Old Wang winced: that was an odd combination.
The young couple looked remarkable, presumably the youngsters of some big-name family of the mainland. Such people did show up here from time to time, but what was with that native guy? How did these three end up together?
He couldn't help but dart a few more looks in their direction before walking out.
Outside was brightly lit and boisterous. He finished two cigarettes, recovered from the excitement brought by the good fortune, and went back in, ready for a few more rounds.
However, as soon as he opened the door, he was bombarded by the buzzing noise inside.
"Cut it! Cut it! Cut it!"
"It's a full one! Again!"
"A blue ice! That's unbelievable! Four hits in a row!"
Old Wang quickly approached the crowd and saw that a group of high rollers were standing in a half-circle around that couple. The old master had just cut open a raw stone. The jadeite inside was almost transparent and looked as pure as ice with cotton-like pale blue patterns inside—it was exactly a blue ice of the ice-type material!
He patted one of the onlookers on the shoulder and asked, "Hey man, what's with all the shouting?"
"Holy sh*t, you missed all that? These two young ones picked four raw stones and cut them open right away. There are two fine waxy ones, one icy waxy one, and a blue ice. That's so damn lucky!"
Old Wang snorted silently. One or two hits—that was lucky. Four in a row and luck had nothing to do with it. He noticed that the two young ones remained perfectly calm and utterly indifferent to their prizes and was more certain than ever that they were no ordinary gamblers!
"That was remarkable. I have been in this business for many years and this is the first time I ever saw something like this."
The old master gave them a thumbs-up and set the four raw stones in a row on the table. The reflection was dazzling under the light.
The customers swallowed in desire. That was such a temptation. If all four stones were made into ornaments and sold, the profit would have a lot of zeros in it.
After a moment of unnatural silence, someone finally broke the ice. "Young friend, I'll take all four for ten million. What do you say?"
"That's just sleazy. That blue ice alone is worth almost ten million. That's just cheating!" Someone challenged him right away.
The man flushed and retorted loudly, "How is that cheating? The quality of that blue ice is just all right. Surely no one's going to pay ten million for that?"
That was pure bullsh*t. Everyone here had been in this line of work long enough to recognize that bluff and all found those words a complete disgrace.
While everyone was shouting at everyone, that young man suddenly spoke, "Gentlemen, to be honest, I am here to see the highest ranking official of this place. If anyone here has the right connection to help me with that, these pieces will be my way of saying thanks."
The crowd hesitated with suspicion. They were no fools. With such a generous gift, the favor he was going to ask was surely going to be a big one. Hpakant was controlled by military men instead of a stable regime, which meant the bosses could turn hostile at any moment.
After much silence, a voice suddenly spoke, "The thing you just said, do you mean it?"
The crowd turned to look and saw that it was Old Wang. The young man looked at him with a smile. "Of course."
"Ok. I that case, let's talk somewhere else."
After unearthing the giant Hollow Stone, Gu Yu's million-dollar problem was how to take it back home.
Traverse the Kachin Hills with it? That was completely out of the question. Hollow Stone was light in weight all right, but this one was as huge as a small mountain.
He would probably die of exhaustion if he were to transport the stone out by carrying it with the Small Moving Technique. Their only option now was to move it to the mine of Mongkant first, where they would try to find a super-heavy-load truck used by the mines.
In that case, they were bound to cross paths with the military and had to make sure they played it safe. Old Wang might be a mere minor Tuhao, but he had a lot of connections. He brought them to Momauk that same night.
Momauk was a jade mine too. It was also where Mia Lwin's major force was stationed.
Night, a club.
The room was a living demonstration of "wanton life" with people swarming in and out. At the forefront of the T-shaped stage was a lady heaving herself up and down a pole with much exposed flesh—she as showing a lot of curves.
There was much prejudice around the sport of pole dancing. It actually originated from the self-produced dance of the people of Uncle Sam. It gained popularity first among the construction workers and was a demonstration of their bright and optimistic national character. It was one of the ten most important folk dances of the world.
Yes, that was the absolute truth. Really.
Right now, Mia Lwin was sitting at the bar drinking alone.
The capable helper of Soe Win just got news this morning that his boss was not doing great in the battlefield lately. Soe Win had been steadily losing ground with Ge Thantwe's troops close at his heels. The battle was soon coming to Hpakant.
He did not want to give away such a lucrative business—how could anyone? But he had no choice. His army was simply unable to hold the ground. He had been considering retreating the entire day.
Mia Lwin was still sipping his drink when his deputy approached him. "There's someone here to see you—Wang, a Chinese businessman."
"Bring him in!" Mia Lwin said grumpily. He had dealt with Old Wang before in some under-the-table business. The two wouldn't consider each other a friend, but were merely using the other for their own ends.
Before long, the deputy led three people in. Old Wang greeted Mia Lwin with the biggest smile. "Very good taste, Sir. That particular wine is not something you can buy with money. I'd love to add one to my collection. Unfortunately, unlike you, my funds are limited."
"Cut the crap! You were only here a few days ago. Why, you got something nice again?" Mia Lwin could speak some Chinese.
"Hoho, sorry to bother you, but my two friends here want to ask for a favor… this is Gu Jiang and this is Gu Xiaoqiu."
Old Wang gestured at the other two for an introduction.
"Gu, Gu Jiang?"
Squinting, Mia Lwin darted a tipsy look at the man and shuddered.
Because of the task certain woman had given him, he had to pull all strings he had in Diannan to search for the people in question, and he had actually had a lead: they were a man and a woman, young, beautiful, seemed to be siblings, and looked more than that. Although he did not have any picture, but there were sketches of the two.
He dared not let it show. Picking up his glass, he downed the liquor in one gulp, which gave him a cough and flushed cheeks. He then asked, "What do you want?"
"We found an unusual stone in the Kachin Hills—don't worry, it's definitely not jade. We want to take it back to our country for research and need your help," said Gu Yu.
"Oh? What kind of help?"
"We would like to borrow your soldiers to carry it out of the mountain and a truck to transport it to the border. Our price will be very reasonable."
Mia Lwin racked his brains and got an idea. 'Rope them in for now, get that old ghost woman here, and I will leave the three to it; and there's also that Ge Thantwe's army… hoho, maybe I'll get to run away with a prize while they fight over the bone.'
"I don't trust you. I need to send someone in to check it first. Make sure it's not a jade stone, then we can talk," said he.
'Hm?' Gu Yu darted him a look, finding something was amiss, but still smiled. "That'll do. When do we set out?"
"No rush. We'll go tomorrow."
"We're going back to Mongkant, then. It's closer to the mountain."
"Be my guest!"
As soon as they left, Mia Lwin dashed out of the back door and ran back to his own place.
He opened a drawer, took out a black ghost plate, and rubbed it in his hands. On his face was a mixture of fear and hatred.
Last time when the old woman was here, she had cast a ghost spell on him. Even a bloodthirsty soldier would turn craven at the presence of the Three Gods—the legendary figures they had been hearing about since they were little.
However, the ferocity was still in his blood. He put away the plate after much rubbing—it was not time to use it yet.
Over there on Gu Yu's end, Old Wang had left them, taking the four stones with him.
Pemba remained by their side and did whatever he was asked to. Gu Yu paid him generously with plenty of salt, soap, cooking oils, common medicine, etc.—the Monpa People were self-sustained in food and clothing, but needed external supply for such daily necessities.
"Thank you for taking all the trouble. You can stay here tonight and go back tomorrow."
"Whoo… ah, ah…"
Pemba was elated with a huge bag of supplies over his shoulder and happily arrived at the hotel with Gu Yu and Xiaojin.
We would not be discussing how a native man felt for his first time in a hotel. Let's turn our attention to the brother- and sister-in-law, who were now in a room talking about Mia Lwin.
"Brother-in-law, I think that idiot recognized us."
Xiaojin sat on a chair turned backwards. With her arms dangling over the back of the chair and her delicate and fair chin rubbing against the top, the word "idiot" almost sounded not convincing.
"Yeah, that was strange. He was very agitated. There must be something behind it," said Gu Yu.
"You need to toughen up. If it was up to me, I'd just kick the sh*t out of him. They'll all have to follow our orders with their boss in our hands."
"That's not a regular army, but just a bunch of armed men. Those people are just waiting for an opportunity to replace him. Plus, even if we take him down, we still have to go onto the mountain, or how else are they going to find the spot?"
"You're so right!" Scratching her head, Xiaojin then said, "Hey, Brother-in-law, how about I stay here tomorrow and you go alone?"
"What are you up to?" Gu Yu's temple was begin to throb.
"Teehee, I just want to see what he's trying to do."
"No!" he refused right away.
"Brother-in-law, you're such a wonderful…" Little Soap tried to work her charm.
"If your sister were here, I wouldn't give it a second thought about working separately. But you? You're just too weak. The answer's no! Period!" Gu Yu completely ignored her efforts and lectured her with a poker face instead.
The following day, the temporary HQ.
There was a map on the wall, two deputies on either side, and Mia Lwin himself standing in the middle. "Any news on Ge Thantwe's troops?"
"Words are they've reached Myitkyina and are heading for Hpakant."
"I see. Tell everyone to get prepared. We're pulling out any moment from now."
"Yes!" the deputies replied. Mia Lwin then asked, "Have those people set out?"
"They left quite some time ago."
"Ok. You can leave now."
After the deputies left, he carefully locked the door and took out that ghost plate again. He then cut his finger and dropped two drops of blood onto it. Instantly, dark smoke erupted out of the ghost plate and the hideous face of an old woman emerged which slowly dissipated a few seconds later.
Mia Lwin stared at the spot where the face disappeared, the expression on his face hard to describe.
Three forces were fighting for power in Myan at the moment and Hpakant was a place everyone wanted. However, there was an unspoken rule: no matter how fierce the battle was, no one was to harm the customers or the workers.
Hence, the three sides made a tacit agreement to take the battlefields somewhere else. Hpakant had to have its stability and anyone who could not hold the ground should pull out on their own.
Warnings had been sent out throughout the area. The timid ones had left and the bold ones were having fun as usual. After all, despite the long-term civil war, there had not been any bloodshed in the jade mines.
Before they realized, it was dusktime.
Mia Lwin had stayed in the HQ the entire time; after a makeshift dinner, he was about to go out and have a walk. Just then, a sinister chilly air brushed against his back, as if someone was blowing on his neck.
Hair stood up on his back. He asked in a trembling voice, "G-Grandma Ghost God?"
He turned around in a flurry and found a person had just appeared out of the blue. It was none other than that emaciated old woman.
"You touched the ghost plate. Got news?"
"Yes! Yes! Two people came to me today, and after asking around, I realized they were the murderers of your pupil. Their names were Gu Jiang and Gu Xiaoqiu."
"Oh? That was quite a coincidence. What are they doing here in Hpakant?"
The old woman was wrapped in a shadow and looked neither alive or dead. She was a creature halfway between a human being and a ghost.
"They wanted to transport a stone. They went onto the mountain this morning and should be back— ah!"
He flew out before he could finish the sentence. A force smashed him into the wall and he fell to the ground into a heap.
The old woman suddenly lost her temper—apparently, she was the moody type—and bellowed, "They entered the mountain this morning? Then why didn't you use the ghost plate before noontime? Are you planning things behind my back?"
"Grandma! Grandma!" Mia Lwin crawled to her feet despite the pain all over his body and explained hastily, "If I'd told you this morning, you wouldn't have been able to see them here even if you came then! Instead, you can now wait at your ease for them who must be exhausted after a day's work. In that way, you are sure to take them both in one strike. You have cast a spell on me, there is no way I'd dare to deceive you! No way!"
The old woman stared at him for a while and suddenly grinned. "Are you saying I should thank you for this? Well, since you have been so loyal to me, I will lift the spell now."
With that, she lifted her hand and drew out a streak of black air from him.
Mia Lwin felt a weight had been lifted off him and thought he was free of the ghost spell now. He bowed in a hurry and said, "Thank you, Grandma. If it is all right with you, please wait here while I go fetch you some food."
It was only after he had left the room that the old woman walked out of the shadow, revealing a face that reminded one of tree bark. "Humph! Ungracious piece of sh*t!"
"Aaaaaaah! I must kick that idiot's a*s! I'm exhausted!"
Inside the mountain, Xiaojin had just finished the second round trip and was now shouting in utter irritation. They were just returning from where that Hollow Stone was. Mia Lwin was just delaying them. There was no verification of any sort.
Three soldiers who knew some simple Chinese accompanied them, but they had no idea what Xiaojin's "complicated" expression was all about. They eyed the young woman curiously, knowing nothing about their fate as deserted pawns.
"Fine, fine. We're back, aren't we? You want the precious and you need to pay the price. There's no free lunch," Gu Yu cajoled.
"Brother-in-law, why do we have to follow that monkey's order? I say let's just kill him!" She was still not happy.
"Sigh…" Gu Yu sighed in resignation and dragged her to his side. Pointing at the rifles slanting over the soldiers' shoulders, he said, "That's a type 97 assault rifle, made in China, shoots 30 rounds, and has a 400-meter effective firing range. How many bullets can you stop?"
"Then how many can you dodge?"
"Gosh, it's not the same thing! I'd take care of them before they could shoot!"
"That's because there are only three of them. Mia Lwin's army had hundreds of soldiers. How many do you think you can take out in a full-on charge?"
"I'm gonna fight like the guerrilla—like Chairman Mao taught us!"
Xiaojin lifted her chin and put up a face saying "you know the truth is always on my side".
Gu Yu felt his head protesting against such squabble. 'Why did I think I could talk sense with her?'
After some more marching, they finally reached Mongkant before night set in. Gu Yu looked down at the mine below from a mound and saw the lonely scattered lights. "Hm? How come there are only so few people today?"