Chapter 42: Manipulation
After Laozi Valley, Outcast Androgyne kept a close watch on Black Succubus. He was somewhat friendly with her so he was not keen to attack her. Later, he sent someone to send word to Black Flag Sovereign revealing Black Succubus’ whereabouts.
Black Succubus’ trusted servant Maid Qiu was placed with her by Outcast Androgyne to be his eyes and ears. That time Black Succubus had been surrounded by Black Flag Sovereign she had not only lost Wenchang and the Autumn Mountain Mist painting, she had also lost her treasured horse carriage, narrowly escaping herself. She ground her teeth in fury and went back to Mt. Hua to settle things with Maid Qiu, but she had already been picked up by Outcast Androgyne. It was like Black Succubus were dreaming; she still thought Qiu was one of Black Flag Sovereign’s henchmen. She never would have thought it had been Outcast Androgyne’s masterpiece.
Outcast Androgyne watched Wenchang’s every move, leisurely setting his plan into motion, preparing the bait to hook the big fish, Wenchang. Disguising men in the dress of Black Flag Sovereign’s men while having them speak as if they were Endless Valley men was a stroke of genius, and it had gone down just as Silver Sword arrived. The meticulousness of his plan was worthy of praise.
Gudong and Xinzhu’s words and actions had ingratiated them to Wenchang. Outcast Androgyne, watching from his special peephole, was now more confident and informed due to Wenchang’s words and actions. He knew about Wenchang and Black Succubus, and he had been there when Wenchang, at the end of his rope, had stolen silver from the Northwest Escort Agency men. He had been watching Wenchang for several days so he ought to understand his temperament.
Such a pity! He still didn’t understand Wenchang’s inner nature. In the end he had been let down, but he had still reaped many results.
He waited until the end of the double-hour of the goat before he decided to have a showdown with Wenchang.
Wenchang changed into the new silver clothes; he seemed to be deeply enveloped in color, shining in a pale silvery grey haze. The color gave him a floaty, enigmatic appearance, and a deeply mysterious inner quality, a profound foil to his original self. At a glance, he seemed to be beaming and radiant, as if he were a different person, no longer a loafer of the jianghu down on his luck.
Wenchang paced back and forth in his room fretfully, his mind in disarray.
Three knocks on the door broke the silence.
“Please come in,” he said without thinking.
The door opened silently, flooding the room with light. Gudong and Xinzhu entered and stood to either side and bowed in welcome to an unexpected guest.
This guest was of average height, with arched eyebrows and sparkling, dewy eyes, a straight nose and a small mouth, white teeth and red lips on an oval face. His translucent pink cheeks were fine and smooth. Looked to be around twenty years old. Shiny, jet-black hair was tied at the back and coiled up with a hair cloth. He wore a long, bluish-white robe with a fox fur overcoat. His smile was enchanting, his expression amiable. An intoxicating light scent wafted in.
Woah, what a handsome young man, Wenchang thought.
The beautiful man bowed deeply with his hands clasped before him and walked up to Wenchang with a refined, dignified manner. He smiled. “Little Brother Cai, have you recovered?”
Wenchang had caught his scent. It was the same as the one who had rescued him, so he was sure this was Outcast Androgyne Young Master Mei Lin. Yet he was still a bit doubtful. Young Master Mei Lin had rampaged through the jianghu for over a decade; he should not look so young. He looked weak and frail and effeminate, without a trace of heroic spirit one expected from a man of the martial fraternity. Rather, he looked like a young man who had just reached adulthood, and inexperienced scholar. He looked eight-tenths like a girl. How could he be the notorious, wicked devil of the jianghu, Outcast Androgyne?
He was stunned by his appearance and a bit at a loss. “Brother… Sir…”
The pretty young man touched him and led him over to a ceramic stool. Wenchang felt the man’s fingers were pointed like a woman’s, not only smooth, but also warm. He pressed him down onto the stool, then sat on the other one. He smiled. “When face to face I am Young Master Mei Lin, but to outsiders you call me Outcast Androgyne. Brother, which do you take me for?”
Wenchang stared with his mouth agape. He stammered, “Brother, is… is not really… not really… How could I… call you…”
“Heehee! Don’t be hypocritical. Everyone calls me that, how could you not? I’m a bit late. Black Flag Sovereign sent a group of his men I had to lead astray. But you can rest easy, they’ll never find us here.”
Wenchang collected himself. Outcast Androgyne’s refined manner of speech influenced him. He stood and greeted him properly. “First I want to thank you for your help rescuing me…”
Outcast Androgyne pushed him back to his seat. “No need to mention such trivial matters. Sit! If you consider me a dangerous affliction, not worthy of chatting with in this small room, then you may go off in a huff. I won’t impose on you. Otherwise, no need for conventional polite talk with me.”
Wenchang shook his head awkwardly. “Just simply ask me to leave, and I will go.”
Outcast Androgyne laughed charmingly. His laugh was like a woman’s. “Little brother, men of the jianghu do not like to be flattered, nor do they wish to hear words of deep gratitude. You to possess this bearing and disposition, or else you’re not suited to be a man of the jianghu. Little brother, may I ask where you will go now?”
“I have to go to Xi’an to meet a friend.”
Outcast Androgyne shook his head, smiling wryly. “If I were you, it would be best not to step into the city for the next three days. You should not even show yourself within the vicinity.”
“Black Flag Sovereign and Northwest Escort Agency men have assembled on a large scale in the prefectural city. There’s going to be a big fight between them and the people of Endless Valley of Wuling there these three days.”
Wenchang laughed. “Heartbreak Cliff and Endless Valley won’t fight. Don’t worry!”
“Why not? Those two are like black and white, incompatible as fire and water…”
“Young Master, you worry too much. Northwest Escort Agency are heroes of the light path. Why would they fight with Black Flag Sovereign? Hmph! Those filthy swine! They’re all the same. Why would they fight with each other?”
He explained everything he heard in the dungeon. Outcast Androgyne pretended to listen with interest. “Little brother, I don’t believe it. It’s inconceivable. Impossible.”
“Does the young master think I am hard of hearing?”
“I don’t mean that at all. I just suspect there is some other explanation, that’s all. Oh, in that case, won’t your situation be even more dangerous? If they’re all mired in filth together, they might be gathering to deal with you!”
Wenchang was distraught. Luckily, he still had four days before his appointment with Black Iron Pagoda. Hiding out for a few days would be no problem, but he was not comfortable with the place he was hiding out in.
Outcast Androgyne could see through him. “It’s best if you lie low for a few days to avoid any trouble. My place is well-hidden. No one would dare make trouble around here. It’s just that, I have a bad reputation. If I keep you here it would sully your good name and ruin your glorious future. Although I can tell you are a dragon among men and would like to get to know you better, still, in order to protect your future…”
“Don’t, don’t say stuff like that, okay!” Wenchang cut in irritably.
Outcast Androgyne face saddened a bit. He stood. “I am notorious, naturally unworthy of…”
“Young master, don’t think too highly of me. Do you know who I am?”
“Little brother, I… You’re…”
“A blacksmith from Fine Horse Village, a small place. I’m Black Succubus Gu Zhen’s lover, a bandit who robbed Northwest Escort Agency. Isn’t that enough?”
Outcast Androgyne looked at him for a moment. “I don’t believe it.”
“You have a bad reputation and are called Outcast Androgyne, but after meeting you I don’t believe it,” Wenchang blurted.
“I really am an unforgivingly vicious devil.”
“I’m no good either.”
Outcast Androgyne suddenly laughed loudly. “You dare to stay here at my place for three days?”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“Reputation, future prospects… You don’t care about these?”
“Don’t you worry about it.”
“You’re not afraid of this wicked androgyne?”
Wenchang reached his hand out. “Let’s hold arms as proof that we are friends.”
They clasped their arms together. Outcast Androgyne’s face was serious. “Little brother, I really don’t want to ruin you. I really am a terrifying androgyne like they all say; you don’t need a bad friend like me. I don’t know about this.”
“Haha! Then we will stink together, bad friends to each other.”
Speaking of which, I prefer a woman’s beauty. You?”
Wenchang was taken aback. Then he blurted, “Same here, same here. Otherwise I wouldn’t likely have ended up as Black Succubus’ guest.” He felt flushed at the mention of Black Succubus Gu Zhen.”
Outcast Androgyne laughed. “Although you aren’t being sincere, I still like it. Little brother, what do you think of Gudong?”
Wenchang’s handsome face blushed. “You’re making fun of me. Don’t fool around.” He looked at Gudong. Her head was down and she was smiling shyly, making his face hot.
“I’m not making fun of you. Let me tell you, I have all types of beauties here, whatever a man could want. Heehee! If you don’t like her you could always go with me. Of course, I know myself. I’m no match for Black Succubus Gu Zhen.”
Wenchang was stunned. He took a good look at Outcast Androgyne, who was calmly smiling at him, his expression enchanting. He didn’t look like he was joking.
“You…” he mumbled.
“Do you know if I am a man or a woman?”
“There are not really any hermaphrodites. Such a one would be impotent. You cannot believe everything you hear. What do your eyes tell you? Do you think I am a man or a woman?”
Wenchang was dumbfounded. He smiled faintly and reached out and touched Androgyne’s chin, looking for an Adam’s apple, but his hand was pushed away with a laugh.
“Say it! No touching.”
“Somehow I think you are not quite like a woman.” He was basing this on Androgyne’s manner of speaking.
“Heehee! You’ll find out before long,” Androgyne said.
A young man’s temperament is unstable. If you touch cinnabar you will be stained red. If you touch ink you will turn black. It was true. “Color” was a terrible temptation. If there’s a first time, it is difficult to avoid a second. Poor Wenchang. He was falling into Outcast Androgyne’s ingenious trap.