Chapter 47: The Young Nun
It was a young Buddhist nun. She was pretty with a fair face and red lips. A horse-tail whisk was stuck in the fold of her robe and she wore a sword in a bag hung from her belt. She boldly dropped down onto the table among the fourteen masters without a trace of fear.
They were floored by the young nun's audacity. Odd Beggar Feng Tao was the first to snap out of it. "Who are you?"
The nun touched the "precept scars" on the top of her shaven head, and smiled. "As a monastic nun I ought not meddle in the affairs of others, but this matter is so suspicious, how can I stay out of it? You must be the renowned Odd Beggar Feng Tao." She hopped to the floor.
"I am Feng Tao; I haven't changed my name. What is suspicious?" He snorted, then snorted heavily again.
"This place is suspicious," the nun said. "You're a famed, chivalrous beggar, righting wrongs with Mad Beggar, promoting righteousness as you roam the jianghu. You aren't Chang'an natives. And these Three Heroes of Chang'an are actually bandits in hiding here, secretly committing all sorts of evil deeds. They have a bad reputation. Yet you two chivalrous beggars are on close terms with them. Gallants and bandits cavorting together? What is that? By your manner of speaking you seem to share the same master. Who is this master? He must be really something to be able to rule both gallants and bandits. But what I really have to admire is your behavior. Earlier you appeared in Huayin; why did you lie to that Cai person and tell him you were a local leader here in Chang'an? Taking advantage of Cai's youth and inexperience?" Her face was cold, but her tone was even colder. She hmphed. "You all must be harboring some large, secret plot. It's as if you want to stir up trouble between Nine Palace Fortress and Endless Valley…"
Odd Beggar didn't let her finish speaking. He bounded over, stopping eight feet in front of her. "State your name. You're quite bold. Did you come here to stick your nose in our business?"
The young nun smiled faintly and continued, "Nine Palace Fortress and Endless Valley's leaders are ambitious and ruthless characters, but they're like fire and water and have thrown the martial fraternity into turmoil. Isn't your plot to set them against each other just adding fuel to the fire? Who will deal with the aftermath?"
Odd Beggar was furious that she was ignoring his question. "Since you're not answering me, don't blame me for being rude." He moved two feet closer.
The young nun chuckled, not at all scared. "What are you gonna do?"
"Do? Hmph! Destroy you."
"Oh yeah? You overestimate yourself." There was disdain in her voice.
Odd Beggar couldn't take anymore. He roared and charged, stretching his big hand out with "Wu Gang Chops the Osmanthus", a fierce, slanting chop. He wasn't about to get careless. Even though she was young, she was clearly an extraordinary person to drop down here amidst fourteen masters and meddle in their affairs, and with such incredible lightness skill to boot. He put half his strength into his chop, his left hand pulled back to his chest waiting to lash out. It looked like a real strike, but it was actually an exploratory feint. If his opponent moved he could immediately counter.
But the nun was unflappable. She acted like she didn't even see it, like she was getting ready to take the hit.
Odd Beggar was surprised. He didn't wait for his hand to connect, but suddenly flung his right hand out and darted two steps to the right, his hand brushing past the nun's shoulder. He pulled back his hand stiffly. "Why don't you fight back?"
The young nun smiled faintly. "So you do have an ounce of chivalry in you," she said casually. "Hmph. Good thing. Otherwise, you would have died right here. Tell me who your master is. I don't want a fight."
"You're dreaming," Odd Beggar said. He moved in closer.
The nun's face was frosty. "Are you going to tell me or not?"
Odd Beggar extended his palm. "Are you going to fight or not?"
She hmphed. "You're really not going to tell me?"
His answer came in the form of a deep bellow. He stepped in with his left foot and his right suddenly swept out.
Mad Beggar shouted, "Brother Feng, be care…"
The "-ful" had not yet left his mouth before the nun raised her left foot and kicked him in the leg with the tip of her foot, fast as lightning.
Odd Beggar's leg felt like it had been smashed by a huge sledgehammer, the massive force of the kick nearly breaking his leg. He had no more strength in his left to fight back. He yelped and fell backward, crashing face-up onto the table in a heap.
Mad Beggar rushed over to step in. "Pull back! Attack!" He struck with his dog-beating staff.
The Three Heroes of Chang'an raised their hands and waved, and the twelve scattered out the front and rear exits.
The nun sneered and darted left and grabbed the staff with her right. Mad Beggar didn't see her move, but he felt his hand stiffen as the momentum of his staff came to a halt, the staff vibrating with internal energy, making his arms ache and numbing the crook of his thumb. He felt his feet began to lift up.
"Let go!" the nun shouted coldly.
"Not a chance!" Mad Beggar shot back. He pulled back hard on the staff, the veins on his forehead bulging with the strain as he rooted himself to the ground.
"Get lost!" the nun lightly rebuked. She flicked her hand outward.
Mad Beggar felt a mighty, irresistible force lift him off the ground, despite putting all his strength into remaining rooted. The incredible force emanated from the staff, straight to his heart, and his fingers were so numb they lost all feeling and he couldn't hold onto the staff. Then he was tossed twenty feet and crashed against the wall. Everything went black and he was knocked out from the impact.
Odd Beggar struggled to climb back up, but the end of a staff was already pointed half an inch from his heart. But the internal force barreled through and hit him, not only numbing his chest, but his blood and qi felt like it was about to fly out of his body.
He was stunned. His hands went week and his back hit the ground. Even though it was a cold day, his whole body was sweating.
The nun smiled beside him, standing there like a stone statue, holding the staff she had taken with one hand and pointing it at his chest. Her smile was cold and detached, sending a chill down his spine.
"Are you going to tell me or not?" she said.
Odd Beggar knew it was hopeless. He gave up the thought of resisting. "Alright! Just kill me. You'll never hear a word about who my master is from my lips."
"I don't believe you."
"That's your business," Odd Beggar said hopelessly.
The dog-beating staff raised slightly and pressed against his left shoulder well acupoint, sending a white-hot current surging through the acupoint. He felt a strange change overcome him. His blood vessels felt like ten thousand insects were crawling through them, gnawing, boring, every cell in his muscles ready to split and burst open.
His body shook, drenched in sweat. The muscles on his face spasmed. He said weakly, "You're using… Red Fiend True Power to penetrate… penetrate my veins…"
"You're right," the nun said flatly.
"You… You are Thousand… Thousand-Faced Abb… Abbess…"
"You're really quite knowledgeable."
"You can kill me, but you'll never get a shred of information out of me."
"I still don't believe you."
"I may… may not be unshak… unshakeable, but your demon fire will never make me surr… surrender… Augh…"
Just as he screamed, the doors were kicked open. Odd Beggar lost consciousness then as well.
It was Cai Wenchang. He had come back. When he had reached the city gates he found over a dozen soldiers there, as well as some unknown people patrolling the area. Probably looking for him. Didn't look good, so he slunk away and came back, looking for the Three Heroes of Chang'an so they could think up a plan to get him into the city. His travel permit had his real name on it, so showing it would be trouble for sure. He didn't actually know what all the fuss was about at the city gates, but he had his suspicions, and he didn't want to risk kicking up a row in broad daylight. But he had to get into the city today.
He heard Odd Beggar scream just as he reached the doors. When a man of the jianghu heard a scream like that he knew something was up, so he kicked open the doors and rushed in. He was shocked at what he saw. "Nun, what are you doing?"
Thousand-Faced Abbess drew back her dog-beating staff and pulled a long face. "It's you again. You have a lot of luck."
She must be highly skilled to be able to subdue those two beggars. Wenchang wasn't about to get careless. He grabbed a chair and broke a leg off to use as a weapon and closed in. "We've not seen each other. Stay out of my business. What do you say?"
"First tell me how you got away from Lonestar Silver Sword."
Wenchang was taken aback. What, he thought. How does this nun know about that? He stood still. "Huh? How did you know I fell into Silver Sword's hands?"
"I am Thousand-Faced Abbess."
Wenchang was stunned. So that's how it was. The nun had scared off Silver Sword in the temple hall along with Frigid Scorpion Gao Fei. No wonder she knew. He dropped the chair leg. "Elder is a renowned eccentric gallant of the martial fraternity. This junior doesn't want to be your enemy."
"You haven't answered me yet."
"Lonestar Silver Sword ran into a tough opponent. I took the opportunity to make my escape." He didn't dare say he had actually been rescued by Outcast Androgyne.
Thousand-Faced Abbess stared hard into his eyes, as if she were looking for something. Wenchang had answered promptly and calmly. He didn't look like he was lying. She paused. "Why don't you go back and find Black Succubus Gu Zhen?"
That sentence was like a thunderclap in Wenchang's ears, but he remained calm. "I don't want to die under her… die at her hands. No need to go back seeking death."
"Then… Then why did you become her servant? Why didn't you kill her?"
"Pff! She saved me from Seven Spells; why would I kill her? Black Succubus Gu Zhen might be despised by others, but I don't think of her that way."
"Eh? You're kindly disposed toward her?"
"Yes. One must not be ungrateful. Black Succubus saved my life. Even though I'm afraid of her, I still respect her deeply. Elder, you're one of the Thirteen Greats and one of the few righteous, renowned and respected members of the martial fraternity; someone like you shouldn't get involved with us martial fraternity lowlifes. Please have mercy and let my friends go."
Thousand-Faced Abbess said, "Young man, what if I refuse to let them off?"
Wenchang quickly picked up the chair leg and stated resolutely, without fear, "I'm not very good, but I still must do all I can to help a friend."
"It'd be like smashing an egg against a rock. It would be suicide."
"I have no choice but to lay down my life to help a friend. Take this!"
He closed in as he yelled, sweeping the chair leg out like a flash of lightning. He didn't wait for it to connect, but changed to "Lie Low and Chase the Wind" and attacked her legs.
She smoothly poked her staff out and knocked the chair leg away. Wenchang used the momentum to glide away. "Take this!"
A silver-plumed dart shot toward her throat like a flash of lightning.
Thousand-Faced Abbess caught the dart between two fingers. "Ah! Your skill with concealed weapons is superb!"
Wenchang was astonished. She had not even moved, and even with that ferocious attack she had remained indifferent. His concealed weapons were useless against her. Such calm skill was humbling, not to mention her skill in catching the dart between her fingers. He cursed to himself, but he still couldn't abandon the two beggars.
He quickly snapped up another chair and threw it with all his might. He continuously backed up toward the rear exit, picking up and throwing anything he could find along the way. "Come on! Let's settle this out back."
Thousand-Faced Abbess knocked the chairs and other things away with the dog-beating staff and shot closer. She laughed. "You will wither at the first blow."
Wenchang retreated through the rear doors and out into the courtyard. There were flower pots lined up on the steps on either side of the courtyard, but there were no flowers in them, only some pine and plum trees. The inner rooms were empty.
Wenchang roared like a tiger and threw two pots, then went into a hall and grabbed a wooden table and smashed it. "Overrated abbess, get the hell out of here!"
This method of attack, like a raging housewife, was something new. He wouldn't let his opponent get near, just hurling whatever he could find . And it was effective. As the dirt scattered from the pots, Thousand-Faced Abbess had to slow down and dodge out of the way.
By the time she had entered the hall, Wenchang was already at the rear thoroughfare, still throwing whatever he could find. "Let's compare lightness skill and run your bitch-ass legs off."
"Where are you going?" Thousand-Faced Abbess shouted. She waved her big sleeve and a blast of strong wind slammed into an object hurtling at her.
Wenchang was clever, and his lightness skill was pretty good. He turned and ran, turning into a room. He shut the door and broke the little window and leapt out.
He jumped on the roof and ran back toward the front hall, jumped down into the courtyard, and stole in through the rear hall doors. He grabbed the two beggars and went out the main doors and ran down the alley toward the main avenue. His thinking was good. If he made it to the main avenue, she would never start something out in the open.
Thousand-Faced Abbess never expected Wenchang would trick her, and she underestimated his lightness skill ability. By the time she exited the main doors, Wenchang had already turned the corner down another street, the two beggars in tow. Five or six people stared blankly in the alley as Wenchang darted past them, at a loss for words.
The abbess nodded at Wenchang's retreating image. She smiled and said to herself, "I misjudged him. That's one righteous fellow, a talent worth training. I can't let him off. My ultimate skills ought to be passed down to a fundamentally righteous person."
She calmly went back inside and before long had changed into an old nun wearing a long robe and carrying a whisk, her face all wrinkly and worn. There was no longer a single trace of her earlier youthful look. She stepped outside, closed the doors and walked down the steps. She said to herself, "That young man is not only clever, he's also more courageous than most. No wonder he has the nerve to go up against Black Flag Sovereign and calmly escape from that group of fiends. He won't be able to get away from them; I have to find him. My Red Fiend True Power and Thousand Face Changing Skill are not suitable to be passed down to a woman. He's the ideal person to teach them to."