Chapter 31: The Road to Tong Pass
The woman in black laughed charmingly and fell back like a gust of wind. "You used both dementia knockout gas and will-o'-the-wisp poison. Remember, you used them first; we'll settle things between us in due time, but aren't you first going to go for the scroll painting? No need to come at me… Shit! Old devil…"
Seven Spells understood what she meant. He turned and went back.
But he was a step late. Mountain Demon had already picked up the other section of the scroll painting and was running toward the bottom of the valley.
Seven Spells gave chase, cursing, "Old devil, there's snow all over; there's nowhere to hide. If you fly up to heaven I'll chase you to the Heavenly Palace, if you descend to the netherworld I'll chase you to the City of Wronged Souls in the pits of hell."
The woman in black put away her sword and pursued as well, the three of them seventy feet apart from each other. They were evenly matched so it would not be easy to close in.
Wenchang was hiding behind the corner of a cliff. He pressed himself closer to the side to hide himself when he saw the astonishing speed with which they were coming toward him. His palms were sweating. Watching them fight just now had terrified him, how could he not hide?
The first was Mountain Demon Shan Tang, who passed him in a flash.
Next came Seven Spells. The sorcerer caught a glimpse of him from the corner of his eye and recognized him as the one who had killed one of the Daoists to make his escape. He figured he was one of Mountain Demon's men and he became enraged and evil surged within him. He shot his sleeve out as he passed, then continued chasing Mountain Demon.
Wenchang felt a violent, imperceptible force hit him. His newly-established ultimate breathing skill was unable to resist it and he felt his whole body tremble, as well as a loud bang in his head as everything went black before him, his qi and blood churning. He lost his legs and fell down and gradually lost consciousness.
The woman in black arrived. She stopped in her tracks when she saw the situation. She watched reluctantly as the two figures receded in the distance. She mumbled, "Can't catch them, and even if I could it would not be easy to deal with them. Pity!"
She went over to Wenchang and put a pill in his mouth and made him swallow it. She briefly checked his eyelids and his pulse, then picked him up and headed with him out of the valley. An intoxicating smile spread on her face. She said to herself, "This is a piece of uncut jade. I won't have to worry about not finding a good young man for at least half a month. Ah, these days it's getting harder and harder to find a young, handsome man of high quality like this."
The Daoists had slunk away, leaving many unmanned horses in the valley. Snow danced in the fierce wind, gradually covering the blood and bodies on the ground.
After who knew how long, Wenchang woke up.
First, he detected a faint, intoxicating fragrance.
Next, a roar like he was in the midst of crashing waves. He opened his eyes and started. He was inside a cramped carriage, a light two-seater used by high officials, nobles, wealthy families, and business tycoons. There were doors on both sides and a small window in front with an embroidered curtain. Everything in the compartment was black, the curtains a heavy black wool, embroidered with cloud patterns in shiny black thread, as well as bizarre thunderbird patterns. So even though everything inside was black, he could still distinguish the black silk thread patterns. The patterns were the same as those on the clothing of the woman in black he had met in the valley, only bigger.
There was a warm, fragrant, soft body next to him, a pale arm draped across his chest. They were laying together in the soft, plush carriage compartment. The carriage was moving at a leisurely pace, the horse steps light, the carriage wheels creaking faintly, though the carriage still swayed gently. They were pressed together tightly, man and woman, their flesh and clothes touching.
He wanted to get up, but he he was so tired. He turned his head. Oh! It was Miss Black. Why was he here in this luxurious carriage with her?
He recalled that Seven Spells bastard had attacked him with his sleeve, unprovoked, and then he had been knocked unconscious.
Oh! She rescued me. Now he knew why he was in the carriage.
He began to size up the beautiful woman beside him. Miss Black seemed to be sound asleep as the carriage rocked gently. The sounds of the hooves and carriage wheels on the snow were not noisy; no wonder she could sleep so peacefully.
There faces were close together; he could make her out clearly. She certainly was beautiful, extraordinarily so, elegant and enchanting. He gazed at the clear and slightly pink skin at the corners of her eyes. There were no lines there, proof that she was very young.
Weird, he thought to himself. If she was so young, how could she have reached such a profound level of cultivation that she would dare fight one of the Thirteen Greats? Cai Wenchang, you ought to be ashamed! You ought to work harder, you're not near her level.
A person's success or failure is sometimes determined in a split second. A person who lacks a strong will might give himself encouragement over and over again throughout his life, but it will always be pushed to the back of his mind until it's forgotten. If that kind of person ends up successful then his ancestors must have been virtuous.
The decision Wenchang made then and there would decide his destiny in the days to come. He decided he would practice diligently and speed up that twenty-year process and complete it. He knew the ultimate breathing skill he practiced was a supreme, unsurpassed Daoist qigong, otherwise he would not have been able, in twelve days, to dive to the bottom of Black Dragon Pond and get that jade marrow dragonhorn. At the same time, he knew from experience that he could miraculously direct his qi to concentrate it at any part of his body in order to resist an attack. He could take punches and kicks, and deadly strikes from concealed weapons could be reduced to two-tenths effectiveness. Right now his level was too low, unable to withstand heavy blows of brute force, but he was confident that soon he would be able to use his precelestial true qi to protect himself. Then, anyone whose cultivation was more shallow than his ought to be easy to handle.
The carriage swayed gently, the woman in black nearly on top of him. A woman's unique scent, along with her skin brushing against his caused an odd, gradual change within him as a mysterious wave of excitement enveloped him.
He was already an eighteen-year-old man, the most perilous age.
The left carriage wheel thumped into a small pothole, jolting the carriage twice.
The woman in black to his right suddenly slid onto him and he instinctively reached out to steady her. He nearly wrapped his arms around her, but she didn't wake up.
Oh! She's really just a girl, unaware of the danger of a strange man next to her, still sleeping soundly.
He didn't take it a step further and think how it was that a woman in black appearing suddenly, all by her lonesome before him in a snow-blocked mountain valley to fight with masters of the Thirteen Greats for the Autumn Mountain Mist painting, and kill like it was child's play, could sleep so deeply.
He tried to push her back to her place, but he was still weak, and with the carriage still rocking she just slid back onto him. He tried twice, then gave it up. He didn't want to wake her, so he just held onto her lovely shoulder.
But he soon couldn't take it anymore. A hot-blooded ripe young man holding a girl who was pretty as a flower, and only the two of them there, if that didn't get him excited then something was wrong with his thing and he'd need to find a doctor quick.
Sight and smell were the sources of a man's descent into decadence. He was assailed by her delicate scent, and her beautiful face and delicately wrought curves roused his natural urges, which began to smolder.
But he was bound by moral principles he had learned, and that terrified him. In the end, he had to dismiss his wayward thoughts and wrestle with his natural urges.
The carriage descended into a low valley, then suddenly accelerated to full speed as it climbed up. It was a rare sight to see a carriage out in this deep winter snow. It was easy to descend, but ascending was no easy feat.
Three cracks of a whip and the carriage suddenly rose.
Miss Black jerked and Wenchang's back was pressed into the carriage cushion. He was straining and said, "Wake up, miss, miss…"
The woman in black opened her starry eyes and smiled bashfully, then sat up. "Eh? Was I asleep? Pardon, pardon."
Wenchang stared at her, then blankly blurted, "Miss, your smile is lovely."
"Eh? Are you making fun of me? An old lady like me has heard that so many times it doesn't mean anything anymore. Heehee!" She smiled.
Wenchang smiled, a happy grin. "I've seen many old ladies, but I've never seen one like you."
The horse carriage crested the slope and leveled off. Wenchang was in a good mood. He reached out and drew back the window curtain. White snow as far as the eye could see, a world of white. Every ridge and peak had become a white-capped mountain, every little path a large palace avenue.
"Eh? Where are we?"
"Look behind us," Miss Black said.
He stuck his head out the window. The sky had cleared up, but the strong wind was bitterly cold. It looked to be the top of the double-hour of the snake.1
Not far behind, three peaks towered above the clouds. It was the three peaks of Mt. Hua. To the east were some smaller peaks sheared off at a slant. On the north side were some hillocks completely covered in snow, glittering brightly.
"Eh? That looks like the legendary Lofty Three Peaks."
"Have you never been to Mt. Hua?" Miss Black asked.
"I've only been to Shangzhou," he answered honestly.
"Those are the Three Peaks. We've already left Mt. Hua about ten miles ago. If you can't see Mt. Hua you'll be able to see it again when we get through Tong Pass about fifty miles from here."
"Huh? You mean we're going to Tong Pass?"
"No!" He turned around. "I can't go to Tong Pass."
"You haven't yet recovered. If you want to roam the jianghu and make your mark, you…"
"I have to meet a friend in Huayin…"
"Your friend won't be waiting for you there. Do you know how many days you were out?"
"I… How many days was I out?"
"Three days. I took you to West Peak Temple and we stayed there three days."
"Heavens, I was out for three days? Damn. Damn!"
"It wasn't because of the strike from that old sorcerer Seven Spells, but because I was afraid you had sustained serious internal injuries, so I gave you some medicine to help you sleep well. Eh? Do you not understand that because I was worried for you I didn't change clothes and slept here in the carriage for three days?"
Wenchang was dumbfounded. Three days had passed and the little beggar was under pursuit; he didn't know if he was alive or dead. They had not arranged to meet somewhere later. This was terrible."
"What are you thinking about, little brother?" Miss Black asked, concerned.
"Shit! I don't know what happened to my friend."
"Who is your friend? A man or a woman?"
"A boy. He was chased off in Laozi Valley by some guy wielding an iron staff."
"That's Jianghu Patrol God Xiahou Tian. He was waiting to settle a score with Priest Celestial Void. He's about the same level as Priest Celestial Void. How is your friend's…"
"First-rate, same as Priest Celestial Void."
"You said he escaped?"
"No worries, then. Since they are of equal skill, if they didn't fight it out to the death, then he should have been able to escape."
"But… I'm worried about him, and I still have a friend waiting for me in Xi'an. I'll never forget how you risked your life to rescue me. I will repay you for your kindness in the future. I have to get out." Saying that, he opened the carriage door.
9-11 am ↩