Chapter 50: Iron Claw
Black Iron Pagoda was sincere and straightforward, but too biased. An honest and frank person who was biased calls things as he sees it, only looking at the exterior, but won’t go any further in uncovering the inner details. Good and bad rely entirely on rumor. He had never met the Three Heroes of Chang’an, but he had heard they were bad, and had seen them before so he recognized them. The Three Heroes were not unknown men; a lot of people knew them in Chang’an. And they knew Black Iron Pagoda, but how could they put up with him talking about them without any scruples. Winged Tiger wasn’t angry, but Nighthawk Shi Rongqun shouted, “Big Blackie, who are you talking about?”
Black Iron Pagoda rolled his eyes and stepped up. “Who am I talking about? Talking about you f*cking sons of bitches! In Chang’an you bastards are known as The Three Heroes of Chang’an, acting like real gentlemen, but behind the scenes you engage in all sorts of underhanded dealings…”
“I’m so mad I could die!” Winged Tiger thundered.
“If you die of anger the world would be a little less evil, if not peaceful. So why don’t you die?” Black Iron Pagoda’s words cut like a knife, completely unforgiving.
Winged Tiger howled and struck with a hand chop.
Black Iron Pagoda knocked it away with his left and punched with his right.
Winged Tiger felt his arm go numb from the jolt, and a strange, powerful vibration coursed through him and made his legs weak. His arm was knocked away and he was shocked. He used the momentum to scoot away, not daring to take any more blows, his face ashen.
Wenchang stepped in. “Stop! Stop! Let’s talk this out.”
Black Iron Pagoda’s fist missed. He stopped in his tracks. “Dear brother, if you get mixed up with villains as soon as you enter the jianghu you will lose all standing and reputation. Seeing you befriend these cloaked bandits makes me angry.”
“Big brother, why does that make you…”
“Why does it make me angry? If these guys drag you into the mud you will never clean your reputation, and will forever be a villain.”
Good medicine is hard to swallow. These words got a rise out of Wenchang. “I was a villain to begin with. There was nothing honorable about the thugs of Fine Horse Village either.”
“You…” Black Iron Pagoda looked surprised.
“I got in trouble as soon as I came to Chang’an, I once had a short fling with Black Succubus Gu Zhen, and I befriended Outcast Androgyne…”
“What the f*ck are you raving about?” Black Iron Pagoda said.
“I’m not raving. You, too, were once flat broke and ate and ran. You’re no better than I.”
“You… You’re hopeless, beyond cure…”
“Don’t go there, big brother.”
“I have… have to pull you out. I can’t let you sink into the mud.”
“Save your energy. You can’t pull me out.”
“You don’t want to pull yourself out?”
“I’ll pull you out, then.”
“How will you do that?”
“I’ll beat some sense into you, make you wake up.” Black Iron Pagoda clenched his fists.
Wenchang readied himself in a horse stance. “Let’s go then. What are you waiting for?”
Black Iron Pagoda rushed in and extended his huge hand to grab him.
Wenchang dodged left and struck with his right, his left palm chopping at an angle. They came to blows and a crowd began to gather.
They faced off three times, each attacking eight times to the smack of fists and palms slamming into muscle. Their attacks were shockingly fast. Wenchang caught Pagoda in the shoulder with a fist, Pagoda slapped Wenchang in right hip, then they separated and moved back and to the side about eight feet. They had been away from each other for only a short time, but in that time they each had made considerable progress. They were going easy on each other as well, so they looked to be evenly matched, so far fighting to a draw.
Before they could continued, Winged Tiger said, “Let’s help out and destroy this big guy.”
Wenchang darted over. “Don’t get involved in my business,” he said fiercely. “This is between us brothers. I don’t want any outside interference. Everyone get back!”
“We mean well. Just trying to help you teach this lout a lesson…”
“Pfft! If act rash, even though I consider you friends, my fists won’t recognize you. Get back!”
Wenchang roared and spun around and attacked again and he and Black Iron Pagoda got into it again, throwing fists and kicking ruthlessly once more.
The old nun approached and entered the crowd.
The young master of Northwest Escort Agency lef three top men and asked around on the street to find out where they were. Four horses charged in like a violent storm from behind.
At the other end of the street a dozen government troops and six plainclothes inspectors, all riding horses, galloped up. “We have orders to capture the wanted criminal Cai Wenchang. Anyone who’s not involved, get back. Get back!”
“Arrest the criminal, Cai Wenchang,” the troops yelled.
The crowd scattered, the gawkers clearing out as the shops closed their doors one by one.
The first one there was the young master of the escort agency, Shooting Rainbow Iron Claw Yang Jun. He jumped down from his horse and whipped out a heavy, three-foot long eagle claw-shaped implement and dashed over. “Which one of you is Cai Wenchang?”
Black Iron Pagoda felt a chill run down his spine. He removed his long whip. “Dear brother, we have to break out of here. Come with me.”
Wenchang stopped fighting and charged toward the three armed escorts behind him. The Three Heroes of Chang’an had already scurried off during the commotion. They were crafty and did not want to get involved in this mess.
Black Iron Pagoda’s whip was ten feet, two inches. He roared and turned and attacked like a crazed dragon dancing in the air, his whip lancing out straight and violent, three snaps in a row, forcing Iron Claw back eight feet, the sound of the whip whistling through the air astonishing. The air was filled with the afterimages of whip strikes. No one dared get close, gusts of wind howling, the sound enough to make one’s stomach drop.
But Iron Claw was incredible. His iron claw expanded and contracted as he dodged, trying to grab the whip, unexpectedly methodical and unhurried. He dealt with the whip calmly as it cracked at him menacingly. His iron claw was a hard counter to the whip. He had a stable advantage.
Wenchang was going up against the three escorts unarmed; one wielded a sword and the other two wielded sabres. The one with the sword got to him first, slashing at him three times in a row.
Wenchang dodged left and darted right, then suddenly slipped to the right and extended his arm to lure the second escort, and charged at him wildly.
“You’re asking for it!” the sabre-wielding escort roared. His sabre flashed like furious waves crashing down with “Three-Chained Chop”, attacking endlessly as he advanced eight feet.
The sword-wielding escort was furious as Wenchang got out from his shroud of sword flashes. He spun around and shouted, following his sword toward Wenchang’s back, bolding striking with “Shooting Star Chases the Rainbow”. He became lost in his rage.
Wenchang was caught between two fires as the third armed escort came in from the left, his sabre out. He was in imminent danger of being sliced to bits.
The old nun stood under an eave off to the side, smiling and musing to herself, “Those men are so recklessly foolhardy. What a pity!”
Wenchang was fighting in all directions at once, facing death calmly. He suddenly flung himself down to the right and rolled as soon as he hit the ground, letting the sword and sabre pass over him. He stuck a foot out and connected.
The sabre-wielding escort cried as his shinbone snapped and he fell over.
Wenchang had a quick eye and deft hands. He snatched up the sabre and immediately brought his ground-level sabreplay into action, his sabre spinning low to the ground toward the swordsman’s legs.
The swordsman stopped in his tracks and brought his wrist down with “Meteor Falls”.
Wenchang used all his might as his sabre bit into the tip of the sword, knocking the sword backward. He took the chance and rolled. His sabre flashed and blood spurted out.
The swordsman screamed as his feet were chopped off at the ankles. He made a last-ditch effort and threw his sword, then fell.
The tip of the sword pierced Wenchang’s left shoulder and bounced off like it had hit a slab of stone and shot up two feet into the air.
Wenchang grabbed the handle out of the air and roared and flung it far away.
The eighteen troops and inspectors did not step in, but encircled him.
Black Iron Pagoda was as savage as a lion, but after his ninth attack he still could not force Iron Claw back, who had closed in from fifteen feet to eleven.
Iron Claw was the number-one hero in Chang’an, no trifling figure. After not being able to get near him after taking nine whip strikes, he got mad and a copper pipe appeared in his left hand. He raised his iron claw, swept it out and grabbed, closing down and hitting the whip. He stepped in with his left foot and advanced three feet, darting in quick as lightning.
His iron claw finally grabbed the whip. He raised his left hand and pulled back on the iron claw in his right and closed in.
Three soft whooshes and three rays of rainbow light shot out of the copper tube one after another, each ray only eight inches long, but very fast, making them look like long rainbows. This was his famed concealed weapon, Shooting Rainbow Spearknives. Three shot out at once. Very few people could escape this specialty weapon.
In that same instant the claw clamped down on the whip, but the end of the whip split. Iron Claw wasn’t strong enough and couldn’t keep the whip away from him, the end of which snapped him in the lower back.
At the same instant, two shooting rainbow spearknives missed their mark, but one sank into Black Iron Pagoda’s chest. Even his impenetrable primordial qigong couldn’t completely stop it from penetrating the skin. It made it in an inch, then dropped as blood ran down.
Black Iron Pagoda cried out.
Iron Claw cried out at the same time, and pitched forward.
Their weapons were tangled up together and neither had been seriously injured. They closed in on each other.
An inspector saw an opportunity and came in from the side, swinging his iron ruler at the back of Black Iron Pagoda’s head.
Just then a silver light flashed as the sword Wenchang threw brushed past the tip of Iron Claw’s nose and plunged into the iron-ruler wielding inspector’s right shoulder.
Iron Claw started and pulled back with all his strength. He paused and drew back, separating from Black Iron Pagoda and avoiding the sailing sword.
The inspector cried out as the iron ruler came down on Black Iron Pagoda’s shoulder blade, the force of the blow much reduced by being hit with the sword.
Black Iron Pagoda roared like a tiger and tilted away to the left. He jerked the whip back and it slipped out of the iron claw.
Wenchang struck five times in a row with his sabre, forcing the last armed escort back ten feet. “Get out of here, big brother!”
“Arrest the criminal!” the government troops called out. They raised their spears and sabres and advanced.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Iron Claw shouted. “Get back here!” He endured the pain he was in and attacked.
The little beggar arrived on the street from the left. He called out behind one of the troops, “Officer, may I have a word with you?”
The officer was taken aback. He turned to look and saw a dog-beating staff right before it smashed into right ear. He heard nothing further as he dropped his spear and crumpled.
“Brother Wenchang, remember Little Brother Xiaoshan? Haha!” The little beggar knocked down another officer. “Lay down. That should put you out for a few weeks.”
Wenchang and Black Iron Pagoda ran over. “Get out of the way or die.”
Two swings of his sabre and two spears were sent flying. A crack of the whip and two officers fell to the ground screaming.
The little beggar turned to look as he ran. “To the roof. We’ll force our way in. Watch out for concealed weapons.”
He kicked the door open with a bang and stole inside.
Wenchang brought up the rear. He took out a shuttle-shaped throwing knife and blocked the doorway. He called to Iron Claw sternly, “You there with the iron claw, you must be Northwest Escort Agency’s number-one hero, Shooting Rainbow Iron Claw Yang Jun. Your Shooting Rainbow Spearknives are unmatched among the martial fraternity, better than an invitation from King Yama to the netherworld. Come on, let’s see whose concealed weapons are better. Have at you!”