Of Mountains and Rivers

Chapter 2: Preface- Chu Huan

Chapter 2

Nothing happened. It was just an empty gun.

From start to finish, Chu Huan never even batted an eyelid. He just stood there without even a flinch, almost as if he was just sleepwalking.

The guest sneered, “I’ll give you an F for your poor reaction.”

Hearing this, Chu Huan just leaned his head back, moving it left and right to crack his neck before tonelessly declaring: “Ah, I’m dead.”

The guest took off his hat, revealing the stiff face of a middle aged man. He inspected Chu Huan, his gaze like a knife as it seemed to cut through to Chu Huan bones. “I know it’s very late right now, but you shouldn’t be so off-guard.”

Chu Huan just smiled, not really caring. The corners of his lips were a bit sharp and his eyes narrowed when he smiled, making him appear a little mischievous. When combined with his rimless specs, he looked so devious that he appeared just like the wolf in sheep skin of the legends.

The wolf in sheep’s skin slowly spoke. “Old Wang, could you please raise your head a little bit, angle your face to look up at the moon, then say cheese?”

Old Wang was startled for a moment before immediately taking a step back, appearing to have understood something. He sighed, “You…”

Chu Huan took out a little plastic beetle around the size of his fingernail with a chain attached, looking just like an ordinary decoration on a phone strap. He opened up the beetle’s wings, where unexpectedly, had an interface to input his PIN. Each number key was only around the size of a grain of rice, yet somehow, Chu Huan with his adult sized fingers, was able to deftly enter the six number PIN on the ridiculously small keypads with astonishing speed.

The door made a small sound. Old Wang’s ears involuntarily trembled. He discovered that between the door, right in front of where he was standing, there was a very sharp, thin blade at his neck level.

His throat couldn’t help but bob- it would be able to cut off his neck before he could even realize it.

”Crack.” Chu Huan winked at his guest, who was covered in cold sweat, before turning around. His slender, but evidently a little thin, figure appeared completely unguarded to his late night visitor.

Old Wang entered the room. Although his face appeared calm, the muscles in his shoulders were all stretched taut. His gaze couldn’t help but wander around the room before finally finding a feng shui treasure map. Without waiting to be prompted, he sat down on the armchair in the corner. When you sat on it, the side of your face would be right against the wall, just perfectly letting you see everything outside through a small chink of the window curtains.

Even though this was the 18th floor.

Chu Huan turned on the dim bedside lamp, the only source of light in the whole flat. However, neither of the two really cared about the dim lighting.

Old Wang was like the dove occupying the magpie’s nest, casually taking Chu Huan’s seat for himself. Chu Huan paused for a moment but didn’t call him out, just asking politely, “What would you like to drink?”

Such a normal attitude of treating a guest made Old Wang get the illusion that Chu Huan was finally a little normal now. So, with some gratification, he narrowed his eyes and looked at the cat tree before casually asking, “What is there?”

“Plain boiled water and plain tap water.”

Old Wang: “...”

Treating guests normally my ass.

Old Wang coughed dryly before directly stating his purpose for visiting. “Let’s stop talking nonsense now, I didn’t deliberately come at this hour to annoy you. There’s something very important that I had to tell you immediately. “Little Ghost” didn’t die. It’s said that he went to another country.

Chu Huan paused in raising the kettle for a long time before finally sounding a hum in reply. He lowered his eyes, acting like he was making tea as he seriously and earnestly poured a cup of plain boiled water for his guest. He finished pouring with the flick of a wrist, filling it precisely flat to the rim of the cup- not a drop more, not a drop less.

”So what if he’s back? I’m already retired so I don’t need to go welcome him, right?”

“You can start working again even if you’ve retired. Furthermore, if Little Ghost is back, do you really think Big Ghost won’t be far off?”

Chu Huan lightly put the kettle back on the soft mat on the table.

Old Wang leaned back into the sofa and fiddled with his cigarette case, pulling one out to smoke, “Hey, where’s the ashtray?”

Chu Huan grabbed the big fruit tray on the coffee table and pushed the few little apples to the side to make some space. “Here.”

“Good enough.” Old Wang blew a big smoke ring and habitually flicked the ash off his cigarette even though there was nothing to be flicked off. “This time, Little Ghost showed a clear intention to fight with you. You know the two ghosts. They’re both cowards who would rarely reveal themselves. If we lose this opportunity, it’s unknown how long we would have to wait until the next chance will appear. I absolutely do not want them to die a peaceful death from old age.”

Chu Huan leaned forward and drew a cigarette from Old Wang’s case, lighting one up for himself too. The two men, separated by the fruits tray, faced each other in silence.

Old Wang was talking about the leaders of a notorious international criminal gang. Every country had different names they called them, but in China, they were usually called the “Dual Ghosts”.

The Dual Ghosts had all kinds of poisons and had ties within every industry. However, none of that was important- the crux of the matter was that with their enormous wealth, they’ve been secretly subsidizing a number of terrorist organizations. The same terrifying terrorists that could, at any time, blow up a building or a bus.

For people like them, just killing the goons wouldn’t be able to eliminate the roots. They would just continue to corrupt the next generation.

Three years ago, the countries of East Asia and Southeast Asia grouped together, plotting for a very long time before finally carrying out a united “Ghost Killing” operation with the aim to prevent terrorism and capture the two heads with an attack from both sides simultaneously. Chu Huan’s role in the operation was one of the most important- he hid himself in the “Dual Ghosts” for six years, personally crippled “Little Ghost”, and revealed “Big Ghost”’s nest.

The success of Operation “Ghost Killing” made the infamous “Dual Ghosts” gang disappear from the international scope. But of course, there just always had to be a fly in the ointment- Little Ghost managed to just barely survive and Big Ghost escaped.

Before it was each day Osama Bin Laden wasn’t dead, Americans would feel ill at ease. Now it was with each day Big Ghost wasn’t dead, everybody would feel ill at ease.

Chu Huan silently pressed the butt of the cigarette against the ashtray, watching it dazed for a while before slowly swallowing and speaking. “Well, fine. Then I’ll go take a look at my old friends.”

His agreement was very straightforward. Old Wang wasn’t surprised either. Operation Ghost Killing was a brutal, desperate mission that cost countless lives. After three years, nobody would want to put an end to the Dual Ghosts more than Chu Huan.

Old Wang raised his head, taking one last careful look around Chu Huan’s house- it was called house, but was really just a single room. He stuffed his cigarette out on the fruit tray made ashtray and sighed. He could figure out what kind of cursed days that bachelor’s been living even with his toes.  

Old Wang put away his business-like attitude, his face turning softer as he asked, “How have you been doing these days?”

”Pretty good.” Chu Huan just swept his question aside as he stretched his limbs like a lazy lion enjoying the sun, appearing like a big, satisfied cat. When he spoke earlier, he tilted his head a little to the side, his gaze shifting towards the window curtains like he could see through the thick, light blocking curtains to the dim night outside. He just wasn’t willing to meet Old Wang’s eyes.

Old Wang saw through his perfunctory answer and his heart sunk a little. “If there’s ever anything you need, just say it, and the organization will definitely do their best to satisfy you.”

The prime example of a naughty smile hung on Chu Huan’s face, “Well, I’m still lacking a wife.”

Old Wang glared at him, “Nobody’s going to go matchmake for you. If you want a wife, go find one yourself. If you keep staying in your room all day, I’m afraid the only one you can marry is your cat.”

”...Wang Bro, my cat’s neutered.”

He had no morals or honesty, there was simply no way to talk normally with him. Old Wang seemed just like a big brother as he spoke to Chu Huan with complete sincerity. “I’m not joking around with you. You’re so young, you can’t just always smother yourself in your room like this. After this is over, I’ll recommend you to a different job and you can get some more relaxed work. How’s an office job? If you keep isolating yourself like this, your mental health will suffer.”

Chu Huan just grinned as Old Wang’s words went through one ear and out the other.

After Old Wang said so much and saw Chu Huan still wouldn’t listen, he could only sigh helplessly. He put down a gun and a few bullet cartridges before patting Chu Huan’s shoulder. “You… sigh, just take care of yourself.”

After sending off his guest, Chu Huan blew a mindless tune as he closed the door before returning to bed. He squatted there, reaching out and feeling around the side of the bed until he found a tiny, tiny switch. With a light flip, a small metal covering flipped out of the bed with another tiny pin pad in the middle.

Chu Huan didn’t stuff his head in to look. There was no point- no numbers were on the pin pad and all the buttons were arranged randomly. The only way to know which number was which was to calculate it through a complex formula involving the date.

Chu Huan finished entering the code and with a ‘ding!’, a bright flash of light appeared on the side of the bed. The 50cm thick bed board slowly split open, revealing a flat, vertical trunk. A tactical dagger hung beside the toolbox, an ashy grey color completely sharp all around. It didn’t reflect the slightest hint of light as it stood there, silent and deadly.

If the PIN code was wrong or somebody tried to forcefully open the device, it wouldn’t be locked nor would it freeze Chu Huan’s bank account. At most, it’d just skewer the intruder into human kebabs.

The trunk had many layers. It had everything, from old fashioned file holders to ID cards.

Chu Huan took a long time to organize everything. Finally, he took out an old photograph.

In the picture was a middle aged man pulling along an expressionless wooden boy. There was a blurry stain on the back of the boy’s back.

However, Chu Huan remembered that it wasn’t a stain, but pencil marks drawn on the boy’s body. It’s been there too long, rubbed into a blurred stain. Hm, what was written again?

Oh… it seemed to be “Daddy and Me.”

At that time, Chu Aiguo was still so young.

He took the photograph, his thoughts unclear as he kneeled there on the ice-cold floor.

After a long time, a small sound came from the top of the cabinet, sounding like something had bumped against the metal frame. The sound woke Chu Huan up from his daze as he looked up and called, “Big Mi?”

The only other living creature in his room who was on top of the wardrobe, Big Mi, did not respond. Chu Huan lowered his head and pulled out his tactical dagger before burning away all of his other belongings.

He had a premonition that regardless of if he survived or not, he was never coming back.

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