Chapter 81: Iron Arm Ape
But he was half a step too late; tragedy had already struck. Wenchang met it head on. He was confident in his cultivation and didn't wait for his opponent to switch moves but suddenly slashed downwards with his sword and caught the coming sabre head on. He swung up and stepped in, thrust, and flitted to the side, all in one smooth motion.
"Ah…" the man screamed and dropped his sabre. Blood poured out of a hole opened up on his chest from Wenchang's sword. The man swayed twice, and clutched his chest as he stumbled and fell down eight feet away.
At the same time, Wenchang yelled.
He became a ferocious tiger, his sword like a flood dragon, cutting in between the fallen man and another man who had rushed over to help his comrade. Wenchang spun to the side and his sword flashed and there he was again, only now some distance away.
The man wailed and held his sabre out as he staggered forward and pitched to the ground some ten feet away beside Wenchang. The man writhed and turned over on his back and let out a long breath and twitched twice and was as still as a leaking leather ball. His wound slanted up from his waist, cutting across his chest and into his lower jaw and across his cheek and over the corner of his left eye. Blood gushed out and he was beyond saving.
Wenchang stoof in a 丁-shaped stance. His sword was drenched in blood. He stood inclined like a statue, every cell on his face frozen, his tiger eyes cold and steadfast, starting at Banner Captain Peng Zifang thirty feet away.
Everyone cried out, including the eight men and women at the edge of the encirclement. They were stopped in their tracks by the sudden change of events, by Wenchang's lightning blow.
Two black-clad men came forward, swords extended to protect themselves, and went over to their fallen comrades who lay in a pool of their own blood.
Wenchang's eyes were cold and sinister. He slowly pointed his sword. "Get back! They're already dead."
The two men flinched and stopped short. They had been overawed by Wenchang's wild, fierce attack, and now his chilling expression froze them to the bone.
Banner Captain Divine Sabre Peng Zifang was leery. He was an expert himself so he knew what he was up against. Wenchang's overwhelming attack just then had shown he had grasped the concepts of speed, ruthlessness, stability, and accuracy. He not only had the upper hand in skill, he was unstoppable. Captain Peng was a bit wary, not about to risk his life in a fight he had no confidence he could win. Those two men were his right-hand men, the best of his bunch. But in the blink of an eye they had fallen under Wenchang's sword. How could that not be terrifying?
While inside he felt indescribably shocked, he was also unbelievably angry. He raised a hand and called back his men and said sternly, "Us the Six Harmonies Sabre Formation to kill that son of a bitch. Form up."
Seven men came forward drawing seven steel sabres. Captain Peng palmed the hilt of his own sabre and closed in slowly.
The Six Harmonies Sabre Formation was his own creation used to handle the most skilled martial artists. Eight sabres under his command, surrounding the opponent on all sides, attacking at once, sealing off all directions. They closed in together, thus the "Six Harmonies". It would be difficult for anyone to escape eight sabres attacking at once, unless he were a formidable masterhand impervious to sharp weapons.
But Wenchang was crouched up against the wall so he could not be attacked from behind. Peng would have to draw Wenchang out or he wouldn't be able to surround him. In other words, it was difficult for him to use the Six Harmonies Sabre Formation at the moment, so there was no way to get Wenchang trapped under his eight-sabre onslaught.
Seven men advanced from three sides and stopped twenty feet away. Seven sabres glittering, pointed ahead. Peng himself advanced five more feet and slowly, coldly drew his sabre.
The back of his sabre was thick and its blade was sharp, its body heavy. As far as sabres went, his "ghost head" executioner's sabre was second only to a nine-ring sabre in weight. It was a massive thing that could hack apart a stone tablet or smash through a wall. Unsheathed, the blade gleamed with a cold, pallid light. He took up his cloak in his left hand and flung it forward in a slanting arc of wind and advanced behind it.
Wenchang was not taken in by the cloak. He probed with his left foot, the point of his sword hanging down as he concentrated and waited on the enemy.
"Hold it, don't hit back," came a deafening voice.
But it was too late. Sword and sabre had begun a lightning assault, sabre like a ferocious tiger, sword like a raging tiger. Light flashed off the blades as they clashed, advancing and retreating like lightning, sabre and sword hard to distinguish in the melee. The black cloak danced as air whooshed out in all directions, the force of it pushing over eight feet out.
The blades moaned like dragons and howled like tigers in a shrieking clash of sparks, cold light dancing here and there off the relentless blades.
"Ha!" A roar rose up.
"Argh!" Clanging metal and gusts of wind were ear-splitting.
They suddenly separated and a dark shadow pulled back violently.
Divine Sabre flew back ten feet and steadied himself. He slowly lowered his sabre and took in the cloak in his left hand. He looked like he'd seen a ghost. A big blue vein was pulsing on his forehead and sweat glistened. He blinked wide eyed.
He had attacked ferociously over and over, life and death hanging in the balance. After his last strike, Wenchang's sword was already about to hit him so he had to pull back quickly, hoping to draw Wenchang out away from the pagoda. But Wenchang didn't bite. The seven men could not get a surround and so the Six Harmonies Sabre Formation could not be launched.
All was still for the moment. Five strips of black cloth floated to the ground. Wenchang's sword had cut the cloak five times.
Wenchang pursued him eight feet but quickly pulled back to his original position before the other black-clad men could attack. They were all back where they had started. Sweat beaded Wenchang's forehead but his face was still calm. His sword hand remained firm and steady as iron and his cold expression had not wavered in the slightest.
Divine Sabre already seemed to be at a disadvantage. Defeat seemed imminent. His difficulty in holding out was showing on his face.
The person who had shouted was the leader of the eight in white, but his shout had been a moment too late. He had been ready to step in when he saw it was just Divine Sabre by himself, so he was confident Divine Sabre would not be able to handle it. Therefore there was no need for him to step in.
As soon as it was over, he nodded and waved to the other seven. Six white-clad members split into left and right while the leader leisurely led the other middle-aged man inside.
Two black-clad men made to stop them, sabres whizzing out to block the road. The black-clad man on the right said, "Halt! No one's allowed to get involved."
The leader in white smiled faintly and touched the hook sword hanging at his waist as he stroked his beard with his unusually long hand. "Great Wild Goose Pagoda is not your master's Heartbreak Cliff. How can you forbid me from entering? Step aside, brother."
"In a word, you're not allowed," the man said. But his sabre hand was trembling. He was clearly not so confident, despite his words.
"You have a lot of guts to be so impudent in front of me. Put your sabre away!"
The two men couldn't help but take two steps back. They thought to put their sabres away but they were not quite willing. The one on the right clenched his teeth and squared his shoulders and braced himself. "Elder You is well-known throughout the jianghu. I know I'm out of line, but I have a major responsibility to carry out my orders. It can't be helped."
Elder You smiled and nodded with great poise, then called over to Divine Sabre, "Captain Peng, can you have your man allow me through?"
Divine Sabre was in the middle of regulating his breathing. He turned and said grumpily, "No one is allowed to interfere, not even you, Iron Arm Ape You. Outsiders are not permitted to get involved with Nine Palace Fortress affairs."
Iron Arm Ape You Jian was the right-hand man of the head of Endless Valley, Qiu Hen. He was renowned among the jianghu. His martial arts was sublime, a rare talent among those who followed the light path. He looked like a big ape, his long arms protected by his Iron Arm skill which made them impervious to sharp weapons. He could crush stones to powder with his bare hands and his palm strikes could split open stone monuments. His big hook sword was a heavy unconventional weapon which few could contend with. It was the nemesis of the evil dark path. If he was provoked he would not easily let the matter drop. He seemed highly cultivated, one who was high-minded and brooked no trifles.
Actually, he was a calculating individual. He didn't show it on the outside, but in his heart he was not forgiving. He was good friends with the head of Endless Valley's other right-hand man, Gold Snatching Silver Sabre Ling Guangzu. But their personalities were the opposite. Ling Guangzu was forthright, magnanimous, and tolerant. He revered all friends of the light path. His words carried a lot of weight and everyone admired him. On the surface it seemed that Iron Arm Ape took Ling Guangzu as a model, but unfortunately he was quintessentially lacking.
Divine Sabre Peng Zifang was nothing more than a banner captain and he was not near as skilled as them. He was also not as renowned among the martial fraternity, so how could Iron Arm Ape tolerate him haughtily contradicting him? But Iron Arm Ape's face did not change. He chuckled. "Since you won't grant me leeway, Banner Captain, I shall have to act on my own." He strode forward calmly.
The men blocking him clenched their teeth and stepped forward, sabres extended. One of them said gravely, "Halt. You can't charge through."
"I am not charging, I am merely walking." Iron Arm Ape smiled and walked right toward the points of the blades. His eyes flashed a stern look, his still smiling face making the men's hearts shiver.
"Stop!" the men shouted and checked him with their sabres.
A white image flashed in between the sabres and the men cried out at the same time and were flung backward, their sabres already in Iron Arm Ape's hands.
Iron Arm Ape raised his hands and the sabres flipped out soundlessly and miraculously embedded themselves eight inches into a stone monument thirty feet away. The hilts quivered as he scanned the stricken faces of the six other black-clad men. He gave a wan smile. "Gentlemen, please do not block my way." Then he stepped forward along with his companion. They walked ten feet or so before he laughed boisterously and the two penetrated through the encirclement in the blink of an eye and appeared again next to the pagoda. None of the black-clad men encircling the pagoda dared try to stop them.
A strange cry cut the air from a distance. Divine Sabre sneered at Wenchang and paid no attention to Iron Arm Ape. He raised his hand and called out, "Withdraw! Everyone withdraw." He sheathed his sabre, turned around, shot Iron Arm Ape a look, and said icily, "Cai Wenchang is the man my superior wants, and White Crane Hermit Seven Spells is also after him. Be careful, Master You."
"Haha! I can handle myself. Endless Valley fears no one. My superior is no scaredy cat three-year-old, nor are the followers of the light path of the world mere paper tigers. Please rest assured, Captain Peng, I yield to you."
Divine Sabre sneered and led his men to go collect the bodies.