Chapter 63: Payback
It was none other than Wenchang. He had snuffed the candles out with two chips of wood and emerged from the side door, and flung his knives out. He wasn't really counting on the knives, he just wanted to stop the old Daoist from killing Curly Beard.
Seven Spells was caught off guard and had been a bit careless, not circulating his qi to protect himself. The knives came at him quick, spinning end over end, forceful enough to break an internal martial artist's qigong. By the time he realized they were coming they were already there, brushing past his chest and ripping the front of his robe. If he had not leaned back slightly in the nick of time then he would have taken two knives to the ribs. The sound of the knives ripping through the air told him a master had arrived on the scene.
Wenchang shouted from the side door and then disappeared, three chips of wood sailing through the air one after another with a strange sound.
Seven Spells had gotten a taste of Wenchang's throwing knives, then he heard that other sound and didn't know what it was, the main hall now plunged into darkness so that he you couldn't see your hand in front of you. He wasn't about to be careless now. He ignored Curly Beard on the floor and darted to the side and gave chase. "You're dead meat! So damned arrogant!"
He reached the door of the side wing and slammed his palms out repeatedly, striking at the spot Wenchang had been standing with overwhelming force. It all happened in the blink of an eye, his movements so fast he knew Wenchang would not be able to get away easily. Even a first-rate master would be hard-pressed to handle his massive palm strikes.
The wall couldn't take these blasts and collapsed under the incredible force.
Wenchang wasn't there. He was inside laughing his ass off. He went through the eastern wing corridor, getting farther and farther away.
"Son of a bitch," Seven Spells thundered. "You can't escape even if you ascend to the heavens." He ran after him.
"Haha, let's have a little fun you old bastard," Wenchang said as he ran. He turned two or three corners and went through room after room and was gone.
Curly Beard's numb left arm hung limply. He bore the pain and got to his feet and slipped away into the rear hall and stole into a dark room and made a clean getaway.
Seven Spells was mad as hell when he lost Wenchang. He stopped himself from blurting out obscenities and calmed himself and perked his ears up to listen closely as he went room to room searching, like a cat chasing a mouse.
It was dead quiet throughout Feng Villa. There were many halls and many rooms in the towers. Searching them would be easier said than done. He lit fires as he searched, ruthlessly trying to smoke him out. He stood on the tiled roof of another building and scanned the area, looking for anyone trying to escape.
Flames lit up the sky until every building was engulfed in flames, but he still didn't see anything escaping, not even a mouse.
Wenchang was long gone. He had hidden in the rear hall and seen a black figure stumbling around. He ran up and said in a low voice, "Is that you, Wu Xin? Come! We'll sneak off over the hill around back. That old bastard is too formidable."
Curly Beard staggered forward. "That cursed sorcerer" he said weakly. "I won't stop until I've had my revenge."
Wenchang helped him along by the arm. "You can get revenge later. Now's the time to worry about saving yourself. I'll give you a hand, hurry up."
They escaped into the forest on the hill behind the estate. Feng Villa below them was was a mass of flames. Wenchang helped Curly Beard along as they fled. "You need to circulate your qi to heal yourself, otherwise your arm will be crippled."
"It doesn't matter. I can that old Daoist's blow. It's just a bit numb at the moment, but my precelestial true qi can already reach my hand."
They ran two miles to the bank of a dried-up gully. Two rows of white poplar stretched toward the west. Turning back, they could see the horizon to the east was red with flames, the fire already out of control.
"That sorcerer won't find us here, let's rest," Wenchang said. He let go of Curly Beard and leaned against the trunk of a tree. The distant flames lit up their faces so he could get a good look at Curly Beard. He stared at him and inwardly gnashed his teeth.
Curly Beard sat against another tree opposite, panting and extending his arm, testing it. He noticed Wenchang staring at him oddly. "Little brother, why are you looking at me like that?"
Wenchang sneered. "I want to get a good look at your face. Yep, a bit older is all. You're looking much better than you did back then."
"Eh? You know me?"
"What's your name, little brother?"
"I'm the Fugitive, Cai Wenchang."
"Ah, you're the Cai Wenchang that stole that bastard Bloodsucker Feng's pearls, right?"
Curly Beard turned his own odd gaze onto Wenchang, studying him. After a while he said, "I don't want the pearls."
"Haha! Whether you want them or not is your business. Whether I'd give them is mine."
"Little brother, thanks for coming to my aid when I was near death back there tonight. I'm deeply grateful. If we meet again someday I'll make it up to you."
"Hmph! I don't want you to make it up to me. I'm still alive. Don't you think repaying me by killing me would be wrong?"
"Ah, little brother, those are strong words. I think you must be mistaken. We've never met before, barely seen each other."
"Barely seen each other is right, but barely doesn't mean never."
"I'm not a forgetful person. And I'm really not an ungrateful one…"
"Hahahaha!" Wenchang's laughter cut him off. "You're actually just bullshitting. Everything you said is wrong. You and I are old friends, ten years ago becoming sword friends unto death. At the same time, you're not only ungrateful, but also cruel and unscrupulous."
"Huh? What are you talking about? You…"
Wenchang stood and spoke slowly. "Think back. Ten years ago to the south of Fine Horse Village on the bank of Red River, by Black Dragon Pond below Tiger Head Peak. The one who pitied you and risked his life to dive to the bottom to save yours…"
Curly Beard looked like he'd seen a ghost. He retreated step by step, sticking a trembling hand out and pointing at Wenchang. "You… You're… You're… That…"
"Yes, I'm the boy you kicked knocked into Black Dragon Pond and barely survived." Wenchang spat each word, then paused. "Enemies really do seem to cross paths. Ten years later we meet again. Old son of a bitch, you never suspected I, Cai Wenchang, would still be alive, did you? You never thought one day you'd see me again, ten years later. Heaven's net is vast. You can't escape justice. I've experienced how you pay a debt of gratitude, and once is enough. Now it's my turn to reciprocate."
"Why… why did you save… save me again?" Curly Beard could barely get the words out.
"So I could get my revenge. I don't want anyone else doing it for me. So I led that sorcerer away so I could properly thank you for the great favor you showed me that day when you returned my kindness with hatred."
Curly Beard broke out into a cold sweat all over, then suddenly turned and ran.
Wenchang snorted and reached out to grab him. Curly Beard knew he couldn't get away. It was time to fight. He roared and hit back with "Upside Down Bell".
Wenchang dodged to the left, his hand brushing past Curly Beard's shoulder, his finger catching his travel bag strap and Wenchang easily snatched it off.
Curly Beard was distraught and swung his dragon-head cudgel. "Give it back! Give me back my bag…"
Wenchang stuffed the bag into his robe and dodged left and right as he taunted him. "You can't even protect your life, what are you worried about a bag for? Be a good boy and wait for death so you won't have to suffer in your last moments."
Wenchang ducked and dodged, his light and quick movements easily avoiding Curly Beard's wild flurry of punches and cudgel strikes. This was the first time he'd faced a master since his conception and governing vessel meridians had been cleared and he'd learned from Thousand-Faced Abbess. He felt everything was working in harmony, his mind was clear, and he seemed to be able to predict his opponent's every gesture and motion. As soon as Curly Beard moved his hand or foot, Wenchang knew where the strike would be coming. He was more confident now in his ability, just like how he'd nearly hit Seven Spells with those knives earlier.
Curly Beard attacked with his ninth move, "Rainbow Sinks Below the Surface", attacking Wenchang's lower body, closing in boldly. Then he suddenly turned his wrist and smashed his hand into Wenchang's side, the internal force like a mountain, the sudden change fast and nimble, extraordinary.
Wenchang knew how to respond. Don't retreat, advance. He cut in from the side and struck the outside of the dragon-head cudgel with his right hand, quick as lightning. He raised his left hand and caught Curly Beard in the armpit, spun, kicked, and arched his back and shouted, "Beat it!"
At first, Curly Beard thought Wenchang was going to try to snatch his cudgel away with his bare hand. He never expected Wenchang to take the risk of closing in and grabbing him. He was focused on putting his internal force into his cudgel as he brandished it, his body pressed to the back of Wenchang's left shoulder, his feet tangled up as a huge force pulled him off his feet as his lower body received a jolt before he was sent sailing end over end. Before he knew it his back slammed onto the ground and he was nearly knocked out.
Wenchang didn't want to kill him too quick, so he let go when he flung him, but his right arm had hit true. If he had added a kick it would have been a mortal blow.
Wenchang had mastered wrestling as a kid, and he had taken Curly Beard by surprise and used his strength against him, and he could counter first with exceptional quickness, his movements effortless and at will. That's why he dared get in close and knock him down. It was a really risky move, even more so when facing a master like Curly Beard. If he didn't react quick enough his opponent's left hand could have slammed into his head and ended him, and a right knee could have dealt him a deathblow.
"No, that's not good enough. Again. Get up."
Curly Beard was angry and embarrassed as he got up awkwardly. "You little bastard! You're a wily one. Are you a Wudang disciple?"
Wudang had been on the rise for a hundred years, their internal martial arts inspiring awe throughout the jianghu. They used an opponent's strength against him, using soft to conquer the hard. It was famous all over the world, so he mistakenly thought Wenchang was a disciple of Wudang.
"You don't need to ask. At any rate, you will die today."
Curly Beard cried out and charged, swinging his cudgel twice.
Wenchang dodged calmly. "This time you will crawl. Crawl!"
He dodged the cudgel and came around to Curly Beard's right, who flung his cudgel out. "Damn you!" He swung the cudgel at Wenchang's ribs.
But Wenchang stuck to his shoulder and spun around. The cudgel couldn't reach and was smacked by Wenchang and it sank down as another hand shot in over the top, two chops into his collarbone, heavy blows that made him not only unable to stand straight, his legs couldn't support the weight and he fell down.
Wenchang kicked the dragon-head cudgel away backed up two paces. "Stand up, you worthless second-rate master."
Curly Beard was gasping for breath, shaking his shoulders with great effort as he struggled to his feet. He had not stood up fully when something black was right in his face. It was Wenchang's big fist. He thought to raise his hand to block, but he lacked the strength. The collarbone was the source of power for one's arms, so it was hard to move them after taking those shots. He wanted to move but he couldn't. His reacted too slow, his arm not yet raised when the fist hit flesh, slamming heavily into his jaw with brutal force, knocking him back down.
His mouth was full of blood which spilled out and stained his wiry beard. He sat up with difficulty, then shouted and suddenly leapt up with all his strength.
Before he could stand, two punches and a slap hit true on either side of his face and the side of his neck. Everything went black before him and the world spun. He tottered and fell. He writhed on the ground and blathered, "I swear… I'll remember this… this night… until I di… die."
He felt someone grab his waist and he was lifted up as his stomach sank. He flew up, his mind carried up with it, and he crashed to the ground again, his bones feeling like they were about to break. His consciousness was fading as he heard Wenchang yell in his ear, "Old son of a bitch! You ungrateful asshole! I was just a kid when I risked my life to save yours, but instead of thanking me you tried to kill me instead. Are you even human? Piece of shit, if I killed you I'd just be dirtying my hands. Someone like you ought to be food for stray dogs, maggots should burrow into your bones you motherf*cker."
Wenchang grabbed Curly Beard's hands and feet and flung him twenty feet where he promptly blacked out.
Wenchang opened the stolen travel bag and discovered several jewels inside, as well as several bottles of styptic powder and other poison antidotes. There were still twelve pills in the jade Arcane Nine-Cycle Elixir bottle. As he stuffed it into his robe he caught a whiff of an intoxicating fragrance. He spun around and stepped back eight feet. "Who's there?"