Chapter 28: Battle in the Valley
He had just reached the horses when he heard a sharp howl that made him jump.
He ignored it and grabbed the reins of one of the horses.
Who knew there were actually two holes dug in the snow. The howl had alarmed two Daoists dressed in red who jumped out of the other hole, still groggy from sleep. They were almost directly in between Wenchang and the saddle.
Wenchang grabbed the reins but one Daoist brought his big hand down like lightning. The reins had been wrapped around the saddle horn, so they would have to be lifted off. But he was too late. If he lifted the reins the Daoist's hand would grab him, and that was no good.
He struck back at the Daoist's hand with all his might and reached for the reins with his left. Their palms connected and the Daoist's hand wavered briefly, then suddenly grabbed, each grabbing the other and pulling hard.
"Ah!" the Daoist roared and reached for the reins.
The horse whinnied, unable to stand the massive force of both of them. It dipped its front legs and they both let go at the same time.
The other Daoist came over and yelled, "Get that boy, he must be Mountain Demon's little servant dog."
He reached out with two fingers to press Wenchang's camphorwood gate acupoint on his right shoulder, very fast and imposing.
Wenchang's hands still hurt, so he couldn't counter right away. All he could do was twist away to avoid the fingers.
Another unusual sound echoed through the valley, loud and sudden.
The Daoists were stunned. "Shit! It's that old demon's arrogant howl."
Wenchang knew his plan to steal a horse was a bust, and he was backing up further into the valley. The Daoists were between him and the outside and it didn't seem it would be easy to rush through them. But he wasn't about to give up. He dashed toward the opposite cliff, hoping to grab a horse over there.
But his strategy came to nothing as the Daoists roared like a tiger in unison and drew their glittering swords and rushed to block the mouth of the valley.
Wenchang grabbed a horse and jumped on. The Daoists got there at the same time and one shouted, "Trying to run, junior? Heaven Temple is all over this mountain this time; you're done for."
Cloud Terrace Temple, also called Heaven Temple, was at the northern foot of Mt. Hua. It was an old Daoist temple constructed during the Ming dynasty, and where Lone Wanderer Bai Yunshen practiced his cultivation under the name Priest Celestial Void.
Wenchang heard Heaven Temple and was taken aback; enemies are destined to meet. They always run into each other.
The Daoists didn't give him the chance to gallop away, their swords flashing, attacking from both sides, aiming for his hands.
He had to abandon the horse. He stood on its back and leapt off.
"Take this!" he yelled, and a knife and dart shot out.
But he was up against masters this time. They raised their big sleeves and batted the knife and dart away, the force of air pushed by their sleeves kicking snow up in all directions.
"Come on junior, give us all the scraps of metal you have!" one of them yelled.
Their swords were like a raging storm, like countless bolts of lightning surging, the air buzzing around the thrusts of the swords; the pressure of the air could be felt three feet out.
Wenchang was unable to strike back. This was the first time his reactions were rushed and sloppy, also the first time facing masters. He was dazzled and cowed by the light flashing off the swords. He lacked fighting experience. He pulled his dagger but he was unable to counter, a short weapon fighting two long swords, plus his opponents were masters of the martial fraternity; the fierce pressure of the swords made him unable to get near, and his concealed weapons were unusable here. It was really hard going.
He fell back deeper into the valley. The Daoists were trying to take him out with their swords, but for now were unable to do so. He was thinking of a way to escape, his left hand ready to throw three knives. As he dodged he gradually calmed down. The Daoists were not as agile as he, and their swordsmanship was not quite up to snuff; they were nothing to be afraid of.
The Daoists inched forward, waving their swords like mad, but Wenchang didn't take them on, just kept backing up. Their swords couldn't touch him.
He backed up one to two hundred feet until he could ferret out the pattern of their swords. Not only did he feel more at ease, the thought of returning tit for tat arose in him spontaneously.
Hoofbeats exploded in the snow at the mouth of the valley as twenty or more riders appeared, all of them Daoists wearing red. They dismounted at the end of the valley and charged inside in two lines.
Just then the Daoist on the right shot forward and roared, "Take this, junior!" He performed "White Rainbow Pierces the Sun", bearing down on him menacingly.
Wenchang was prepared to counter. When the Daoist stuck his sword out and shot forward wildly, he knew his chance was here. He suddenly lifted his foot and kicked up a dust of snow toward the Daoist; at the same time he crouched and held his dagger up to guard his face, neither advancing nor retreating, sticking close and coming in up under the sword.
"Careful, junior brother!" another Daoist behind him warned.
Too late. The Daoist was taken by surprise, the snow splashing in his face. His hand was slow due to being startled, and with a flash a shuttle-shaped throwing knife was already skirting the ground, then boomeranging up, lost in the spray of snow.
Through the dust of snow the Daoist saw the figure of Wenchang unexpectedly shoot forward instead of falling back, sticking close and countering. He was shocked and quickly lowered his sword and withdrew.
His sword was stopped by the dagger with a clang and he was unable to lower it any further; the strong force of his sword evaporated as soon as it came in contact with the dagger.
In the same instant, the dagger slid forward and the under-edge of the long sword became a rolled sheet of iron as the dagger shaved a layer of the edge off.
"Ah…" the Daoist raged, his footing weakening. He didn't see the throwing knife, and was not expecting one to come at him so close to the ground, much less turn up in an arc and hit his perineum and penetrate into his gut.
Wenchang pushed with the dagger in his right hand and knocked the sword aside, his left leg kicking right into the Daoist's chest, the momentum sending him flying backward.
The Daoist screamed and fell on his back, his ruined sword landing twenty feet away.
Wenchang had originally intended to escape through the mouth of the valley, but the group of riders were closing in. A swarm of red filled his vision. Heavens! They were all Daoists. Disaster was upon him.
First run into the valley. This was his first thought. He turned and fled.
The other Daoist was a step behind him. "Martial uncle, it was one of Mountain Demon's men. He wounded junior brother, don't let him get away."
Wenchang opened up his lightness skill and ran like mad with all he had. He was confident not even a horse could catch up to him for a short time.
The mountain valley winded left and turned right, tall cliffs on both sides. If any of the deep snow on the slopes should fall he would not be able to climb out.
He ran two miles, the sounds of hooves fading behind him. The valley was rising and becoming more and more narrow, and the snow was even deeper so the horses couldn't run in it. Twenty or so Daoists used their extraordinarily quick lightness skill to tail behind him.
He skirted a mountain spur. Heavens! Eight Daoist corpses were strewn here and there in the pure white snow. The head of every one had been smashed by something heavy, their faces indistinguishable. The snow was covered with blood. On the right a ridge projected outward. It wasn't tall, nor steep, bloodstains running down from the ridge and dotting the snow below, and there were tracks from something heavy skidding over the snow. Clearly the Daoists had been thrown off the cliff.
Twenty feet up on the top of the ridge sat a strange person in a long green robe. Several red bodies were piled beside him, Daoist corpses.
This person was really strange. White messy hair down to his waist, blown in front of his face by the strong wind, like a dashing tail of a horse. His head and body were dusted with snow, and his face, good gracious! If a timid child saw it he'd be bedridden for two months if he didn't die from fright. It was a dark grey, wrinkled old face, with two large, deeply sunken eyes. A queer, green light seemed to flash in those eyes; to see it would make you shiver all over. Flat nose, pointed mouth and sunken cheeks, a long white goatee like a mountain goat. He had little meat on his face; aside from his sunken eyes he also had high cheekbones, like his skull was wrapped in a mildewed and sun-dried orange peel. He looked eight-tenths ghost, two-tenths human. Really frightening.
"Ah…" The strange man howled, waved his hands, and two Daoist corpses suddenly rose and slid off the slope, taking a bunch of snow with them.
Wenchang didn't care whether there was someone on the ridge or not, he had to get the hell out of there. He jumped over the corpses as the two slid down, nearly hitting him.
There were several swords strewn on the ground, some broken, some still in good condition. He ducked out of the way of the falling corpses and picked up a sword and got ready to defend himself, then ran further into the valley. Behind him someone roared, "Cool Breeze, you go after that junior, the rest of you form up."
One of the Daoists broke off and chased after Wenchang by himself; must be Cool Breeze.
On the ridge, the strange man laughed maniacally and pushed five corpses off, then stood and shook the snow off his green robe and spoke in a hooting voice, "Bai, this is your fault. You knew they weren't capable enough yet you still sent them to their deaths. Ridiculous, hehe…. You think I, Mountain Demon Shan Tang, am softhearted? No, bastard. This old monster kills without hesitation; I don't care about getting my hands dirty, hehe… Oh! You brought that bastard Seven Spells. No wonder you have the guts to take me on. Come on, then! What are you waiting for?"
Wenchang was relieved to see only one Daoist coming after him. He went around the corner of a screen-shaped cliff and ran three or four steps, then suddenly turned around and pressed against the inner cliff face, holding his sword in a backhand position, pressed closed to the inside, waiting for his chance.
As soon as he turned around he saw a black figure at the base of the cliff opposite him several dozen feet away. Glossy black hair down to the waist flicking lightly, like a woman dressed all in black, standing there like a corpse, letting snow fall on her head and clothes. He wasn't seeing things; he could tell it was definitely a woman.
He didn't have long to ponder it as the Daoist appeared.
"Ah!" He roared, his sword pushing out close to the cliff wall, silver light glinting and thrusting through the Daoist's stomach.
"Ah…" The Daoist screamed and grasped the sword with both hands in a death grip. He swayed twice, the wound spraying blood a foot out, nearly hitting Wenchang. He slowly slumped to the ground.
Wenchang was not yet steady on his feet when he saw a flash. Was it a ghost? Some fragrance assailed him.
He felt an ominous feeling; he didn't know if it be friend or foe. He pressed to the wall and turned and looked and was stunned.
It was a woman, the pinnacle of beauty, standing fifteen feet away from him. The fragrance, like orchids, was mesmerizing.
She was really the pinnacle of beauty, pretty eyebrows, looking at him with her watery eyes that made men's hearts race. His heart was beating wildly, enchanted by her beauty. His pulse quickened. A bewitching woman, a gorgeous woman.
Heavens! Such an intoxicating scent, such stirring beauty, such enchanting beauty.
He was mesmerized, had lost his mind a bit, when he heard a gentle voice, clear as a silver bell, say, "Oh! You're so sharp-witted, so cunning, so cruel, so ruthless."
Only now did he come to his senses. It wasn't a bewitching demon, but a person, a living, breathing, beautiful woman. He let his guard down, lowered his sword and began to calm down, began to inhale deeply that fragrance, began to size up this mysterious, gorgeous woman who had suddenly appeared before him.
This woman wore her hair like an ancient palace maid, different from the current style stipulated by the current Ming emperor. She had bangs on her forehead, hair piled up in a cloud on her head, the back coiled up and cinched with a pearl ring, a long tress extending to her waist in a ponytail, swaying in the wind. A plum blossom was fixed to her right temple, very eye-catching. Phoenix-head hairpin, pearl earrings. She looked very refined. Beautiful arched eyebrows, large, limpid eyes, her nose sculpted as if from a famous artisan, her mouth curved up in a charming smile, intoxicating. Firm, delicate pale skin with flushed cheeks, glittering and translucent and fetching. She wore a black silk shirt with narrow sleeves and a cape of the same color. Twin peaks rose sharply from her chest, a sash tied around her tight waist, truly tantalizing. Such a curvy figure had reached the realm of perfection. She seemed like a ball of fire, dazzlingly resplendent even in the middle of the night. She wore a long sword on her belt on the left. Frighteningly, she was a great hero of the martial fraternity. No wonder she was not bothered by the cold out here in the snow, why she was wearing so few clothes.
"Who… Who are you?" Wenchang hung his head as he asked, his heart thumping.