Chapter 51: Giving Chase
As soon as the words were out of his mouth a shuttle-shaped throwing knife was spinning through the air, becoming a puff of white cloud floating out.
Iron Claw was bewildered. Huh? It was clearly a knife, so how did it turn into a pale circle? He was an expert in concealed weapons so he knew the danger. He extended his left arm and dashed thirty feet to the left, not meeting the knife head-on. At thirty feet away, he was alright.
Three whiffs from his tube and three shooting rainbow spearknives shot out and sank into the wooden door as it closed. Wenchang had disappeared inside.
The armed escort behind Iron Claw didn't dodge out of the way and screamed as the throwing knife lodged into his rib. His sabre flew out of his hand as he fell.
Not far away the old nun stood under the eaves, mumbling the name of the Buddha. She smiled and turned away, all the while mumbling to herself, "It's that little brat from Misery Valley. He's going to cause a lot of trouble."
The three jumped to the roof, led by Fang Xiaoshan. They dropped down in the middle of another street and ran toward the Gate of Security.
News of what happened had not yet reached the Gate of Security. The dozen guards there didn't know what was going on as three people sped like mad through the gates.
The pursuing troops were right on their heels. Not long after they exited the city a group of twenty or so riders charged out after them, galloping in the direction the guards pointed them. Shooting Rainbow Iron Claw was among them.
Outside the Gate of Security, the public road split into two, the one on the right detoured through the north gate; this was the old public road that followed the Wei River to Xianyang. It converged with the wide avenue at the north gate. The road on the left led to Yu County. It was the public road that went to Hanzhong.
They came to a juncture of three roads. Black Iron Pagoda ran to the left, horse hooves thundering behind him as the troops closed in.
The sky was cloudy. A northern wind penetrated to the bone. It was bitterly cold, few pedestrians out on the road. The little beggar headed right. "Wait for me on the hill up ahead. I'll lure them away."
Black Iron Pagoda and Wenchang had both been injured. The bleeding had stopped, but they were still in pain. They needed to find a place to rest so they could apply medicine.
On the left side of the public road there was a creek, the ice already melted at this time of year; its slightly turbid waters flowed turbulently. They soon came to a hill on the right; the public road wound around it on the right side before continuing on. They broke off to the left and entered a pine grove along the bank of the creek.
They were tired. They had not had a chance to rest since the fight, then had to run a long distance. Fatigue was really setting in now. They sat down under an ancient pine by the riverbank and untied their bundles. They used styptic powder on their wounds. Black Iron Pagoda applied the powder to his wound as he said, "That Yang bastard is really something, worthy of being called the number-one hero of Chang'an."
"You're not so bad yourself," Wenchang said offhand.
"I have to thank you for throwing that sword to help me out. Otherwise, I might have been ensnared. If we're talking genuine talent, he's still a bit lacking, but his iron claw was a hard counter to my whip, and his shooting rainbow spearknives could break through my internal force defenses. Really hard to handle, so if I had been wrapped up by him it would have been hard to escape."
"You should have left earlier." Wenchang paused. "You shouldn't have risked yourself for me. It's not worth your while."
Black Iron Pagoda sprang up like a dog whose tail had just been stepped on. "Bah! What kind of person do you take me for? It those friends of yours who are worthless. Three Son of a Bitch Heroes of Chang'an, they f*ckin' sneaked off without a word."
"Don't insult my friends in front of me," Wenchang said.
Black Iron Pagoda nearly blew up, but he restrained himself. He grabbed Wenchang's shoulder. "Is everything you said back there really true?"
"What things I said?" Wenchang was confused.
"That stuff about Black Succubus Gu Zhen and Outcast Androgyne."
"Not a word of it was fales. I've never lied to you."
"You're really f*ckin' hopeless. You have to forget about all that stuff." He shook Wenchang's shoulder violently.
"Stay out of my business." Wenchang was getting impatient. He reached up to push the hand off his shoulder.
"No way!" Black Iron Pagoda didn't let go. His tone was harsh and stern.
Wenchang hmphed coldly and shot his left fist out. He didn't want to admit his mistake, and he was putting on a hard front while he was vulnerable within. He had messed up and regretted it, but he didn't want to let others see his inner conflict and weakness. Being pushed like this had the opposite effect on him now, giving rise to a feeling of disgust and shame and pushing him to the other extreme. He was in the middle of all this inner turmoil, and then Black Iron Pagoda's words were not tactful. He couldn't take any more. In a fit of anger his fist flew out and punched Black Iron Pagoda in the chest, hard.
Black Iron Pagoda stumbled back three feet. He roared and pounced, fists and feet flying.
Wenchang had not yet stood up and so didn't have a chance to dodge. He ate a kick first, then was knocked down by a fist. He rolled on the ground to avoid the next punch and kick, then hooked a leg out and tripped Black Iron Pagoda.
They got up at the same time and let loose with punches and kicks, attacking ferociously everywhere except below the belt, the sounds of fists pounding meat and legs slamming into muscle thudding nonstop as these two friends vented their anger on each other.
Black Iron Pagoda slammed Wenchang down on the ground and shook his big head. You must… must make a fresh start on… on life."
Wenchang got up awkwardly and straightened up, stepping backward as he raged, "Go f*ck yourself!"
He charged in as he cursed and smashed his fist into Black Iron Pagoda's jaw, then followed with a sweep of his left leg and caught him in the right hipbone, knocking Black Iron Pagoda down.
They were aching all over, their strength drained, hitting true with each shot, their clothes in a wretched state. It was really ridiculous, and awkward. Every time one was knocked down he'd just get right back up, but neither was willing to be the first to stop swinging.
The little beggar, Fang Xiaoshan took the public road to the right, purposely leaving faint footprints, then took off and ran, disappearing into a grove two miles off the road.
The troops arrived soon after, twenty-three horses split into two columns, the column on the left slightly in the lead, the one on the right trailing behind. They were running out of energy, every horse blowing white steam and drenched in sweat.
The last horse lagged behind the front by thirty feet, its rider a middle-aged man of medium height. He suddenly felt his horse was getting slower and slower as it ran out of energy. He was deeply puzzled. He cracked his whip and spurred the horse in the flank, urging it to go faster.
But it was still not enough; the horses forehooves faltered twice. He cracked the whip thrice more.
He suddenly clearly heard a voice behind him. "Beasts also know how to avoid disaster. Don't think about running, brother!"
The rider started and turned in his saddle and was scared half to death. A little beggar squatted on his horse's rump. He winked and grinned!
The rider was about to open his mouth to call for the others when a warm hand grabbed the back of his neck and jammed a dirty rag into his mouth just as he opened it.
Then he felt an acupoint on his spine go numb and he went limp and was knocked from the horse. He was still conscious, but he couldn't move, and with the rag in his mouth he couldn't call out. Fortunately, he didn't hit the ground too hard, so he wasn't badly injured, though his bones felt like they were about to break. He'd be laid up in bed for a couple weeks.
The man on the next-to-last horse was bent over the saddle as the horse galloped. He spotted a horse head out of the corner of his eye on the left. He thought he had caught up to the horse ahead of him and was about to overtake it. But there were rules for overtaking. One must keep eight feet of distance when passing, so why was there a horse so close to him? He yelled, "Fourth, you're getting too close!"
"Heehee! Isn't it more intimate to get closer?"
The voice was unfamiliar, so the man turned to look in surprise. As he did, the horses were just neck and neck. The end of a darted toward him right between the eyes.
He ducked instinctively, but he was too slow. He felt a heavy thud on the top of his head as he heard the person say, "Down you go."
He fell off the horse, half-unconscious, like a mountain collapsing. His horse was a good horse, once its owner fell it immediately stopped short and stood still, snorting and raising its hoof.
The next rider was more skilled, hunched over, his butt lifting half out of the saddle, handling the reins lightly and nimbly, his whip tucked under his arm. His horse was aimed directly to the side of the one in front, its hooves kicking up mud.
A horse suddenly appeared behind him to the left, gradually closing in and about to overtake him. The man turned to look. Heavens! It was a riderless horse. He slackened the reins and his horse slowed so the other horse could catch up. "Fourth is gone," the man shouted. "Ah! Augh…"
He felt his left leg go numb, then felt himself being pulled violently from his carved saddle, tearing at his leg, about to rip the tendons in his knee. He screamed and fell from the horse.
The little beggar was clinging to the man's horse's underbelly as he pulled him off, then he flipped up onto the horse's back and laughed wildly as he drove the horse into the dense woods on the side of the road.
The man's scream alerted the others and the riders were thrown into chaos. Several riders ahead saw the scene behind them, but they didn't know what had happened. They turned their horses and galloped back, two riders chasing the little beggar. One shouted, "What happened? What…"
The little beggar hunched over his saddle and laughed madly. He turned and shouted, "Don't give chase, brave fellows. Haha! No need to see me off, no need."
They were in a white poplar grove, the trees all bare. How could he get away? Behind, sixteen horses charged after him, their hooves pounding like thunder.
There were many walled villages in this area, and the little beggar had already come up with a plan. He headed into a village, abandoned his horse, then skirted around the village and slink away.
Iron Claw recovered the horse. but he didn't know who had been messing with them. He was fuming with rage, stamping in fury, but there was nothing to be done. The man who had went to get Fourth returned and explained the culprit had been the same little beggar who had stolen their carriage, busted their gates, and destroyed their flags. Iron Claw was furious. You can imagine what a waste of energy their two-hour search of the area was.
He didn't know anything about the little beggar, so he would settle this score with Wenchang.