Chapter 25: Death Arrives
The words 'Three Heroes of Songyang' shocked Sickly Wuchang and his men. Several years ago, the Three Heroes had had a fight with Shaolin and both sides had suffered many casualties. The first and third of the Three Heroes had met with violent deaths, but the second had fled the jianghu. The Shaolin experts had paid a hefty price as well. This event was known all over the martial fraternity. Fine Horse Village bordered Henan, so how could everyone not know of it?
It was no big deal for a local mob boss to deal with two men of the jianghu, but to really go up against a master of the martial fraternity was too risky; they would not be up to the task. Pockmarked Tiger would be hard enough to deal with on his own, but a master of the martial fraternity like Wei Taixing helping would be doubling their strength. It would take a lot of effort for Sickly Wuchang and his men to fight Pockmarked Tiger, but how could they manage with Wei Taixing added to the mix? A simple look from Wei Taixing's ferocious eyes sent a chill down one's spine.
Spirit Fox sighed helplessly. He smiled wryly. "Looks like we will reap what we've sown. It's no use!"
"If you play with fire you'll get burnt, juniors," Wei Taixing said with disdain. He smiled scornfully and calmly filled his cup and sneered as he raised it and downed it.
Walking Retribution was sitting close to Wei Taixing on the right, getting madder and madder. He couldn't abide that tone of voice. He suddenly launched an attack, heedless of the consequences.
Wei Taixing's cup and dishes crashed to the floor as he kicked the table over just in time to block Walking Retribution.
Walking Retribution got to his feet awkwardly amidst the crashing of dishes. Wei Taixing was already there, his palms bolting like lightning, left and right, six openhanded chops on Walking Retribution's shoulders near his neck, each one a heavy blow, breaking his collarbone.
"Ah! Ah! Aiyo! Ah…" Walking Retribution cried, but each time his voice was weaker. His huge frame crumpled to the floor. The strikes had come too fast; he had not had a chance to hit back. The final chop seemed particularly heavy. He lay on the floor with blood flowing from his mouth, limp like a dead dog, gasping for breath, on the verge of death.
Wei Taixing stood by Walking Retribution with his arms folded. He turned to the window. "Juniors, no need to hide out. Come on out and show yourselves. See if you can take one of my iron palms."
He reached his right foot out and put it down on Walking Retribution's lower belly. "This guy's collarbone is broken, his neck seriously injured. He's got about eight to ten days left. It's best to put an end to his suffering and send him on his way."
Walking Retribution trembled, contorting all over. He grimaced and wheezed in a hoarse voice, "Save… save… me! Save… save…" The last word was no longer intelligible.
Suddenly a bang came from the window and the 十-shaped window frame shattered and two people appeared, one tall, one short. In the blink of any eye they had entered the room, standing shoulder to shoulder by the window. One of them hehehe-ing, the other heeheehee-ing.
"Ah, Cai Wenchang!" Daddy Ma the Fifth blurted.
Wenchang pulled off his fur hat and stuffed it into a cup. "That's right," he said coldly. "It's me, Cai Wenchang, The Fugitive."
"When… when did you get here?"
"I've been here a while! I know all about your dirty schemes. That Wei fella is really something. He's the only one who noticed there was someone at the window. Well done, you earned my respect."
Wei Taixing stuck his chest out slowly and drew the long sword at his waist. "You're not bad yourself," he said proudly. "You knew Wei from Songyang was here yet you still dared show yourself. You two must have some huge balls."
"Heehee! Wei, you're stronger than the Five Uglies of Mt. Hua, no need to brag and be all intimidating. Going deep into the mountains knowing tigers are there, would we dare go up the mountain if we were not capable of beating a tiger? Heehee!" The little beggar leaned on the windowsill, not a care in the world.
Wei Taixing had his sword raised and was inching toward him. Wenchang slowly extended his hands and said, "I don't want to drag this out, as I have other things to do. Careful, my concealed weapons are like an invitation to King Yama…"
"I'm gonna get you, junior," Wei Taixing spat in fury. He charged, his sword and his person launching as one, his sword a flash of light protecting his body, his attack indescribably fierce.
Wenchang stood rock-firm. He raised his left and right hands twice and silver rays of light shot out, too fast to see clearly, penetrating above and below the flash of the sword.
Three concealed weapons, two knives and one dart, became a rain of metal, whistling as they passed through the rush of the sword. They drove mercilessly into Wei Taixing's flesh, first a knife, then the dart, then the other knife, three weapons each just two feet behind each other, coming one after another.
Wei Taixing had no time to knock away any of them. When he was ten feet away he suddenly shook and his legs wobbled. The sword halted as the muscles in his face jerked and he pitched forward. He grunted, staggered three steps, his footing unstable. His back shook and he twisted slightly to the left. His upper body bent over, but he still clutched the sword tightly as he panted heavily and used the rest of his momentum to double over and topple forward. The last knife had already entered his belly. He cried out and knocked it to the ground. His sword clattered to the floor between Wenchang's legs and came to rest by the wall under the window. His head lay next to the tip of Wenchang's right foot. His arms and legs spasmed, as if he were trying to grab onto the life that was slipping away from him. But he grabbed it as a wave of blackness covered him. But he had only grabbed the door knocker to the gates of hell. He groaned once and was still.
Wenchang had not moved an inch this whole time, from the time Wei Taixing launched himself at him from twenty feet away to when Taixing's eyelids twitched their last. He was as calm as if he were an inanimate object, like an unconscious stone grave statue.
Outwardly he looked calm, but he was actually nervous… A tidal surge of emotions coursed through him. His palms were sweaty. This time he had deliberately killed someone. It felt like a strange electric current was running through him. He seemed to have stopped breathing, and it felt like his blood had congealed. Wei Taixing had been rushing at him; when he was at death's door his face had grotesquely contorted. In his eyes it got closer and closer, larger and larger.
His death groan seemed to ring louder and louder in his ears, shaking him to his core and making his throat dry up.
But he never moved, like a stone figure.
Now I know that living is difficult, but dying is difficult too, he thought to himself. What a strange feeling.
His first time deliberately killing someone. It was a strange, unforgettable feeling. It was completely different from killing someone in a fight in self-defense. Killing someone during a fight was a matter of instinctive reflexes, no time to think about it. There was only one simple notion: it's either him or me. The will to survive suppressed any unrelated conscious thought.
The most horrible moment was right before and right after. Wenchang stared at Wei Taixing's slackening body as it trembled, the face paling, breathing labored. Taixing blinked, calling out something in his mind.
Was I wrong? What did it feel like to have a sharp weapon pierce your heart? In the end, I mercilessly murdered someone.
When an ordinary person becomes a killer, as long as there is no further outside stimulus, aside from being panic-stricken, the person will not kill a second time. In fact, his whole life he will be shaken by a memory he can not be rid of, and in his dread he will suffer psychological torment and an attack of conscience. But if there be some outside stimulus then the circumstances would change one's outlook, and not only would there be a second time, there might be a third or fourth.
If in that moment no one had added a stimulus, then everything might have been different for Wenchang. Too bad, something was fated to happen.
Everyone in the room was stunned by the sudden turn of events. They had watched Wei Taixing charge, fall down, and die, but his death was still baffling too them. It had happened too fast, too unexpectedly. How could they not be shocked?
The little beggar, Fang Xiaoshan, watched Wenchang's changing expression, puzzled. Why did Wenchang have such a strange look on his face? His face was pale, sweat beaded on his forehead, yet he was as calm as a fossil. For what reason? Puzzled, he watched Wenchang's changing expression, losing sight of everyone else in the room.
Pockmarked Tiger, after all, had seen it all and been through everything, so he was unfazed by this sudden shock. He gradually came to his senses and quietly took three throwing knives from his belt.
The room was deathly quiet, the snowstorm outside the only sound.
Spirit Fox was very cunning. He slinked out the back, like a cat.
White flash of light, one after another as the throwing knives arrived.
Pity! Pockmarked Tiger was not skilled enough. His throwing knives were single-edged with a thick spine, heavy things that could double as a dagger. They couldn't be flicked out with a finger, but needed to be thrown by hand. In other words, he had to raise his hand to throw them.
Making so bold as to throw the knives not only threw his own life away, but Spirit Fox's as well, and made Wenchang into a cold-blooded killer.
Wenchang just happened to look up at that moment and take a breath when he saw Pockmarked Tiger's hand retract, white flashes of light coming right at him, the first knife only half a foot away from his chest.
He instinctively twisted left and yelped as the knife grazed past him, ripping his sheepskin jacket. He felt something cold scrape his chest, and even though he didn't yet feel any pain he knew he was wounded.
The knife lodged into the wall behind him with a clear thud.
At the same time he caught the other two knives, roared, and sent them flying back.
Only two people moved in the room: one was Pockmarked Tiger, the other Spirit Fox, and a knife sought each one.
Pockmarked Tiger knew it was bad and thought to duck under the table to dodge, but he was half a step late. He had just bent down when the knife arrived, plunging deftly into his throat. He grunted and slipped to the floor under the table.
Spirit Fox had snuck ten feet away, heading toward the backroom, but he was startled by Wenchang's roar. He hesitated and the knife sunk into his back.
"Ah…" he wailed. His body stiffened and he staggered forward two steps, losing his footing, his body twitching, until he finally fell down with a groan, his body still convulsing violently.
Wenchang suddenly leapt onto the windowsill and shouted, "Guo, chop off your left arm, or else forget about living."
Sickly Wuchang hesitated briefly. He clenched his teeth and shouted toward the backroom. "Bring me my blade."
The little beggar picked up Wei Taixing's sword and flung it over. "What are you hollering about? What, do you want me to cut your dog paw off for you?"
Sickly Wuchang grudgingly picked the sword up, a dreadful look on his face, his eyes shining with fear. His hand holding the sword was shaking terribly. He couldn't even lift it, how could he cut his own arm off? He'd have to trouble someone to do it for him.
The little beggar strode forward and took the sword from him. "You useless Sickly Dog. How are you fit to be a mob boss? Worthless. You want your life but are loathe to part with an arm? What's that? Someone in the position you're in is finished. For someone like you, even a hundred deaths would not be a just punishment. Cutting off an arm is going easy on you. Well? Can you not move your arm? Stretch it out here."
Sickly Wuchang couldn't stop shaking, as if he had malaria. His left arm extended and contracted, raising three inches before dropping two.
"Ahh!" the little beggar roared.
Sickly Wuchang flinched and closed his eyes, his left arm suddenly pulling back.
How could the little beggar allow him to pull his arm away? The sword flashed and dropped and came back, very fast. A twitching arm fell to the floor with a thud.
"Ah… F*ck…" Sickly Wuchang wailed and leapt up, crashing into the table and knocking over dishes and wine cups before he himself fell.
Wind surged through the window; Wenchang and the little beggar were nowhere to be seen.