Chapter 85: The Pleasure Quarters
After fighting many deadly battles, Wenchang was not only more experienced, his skills had advanced by leaps and bounds. He could already be considered a masterhand. He'd realized that in the midst of real danger when life or death was decided in an instant, decided by each move he made, there was no chance for someone else to step in and come to the rescue. So-called "watching out for you from the side" was unreliable. Onlookers couldn't see the danger, and even if someone did step in to help, there was no guarantee that person would be able to take control of the changing situation in that split second. When the critical moment arrived that person would either hesitate or be unable to save the day. So the juncture between life and death was completely in his own hands. If he depended on someone else's help he would be in trouble.
At first he had held a grudge against Black Succubus Gu Zhen. Why did she not help him dispatch those light and dark path henchmen rather than play hide-and-seek with Seven Spells and ignore himself? But after thinking on it some more, his resentment vanished. He and Black Succubus had only had a brief fling, and that evil woman killed men after she was done playing with them, there was no love there, only her own interests. If he died, she would not be harmed in the least, and there was no benefit for him to live either, so why should she risk her life for him? Even if they had been a loving husband and wife, when trouble struck they would go their separate ways, much less a man and woman who were not really together. He had no reason to bear a grudge against her.
The north wind was biting cold, the sky a blanket of stars. He whipped his horse and galloped to his home which he had painstakingly fixed up. Wild dogs howled in the wilderness, the ancient forests were dark and gloomy. He met no one along the road as it was late at night.
He was really satisfied and excited by the odd things that had happened that day. His mind was at ease as he whistled the tune Minstrel Zhai had sung earlier that day. It was a lonely, melancholy tune, but he liked it. His whistling broke the deep quiet of night. In the distance he could see the lanterns on the high towers of Chang'an. He was almost home.
He turned and looked at his outstanding servants, Goldie and Sterling.
During the ruckus at Great Wild Goose Pagoda, the clever servants, according to Wenchang's instructions, broke away from Miss Tian's maidservants and scurried off to lie low. Wenchang had told them beforehand to do this if anything unexpected happened, so they could protect themselves. Afterward, a large group of government troops arrived to arrest Wenchang and anyone else who was causing trouble.
They saw the situation was going south and so they hopped on their horses and sped back to Literary Park. Goldie stayed behind to look after the estate while the clever Sterling put on shabby clothes and went to the commoner's houses in the southern outskirts and informed everyone not to come to Literary Park for the next few days.
Sterling returned to the estate in the afternoon to listen for news of the master, but he had not yet returned. Sterling suspected something had gone awry so he went back to Chang'an to find the Three Heroes of Chang'an and think up a way to find out what happened.
Goldie went to the Temple of Compassion but the area had been blocked off by government troops so he couldn't learn anything from there and returned to the estate, disheartened. When he was a mile away from the estate he saw a group of black-clad riders surrounding the estate. He knew this was bad news so he hastily slipped away. But he was too late. He could only hunker down in a hole in the ground and wait for things to blow over because the group of black-clad riders had spread out in the nearby woods, cutting off his escape route.
Sterling went to three different secret locations one by one, but he couldn't find the Three Heroes of Chang'an. He fumbled his way over to the city gates, but they were closed. It was getting dark and he was out of options, so discouraged, he steeled himself and headed over to Traceless Snowwalker Rong Shijie's mistress, Fourth Lady's place in hopes that he might find Snowwalker there.
Traceless Snowwalker had a mistress, but few people knew about it. Sterling was one of the few who did. Normally, Snowwalker didn't permit anyone to go looking for him at his Fourth Lady's place for fear that word would get out and cause him trouble at home. But Sterling was worried about Wenchang, so he had to brace himself and go there anyway and receive whatever scolding was coming to him for breaking Snowwalker's rule.
There was an alley breaking off to the east from the middle of the west main avenue. It ran half a mile before branching off to the west. It was the alley leading to the eastern side of the east market near the city wall. This was the old Jincheng ward that had moved to the new city and was populated by the finest brothels. There were a lot of people here come nightfall. It was a popular place to squander one's money. Naturally, it wasn't as good as the Brothel Street of olden days, and it wasn't even close to Millenial House of the old Jincheng Ward, but it was showy enough, being as it was in the eternally famed historical city.
The alley wasn't small at all. The western end could easily fit a two-horse carriage, though there was a street running laterally along the city wall at the end that was a bit narrower. Both streets had become two completely different worlds, divided in the middle by a large mansion and two large dilapidated estates.
It was like there was an invisible, uncrossable chasm between the two streets, the two sides clearly demarcated, and there was tacit agreement among the clientele of both streets that the street running through the middle was a low-class pleasure district.
The eastern end of the alley was lit up so much it looked like daytime. Every establishment there was magnificent and resplendent. The twang of musical instruments and singing went nonstop. It was a dimmer in the area near the large temple, but the compounds there was large and extensive. This was where the influential kept their mistresses. Though these women were the best the pleasure quarters had to offer, ordinary clients would never venture over there because those ladies already had frequent long-term clients.
Traceless Snowwalker's room was in the middle of the alley. Sterling was still just a child, but he was not unfamiliar with this area. He was a meddling little general of the city and knew every corner of it like the back of his hand.
He wore an old skeepskin outer jacket and blue padded inner garments. His head was wrapped in a blue headscarf cap, like a young servant. He couldn't go from the head of the street, but hat to cut through a small alley behind the main avenue.
He looked like he was in a hurry, walking urgently. The alley was deserted so he wasn't worried about running into anyone.
He was fast, but there was someone coming up from behind who was even faster. A very tall, very big man. Dressed all in black, his stride the equal of Sterling's three.
They both of them hurried along the road. When he realized there was a man behind him, about to overtake him on the right. By coincidence, a figure suddenly ran out from a dark corner on the left, dashing like mad.
Sterling instinctively dodged right, too quickly, and slammed into the big man who was just passing him. The big man stopped. His feet seemed rooted into the ground so little did he move, didn't even totter.
"Ah…" Sterling cried. He felt like he'd run into a wall of iron. His right side was going numb from the jolt. He rebounded off and cried out again when he ran into the other person scurrying out of the dark and he fell on him.
The person hit the ground on his back and called out "Aiyo", then let loose a string of curses. "You son of a bitch! Why the hell are you running about so mad in the middle of the night? Did you see a ghost?"
Sterling was incensed. He pulled off his headscarf and closed it over the man's throat, using his knees to exert pressure on the scarf. "You bastard, you fuckin' came running out of their like a dog out of its den like you were running to your death, yet you still blame me for running? I'll strangle you you damn bastard."
The man struggled and grabbed at the headscarf, his voice choked.
The big man standing there walked over. "Hey! You little brat, you do it any harder you'll kill him."
Sterling loosened the headscarf and got up. "I wasn't gonna take that from him. I was just giving him a firm lesson. He won't act so high and mighty again. Hey! Big guy, you got some fuckin' hard bones."
The man on the ground struggled to his feet and glared at the big man while rubbing his neck. He was about to cuss him out until he saw just how huge the man was, like a god. He quickly swallowed his words and slunk away grudgingly.
The big man smacked his thick belly and laughed. "Little buddy, your pretty fuckin' lucky to run into me and not crack your skull open. Hey! Fella! I got something to ask you."
Sterling rubbed his still-aching shoulder and said, "Big guy, if you gotta fart, just let it out."
"Ha! Fella you got a foul mouth there. Nice. Lemme ask you, do you know this place pretty well?"
"I'm looking for someone."
"A whore? As long as you've fuckin' got some money, just stroll on ahead and take your pick, and place…"
"Bah! Fuck off, I'm looking for someone really famous in this city…"
"The most famous person in Chang'an is the Prince of Qin. He's got a lot of pretty women. You must be out of your mind to be looking for him here in the pleasure quarters."
They had met each other's match in terms of verbal sparring. The big man did not want to be held up any longer so he threw out a slap and said, "What the fuck are you going on about… Eh! Fella, you're pretty nimble."
Sterling had been ready and had ducked to the side quickly and scurried away to avoid the slap. He righted himself a safer distance away and said, "Enough with all your bullshit, just who are you looking for anyway?"
"Whatever hole those Three Heroes of Chang'an' turtles have burrowed themselves in," the big man boomed.
Sterling laughed. "Then you've fuckin' found the right guy. Come with me. I was just one my way to see Traceless Snowwalker!" He took to his heels at once.
He had his own plans. Chang'an had been all a flurry these past few days and the Three Heroes had gone into hiding without a trace. He was going to look for Snowwalker at his mistress' place, but there was a good chance that old hag procuress would have him run off with staves! But from this big man's tone it seemed he was looking for trouble, and once that started Traceless Snowwalker would come out for sure.
He had only been with Wenchang for several days, but Wenchang had not lied to him. Only he and Goldie knew that Master Wen was really the notorious bandit, Cai Wenchang. Wenchang had told him that the Three Heroes of Chang'an were friends, but now that shit had gotten real, where were they? He wasn't about to find someone to pass on a message for him. He wanted to see the Three Heroes himself. If word leaked out there would be big trouble!
Sterling led the way, the big man following behind at a leisurely pace. They turned down a side street and reached the brothel district. The area was not brightly lit, yet there were plenty of people about. Little Sterling tried to thread his way through. The big man extended his hand out of his big fur overcoat and said, "Follow me, I'll clear a path, fuck! Why does Chang'an have so many tourists?"
He strode forward and pushed his way through, knocking people aside with both hands, people falling away on both sides like he was parting the waves.
Most of the prostitutes on this section of street were already spoken for by wealthy personages, a mysterious gauze curtain drawn over their doors; they rarely came to the doors to invite clients in, so clients were itching to get a look at the faintly discernible shapes within. If too much is shown it loses a lot of its allure, so it's better to make things a bit mysterious. No one out and about in this area was of low social standing. In fact, most were big shots with servants and bodyguards in tow. To be knocked aside by that big man, who had a foul mouth to boot, was really too much for them to accept. They had not passed by a dozen establishments before someone called out from behind, "Teach that rude, reprehensible cur a lesson. Get him and break the son of a bitch's legs."
The pleasure quarters were after all an area prone to disputes. Ten people shout attack and a hundred respond, blustering and swaggering along. Under the lantern light the big man's figure was particularly conspicuous. Someone shouted attack and at once roused the masses' indignation and five people who had just been knocked out of the way hurried over to add their voices, pouncing on him like a ravenous tiger attacking a sheep, pushing and pulling at him every which way all at once.
A disturbance was just what Sterling was hoping for, the bigger the better so that Traceless Snowwalker would be drawn out. He was too small to attract notice, and he was inwardly pleased when he saw people coming up from behind. He sidled out of the way.
The big man was none too happy to see so many people jumping him. Once again people were looking for trouble from him. He was enraged.
Five men pounced, but they were no match.
The first guy came on quick, flicking his hand up, left hand reaching up to grab the big man's throat. But before he could get a hold, the big man dropped his head and bent forward and the man sailed over him like he was walking on air. Didn't even have time to cry out.
The second man was fast, really great, as he managed to bear hug the big man.
The third and fourth guys arrived at the same time, each grabbing onto a leg and pulling for all they were worth, really putting their backs into it tried to pull his legs out.
The big man towered like a mountain. You can't shake a mountain. He twisted his torso back and slammed his right elbow into the side of the head of the man bearhugging him and felt the hands go slack. Then he stooped down and grabbed the throats of the men holding his legs and jerked them up. How could those guys not let go?
Then he kicked his right foot backward and caught the fifth man coming up behind him in the chest. Aside from the first guy who made a hell of a sound when he crashed to the ground after flying over the big man, the others did not make a sound at all, just fainted dead away. The big man dropped the two dead dogs in his mitts and said, "Let's go, little buddy!"