Chapter 33: The Revenant Swordplay
No wonder he was getting suspicious. Black Succubus Gu Zhen really was a seductive, alluring woman, thus why she was called a temptress. But that had nothing to do with the immortal-like beauty, Miss Black. He laughed. "There is a girl in here, but I don't who know this black succubus is."
"I have my orders," the man said. "I must conduct a search."
Wenchang pushed open the carriage door. "Please, sir, take a look…"
Before he even finished the man could see the black interior. The look on his face changed. At the same time, a black shadow flashed. Miss Black had already went through the window on the right-hand side like a puff of black smoke and attacked the other approaching rider. She was like a streak of lightning, and before the man could even scream a flash of light crossed him and his head suddenly dropped to the ground.
The old coachman roared with laughter and with three cracks of the whip eight hooves took off, the carriage suddenly bolting forward. Wenchang didn't know what was going on. He fell back inside the carriage in a daze, baffled.
The other rider who had been talking to Wenchang turned his horse around and issued an air-splitting whistle, then shouted in a high-pitched voice, "Black Succubus, Black Succubus, Black…"
Riders stationed on a distant ridge streamed down onto the public road.
Miss Black flashed past the carriage like a bolt of lightning and attacked the four riders blocking the road. So fast! The four riders leapt from their horses, two swords and two sabres coming out and surrounding her. The man with the silver flag decree put away his flag, extended his sword, and shouted, "Temptress, give me the Autumn Mountain Mist painting… Ah…"
The woman in black's sword knocked his away, suddenly darting in and then darting out. A hole appeared on his chest and blood shot out. His sword dropped and he followed it, screaming as he collapsed to the ground.
In that same instant another man's sabre swept past the woman in black's side, but it missed. The woman in black swung her sword in a flash of light, catching the man in the right cheek and carving a large gash from his cheekbone down, crossing his mouth and down to the bottom of his left jaw and then to the shoulder. He wailed and fell forward.
The old coachman's carriage arrived, his whip cracking. It went around to the left, his whip snapping the back of a man advancing on her, who fell from his horse.
Miss Black was like a tempest, killing four men in an instant, a blazingly fast attack. Even a master with the best eyesight would have had trouble distinguishing her moves, woman and sword one unit; a man fell wherever her sword appeared.
She jumped into the carriage seat and said in a low voice, "Charge! These guys deserve it."
She leapt over onto the horizontal bar between the horses, a twelve-foot whip in her hand. The horses dashed madly, her clothes whipping in the wind, her black cape fluttering. She stood there motionless like a nail on the crossbar, weathering the bumps and jostles. An onlooker would be breathless with anxiety watching it.
Indeed, the old coachman did look nervous. "That old dog Black Flag Sovereign Chang might be here already. We're hopelessly outnumbered."
Miss Black turned to him and said spitefully, "Must be that Qiu girl turned against us and sold us out. I'll flay her alive."
"She didn't know you were going to Tong Pass."
"She knew. I told her, and also told her to take the others to Huayin to draw their attention. That old devil Chang was waiting for me here instead. That bitch. She deserves a thousand deaths."
"Master, we ought to get off the main road."
"No! Then rumors will spread throughout the jianghu that my carriage was snatched by that son of a bitch Chang, can you imagine? If things get bad, you protect brother Cai and escape. I need to teach that son of a bitch a few lessons for having the nerve to come give me trouble."
Wenchang, inside the carriage, was scared out of his wits. He was nine-tenths sure the woman in black was the temptress, Black Succubus Gu Zhen. No wonder he wasn't able to resist her seductive wiles. The one thing he couldn't forget was that the temptress was said to be over sixty years old already, so how could she look so young? Was eternal youth really a thing? He really couldn't believe it.
I have to get out of here, he thought. My life is over if I stay with that old temptress. It's not worth living for a couple weeks at best. No way am I going to be killed by that lovely peony.
He took a look on both sides as he prepared to leave. On the left was a hill from which riders were streaming down. On the right was a mountain valley, the towering, snowpacked forest seemingly beckoning him.
He had to leave. It was said that when Black Succubus Gu Zhen captured a handsome man she would use him for eight to ten days before growing bored with him. Then he was doomed. If he hadn't already died in her arms he would be put to death. He wasn't stupid. If he didn't leave now, then when? He was still young, he was not about to die under this lovely peony and become a dissolute ghost.
He decided the right was his best option. When he moved to the door he noticed from the corner of his eye the scroll painting on the cushion. He had a thought and grabbed it and stuffed it into his robe.
Five horses were coming at them head-on. One of the riders roared, "Stop the carriage, temptress, stop…"
Four cracks of the whip was her fearsome response.
A scream as someone fell from his horse.
Man howled, horse neighed, the carriage rushing forward. The horses split to the left and right, continuing on once its rider had been unseated.
Now was his chance. He lightly pushed the door open and leapt toward one of the oncoming horses. He grabbed the pommel and stuck to the horse's side. After seventy or eighty feet he slid to the other side and jumped off, tumbling down into the mountain valley forest.
He knew Black Succubus was surrounded, men advancing on her from behind and in front. Trying to get away on horseback would be suicide. The only thing he could count on was finding a place to hole up for a while.
He hid in the snow for close to four hours, using the time to practice his qigong breathing techniques. He discovered his energy after having sex had not declined or vanished; instead he felt full of vitality. That temptress had not absorbed his original yang essence.
In the distance he heard intermittent sounds of people wailing in their death throes. It went on for two hours until it finally stopped. When the shouting ceased the mountains returned to silence.
Later, a group of black-clad men came by leading horses to pick up the bodies. He didn't know which side had won, but since Black Flag Sovereign had time to send people to collect the bodies, they must have been victorious.
He didn't know why, but he found himself concerned for Black Succubus Gu Zhen. She had helped him understand something about life, had in that brief period of time made him into a real man. He would never forget that magical, rapturous moment, as if his soul had left his body. That body that made his heart race, that lovely smile that made him restless, that passion he could not control, that feeling like he was ascending to the land of immortals, they had all left a deep impression on him that would never be erased.
May Heaven protect her, he thought. She's not a terrible temptress.
Around the double-hour of the monkey,1 he headed back along a small cleared path that branched off to the right, leading off from the main road between Tong Pass and Huayin. This way was closer and he would not have to go through Mt. Hua.
He had nothing with him except a few bits of silver and a hundred or so coppers, so he would be able to afford a room at an inn.
He didn't dare run around in Huayin. He was afraid of encountering Priest Celestial Void's henchmen, and he was even more afraid of running into Seven Spells. He was unable to find the little beggar in this unfamiliar environment. There's no place like home. After a short, arduous time away on his own, he began to feel afraid. It was no good to be without money.
He booked a room and cautiously ventured out onto the streets, making a circle, hoping to run into the little beggar. But he was disappointed.
In the evening he practiced his qigong for two hours and then unrolled the half-section of the Autumn Mountain Mist painting. He wanted to see what the deal was with these Revenant Swordplay's quintessential three ultimate moves.
It was a vertical scroll painting. It had Junior General Li's authentic inscription. He had the left half of the scroll. It was already worthless as a painting.
He couldn't see any characters hidden in the detailed ink lines in the landscape. Looking carefully, he could see nothing hidden inside the scroll either. He studied every stroke carefully over and over again for a long time, but he didn't see anything.
Finally, he discovered something was different about the bottom layer of the scroll where it had been cut by the sword. He quickly separated the layers and found a thin piece of yellow silk inside. Elated, he removed it and looked at it under the lamplight. He couldn't help being disappointed.
The yellow silk was a foot or so long and five inches wide. The other half was missing, but the words were still completely intact. It said: "This way of the sword takes time to master; without intelligence it cannot be mastered; it cannot be mastered through luck. The so-called ultimate moves are a tall tale. There is no way to penetrate its hidden recesses except through the lessons one learns through experience. From these lessons one may progress. Only by first observing a man's mentality may one find the path to victory, only then may one get the upper hand. Before my enemy attacks I attack first. I have already acted by the time my opponent attacks. In this way the attack is difficult to defend and unexpected. This is an ultimate move. Everything else supports this cultivation. Strength is the source of victory, speed the way of self-preservation; even divine will, without strength as a shield, will work to no avail. The thirty-six moves are mere prattle. If one can grasp the four concepts of speed, ruthlessness, stability, and accuracy, then one may achieve divine swordsmanship. The crucial concepts of the Revenant Swordplay reside in this. Great perseverance and willpower are needed to succeed. Only the sage can comprehend it. Experience, diligent practice, experience, diligent practice. These are the ultimate moves. Eleventh day of the first month, in the fourteenth year of the cycle, the thirtieth year of the Hongwu reign period of the Great Ming dynasty. Respectfully, Sima Ying, Young Master of Wugong Plum Valley, Yuanzhou prefecture, Jiangxi."
The piece of yellow silk, hidden for 147 years, was now out in the world. But it was a bunch of rubbish. Who didn't know that "strength" was the source of victory? Who didn't know that "speed" was the way to protect oneself? But how to obtain godlike strength? How to become supremely fast?
Then Wenchang suddenly saw the light. He was born with intelligence. Experience is the way to self-preservation, he thought to himself. Diligent practice is the source of strength. The Revenant Swordsman was a hero in the early days of this dynasty. Narrowly escaped with his life through a sea of swords and a mountain of sabres. He didn't have such a legendary reputation for nothing. Ultimate moves aren't enough to rely on. If there were really ultimate moves, wouldn't he be unrivaled in all the world? But how many of the so-called ultimate skills and secret teachings of the six major sects were successful all the time without fail? None. I have to practice hard, diligently practice my ultimate breathing qigong, and not only will I attain godlike strength, I'll reach a state where I won't have to fear weapons. If I assiduously practice the concepts of speed, ruthlessness, stability, and accuracy, I will definitely accomplish great things. I won't be a mouse scared of his own shadow while I roam the jianghu. I will stand up and fight when the opportunity is right and accumulate fighting experience and training.
He slid the yellow silk back into the scroll between the seams, rolled the scroll back up, and stuffed it into a crack in the wall. He lay on the bed and pondered for a long time until he finally fell asleep peacefully.
He stayed in Huayin for three days, but he never saw the little beggar. His money was just about gone as well, and it was almost time for him to meet Black Iron Pagoda in Xi'an. He paid his bill at the inn and stepped onto the public road heading west.