Chapter 19: Black Iron Pagoda
Wenchang left Third Yu and headed to the right, back to Shangluo Inn. At the animal boarding area five or six inn attendants were leading fourteen horses to the stables. Obviously a group of travelers had arrived.
As he got to the entrance of the inn he heard a gruff distant voice from inside, bellowing like thunder. "What? If you don't let me book a main room you f*ckin' snobs, I'll tear this goddamn inn down."
"Sir, there's no need to be angry," came an attendant's voice. "We…"
There was a bang as someone slammed the counter. The gruff voice continued, "Shit! You don't want me to be angry? I've traveled all over, but never have I seen an inn turn away a wealthy customer. Why don't you check again?"
"Our main rooms are all booked, please bear with us. Besides, there's nothing wrong with a traveler saving a few coppers…"
There was a loud slap as someone was smacked upside the head.
Then there was an uproar of people arguing. In the midst of the pandemonium, a massive, imposing man with a swarthy complexion stormed out of the inn and leapt down the steps and turned to the attendants streaming out after him, "Come on, come on out. F*ck! Papa Blackie's fists are itching."
Wenchang had reached the steps and dodged to the side, glancing at the swarthy man, then withdrew ten feet. This swarthy fellow is big and menacing, he thought. That's a weighty whip wrapped around his waist. Those attendants are in for it.
He was as massive as an iron pagoda, sturdier than Walking Retribution, with a head like a panther and big round eyes, a large mouth, a wide nose, and a bushy beard, a black cloth turban on his head, his black robe disheveled. A twelve-foot whip made from steel wire twined with flood dragon sinew1 was wrapped around his waist, the handle thick as a teacup, the tail thick as a fingertip. It was glossy and not only heavy but also quite flexible. It was truly a valuable weapon. Judging by his looks he seemed to be a down on his luck wanderer of the jianghu. The bundle on his back was small and tattered. Not fit to book a main room.
At the top of the steps four attendants advanced, each holding a wooden staff made from jujube. They yelled in fury and came on one after the other.
They couldn't actually attack at the same time running down the steps like that. The first one shouted and bore down menacing with a jab called "Venomous Dragon Leaves the Cave".
The big man laughed wildly, neither advancing nor retreating, neither dodging nor yielding, his right hand reaching out and seizing, grabbing, hooking, pulling, flinging backward, as his left fist slammed into a face, knocking two front teeth out, the attendant's vision swimming with stars as he dropped his staff and fell to the left, unable to get up. The second attendant arrived and the big swarthy man cursed, "Good-for-nothing son of a bitch! I'm not yet sated." He swung the end of the staff he had just snatched.
The second attendant attacked with "Stir the Grass to Seek the Snake", thinking to take the man by surprise with a strike to the lower body. The swarthy man's staff smashed into the end of the attendant's, sending the latter's staff flying fifty feet out. The attendant turned tail and ran.
The big swarthy man laughed boisterously and threw down the staff and reached out and grabbed onto the attendant's shoulders with both hands and hoisted him up like a little chicken. The attendant wanted to kick him in the belly but he was powerless as the swarthy man had pressed both Shoulder Well acupoints with his thumbs, rendering him unable to move.
"Get lost! Hahahaha!" The big swarthy man tossed him aside.
The other two attendants just about collapsed from fright. They scattered to the left and right.
The swarthy man wasn't finished with them. He went after the one scurrying to the right.
Wenchang was also to his right. "That's enough. Otherwise you're liable to kill them."
The big swarthy man rolled his eyes over to him. "Alright! I'll take you instead."
He reached out mechanically to grab Wenchang and throw him.
Wenchang had been standing with his hands behind his back. He didn't expect the swarthy man to really come after him, and so fast. The swarthy man was huge, but his movements were swift as the wind and nimble. His gigantic palms were like palm leaf fans. Once they spread open no one would have a chance at closing in on him to attack him head on.
But Wenchang was faster than wind and not as big as the swarthy man. His waist was half the size of the swarthy man's, whose long whip was coiled around him three passes, so his waist was surely ten arm spans around. Ok, maybe ten arm spans is overdoing it, but he was at least six arm spans around.
Wenchang wasn't about to get careless. He first thought to use "Boy Worships Buddha" and break through the man's hands and crack him in the head, but he worried he wouldn't be able to because it would expose the vital points on his torso to head-on kick attacks. Still, he decided to give it a try, darting left, his right fist bolting out to attack.
It slammed into the swarthy man's chest, the devastating force of the blow knocking the man back two steps. The man shouted, "Eh! Fella, your punches are astonishing. Take this!"
As soon as he said "take this" he made his move, but his hand had not even extended before Wenchang's iron fists exploded one after another into his chest, the rapidfire sound of pounded meat reverberating as he punched the swarthy man over six times. His waist was protected by the coiled whip, guarding the area around his Origin Pass acupoint, but his lower belly and ribs were exposed, and those six punches smashed into him mercilessly.
The big swarthy man grunted and was rocked back with each hit, but he didn't fall down, even blocking and knocking away five other punches and two kicks as he retreated five steps.
Wenchang was getting worried. Heavens! This guy was really hard as nails. The punches hadn't even fazed him. Incredible.
The big swarthy man's dander was up. He roared in fury and threw his hands out and grabbed Wenchang's left forearm. "Get lost! F*ckin' piece of shit!" He launched him backwards to the right.
Wenchang was pitched forward by his massive strength and felt his legs get lighter. He possessed six hundred catties of superhuman arm strength, yet he couldn't resist the big swarthy man's pull. He tried to struggle free from the man's grasp, but he couldn't, so the only option left was to use his fist. He feinted to the left.
He hit the swarthy man in the right side of the face with a smack, but he was still thrown eight feet out before coming to a stop.
The big swarthy man's head was rocked from the punch and he staggered back two paces and squared up and shook his head as if to shake out the cobwebs. He rubbed his face where he'd been punched scornfully. "Fella, you're f*ckin' fast. Some heavy fists you've got there. I'm gonna flatten you, you son of a bitch!"
He rushed at him and threw two punches. Wenchang knew it was a bad idea to fight him head-on, so he dodged left and right to avoid the punches. They exchanged three times, trading blows, the smack of fists on muscle booming.
Just then the guests at the inn had all rushed out to watch after hearing the commotion, surrounding the two and creating a riotous noise.
"Give him two more, Master Cai."
"Kick him! Kick him!"
The crowd shouted as Wenchang kicked six times. His kicks were blindingly fast, one after another, sneaking in a couple punches here and there, attacking ferociously and relentlessly.
The big swarthy man was not as agile as Wenchang. After eating five kicks his horse stance began to weaken, and the brutal punches were beginning to overwhelm him and his moves started to get sloppy.
Wenchang's flurry of eighteen kicks were ruthless. After the kicks he continued with another flurry. His opponent was forced to shift in response to each kick, turning it into a back and forth, acting reflexively. Good thing Wenchang wasn't trying to hurt him. He never attacked his groin or head, otherwise the swarthy man would not have been able to get away from the swarm of kicks.
On the ninth kick Wenchang hooked the tip of his foot, not aiming for his groin but his inner right thigh. The swarthy man huffed and roared, using "Fish For the Moon" to catch Wenchang's left foot and lift it. But the tip of Wenchang's foot had already connected.
The two crashed to the ground with a thump.
On the steps, a girl clad in white cheered happily with her clear, melodious voice. "Big Blackie, are your fists useless? Hit him!"
But Big Blackie was sitting on the ground. He scrambled to his feet and turned to Wenchang. "That's enough, that's enough. You win this one. Buddy, this is the first time I, Black Iron Pagoda, have been kicked to the ground. F*ckin' pagoda was toppled." He staggered to his feet as he spoke and grinned.
Wenchang dusted himself off, feeling tired as well. He smiled. "Swarthy fella, you're not so bad yourself. I don't know if your body hurts, but my fists sure do."
This was the first time he had smiled, really smiled, the dark look he always wore on his face disappearing. It was like he was another person. Maybe he had been affected by Black Iron Pagoda's smile, or maybe he had been drawn in by Black Iron Pagoda's candor, but he was really smiling.
Black Iron Pagoda's eyes widened. "Are you the owner of this inn? I'll leave then."
"No! I'm just staying here." Wenchang was still smiling.
"Eh? Then why did you attack me? I'm staying here too!"
"Huh? You attacked me first!"
"You lunged at me without even asking who I was. Of course you did."
Black Iron Pagoda smacked himself upside the head and chuckled. "Godf*cking dammit, who knew you were staying here too! Hey, What's your name? What's your family name?"
"My family name is Cai, given name Wenchang…"
"Don't be so f*ckin' bookish, alright? What's your nickname? We men of the jianghu use nicknames. Real name doesn't matter. I'm Black Iron Pagoda, Fan Ruhai, you see! My long whip is devastating! I'm Ruhai, like the sea, but I can't swim. Water is the death of me. If I fall in I flail around and can't get out. Really embarrassing."
Wenchang thought for a moment. "I'm the Fugitive, Cai Wenchang."2
"Haha! Buddy, you just made that up. What man of the jianghu isn't a fugitive? But… But I like that nickname. Come on, let's be friends." He extended a big hand.
"Alright, let's be friends," Wenchang said heartily.
They clapped each other on the shoulder. Wenchang said, "Let's go inside and drain a few."
"Drain a few?" Black Iron Pagoda said in a low voice.
"Means down a few cups."
"Huh? You're really something, calling drinking liquor draining a few. Shit! You just said the magic words." Then his swarthy face got even darker as he said quietly, "Fugitive fella, I don't have any money. Every day I book a room I have to f*ckin' sneak away without paying. How can I afford to buy booze?"
"Haha! Idiot, it's on me. I'll treat you. Come on!"
Black Iron Pagoda hmphed and rolled his big eyes. "Fugitive fella, I'm not an idiot. Watch your mouth, okay?"
"Okay, I won't call you an idiot." He pulled Black Iron Pagoda toward the inn doors.
"Are there any rooms left here?"
"Don't worry, I have one. We can share a room. Mine has an inner room."
They walked up the steps and Wenchang smiled apologetically at the glaring attendants. "Brothers, apologies, apologies."
Black Iron Pagoda passed by two girls and suddenly said, "Fugitive fella, there was a girl hollering back then, telling me to hit you. Look, which one was it?"
Wenchang didn't want to provoke those two thorny roses. He didn't have time to whisper his response when the girl in white intentionally pulled a face and said, "It was me, what of it?"
Black Iron Pagoda eyed her and curled his lip. "Silly little girl, you talk too much. You better f*ckin' marry a mute."
She had brought it on herself, but that set her off. She stamped her foot and stepped up and said, "You're asking for it, I…"
Black Iron Pagoda took off running. "Men don't fight women, chickens don't fight with dogs. Don't f*ckin' try to start something."
Wenchang didn't want any trouble so the two of them ran off like a streak of smoke. The girl in white was stopped by the green-clad girl, who whispered, "Black Iron Pagoda is Master Clearcause's nephew. His primordial qigong is incredible. He's just a bit dim; don't stoop to his level."
They walked into the inn with four large guards behind them. The girl in white tried to calm herself while she whispered, "Elder cousin, what's the deal with that Fugitive? Isn't he a mastersmith at Zhang Ironware? How come he's calling himself Fugitive? Oh! He's so arrogant and conceited and aloof, but when he… when he… his smile is really…"
"Heehee! Don't be bashful, little cousin. You're fourteen, that's just the stirrings of love!"
"Bleh! Elder cousin, you…" Her fair face bloomed crimson. She punched her elder cousin in the arm.
Elder cousin caught her hand and laughed and whispered in her ear, "Oh! That's right, I forgot. According to the Great Ming Code, a fourteen-year-old girl can look for a husband…"
"Ew, disgusting! Yuck! I'm not talking to you." The girl in white stormed off.
Not sure if this is referring to the sinew of some regular animal but is given the name of the legendary dragon, or if it's meant to be taken literally. ↩ 亡命客, The Fugitive, is the nickname Cai Wenchang chose for himself. 亡命 is also part of the title. It contains both fugitive/outlaw as well as exile meanings. Therefore I chose to use 'Exile' for the title of the novel, but 'Fugitive' for Wenchang's nickname. Both meanings are important thematically in this novel. ↩