Book 8 Chapter 1: Women in qipao

It happened to be the National Day holiday. A small town in the southern Sichuan Province called Jingshi Town was also a little livelier than usual. But the people on the streets were the same old faces and there were extremely few tourists. Apart from the locals, there were only visitors from the nearby villages.

The people here weren’t too fortunate. In the warm and humid climate of the south, the mountain was actually bare, without any tropical fruits. The people here couldn’t depend on the mountain for sustenance, and there weren’t any famous scenic areas. Therefore, it wasn’t a popular tourist spot. Luckily, Jingshi Town was where several other towns converged. Relying on revenue from agriculture, transportation and accommodations, they weren’t impoverished though they weren’t well-off either.

Actually, the reason Jingshi Town was able to attract the nearby villagers to visit frequently was due to underground “entertainment”. However, those were all unofficial. No matter how much money was being spent there, it had nothing to do with the town’s coffers. Most of the wealth flowed into the pockets of individuals, so the town was a place of hidden wealth.

It was almost midnight and few people walked the main street. Apart from a few small restaurants still open for business, there was nothing to be seen. It was exceptionally bleak and desolate. However, that was just on the surface. Those in the know were aware how lively the underground was. For example, the town’s largest hotel was already at full capacity. Although it was completely dark at the moment, as if all the guests were sleeping, insiders knew that passing through the secret tunnel and going down one floor, the ruckus could be heard even through three sets of doors.

“High, high, high! Low! Low! Argh!”

“Place your bets! Place your bets! Show, fifteen!”

“Double-four, one-four, two-one, four-two…fuck!”

The seemingly orderly, even rustic hotel was actually an underground casino.

The casino area wasn’t too large, but it had all types of games and equipment. Smoke coiled around the room and hung in the air. The tables were full, everyone completely engrossed. Cocktail waitresses shuttled around in revealing outfits, their appearances, physiques and makeup all unbearably vulgar, bringing food, drinks and chips to the customers. Ferocious and ominous-looking bouncers guarded the door to the underground passage, glaring at the scene like wolves staring at meat. Shouts, curses, cries of excitement and argument filled the room. The scene was filled with the vileness and avarice of human nature.

“Old He, hurry and scram! If you keep sticking around, you’re going to get swindled and fleeced by everyone!” The dealer at the Pai Gow table shouted at a tall and skinny man.

“Cool Melonseed, keep an eye on the door next time. Don’t let him back in!” Another dealer spoke, pointing at a fierce and dimwitted bouncer. “That unlucky wastrel blew threw the business his daddy left him and sold off his coveted wife, but hasn’t been able to win back a single penny. He’s been losing since the day he came here. He doesn’t even win when give him a handicap. This daddy here has worked so many years and I’ve never seen anyone more unlucky.” He hadn’t actually given him a handicap, but had wanted to see if he could just win a single round. The results left him disappointed and amazed. That person, Old He, was cursed by every generation of his ancestors.

“I guess. He doesn’t owe that much money anyway. It’s fine to just drive him off! He’ll bring bad luck to our casino if he keeps coming by.” Yet another dealer piped up. “Don’t underestimate lady luck. She’s very temperamental!”

The bouncer called Cool Melonseed obeyed, picking up the man called Old He. Old He was too skinny and couldn’t even overcome Cool Melonseed’s single arm. With excessive force, he was tossed like a little bird and happened to land underneath one of the tables. The gamblers scattered in surprise.

“I’m not standing there anymore. After Old He’s been lying there, it’s definitely as if a dead child was buried there. The level of luck is below sea level, and I’d be losing the rest of the night!” The gambler who he bumped into silently cried out at the misfortune and hurriedly changed spots.

Seeing the situation, another bouncer hurried over and forcibly shoved Old He to the door. Prying his withered hands off the door frame, he viciously threw him outside before slamming the door shut as if afraid the bad luck could come back inside. He muttered to himself, “I’ve seen addicts, but never one so addicted. It’s a miracle he’s still alive!” He couldn’t help but take a glance through the door’s porthole. Old He was sprawled on the floor unmoving. The bouncer wasn’t concerned as he turned back to observe the casino. He knew the gambling addict had been sneaking drinks from the other gamblers, and was now wasted.

Such a wastrel wouldn’t die so easily. The saying that the good die young while scourges live forever was completely accurate!

As expected, the man called Old He was truly wasted. He crawled around on the floor for a long time before managing to get up. He looked around blearily. To his left were the heavy wooden doors of the casino. To his right was a pitch black hallway. He hesitated, and went to bang his hand against the casino doors first. After no one responded, he continued to do so until a ferocious face appeared at the porthole. After getting cursed at, he was finally intimidated into crawling up and heading to the exit…

He had dreamt of a peony flower last night, which was supposed to be a sign of wealth. This meant his fortunes was about to turn around, and he was going to strike it rich. Therefore, he had sold his bed frame in the morning, piecing together some money for gambling. The bedframe was made of solid wood and was a complete piece. However, he didn’t even get a tenth of its value. But he didn’t care. As long as he could win, he could get anything. Why care about a bedframe?

He thought this was all due to the God of Gambling. He had thoroughly lost everything for the sake of gambling. Even his beautiful wife of less than two years had been sold to traffickers outside the province. He hadn’t thought that bedframe of his was worth a decent amount. He had only realized it after falling from the bed while he was dreaming this morning.

He hadn’t come to his favorite casino in a long time. Therefore, he was only allowed inside after lengthy persuasion. Yet while he arrived filled with confidence, he lost everything in a couple of rounds. The wealth of his dreams failed to materialize. He both despaired and raged. The dealers all knew he was broke, and wasn’t willing to let him play on credit. However, he refused to leave, scurrying between tables, scratching his itch just by watching others gamble and stealing drinks. Jealousy, vexation and unwillingness mixed with the alcohol in his stomach. In the end, he got wasted and was thrown out!

The autumn night was a little chilly. Walking alone on the street, the night wind blowing over him, the fading drunkenness welled up again. Old He stumbled, feeling the world spin as he slowly took a wrong turn.

Step…step…

He heard his own footsteps. Looking up, he saw the moon and stars, the sky especially clear. Yet why did he feel like it was getting darker and darker? He halted his steps and looked around. He found himself in a long and dark alleyway. The doors on either side were tightly shut and there were no signs of life.

He couldn’t help but laugh bitterly, thinking that it made sense. Apart from a gambling addict like himself, who else would be roaming the streets so late? But why was it so cold? Although he had also sold off all his clothes, it was still early September. In this place, the weather was still very hot. Could it be that in addition to his bad luck, his Yang energy had also waned? He wasn’t even able to take a little cold!

Also, he seemed to be lost. Where was this? It seemed unfamiliar, but he had lived here all his life. Which street in town did he not recognize? But why didn’t he recognize this place?

Confused, he slowly walked forwards. After around five minutes, he actually reached a dead end!

Without a choice, he could only turn and walk back. He didn’t have anything better to do anyway, and there was no one waiting for him. He might as well take it slow. Jingshi Town was only so large. He’d definitely get back before dawn.

With his head lowered, he shuffled along but suddenly bumped into something and was bounced back.

“Who’s blocking this daddy’s path? Watch it! In the middle of the night!” Old He bellowed drunkenly, but no one responded. Only cold laughter of two women sounded out.

The sound was very sharp, seeming both very distant yet also right by his ears. It had a theatrical feel, and was accompanied by a gust of wind. Old He’s hairs stood on end for no discernible reason and he sobered up a good amount. He blinked heavily, looking in front of him.

There were two sets of embroidered shoes on the ground before him. One pair was of regular size while the other was an authentic pair of three-inch golden lotus shoes. Both pairs were made of the same green satin with black rims. Pink peony flowers were embroidered on the surface with yellow stamens. The tip of each shoe had a butterfly. They appeared extremely gorgeous, but also extremely ancient.

Above the shoes were four fair calves, above which were the hems of crimson qipao dresses!

Two people had been following him the whole time, but he hadn’t noticed anything! However, they were silent and without breath. Even though he was drunk, he couldn’t have been completely oblivious! Unless they…weren’t human!

Old He was terrified, not daring to move a muscle. A patch of wetness appeared on his trousers, trickling down his leg. His inebriation was completely transformed into urine.

“Big sis, will this trash do?” A woman said. The regular pair of shoes shifted, seeming ready to leave.

“It’ll be him. Such a heavy gambling addiction, and sufficiently lacking in conscience. He’ll do. I’m not willing to keep searching!” The three-inch golden lotus shoes stepped forwards, almost scaring Old He to death. He wanted to run but his legs wouldn’t move.

“Raise your head.” A sinister voice said. Their tone had been those of Beijing Opera performers from the get go.

Old He was trembling. How could he dare look up?

“Raise your head!” The voice roared shrilly, startling Old He into instinctively looking up.

Before him stood two women. Both were wearing crimson qipao dresses with white silk handkerchiefs pinned to their lapels. There was also a large embroidered peony on their chests. In this alley that was as dark as the underworld, the two women had suddenly appeared. They looked both beautiful and eerie, and their faces almost scared Old He’s soul into leaving his body!

Their faces were painted so it wasn’t possible to see their features clearly. Yet the starch white skin, the blood red lips, their blushed cheeks and ink black brows were all those of female characters in the opera!

Old He was shaking like withered leaves in the autumn wind. He didn’t even have the strength to move a finger, and could only allow the three-inch golden lotus shoes to move closer.

“Spineless coward!” The “woman” in ordinary shoes sneered.

The three-inch gold lotus turned her head and glanced at her companion before turning back to Old He, her head having turned 360 degrees. “Haven’t died from fright?” She still spoke in the theatrical tone, as if that was all she could speak in, forever!

“Don’t….don’t dare…die…”

The three inch gold lotus started laughing. “Not dying is good. There’s still more fright to be had tomorrow. If you don’t die from fear then, your luck will have truly turned for the better!”

“Yes…yes…”

“How pitiful!” The words were gentle but the tone sinister. A hand patted Old He’s shoulder, making him feel a strange chill. His legs, which had been shaky to begin with, turned weak and he collapsed to the floor.

“We sisters are doing good deeds and want to fulfill someone’s wishes. We’ve chosen you today. Smoke must be rising from your ancestors’ graves.” The three inch gold lotus paced in front of Old He’s face. Only then did he realize her feet never touched the ground, and she had no shadow. This confirmed his belief that he had truly encountered ghosts on a dark road. The moment he thought of “ghosts”, cold sweat covered him as he assumed they were here to kill him. He hurriedly begged for mercy.

“Great…immortals. There is no grudge between us. Can you just spare me? If there is something you need done, just tell me. I…I will definitely do my best to accomplish it and resolve your lingering regrets. Please, just treat me like a fart and release me! If I’ve offended you today, I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’ll burn some extra paper money tomorrow to repay…to repay your mercy in sparing me.” As he spoke, he found the strength from somewhere to crawl up and desperately kowtow, his head thudding against the ground.

“These words were spoken rather glibly!” Ordinary shoes said disdainfully.

“Who wants your dog life? We’re here to help you!” Three inch golden lotus said softly. “As long as you listen to us, we guarantee that you’ll win whenever you gamble. You’ll be the master of the gambling table!”

Her last word was dragged out for a long time and should have been horrifying. Yet Old He was an addict. After hearing the word “gamble” and seeing that the “women” didn’t intend to kill him, and also hearing he could always win and get rid of his bad luck, he subconsciously became brave. “Really?”

“That’s right!” Three inch golden lotus said. “As long as you promise to do one thing for us, and if you pass tomorrow’s test, you will become the god of gamblers!”

Hearing this, Old He completely forgot his fear, almost jumping in excitement. He looked at the two women. Although he was startled again by their unchanging and painted faces, he finally saw their outfit clearly.

No wonder he had dreamt about peony flowers. The heavens truly were helping him! Half excited and half scared, he never paused to consider why these two sinister women could become lucky charms.

“What are you so excited about?” Ordinary shoes said in disgust. “You have an agreement with us. If you cannot fulfill our wishes, you will die without a proper burial! Besides, we still don’t know whether you’ll get scared to death tomorrow night!”

“Forget it, no need to frighten him. Aren’t we causing trouble for ourselves if he dies?” Three inch golden lotus laughed again. “He Fu Gui, at midnight tomorrow, come to the southern valley of Ironhead Mountain. Bring incense and paper money. Remember, encountering us today means that you’ve agreed to our conditions. Therefore, if you don’t come…heh heh!”

She sneered before suddenly turning and leaving. He Fu Gui was left staring at her fading figure disappear into the darkness.

Ironhead Mountain was the mountain behind their town. It got its name due to how barren it was, with only stones growing on it. The southern side’s valley was a disorganized cemetery that few dared to visit. Yet tomorrow, he had to go there at midnight.

He was scared, but he was even more scared of what would happen if he didn’t go. Furthermore, those two great immortals said they would help him become the god of gamblers. It was worth going no matter how scared he was!

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