Chapter 80: Showdown
Miss Tian, face was stained with tears, ran out through the stone archway to the main road and was blocked by Song An and another man. Song An had lost his sword and there was a bloody streak down his left side that was still bleeding. Eight feet away, two black-robed men wearing swords stopped to watch curiously.
Miss Tian tried to force her way through, wailing, "Let me go you beast in human clothes. My dad won't forgive you for bringing all your filthy friends and getting violent in broad daylight. There's no place in Chang'an for you reckless thugs."
"Second Miss, please calm down and listen to me…"
Miss Tian was not a timid girl, or she would never have had the nerve to flout traditional ethics and seek out a husband on her own. Seeing he wasn't going to give way, she gritted her teeth and lowered her head and picked up a stone as big as her fist and threw it with all her might. "No one cares about your bullshit! Get away! Get…"
Song An yelped as the stone hit him in the right shoulder. He took two steps back and waved his hands. "Second Miss, if I hadn't come out you would have been fooled badly. He's that notorious bandit, Cai Wenchang. You…"
"I'm not listening! I don't want to hear it. Even if he's that bandit, Cai Wenchang, he's still more of a gentleman than you…"
One of the black-robed men suddenly came forward. "Excuse me, may I trouble you for one moment, miss?"
"Eh? You…" Miss Tian cried in surprise.
"Miss, do you know about Cai Wenchang?"
The black-robed man raised his hand and waved it at the other, then turned back to the girl and gave her a slight bow, smiling politely. "I'm very sorry, please forgive me for being crude and inconveniencing the miss for a moment, but rest assured, my companion and I will not harm a hair on your head, miss. But, you must cooperate with us. Let's go!"
Without explanation, they grabbed her like a chicken and carried her off. The girl was like a half-dead sheep, unable to struggle or cry out as her acupoints had already been blocked.
Song An cried out madly and dashed forward. "You all…"
The black-robed man knocked him to the ground with a smack upside the head. He struggled a bit before fainting. The other man with him slunk back and didn't dare follow them.
Wenchang, meanwhile, was surrounded. He was going to have a tough time getting out of this one safely. Harder than ascending to Heaven. "Fight!" was his first thought.
His first step was a step backward toward the right side of the pagoda entrance. He backed up against the wall for protection so he couldn't be attacked suddenly from behind. Plus he wouldn't have to worry about someone throwing a concealed weapon at him from behind.
Eight men and women wearing white robes and looking spirited and at ease, came out from close by, unhurried.
At the edge of the stele forest a lanky middle-aged man led two black-clad men. He wore a black hood and had deepset eyes, an aquiline nose, and a splotchy gray and white beard grew on his long face. He looked gloomy and sinister. He wore a black satin jacket under a black fur overcoat. A long silk bag was inserted inside and hung around his neck and a thick broadsword hung from his waist.
Wenchang knew from their attire they were Black Flag Sovereign's men. He stood with his back to the wall, surprisingly calm and unafraid as he watched the three men walk over, their weapons still not drawn. He sheathed his sword and crossed his arms, waiting, his face cold and calm.
The lanky man stopped eight feet away and the two black-clad men formed up on either side of him.
Wenchang smiled faintly. He was the first to speak. "Black Flag Sovereign sure does have a lot of hands."
The lanky man laughed heartily, his rat beard shaking. "Rest easy, sir, I would never use numbers to gang up on you. But you, sir, must not try to break out of here suddenly before all has been made clear."
"I don't have anything to make clear. Why don't you start."
"You, sir, are Cai Wenchang?"
"Yes, The Fugitive Cai Wenchang."
"Brother Cai, you were in the same carriage as Black Succubus Gu Zhen on the public road to Tong Pass at Mt. Hua, heading east."
Suddenly, three women appeared at the entrance of the third storey of the pagoda. It was Black Succubus and her maidservants. Somehow they had surreptitiously ascended the pagoda while Carefree Cloud and White Dragongirl came around from the east and stood outside the encirclement of black-clad men, waiting anxiously for an opportunity.
Black Succubus tittered like a silver bell. "Wenchang, you're so adorably frank. The number of people who would dare admit being associated with me in front of heroes of the jianghu are really few, really very few."
Everyone below was shocked. Black Flag Sovereign's men had arrived in a hurry and all their attention had been on Wenchang. They had no idea Black Succubus Gu Zhen was here too. Aside from Wenchang, no one had noticed her arrival, not even Sevel Spells.
Seven Spells, sitting atop the stone monument, raised his head at the sound of her voice. He cried out and dropped down from the monument like a flash of lightning and headed for the pagoda entrance.
Black Succubus sounded bored when she said, "Hold on, White Crane Sorcerer. There's no hurry in settling our score, otherwise I'll make the rest of your life a living hell." Seven Spells was in no position to listen, though as he charged for the pagoda entrance like a lunatic.
Three black clouds descended from the sky, Black Succubus holding hands with her two maidservants as they flitted down from the third storey. She tittered and slipped into the stele forest. Three black-clad men blocking the way in scurried like they'd seen a ghost when Black Succubus appeared, not daring to block her way.
Wenchang heard Black Succubus' clear voice in his ear as she used her secret communication skill to say, "Be bold yet cautious. Don't get careless. I'll be watching from the side."
Seven Spells rushed after Black Succubus like a bird, chasing her relentlessly. "Don't think of getting away, witch! Today it's you or me!"
As he passed the black-clad men at the edge of the encirclement he turned and said, "Peng! Don't touch the stuff that junior Cai Wenchang has on him, or else don't blame this poor cleric will have something to say about it."
Wenchang thought to take this chance to escape, but the lanky man was shrewd; he seem to pay the sudden happenings no mind at all, his lightning-cold eagle eyes fixed on Wenchang, ready to intercept and attack him at any moment. He'd have to give up the thought of escaping. He circulated his qi in preparation to make a last ditch effort to kill a pathway out.
The eight clad in white at the edge of the encirclement halted and watched the goings-on with cold expressions. The lead man was short and stocky with long, thick arms extending past his knees and a bushy, straight unibrow and large eyes ringed in red. His strong chin jutted out and was dotted with curly gray whiskers. A bigm, heavy, glossy black hook sword hung at his waist. The inner edge of the hook was not sharp, and the point of the hook was not very sharp either. He towered coldly in the middle, arms folded in front of his chest, sizing up Wenchang from a distance and nodding over and over as if he were admiring Wenchang's heroism, facing such formidable foes without a trace of fear.
Four black-clad men with swords stood forbiddingly with their sides facing the eight, preventing the eight from entering the encirclement, yet they did not look confident.
The lanky man waited until everyone was quiet before he continued, "Brother Cai, it was you who killed my men that night at Mysterious Altar Temple…"
"That's right, it was I. I was defending myself and rescuing someone, so I wasn't in the wrong."
"Also on the public road between Baqiao and Chang'an I punished those Northwest Escort agency guys who were colluding with you in secret."
"Nonsense!" the lanky man yelled. He paused briefly. "I won't have your vicious slander."
"Hmph! What slander?"
"Sir, you and Outcast Androgyne…"
"Young Master Mei Lin is a good friend of mine," Wenchang said. He snorted. "Don't bullshit, anyway I know all about your henchmen. I have no intention to hide anything either. State your name and we'll let our swords do the talking."
"I'm Banner Captain Peng Zifang of the Milky Way Thunder Banner of Nine Palace Fortress. I'm called Life-Snatching Divine Sabre."
"Captain Peng, are we fighting one on one or are you ganging up on me? There's no animosity between me and your Sovereign so I ask for a fair fight. If you don't abide by jianhu rules then there's nothing I can do about it. At any rate, followers of the dark path don't need to worry about making friends among the jianghu later on. Besides, I'm also of the dark path. I come and go as I please. I ought to ask for a fair fight."
Divine Sabre laughed. "Of course, this banner captain will grant you the opportunity of a fair fight…"
"Since that's what you said, you can't go back on it, like dying white fabric black. I will keep you to it."
"Don't get excited, let me finish. This banner captain has no intention of causing trouble in these popular locales, lest we cause a stir. So I have to ask you to come with me to the eastern outskirts. I stake my reputation among the jianghu that you will be treated with all the the ceremony of a distinguished guest. I never break my word. And if our talks should come to naught, this banner captain will keep his promise and grant you a fair fight."
"Hmph! What is there for us to talk about?"
"The Sovereign really admires your character, your courage and insight, your talent. So…"
Wenchang threw his head back and laughed. "He's too kind, really too kind. He flatters me. Please tell your sovereign that Cai Wenchang is nothing special, just a nobody noob fugitive of the jianghu. I'm stuck in my ways, a ne'er-do-well of the jianghu. I'm not too keen on being controlled by others, and am even less keen to make my name as an underling of the alliance head of the dark path. Every man has his own aspirations and he cannot be forced. Cai Wenchang is carefree and unrestrained and The Fugitive cannot be led by the nose. That's enough for me."
Life-Snatching Divine Sabre's face clouded. "Cai, you fail to appreciate favors."
"Haha! That's how I am. If I did I would not be boldly going up against the jianghu-renowned Black Flag Sovereign."
"You're digging your own grave, junior."
"Haha! Harsh words and stern looks don't scare Cai Wenchang. I'm not one of your subordinates. You need not puff yourself up in front of me."
Divine Sabre touched the hilt of his sabre and spat, "Cai, you'd better listen if you value your life…"
Before he had finished, Wenchang drew his sword and swung it sideways against the pagoda wall in a dash of sparks, then quickly turned back and sheathed his sword. He sneered, "I will not be ordered about by anyone and I submit to no one. You can carve those words on one of those stone tablets for all the jianghu to see."
Carefree Cloud, watching from a distance, shook his head and smiled wryly. "What an arrogant child. Too bad he's gone down the wrong path. His heroic spirit is laudable. He certainly has the courage to be called a fugitive or an outlaw."
White Dragongirl whispered anxiously, "Uncle, are we going to step in?"
"Don't be rash, child. Look, Endless Valley's masterhand, Iron Arm Ape is about to do something and I don't know if that's a good or bad thing. How can we risk offending experts of both the light and dark paths? Don't you know how much disaster that would cause?"
Wenchang's hack at the wall was a clear expression of resolve and it shocked all present. A smalltime outlaw fresh on the scene actually had the guts to brazenly defy the henchmen of Black Flag Sovereign. It was really hard to fathom such a thing.
Suddenly, a voice resounded loud and clear from the top of the pagoda, shaking everyone's eardrums. "Amitabha! Marvelous!"
The voice came from the top of the pagoda but no one was visible. Divine Sabre motioned to a black-clad man in the distance and pointed to the top of the pagoda. The black-clad mad leapt over and entered the pagoda through another entrance.
Divine Sabre hmphed and took a step forward. "Draw your sword! This banner captain must capture you alive and bring you back."
The man on his left cut in, "Banner Captain, why use a butcher's knife to slaughter a chicken? Allow me to capture him."
"Be careful. Go on!" Divine Sabre withdrew.
The black-clad man touched the hilt of his sabre. "Swift Sabre Wei Zhong has orders to capture you alive, junior."
Without hesitation he cut in, quickly unsheathing his sabre and slashing at Wenchang's midsection in three successive slashes called "Cloud Dragon's Three Appearances". It was a wild, vicious attack, with a lot of power behind it, his blade flashing.
Wenchang took two steps back and avoided the first two slashes. The third was aimed at his right hip. The man pressed in head-on, not leaving any room for a counterattack from any direction. When he missed, his next move was either "Azure Dragon Enters the Sea" or "Returning Dragon Bares Its Claws", a deeply-slating slash.
Wenchang clenched his teeth and drew his sword in a silver arc and seized the moment to attack. Sword and sabre clashed and the man's sabre was knocked upward. He looked down on Wenchang and never imagined Wenchang had such powerful internal force. With his sabre forced upward, his body was exposed to Wenchang's sword.
"Careful…" another man said, and he drew his sabre and leapt in.