Chapter 69: Red Sand Palm
A man with a large hairy black mole on his left earlobe stood in the seat of honor position, both hands resting at the edge of the table. He laughed hollowly and swallowed, then opened his big throat and said, "Gentlemen, you have traveled far to come here to my humble place. I am deeply honored. However, something considerable has happened here over the past few days that has kept me as busy as could be, so I have not been able to accompany you all and show you around. I feel very sorry about this. I ought to have introduced you all to some senior masters in this area, but you all have come at an inopportune time, as my friends here have heeded invitations from Escort Head Yang to help him with some matters and have been busy day and night and have rarely been home, forcing me to keep you all waiting like this for the past five days. Once these matters have blown over I will have the time to act as proper host. I hope you all will forgive my negligence. But we're all good friends here, so I'm sure you understand. Come! Have a drink of this watery wine of mine with me by way of apology."
Everyone drained their cups and the man with the hairy mole sat. A ferocious man on the left with a knife scar on his right cheek rolled his big eyes and smacked his fishy lips. "Brother Tianfang, sounds like there's trouble at your place? If you need us, just say the word. Friends through fire and water. No need to explain, we'll be there. Your burden is our burden."
Hairy Mole shook his head and smiled faintly. "Actually, it's not my trouble. I've just been running here and there in the name of upholding the code of the jianghu. Oh, right, you all are men of the jianghu, roaming all over the place. You've not only seen a lot, it goes without saying that you've considerable knowledge. There's something I'd like to trouble you brothers with. I've been requested to do something, something good and honest, but unfortunately I am not able and couldn't be of any help. Hey! Take a look at this thing. Who among the martial fraternity uses this?"
He took out silver-plumed dart that was edged on three sides and was four inches long and had everyone take a look. All seven of them shook their heads.
The man with the scar turned the dart over, examining it, as he said, "It's small and heavy, the three edges are sharp enough to sever a hair, and the tip is can cut as well as pierce. It's very well made, flawless in fact. Incredible. Stable, accurate, and can break through an internal artist's qigong. A third-rate fellow with a a quick reaction and good technique could take on a first-rate master. Brother Tianfang, the one who wields this is certainly not some no-name person. But I'm ashamed to say I've never heard of the talented person who uses this thing."
Hairy Mole took back the silver-plumed dart and stuck it into the tabletop with a light flick, where it lodged itself nearly an inch into the wood, the tip just piercing through the other end of the table. "Quite the contrary, the owner of this dart is a young newcomer to the jianghu, but he has turned this city upside down."
"What's become of him?"
"Dead?" Scarface asked. "Then what are you looking for?"
"His master. He might be dead, but my employer won't let it go and wants to find his master."
"Brother Tianfang, isn't that a bit much?" Scarface seemed to think so.
"It is a bit much, but he's caused a lot of trouble."
"Who is he?" And who's your employer?"
"The man is called Cai Wenchang, nickname the Fugitive. My employer is the head of Northwest Escort Agency, Chief Yang…"
Fang Xiaojuan and the other Misery Valley people were inwardly surprised. Heavens! Cai Wenchang is dead? Fang Xiaojuan's face fell and she grumbled to herself, Shit! How am I gonna explain this to my little brother?"
Scarface curled his catfish lips. "Divine Spear Chief Yang is actually conducting a thorough investigation into this to pull them up by the roots? Can he do it?"
Hairy Mole Brother Tianfang shook his head and smiled wryly. "Chief Yang cannot, but the Living Buddha, Blue-eyed Snow Lion Ba Long can."
"Heavens! Living Buddha Ba Long? That Cai Wenchang fellow really dared to…"
"Brother, listen to this. This Fugitive character arrived in this prefecture three days ago. On the morning of the first day he caused trouble in this very tavern and stole four big pearls and a gold ingot from our local moneybags, Blooducker Feng, then in the afternoon tore up Northwest Escort Agency with two of his buddies. Then a little later outside the city he robbed Vice Commissioner of the Right Li's son and made off with a lot of gold, pearls, and jewelry, and humiliated Master Magnanimous' disciple Jade-faced Tiger Yan Ruyu. That night he stole into Northwest Escort Agency and murdered five master armed escorts and wounded Young Master Iron Claw with a dart. This guy tried to hit Living Buddha Ba Long with two darts, but failed to connect, then was hit by Iron Claw's Rainbow Spearknife, as well as Ba Long's Seal Palm and fell off a roof. But he was still able to break free with nothing but himself and a sword and slink off."
"Heavens! Is he really that incredible? If he slunk away, how do you know he's dead?"
"Brother, who could survive a Seal Palm strike without a special, esoteric antidote? A spearknife and a palm strike. Even if he was able to make it three to five miles away, he definitely died in a ditch somewhere. There's no escaping it!"
"Has his body been found?"
"No. Maybe his buddy carried it off. It's common sense that we won't always have a body to verify it. At first, Young Master thought it might be Misery Valley people, but they never use concealed weapons, so Living Buddha Ba Long is sure it's not a Misery Valley person. But if we get a chance we need to find those three Misery Valley girls and deal with them. Also, the Fugitive, the devil, is someone Black Flag Sovereign really set his sights on. Dunno why. He was really sorry to hear the news! Brother, think about it, finding his master is not really…"
He suddenly fell silent and turned to the nearby scholars and rolled his big eyes on them.
This was Fang Xiaojuan and company, disguised as scholars. The more she listened the more alarmed she became. Her face fell and her dark eyebrows tightened, her phoenix eyes threatening, as she led her two servants over to Hairy Mole.
The eight men at the table were dumbfounded. How could these delicate, handsome playboys saunter over with dark looks toward these eight ferocious men of the jianghu? Their provocative expressions were odd, inconceivable. No wonder the men were stopped in their tracks.
"Eh! Buddy, is… is something the matter?" Hairy Mole said.
Fang Xiaojuan bowed and smiled faintly. "Yes, I have something that will kill your buzz."
"What is it?"
"I'm looking for Living Buddha Ba Long. I've heard nothing that past three days. I was wondering if you could tell me his whereabouts?"
Hairy Mole was taken aback and blurted, "Living Buddha Ba Long set out two days ago for Hanzhong to take care of some things. I can't say when he'll return. Little Brother, you are…"
"Is what you just said about Cai Wenchang true?"
Hairy Mole had been quelled by Fang Xiaojuan's odd expression and graceful bearing. He couldn't help but spit out the truth over and over. Strange. He said, "I've been entrusted by Escort Head Yang to take this dart and look for clues. How could it not be true? Your speech and deportment make me…"
Fang Xiaojuan was in no mood to listen. She cut in, "Please let me have a look at that three-edged silver-plumed dart. I might be able to give you some clues."
She didn't wait for him to agree but reached her dainty, translucent hand out and snatched the dart lightly between her fore and middle fingers.
The eight men were shocked and gasped in amazement in unison as they stared speechless at this girl, Fang Xiaojuan incredulously.
The dart had been sunk into the table an inch or so, the tip piercing through the bottom of the tabletop, and the tip was barbed so pulling it out was no trifle. Yet their eyes had not deceived them. They had clearly watched the girl use two fingers that looked so delicate they might break off and dissolve with a mere touch, and dislodge the dart from the table as if it were nothing. Normally, just using force to pull the dart out ought to have brought up splinters of wood with it, and if too much force was use it might lift off the tabletop with it. In fact, they didn't see the table move at all. Such pretty technique and application of force rendered the eight men speechless and stunned.
Fang Xiaojuan examined it briefly, then handed it to Xiaolan to her left. She said to the men, "You shouldn't baselessly guess this dart's owner until you have verified it for sure so as to avoid harming yourself and others. I will take this silver-plumed dart so as to avoid any disputes among the jianghu."
"What? You…" Hairy Mole exclaimed.
"I'm keeping it," Xiaojuan said calmly.
"What sense does that make? You…"
"I'll trouble you to deliver a message to Chief Yang; tell him that Fang Xiaojuan of Misery Valley, whom he met at Woodbend Refreshments, is once again warning him that if he challenges Cai Wenchang he will regret it forever."
Hairy Mole's face fell and he was at a loss for words. "You… You are…"
"Fang Xiaojuan is my sister. That's all you need to know."
Scarface kicked his chair and stood. "Can you prove it?"
At the other table, Red Sand Palm chuckled and stood and extended his right hand. His palm was light red, but it suddenly began to glow like fire and seemed to swell up. He showed it around and laughed. "I can vouch for this gentleman."
The eight men shivered. Hairy Mole cried out, "Heavens! Elder are… are you Red Sand Palm Fu…"
"I'm Fu Ji'an. I'm getting old and have been away from the jianghu for a long time. How rare that you still recognize me."
Back before One Stroke Soul Snatcher Fang Hui changed his nickname to Forsaken Pilgrim, Red Sand Palm Fu Ji'an and Peerless Sword Peng Chunfeng were his capable helpers. Inhumanly strong, immeasurably skilled, feared like tigers among men of the jianghu, renowned. One look at that red sand palm which could smash a stone tablet from a distance and one knew it was not an assumed name used by an imposter. With his appearance, needless to say, Misery Valley had really come to Xi'an prefecture. Fang Xiaojuan of Woodbend Refreshments need not seek further confirmation.
Hairy Mole cupped a hand over his fist in salute, sweat beading on his forehead, terrified. "This junior was ill-mannered, elder please forgive me."
Red Sand Palm retracted his hand and turned, smiling. "I've disturbed your drinking, gentlemen, I beg your pardon. I shall take my leave."
Hairy Mole cupped his hand over his fist in salute to Fang Xiaojuan. "Apologies, Young Master. Please don't take offense. I will be going now, going now…" Before he had finished, he saluted to the other seven men and scurried off.
Fang Xiaojuan whispered to Red Sand Palm, "Uncle Fu, let's go to Hanzhong. That evil monk comes and goes like a shadow, trailing him won't be easy."
"When do we leave?" Red Sand Palm whispered back.
That afternoon, Black Iron Pagoda charged into Northwest Escort Agency in broad daylight and beat to death three armed escorts, injured several others, and made a clean getaway.
On the outskirts east of the city. Odd Beggar Feng Tao and Mad Beggar Lang Xiatian were locked in battle with a dozen of Black Sovereign's men. They killed four and ran far away.
Black Succubus Gu Zhen appeared in the southern end of the city and fought once again with Seven Spells, exchanging a hundred rounds before dispersing due to the large crowd gathering.
Curly Bearded Stranger dashed about within the city searching every inn, inquiring after Cai Wenchang's whereabouts, without luck. Finally, he fought viciously with a group of lay disciples from Wudang near the Temple of Compassion. Outcast Androgyne showed up and not only scared off Curly Beard, in doing so he also inadvertently saved the Wudang disciples, because not long after they dispersed, Black Succubus Gu Zhen arrived to demand the Autumn Mountain Mist painting from them.
Through all these turbulent ups and downs, Wenchang remained undisturbed, enjoying life in the lady's bedchamber, gradually recovering under the attentive care of Miss Shi.
He'd been hit by a spearknife and a the Seal Palm. Without the nine-cycle elixir it would have taken over two weeks to recover enough to enable him to get out of bed, even using his true qi recuperation techniques.
Early in the morning, Miss Shi and Chrysanthemum quitely stole into the room, snapping him out of his trance from practicing his cultivation.
Chrysanthemum brought over things for him to wash his face, and Miss Shi set a small red-hot brazier on the low table. Inside the crock on the stove was tea they had prepared earlier. She moved softly, floating like a celestial maiden, her movements meticulous and gentle as she poured a pitcher of water into an exquisitely-made insulated pot, then went to tidy some odds and ends by the bed.
Wenchang reclined against a cushion made from piled brocade quilts, his eyes closed as he rested. The girls thought he was sleeping, but he was actually awake, watching them through his slightly cracked lids. It was quiet in the room and their movements were light and gentle, as if they feared they would disturb him.
He felt a surge of emotion, a kind of which he'd never felt before, like tidal waves crashing over him. He suddenly felt a warm liquid crawl down his cheek, one after another, tears quietly streaming.
In his whole life he'd never been as feeble as he was this morning. He must have experienced this kind of special loving feeling sometime in his life, perhaps before he was three years old, but he had already forgotten it.
These past three days they had waited on him, inquired after his well-being meticulously, pouring out so much holy and pure concern and sincerity on his behalf. In fact, he was a scoundrel, a frightening stranger, yet they treated him with warm love and sincerity. This love was unadulterated; this love was not romantic love between man and woman, but beyond that, approaching a sacred, holy love. He imperceptibly felt they were angels sent from Heaven to watch over him and not ordinary mortals of the evil, mundane world. They not only worked miracles to comfort his outer wounds, they also used their pure, holy feelings to cleanse his innermost scars and suffering.
Chrysanthemum exited quietly and closed the door.
He furtively wiped away his grateful tears from the corners of his eyes and circulated his qi to help pacify the emotions stirring within.
The window was small and there wasn't much light, only a silver lamp on the dresser by the bed, giving off its gentle light.
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