon sat a middle-aged man, rather fat, with hair that hadn't been trimmed in who knew how long and was sticking greasily to his scalp. He was visibly balding, his eyebrows were also sparse, and he wore a pair of glasses with scratched lenses. At his feet was a rather large checkered nylon bag.

"Yes," the blond guy said. "A little brother of mine brought him here. His surname is Zhang and he has our Five Bats Token. But he's a 'blockhead.' The Five Bats Token was given to him by a relative who told him to come to Yanning to find a place to shelter. His Five Bats Token is the real deal, agate. To be honest, it's the first time I'm seeing one. Liang-ge, how about you take a look?"

Liang-ge took the small Five Bats Token and turned it over a few times. He asked, "What crime did he commit in his own hometown?"

The blond guy answered, "This dumbass hit someone while driving and ran off after that. It was even at an intersection, isn't he just asking for trouble? It was captured clearly on CCTV. If the police catch him, he'll have to go in for a few years."

Liang-ge let out a "Mm" and walked towards the man.

The man was sitting on the edge of his seat. When he saw someone coming over, he immediately sprung up. He looked at Liang-ge with fear and nervousness.

"It's all right. I'll ask you a few questions as per the rules. As for how to answer," Liang-ge waved the Five Bats Token in his hand, "the person who gave you this thing should have taught you."

The middle-aged plump man nodded eagerly, his eyes never leaving the Five Bats Token in his hand. He looked like he wanted it back but didn't dare open his mouth.

"Who gave you this thing?"

"My third uncle."

"You know what it's called, don't you? Which group of bats is your third uncle from? What is his trade?"

"I-I know," the middle-aged plump man said, trembling in fear. "It's called the Five Bats Token. My third uncle said that he's from the Blue Bats and that he's not in the 'old trade.'"

The Blue Bats were "shop." "Not in the old trade" meant that this Travellers' Sect member was no longer a "shop attendant" and had changed fields. This man seemed to have just memorised the codewords but they could find nothing wrong with the words themselves.

Liang-ge glanced at him and his face suddenly turned grave. "That's not right. If he's a Blue Bat, why is the Five Bats Token that he gave you red?"

The middle-aged plump man got a fright and stammered, "My third uncle has two Five Bats Token, the other one is yellow. He said that the other token is his own and can't be given to me. This token was from his younger days, when he worked in the south. He had saved a fellow sect member and that person gave it to him… I asked him why the Blue Bats' Five Bats Token isn't blue. He said that this is the old rule passed down since before liberation."

At the very start, the colour of the token held by the Travellers' Sect members were the same colour as the group they belonged to. Later on, it was only after a few rounds of internal conflict that this rule came to be—holding a different colour Five Bats Token signified that the Five Bats within Travellers' Sect were tight-knit and united, and that they didn't distinguish between one another. Of course, it was completely useless. If the people themselves did not want to be united, they could hold a handful of Skittles and it would still be useless.

Liang-ge could find no problems with what he said. He interrogated him further, asking in detail about his third uncle's lineage and surname. Finally, his face became milder. He clapped the middle-aged plump man on the shoulder. "Don't take offense. Even though you're one of us, there are too many of us. We're scattered to all corners of the land and don't know each other. We don't have a way to investigate each person one by one either, so we can only ask a few more questions."

The middle-aged plump man had been so nervous he could barely breathe. Seeing the change in Liang-ge's attitude, he quickly gave them a smile that was even uglier than a crying face.

The blond guy from the hair salon said from the side, "Liang-ge knows a lot of people and is loyal. He can even speak up in front of Branch Master Wang. If any of our brothers here have any problems, we'll look for him. I'll hand you over to him."

The middle-aged plump man said, "Yes… Yes…"

Liang-ge studied this person and felt that this fatty was really capable of doing a hit-and-run. He was soft and lumpy, and it was obvious that he didn't have much accomplishments. He looked contemptuously on this type of person. With an irreverent attitude, he lit a cigarette and asked directly, "Everything's expensive in Yanning. Did you bring enough money?"

The middle-aged plump man immediately understood his unspoken meaning and quickly bent over to search in his checkered nylon bag, his butt sticking up in the air. After rustling around for a long while, he fumbled out a thick envelope and handed it over, bowing and scraping the whole time. "Please help me make the arrangements. I'm afraid I will have to trouble you."

Liang-ge dangled the cigarette from his mouth. His gaze slanted, he slid the cash in the envelope out and turned the stack over. The thickness was satisfactory, so he directly pulled it out and put it into his pocket, and threw the envelope away carelessly. "All right, follow me."

The plump man hurried to carry his checkered nylon bag and got into Liang-ge's incredibly smelly cab.

Just as the cab was driven out of the little alley, a low-profile white car peeked out from the corner of the street and followed it from far.

"In this area, all problems go to him." In the front passenger seat, Yu Yan was listening to the sounds coming through his earphones. "Looks like we found the right person."

The other young police officer rubbed his fists eagerly. "Yu-ge, I feel like I'm playing the role of Agent 007. Since I started work, other than catching petty thieves, all I do is mediate neighbourhood conflicts. I've never done anything as exciting as this!"

"Let's hope it won't be," Yu Yan said with an anxious face. "I'm still hoping for less excitement and to live a few years longer… Master Lan, I'm still a little worried. Can the identity you guys arranged hold up? What if they investigate closely? For example… will they call the 'third uncle' you guys came up with to confirm? Within the sect, if they really want to find someone, they should be able to get some way to contact them, right?"

"We didn't make up the third uncle," Yu Lanchuan answered while staring at the car ahead of them. "There really is such a person. Grandma Zhang did him a favour in the past. We've informed him, we won't be exposed. At that place, in the recent couple of days, there was indeed a case where a driver who caused an accident ran away. They won't find any problems."

Yu Yan asked, "Will someone recognise that Han-dage?"

The man pretending to be the hit-and-run driver was indeed Han Dongsheng. He had put on a wig, plucked his brows, put on a pair of glasses, stuck on a wispy moustache, and his entire appearance changed greatly. In the past, he was a typical slightly greasy-looking office worker. With this image change, he instantly looked a lot more coarse and vulgar.

"Probably not." Yu Lanchuan thought a while and said, "Beggars' Sect's skills are pretty good. As long as he doesn't meet a close acquaintance, he won't be recognised."

At No. 110 Courtyard, Meng Tianyi directly took the elevator up and knocked on 1003's door. After a while, a large white face peeked out from the crack of the door. Zhang Meizhen looked at her nephew outside the door, not the least bit surprised. Her face was covered in a facial mask and she couldn't open her mouth. She mumbled indistinctly, "Oh my, a rare visitor."

Meng Tianyi strode into the house and looked around with a solemn face. "Where's Gan Qing?"

"How would I know?" Zhang Meizhen faced the mirror and pulled the facial mask tight. "I hadn't woken up yet when she left. Didn't she go to work?"

Meng Tianyi said, "She texted me early in the morning to take the day off. When I called her, she declined the call."

"Oh." Zhang Meizhen shrugged. "So what if she takes the day off? Who can guarantee that they can work 365 days a year? Every month, there'll surely be a few inconvenient days-"

"Second Aunt!" Meng Tianyi cut her off. He dropped his butt on the sofa. "Two days ago, you asked me to help you contact a person, arrange a false identity for someone, and get in touch with Yanning's Travellers' Sect. Today, she took the day off and disappeared. What on earth is going on? You people are working together to take care of Travellers' Sect but why must you drag her into it?"

Zhang Meizhen held up a small mirror and admired her reflection from all angles, humming a song and pretending she hadn't heard him.

Meng Tianyi leaned over and snatched away her mirror. The large, plump face that looked like Garfield became serious. "She has a history and has martial arts skills. I know it can't be hidden from you for long but do you know who she is? She-"

Zhang Meizhen said, "Of course I know."

Meng Tianyi, "..."

Zhang Meizhen sighed as though she was bemoaning the modern day children who were becoming more and more foolish with every generation. She said, "Go open the fridge and look at the pile of meat she cut."

Zhang Meizhen was an expert at online shopping who received delivery packages from day to night. The old lady handled the buying but not the storing, and it had always been Gan Qing who helped her open the boxes. Sometimes, there would be a box from some remote village containing a pig's head, pork cutlets and pork ribs all squeezed together. Gan Qing would have no choice but to help her cut them into small pieces and pack them into small bags according to type, so that it would be easier to defrost them as needed.

"She uses a fruit knife that hasn't been sharpened in 800 years to cut ham into slices that are even thinner than what a meat slicer can do. One cut, one slice. Put it on a paper and you can read through it. When she's done slicing, put them in a row and the width would be all the same, with not even a milimeter's difference. Do you really think that once the ham slices are mixed into the noodles, I wouldn't be able to tell where those knife skills are from?" Zhang Meizhen rolled her eyes. "Your second aunt hasn't reached the age where she can't see clearly."

Her nephew had already started bringing his presbyopic glasses around with him and had nothing to say to that.

After falling silent for a while, Meng Tianyi said, "Wei-xiong entrusted that child to me. I have to take care of her and lead her to the right path. You have nothing on your hands and it's fine if you don't want to help, but please don't make things worse!"

Zhang Meizhen said, "The 'right path' you speak of is bringing her a pile of books for the exams for self-taught students and making her study to become an accountant?"

Meng Tianyi's eyes gleamed. "Did she study the books?"

"Nope," Zhang Meizhen said coolly. "She sold them for ten yuan. The scrap collector wanted to pay five yuan at the start but she refused. Subsequently, for the sake of that bit of spare change, those two bargained at the door for ten minutes. It gave me a headache listening to them."

Meng Tianyi, "..."

Zhang Meizhen said, "If a person has a path forward in their heart, even if she only knows how to press on a calculator, she can start by being a cashier and continue to walk step by step, and live her life according to her own right track. You wouldn't have to worry at all. But if her heart doesn't have this path, even if you make her study for 800 PhDs, she can still live as though there is no tomorrow, and just eat and wait for death. Do you believe me?"

Meng Tianyi sighed. "I know, but-"

"Do you think living is like a game of hide-and-seek—as long as you hide yourself well, the past will not find you?" Zhang Meizhen tore off her facial mask and scoffed. "The meridian channels in her right hand have been severed until she only has the strength left to lift chopsticks but her left hand can still take up the knife to kill. Can a couple of exam books restrain Wan Mu Chun's blade?"

Meng Tianyi looked at her at a loss.

Zhang Meizhen had a suffocating feeling in her heart. She looked at these younger generations who were on the right path; because they were too "right," each and every one of them were working hard to live, vigorously climbing upwards, their minds fully occupied with how to get promoted and increase their salaries. When they encounter hoodlum gangs who were not part of mainstream society, they really could not handle it and she would have to find a "witch" that was not so "right" to back them up, or trouble might really happen.

"But…"

"No more buts. Nephew, are you going through menopause? You're so annoying, go away!"

Before Meng Tianyi could say all he had to say, his second aunt was already asking him to leave.

"Second Aunt, Wan Mu Chun's blade draws blood the moment it is unsheathed. I'm worried that she'll again-"

"That is her own business. She's no longer a child," Zhang Meizhen cut him off. "Everyone has their own pitfall, everyone has their own calamity to overcome. If she can't make it through and destroys herself, she deserves it! Is it something you can manage? Right now, other than swinging the ladle, how much of your skills do you still remember? Hurry up and get lost!"

At the same time, the few "right path" people and the two police officers on the case had followed Liang-ge through twists and turns, and stealthily arrived at a small guest house.

Yu Yan poked his head out for a look. "Hey! This group of bastards really know how to hide."

Yu Lanchuan asked, "Why?"

"The hotels on this row are all love hotels. Their rooms are mainly by the hour and they do business with couples who come here to get a room. They can even provide confidential service to regular customers—which means they won't register the customer's identification. If someone happens to come to check, the hotel would even give you a false identity. It's a service specially for those having affairs or other kinds of improper relations," Yu Yan said. "Once you hide inside, as long as you don't come out yourself, no one would know that you're inside."

Yu Lanchuan turned his head around. "Spiderman, we're counting on you."

Yan Hao, who had been shrinking back in the backseat the whole time, had his name called without warning. He quivered and his face turned so red it was nearly purple.

"This is the man we want to find." Yu Yan took out a photo of the "qigong master" and showed it to him. "We even 'shopped a moustache, hair and sunglasses on him… the few disguises that are commonly used, and sent them to your phone, just in case he had a 'makeover' and you can't recognise him. Master Lan, why are your disguises so down-to-earth? What about the legendary human-skin mask?"

"We can't even afford leather, much less human skin." Yu Lanchuan stopped the car in a hidden corner. He watched Yan Hao get down from the car and nimbly stick himself to the wall like a large lizard, disappearing in a flash.

Meanwhile, Han Dongsheng had been brought into the small guest house by Liang-ge.

Liang-ge said, "He's a brother from somewhere far who's seeking shelter with us. Give him a room, long-term stay."

The receptionist was in the same gang as him and knew what was up the moment he heard those words. While looking for the register and the keys, he said, "Liang-ge, why are there so many 'long-term stays' recently?"

"Who knows, maybe the stars are not aligned."

Han Dongsheng's ears twitched and he thought, The qigong master is indeed hiding here.

Right at that moment, there was a clattering sound. The few of them looked up and saw a female guest who had come to check out staring at Han Dongsheng like she had seen a ghost. She had dropped her keys.

Han Dongsheng, "..."

This woman was his colleague. She was already married.

Little Master Yu's words were as unshakeable as an imperial edict. "As long as he doesn't meet anyone he's familiar with, he won't be recognised."

Little Master Yu's mouth had been blessed. Every word he spoke came true.

Chapter 43

In a split second, Han Dongsheng and his female colleague made and broke eye contact.

Han Dongsheng was shocked to the core. Just yesterday, the woman had posted in her WeChat Moments to help gather votes for her mother-in-law's square dancing group!

The female colleague was no less shocked than him. She looked at Han Dongsheng's getup, then at Liang-ge's appearance; for a moment, she could not tell whose taste was more hardcore! 

A thousand words turned into a single phrase in that eye contact: I never would have imagined...

Sure enough, colleagues were the strangers a person was most familiar with.

Liang-ge was a professional hoodlum, and professional hoodlums were typically experts at reading between the lines and understanding body language, otherwise it would be easy for them to fail at playing their roles and end up being cut down. Even though Han Dongsheng and the woman had only made eye contact for a very brief while, he had still caught that unique atmosphere that disappeared as soon as it appeared.

"Why?" Liang-ge immediately asked in suspicion. "Someone you know?"

Han Dongsheng regained his wits. His back was covered in cold sweat and he quickly pretended that he had been caught furtively staring at someone of the opposite sex and was embarassed. He shook his head, his face and ears red from the awkwardness.

The female colleague played along. She put on a frosty and serious face, and went directly to the reception counter without even looking at Han Dongsheng.

Liang-ge frowned. He stared at the woman's retreating back all the way until she walked out of the guest house's entrance.

Right now, Han Dongsheng was already a little apprehensive and he suspected that he might have exposed himself somehow. He took the room key and called out to Liang-ge. "Thank you, brother. How about I… treat you to a meal?"

Liang-ge jutted his chin at the woman's back, a smile that was not quite a smile on his face. "Why, you like that type?"

Han Dongsheng waved his hand in a fluster. "No, no… She looked at me first, that's why I looked at her. I didn't dare look too long… I have a wife and a child, I…"

He was nervous and flustered, and looked totally like a village bumpkin with a guilty conscience.

Liang-ge turned his head back around and looked at Han Dongsheng thoughtfully. Then, he smiled. "That's enough, I didn't say anything anyway. I won't delay you from resting today. You just got to Yanning. Take a rest. When you've rested enough, you can familiarise yourself with the surroundings first. Look for your Liang-ge if there's any problem. I'll bring you out for drinks in another couple of days, and introduce you to a few people."

Han Dongsheng eagerly agreed.

Liang-ge patted him on the shoulder and swaggered off without a care. Han Dongsheng finally relaxed and felt that he could consider himself to have cleared this round. In his heart, he was rather glad—if they weren't coincidentally in this kind of awkward place, he might have been exposed.

Meanwhile, once he was out the door, Liang-ge's face immediately dropped the pretense and he twisted his head around to look back. He made a phone call. "A woman just came out of No. 113 Courtyard. Not tall, permed wavy hair down to the shoulders, wearing a long down jacket, white colour. Who picked her up?"

Murderers killed in their own territory but those having affairs would want nothing more than to run to a faraway corner of the world to have them.

A place like this where love hotels gathered was a place that, other than the nearby poor students, was usually only visited by guests from afar. Hence, there were usually a lot of unlicensed cabs waiting in the back lane to pick up passengers. They weren't ordinary unlicensed cabs, they all belonged to Travellers' Sect. And once the unlicensed cabs staked their claim on a spot and gathered there, the proper legal cabs wouldn't go there much. Bad money drives out good, so the customers also had no choice.

The woman wearing a white down jacket got into an unlicensed cab at random and gave the driver an address. Her soul was still scattered in all directions and she fidgeted restlessly in her seat for five minutes, keeping everything in until she really could not keep it in anymore, and took out her phone to call her lover, "I need to tell you something. Ai… I'm not thinking of you, behave yourself! I don't know what I should do now… You left first just now, didn't you? I went to check out and you wouldn't believe who I bumped into…"

Once she started to pour her thoughts out, she could not stop. She was agitated and scared, and at the same time, also had a little excitement of having peeked at someone's secret. She did not realise at all that the driver was looking at her through the rearview mirror and was quietly recording her with his phone.

After listening to the audio recording his subordinate had sent him, Liang-ge curled his lips viciously and spat out the cigarette butt in his mouth. It landed over two meters away. He could not hold back his rage. "Motherfucker—I was just saying that I felt something wrong with that asshole when we were in the car! The way he looked out the window was not right!"

When someone came to a place from another part of the country, they would always be unable to resist looking out the car window. What they would look at were the buildings and the streets, hence when they looked out, their gaze would linger very long.

This "non-local with the surname Zhang" who held the Five Bats Token put on a very good act. During the entire journey, he had been restless in his seat and he didn't forget to look "curiously" out the window. But his gaze was very short; he always looked back after just a glance. At first, Liang-ge had even thought that he was being cautious.

Now, it seemed like he wasn't a non-local at all. That was why the sights of Yanning were something familiar to him that he ignored. When he looked out the window, he was looking at the road signs and road names!

"Hunt geese every year and one day you'll nearly have your eyes pecked out by a goose!" Liang-ge's anger turned his face ferocious. "So they're pulling tricks on me!"

Yan Hao usually didn't look people directly in the eye and as time went by, he became a little face-blind. Bearing a heavy responsibility on his shoulders, his only choice was to carefully cling to the outside of the guest house windows and peek through them room by room. It was currently near noon and there weren't many guests in the guest house. When there were occasionally people in the room, they were mostly getting ready to check out.

When he had checked up to the fifth floor, he saw Han Dongsheng. Han Dongsheng had lit a cigarette and opened the window under the pretense of letting the smoke out. He nodded furtively at Yan Hao.

The person they wanted should be in this building.

Yan Hao's eyes gleamed. Like a light and graceful large bird, he continued to circle upwards.

Han Dongsheng looked at his retreating figure and felt rather emotional. He thought enviously, How nice it is to be young.

Even if a young person didn't have major accomplishments in their life, at the very least their footsteps were light and graceful. Any baggage they carried could be put down at any time and they could then fly to a higher place. Middle-aged people could not do the same; what they carried on their backs had sunk into their flesh and binded to their bones. No matter how heavy it was, they could not put it down.

Han Dongsheng was at the moment in the bandits' den. Yet, for no reason, there was joy in his heart. At the very least, he could quietly finish smoking a cigarette here, he didn't have a whole pile of trifling office matters behind him and there was also no wife shrieking at him in rage.

He inhaled a mouthful of the northwest wind together with the cigarette smoke and choked until his throat hurt. Then, he felt that by thinking this way, he was doing wrong by his workplace and his wife.

He had picked his workplace himself. Back then, he had slaughtered his way out from the humongous thousands-strong civil exam army and finally got the posting. It had been no easier than chasing the girl of his dreams. He could still remember the day he received the notification that his application had been accepted, how he could not wait to inform all his close friends beside him, how Zhou Beibei—still his girlfriend at that time—was so happy that she leaped for joy.

His wife was the wife he had pursued and married himself. The first time he received a reply from her during university, the ticket stubs from the first movie they watched together, their light-as-air footsteps as they left the Bureau of Civil Affairs, the birth of their son Han Zhou… Every joy in his life seemed to have been brought by her.

At that time, he had just grown up, and was greedy and arrogant. He felt that his strength was endless and that he could carry a hundred people on his back. He couldn't wait to fly, to rush forward madly, to bear his new family on his shoulders and fly forward with his feet barely touching the ground.

But a year in Yanning had four seasons rolling through. After the spring where tens of thousands of living things bloomed, there was the cruel and stiflingly hot peak of summer.

He thought, self-deprecating, Maybe I've gone past my "best before" date.

Right then, Han Dongsheng heard a light sound coming from upstairs. Yan Hao seemed to have slid down a bit. Han Dongsheng's nerves tensed up again. Following the direction where the sound was coming from, he abruptly pushed his window open, just in time to catch Yan Hao who was sliding down.

The tip of Yan Hao's foot tapped lightly against the opened window. With that push, he grabbed desperately onto the pipe on the wall, his face and ears completely red. In the middle of the day, there was a couple on the sixth floor who were already embracing and devouring each other without waiting for lunch. They had even thought that they were high up enough and had not closed the curtains!

Tang Qian Yan was so startled that he nearly became a little bird with a broken wing.

Han Dongsheng gave him a confused look: What's the matter?

Yan Hao felt that what he was doing was rather immoral. He looked at Han Dongsheng hesitatingly, then looked at the window upstairs: Should I really do it?

Han Dongsheng was not very familiar with him and could not decipher Yan Hao's complex and indescribable gaze. He thought Yan Hao had seen someone suspicious.

This was very possible. Downstairs was for renting by the hour, upstairs for hiding people. Separate the two and they could avoid having too many people and too many prying eyes.

Hence, Han Dongsheng solemnly gave Yan Hao a thumbs-up and pointed upwards: Good job, go confirm again!

Yan Hao, "..."

All right then.

He squeezed his eyes shut, preparing to sacrifice himself for an honourable cause, his mind reciting the unique physical characteristics of the Qigong Master—a robustly square face, slightly drooping left eyelid, a mole on the side of his nose!

Then, he gritted his teeth and climbed upwards again.

Who would have guessed that halfway through their unrestrained activity, the two "wild and passionate" people on the sixth floor had perhaps felt that the room was a little bright. While taking off his thermal underwear, the man walked over to close the curtains. He had just taken off one sleeve when he made direct eye contact with Yan Hao who had popped up once again!

Both of them were simultaneously shocked.

"Fuck, there's a pervert!" the man in the room shouted.

"Ahhh!" Yan Hao screamed.

Bright yellow thermals… No, square face, drooping eyelid and the mole!

Yan Hao shouted, "It's him!"

Han Dongsheng reacted immediately and notified Yu Lanchuan, Yu Yan and the rest. "Room 609!"

The qigong master clad in yellow thermals regained his senses. He felt that his pure jade-like body had been dirtied and erupted in rage. He swept his hand back to grab the ashtray, opened the window and threw it out.

Yan Hao twisted himself into a pretzel in midair. He dodged the ashtray but not the ashes scattering in the air, and choked until tears covered his face.

Han Dongsheng threw the window open with both hands and leaped out to help. Who knew that the moment he looked down, he felt dizzy, his heart started thumping wildly, and he felt like his blood pressure was nearing 180.

Yan Hao shouted, "He's escaping!"

Han Dongsheng resolutely gave up on the flight route. He turned and charged towards the staircase nearest to him, ran upstairs and collided directly with the qigong master who had a mole on his nose—in his panic, the master was not picky with his escape route. One sleeve of his thermal shirt was still dangling free, revealing one side of his waist.

Han Dongsheng glanced at the master's prosperous waist—good, unexpectedly, this man also had a surplus of fatty belly meat overflowing above the waist band. For a moment, Han Dongsheng was confident. He reached back and grabbed the railing. With a whoosh, his entire body swept out, his leg drawing a perfect circle.

The master leaped up nimbly but didn't take into account that he was wearing slippers on his feet. One plastic slipper slipped loose. Flustered, he hopped up a couple of steps on one leg, then lifted his leg and stomped down.

Han Dongsheng acted first and pushed his leg with a palm. His plump hand looked soft but when he pushed it out, it seemed to carry the strength of wind and lightning. Forced to take this blow, the master's leg turned suddenly numb from the force. He staggered and fell backwards, his hands flailing to grab hold of the railing.

The master's expression turned to one of shock. "Where are you from!"

Han Dongsheng didn't reply his question and only said mildly, "Didn't you claim that you are capable of striking a bull from the other side of the mountain? Where are your godly powers?"

"Fuck, the cops again!" The master was angered to the core. He struck a fierce fighting pose and prepared to release his energy, his mouth bellowing. "Hoooaaa—ha!"

Right after that, something smashed towards Han Dongsheng's face. Han Dongsheng couldn't immediately see what it was and he raised his elbow to block, only to realise that it was a plastic slipper. Both of the master's plastic slippers had flown out with his "magic powers" and there was no longer anything on his feet to bind him. He took the chance to slide down the staircase railing.

Han Dongsheng acted quickly and grabbed the back of his collar. Who would have guessed that in the next second, the weight in his hand lightened. The "master" was indeed a "master" and had some skills—he had taken off his clothes at lightning speed, left his yellow thermals in his opponent's hand, and, naked as a cicada that had shed its shell, slid to the bottom of this flight of stairs where he scissored his two bare feet and charged downstairs!

This person's "miraculous egg-laying skills" was total bullshit but when he ran, he was actually a match for Yan Hao. The master was extremely experienced in running for his life. His feet seemed to not touch the ground; a light tap in the middle of every flight of stairs and he could abruptly leap to the bottom, like an elastic ball exerting all its strength. In a blink of the eye, he had shaken off Han Dongsheng.

It looked like not being able to run was not something that could be entirely blamed on fatty meat.

Ultimately, a person's pair of legs was the culmination of generations of use.

Right then, Yu Yan and his colleague arrived. The moment the two police officers entered, they headed straight for the stairs, planning to block the master that was "bouncing" down. However, the master's tonnage was clear to be seen and the inertia from his fast movement was not a small matter. When he saw that there were people ahead of him, he did not slow down at all and instead, collided directly with the two officers.

Before Yu Yan could take out his police baton, his vision blacked out and his entire body was sent flying by the collision. His lungs were nearly flattened. With an oof, he expelled both breath and saliva, and sprayed the master's face.

The master continued to sprint forward as though he had met no resistance at all, and was even spitting all the while.

In pain, Yu Yan clutched his ribs that had been crushed together. "...'ck your grandpa!"

Right at that moment, he heard a fwop. A mop suddenly swung out, striking at the master's stomach like a viper. The master could not slow down in time. He grabbed the railing and leaped up, but the heavy mop handle followed him like a shadow, sweeping up to hit directly and heavily at his kneecap.

The master didn't even yell, his features scrunched into a ball and with a crash, he rolled down the stairs. Before he could lift his head, the mop swung down and stopped right at his throat.

It was a sword technique!

"Ai, be good." Yu Lanchuan pushed his glasses up and looked up to glance at Yu Yan. "Grandpa's here."

Yu Yan, "..."

Even though they were allies, right now and right here, he really wanted an internal strife.

Yu Lanchuan said, "Hurry up and put the cuffs on this guy here, he's really an eyesore!"

Yu Yan climbed up laboriously and hobbled over while digging out a pair of handcuffs. He cuffed the "master." "Run, go on and continue running!"

The master's kneecap might have been shattered by Yu Lanchuan. He hugged his knee and rolled on the ground, crying from the pain. There was no way he could stand. 

Yu Yan panted harsh breaths, his eyes flicking towards Yu Lanchuan. "Hey, Master Lan, help me…"

But what he saw was Yu Lanchuan throwing the mop aside with a face of distaste, then taking out a scented wet wipe from his pocket to wipe his hands. He was already standing two meters away, cold and aloof, and had no intentions at all of helping.

Fortunately, the other young police officer and Han Dongsheng arrived at this time. Working together, the three of them exerted all their strength and lifted the wailing master.

"Thank you, thank you," Yu Yan shook Han Dongsheng's hand gratefully. "You are a good son-in-law of the nation, we-"

Before he could finish speaking, he saw Yan Hao rush down from upstairs with a face of alarm. "L-Lots of people"

Yu Yan asked, "Lots of people what?"

The more he panicked, the more Yan Hao was unable to speak clearly. His face red from the effort, he pointed downstairs. "Travellers' Sect! Lots of people! Tens of them! They brought people and are ch-charging in!"

Before he could finish speaking, the clamour of voices could be heard from downstairs.

"Block the door!"

"This way!"

The cement floor started to tremble along with the voices. Very quickly, the jumbled sound of footsteps could be heard.

Yu Yan said in disbelief, "In broad daylight, they are openly attacking the police?"

Yu Lanchuan was very calm. "How much backup do you have?"

"Not a lot. I didn't know if I would be able to find this guy," Yu Yan said. "I only called a few colleagues from the station. They probably won't be of much use… Alliance Leader, what should we do?"

Yu Lanchuan sighed. He took off his glasses and slipped it into the inner pocket of his casual jacket, then rolled up his sleeves.

For a moment, Yu Yan was rather touched. He had known Yu Lanchuan for so many years but this was the first time he was getting a taste of the bearing and composure of Yu Lanchuan as the descendant of the Seven Secret Arts of Han Jiang.

Yu Yan said, "The mop handle isn't easy to wield, use my police baton!"

"Didn't you bring your brain along with you when you left the house?" What Yu Yan saw was the "supremely elegant" Alliance Leader Yu leaping forward as though there were wild dogs on his heels, passing ahead of Yu Yan. "Run, what are you waiting for!"

Yu Yan, "..."

The cuffed "master" wailed, "Help!"

Yu Yan said, "Yu Lanchuan! Can you show off your coolness from start to end for once in your life!"

Right then, outside the small guest house that was surrounded by hoodlums, the police officers' colleagues were staring, dumbstruck.

A young lady who looked like a passerby walked past and took a glance. "What's going on? Should we call the police?"

"We are… the police…"

"Then, shouldn't you hurry up and call more people?"

"Right, right, right! Hurry up! Get reinforcements! Where is the law? Young lady, please stay away… Hey! What are you doing!"

They saw the lady who had just suggested that they call the police take out a cloth strip from somewhere. One end held in her mouth, she wrapped the other end around her right hand as she walked. She turned her head to smile at the police, then sprinted over to the guest house!

Chapter 44

The "master" had a physical stature that was equivalent to one and a half Yu Yan. His leg was broken and he was also uncooperative.

The three of them—Yu Yan, his colleague and Han Dongsheng—pulled and pushed until they were sweating from the effort. "What on earth is going on?"

Even if they had caused a ruckus when they charged in to catch this person, it had been less than five minutes from start to end. How could these hoodlums and tramps gather so quickly?

If they were so capable, why were they still local ruffians? Wouldn't it be better to go protect the country instead?

Han Dongsheng was really not good at running. His wig was already so soaked with sweat that it could not stay on. He pulled it off and tucked it under his arm, and panted as he replied, "Maybe… Maybe I was exposed. When I came in just now, I bumped into a colleague…"

Yu Yan had to admit defeat. "Why would your colleague be here?"

The other police officer said softly, "Probably to make a pilgrimage… Yu-ge, this place is called Sweethearts Street, it's quite popular. Plus, if you bump into someone you know here, both of you would definitely not say hi, since… you know."

Yu Yan was exceptionally grieved and angered at heart. What would a sad single like me know?

Right then, the Travellers' Sect people who were the fastest were already charging towards them, waving all sorts of clubs and sticks. Han Dongsheng could not shirk his responsibility and took on the duty of cutting off the pursuers. He let out a low roar and suddenly pushed the qigong master in his hands forward.

The three of them had been carrying the qigong master. Who knew where Han Dongsheng got the strength from but the energy in his palms could unexpectedly be transmitted through the qigong master's body to the two police officers. The three of them added together were about 500 pounds in weight but with just this push from him, all three of them were propelled up quite a few steps.

Then, his hands empty, Han Dongsheng met the other party's clubs and sticks.

Han Dongsheng held his arms up on either side of his forehead and took a direct hit. Following that, his shoulder moved in an arc and with a push and a bump, he snatched the other person's club.

The staircase of the guesthouse was very narrow. Han Dongsheng alone with the club could nearly block the whole staircase.

He was so robust and sturdy, his back that never seemed to be straight on a typical day was like a mountain.

Yu Yan came to a stop with much difficulty, and turned his head back in surprise.

He had interacted with Han Dongsheng a few times because of Old Mr. Zhou. His impression of this man was "an honest man with a mild temper." In a T.V. series, the "honest man" was either a toad dreaming of eating goose or the faithful backup guy. This character usually lacked a spirit, was short on intelligence, and because he had no charming points at all, was only suited to being a tool for creating conflict in the story.

Nowadays, the two words "honest man" was basically an insult. 

Even when there were outsiders, there were times when his hot-tempered wife could not keep her temper and threw a fit. In private, she must have called him a "spineless good-for-nothing" a few times.

If she could see this back profile now, she would definitely no longer say those words.

Yu Yan clutched his police baton tightly, his voice changing in pitch. "Master Lan, take care of this man!"

"Nope."

"Yu Lanchuan!"

Yu Yan's shout was still in the air when a shadow suddenly brushed past him, so quick that he couldn't see it clearly.

The stairwell was so narrow that Han Dongsheng could block it on his own but when Yu Lanchuan was there, for some unknown reason, it seemed to be very wide. Like a gust of wind, he flew past Yu Yan and the others, not even touching the edges of their shirts, like a person without any width to him.

At the same time, Yu Yan's hand became empty. Someone had grabbed his police baton.

Yu Lanchuan said, "Move aside."

Han Dongsheng heard the sound of the wind coming from behind him and he twisted his body to dodge. A stainless steel trash can about a meter tall brushed past him with a whoosh, crashing against those few people who were charging ahead of the pack and bringing down the group behind them. A few Travellers' Sect members inched around their companions on the ground and ran up. Yu Lanchuan reached out to clap his hand on Han Dongsheng; at the same time, a baton struck out, jabbing right at the person's chest. The other person naturally blocked but the police baton suddenly swung upwards, hitting him viciously on the chin.

Han Dongsheng said, "Nice swordwork."

"Practising the sword puts one at a disadvantage." Yu Lanchuan shook out his wrist—the police baton was too heavy to be used as a sword and was extremely unwieldy. "For example, your words just now made me feel as though you were cursing me[1]… and swords can't pass security checks."

"You don't take the subway anyway!" Yu Yan cut in.

"They have metal clubs…" Yu Lanchuan sent someone flying with a kick.

At this time, the Travellers' Sect members had wisened up. From the back, a large group carrying wooden stools as shields charged forward with the stool legs facing out, colliding with them head-on. The stool legs were naturally longer than human arms or the police baton. Yu Lanchuan was forced to run up a few steps. Then, he turned his body abruptly and leaped down. "...but I have a metal sword with a sharp edge —"

The police baton in Yu Lanchuan's hand swung down on his opponent's head like a bolt of lightning. The one bearing the brunt of his attack couldn't lift his stool in time and thought that his head was going to be split open. Involuntarily, he closed his eyes.

But unexpectedly, the police baton didn't smash open his head. When it swung down, it slanted to the side, tearing past his ear to fall near his collarbone, and abruptly changed from a smash to a horizontal sweep. Two bloody molars immediately flew out.

Yu Lanchuan asked coolly, "When the time comes, are you able to differentiate clearly between legitimate self-defense and excessive self-defense, Comrade Officer?"

Yu Yan was first torn between laughing and crying. Then, for some reason, he suddenly couldn't laugh anymore.

The so-called "a person on the right path" was a title that encompasses the glory a person could achieve and all the results they could get if they worked hard, and they were all according to the values that underpins a society—one's TOEFL score was achieved mark by mark, one's thesis written word by word, one's salary toiled for by working countless extra hours.

Yet, the results of a person's hard work for half their life could fall apart completely due to the words "excessive self-defense." When fighting against these hoodlums with no bottom line in anything they do, they had no choice but to sheathe their claws.

"Leap up high and smash the police baton down" and "sweep across with one's arm strength"—these two methods differed in force by several levels. The former could smash a person's head open like a burst watermelon; the latter could at most daze him for a while, and he could even still move.

Furthermore, this civilised Mr. Yu Lanchuan was already holding back a lot in his attacks, yet he still had to spare part of his mind to be careful not to be "excessive" in his self-defense. Both his body and his mind were fully occupied while the other side had strength in numbers. Very quickly, he could not hold them back anymore.

Yu Yan said, "Let's get out of here first! This street isn't good for us, everyone here is their people. They know they have backup. I don't believe this pack of hoodlums would dare chase us all the way to the main road and have a gang fight!"

"Head for the roof," Yan Hao said. "There's an iron door at the roof! Follow me!"

"Comrade Spiderman, good job!" Yu Yan said.

Yan Hao's face turned red.

All this while, he had been very afraid of interacting with other people. He had always felt that the way other people looked at him and talked to him was like a file whittling him down non-stop. Even when other people gave him polite compliments, he would panic because he could feel that the other person's words were not sincere.

This was the first time he had gotten encouragement from someone else's words. He earnestly felt that he was doing something useful, that he was helping everyone.

This was like a shot of a new and strange kind of bravado that went right to his heart. Yan Hao rushed to the very front, a little like he was playing up to the crowd, and volunteered himself for the mission. "I'll go pick the lock!"

While Yan Hao rushed to the front to pick the lock, the two police officers restrained the qigong master who was like a live fish while Yu Lanchuan and Han Dongsheng covered their backs. The whole procession fought as they retreated. On the scene, stool legs, long clubs and trash cans were flying all around. It was incredibly chaotic.

Yan Hao's lock-picking skills weren't very good. His face red from the exertion, he poked randomly at the lock and also twisted and pulled with brute strength. He was just a step away from biting it with his teeth. Finally, when they had no more space to retreat, the lock and the chain fell down together with a clang!

Yan Hao was greatly relieved, even his hands felt rather weak. "This way!"

Then, after he had taken barely two steps past the small door, he came back.

Yu Yan pressed on his back, panting harshly as he asked, "W-What-"

Yan Hao didn't answer but Yu Yan had already seen them—seven or eight Travellers' Sect people, machetes in their hands, were already waiting for them on the roof. The tip of the machetes were pointing at Yan Hao's nose.

They were trapped in that tiny stairwell.

The qigong master they had cuffed was secure in the knowledge that he had backup. "If you let me go now, I'll only break one of your legs later and leave you with one good leg to hop back on. Otherwise…"

Right then, the few people on the roof who were wielding machetes started attacking, slashing at Yan Hao's head.

Amidst the glinting and flashing of the blades, Yan Hao dodged right and left, trying to block the little door to the top of the stairs to stop them from coming down. But he only had the metal hooks for climbing walls on his hands. They were extremely unwieldy, and he came to numerous close shaves as he dodged. There were a few times where his clothes were nearly slashed.

"Stop! Stop!"

Yan Hao's metal hook and a machete collided with a clang. Both his and his opponent's hands went numb simultaneously and they both retreated. The voice reverberated around them and the chaotic scene quieted down. Both sides looked towards where the voice came from.

The person who had shouted "Stop!" turned out to be Liang-ge.

Right then, Liang-ge's face that always carried a look of "fearing neither Heaven nor Earth" had an expression of utmost fear. A hand bound in a black cloth strip was hooked around his neck and between the fingers of that hand was a small blade.

The person seizing him was around his height and was wrapped securely in a long coat. They did not speak and the other people could not tell whether the person was a man or a woman.

This person had the hood of the coat up and was wearing a face mask. Their hair fell forward, covering half their forehead. Only one eye was revealed and that eye, for some unknown reason, was reminiscent of a king cobra. When the eye looked past the crowd to land its gaze on Yu Lanchuan, the corner of the eye curved a little, like the person was smiling.

Yu Lanchuan was instantly stunned. He recognised that eye.

Right then, the hostage-taker gave Liang-ge a light kick.

"Move aside, move aside. All of you, move aside," Liang-ge immediately said. A bead of sweat rolled down the side of his forehead and fell into his eye. The Traveller's Sect people around him looked at each other and, out of suspicion, did not immediately move.

Liang-ge's eye swiftly rotated to look out of the corner, as though he wanted to see clearly the face of the person behind him. He wanted to say something and had just opened his mouth when suddenly, he let out an inhuman, blood curdling shriek. The person holding him hostage had, without giving him any prior warning, bent his right arm with force and a terrifying cracking sound had come from it.

Yu Lanchuan's face immediately changed. "Ga… What are you doing!"

Meanwhile, Han Dongsheng retreated half a step, his face turning grave. He muttered in disbelief, "Wei Xiao?"

Yu Lanchuan asked, "Huh? Who?"

Before Han Dongsheng could reply, Liang-ge's blood curdling shriek had ended and he was shouting in a sobbing voice, "All of you move aside! Are you deaf? Let them go! Go!"

Not everyone could immediately recognise a "passing acquaintance" by looking at just one eye. Other than Yu Lanchuan, the others only felt that the person holding Liang-ge hostage looked a bit familiar.

Yu Yan wasn't sure what was going on and asked in a whisper, "Master Lan…"

Yu Lanchuan flexed his hand. It had been a long time since he had done any physical labour and it was quite tiring to wield a baton. His hand was trembling a little. "Take your suspect and go."

Nervously and warily, with Yu Lanchuan leading and Yan Hao bringing up the back, their group slowly headed downstairs.

When they passed by Liang-ge, Yu Lanchuan suddenly stopped. Out of nowhere, he said, "Tens of hoodlums attacking the police with lethal weapons—if this matter blows up, it's enough to put all of you behind bars for a few years."

Even though Yu Yan didn't understand why Yu Lanchuan was inciting Liang-ge at this time, he knew that despite the fact that his childhood friend was unreliable at times, he definitely did not like causing trouble for no reason. He definitely had a reason, so Yu Yan backed him up. "Our target today was this swindler. But you won't be able to get away with organising an attack on the police!"

But Liang-ge had no reaction at all to this threat from the police, and was even looking forward to it.

His entire person was muddled like he had just been fished out the water, his whole body hanging from the arm that was wedged before his throat, and he could not speak. Yu Yan saw his expression clearly and felt that it was strange—the fear on this Liang-ge's face wasn't the fear of being hit or the fear of being cut by a blade; he looked like he had seen a ghost!Hence, he took a closer look at the person wearing a face mask. A few seconds later, his ability to recognise faces that was honed by years working as a police officer came online and Yu Yan was shocked. "You… You are…"

The person holding the hostage blinked at him. Then, they tilted their head slightly and lifted their chin, indicating that they should hurry up and leave.

But right at that moment, Yu Lanchuan suddenly reached out past Liang-ge and grabbed the person's wrist.

The person had a knife between their fingers. With this touch, the tip of the blade immediately drew a thin line of blood on Liang-ge's neck. Liang-ge screamed, his mouth wide open and panting, and he even pissed his pants right on the spot.

The Travellers' Sect people around them were once again greatly shocked.

Han Dongsheng cried out, "Little Master Yu!"

"Thank you for helping us break out," Yu Lanchuan said to the person, enunciating each word slowly and clearly, "but let me say once more—send this person to the police station."

At this time, he was like the monk Tang Seng[1] who did not grasp the severity of the situation and, instead of running away, was even picking a fight with an "ally"!

For some reason, Han Dongsheng was even more nervous than when they were surrounded just now. Softly but urgently, he said, "Little Master Yu, quickly let go of this… this friend. Let's leave first!"

Yu Lanchuan turned a deaf ear to him. "You go ahead."

The hostage-taker seemed quite resigned. Yu Lanchuan's fingers gripped their wrist with force and the heat from his palm very quickly permeated the thin cloth wrapping, warm yet demanding.

The two of them stood in a deadlock in the middle of the club-wielding crowd.

The colour drained from Han Dongsheng's face.

Right then, the person chuckled and then sighed. As though they could not put up with Yu Lanchuan, they yielded.

"I don't trust you. Come with us." Yu Lanchuan signalled his companions to retreat outside and, at the same time, held the person in a tight grip and pulled them along.

The corner of the person's eye had been curved in a smile; now, the curve disappeared: Brat, I give you an inch and you want a mile.

Yu Lanchuan slowly raised the police baton that was held in his other hand. He seemed to really not differentiate between enemy and ally, and would fight an "ally" at a time like this.

Fortunately, the hostage-taker's face was very cold but ultimately, they did not attack. Under Han Dongsheng's fearful gaze, they seized on to Liang-ge while being pulled by Yu Lanchuan. The three of them maintained this strange position and inched their way out.

If an outsider who didn't know what was going on were to see this scene, they probably wouldn't be able to tell who was on whose side.

In this manner, they exited the savage love hotel. The person holding Liang-ge hostage suddenly sensed something. They loosened their grip on Liang-ge's throat and, at the same time, crooked their finger and jabbed Yu Lanchuan's meridian point. They threw the half-dead Liang-ge into Yu Lanchuan's arms, then turned and left immediately. The next second, an ear-piercing police siren sounded. The reinforcements the police officers guarding the entrance had called were finally there.

The hoodlums small and big saw that things were not looking good. Like cockroaches, they scattered in all four directions, hiding and dodging.

Yu Lanchuan was fussy about cleanliness. When the hostage-taker suddenly threw the piss-stink Liang-ge at him, he didn't want to catch him but also couldn't not catch him. For a moment, he was flustered, caught in a difficult situation. When he looked up, the person had disappeared.

Liang-ge lay unmoving on the ground, his right arm hanging limply. Blood soaked through his sleeve.

Han Dongsheng quickly crouched down and tore his sleeve open. 

Yan Hao took a look and let out an ah. "The tendons on his arm… are ruptured."

Han Dongsheng and Yu Yan turned towards Yu Lanchuan in unison.

Han Dongsheng said, "Little Master Yu! Do you know who that was, how could you dare to-"

Yu Yan said, "Oh my god, Master Lan, I didn't get the wrong person, did I? That was my Teacher Meng-Meng-"

Both of them opened their mouths at the same time and also closed them at the same time. They looked at one another and even the air seemed to come to a standstill.

T/N:
[1] "Nice swordwork" is 好剑 hǎo jiàn in Chinese. It sounds exactly like 好贱, so it sounds like Han Dongsheng is calling Yu Lanchuan cheap or despicable.
[2] Tang Seng is a reference to the monk who is a central character in the classic Journey to the West. My memory of all the events in the story is rather hazy, but this is likely referring to how he's constantly hunted by demons who want to eat him but rather than running away at the first sign of danger, he tends to believe their words and tries to talk reasonably with them.

Chapter 45

Han Dongsheng asked, "...Teacher Meng-Meng?"

Yu Lanchuan was a half-assed alliance leader in the first place. Many of the fabled "Rules of the Martial Arts World" were things he had to pick up at the last minute from other people. Yu Yan followed in the footsteps of this half-assed alliance leader and was therefore even more ignorant. He very easily and naturally deemed Han Dongsheng and other similar people as coming from the "same nation" as Yu Lanchuan.

It was only when Han Dongsheng spoke that Yu Yan realised—Han Dongsheng seemed to not know that the mysterious hostage-taker was Gan Qing!

And he had even accidentally let it slip!

Under the glare of the red and blue police lights shining randomly in all directions, the three "chivalrous heroes" and one police officer collectively surrounded and looked down on the weakly breathing Liang-ge on the ground.

"This… Let's not bother with other things first." Han Dongsheng regained his wits and was the first to tactfully break the silence. He pointed at Liang-ge and said, "I think this person can't hold on anymore. Shouldn't we quickly send him to the hospital?"

"Right, right, right." Yu Yan felt so awkward he didn't know where to put his hands. Like he was waking up from a dream, he leaped up and called out to his colleagues. "Call an ambulance! There's a suspect here who's knocked out!"

Yu Lanchuan also came back to himself. "What about his injuries?"

"It's fine." Yu Yan quickly reconnected his neurons that had short circuited just now. "He brought his followers along to attack the police and we unintentionally injured him when resisting. We have five people and we also have a troublemaking suspect on our hands while the other side has nearly a hundred people. There was no way we could control the scene. It's considered reasonable for there to be some unintentional injuries. You don't have time, so just leave it to me to take care of it."

Yu Lanchuan lifted his head to look at the guest house CCTV.

"No need to bother with that." Yu Yan waved his hand. "This gang of hoodlums are veteran offenders. When they locked the door, they would definitely have turned off the CCTV."

Han Dongsheng said, "In that case, I will still have to trouble you for the matter regarding my father-in-law."

"Don't worry," Yu Yan said. "We'll head back first and go through the process. I'll treat everyone to a meal later."

When he came here, Yu Lanchuan had driven but when he left, he hitched a ride with the police. He looked up subconsciously and accidentally locked gazes with Han Dongsheng who was sitting in the front passenger seat. Suddenly, Yu Lanchuan noticed a problem—from the start, whenever Old Master Yang brought up the Five Supremes, he had always purposely avoided Wan Mu Chun, even if it made it seem as though he didn't know how to count.

When someone insisted on asking further, he would only explain briefly without going into any detail. It was only on New Year's Day that, as the conversation went on, Old Master Yang had revealed a little about Wan Mu Chun to them.

Even though what he said had been positive, when Yu Lanchuan thought about it closely, it didn't really make sense. This was because Old Master Yang was someone who might not necessarily take revenge where there was a grudge but would definitely repay kindness where there was a debt of gratitude. If they were really sure that the person who had helped Yu Lanchuan escape back then was someone from Wan Mu Chun's side, Granduncle and Old Master Yang would definitely harp about it every day to him just in case he forgot it.

How was it possible that in all these years, it was only when Yu Lanchuan asked repeatedly that he mentioned it briefly?

Just how much was Old Master Yang hiding about Wan Mu Chun?

And what did Han Dongsheng know? 

Who was the "Wei Xiao" whose name he blurted out?

Gan Qing left Travellers' Sect territory without a sound. She didn't know Liang-ge. Catching him was because she could tell that he was the leader of this pack of Travellers' Sect followers. Her intention had been to help those neighbours of hers break out of the siege. She didn't think that Liang-ge would say the name "Wei Xiao" and even piss his pants in terror.

Wei Xiao was none other than her shifu.

Outsiders treated him as a taboo that could only be spoken of in hushed whispers, essentially painting him as a demon in their stories.

In actual fact, Gan Qing's impression of him was that of a taciturn and uncommunicative old man. He wore a modified Mao suit that had been washed until the colour faded and rode a second-hand bicycle to work. Both his hands were coarse yet clean, and he never let his fingernails grow long. He didn't eat dead children nor did he drink wine mixed with human blood; he was a very picky eater because he was a cook.

Since young, he didn't have a place to practice knife skills so he cut vegetables and carved fruits. When he was done cutting and carving, he naturally couldn't let the ingredients go to waste so he collected recipes from all over and cooked according to the instructions when he had nothing to do. When he grew up, he decided that he might as well make it his job. Such a pity for her grand master whose magnificence had been unparalleled all his life; in his old age, he lived with his disciple and ate so well that he nearly had a belly. Every three or five days, he would make a fuss about going on a diet, and nearly couldn't live the way he always had in his final years.

On the other hand, the disciple kept a very tight rein on himself… Of course, this could just be because he was picky. When he was nearly sixty years of age, from the back, he still looked like a youthful man.

Everyone said that he practised healthy living and that living to a hundred would not be a problem for him.

But he didn't even get his pension in the end.

Gan Qing returned to Mudpool Backlane and followed the little lanes in her memory to walk deep into its heart… but there was nothing left there now.

The "mud pool" was shrinking. In recent years, the buildings along this stretch of road had been demolished, supposedly to widen the road. She stood at the empty and wide street, watching the cars belch warm exhaust as they came and went, and looked around in confusion. She couldn't remember which patch of land was it that her home had once stood on.

"Gan'er."

Gan Qing had already heard the footsteps. She didn't turn around.

"That flower bed over there, that was the entrance to your home." Meng Tianyi walked over and sat on the road curb. His eyes swept across Gan Qing's hand that was bound in a cloth strip. "Uncle Meng remembers it for you."

Gan Qing finally moved. She looked in the direction where he was pointing. There was a little flower bed that was commonly seen on road sides. At this time, the might of the northwest wind was dominant and there were only dried branches in the flower bed covered by a trembling plastic tarp. It looked rather miserable.

"Uncle Meng." Her voice seemed to disappear amidst the sound of the passing cars. "Tell me again, how did Wei Xiao die?"

"He was still your shifu after all," Meng Tianyi said.

Gan Qing did not seem to hear him. She made no reply. Her entire body was on the bony side, with a thin layer of flesh. When she stood in the night wind, her back profile was like an icy stone statue, unable to bend.

"During that period of time, his complexion was very bad. Sometimes, he would even be in a daze. He was absent-minded and distracted, and when other people asked, he only said that it was a festive period so there were more customers at the restaurant and he always had to work overtime. Working as a cook is physical labour. We all advised him that he should stop working so hard at his age and should leave things to the younger people… In the end, one day, something really happened. It was very late when he left work to go home and he was hit by a car while riding his bicycle," Meng Tianyi said. "At that time, he was in a rather bad state but other than that, it didn't seem to be anything major so he let the offender go. However… maybe it was due to his age but after a few days, he suddenly couldn't use his leg. He was bedridden at home for a period of time and was even using crutches."

Gan Qing didn't interrupt him. She listened quietly.

"Later on, there was one day—I remember it was the ninth day of the ninth month, Double Ninth Festival—Wei-xiong suddenly came to look for me on his crutches. It was like he was making arrangements for matters after his death. He told me a lot of things and even gave me a box of letters. He told me to follow the dates on the envelopes and send them to you on those dates. He said that you won't reply anyway, so it won't be exposed."

Gan Qing's fingers tightened in a fierce grip.

"At that time, I already felt that things were bad. A few days later, he really… Ai. At that time, his neighbour saw that there were a few days' worth of newspapers accumulated on his front door and recalled that he hadn't been seen for a few days. They were a little worried so they knocked on his door to check… They said it was sudden death and that it was pretty common among middle-aged and old people. Heart failure, and there was no one with him, so he departed just like that." Meng Tianyi sighed. "Gan'er, don't think too much. Life and death depends on fate, happiness and wealth depends on Heaven. Even if you had been in Yanning at that time, there was no way you could have accompanied the old man day and night without leaving the house. You might not have made it for those few crucial minutes. Even if you did, he might not be saved… It has been so many years, don't keep thinking about it."

Gan Qing said slowly and clearly, "Wei Xiao didn't have heart problems."

"Many of those who died suddenly due to heart failure also typically-"

"Paoding Jieniu." Gan Qing suddenly turned around, cutting him off. "Would he not know whether or not his own nerves and bones were injured after the accident?"

Meng Tianyi stopped talking.

"What exactly happened?"

"Don't you already understand? Of course he knew but since he was unwilling to say, naturally there must be a reason why. After Wei-xiong grew old, whenever he was chatting casually, he always said he regretted showing off his skills when he was young. He had been too excessive in some matters. If these matters could all be concluded in his old age, he would have no complaints and no regrets. He didn't want you to know about it and hold a grudge in your heart."

Gan Qing ignored his persuasion and only said coldly, "So, Wei Xiao really did not die of illness back then, did he? Everyone around him knew that he was in an accident and his leg was wounded, so no one would think too much even if they saw injuries on his body. He died at home and everything looked calm and tranquil, like he died naturally of old age while sleeping. There were no family members demanding investigations so of course no one would conduct an autopsy. So they just deemed it a sudden death and dealt with it cleanly!"

"Don't think too much, don't listen to my second aunt talk rubbish-"

Gan Qing said, "Why would that random nobody from Travellers' Sect recognise me and immediately blurt out the name 'Wei Xiao'?"

"Gan Qing!" Meng Tianyi's face turned serious. "Even if Wei-xiong hadn't died peacefully of old age, even if there was injustice done to him that he still bore in his heart, with his skills, he would have left clues if he wanted to! Don't you understand? Before he passed away, he entrusted me with the things he left behind. Other than matters relating to you, he said not a single word about anything else, because the only person he worried about for his entire life was you! If you are sensible, you should live your life properly and don't let him be worried in the Nine Springs of the afterworld."

"What has that got to do with me? I severed ties with him long ago. What can that Wei fellow do to me?" Gan Qing let out a sharp laugh. "Furthermore, my life..." 

As she spoke, she moved her legs and walked across the zebra crossing. Her steps were very light and from far, she looked like she was floating, like a gust of wind could blow her away. Other than eating and drinking and going to the toilet, she spent entire days spouting bullshit in a small rundown shop, tricking a bunch of kids into listening to her stories and then buying some ridiculous nonsense. Was this kind of meaningless life worth living?

But saying these words would make Boss Meng sad, so she only turned them over in her mouth and then swallowed them back in. She smiled and crossed the road in large strides.

When Yu Lanchuan was knocking on his neighbour's door for the third time after coming home that night, Gan Qing was still not back yet. He thought a while, then turned to go downstairs.

"Little Master Yu." Han Dongsheng opened the door for him. "I knew you would come. Come on in."

Yu Lanchuan asked, "Is your wife in?"

"She went back to my father-in-law's place to stay for a few days, just in case the old man thought of going back to his home." Han Dongsheng sighed. "I'm taking care of our child here. He's asleep, you don't have to mind him."

Han Dongsheng's home was in a miserable state. Without the mistress of the house, it was even worse, like frost on top of snow. After searching for a while, Han Dongsheng still couldn't find glasses suited for serving guests. In the end, he could only dig out a disposable cup and poured some water for Yu Lanchuan. "Please excuse the mess. We just moved in and hadn't had the time to buy a lot of things. Things keep happening to our family so we haven't had the time to take care of it."

Yu Lanchuan said without thinking, "It would be good if you hadn't sold your apartment back then. Staying in a rented place isn't as comfortable as staying in your own house."

Unexpectedly, Han Dongsheng didn't deprecate himself for being unlucky in his investments the way he had in the past. He was silent for a while. "Back then… I really had no choice. Selling the house to invest in stocks was a lie. Investing in stocks and whatnot, I don't understand those at all, how would I dare to do it?"

Yu Lanchuan was stunned.

Han Dongsheng smiled warmly. "My parents passed away early. Beibei's parents were very good to me and I have always treated them as my own parents. Back then, my mother-in-law was very ill and our family's savings were depleted. Dad was a normal office worker. Other than the house, they didn't have much assets. Beibei and I did not have siblings who could help with financial matters and we couldn't let the old people use the money they saved for their coffins, could we? So I asked a friend, used this apartment as a collateral and found a not really proper private agency and borrowed a sum of emergency money to use. But the source of the money wasn't easy to explain. I wanted to say that my parents left them to me but we both knew each other's family matters very well before our marriage. I couldn't keep it a secret. At that time, I saw everyone around me investing in stocks and earning money, so I lied to Beibei and said that my parents left me with a bit of money that I had used to buy stocks. I said that it was many years ago and that I had forgotten about it; I only remembered it because we needed money and I didn't think it would have earned that much."

Yu Lanchuan asked softly, "Why didn't you tell her the truth?"

"During that period of time, the pressure on her was too great. I thought that I would keep it from her first and wait for the matter to be over. I would slowly repay the loan and quietly release my collateral without anyone realising and that would be it." Han Dongsheng lowered his head in embarrassment. "Alas, I was young then and wasn't sensible. How would I know that 'Money is hard to earn, shit is difficult to eat.' I needed to use money urgently and didn't think carefully about the interest. The old madam couldn't be saved and the money couldn't be repaid. I didn't dare tell Beibei. I could only continue to lie to her. At first, I wanted to delay it for a period of time and wait until she was no longer grieving so deeply for her mother. In the end, the longer I put it off, the more I didn't dare tell her. But it was good too. All this while, she thought that our money was in the stock market and that it was just a loss on paper. Who knows, the price might go back up one day. Her heart always carried this hope… Let's not talk about my family's unpleasant issues anymore. Little Master Yu, you're here about the person who helped us, aren't you?"

Yu Lanchuan looked up.

"I heard Xiao-Yu say 'Teacher Meng-Meng,'" Han Dongsheng said. "My son added that lady neighbour from upstairs on WeChat, I've seen his note for her. It's her, isn't it? So it was a woman. No wonder she didn't speak at that time. Do Sect Leader Yang and the rest know about this?"

Yu Lanchuan thought for a while. The last time Old Yang told him about Wan Mu Chun, Gan Qing was cleaning the floor with the door opened. Sect Leader Yang hadn't shown any peculiarities so he probably wasn't aware. 

"No wonder," Han Dongsheng muttered. "Even though the older generation's affairs weren't much related to her, she's quite brave to stay right here at No. 110."

Yu Lanchuan asked directly, "Who is Wei Xiao?"

"Wan Mu Chun's disciple, the disciple that Wan Mu Chun taught himself. When the old master was still alive, he had once acknowledged with his own words that this disciple of his had surpassed the master. I met him once when I was young. He was dressed exactly the same way as she was today and had a small knife spinning in his fingers. He didn't talk much and seemed very mysterious and wily. When his eyes looked at you, you would feel that all two hundred plus bones in your body were within his grasp and that he could pick out any bone he liked… At that time, he also had a little girl just a few years old with him—ah, was it her?" Han Dongsheng said. "Girls go through so many changes when they grow up, I couldn't recognise her."

Yu Lanchuan continued to ask, "Why did he stop coming here later on? Why do you say that Gan Qing must be very brave to stay here?"

Han Dongsheng hesitated for a few seconds. "This young lady is usually quite nice to my son. She bumps into the neighbours regularly and is very polite. She even helped us today. To be fair... It's not really right for me to speak of those baseless rumours behind her back." 

"Please share. I'm the one who asked," Yu Lanchuan said.

"More than ten years ago, Wei Xiao was named in the 'Alliance Leader's Command,'" Han Dongsheng said.

The alliance leader himself was completely lost—no one had ever told him what the hell this "Alliance Leader's Command" was!

This alliance leader position was really like being a puppet controlled by the neighbourhood committee!

Then, without waiting for him to ask, he heard Han Dongsheng continue to speak. "I heard that it was because he was responsible for taking eighteen lives."

Chapter 46

Yu Lanchuan asked, "What did you say?"

"Maybe more than that," Han Dongsheng continued to say. "Little Master Yu was still young at that time. I don't know if you remember, over ten years ago, there was an explosion at a flour factory at Xiaogang Village in the neighbouring province. In total, eighteen people lost their lives. In the beginning, this incident was handled as an accident."

Yu Lanchuan didn't have much of an impression of the incident. During the time before social media was widespread, it was difficult for regional news to leave a strong impression in people's minds. He asked, "It wasn't an accident?"

"No. Later on, they found two bodies… two incomplete bodies. The other parts of the bodies were either burnt or exploded. There were only these two pieces, with heads still connected to the necks. Someone had slit both necks with a blade. The weapon was extremely sharp. The wound was like a curve drawn by an artist with a single brushstroke, exactly three cun and two fen[1] in length, not a fen longer, not a fen shorter."

The heating was warm enough to make a person feel parched. Yet, Yu Lanchuan felt a sinister chill from Han Dongsheng's words.

"Little Master Yu, you should know that even drawing a curve that is three cun and two fen long in a single brushstroke on a piece of paper isn't that easy, what more using a knife to carve it on a person's neck." Han Dongsheng paused, then continued to say, "I remember back then, everyone from the older generation who was still alive gathered at No. 110 Courtyard. Everyone said that it was Wan Mu Chun's mark."

Before he realised what he was doing, Yu Lanchuan refuted, "That's not necessarily the case, is it?"

Han Dongsheng looked at him in surprise.

Yu Lanchuan thought for a while. "Before you moved in, a few people who claimed to be from Wan Mu Chun's sect had come here to this apartment, 804. They looked quite the part too. It seems like there are quite a lot of people impersonating them."

"I've heard other people talk about what happened to the previous residents of this apartment. But that's not the same." Upon saying that, Han Dongsheng shivered slightly. "I saw it with my own eyes. They traced the wounds on the neck of those bodies in the flour factory separately on paper. Both lines matched up perfectly."

Yu Lanchuan had practised the Seven Secret Arts of Han Jiang all the way until where he was now but he still did not know what level he was at. The "benchmarks" he had around him were all sloppy and unreliable jokers.

He had never seen this kind of godly "workmanship."

The two of them stared at each other for a while.

Yu Lanchuan thought, This is too incredulous.

"Old Mr. Chun had already passed away then. Counting the years, the young lady from upstairs had to be less than ten years old. It couldn't have been the old one or the young one," Han Dongsheng said. "Wan Mu Chun only has a single branch and everything is passed on to a single disciple. The only person who could have that ability was Wei Xiao."

Yu Lanchuan felt that if he were to cut in with "Is there DNA evidence?" the scene would turn a bit strange. But he still felt that if the basis for the conclusion could not be used as evidence in a court of law, then this basis was likely to be not rigorous enough in some way.

Yu Lanchuan asked, "Was this Wei Xiao caught after that?"

Han Dongsheng said, "An elusive professional killer like him basically can't be caught. Wei Xiao almost never showed his face to others and you also wouldn't know if it was his real face or a fake one."

"I thought human-skin masks were just stories."

"The 'human-skin mask' that Officer Yu and the others speak of are of course just stories but clever disguises do exist. To the naked eye, real and fake can't be distinguished. It's just that neither you nor I know how to do it," Han Dongsheng said. "When people like that commit crime, they wouldn't leave even a single fingerprint or footprint. The CCTVs wouldn't be able to capture them at all. They wouldn't take the routes the police can investigate. After killing their target, they would blend in with the crowd and leave only the mark of their unique supreme skill at the crime scene as proof to be used to collect payment from their patron. The vagrant who brushed past you on the streets might just be a killer who had just washed their hands clean."

Which was to say, firstly, this person could not be found and secondly, it would be difficult to find evidence to indict them.

Han Dongsheng said, "When Old Mr. Chun was still alive, he had already announced that his sect had washed their hands clean of their old ways and had stopped working their old trade. Of course, we weren't the police and whether or not Wei Xiao obeyed his master's words was not something we could manage. But most of the eighteen people who died by his hand that day were local villagers who had come out to work during the off season for farming. The furthest place they had been to in their entire lives was the main city in the province. There was even the factory boss's little son among them, he was barely twelve years old. It was too much, too demented. But despite that, Elder Yu, Sect Leader Yang and the others were still unwilling to make a judgement. Elder Yu said that he could be considered to have seen Wei Xiao grow up and he didn't believe that someone of Old Mr. Chun's conduct could result in this kind of disciple. But there were people who came to make a ruckus every day. That year's Martial Arts General Assembly was a pandemonium. Everyone wanted to expel Wan Mu Chun from the Five Supremes."

Yu Lanchuan recalled what Elder Yang had told him and asked, "Was it because when Wei Xiao had attended the Martial Arts General Assembly previously, he had offended a lot of people?"

"Did Sect Leader Yang tell you about it?" Han Dongsheng nodded. "When Wei Xiao was young, he attended the Martial Arts General Assembly on his shifu's behalf. There were people who took a dislike to him and challenged him to a spar after the event… Actually, it was very common for young people to challenge each other. It was just to learn from each other, superficial and not in depth. But Wei Xiao readily turned hostile and fought viciously on the spot. Back then, the medical treatment available wasn't what you could get today. If your limbs are crippled, that's it. From then on, there was a grudge between Wei Xiao and a group of friends. After that, even if he came, it was only in private to visit Elder Yu and the others. He never again showed his face in public. Wan Mu Chun's reputation also started to fall into disrepute from then on."

Having been "challenged" before, Yu Lanchuan didn't make any comments and only thought in his heart, He who provokes first is in the wrong.

All those who were so idle that they had nothing better to do than to look for trouble after the tea party had something wrong with them and deserved the beating they got.

"Unable to withstand the crowd's anger, Elder Yu announced an Alliance Leader's Command. But I heard the older generation say that in the end, the old alliance leader didn't pass judgement on Wei Xiao or say that the eighteen people at the flour factory were killed by him. His Alliance Leader's Command was an 'interrogation.' He was calling out to Wei Xiao across the distance and saying that if he didn't commit the crime, then he should hurry up and say something so that he doesn't destroy his sect's reputation," Han Dongsheng said. "But even though Elder Yu went through this trouble, the other party did not respond at all.

"A few more years later, there was internal conflict within Travellers' Sect. Someone from Wan Mu Chun meddled in the affair and only then did Elder Yu know that Wei Xiao was hiding right here in Yanning. In that case, there was no way he wouldn't have heard the Alliance Leader's Command. If there was really something going on behind the scenes, he should have come to find Elder Yu long ago. Silence was the same as admittance."

Yu Lanchuan stared blankly. He suddenly realised that back in that year when he ran away from home, when he went to Mudpool Backlane on his own and was kidnapped, he had caused trouble for Granduncle. And, Gan Qing saving him had actually also made a mess of things for her own family.

"What happened after that?"

"I heard the older generation say that even though the person who took action was from Wan Mu Chun, it could be seen that their skill was still superficial," Han Dongsheng said. "Furthermore, the way they acted was a little… erm, overly spirited. They didn't dare cause serious injuries to other people so it was probably not Wei Xiao himself. It could have been his little disciple being mischievous. Even though Elder Yu was disappointed at that time, he still wanted to protect Wei Xiao, so he privately erased all marks. But he didn't think that the police would find a dog's body and that we would also have some loose-lipped people on our side. The matter couldn't be covered up and spread out in the end. As far as I knew back then, many people seemed to go berserk and wanted to dig a meter into the ground to unearth Wei Xiao. But with the old alliance leader putting pressure from the top, all these were done in private. They didn't dare do it openly and with great fanfare."

Yu Lanchuan's heart suddenly tightened. "Did they find him?"

"About that, I don't know anymore." Han Dongsheng shook his head. "During that period of time, my father's health was failing. I was frazzled taking care of things at home and didn't have time to find out. But after a few years, those people who had a grudge against Wei Xiao all stopped. The atmosphere at the Martial Arts General Assembly slowly became less hostile and ready-to-fight. I heard rumours saying that Wei Xiao had died."

For so many years, Yu Lanchuan had always worried over whether or not the girl back then would suffer any injury because of him. It had practically become a sickness of the heart for him. It was only when he finally found her some time ago that he realised that it was all a waste of his feelings. As he laid his worries to rest, he was at the same time a little embarrassed and angry because his dark history was in her hands.

He had never thought that behind this little incident, there would be so many implications.

If Wei Xiao was really dead, if Wei Xiao's death was related to jianghu grudges…

Then… was Gan Qing aware of it? Was she aware that because she had meddled in other people's business back then, she had incurred those incidents? Had the enmity between her shifu and other people involved her? How did her hand become that way?

Why had she appeared in Travellers' Sect territory today? Was it purely to help them break out of the siege?

Why had Liang-ge, whose boldness was greater than the sky and was a big hoodlum who dared to gather other hoodlums to attack the police, been so terrified to see her?

All of a sudden, Yu Lanchuan had a very restless and impulsive urge to get up at once and look for Gan Qing.

As for what he would say when he saw her, he hadn't thought about it yet. But he had to see her now.

Hence, he rose immediately and hurriedly took his leave of Han Dongsheng.

But Han Dongsheng suddenly called out to him. "Little Master Yu, I'm not someone who talks indiscreetly, don't worry. The less people who know about the background of the young lady from upstairs, the better it is. The martial arts world is not as peaceful as it seems. You should tell Yan Hao and Officer Yu that it's best if they don't talk about it to anyone."

Yu Lanchuan nodded his thanks to him. Then, he moved his legs and left.

Gan Qing's phone was switched off. The last update in her WeChat Moments was three days ago.

Yu Lanchuan first went up to knock on 1003's door. This time, Madam Zhang Meizhen was annoyed by his knocking and shouted at him through the door. "She isn't back! I don't know! Go look for my nephew! Next time, I'll write it in the tenancy agreement—'Having a romantic relationship with the neighbour is not allowed.'"

Yu Lanchuan couldn't be bothered to argue with this mouthy old lady. He got a cab and headed directly towards Mudpool Backlane's Tianyi Crayfish.

The next door Star Dreams was closed and locked. Yu Lanchuan glanced at it, then charged into the hot and smoky back kitchen.

"What are you doing!" A server carrying a pot of soup nearly crashed into his chest. "Who are you looking for- Hey!"

"Little Master Yu?" Meng Tianyi was not in the back kitchen. He had just come in from outside, his heart heavy with worries. He looked up in surprise at Yu Lanchuan. "Why are you-"

"I'm looking for Gan Qing." Yu Lanchuan pulled him to a stop. "It's urgent."

Meng Tianyi said rather evasively, "Ah… her? It's so late, she isn't home yet? I see that she has locked the shop…"

"What do you mean 'locked the shop,' she didn't even open the shop today!" Yu Lanchuan cut him off. He lowered his voice into a whisper, speaking quickly and softly beside Meng Tianyi's ear. "She dressed up like Wei Xiao today and, in front of the police, snapped a Travellers' Sect leader's arm!"

When Meng Tianyi heard the two words "Wei Xiao," his face changed. When he heard the rest of the sentence, he was sweating.

Yu Lanchuan's voice was lowered until it stayed only in the gaps of his teeth. "I guessed that she wanted to snap other parts of his body too so I stopped her at that time. But the scene was too much of a mess. I looked away for just a second after that and she disappeared. Do you want me to find her or do you want the criminal police to find her in the future? Boss Meng, let me ask you again. Where. Is. She."

The corner of Meng Tianyi's eye twitched uncontrollably for a while. "Route 707… She went to the other side of the road to take the Route 707 bus. The last stop is the cemetery in the eastern suburb… When she goes there on her own, she doesn't like people following her… Little Master Yu!"

But Yu Lanchuan had already disappeared.

A few days ago, there was snowfall in Yanning. Apparently, in total, there were tens of millions of snowflakes, about the same as the population of Yanning, but no one saw them. It turned out that they had all landed in the eastern suburb. A delicate layer of hoar frost had formed on the lawn in the cemetery while the vapour breathed out by the evergreen pine trees gave rise to a thin mist, ice-cold and damp, closing in densely to penetrate the gaps between a person's bones.

The lighting in the deepest part of the cemetery was spoiled. No one had repaired it for a long time. Crow-dark and ink-black, only the dim light of the moon fell there, sketching out a long shadow…

At this place, at this time, this shadow of a human looked more like a ghost.

On the tombstone, the name engraved was "Wei Changsheng[2]."

Wei Xiao was a name that made people tremble in fear. Wei Changsheng, on the other hand, was a cook who was easy to talk to.

The second-hand bicycle that he rode was even a women's bike. He could never extend his legs fully and was slightly hunched when he was cycling. He cycled very slowly. The little girl waiting for him would leap up onto the pillion seat… It was still possible when she was young; when she was a little older, she could no longer sit there. The bicycle's pillion seat was very narrow and was just for show. It wasn't meant to carry passengers. When Gan Qing was twelve years old, she broke this joke of a pillion seat and her butt landed right on the back wheel, dealing a severe blow to her dignity.

Her bad luck-bringer shifu laughed until he had to hold the wall for support, making her so angry that she had a good cry. From then on, she swore to diligently practise her qinggong.

...Not that it came to anything.

Shifu was an old-fashioned believer in "high scores in exams." She remembered that when she was young, he was still willing to teach her some martial arts. When she was a bit older, he didn't like to teach her anymore. From day to night, he only took up the calculator and compared her marks against the kid from next door. Prying a move or two from him was extremely difficult; he seemed to not expect her to become good at it at all.

When Gan Qing was young, she had even secretly suspected that he might be afraid of "when the disciple masters the skills, the master starves to death." Even those evil sects in wuxia stories that didn't treat their disciples as humans weren't as miserly as her shifu.

"Until now, I'm still just a half-assed dabbler whose shifu had not properly admitted me into the sect." Gan Qing brushed away the pine needles that had fallen onto the tombstone. She had stood there for an unknown period of time. A layer of dew had fallen on her body. She pulled up the hood of her coat and started walking to the exit. "By chance, if my skills happen to be not good enough and I die by someone else's hands, you can't blame me…"

Right at that moment, a shadow suddenly charged out from the pine trees. Shrouded in the sharp and piercing sound of the wind, it arrived before her eyes in just a flash and grabbed hold of her.

Late in the night, in a cemetery, in pitch darkness. A lonely pebble path, the two rows of tombstones on either side gazing at her with a smile that was not quite a smile… and she had just spoken ill of the dead.

Even if Gan Qing's boldness was greater than the sky, she was nearly scared to the point of heart failure. She screamed and shouted, "Shifu, I was wrong!"

T/N:
[1] The length of the cuts found on the throats of the bodies is 三寸二分 (3 cun and 2 fen). Initially, I translated it to 3.2 inches because I personally prefer to use measurement units that are immediately recognisable to English readers, especially for a story set in modern times, and because cun is sometimes called the "Chinese inch." However, since this phrase is used many times in the story and the precision of the measurement is emphasised repeatedly, I decided to use the Chinese measurements. (It is also my preference not to italicise terms kept in Chinese.)
One cun is a little longer than an imperial unit inch, 1.26 of an imperial unit inch to be exact, while fen is 1/10 of a cun. Converted to imperial units, three cun and two fen comes up to about four inches.
[2] Wei Xiao 卫骁 - "Xiao" means "brave and powerful." Wei Changsheng 卫长生 - "Changsheng" means "long life."

Chapter 47

After much effort, Yu Lanchuan finally got a cab that was willing to take him to the eastern suburb late at night. Along the way, they passed by quite a number of buses on Route 707 and every time, he wanted nothing more than to take a flashlight and shine around the inside of the bus. When he finally made his way to the cemetery in the eastern suburb, he jumped over the wall to enter. In the end, realised that this damned place was much larger than he had expected. From A to N, the place was divided into fourteen areas!

The moment winter came to Yanning, all the cute and lively little birds disappeared and only packs of old crows remained. They especially loved gathering at places that terrified humans, letting out a "Caw, caw" every now and then that didn't sound at all like they had any good intentions. There was also the northwest wind slipping through the densely-packed tree-lined paths; the trees on either side were squeezed so tightly that they wailed like ghosts and howled like wolves. And thus, when these two "celestial music" came together, the effect was multiplied and it was like the opening of a horror movie.

The cemetery was laid out in a very regular manner. The rows of tombstones and trees looked about the same in every direction. Yu Lanchuan walked among them, all on his own, and felt that the black-and-white photographs on the tombstones all showed the same face. The more he walked, the more he felt that something was wrong—he couldn't find Gan Qing and was also a little lost!

At the beginning, he still put on a pretense and kept a gracefully calm and unhurried pace, carrying himself properly even though there was no one around. But outrageously, halfway through, his phone that he was using to light his way ran out of battery!

The graceful and calm Little Master Yu walked faster and faster. Suddenly, a breeze disturbed the water droplets frozen on the pine needles and a string of ice-cold water droplets dripped down, falling unerringly onto the exposed back of his neck. At the same time, something let out a peculiar laugh behind him!

Yu Lanchuan nearly jumped out of his skin, both his feet leaving the ground in his fright. He cut an exceptionally wild figure as he dashed out from among the trees and collided directly with the Gan Qing he hadn't been able to find anywhere, and was even so startled by her screaming that his courage completely failed. He yelled almost in unison with her, "You scared me to death!"

Gan Qing, "..."

Yu Lanchuan shouted, "What are you screaming for! The adrenaline rush is going to fry my brain!"

Gan Qing finally regained her wits. Trembling, she fumbled out her phone from her pocket and used the light from the screen to see Yu Lanchuan clearly. The phone screen with a background of the starry night sky emitted a faint, bluish light that made the both of them look exceptionally monstrous.

She fell into silence. After a long while, she asked faintly, "...Little Master Yu, have you ever been smacked?"

"Wha-"

Before he could finish speaking, Gan Qing's fist swung towards him. Yu Lanchuan quickly retreated half a step but before he could steady himself, Gan Qing hooked her leg around his heel and pulled. Yu Lanchuan's knees were still weak from being scared just now and he kneeled down with a thump, landing in a kowtow right before a tombstone.

The old man on the tombstone had a kindly look and a smile on his face, like he was saying, "Beloved official, you may rise."

Gan Qing didn't think that he would be taken down so easily. She was afraid he would run a porcelain scam on her, so she withdrew her leg with a complicated expression on her face.

Yu Lanchuan was just about to erupt in anger when he suddenly saw clearly the name on the tombstone—Wei… Changsheng.

The surname was "Wei"?

He stared blankly, then couldn't resist turning his head to look at Gan Qing.

"Very polite of you, Little Master Yu." Gan Qing extended a hand to him. "Our family etiquette doesn't require formal bows. Hurry up and stand."

Yu Lanchuan didn't take her hand. He pushed against the ground and clambered up on his own. "Your family? This is… your shifu?"

Gan Qing didn't say anything. Her gaze swept past the edge of her hood that fell nearly below her brows. Her eyes were cold.

Han Dongsheng had speculated that Wei Xiao was already dead.

So it turned out that even in death, he could not put his real name on his tombstone.

Yu Lanchuan said, "So he's really already-"

"Did someone tell you something?" Gan Qing cut him off. She drew her coat closer around her body and began walking away without saying anything.

"Mr. Han saw you today and muttered the name 'Wei Xiao.' I found out some information from him." Yu Lanchuan caught up to her. He chose his words carefully. "How did your shifu die?"

Gan Qing lowered her eyes and said perfunctorily, "Don't call him that, he wasn't my shifu. It was sudden heart failure." 

"Gan Qing!" Yu Lanchuan went around to stand in front of her, reaching out a hand to stop her.

"Sudden. Heart. Failure." The eyes that looked up at him had no hint of a smile in the corners but there was a peculiar smile in the curve of her lips. She asked, a little mockingly, "Why, does the law forbid this way of dying? Or does the big demon not have the right to die peacefully of old age?"

Yu Lanchuan's face was serious. "Speak properly."

Gan Qing's heartbeat that had been scared into bouncing like a spring just now had calmed down quite a bit. She also felt that she had been rather rude, so she relaxed her expression a little. "Little Master Yu, don't you have to work extra hours tomorrow? Instead of sleeping at night, you came here to frighten people. What is it that you're looking for me for?"

Yu Lanchuan spoke frankly. "Are you going to look for the people from Travellers' Sect?"

Gan Qing chuckled, crafty yet a little resigned. "Why would I look for them? Our boss takes care of our online shop himself and I don't send packages via express delivery."

"Traveller's Sect has five trades, who said that looking for Travellers' Sect means wanting to send packages?" Yu Lanchuan glared at her. "So, not only do you want to look for Travellers' Sect's people, you even want to look for their North Branch Master, Wang Jiusheng?"

Gan Qing withdrew her smile. She glanced at Yu Lanchuan, then walked around him without a word.

Yu Lanchuan dodged and blocked her way again. "After you find him, what do you plan to do?"

Gan Qing said lightly, in a reasonable and cooperative tone, "Little Master Yu, I'm the type who doesn't like having my way blocked by others, and also the type who isn't happy when someone tells me what to do. Previously, you stopped me at the apartment corridor—the reason why I didn't pick a fight with you over that is because I wanted to maintain harmonious neighbourly relations, not because you're awesome. If you continue to be like this, I'll stop playing nice."

"Wait!" Yu Lanchuan's tone was very urgent. "I know you are capable and that even if you commit murder or arson, you might not be caught. But after that? Are you going to hide your identity too? In the future, is your tombstone also going to have a false name engraved on it so that even in death-"

Gan Qing's face turned cold. She raised her knee to hit his belly. The position was a little vulgar and Yu Lanchuan quickly angled his body to dodge. "Hey!"

Gan Qing forced him to give way and immediately slipped out like a featherlight cloud. Yu Lanchuan stretched out his arm and grabbed her coat. Her hood fell back. Then, right at that moment, out of nowhere, he felt a chill run down his back. Yu Lanchuan instinctively blocked with his out-of-battery phone. There was a scraping sound—a small blade slashed at his phone case, leaving behind a perfect curve.

Her murderous aura rushed forth like countless gossamer-thin threads. The blade slashed his phone case but its force did not reduce the slightest, as though it wanted to go on and slice open his wrist. Yu Lanchuan's pupils contracted. Everything happened in an instant, yet he stubbornly controlled himself and did not withdraw his hand.

The blade touched his skin, left a small red dot, and stopped.

If he were to measure it with a string, the curved line on his phone case would probably be exactly three cun and two fen long.

Yu Lanchuan fell silent for a while. Then, he suddenly said, "I've not thanked you yet, have I?"

"That's right." Gan Qing slowly lifted her gaze. "If I had known earlier that Little Master Yu likes to repay kindness with enmity and likes to meddle in other people's business, I would have sat on the sidelines today and have fun watching all of you fight a battle that neither side can win."

Yu Lanchuan, "I'm not talking about today."

Gan Qing's face had a trace of impatience. "What?"

"The knots on your keyring were tied using my shoelaces. You probably didn't realise," Yu Lanchuan said. "I recognised it immediately. Fifteen years ago, you saved a boy from Mudpool Backlane to the landfill in the outskirts. You took away his clothes and shoes, and helped him lead the human traffickers away... the traffickers from Travellers' Sect. Am I right?"

The damp night wind blew Gan Qing's hair into disarray. She heard Yu Lanchuan say, "I am that boy."

Gan Qing was stunned for a few seconds. The blade between her fingers glinted and just like that, she had kept it somewhere. She laughed. "Such a coincidence? It's truly a small world… I say, Little Master Yu, you're such an excellent young man so why do you keep running after me to create accidental encounters? You're nearly making me assume too much."

Gan Qing was someone who was very well aware of her boundaries. It wasn't that she hadn't noticed Yu Lanchuan purposely catching the times when she went about to pass by her, she had just pretended not to notice all this while. Now, she was suddenly exposing him so sharply, her words completely meant to inflict harm. Yu Lanchuan's face immediately flushed.

"Oh, that's right, I remember now… Indeed."Gan Qing let out a rather malicious snort of laughter. "Running around wearing nothing but a doggy head is a rare experience after all."

Then, unexpectedly, Yu Lanchuan did not turn angry from embarrassment. His gaze was very calm and steady, his eyes clear and cold behind the thin lenses. He said, "I have always remembered it, not because I was in a very miserable state that day, but because until the end, I didn't get any news of where you were."

"Now you know." Gan Qing shrugged. "You're welcome, it was nothing."

"I have always feared that my actions on a moment's impulse resulted in someone being injured. From then on, I never again dared to cause trouble that I could not handle," Yu Lanchuan said. "But today, Old Han told me that it was because of what happened that time that news of your shifu hiding in Yanning was leaked. If-"

"If what?" Gan Qing cut him off. She moved her legs to leave. "Maybe he was getting what he deserved for things that he had done. What was it that you righteous sects say again? Heaven's law is clear, retribution-"

Her steps were too hurried. She happened to be passing by a tree and somehow, a branch extending from the tree hooked unerringly on her hair. Even though her hair wasn't long, it was thick and fine, and frizzled very easily in a damp environment. They were also knots in her hair ends.

Gan Qing hissed in pain.

Yu Lanchuan said, "Even your shifu can't bear listening anymore."

Gan Qing stared blankly, then cut off the tuft of knotted hair. She turned her head around and realised that the tree that had entangled with her was coincidentally the one leaning very close to Wei Xiao's tombstone.

When she was very young, she had her hair tied into pigtails. Her hair in braided pigtails, she ran to play everywhere and after a day, her hair looked like wild bramble. Her shifu had forced her to keep still while he combed her hair again but no matter how he combed, the knots couldn't be untangled, and the little wooden comb tugged on her hair until she was yelling noisily. Her shifu had no choice but to wet the comb and slowly tease out the knots bit by bit. He had even scared her by saying that if she always combed her hair with a wet comb, in the future, her head would turn silly. 

Gan Qing didn't want to turn into a "silly girl." After that, she didn't dare ask for the comb to be wetted. She bore the pain with tears in her eyes. It seemed to have left a shadow in her heart; even after she grew up, she never let her hair grow long.

Were there gods and ghosts in the underworld?

Were the people who had passed away watching you from the Nine Springs in the underworld?

Most people did not believe in this. Only people who were frightened, people with a guilty conscience, and… people who were close family would, for a time, be unable to break free of these self-deceiving imaginations.

Yu Lanchuan said softly, "My granduncle had once used the Alliance Leader's Command. Your side didn't respond but despite that, Granduncle had never believed that the eighteen people at the flour factory were killed by him."

Gan Qing didn't say anything.

Yu Lanchuan said earnestly, "I also heard that due to a spar when he was young, he had offended a few people. If you suspect that his death was not natural and had something to do with those people… or with Travellers' Sect, I can help to investigate with you. After all, the matter with Travellers' Sect was started by me. This time, the Travellers' Sect people concealed a crime suspect and even attacked the police, Old Yu's people won't let it go just like that. They will definitely investigate to the last detail. Just wait a while for now, is that okay?"

After listening to that, it was a long while before Gan Qing finally opened her mouth. She relaxed her tone a little. "Actually, it was not very related to you."

It was the little girl back then who did not know how high the sky nor how thick the earth was. She could have easily shaken off the pursuers and escaped, but she just had to show off her skills.

Shifu had always said that Wan Mu Chun's martial arts skills were no longer suited to the modern days. Killing techniques were ominous, a demonic path that strayed from the orthodox. One should not be obsessed with them, and must absolutely not use those skills to commit violence.

But the "demonic path that strayed from the orthodox" that he had spoken of was exactly what a rebellious chuuni teenage girl thought was the coolest thing ever. Even if all she knew was the most superficial bit of skills, she couldn't resist showing off like a little bird shaking out its feathers. How could she hide herself and live incognito like an ordinary person?

Gan Qing lowered her head. "Very polite of you, Little Master Yu."

"Who's being polite with you?" Yu Lanchuan heard her jianghu-like and distant tone, and a nameless fire blazed in his heart. "We have been neighbours for half a year, you've taught my little brother before, we collected evidence against Nie Ke and that group of human scum together, and I even helped you get a bunch of foolish customers during the festive season and watched you trick them for their money without saying anything! I thought we were considered friends!"

Gan Qing lifted her head and looked at him in surprise.

Yu Lanchuan, "..."

Actually, he felt regret the moment he was done talking. All this while, he had conducted himself in the "noble and aloof" manner. In his work life, he turned away drinks, developed shallow relations and kept his words superficial. His friends in his private life were all people like Yu Yan who had stuck themselves to him voluntarily. This was the first time in his life he was saying something like "I thought we were considered friends," something that made it seem as though he thought the other person had feelings for him. For a moment, he felt like he was suspended above a fire, grilled until he was uncomfortable inside and out.

It was like when he had used his phone to block the blade just now—if Gan Qing had pressed down lightly just a centimeter more at that time, she would have sliced open his artery.

And now, Gan Qing didn't need to say anything. If she smiled just a little teasingly, she would shatter his fragile dignity that was merely putting on a brave front.

Yu Lanchuan felt that his entire night had been full of perils. Both his feet seemed to be standing on a tightrope. It was like he had laid his cards on the table, smashed the table, threw caution to the wind and was sitting on the ground, waiting for judgement.

And then… unexpectedly, Gan Qing did not smile.

She stood under the branch, staring blankly for a long while.

Wei Changsheng… Wei Xiao's death portrait gazed at her, as though it was meticulously laying out all the affection and loyalty she had disappointed in her entire life, putting them all on display on the tombstone.

"Why are you still standing here!" Yu Lanchuan was a little afraid of hearing what she had to say, and quickly cut her off in fear. "Are you going to wait for the Lunar New Year here?"

"I… want to sit here with him for a while more." Gan Qing avoided his gaze, drawing back the dangerous and arrogant air she had around her. She seemed a little embarrassed. In a soft voice, she said, "Well… why don't you head back first? I'll take the last bus back… I really will go back, don't worry."

Yu Lanchuan didn't move.

Gan Qing thought that he was still worried so she pointed at Wei Xiao's grave and said, "He has passed away for ten years already, he won't mind waiting a bit longer. I swear on my shifu that I will not look for Wang Jiusheng in private and cause trouble today. Do you need me to sign my name and put an official stamp on it, Little Master Yu?"

"Okay." Yu Lanchuan walked a couple of steps, dawdling. Then, he couldn't help turning his head around. "It's too cold, you…"

Gan Qing said in resignation, "What else do you want?"

"..." Yu Lanchuan was strangely silent for a few seconds. "Which way should I take to go back?"

Chapter 48

Smartphones and satellite navigation. These were the main culprits behind the lack of a sense of direction among the young people today.

"What are you looking at? It's all because you didn't pick up. I spent the whole way here calling you, that's why my phone ran out of battery." Yu Lanchuan forcefully threw the blame to her. "If I have GPS, would I need you?"

However, Gan Qing was not so easily fooled. She hadn't rejected his calls; she had switched off her phone. Repeatedly calling a switched-off phone for an entire journey didn't necessarily mean that the person was so anxious their heart was on fire, it just meant that they were a fool with itchy hands.

Gan Qing said, "Using the flashlight on the phone eats a lot of battery. It's all right, Little Master Yu, being afraid of walking in the dark at night is nothing to be ashamed of."

"Who's afraid of walking at night?" Yu Lanchuan retorted.

Gan Qing looked at his grave and serious face, and smiled magnanimously. "Me."

Yu Lanchuan suddenly realised that this person's methods were very deep. She excelled in "hiding oneself in the open" and "advancing by retreating." She revealed not a hint of herself and also always made herself seem very extraordinary and beyond the unrefined mortal realm. It was infuriating.

Before he could think of a counterattack, suddenly, the strange laughter that had scared his soul out of his body appeared again!

The sound was extremely piercing. It sounded like a strange old person but also didn't seem human. The sound carried far and wide.

The two of them shivered in unison. Gan Qing had just been all "calm and magnanimous"; now, there was a glint between her fingers and a blade appeared there. But she didn't hold her phone tight and it fell to the ground with the screen facing downwards. The flashlight on the back shone towards the sky, lighting up the gaps between the tree branches into bared fangs and claws.

And sitting among the branches was… a very round owl.

The owl made some tentative noises. When the flashlight shone on it, it stretched its neck and cried out, "Hoo—"

Then, it flapped its wings in anger and flew away.

"Being afraid of walking in the dark at night is nothing to be ashamed of." Yu Lanchuan picked up Gan Qing's phone and blew off the dirt on the reinforced glass screen, then passed it to her with unruffled composure. "Come, put your blade away, be nicer to the country's Grade 2 endangered species. Next time, remember that honest people have nothing to hide."

Gan Qing, "..."

A chaotic and tumultuous weekend was still a weekend, time still passed twice as quickly as it did on work days. In the blink of an eye, Old Mr. Zhou had disappeared for four days and there was still no sight or sound of him. On the other hand, the Travellers' Sect's unlicensed cab gang that had attacked the police were dug out like radishes pulled out of the mud, unearthing many who had criminal records or were using fake identities.

"We got some info by interrogating them." Yu Yan had come to No. 110 Courtyard and was talking to the residents. "It's like this, cough, following the suspect, Jiang Bin's— he qigong master that we caught—confession, we found the missing Old Madam Lin."

The dispirited Zhou Beibei immediately sat up straight. "I know this old madam, my dad is close to her! When she had just gone missing, you even came to our house to ask questions! What, is it the same gang of people who tricked these old people into leaving? What is their intention? Has she gone home now? What did she say, did she see my dad?"

Han Dongsheng tugged her hand, shaking it lightly. "Let him finish speaking."

"Please calm down." Yu Yan softened his tone. "We found Old Madam Lin, but she had already…"

Zhou Beibei was momentarily stunned. A few seconds later, her expression changed abruptly and she began to tremble all over.

"Don't panic," Yu Yan said hastily. "Jiang Bin said that Old Madam Lin had gone to look for him to ask for a refund. She fought with their people and when angered, her heart illness suddenly flared up and she died. It's not related to Old Mr. Zhou's disappearance. We've also asked a lot of the students in the qigong class, they said that Old Mr. Zhou hadn't been attending their activities much lately. He didn't pick up their calls either and his attitude towards those so-called "fellow disciples" had also become more indifferent. We think that he must have figured it out and realised that he was being swindled."

Han Dongsheng quickly asked, "Then, where could he have gone?"

"An old man from the qigong class said that some time ago, Old Mr. Zhou had argued with him. Old Mr. Zhou said that the eggs the master was selling were all bought from the supermarket and eating them had no effect, and also that there are no books anywhere that said that qigong can be passed on through food. The two of them couldn't deal with each other and parted on bad terms. Before Old Mr. Zhou left, he said that the money they used to buy the eggs was enough to travel the world." Yu Yan carefully consoled Zhou Beibei. "Let us think optimistically. He shouldn't have been saying those words for no reason. Maybe the old man was really planning to go on a trip and after a disagreement with the family, he left the house on impulse to clear his mind?"

"Right! I remember now, Dad bought a few maps recently to relieve boredom!" Han Dongsheng quickly stood up. He rummaged through the reading materials at Old Mr. Zhou's bedside table and said excitedly, "Those maps aren't here. The old man took them with him. Comrade Officer's deduction might be right!"

Zhou Beibei felt a tiny bit of hope amidst her helplessness and looked at him earnestly.

"Old people have to be coaxed too, they're old children." Yu Yan smiled at her. "When he runs out of money, who knows, he might come back. Lodgings and public transports all require I.D. cards. It'll be easy to find him. We will contact the relevant departments and get them to continue investigating. Please don't worry."

Yu Yan was a sweet talker. With just a few words, he comforted the lost and distracted Zhou Beibei. He signalled Yu Lanchuan and Han Dongsheng with his eyes, then went upstairs.

"What is it?" Yu Lanchuan asked.

"Things don't look as good as what I said," Yu Yan said softly. He glanced at Han Dongsheng. "I didn't dare say this in front of your wife just now. That Travellers' Sect's Jiang Bin is very experienced in swindling and has completely grasped the hearts of those old people. He insists that someone must be stealing his business. Otherwise, his 'disciples' would never 'betray' him… Hey, Teacher Meng-Meng, how are you?"

Gan Qing heard them come up and opened the door. The moment Yu Yan saw her, he recalled what happened the other day when they were besieged by the Travellers' Sect people. Compared to the "grey market product" alliance leader, Gan Qing was the perfect example of an out-of-the-world expert. Yu Yan now felt that even her shadow hid a mysterious story, and wanted to bow to this big boss and serve her tea.

Gan Qing smiled at him. "Continue talking, you don't have to mind me. What about Travellers' Sect?"

"These hoodlums really know how to bend the rules. Jiang Bin never sold any 'three no's[1]' drugs. Usually, what they mainly do is organise the 'Qigong Master's Lectures,' livestream qigong demos and stuff like that so that their 'disciples' can send them gifts. A lot of old people give thousands or tens of thousands on impulse. The stuff they sell are also daily necessities that they bought from the market and then bring back and change the packaging. They're indeed deceiving people but eating those things brings no harm anyway. One side is willing to hit and one side is willing to be hit. Even if someone reports them and they're arrested, we can't do anything to them," Yu Yan said. "That dude also thinks pretty highly of himself. He thinks that he has given this bunch of old people with empty lives a safe harbour for their mental state, and that he's contributing to society! You tell me, isn't it infuriating?"

Yu Lanchuan's brows furrowed—there were indeed times when science could not defeat superstitions. The only thing that could defeat superstitions were superstitions that were even more fanciful and outrageous.

"This Old Madam Lin was originally an enthusiastic student in the qigong class. She bought whatever she was told to and during every qigong livestream demo, she was the one who sent the most gifts. But not long ago, she, Old Mr. Zhou and a few other people suddenly wanted to withdraw together. These people are all on the missing person list this time round," Yu Yan said. "Old Mr. Zhou and the others aren't very good at using their phones, they usually just buy eggs during the qigong classes. But Old Madam Lin was not the same. She frequently sent gifts during livestreams and had spent tens of thousands altogether. Before the end of the year, she went to look for Jiang Bin, wanting to get the money refunded. Jiang Bin said that the money couldn't be refunded. Furthermore, at that time, he felt that there was something wrong with Old Madam Lin's mental state. She was extremely stirred up and her speech was a little incoherent, like she was on some kind of drugs, so he only brushed her off. In the end, the old lady got overly worked up and died just like that. Jiang Bin and the others were afraid of bearing the responsibility for that, so they secretly took care of the old lady's body and covered the incident up…"

Gan Qing scoffed. "How innocent of him."

"Of course, the body is still being autopsied so we are waiting for the results too," Yu Yan said. "But there's one thing I agree with Jiang Bin. The probability of these old people figuring things out on their own is not high. If it was not Jiang Bin who was so extremely bold and wanted to do away with all the students who withdrew from his classes, then we can only consider the possibility of there being another organisation involved. Hence, we asked Old Madam Lin's son to search his house thoroughly and gather all the printed material that the old lady didn't throw away, even including the flyers advertising the opening of a supermarket. In total, there are more than 300 of them. Han-ge, we need to cross-check."

"I'll go look for them now." Han Dongsheng turned to go. "I'll search both houses."

Yu Lanchuan finally looked at Gan Qing. He cut in with a question. "What about Travellers' Sect?"

"That Liang-ge's full name is Niu Liang." Yu Yan sighed. "His number plate is fake, his driving license is also fake. He's very slippery. He goes to the police station like it's his own house, he looks perfectly at home to me. He also doesn't admit anything about Travellers' Sect. He just said that he has many brothers and wide connections, and that people frequently ask him for help. Lots of people look for him and he's sometimes fuzzy on things, and doesn't know that the other person has committed crimes. About the current matter, he says that he didn't even know that the police were investigating a case. He saw us charging in and thought that there were people wanting to cause a ruckus at his buddy's guest house. That's why he acted on impulse and gathered a bunch of people there. He didn't intend to attack the police."

Yu Lanchuan said, "What about the Five Bats Token? How did they explain that? To be able to gather so many people at once to join a fight with him, I don't believe that it's purely due to jianghu loyalty, there must be monetary profit involved."

Gan Qing crossed her arms over her chest and said with a half-smile, "Looks like it's something that will keep them detained for just a few days. When they're released, I just need to pay them another visit."

Yu Lanchuan said, "Gan Qing!"

"Teacher Meng-Meng," Yu Yan also said very seriously, "I want to talk to you about this too. If, in the end, it is proven that they are indeed a criminal organisation, you need to be careful. You are only one person while there is no place where they cannot get into. What if, by chance, they find out that you're staying here and take revenge on you? Let this matter be handled when the city cracks down on them. You... You guys shouldn't get involved in this anymore."

Gan Qing let out an unconcerned chuckle.

"I know you have nothing to worry about and can leave anytime." Yu Yan understood the meaning hidden in her laugh. "But Yu Lanchuan can't leave. He has a thirty-year house loan and he can't resign from his job. Han-ge from downstairs has to take care of the elderly and the young, he can't leave either. There's also Old Master Yang, Grandma Zhang and the other old men and old ladies who have stayed here for their entire lives. They can't disappear at will like you, can they?"

Yu Lanchuan initially wanted to explain that "The heart of the martial arts alliance is still at No. 110 Courtyard, those hoodlums wouldn't dare challenge the whole martial arts world." Unexpectedly, he realised that Gan Qing actually took Yu Yan's words to heart and didn't utter a peep anymore. 

His heart stirred. Say a thousand words or a thousand lines and she would ignore them all, treating them as nothing more than the wind blowing past her ears. Nothing was close to being as useful as the single line "You will cause trouble for other people."

Even if Yu Yan, as an outsider, did not understand that she was totally not even one of them "righteous sects."

She's too solitary, Yu Lanchuan thought. In his heart, he suddenly had a rough idea how to handle her.

The next day, Gan Qing picked up a pair of gremlin kids on her doorstep.

Gan Qing asked, "Forgot your keys again?"

With a mournful face and exaggerated acting, Liu Zhongqi bowed deeply to her. "Teacher Meng-Meng."

Gan Qing extended a finger with a swoosh and stopped his head. "What are you doing?"

Liu Zhongqi muttered discontentedly for a long while, until his face was red from keeping it all in. He felt that this matter was really too embarrassing but his brother had promised that if he got this done, then regardless of whether or not he could achieve 120 marks in his English test in the end-of-term exams, he would teach him one set of fighting moves.

For the sake of his dreams of wuxia and heroes, the teenager gritted his teeth and ripped off his shame, stepping on it with his feet. "Please teach me English!"

Gan Qing was very startled to hear that. "I teach you… Did I forget to introduce myself? My highest academic qualification is dropping out of senior high."

"My brother said that as long as you have at least graduated primary school, it's enough to teach me." Liu Zhongqi said those words like he was enduring a great humiliation for the sake of his mission. "If I still can't pass my English exam in the end-of-term exams, he's going to send me to the U.S. to be 'deaf and mute' over there. Teacher Meng-Meng, my allowance is going to run out soon. I can't afford home tutors and there also isn't enough time now. You said that you only know how to take exams, right? Help me pass, I don't want to be deaf and mute."

Next to him, Little Friend Han Zhou looked at him sympathetically. "Gege, I will graduate from primary school in three years. How about you wait for me?"

Liu Zhongqi was an honest-to-god academic tyrant. At school, he was an important person the teachers paid extra attention to. For the sake of his dreams of wuxia and heroes, not only was he forced to pretend to be an academic failure, even a little brat who scored four marks in his maths test was joining the fun!

There was a grinding sound, he had nearly gritted his teeth until his back molars broke. His face was becoming increasingly fierce, like he was going berserk from being tormented by English.

Gan Qing turned towards Han Zhou. "And what about you?"

"My parents are busy looking for my grandpa. My dad said that if I have nowhere else to go, I can come ask Jiejie if I can do my homework at your house. I will go back home myself when it's time to sleep, I won't disturb Jiejie." As Little Friend Han Zhou spoke, he took down the money pouch hanging from his neck. "This is the money for food and expenses."

Gan Qing didn't take it. Her expression turned complicated. "Your dad asked you to come here?"

Didn't Han Dongsheng already know who she was? How could he feel safe sending his child into her hands? Wasn't he afraid that she, disciple of a monster, would cook and devour his kid?"

Little Friend Han Zhou didn't understand at all these skirmishes between adults. Brimming with anticipation, he nodded his head. "Jiejie, what are we eating today?"

"..." For a few seconds, Gan Qing had nothing to say. "Come in."

At Han Dongsheng's home, the police were examining all the printed materials belonging to Old Mr. Zhou one by one. The old man was very orderly. He couldn't even bear to throw away discount coupons and had stacked them together neatly, even if they had expired. Health supplements and medical equipment were categorised by type. And, what surprised them was that among the things he gathered, there weren't many that were targeted at the elderly. Most of them were health supplements for women as well as some products for reducing cholesterol and losing weight. He had even made detailed notes for many of them.

Altogether, there were over a hundred pieces of material. He had gone to listen to the lectures for each of them and studied them carefully. Based on the dates, the old man's daily schedule could be said to be very busy and tightly-packed.

But no one in his family knew.

The over a hundred fliers and pamphlets was like a majestic solitary island, towering far away where the city lights could not shine, encircling a world that no one was interested in.

Zhou Beibei sat by the side, her tears falling silently.

Right at that moment, a police officer suddenly stood up. "Yu-ge, look, is it this one? These few houses all had it!"

Zhou Beibei hurriedly wiped her tears and looked over. She saw what looked like a flier for a gym that was advertising things like yoga classes. There were many yoga classes around—take a walk on the main road and one could get a stack of fliers. No one would pay any attention to them.

On the flier was written: Paradise[2]. 

T/N:
[1] "Three no's" drugs 三无药 refer to drugs that have no licensed manufacturer, no precise manufacturing date, and no mass quality checking.
[2] Paradise 极乐世界 jílè shìjiè refers to the Western Paradise in Buddhism. 

Chapter 49

"Old Zhou!"

Old Mr. Zhou quickly closed the book he was holding. This was the only reading material he had brought from home and the edges were already curling from how many times he had turned the pages.

An old lady walked over and held her hand out to him, her countenance pleasant. "What interesting thing are you reading?"

Wrinkles made a person look aged but there was actually a type of wrinkles that could also make a person look gentle and kindly. Just like how some people were plump "in all the right places," this old lady had wrinkles in all the right spots. Time must have deliberated a long while before carefully carving a line on her face, hence every line was placed with meticulous care and she looked very heartwarming and pleasing to the eye.

Old Mr. Zhou hesitated for a while, then handed the book over, a little embarrassed.

The old lady looked at him with an expression that was a cross between displeasure and fondness. She took the book and opened it; it automatically fell open on a page that had a few close-up photos wedged there like a thick bookmark.

The photo was of a young boy around seven or eight years of age. He had stuffed his head into various weird-looking frames, and was baring his teeth and making faces at the camera.

"Is this your grandson?" The old lady sat down opposite him, her posture showing that she wanted to have a heart-to-heart talk with him.

This was where Old Mr. Zhou was staying. In the little room, everything was white in colour—the ceiling, bedsheets, floor tiles… even the clothes the people were wearing.

There was a drawing of a god on the wall, looking out of place. The pose might have been copied from some Buddha statue while the robes worn on the body looked like the white robes worn by westerners in ancient times and the head was topped with fashionable mermaid curls. The appearance was a harmonious mix of eastern and western styles. Who knew what exactly it was that this god was in charge of.

There were three single beds in one room. The extremely minimal amount of personal belongings were covered with a white cloth, revealing no signs of human life. At a glance, it looked like a mortuary.

"It's all right, everyone who has just arrived is like this too," the old lady said softly and slowly. She took Old Mr. Zhou's hand, her movement very natural. "I understand. These are all things that people think are very beautiful and hence, they are also things that we have to break free of. Just like drugs, you know that taking them into your body only causes you harm but it feels good, that's why those people lose themselves in them. But that's not real happiness. Think carefully, if you force yourself to live with them, can you really integrate into their family? Can you really be happy?"

Old Mr. Zhou was a little uncomfortable with her holding his hand but he also thought that they were already at this age where to be "uncomfortable" was to be unnecessarily fussy so he only smiled in embarrassment. "After all… after all…"

"After all, they're your family. But family can also bring you harm," the old lady said very reasonably. "Otherwise, you wouldn't come to our place here for help, would you?"

Old Mr. Zhou lowered his head.

The old lady's tone was meaningful and her words heartfelt. "You have already felt how illusionary familial relationships in the secular world are. You live with them under the same roof, yet you feel as though you have been excluded and that there is a glass wall between you and them. You can see them but not touch them. Why? It is because at our age, our time is nearly up, and we are starting to truly comprehend the matters of the secular world. But our children are still struggling in the dust of the mortal realm. Your mental state is starting to gradually break away from them. If you still can't bear to part with them and want to seek comfort from them, you' re deceiving yourself and others, and chasing an illusion!"

Old Mr. Zhou said in a small voice, "...I brought up these children since they were young."

"I know." The old lady patted the back of his hand like an angel. "I know how hard it is to break free of these things. Otherwise, you wouldn't need to come all the way to us from so far away, am I right? Come, let's go. It's activity time."

After saying that, she pulled Old Mr. Zhou into standing up. In a corner of the room, there was a bell that rang at fixed times, like the bells that signalled the start of classes at schools. At two o' clock sharp in the afternoon, it rang out with a pleasant piano tune. Elderly people like Old Mr. Zhou came out of their rooms, all of them wearing floaty white robes. From far, it looked like the scene of a mass corpse resurrection.

All these people had smiles on their faces. They greeted each other and even held hands. Linked together, they went downstairs in a sea of shining white.

From outside, the little building where they stayed looked like a place for agricultural tourism in some remote and desolate corner of the world. At the back was an area with abandoned fish ponds and in the front was wild land. Without a car, one would need to walk for around more than ten kilometers before reaching a small bus stop.

Second floor and upwards were rooms for staying. First floor was a large hall. All three meals in a day were taken there. It was like a large mass dining hall.

Right now, the large round tables were stood on their edges and leaned against a corner of the wall and the chairs arranged in a large circle. They had stir-fried green peppers for lunch and the smell of food was still thick in the air in the large hall, a rather nauseating assault on their olfactory senses.

The elderly people very quickly found a place to sit, like they were used to it. Old Mr. Zhou suddenly felt a need to use the washroom—old people's bladders were just that unreasonable; there was no sign at all just now but in just a moment, the urge to urinate was overwhelming.

But right then, an old man with white in his hair and beard who was wearing a black robe entered. Among these people of the same age who looked like human manifestations of toilet paper spirits, the black robe stood out like a crane among chickens.

The "toilet paper spirits" all greeted the black-robed man. "Advisor."

Old Mr. Zhou felt too embarrassed to move. He tried his best to pull up his belly, planning to hold it in for a while.

After the spiritual advisor entered, he first showed concern for each elderly person there, talking to each of them in turn. He was very expressive, as though each of these old people were the treasures of his heart and every little thing that happened to them was worth making a fuss over.

After fussing around the circle of people, the spiritual advisor sat down and began the ritual.

"My brothers and sisters," the spiritual advisor began his speech, his words pouring out like a torrent. "Among us, there are those who are wealthy and those who are destitute, those whose homes are filled with children and grandchildren and those who are widows or widowers without kin to rely on, those who are beleaguered by illnesses and those who are still considered healthy. We are all so different. But all of us, with all our differences, are gathered here today because we share a common point—we are people who are nearly at the end of the time we have.

"This is a lonely, solitary journey. In our early years, we had companions around us, our parents and siblings were there, but the further we walked, the lonelier we became and the number of people with us grew fewer and fewer. The smoke and dust of the mortal world have been thrown behind us. I know that there are those among you who are extremely lost, who can't find your own worth. When you were young, you were such a heroic person but in your old age, you don't even know where to start to get your grandchildren to like you.

"It's all right. Now, please… hold the hand of the person beside you tightly and look deeply into that person's eyes."

And so, everyone gathered in groups of two and followed the instructions to stare into each other's eyes in the large hall filled with the smell of green peppers.

They had to look at each other for at least a minute—at the side, someone was keeping time. Their eyes had to be sincere and they had to focus.

This action was actually awkward and funny, and a little mad. Most people could not hold it for even ten seconds before they broke down laughing, much less one minute.

But if the partner beside you was doing it very seriously, people like Old Mr. Zhou who was very good at reading people's faces and doubting themselves would feel too embarrassed to laugh. Not only that, they would also suspect that their own attitudes were improper and that they should try their best to imitate others.

Next to Old Mr. Zhou was none other than that old lady.

The old lady had very deep-set eyes. Even though her eyelids were drooping, she had taken good care of her eyes somehow and they weren't the least bit murky. At the start, Old Mr. Zhou was visibly discomfited but the old lady kept looking at him earnestly. Before he realised it, he was remembering his old spouse who had passed away.

All of a sudden, the old lady seemed to be recalling some sorrowful matter that she was grieved about. The corners of her mouth turned down a little and there was a glimmer of tears in her eyes.

When a person grew old, they would usually become melancholy and emotional. Other people's tears were like a magnet that could easily draw out the sorrowful matters suppressed deep in their own hearts.

When Old Mr. Xhou saw her tears, he recalled the time when his wife was gravely ill. She had tried hard to look at him from her sickbed. She could no longer speak and only her eyes were making an appeal. He understood her meaning. She was saying, I don't want any more medical treatment. It's too hard to endure. I can't be cured. If we continue the treatment, even the money for your coffin will be used up. Then, what will happen to you in the future?

In her life, she had said more than once that in the future, she didn't want to be stripped naked, have tubes going into her body all over and die at the hospital. But in the end, they had still made her endure so much pain and take her last breath at the hospital.

Family was like that. As long as the patient was still breathing, they would not be willing to give up trying to save them no matter what. It was as though if they didn't make themselves and the patient go through a round of torture, they were skipping an important ritual and could not be at ease.

But he had always felt that his wife blamed him.

Once she was gone, he had no home anymore. Even if he was in his own house, he had frequently felt like an old dog living under someone else's roof and relying on them.

Every day, it was only during mealtimes that his family members would sit down with him. Due to that, his every other word was about eating and his entire person seemed to have devolved into a tedious foodsack.

At the table, Beibei would always be talking on the phone, Dongsheng would be half paying attention to the news, and Han Zhou would be obsessed with his phone. Occasionally, when his parents saw that, they would take turns to rebuke him and tell him to "Put down your phone and eat properly" but they themselves treated eating a meal like it was a battle to be fought. Old Mr. Zhou could never find the right timing to bring up a conversation topic. Sometimes, he would carefully start a conversation but it seemed like no one understood what he said. Rarely would there be anyone responding to him. Sometimes, he would say something foolish and Beibei would heave a long sigh and say, "Dad, you're wrong," then launch into a long tirade to correct him, making him feel ashamed of himself. He would then not dare to speak anymore during the meal for fear of appearing foolish and only then would the subject be dropped.

They didn't want to hear him talk, so he could only pick up food and put in their bowls so that he would have a sense of existence. But doing so also made them angry.

Han Zhou would yell, "Grandpa, I don't eat this, why did you forget again?"

Beibei would directly cover her bowl. "Don't bother, just take care of yourself!"

These petty matters couldn't be mentioned to outsiders. If mentioned, others would laugh—Why, what year is it now, are you expecting to be treated like a retired emperor because of your age? The moment you open your mouth to admonish them, your whole family has to put down their chopsticks and sit with perfect posture?

Isn't that just asking for unnecessary trouble?

Hence, he could only turn all these into tears.

The one minute that had seemed so long unexpectedly went by in just a blink of the eye. Old Mr. Zhou roused and realised that he was not the only one there with reddened eyes.

Someone put their arm around his shoulders, someone patted his hand. It was as though they were all in the same boat and were comforting each other. Ever since his old spouse had passed away, it was the first time Old Mr. Zhou had found a sense of belonging in a crowd of people. For a moment, he was a little confused.

Right then, a few people entered the hall. They handed out water in disposable cups to the elderly people for them to drink.

People who had just cried would always feel awkward so naturally, they would use the excuse of lowering their heads to drink to ameliorate the situation. Hence, no one refused.

Because their hearts were discomfited, their mouths were also discomfited. Due to that, the faint odd taste in the water was overlooked by these elderly people whose tastebuds were no longer as sensitive as before.

But the moment Old Mr. Zhou saw the water, he wanted to go to the washroom even more. Even though he took the paper cup like everyone else, he only lowered his head and pursed his mouth, making the same action but not drinking.

The spiritual advisor saw that everyone was drinking and nodded in satisfaction. He asked them all to close their eyes and started to use a low, steady voice to talk about the "afterworld." The ideas were basically taken from the teachings of various major religions—a hammer from the east, a steel bar from the west, all grafted together without a care. It sounded mysterious and fantastical but when thought carefully, also seemed rather true. When wrapped in this line of thought, the contents seemed to become trustworthy.

The rough outline of what the spiritual advisor was saying was: After death, humans will enter a different world and will again have family. Their family in the mortal world were fake and temporary, and could be considered an obstruction. Only their family in the other world was real. A lot of elderly people may have plenty of grandchildren running around them but they still feel as alone and empty as ever; this was the reason why. Under the guidance of the advisor, they could sense for themselves their family in the other world. The reason why they are all gathered there is none other than to search for the place their soul could come home to rest.

The spiritual advisor's training and guidance was for ten days and the cost was 40,000 per person. Of course, even though the food was poor and scanty every day, the dining tables so bare that they didn't even have eggs, this was mainly for the sake of "cleansing one's body and heart, and returning to nature." Apparently,  those unprepossessing vegetables on the dining tables were carefully cultivated "organic vegetables" and 40,000 was far from enough. The shortfall was covered by the spiritual advisor digging into his own pockets to subsidize them in the name of public welfare.

To prevent them from being disturbed by the outside world, mobile signals were blocked. After ten days, the spiritual advisor would send them home. Everyone would be given a red cap, a little flag and other travel memorabilia. They would be taught what to say to pretend they had been on a trip so that they could hoodwink their "fake family" and prevent society unrest.

The "family" they found in the training class would always be in contact with them and accompany them until the end of their lives, when they would then reunite in the other world.

As the spiritual advisor spoke on, all the elderly people felt like they were starting to float. The advisor's voice seemed to be echoing beside their ears, burning into their ear drums. For no reason, they felt relaxed and light-hearted, as though their souls were starting to leave their fleshly bodies.

But today, Old Mr. Zhou just couldn't get into that state. Maybe it was because of his full bladder; the mysterious happiness from the past two days didn't appear. He fidgeted in his seat, the advisor's words sounding long and boring to him. This guy had a very heavy accent, and his voice was also hoarse and croaky like a male duck.

Old Mr. Zhou endured for five minutes. When he could endure no longer, he opened his eyes a sliver and saw something terrifying…

Around him, all his companions had dazed smiles on their faces. Some of them had lost control of their facial muscles and their expressions were very odd, and there were some who were drooling from the corner of their mouths and even seemed to be completely unaware of it!

Old Mr. Zhou was so frightened he was covered in cold sweat. Even his need to urinate reduced a little.

The spiritual advisor's words were not going into his ears at all. With much effort, he endured until the end of the daily activity. Under the guidance of the employees, the white-clad elderly people stood up one by one, and just like the paper figures with linked hands that children cut out of paper in arts and crafts classes, they stood up in a daze and followed the employees.

The employee who had brought them water just now seemed to be shepherding zombies, sending this group of people to their rooms so that they could "take a nap" and restore their vitality.

Old Mr. Zhou blended in with the crowd, trembling with fear. He dredged up all his abilities to act and despite his posture being a little stiff, at least he didn't expose himself. He thought of how he had been just like them for the past two days—laying down to sleep for some unknown reason and waking up to find that one hour had passed. And even though he had slept, he hadn't felt very energised. The advisor had even said that it was normal, that their "souls" were "tired from their travels."

"Old Wu! Old Wu!" After pretending to lie down for a while, Old Mr. Zhou confirmed that there was no one around and carefully called out to his roommate in the bed next to his own.

Old Wu was a light sleeper. Old Mr. Zhou knew that he frequently could not sleep at night, even a person making too much noise when turning over in their sleep could wake him up. But today, even when he reached out to shake him, Old Wu still did not wake up. He slept like the dead.

A thought flashed past his mind. Old Mr. Zhou shivered—That cup of water!

There was something wrong with that cup of water!

"The third session." Yu Yan looked at the flier collected from the missing old people's homes. "Which is to say, there were similar cases before this. Why do we not know about it?"

A colleague spoke up, "The cases might have been more spread out or there might not have been enough of them, unlike this time when they're all concentrated together?"

Yu Yan's brows furrowed. Suddenly, he lifted his head abruptly. "Can we request to check the status of cases of missing old people in the entire city?"

Most reported cases of missing old people involved the elderly with declining mental faculties getting lost. The few out-of-the-norm cases were exceptionally eye-catching.

In the past, these cases had indeed been very few and were scattered throughout all the districts in the entire Yanning. The scale was not as large as the current cases. Furthermore, these elderly people who still had robust mental faculties typically lived alone. Some had disappeared for a long while before their family noticed but the cases were usually closed very quickly after they were reported because they turned out to be false alarms—the missing old people came back wearing red caps from a tour group. It turned out that they had just gone out to have fun without informing their family.

A police officer said doubtfully, "My grandma wanted to go on a trip but all the tour groups did not accept her. They either say that there are no suitable itineraries or they request for family members to accompany her… At the very least, they require the family to sign a form. Are there that many programs that accept old people above seventy years old?"

Chapter 50

"Paradise?" Zhang Meizhen looked at the flier before her, her face that always had a touch of a mysterious smile turned serious. Her gaze locked on to a corner of the flier where there was a black symbol that looked like the sun. "They've changed their name to Paradise now? That old demon Xu Zhao is still alive?"

"Xu Zhao doesn't bother himself with these matters." Old Master Yang rested both hands down on the Dog Beating Staff, his expression equally grave. "It may be a subdivision his disciples set up solely for the purpose of swindling money for him."

"Why, this evil cult even has a history?" Yu Lanchuan asked. "Who's Xu Zhao?"

Old Yang and Zhang Meizhen both fell into a silence. They exchanged a look, as though neither of them knew where to begin talking.

"I've heard the seniors talk about him a little," Han Dongsheng interjected from the side. Two dark circles hung under his eyes and his complexion was very poor. His appearance was becoming more and more unpresentable. His voice was also hoarse but when he opened his mouth, his tone was as gentle and polite as ever. "Xu Zhao is a wanted criminal. He has committed many major crimes but he couldn't be caught because he has many demonic skills. This black sun is his mark."

"Xu Zhao is a madman," Old Master Yang said slowly. "He thinks that it is getting harder now for martial arts skills to be passed down and that a lot of supreme skills that were unique to their individual sects are now extinct. For the sake of preventing the lifeblood of the martial arts from being cut off, someone has to gather all these techniques and skills. Hence, he has been searching for and collecting the skills from various sects everywhere."

Yu Lanchuan was completely lost. "Wait a minute, is this person a wanted criminal or a guardian of intangible cultural heritage?"

In the era of information explosion and knowledge-sharing, the "differentiation by sect" in the past no longer existed. After all, it was already pretty good if they could find people willing to practise the skills.

Old Master Yang grumbled every day about how he had no descendants to pass his skills to. Wasn't it a good thing if someone asked to inherit them?

"You think the martial arts skills he's collecting are those from respected and righteous sects like yours?" Zhang Meizhen blew on her nails. "Forget it, Little Master Yu. Even if you copied out the sword techniques from the Seven Secret Arts of Han Jiang and put them online, it won't be as popular as gossip about the love affairs of the previous leaders of the Martial Arts Alliance."

Yu Lanchuan, "..."

"What Xu Zhao is collecting is mostly martial arts skills from demonic and evil sects. For the sake of obtaining them, he murdered and plundered, protected criminals, and acted selfishly and rashly. Thirty years ago, he had once been the public enemy of the martial arts community." Having said so far, Old Master Yang lifted his head to glance at Yu Lanchuan who didn't understand all these. "Yes, you can treat him as one of those fictional demonic sect leaders obsessed with evil techniques."

Yu Lanchuan had a bad premonition. "...So?"

"If this thing is really related to Xu Zhao," Zhang Meizhen said, "Little Master Yu, prepare yourself to sign an Alliance Leader's Command."

Old Master Yang stood up, his hands gripping the Dog Beating Staff. "Let the few of us old things go and have a look at this Paradise."

But how was he to sign the Alliance Leader's Command? Was it a document to be mass-mailed to everyone? Was there an official letterhead? How should he write the introductory part? Was there a fixed format? Was it a legal document?

Unfamiliar with the requirements of the job, the alliance leader was at a complete loss. When sending off Old Master Yang at the front door, he had just opened his mouth to ask when he suddenly thought of something. "Wait a minute, Grandpa Yang, is Wan Mu Chun's 'Paoding Jieniu' considered one of the 'demonic and evil' skills you mentioned? Is it one of the skills collected by that Xu Zhao?"

Old Master Yang stared blankly. A complicated expression flashed past his face. They were both among the Five Supremes and had a few of generations' of good relations. He was not willing to speak ill of Wan Mu Chun behind their back. But the skills the descendants of that gang of killers practised could indeed not be considered as proper martial arts skills. He avoided answering. "Why do you ask?"

Yu Lanchuan asked in a low voice, "Do you remember those people who instigated Xiang Xiaoman to kill Nie Ke some time ago?"

That group of people had kept low and hidden while conducting their business, and were very mysterious. They seemed to be working towards the same purpose as this Paradise but with different methods. Meanwhile, Wan Mu Chun's lineage had always only had a single descendant in every generation. Those people had a tendency to shun the outside world and didn't seem to be so numerous that there would be counterfeits everywhere.

One closed door away, Gan Qing was rebuking Liu Zhongqi in the living room. "Don't think too much when you're doing your reading comprehension. It wasn't easy for you to understand two sections, it's a shame if you make a lot of mistakes. The reading comprehension at your senior high level won't have that many 'hidden meanings'-"

Liu Zhongqi refused to yield. "What's that about our senior high level? What level are you, joint masters and PhD?"

After speaking, he didn't hear Gan Qing's retort so he looked up and saw her staring towards the front door, her brows slowly furrowing.

On the police's side, Yu Yan and the rest spent an entire day contacting the family members of the elderly people who had returned after they were thought missing but these people could only answer "I don't know" to questions concerning those elderly people.

"Nope, my dad's fine."

"My mum exercises every day and joins the power-walking for the elderly. Her lifestyle is pretty healthy. What evil cult, are you guys mistaken?"

"I think you guys are the ones who are swindlers. My grandma just got her flu jab last month, why would she join evil cults?"

The police officer who was treated as a telephone scammer lost his temper. "What does getting a flu jab have to do with joining evil cults? I really-"

Yu Yan shushed him and turned on the bluetooth. He heard a man's voice coming from the other side of the phone, hesitant and confused. "Ai? I think… maybe? May I know what is the problem?"

Yu Yan quickly glanced at the corresponding name in the list. "Mr. Li, can I confirm with you again that according to you, after your father returned home, he frequently meditated, prayed and did other religious acts? He also spread the teachings to the people around him and participating in those activities has taken up most of his time, correct?"

"I think he joined some religion, hmm… there are quite a lot of activities. Things like gathering a few old men and old ladies together for group study, gathering together to chitchat." Having said so far, the man suddenly became wary. "They didn't do anything illegal, Comrade Officer. The size of their study group isn't even as large as those public square dancing groups, and they aren't creating any ruckus about stuff like setting themselves on fire."

"Did you notice anything odd?" Yu Yan asked.

"Sigh, the old kids and the young kids, I can't manage all of them," the man said broadmindedly. "Which family doesn't have some old parents who dabble in a bit of feudalistic and superstitious activities? Just take it as letting them have something to do, it's better than having them sit at home the whole day and calling the numbers in the T.V. ads. To be honest, we ourselves like to find some kind of spiritual support when we have nothing better to do, much less the old people."

"But this organisation that your father joined isn't a normal spiritual support. We are currently suspecting that it is an evil cult," Yu Yan said.

The man was dumbstruck. "Comrade Officer, what happened to this cult of theirs? Is there a crackdown? In that case, I… I'll go back and talk to my dad, and ask him to convert to another one. We really didn't know…"

Don't let him convert to another one!

Yu Yan couldn't help cutting him off. "Mr. Li, these evil cults are called evil cults because other than swindling people to accumulate wealth, there is also a possibility that they might urge people to harm or kill themselves, do you know that?"

"They're already so old. They barely have enough time to cherish life, they wouldn't do that." The man didn't take it to heart and continued to say laughingly, "Okay, I'll tell him not to believe in those things. I will definitely give him a stern lecture, please don't worry."

Yu Yan, "..."

Right then, the young female police officer next to him who had just passed her probation period suddenly opened her mouth to say, "Yu-ge, if that man goes back and tells his dad about this evil cult called Paradise, wouldn't we have alerted the enemy?"

Yu Yan stared blankly. Then, his eyes lit up. "That's right, get someone to keep watch on this old man and wait to see who he contacts!"

After Old Mr. Zhou went through such an afternoon, even his bladder had a terrifying memory now and he really could not stay there any longer. He first found a Paradise employee and asked tentatively, "I lied to Doctor Xu. Before I left the house, I argued with my family and I hadn't told them at all that I was coming here. I've been regretting it more and more these couple of days… They must be terribly worried. There's no mobile signal here, where can I find a public payphone? I want to call them and tell them that I'm safe."

With a slight smile, the employee told him, "We are in a sealed-off camp. There are no phones."

"Then, can you send me back a few days earlier? My grandson is going to sit for his end-of-term exams. The child is already a temporary student, if he doesn't do well because of me, what will we do?" As Old Mr. Zhou spoke, he clenched his teeth and steeled himself. "Look, I've stayed here for such a long time already so I won't ask for a refund. You just need to send me to the nearest bus stop, I-"

"Old Zhou, what are you saying?" A very gentle voice came from behind him. Old Mr. Zhou quivered—it was that old lady!

The old lady was supposedly an old member of Paradise who stayed there voluntarily to take care of them and guide them. Every new member would be matched with such a "guide." Old Mr. Zhou had always thought himself lucky that his guide was so gentle and patient, and also beautiful. But right now, when he heard that voice, all of a sudden he faintly felt his blood running cold.

She was monitoring him!

"What's all this about money?" The old lady came over, feigning anger. She was with another employee and they took hold of Old Mr. Zhou's stiff arms on either side of him, trapping him in the middle. "The advisor worked so hard to gather everyone here, was it for the sake of money? He's doing it for the sake of the public welfare. The little bit of money that all of you contribute is only just barely enough to keep this operations base going. The remaining amount is not even enough for food and board."

Old Mr. Zhou said, "I-"

"Are you thinking of shrinking back again?" The old lady interrupted and sighed. "It wasn't easy for you to take this step forward, do you want to waste all your previous efforts? I know that it's very hard to break free of all these sickly spiritual connections and it's normal for there to be relapses. How about this, from tomorrow onwards, I will talk to the advisor and let you have an additional individual meditation training session in the morning."

Old Mr. Zhou was frightened by this "preferential" treatment. He decided to escape. He would escape that very night!

On the evening of the same day, in Yanning City, an old man walked into a residential building.

"Yu-ge, Yu-ge, we saw him go into the building." Yu Yan's colleague's voice transmitted through the earphones in his ears. "He went up to the fifth floor, it looks like 501. Someone opened the door for him. The curtains are closed, we can't see what's going on in the apartment."

Yu Yan and the others were following the Old Mr. Li whom they suspected had once joined the evil cult Paradise. After getting the call from the police, Old Li's son did indeed quarrel with his dad and took away the pile of publicity material that his dad was hiding and even confiscated Old Li's pension bank card.

Mr. Li had to look after his own family. He "took care" of the matter of his father believing in an evil cult in this simple and rough manner, then rushed off without even eating. Hence, he was unaware that after he left, Old Mr. Li quickly packed his things and left home.

Yu Yan said softly, "Get someone to pretend to be delivering food, and go up there for a look."

A young police officer responded and changed his outfit. In a short time, he went up the building carrying take-out food. From the other side of the door, he heard music that had a very strong religious feel and the sound of people's voices. The people were singing in chorus; it sounded like there were quite a number of them.

The officer knocked on the door. The singing inside came to a stop. After a while, someone asked warily, "Who is it?"

The officer disguised as a food delivery worker said, "I'm here to deliver food."

"We didn't call for food."

"Huh?" With his eyes, the young officer signalled to his colleagues who had hurried up while reading out the apartment number. "This is the right place. A Mr. Li made the order, his number is-"

Before he could finish speaking, his colleague who was surveilling the place from far with binoculars suddenly said, "Charge in, there's someone escaping through the window!"

"They're too vigilant." Yu Yan pushed the car door open. "Catch him, this man is definitely not an ordinary cult member!"

The few police officers at the door broke down the door and entered. A strange fragrance permeated the room. There were a few printers in a corner and in an out of the way nook, there were piles of printed material—unexpectedly, this was a den for illegal activities. At least six or seven elderly people were gathered inside.

The moment the door opened, these six or seven elderly people seemed ready to sacrifice themselves and charged fiercely towards the officers.

These "ruffians" were on average seventy years of age and belonged to the age group where, if they fell down on the street, other people would not dare to carelessly help them up. They tottered and trembled as they held their walking sticks, crashing against the officers like enamel mugs and bowls. Immediately after that, an old lady sprawled right on the floor and hung on to a young officer's leg for dear life, then bit down on it!

The officer was afraid of knocking the old lady's dentals loose and didn't dare move an inch. He was so frightened that the pitch of his voice changed. "Yu-ge, we need back-up!"

At the same time, a white shadow flashed through the opened window. Someone was jumping down directly from the fifth floor!

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