Chapter 65: Bloodsucker Feng's Mansion
Wenchang got out of there fast, not wanting to offend anyone from Misery Valley. He and that maidservant had been equally matched; how much better must the lady be? It would be foolish not to get out of there. He went all out, running faster and faster and reached the capital at the top of the third watch, leapt over the wall at the Gate of Everlasting Joy, and took a shortcut down a side street toward the drum tower.
The night markets had already closed up, though some larger shops hung dim lanterns out front. The wind was cold and there was no one out on the streets. He left a secret marker at the drum tower and hid in the shadows and waited patiently.
The night watch drums sounded, indicating the night watchman had reached the Gate of Everlasting Joy along the east main avenue and that it was now officially the third watch. The drums marking the fourth watch would sound when the night watchmen reached Yongxing ward.
The drum beats resonated through the air, breaking the silence, followed by the barks of a few dogs.
The main avenues were empty. There was a lantern on the upper floor of the drum tower and the dim outline of a person, the night watchman getting ready for the next shift.
Wenchang was getting worried for the little beggar and Black Iron Pagoda. He had not seen up to now. What if something happened to them?
He looked toward Northwest Escort Agency. There wasn't anyone around the gates.
There were no lights on at Bloodsucker Feng's house. Two big dogs lay on the steps, drum tower lanternlight reflected in their eyes like two big, bright, dark green pearls.
On the other side, at Vice Commissioner of the Left Shi's mansion, lights burned dimly, but all was silent. The flag out front had been cut off sometime and the large gates had not been closed. Inside the gates before the screen wall was the faint outline of a soldier patrolling in the shadows. Huh? Guards at the entrance to Shi's desolate estate? What the hell?
The longer he waited the more impatient he got. Then a large black shadow came flitting by from the south main avenue like a ghost, crossed the center of the junction, then headed down the west main avenue, darted under the gate arches of Northwest Escort Agency, and was gone. The only thing Wenchang could make out was that the person was bald.
"Eh, that person's lightness skill is shocking," he mumbled to himself.
The two huge dogs at the Feng estate loped down the steps and sniffed around, but they didn't find anything. After a long while they returned to their original positions and lay down. Clearly that person's lightness skill was so superb even the dogs didn't sound him out.
The drum beats signifying the fourth watch sounded and a lantern swayed in the distance at Yongxing ward. The night watchman was returning to the drum tower.
Wenchang gave up. He knew they wouldn't come here. Perhaps from today on they would each wander about in different places and never meet up together again.
He felt a wave of sadness wash over him. I hope they are safe and well, he thought. I must forge my own path.
He went around the north main avenue like a cat and leapt to the roof of one of the dozen leftover houses on the left side of the Shi estate and made his way across the rooftops toward Shi's rear garden. There were dim lanterns lit in the Shi mansion, but the rear garden was pitch-black. To the right was Bloodsucker's rear courtyard, separated by only a low wall.
He climbed onto the wall like a ghost and peeked his head over the top. This was the rear courtyard of Feng's third mansion. Behind it was an empty lawn, piled with timber and bricks in preparation for some large-scale construction.
The third mansion was divided into two storeys. The top floor only had four small windows, not at all like a mansion. More like a prison. Poles apart from Shi's mansion not far off. There was a covered walkway outside Shi's mansion, lined with long flower-latticed windows and carved balustrades. The interior of the walkway was decorated with potted trees, the decor of an official family. No wonder Bloodsucker was building another tall mansion behind the courtyard. He was trying to compete with the Shi family. And no wonder the Vice Commissioner of the Right, Li Chunshui, wanted to steal Shi's mansion for himself.
He figured Bloodsucker rarely spent time at home with his family, so there was no need to enter the inner compound and alert the enemy. He dropped down near the rear gate and jumped up onto the thirty-foot brick wall. He grabbed onto the wooden frame of a small window and pressed his ear close to hear what was going on.
Excellent! Light sound of snoring inside. Someone was fast asleep. He took out Lightning Bolt and cut off two wooden sash bars and stuck them to one side, then lightly cut at the seam of the window and pushed the window open softly, then put away his dagger and went through the window and shut it behind him.
He waited next to the window for a moment. It was too dark, couldn't see anything. He only hard light snoring coming from his left.
The first time he playing the thief and he didn't have a torch on him. He boldly inched toward the bed and took out a fire stick and riskily struck the flint on the top and flames lit up.
He could tell it was a servant's room given the decor. There was no curtain hanging over the bed. Two maidservants with tousled hair and crooked hairpins lay sleeping soundly, an old, thick, heavy quilt pulled up to their chins.
He extinguished the fire stick and calmed his nerves. He had broke into the family quarters. There wouldn't be any guard patrols here. He pushed open the door softly and went into the hallway and groped forward cautiously, turning left, then right and entering the reception hall. Now he was in the master's house.
The reception hall's outer doors were not shut. He could see a spacious courtyard and the second wing building opposite. He examined it carefully. Sure enough, he noticed a black figure disappear down the end of a walkway; the left and right walkways of the courtyard were connected to the front hall. The figure must be heading out front.
He relaxed and went through the dark walkway from the rear right hall doors and came to a red-lacquered door. He pressed close to listen but there was no sound. He tried the door and found it barred. He opened a seam with his dagger and slowly forced the door open and went inside.
The room was lit by a tiny lamp light. The room was decorated magnificently, but his plan was foiled again. Under the silken brocade quilt was a sleeping young woman, not Bloodsucker Feng.
He didn't want to grope in the dark anymore. He brashly turned the lamp up and strode to the bedside and lifted the thin silk curtain, intending to question the person inside.
The girl in the bed was frightened awake by the lamplight. As soon as she opened her eyes she saw a silver-purple figure holding the curtain open.
"Ah…" she screamed.
But he covered her mouth and nose and softly threatened her. "Quiet, or you'll regret it."
The girl struggled but it was no use.
Wenchang was standing in front of the lamp, hisbody blocking the light, so he could only see the girl's big, frightened eyes. He couldn't make out her face, but he could tell from feeling her face that this girl was lovely and delicate to make one's heart race. But he wasn't moved at the moment. "Where is Third Master Feng's room?" he whispered. "Tell me and I'll spare you."
He released his hand but kept it close lest she scream again. She finally got a good look at his face and heard his voice and she seemed to relax. But she was still seemed scared when she said, "S…sir Why… Why did you… come here…"
"Don't ask. You haven't answered my question. But you can relax, i won't violate you. I came here to rob him. I'm here for money, not lives, and I won't take any liberties. But don't blame me for being vicious if you lie."
The girl heaved a sigh. "You wouldn't harm a pitiful, weak girl like me, would you?"
"You're certainly Bloodsucker's daughter, but I still won't treat you rudely. All I ask is for your jewelry box. Your dad has sucked too much blood and screwed over who knows how many people. That jewelry reeks of blood. I'll help you get rid of it to ward off disaster."
"That's nonsense." The girl was no longer afraid, but was actually talking back.
"Hmph! Nonsense? At the southern end of Fanchuan, in broad daylight, a family of three surnamed Lu, a father with a son and daughter, tried to hang themselves. If I hadn't shown up just in time those three lives alone would be enough to send your dad to the eighteenth level of Hell. I rescued them and spent a lot of silver in the process. I'm gonna need you all to compensate me…"
"Sir, can you get on with it?" the girl cut in.
"What? You think you're tougher than me? I oughtta…"
"Sir Cai, listen to me…"
Wenchang's face sank. "Huh? How do you know my name's Cai?"
"You're Wenchang, right?"
"Bloodsucker has already ran off to Northwest Escort Agency to hide out. You came to the wrong place."
"You disgraceful little sow, you call your dad Bloodsucker too? You…"
"Sir Cai, have you seen who I am?"
Wenchang started and removed his hand and darted to the side.
The girl sat up holding the quilt against her chest under the bright light, revealing only her dazzlingly beautiful face. Strange! She wasn't afraid, but actually smiling at him!
Wenchang was shocked. He felt his face get hot and his heart started racing for no reason. He looked away. "You're that girl from Chang'an Tavern. Speak! How are you and Feng… Nevermind. Where's your jewelry box?"
"My dad was an uncorrupted official, and so was pushed aside by others' suspicions and jealousy, nearly destroying our whole family, so he didn't give me many head ornaments. Sir, just take what you need and go. Don't keep looking for Third Master Feng. And those Northwest Escort Agency people are not ones to provoke."
"What? Your dad was an uncorrupted official? You…" Wenchang took the ornament box, surprised.
"My surname is Shi, given name Yuying. My family lives next door…"
"Heavens! You're His Excellency Shi Ruokui's…"
"That's my father."
"Damn it! How did you end up in Bloodsucker's house?"
"This afternoon the Shi estate was given over to the current Vice Commissioner of the Right, His Excellency Li. Father was about to go back to his native home in Chengdu, Sichuan, but because it was all so rushed he was unable to set out soon. Just so happened that Third Master Feng knew trouble was about to strike and let us stay in this house temporarily. Ten days' rent is a hundred taels of silver. This room originally was the Feng's eldest daughter's bedchamber."
Wenchang threw the jewelry box he'd taken angrily on the bed. "You little… sow… sow… Why didn't you say so earlier? Ugh! Holding me up from my main business. I really oughta smack you a couple times." He turned to leave.
But his sleeve tightened, held back by Yuying. She pleaded with him in her gently voice, "Wait, Sir Cai. Please listen to my well-meant advice."
Wenchang flung her off his sleeve. "Ugh! I don't have time to listen to your nonsense."
"Please listen to me, Northwest Escort Agency is already on its guard, ready to face its enemy, so security is tight. Why must you risk your life with such disregard?"
"Shut your mouth! I'm leaving. Don't make any sound, or else…"
"Sir Cai, you shouldn't go. It's really late, why be in such a hurry? Ah! With such a dignified carriage and handsome face, how did you fall into evil ways and become a petty thief? One misstep can cost you both fortune and honor, don't you care about that? Maybe you went down the wrong path on impulse. There's still time to turn back. That box of jewelry isn't much, but you can sell it for three hundred taels of gold. Why risk yourself? Take it. Henceforth…"
Wenchang was at a loss. He shot out the window like a bolt of lightning. Outside, he heard Yuying heave a deep, hopeless sigh.
That sigh shook his heart. He stopped short, turned and opened the door softly and went back in. "Thank you for your concern, Miss Shi. I've disturbed you. Bless you." Then he shut the door and followed his original path out the window.
His mind was a mess. Miss Shi's pure, beautiful face sincerely advising him flashed before him over and over. Her gentle affection imprinted itself into the depths of his heart.
Shi Yuying watched him leave and said blankly to herself, "Bless you, bless you…" She didn't know if she was thoughtlessly repeating his words or wishing him well.
Wenchang was in shambles, but the cold wind cleared his mind. He shook his head as if to knock the vexation out of it. His eyes swept over the Northwest Escort Agency not far away. "Who cares! I must suck a mouthful of his blood before I go."