Chapter 40: Frigid Scorpion
“Liang Fu is here. As you wish.” The voice came from a broken window on the right. He was a middle-aged man, short and with a flag bag on his back. Before he even reached Wenchang he said, “Take this, boy!”
He hmphed and charged in, drawing his sword, so fast no one even saw his hand reach for it. Man and sword arrived together with “Weaver Girl Flicks the Shuttle”, three thrusts one after another, as if it were three swords striking at once, swords whizzing harum-scarum.
Wenchang bawled and blocked them head-on with “Tiger Repels the Wicker Gate”, three sharp clangs in a shower of sparks.
But his internal force was not strong enough to allow him to strike back. He could only eat these swings as his arm went numb from the jolt.
He warded off the three thrusts, but Liang Fu’s sword unexpectedly followed the tip of his blade and cut in, suddenly right before his chest quick as lightning.
Taken by surprise, Wenchang tried to deflect, but his blade was forced down so he couldn’t raise it or strike with it, and it was too late to retract and change moves. Only thing he could do was lean back.
He felt the tip of the sword press and then withdraw, pressing his Dark Gate acupoint to the right of his Great Palace acupoint just below his sternum. These points belonged to the Foot’s Lesser Yin Kidney meridian. It wasn’t a vital point, but it was similarly incapacitating if pressed. His body went numb and he doubled over onto the ground, unable to move.
Liang Fu kicked away Wenchang’s sabre and put away his sword. He picked Wenchang up and went over to Silver Sword and bowed slightly. “Reporting, Steward, I have captured the guy.”
“Well done. Take him away and wait outside.”
“Yes, sir.” Liang Fu took Wenchang and strode out.
Wenchang sighed. I’m finished, he thought. Never thought I’d end up like this after just starting out in the jianghu. My reputation is over, and my life is soon to follow.
He couldn’t move, but he was still conscious and sober. He felt his belly press against a saddle as he was draped across it. It was painful.
Liang Fu didn’t block any of his other acupoints and didn’t tie him up, just put him on the saddle and turned and left.
Wenchang cursed, but Heaven wasn’t listening. He grumbled to himself. But he was a remarkable man, not resigned to give up that easily. He reckoned there was no one nearby, so he began circulating his ultimate breathing true qi to unblock his acupoint. Easier said than done. He wasn’t skilled enough yet, he couldn’t do it. But he was still going to try.
He silently circulated his true qi and tried to utilize the acupoint while listening to the activity inside the main hall, which was so close he could hear everything. Oddly, a peculiar change seemed to have taken place within the hall.
Silver Sword ordered men to collect the bodies. “Gentlemen, you’ve been watching all this time but have not come out to greet your guests. What’s the meaning of this?”
No one responded. No one appeared. He snorted heavily and roared with laughter. “Are you really going to make me call you out? It’s really not worth it.” His gaze shifted from a statue on the left to a pile of rubble from a crumbled corner of a screen wall on the right.
Still no movement. He grinned sinisterly. “Shall I use some profanity and see if you still have the face to remain hidden? Filthy…”
“Amitabha! If Steward Sun is going to curse, how could this humble nun remain hidden?” A sharp, raspy voice answered from behind the shrine of the ferocious-looking deity.A grey shadow flashed by and a bald-headed old nun fluttered down into view. She was so light, like a feather slowly floating down.
When it comes to lightness skill, speed is no big deal. One can acquire that through diligent practice. But such lightness, like one is floating, is inconceivable, magical. Very difficult.
Behind the screen wall from the pile of rubble on the right came crisp, sweet voice. “You’re a dog barking behind the master’s leg. Nine Palace Fortress thug, cunning, contemptible, and dirty. Cursing would be letting you off easily!”
A green image appeared, a pinnacle of beauty, though her expression was ice-cold. Her hair was done up in the manner of a palace lady, with pearl ornaments and phoenix hairpins. Her dress was dark green with a sleeveless jacket with kingfisher tassels. Heavens! She was wearing so little for such a cold day, a real fearless beauty. It would be a wonder if she didn’t catch cold. A travel bag was slung over her shoulder, embroidered with a large scorpion with its tail arched up. What a devilish girl. A girl would be scared stiff at the sight of a scorpion, even to the point of screaming and fainting, yet she had had one embroidered on her bag as an accessory. Hol-ee shiet!1
Her pink cheeks were naturally ruddy, her skin pale and bright and firm, flawless, beautiful to take a man’s breath away, and well-proportioned. Only, she didn’t smile. She was an ice queen, so cold it made her ferocious. A three-foot long sword hung on the belt around her slim waist. It was antiqued in a speckled patina, and the pearls and diamonds encrusted on the hilt dazzled.
She didn’t show off her lightness skill. She sauntered over with her small, upturned, kingfisher green shoes, her green skirt swaying, a delicate scent following her as she floated to the middle of the hall.
The old nun was really old, so old her bald head was wrinkled. She had long white eyebrows and was dim-sighted, one shoulder raised higher than the other. She was slightly humpbacked. A horsehair whisk was stuck into the lapel of her grey nun’s robe. She wore an alms bag and held a rattan walkingstick. She smiled faintly, squinting her old eyes. She reached up and pressed her left shoulder and it evened out with her other shoulder. She patted her back and the hump straightened out. Her droopy eyelids no longer drooped, but now shined with a mysterious glint. Damn! She was practicing sorcery.
Surprised exclamations sounded from all over, “Thousand-Faced Abbess, Frigid Scorpion Gao Fei.”
Thousand-Faced Abbess giggled. “Go ahead and curse, Steward Sun! This old nun can take it.”
Frigid Scorpion Gao Fei remained expressionless. She walked toward Silver Sword. “I, on the other hand, am eager to hear who has the guts to curse.”
She darted like a ghost in front of Silver Sword, her sword roaring like a dragon in a splendid flash of light. She moved extraordinarily quick, drew her sword just as quickly, and discourteously pushed in to attack.
Silver Sword shouted and dodged to the side, whipped his sword out, and parried her strike smoothly, flicking his sword out in an arc of silver radiance, the whizz of his sword through the air like the roar of a dragon, indicating his strong, solid internal force.
The silver light and the splendid flash arced around a few times, then the two separated.
Silver Sword had parried three of her strikes, then retreated eight feet, the tip of his sword still quivering with an awesome thrum. His face was ashen. “Our final fight has not yet arrived, but it will be here soon. I have important business to attend to at the moment. Excuse me for not keeping you company. Sorry to trouble you. We’ll meet again.”
He sheathed his sword and turned, waved his hand and shouted “Let’s go”, then marched out of the hall and sprang onto his horse.
The torches were extinguished and the twenty-odd horses galloped out of the ruins.
Frigid Scorpion Gao Fei sheathed her sword and watched them leave. “Abbess, shall we capture those in the secret underground chambers?”
Thousand-Faced Abbess shook her head. “We were one step too late. That monster is already gone.”
“Gone? How did he leave?”
“There are more than a dozen exits out of these ruins. He’s long gone. If we attacked we might at best capture a couple slaves.”
“I don’t believe he’s left,” Frigid Scorpion Gao Fei said.
“You should. That kid who just fled from their dungeon is clear proof. If he were still here, how could that kid ever escape? And how could Silver Sword have the nerve to throw his weight around like that?”
“What you say makes sense, Abbess.”
“You let that swine off too easily.”
Frigid Scorpion changed the subject. “Abbess, you appear cold but with a compassionate heart…”
“Heehee! Are you talking about yourself?”
“No! I really mean it. Why didn’t you step in and save him?”
“Hmph! One of Black Succubus Gu Zhen’s kept men? Why should I be compassionate?”
“You didn’t know he was Black Succubus’ kept man at first.”
“I knew right away he could take care of himself. I could tell from the way he moved when he escaped. Once the torches were lit I recognized him at once.”
“Eh? You recognized him?”
“Yes. I was tailing Black Succubus’ carriage when Black Flag Sovereign stopped them, so I recognized him. Come on, let’s head over to Xi’an.”
“Alright, let’s go.”
They were gone in a flash, like ghosts.
How could Wenchang take being jostled on the back of a horse as it galloped like mad? He felt like his stomach was about to be squeezed out of his mouth and he was seeing stars. His guts were roiling. It was really difficult to concentrate his true qi as the jostling kept dispersing it.
The horses galloped three miles until a strange shriek pierced the air.
Liang Fu’s horse was in the middle. There was no road in the forest, forcing them to run through singlefile, no support on either side. He felt a gust of air blow by the top of his head as he passed under an ancient pine and a person dropped on him, probably someone’s boot. He ducked reflexively, but the boot scraped his skin and hit his skull and landed on his shoulder.
He yelled and fell off the horse.
Wenchang smelled a delicate fragrance as he felt himself being lifted into the air. The person who had grabbed him shrieked and stepped on a branch and flew off and was soon a thousand feet away before dropping into the forest and shooting off like a meteor.
It’s probably Black Succubus saving me, he thought. Heavens! Escaped from the gates of Hell just to land in the City of the Damned.
Being held under the person’s arm, he couldn’t see who had rescued him, but judging by the delicate scent he guessed it was Black Succubus Gu Zhen. Only difference was this scent was a bit fainter than Black Succubus’. Either way, it was definitely a woman.
He knew the two who arrived in the hall were Thousand-Faced Abbess and Frigid Scorpion Gao Fei, but he had no idea why they were there. Frigid Scorpion was a strange girl and he had never met her, so there’s no way she had come to save him. And it certainly couldn’t be Thousand-Faced Abbess because she was an old nun and therefore would not be wearing a scent.
The neighs of the horses faded, but the person who had saved him seemed to be going faster and faster. Before long he heard a howl from behind; someone was chasing them.
Heavens! Wenchang thought. This person’s qinggong is already sublime, so whoever’s after us must be even better. There sure are a lot of people in the jiangu who possess rare, high-level skills. My meager ability is nothing. Goodness!
A boisterous laugh resounded behind them. “Hahaha! I knew it was you, you despicable androgyne. He said you’d definitely come by this way. Stop!”
Then a roaring rumble like thunder as the two clashed with their palms, hitting with devastating, gut-churning force, the air spinning out in an ear-piercing howl.
Wenchang was dizzy as they circled twice. The person holding him laughed coquettishly and struck eight times. “Sovereign, your palm strength has increased tremendously. Why don’t you open my eyes and show me your awe-inspiring Divine Thunderbolt Palm?”
“No problem, here!” Sovereign’s clear voice resounded.
It was like exploding firecrackers, the sound enough to stun you as a ferocious burst of internal force blasted out. Wenchang felt his blood and qi slow and he not only felt suffocated, but the cells of his muscles also pulsed with the blast; the immense pressure was hard to bear.
Androgyne’s right palm parried five or six palms, knocking it back five or six inches. Fighting one-handed was awkward. He parried as he said, “Sovereign is as incredible as I thought. This gentleman is still far inferior. What an incredible Divine Thunderbolt Palm. No wonder you can run roughshod over the world and command the heroes of the light and dark paths. You also took several of my Nine Yin Withering Palm strikes.”
Wenchang felt Androgyne’s body suddenly become as cold as ten-thousand ice cubes, the peculiar chill spreading out. In that instant he was thrown ten feet away and crashed into the snow.
He had been thrown heavily, gradually losing consciousness. As he drifted out he heard the bursts of palms colliding, the sonic booms deafening. Then, a strange scent assailed him, the sweet fragrance softly enveloping him. Then he was out.
He had no way to know who won the fight between Sovereign and Androgyne as he never saw it. It would be a lifelong regret. He guessed the person who called himself “this gentleman” was Outcast Androgyne Young Master Mei Lin. How could he not regret missing a fight between two top masters of the martial fraternity?
- etvo translated this last exclamation… o_O ↩