Chapter 64: Interference
Yes, there was someone behind him. The night was black as ink but he could still see the outline of a person, a skirt and sleeves fluttering, a slim and graceful figure, and it wasn't just one. There were at least three standing side by side, not even three feet from where he'd been standing before. He couldn't make out their faces, but he could see their wore swords at their slender waists. It unnerved him. My hearing is going bad, he thought. I'm ashamed, letting someone get within three feet of me without noticing it, but my nose saved me. These ladies' lightness skill is incredible. Maybe I've really encountered ghosts.
"Eh?" the girl in the middle gasped. Perhaps she had been startled by Wenchang's exceptional reaction.
Wenchang heard the girl's voice and settle down. It was a person, not a ghost, nothing to be afraid of. He circulated his qi to protect himself. "What can I do for you girls?" he said coldly.
The girl in the middle had pretty eyes bright stars in the dead of night. "What are you doing here, sir?" she asked in a light, sweet voice. "Was it you who started that fire in the distance?"
"You guess wrong, miss. It was that martial fraternity trash Seven Spells White Crane Hermit who started the fire, nothing to do with me. I'm not robbing anyone, just settling a decade-long feud."
"Did you kill him?"
"I don't want that filthy mutt's blood to stain my hands. I didn't kill him. You're a pretty nosy girl, aren't you? Good thing I have important stuff to do, or else… hmph!"
He turned to leave. The girl on the left stepped in front of him, blocking his way. "Or else what? Not so fast."
Wenchang glared. Sneered. "Get out of my way or you will regret it."
The girl snorted. "Sounds like you're no good either. Stay there! Wait until we've gotten to the bottom of this, then we'll decide if you can leave or not."
Wenchang was not to be outdone. "I don't want to fish for fame or compliments. I don't need your appraisal. You talk pretty big. But can you tell me who you are?"
"Don't worry about that, just wait patiently," she said coldly.
The girl on the right inched over toward Curly Beard, who lay on the ground. She inspected him briefly, then turned back and said, "Miss, this man is unconscious. His face is injured, but it's not too serious."
The girl in the middle was 'Miss', her voice sweet and crisp. "Revive him. We must ask him what happened. Since we happened upon here we have to see this to the end."
Wenchang stood there getting more and more annoyed. It was getting late. If he kept fooling around here he'd miss his meetup at the drum tower with the little beggar and Black Iron Pagoda. These three girls had come out and stuck their nose in his business. He wasn't about to listen to them and wait around for Curly Beard to wake up. In the dim light he could make out the pretty, elegant face of the girl eight feet away from him and smell her delicate, intoxicating scent, giving him a rush of excitement. But he was eager to get to the city to make his appointment. He wasn't interested in checking out the view, but at the same time this girl's haughty tone and look was stirring him up. He raised his voice. "So noob, are you really not going to let me go?"
That got her. "You punk, such a filthy mouth, you…"
Wenchang let his fist answer for him. Once she leaned back he shot his foot out in a vicious attack.
She barely had time to react, a fist and foot coming at her so suddenly, making her lurch back three steps. She cried out and swept both arms out at once, high and low, violently like a mountain torrent and faster and wilder than Wenchang had been, striking at his face while blocking his kick, then dodging away like a ghost. Then she pressed in, throwing out five slaps and eight finger strikes in the blink of an eye, blocking him and even taking back her three steps.
Wenchang was shocked. Even during midday he wouldn't be able to take her attack. The girl was really something.
He couldn't show any weakness against such a worthy adversary. He calmed himself and put his full strength into play, no longer retreating but meeting her head-on, looking to stick close and fight. He hands and fingers flew at his acupoints in a flurry, but he wasn't afraid. He blocked left and deflected right, quick as lightning, throwing a punch or two back himself like a clap of thunder.
"Eh, Incredible!" one of the girls watching said.
His iron arm collided with her jade wrist head-on.
His left hand seized the opportunity to punish her in the right ribs.
The girl twisted to the left as her own slender left hand shot out with "King of Ghosts Spreads His Fan", smacking toward his right temple quick as anything, not only dodging that shot to the ribs but stealing the lead and unleashing a furious attack.
He straightened and dodged her hand and spun his lower body, leg sweeping out, his other foot following.
This girl was really something, bending down and chopping with "Cutting a Chasm", attacking his knee joint, her reaction blazing fast. If she connected his leg was done for. Her slender hand shone like jade and seemed soft as soap, but her internal force was strong enough that mere flesh would not be able to withstand it.
She attacked so fast it shocked him. His legs attacked fore and rear; he wanted to pull back midway but it was too difficult and she was so fast he didn't have time to change his move. Only thing he could do was retract his left and bend down and use inertia to pull him forward so he reach out and strike. Girls were most afraid of sticking close when they fought, but he would use any method he could to save himself.
He roared and retracted his foot with all he had and lurched forward with "Hungry Eagle Battles the Hare", both hands out together.
She hit the outside of his right calf instead of his knee. He felt like his leg bone was on fire, the powerful internal force penetrating to the marrow.
But he bore it. His ultimate breathing skill helped him protect his bones and muscles, but the jolt sent his lower body swinging out to the left. At the same time, he grabbed her right shoulder.
"Ah…" the girl screamed. In a moment of carelessness she'd been tied up by his rascally moves. His left hand hooked around and grabbed her right elbow and his fore and middle finger pressed her Pool at the Bend acupoint at her elbow crease.
They were nearly pressed together, life and death hanging in the balance. His left hand shot out and wrapped around her waist. His long thumb was nearly controlling her upper body, his finger strength making the girl's body go limp.
"Who else? Stop!" He stood steady.
Miss saw her maidservant in danger and was about to come in from the side when Wenchang's roar made her halt. "Let her go, or you will regret it."
The girl's shoulder was still half-restrained, and her waist was in even more danger, but she didn't let go of Wenchang's arm. "Miss, use your meridian-severing finger to subdue him."
But Wenchang increased his grip and pushed his prisoner toward Miss while he circulated his qi to suppress the numbness and pain in his calf. "IF anyone tries anything there will be regrets. There's no enmity between us. I don't want to make enemies of you. State your name, I want to know who you all are so I can be on my guard later on."
The subdued maidservant was pressed face to face with him, making her embarrassed and angry. This was likely the first time she had been pulled this close to a man, and she was not only shy and anxious, but his manly scent and strange body heat was getting her flustered. Her voice quavered as she said, "Miss, sub… subdue this pu… punk."
"Say something again and I'll ruin your acupoint," Wenchang said ruthlessly.
The girl struggled in his grip and a familiar yet hard to explain feeling made his blood surge.
He vaguely felt she was becoming like Black Succubus Gu Zhen, or even more like Outcast Androgyne's pretty maids. If he had not been in the midst of this dangerous predicament, he might have considered taking liberties with her.
Miss stood eight feet away and the other maidservant had already stepped away from Curly Beard, who was slowly coming to, and had her hand on her sword. Miss waved the girl off from drawing it. "Xiaohui, tell him where we hail from."
Xiaohui said each word pointedly, "In Whitecap's Misery, those who come do not return."
Wenchang gasped, his color changing. "You all are from Misery Valley?"
"Do you want me to say it again?" Miss said calmly.
He held the girl and backed up. "No wonder a maidservant is nearly more skilled than I am…"
The girl in his grasp said, "Shameless! I never even used all my strength to fight you, and I didn't use any powerful moves…"
"I didn't either, and don't talk anymore," Wenchang cut in.
"I'll talk if I want. You used dirty moves, so shameless!"
Wenchang grunted and said to Miss, "Don't come closer!"
"Let my companion go," she said.
"I'll let her go when I'm a hundred feet away. I can't afford to offend Misery Valley."
He backed up and Miss didn't come forward, but the girl under his control didn't go quietly. She looked up and sized him up. At this short distance she could nearly hear him breathing.
First, she noticed he was a handsome guy. Then she felt he was familiar. She composed herself and looked again and shouted in delight. "Heavens! It's you… you…"
Wenchang thought she recognized him because she was some enemy he'd met once before or maybe was Black Succubus Gu Zhen's follower. He was startled and pushed her away. "Don't come after me, or else someone's blood will be spilled by my concealed weapons."
He let her go and turned and ran like mad and disappeared into the curtain of night in a few steps like an escaping rabbit. The forest out here in the wilderness was dark and dense and muddy; it was not convenient for a girl to give chase.
Miss went over to the girl and restrained her and said urgently, "Xiaolan, are you alright?"
Xiaolan pointed where Wenchang had run off and whispered, "After him! I'm ok…"
"Who is he! You recognize him?"
"Miss, he's that big young lad who appeared at the village shop with Young Master…"
"Oh! Blackie, Big Blackie, Black Iron Pagoda? Doesn't look like him!"
"The other one, that tall… tall handsome one. After him quick! We can ask him about Young Master's whereabouts."
"We can't catch him, forget it! Uncle Peng is waiting for him in the city. That little hellraiser can't escape."
The three girls were the ones who had appeared at Woodbend Refreshments. Miss was Fang Xiaojuan and the two maidservants were Xiaolan and Xiaohui. Xiaolan had fought Wenchang. Her internal force was lacking compared to Wenchang, but she was better than he with her hands and finger skills. There was no enmity between them so there was no need to act viciously, and she had gotten careless, not expecting Wenchang's internal force cultivation to be greater than hers. Even though she had grabbed his elbow acupoint first she had still been subdued by him. If they had really gone all out, who knew who would be the victor.
The girls returned to Curly Beard and stood side by side beside him. Curly Beard came to slowly, groaning from the pain of his cuts. He said groggily, "If revenge breeds revenge, when will there… be an end to it? Let me… Let me go… Let me… I don't want to die… Don't want to…"
He struggled to sit up and reached for a an upturned shoe before him. "Give me back my travel… travel bag," he yelled. "Except for the arcane… nine-cycle pills, give me… back the rest of it."
The shoe was gone, but in his ear he heard, "Wake up you, wake up. Your enemy left a long time ago."
That jolted him back to his senses. He gasped for breath and sat up properly with great effort. He collected himself and looked, but all he saw were three blurry human figures. He calmed himself and croaked, "Who are you? You say that person left?"
"Yes, he left. What's your honorable name, Uncle? How did you end up in this mess?"
His mind went slack and he nearly fell back. He mumbled, "He… He… didn't kill me. Why? W-Why?"
"Why, Uncle? You ought to know yourself."
"My surname is Wu, given name Xin. Are you the ones who saved me?"
"Maybe so. Oh, you must be that jianghu evildoer, Curly Bearded Stranger Wu Xin."
Curly Beard seemed not to hear clearly. He searched his body frantically, then said hatefully, "He stole my travel bag. My nine-cycle pills, my gold and pearls… Heavens! That little bastard ought to receive retribution for this."
"Eh? You've done evil all up and down the jianghu for years and haven't received retribution yet. No need to curse others."
Curly Beard finally made out what she was saying. He looked up and amazement. "Eh? You all…"
"Don't ask who we are. Tell us what happened to you. Maybe we can help. Speak!"
Curly Beard heaved a deep sigh, his flames of anger extinguished. He said dejectedly, "No need to say it. I guess it really was my fault. Ten years ago he was just a little kid, risked his life to save mine. But I paid him back by trying to kill him. Somehow he survived. Tonight he saved me again from Seven Spells' bastard hands and brought me here and beat the hell out of me. But he stole my nine-cycle pills that I spent half my life painstakingly fighting for and defending to save my life. I won't let him off. He must die."
"You're the one at fault," Fang Xiaojuan said unhappily.
Curly Beard hmphed. "Stay out of my business. Get away! Get away!" He groped around on the ground and found his dragon-head cudgel.
"What was that guy's name?" Xiaojuan asked.
"Cai Wenchang. Ten years ago he was an abused, mistreated orphan. Now he's a little jianghu bandit."
Xiaojuan turned and left with her servants, heading west. "So it was Cai Wenchang, the one who caused a ruckus today in the city," she said, confused. Strange. Little Brother is a smart person, why would he befriend a petty thief like that?"
Xiaolan hastened to his defense. "No! Cai Wenchang isn't a petty thief. A petty thief would not be so highly-skilled, and wouldn't let his mortal enemy, that Curly Beard, off so lightly."
"That's the strange part. Let's go! Back to the city. Tomorrow night we have to intercept Blue-eyed Snow Lion. We need to rest up and conserve our energy. That bald donkey won't come tonight. Xiaohui, go out to the ambush spot on the public road and notify Uncle Fu. Xiaolan and I will go on ahead."