Chapter 72: The Fugitive
It was Cai Wenchang. He had come up to the second floor and crouched below the window listening inside. Sounds of struggle, weeping, boisterous laughter. But the window was sealed shut. He wouldn't have noticed if his hearing were not so good and he had not stopped to listen.
He was greatly puzzled, not sure what was going on inside. A strange sound from inside bolstered his courage, not caring if he were discovered. He couldn't leap in through the window as those inside were not asleep, so he followed the passageway, glued to the wall on the right, and rounded the corner. Yep, as soon as he rounded the corner he saw a masked man crouched under the banister with his sabre out, his gaze fixed downward.
He glided up behind the crouched man like a specter and clocked him in the back of the head with the hilt of his sword, reached for the man's sabre, and eased him down to the floor where he was crouched.
He was confused by the man's black cloth mask. Then he had an idea and stripped the mask off and put it on himself.
There was a door behind him. He pushed it open gently and the heavy door gave without a hitch and he stepped inside where it was ablaze with lights and filled with deafening howls.
Light from the room on the right seeped through the crack of the door. Wails and wild laughter came through as well. He was really curious and cracked the door open and peeked inside and was even more baffled.
A man and woman were naked playing around on a small bed. The girl's hands were bound to the bed railing and the man looked crazed. Her tattered clothes lay on the floor along with the man's tunic and belt, from which hung a sabre in its scabbard. His pants were bunched around his calves and his boots were still on. He would be able to grab his pants at any time stand to defend himself.
Wenchang took one look at the man's clothes and sabre and knew this guy was from the same group as the guy he had subdued outside. He didn't have to guess that someone was a step ahead of him tonight.
Seeing the man in that ugly position sent Wenchang into a rage and he shot into the room and knocked him in the back of the head with the hilt of his sword as before, opening a large wound in the man's head. The cloud-shaped end of the hilt was a bit pointy and there was a tassel ornament run through the hole at the end. A hit with that would chip off a corner of a stone, much less a head made of flesh and blood.
He dragged the man's corpse off and cut the ropes binding the girl's hands and said evenly, "I'm here to save you. Don't make any noise. Once I'm gone, bolt the door and put out the light and hide under the bed." Then he went out and closed the door.
He went to five rooms and saved three women. He was gnashing his teeth in fury. These people were unbelievable, robbing and raping and killing, violating the greatest taboos of the jianghu. No wonder he was angry. He was killing them on sight.
At last he reached the reception room and knocked down a guard by the door. But the door was bolted from the inside so he went to a patterned window and poked a little hole in the paper covering with his fingernail and peeked in. Jade-faced Tiger was assaulting a woman.
He knew Jade-faced Tiger and hate mounted as anger swelled in his breast and his handsome face brimmed with boundless fury. No matter how contemptibly Vice Commissioner Li was, Jade-faced Tiger was the master of Li's guards. Raping one's master's women and employing foreign invaders to infiltrate one's master's house was going too far. It was intolerable, the greatest taboo of the jianghu. If everyone was like this, wouldn't those who relied on martial arts to make their living would all starve? It was simply a revolt against the martial fraternity, he was scum guilty of the most heinous crimes against the jianghu, more contemptible than those of the five heretical sects. If a person like that was not killed, how could Heaven's law prevail?
He wanted to leap in through the window but there were too many people; if they surrounded him it would not be good for his life. He concentrated on finding a way in and first catch the ringleader to give himself the advantage.
His chance came. He had just eliminated the guard by the door White Demon was about to come out of. He waited outside the door and just as he expected, White Demon burst through, his guard down, and was taken by surprise and checked.
The hall was thrown into an uproar. The eight men threw down the five women and two of the men went to unbar the door. Wenchang thundered, "Stop, don't open the doors!"
His shout halted cause the men to hesitate, but then they continued to the door. The tip of Wenchang's sword dug into White Demon's acupoint and Wenchang sneered, "If you don't order them to stop you'll never be able to give them an order again.
White Demon trembled and turned to them. "Brothers, don't be reckless."
White Demon's hand went to his sword handle. He regarded Wenchang coldly, "What is your name, sir? Come! We'll see who is superior."
Wenchang guffawed. "Let's not, I have things to do."
"It's not up to you." Jade-faced Tiger howled and drew his sword.
White Demon's face clouded and he called out sharply, "Master Yan, are you trying to get someone else to do your dirty work?"
"That's not my intention at all," Jade-faced Tiger said sinisterly.
"I'm under his control. If you act recklessly, I'll be the first to suffer."
Jade-faced Tiger was about to charge when a masked man checked him with his outstretched sword and sneered,"Resentful Ghost Cao Gui is here. Think twice, Master Yan." He pulled off his mask to reveal a long frowning, sallow face and twinkling eagle eyes. His sword tassel whizzed as he swung his sword around.
Jade-faced Tiger's heart froze. Resentful Ghost Cao Gui was Mount Dasu Stronghold's most ruthless masterhand, famed throughout the martial fraternity, one who struck at once when provoked. Jade-faced Tiger knew his own ability; he might be killed. He snuffed out his rage and withdrew his sword. "I'll wait here for now."
Wenchang looked at him and snorted. "That's right, wait there for now. One of us, you and I, will settle an old score with his blood. You will be the last among everyone here to die, you wolf in sheep's clothing, you deplorable degenerate."
Jade-faced Tiger's anger flared. "Son of a bitch! Wait a minute and we'll fight it out to the death."
Wenchang pulled off his mask and laughed maniacally. "Hahaha! What the f*ck are you? I ought to have taken your bastard life the other day. Now you've come out and are trying to talk tough. You're really gonna brag so shamelessly with those pathetic scribbles you call sword strokes? Remember what you said. We'll fight to the death in a moment."
Jade-faced Tiger gasped, "It's you? You…"
"Yep, You haven't forgotten. It's me, The Fugitive, Cai Wenchang."
All talk among men of the martial fraternity over the past few days in Xi'an prefecture had been about Cai Wenchang. Everyone thought he had died from Blue-eyed Snow Lion's Seal Palm, but he had unexpectedly turned up tonight next-door to Northwest Escort Agency. Four days ago there were few who knew the name Cai Wenchang, which seemed an ordinary name, but ever since that night he had wreaked havoc at Northwest Escort Agency, that name had taken on a lot of weight. He'd become a common name overnight like a sudden clap of thunder. You'd have to be deaf not to have heard it.
White Demon hmphed heavily. "Cai, seems you have caused trouble yourself. We're all one people here, all on the same side. Why treat me this way? In accordance with the rules of the jianghu, I need you to put away your sword and talk this out."
"Bah!" Wenchang spat. He clenched his teeth. "Who's one of yours? Who are you? I take full responsibility for what I've done and I have not violated the rules of the jianghu. Take money, but not life; confiscate wealth but don't rape. You, who the f*ck are you? Look at what you've done tonight. Robbed, murdered, raped, done it all. You'd probably light the place on fire afterward. You're a stronghold chief, yet you violated the taboos of the martial fraternity and enraged both man and god. Disgraceful. Tell those men to get back. I'll give you a fair chance."
"You will regret it," White Demon said through clenched teeth.
"I never regret anything I do in the name of the jianghu code."
White Demon grabbed the hilt of his sword and shouted, "Withdraw!"
Three hall doors opened and everyone withdrew quietly. Outside the hall, the thieves gathered one after another, knocking out the windows and smashing the side doors and hall doors, forming a large encirclement.
Wenchang was expressionless. "Jade-faced Tiger and that sell-out traitor can wait at the doors. You three are shameless and despicable. You can gang up on me in a minute. This great hall will be your deathplace."
Jade-faced Tiger gave The Traveler Tong Ning and Evil Dragon Zhai Gui a look. "Chief Ke, be lenient. Don't kill him with one stroke. Save something for us."
White Demon didn't reply. Wenchang called to the women, "You sly women, go over and hide in the corner and find something to cover yourselves with. Quickly! Quit playing dead.
The one who had bitten Jade-faced Tiger earlier was bold. She led the way, pushing the women to the corner where they all huddled up.
Wenchang looked around, then boomed, "To anyone thinking of interfering, don't blame me for being merciless." He took five quick steps back.
White Demon quickly drew his sword and raised it and roared and five flashes of silver light shot out as he bore down menacingly, taking the first strike with "Winter Plums Put Forth Stamens", five strikes in succession.
Wenchang dodged left and right, a streak of silver light following. He leapt to the left and another streak of silver was before him. He didn't meet it, but lightly, swiftly yielded to his opponent's seven ferocious attacks, spinning around twice in a circle to his left. His sword hung slanted at his right, his tiger eyes glittering, the corners of his mouth pulled back in a sinister smile, but he held no other expression. He was looking for an opening, not wasting energy attacking wildly. The other masterhands gathered there were waiting for their chance to attack him so he had to conserve is energy and wait until he was sure to connect before striking, putting stability foremost, then speed, ruthlessness, and accuracy.
White Demon noticed he wasn't deflecting or countering, merely flitting lightly around the tip of his sword. White Demon had him lined up, but kept missing the mark. At first he was enraged, but it soon turned to worry, and the spine-chilling look in his opponent's eyes made his hair stand on end. Eight strikes gone, but he hadn't so much as nicked his clothes. White Demon began to feel flustered. He didn't advance, yet his opponent seemed to be right next to him, not retreating, which was no good. He struck but missed, his opponent dodging at the last moment, then pressed forward between strikes and was at hand again. So frightening!
His ninth strike, "Divine Dragon Bares Its Claws" was five slashes downward, whizzing forcefully, five arcs of silver light one after another.
Resentful Ghost Cao Gui fluttered in quietly from a window on the left.
From a right-side window, a masked man wielding a thick-backed executioner's sabre flitted in.
Jade-faced Tiger and the other two exchanged glances at the hall entrance and slowly moved in.
Wenchang laughed wildly and slipped left, suddenly raising his sword, beginning his counterattack like a tempest.
Swords crossed, sparks flew. White Demon's sword swung left.
Wenchang roared and probed left and right, leapt like a tiger, spun, and brandished his sword and cut in, the edge suddenly at White Demon's right shoulder.
But White Demon was incredible. His sword arced and struck back and he spun, sank his shoulder, and crouched and swung his sword upward, thinking to hurt him as he was took a hit himself. He knew he couldn't escape and was in for it; his opponent was not only shockingly fast, he could thrust in at the very moment he deflected an attack, making it impossible for dodge. This was all White Demon could do to save himself unless he wanted to wait for death.
The edge of the sword cut his shoulder and a line of blood appeared. Only a flesh wound.
"Go!" Resentful Ghost Cao Gui cried. He extended his sword and charged.
Wenchang had the win in his hands and didn't want to fight to the death with White Demon. He stuck close to his opponent like a shadow, spinning as the other spun, first gashing White Demon's shoulder, then moving quicker, taking several small steps as his opponent's sword grazed him. He turned his hand and struck back. Then he retracted his sword and spun around and there were rainbows of silver light.
White Demon screamed and Wenchang's sword entered his side an inch or so, the pain making him cry out. He shot forward.
White Demon arched his back and paused, then wailed and staggered forward, dropping his sword with a clang. He struggled to stay on his feet as he turned around with great difficulty. He said weakly, "My dear brother, don't… don't… Retreat…"
There were two large gashes on his back and four ribs had been broken. Fortunately, the tip had not penetrated deep, only half an inch deeper and he would have died at once. He knew Wenchang's prowess so had commanded Resentful Ghost to stop. Unfortunately, he was too late. Before his own scream had faded another bone-chilling wail was rising.
Resentful Ghost Cao Gui attacked from the left like a shooting star, thinking to save White Demon. Too bad he was a step too late, but because he risked his life in attacking, he did manage to save White Demon's.
The masked man with the thick-backed executioner's sabre attacked from the right, his sabre descending.