Chapter 73: Alarm Bell
Wenchang first had to dispatch Resentful Ghost Cao Gui, darting left and slipping to the side. Sword out, he spun and two explosive crashes, the first was Resentful Ghost's sword being knocked away, the second Resentful Ghost striking downward with full force.
They connected. Fast! So fast they were a blur. Wenchang was certain his adversary would lower his sword to save himself and would have to pull his left leg back to reduce the chance of being struck and use his left side to safeguard himself. His sword couldn't change direction so by rights Resentful Ghost ought to have the advantage, not only sealing off his right side, but he could also lean in and attack, his response unexpectedly slow.
Unfortunately, he had fallen completely in Wenchang's trap. He lowered his sword, but not on Wenchang's right side, and his internal force was not as strong as Wenchang's. If he couldn't get to Wenchang's right side, his sword would be deflected to the side and he wouldn't be able to slip away from it. His whole body aside from his right hand was exposed to the point of Wenchang's sword.
Sure enough, the sword flashed and he felt a jolt in his right breast like a bolt of lightning. His sword slashed to the left but Wenchang was already elsewhere.
His left-slashing parry aggravated his wound and he felt a burst of pain and his chest tingled. He screamed and he went along the same direction as his sword slash to the left, spun around, and dropped his sword with a clang and covered the wound on his chest with his hand. He staggered, trying to steady himself. "I… I can't believe it… One… One stroke and I'm… defeated."
He pitched right and crashed to the floor and twitched uncontrollably.
"Arghh…" A scream sounded at the same time and the man with the executioner's sabre fell.
Wenchang had stabbed Resentful Ghost, then turned and struck and slipped past the descending sabre instead of blocking it, and with pure intent crouched and spun and swirled his sword around ruthlessly like a thunderclap.
Never in his wildest dreams did the man with the sabre expect Wenchang to be so fast, managing to slip away from his sabre. He couldn't change his strike and he was too slow in spinning around with all his might to parry. He did alright, turning around, but his right shoulder felt like it had been struck with a heavy, cold object. Something cut into the floorboard and he saw Wenchang in front of him, sword covered in blood. The point of the sword swept before his eyes and Wenchang spun around and faced the main hall doors. Here was his chance, a golden opportunity that would be gone in an instant. They were less than six feet apart. He only need take a step forward and he could split Wenchang in two with his sabre.
He took a step toward Wenchang's back and was about to raise his sabre when he felt a pain penetrate his shoulder to the bone and he couldn't lift his arm. He looked down in shock and saw his right arm was missing and blood was gushing out like a spring. He wailed and fell over suddenly onto his executioner's sabre that had cut into the floorboard. Finally, he struggled to howl, "My arm, my… my arm…"
His arm was on the floor, still twitching! But it was no longer attached to his body.
Wenchang faced the doors and grit his teeth. "Those three sons of bitches are shameless to the bone."
Several masked men had come in through the doors, shouting as they entered, but Jade-faced Tiger and the other two were gone, probably taking the chance to make an escape.
There were over a dozen masked men surrounding him, squeezing in through the windows and doors, blades gleaming and whirling.
White Demon, supported by two masked men, gathered his strength and snarled, "Get back, brothers! Don't throw your lives away."
Wenchang held his sword aloft in his right hand, a throwing knife and silver-plumed dart glimmered in his left. He howled with laughter. "A dozen men or so men is perfect concealed weapons practice. Come on! Hahaha…"
The masked men stood stock still. White Demon looked at the men bandaging Resentful Ghost and the man with the missing arm and gave a wan smile. He asked weakly, "Will these worthy brothers make it?"
The one-armed man stood up and did his best to croak, "I'll live. I still have my head, I can still fight. Hand me my sabre."
A masked man beside Resentful Ghost said, "Second Chief has been stabbed in the right lung, but it didn't go through his back. We'll know in a few hours."
White Demon said to the man supporting him, "Help me over, I want to get closer to Cai Wenchang. The rest of you stand back off to the side. Don't get reckless."
Wenchang approached slowly and said coldly, "So you want to die heroically. The gods will not tolerate your behavior tonight."
White Demon cried, "Let go of me."
The masked men hesitated, then clenched their teeth and released their grips.
White Demon stood up on his own with some effort. The back of his clothes was dyed with blood, his bandage soaked scarlet. He managed to stand. "I take care of my own affairs, repaying blood with blood. But you must leave my men a way out."
All around his men howled, "No! Us heroes of Mount Dasu go through thick and thin together. We're not shameless nobodies who'd abandon our chief at such a critical moment."
"Shut up!" White Demon yelled. "As your chief I won't let you run wild."
Wenchang looked around and asked coldly, "Your men are loyal. Hmph! Anything else you want to say?"
"Yes. If that bastard official does not die, my uncle will not be avenged and will suffer eternal regret in the netherworld. Alright. Fetch my sword. I will die heroically."
Wenchang glanced at Vice Commissioner Li who was tied to the pillar. Li was staring at him oddly. Wenchang waved to White Demon. "Take your men and get out of here. You can only take two-thirds of the loot in the study, leave the other third and the small items for me. You can think about revenge later. I wander all over the jianghu and won't die anytime soon. You can come find me." He reached into his bag and took out two nine-cycle pills and handed them to one of the masked men. "These are Arcane Nine-Cycle pills from Divine Immortal Pinewind of Qingcheng. Half of one can save someone on the brink of death. Beat it! Stay out of my way."
The masked man took the pills and kowtowed three times without saying a word.
White Demon fell into the masked men's arms and said feebly, "It's a small world out there. We'll meet again. Brothers, let's go!"
The men withdrew and Wenchang went over to Vice Commissioner Li and raised his sword.
Suddenly, a girl came running in madly. It was the one who had cursed Jade-faced Tiger. She got on her knees and groveled, grabbing onto Wenchang's legs. "No! No! Please please please I beg you, Benefactor Cai, don't kill my father…"
Wenchang ignored her. His sword flashed and he deftly cut the ropes. Vice Commissioner Li groaned wretchedly and sank to the ground, unable to stand up. He lay there like a dead pig.
The girl threw herself on Li's body in a frenzy and looked over her shoulder and cried, "Please… Please, I beg you…"
Wenchang wiped the blood off his sword on Li's body and pushed the girl away with his foot. He sneered, "I take riches, not lives, what are you hollering for? Vice Commissioner. If you don't resign from office and flee at once, sooner or later you'll meet with worse retribution than this. Up to you whether you believe it or not. No one's allowed to leave. Whoever steps through those doors is dead." Then he strode out.
The girl crawled on her knees after him, kowtowing as she went.
Wenchang reached the entrance and turned to Vice Commissioner Li, who had more than half his teeth missing and couldn't speak. "You have a good daughter, but an unfilial son, who like you has grown a cruel, evil heart. The retribution you suffer is justified, but it will extend to your offspring. You should examine yourself thoroughly and think about how you've come to this."
Then in a flash he was gone.
In the study there was just one man with a sword strapped to his back. He said Wenchang enter and held up a large, heavy bundle, then knelt and kowtowed three times. "Chief instructed me to send you his best regards and welcomes you to visit him some day if it is fated. I am to ask you if such a day should come for you to send word at Great Peace Inn in Guangzhou so that we may welcome you to stay at Mount Dasu in Shangcheng. If you have any dispatches you need only give the word. Our place on Mount Dasu is welcome you you day or night, any time."
Wenchang helped the man up and took a dozen or so small, exquisite curios from the bag, then hung the bag on the man's shoulder and removed the man's sword and strapped it on himself and patted the man's shoulder. He said sincerely, "Tell Chief Ke that from now on he mustn't fail to keep to the code of the jianghu. Have him sell those wares and use the proceeds to help the needy. It's a good deed. See you. We'll meet again." Then he disappeared into the darkness.
Starlight peeped through the gaps in the clouds. Cold wind cut to the bone. Drums sounded clear in the distance. It was the fourth watch.
Wenchang stuck the trinkets in his robe. They were useless. He couldn't exchange them for money in Chang'an and what he needed was gold and silver. He thought briefly, then flitted like a ghost toward Northwest Escort Agency.
Northwest Escort Agency was knee-deep in bad luck. The atmosphere had been tense, they were plagued by imaginary suspicion and fear; they were in turmoil.
Their neighbor on the right, Bloodsucker Feng, seemed to be out of his wits lately. He'd lost his nerve ever since he'd lost those pearls at the tavern and his luxurious villa outside the eastern outskirts had been burned to the ground, only an old gardener managing to make it out alive, and Northwest Escort Agency had been thrown into turmoil. The whole family was guarding eight big trunks of gold and silver in the house and they stayed inside not leaving them for a second.
Three master guards and a dozen servants, headed by Iron Finger Hao Ying, stood watch outside as if they were confronting a mortal enemy.
Bloodsucker Feng's other servants stayed in the second and third wings of the mansion. The Shi father and daughter were in the rear wing, on the contrary completely unperturbed. Feng wanted to return to the mansion but he was afraid. There were many people at Northwest Escort Agency, all of them masters of the martial fraternity, and that emboldened him. If he went back to the mansion, where it was spacious with many houses, the three master guards and dozen servants might not take care of him, and if Cai Wenchang should come back demanding gold and treasure, wouldn't that be the death of him? He had come by his wealth easily, but it wounded him to spend it. Last time when he'd lost the four pearls and the gold ingot, he'd stayed up half the night crying, "My money bag", and he'd gone on and on about it for days.
At the fourth watch the escort agency lookouts were relaxed. Ever since Living Buddha Ba Long had attacked Cai Wenchang and possibly fatally wounded him, the only other person who caused trouble during the day was Black Iron Pagoda, but no one had disturbed them at night, so they felt they could relax and take a breather.
Last time, Wenchang had entered from the left. This time he was probing from the right. He passed over two covered walkways and cautiously snaked and crept his way inside. He was being particularly careful this time; he had learned his lesson. He was being a lot more careful than last time.
There were many buildings at Northwest Escort Agency and there were no flowers or trees, so a thief who hoped to use vegetation for cover was out of luck. Couldn't go from the roof either because it was too easy to be spotted.
He was like a cat watching a mouse, hiding in the shadows under a corner eave, listening attentively. Excellent, someone was coming. He reached up and climbed up into the rafters under the eave and delicately removed the little bell hanging from the corner. This alarm looked like a windchime, but when the wind hit it it would move but not make a sound, though a hidden line ran from the clapper and through the rafters. If someone tried to hide under the eaves, he would no doubt touch the line and trip a spring that would loose the clapper and sound the alarm bell.
Wenchang knew about this kind of alarm bell and how they were installed, so he took down the bell and stuffed it into a crack in the rafters, then hooked his legs around the beam and readied himself to drop down.
A dark figure approached, sabre hidden behind his elbow, a bell-like object hanging at his side, his left hand grasping it as he slowly neared the corner.
Wenchang froze. He thought, Shit! That guy has an alarm bell. If I jump him and he releases the bell, won't all this have been for nothing?
Northwest Escort Agency's Chief Yang was really a man of talent. Better late than never, installing alarm bells under the eaves in a short period of time, and having the men carry a different kind of alarm bell on their person. It ought to be a surefire solution. Whether someone tried to hide under the eaves or ambush a guard, an alarm would sound.
I'm gonna have to use acupoints, Wenchang thought.
Acupoints wouldn't do much though if he wanted to make the man's fingers stay gripped around the bell. He'd have to seize the acupoint and control the muscle and get him by the elbow acupoint and press his thumb into the tendon at the curve of the elbow, and once he held it fast, the man's fingers would lock in a death grip on the bell on their own. As long as he held his thumb on the tendon, the hand wouldn't loosen.
The dark figure reached the corner and pressed against the wall and turned the corner and looked out carefully. Wenchang was ten feet above the man. Would have been a good opportunity to attack him had the man not been holding an alarm bell.
Wenchang held his breath and slowly lowered his upper body.
The man stood still for a moment, not seeing anything amiss, then he darted around, wanting to get to the other side of the corner.
Wenchang hung down like an ape and lowered just behind the man. His left hand shot out and his thumb jabbed into the elbow acupoint and his fore and middle finger pressed into the tendon at the inner curve of the elbow. He struck from the right and changed his fingering.
At the same instant, his right hand pressed the man's Spirit Terrace acupoint on his spine and easily snatched up the sabre that dropped from the man's hand to avoid it making noise should it hit the ground.
With these two acupoints controlled, the man was like a corpse. Wenchang removed the man's alarm bell and dragged the man to a hidden location and released the acupoints. He whispered, "Buddy, if you want to live, nod your head. If you don't, shake your head."
The man was about thirty, still young, no joke he wanted to live. He sucked in a breath and nodded over and over.
"I'm looking for Bloodsucker Feng so I can borrow some travel money. Do you know where he's staying?"
The man couldn't speak, but he nodded repeatedly.
"If you lead the way, I won't hurt you. How about it?"
The man nodded again and Wenchang pressed the man's mute acupoint. "I haven't hit a lethal point. I'm going easy on you. If you try anything along the way I can take your life at any time. Go! Lead the way."
The man strode slowly. He had no intention of dying for Bloodsucker Feng. Wenchang had his arm around the man's waist as he walked alongside him. If the man tried anything he could kill him as easily as raising his hand.
They turned left and right around secluded corners until they reached Bloodsucker Feng's private, separate residence. The man stopped and pointed.
Wenchang spearhanded him and knocked him out and undid the man's belt and tied his hands and feet, then used the man's headcovering and wrapped it around the man's mouth and eyes, then stowed him in a hidden place and snaked and crept toward the corner of the house.