SOE Chapter 74

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Chapter 74: Robbed

When most prowlers neared a building they would come in from the rear or the sides. Or maybe go up top and infiltrate the second floor. For people of the martial fraternity, the main entrance had the weakest security and the most lax, the opposite of normal residences. The former put more emphasis on the rear and sides, while the latter focused on the main gates.

Wenchang went right for the main gates. He could see a solitary compound with few rooms on the wings. Two servants armed with sabres stood watch at either rear corner. By his estimation, Bloodsucker Feng’s three bodyguards would be on edge due to recent happenings and would not be dozing off inside. There would at least be a night watchman on guard. That watchman might be lying low in the back, so he had to approach from the main gates.

Yep, there was nary a soul at the main gates, but dammit, there were two huge black dogs chained up by a roof column.

A watchdog, however, was no match for a man of the jianghu. Any jianghu man who earned his keep by light of the moon would certainly be carrying something from a tiger. Half-eaten tiger skin, tiger bone, tiger penis, or a bag of tiger droppings, anything from a tiger would be great for subjugating a dog. In the jianghu there were even some who specialized in dog restraint pellets that of course had been made from tiger parts. All one need do is drop a pellet and any dog nearby would collapse from fright. Much more effective than tiger bones or droppings because if you encountered a well-trained hunting dog it might snarl or run off, alerting its master.

Wenchang had picked up some dog restrain pellets when he was at Outcast Androgyne’s lair. Luckily, he was approaching upwind. He took out a pellet and threw it as hard as he could. The dogs stopped walking around and lay down.

He hid under the portico. There were wooden windows on either side of the gates. He took his dagger and lightly cut open the lattice and went inside. There was a small light in the room, which was convenient.

To the rear was a courtyard. Wonderful. A black figure stood on the wall on the left, a sabre tied on his back. The sabre tassel brushed across his shoulder. The man looked around sizing everything up, then leapt down light as a feather into the courtyard and leisurely strolled toward the gates of the rear hall and climbed the steps.

Wenchang was delighted. Judging by the man’s excellent lightness skill and his watershedding sabre, long and narrow and good for use in water, Wenchang guessed the guy was Divine Wave-Cleaving Sabre Gao Jiang. What night prowlers feared most was not seeing anyone around. Unpredictability was most dangerous. But once spotting someone, he would calm down because now he had a handle on things.

Divine Sabre climbed the steps, completely off guard. He pushed the doors open. He knew the situation inside full well, but he had no idea someone was behind the door.

Wenchang narrowed his eyes and got a good look and spearhanded the man in the side of the head, then grabbed Divine Sabre’s throat with his right hand and dragged him inside and deposited him behind a screen, then set about his business, emboldened and at ease. He ran straight into the rear compound.

The doors to the inner hall were heavy and sealed shut. Again he used his dagger and slipped it between the door seams to cut the bolt and enter, then sped to the main rooms in the back.

 

He suddenly heard a husky voice from one of the darkened rooms in the rear. “My money… bag, my…”

“Sir, wake up, wake up.” It was a girl’s voice.

“Heavens! Wha… What’s wrong?” This was the first person asking in a feeble voice.

“Nothing, you were dreaming, sir.”

“Oh! It was awful. That person had come to take my money bag…”

“Sir, you lost a little but not everything. Don’t think anymore about it. If you keep this up you’ll go mad.”

“Heavens! How can I not think about it? I paid four hundred taels of gold for those four pearls, bought them from Eunuch Zhao at the Prince of Qin’s residence… Eh…! Is that… that…”

The door sprang open and Wenchang flitted in and shut the door back with a flourish and in a flash was by the bed.

Silver lamps hung high in the room. Perhaps Bloodsucker Feng was afraid of the dark. There were eight sturdy red-lacquered wooden trunks between the dresser and wardrobe.

There were two people in the bed, one man, one woman sleeping together. The man was Bloodsucker Feng. His face wen ashen when he saw Wenchang. He didn’t utter a word.

Wenchang wasn’t going to let him do so either. He flashed his dagger and stuck it at Feng’s throat and chuckled in a low, frosty voice and said, “Don’t scream or I’ll slaughter you.”

No need to worry about the girl. Her mouth was gaping open, eyes ready to pop out of their sockets. She wanted to scream but nothing would come out. She took two short breaths and fainted away.

Wenchang reached out with his left hand and hooked Feng’s throat with his thumb and lifted him out of the bed like he was holding a chicken and set him down on the edge of the bed. Bloodsucker Feng only put up a tiny fight. He was already like a rat scared half out of its wits.

Wenchang released his thumb from Feng’s throat and said in a low voice, “You want money or you want to live? Speak!”

Bloodsucker Feng’s hands reached up to pry off Wenchang’s hand around his throat, but in vain. “I want… want money, and… and to live… and…”

“Whether you want money or life, I want gold and silver. Sweet dreams.”

Wenchang saw the eight trunks and didn’t inquire further, but knocked Feng out with a slap and dropped him on the bed, then went over and broke open a trunk.

Good gracious! The trunk was full of dazzling gold ingots. It would be difficult for even eight men to lift the trunk. Wenchang didn’t care about anything, he just grabbed teo fur-lined gowns and filled them with gold and wrapped them up and slung them over his back and staggered out.

He again headed for the main doors. On the massive, exquisite screen in the hall he used his sword to carve two lines of characters: “Ill-gotten gains taken with a clear conscience. Welcomed again and again, until next time, Cai Wenchang.”

He lightly cracked open the doors and slipped out quietly. Two dark figures suddenly rounded a corner down a small path, headed toward the main doors. One of them whistled, probably calling to one of the huge guard dogs. But those dogs were already breathing weakly, laying on the ground like dead dogs.

Wenchang started. I can’t leave or else I might alert the escort agency men, he thought.

At the same time, if he didn’t go now and waited for the two guys to approach, they would see the big dogs for sure, and once they made a scene it would be difficult to slip away. He thought for a moment and decided to subdue them first, then turn around and leave.

It was almost light out. If he was stopped it would be impossible to leave Chang’an alive.

The two dark figures didn’t hear any sounds from the dogs so they stopped. One of them said “Huh” while the other called softly, “Wait, something’s up.”

“Master Mao, you mean…” said the man who had said “huh”. Master Mao was Strongman Mao Xingbang. He was incredibly strong, a masterhand capable of felling a charging bull singlehandedly. He had reached the miraculous level of ironshirt qigong which made his body impenetrable to wounds from sharp weapons. He was immensely strong and rarely used a weapon when fighting, relying only on his fists to run roughshod over Chang’an.

Strongman was an old hand of the jianghu. He said, “Those dogs are quiet, must be cause they were poisoned or restrained by someone. Draw your weapons and be on your guard and wait here a minute. I’ll go take a look.” He skimmed past them.

Wenchang heard the name “Master Mao” and he became cautious. He grabbed a chair and hid behind the door and peeked out through a crack.

Strongman brandished his hands to guard himself as he leapt up the steps.

Wenchang suddenly pulled the doors open and threw the chair, taking the initiative. If they examined the dogs they’d call the night watchmen over for sure and he’d be exposed. He had to take an opportunity to get away. He flung the wooden chair and leapt off the steps like a raging eagle and fled from the southeast corner.

Strongman saw the chair flying toward him head-on but had no idea what it was. It was too late to dodge and it was too dark out, so much that he thought it was a person. He stopped and shot out three palm strikes in succession.

Two explosions as his palms hit true and the chair split apart. He darted to the side. Now he realized he’d been had as Wenchang’s silhouette flitted past the corner of the building.

“Thief! Halt!” He roared gave chase like mad.

Wenchang was carrying almost a hundred catties of gold on his back, quite heavy. The gold didn’t take up much volume, and its weight didn’t hinder his movement. A hundred catties of gold was nothing to him. He scurried and leapt and crouched and ran at will as if he were on level ground. He passed by five corners, then noticed a dark figure up ahead coming to check him. They were both fast and met head-on.

Northwest Escort Agency bells sounded faintly and a figure fluttered down. It was Strongman, only about a hundred feet behind, but falling away further with each bound; his lightness skill was not up to Wenchang’s, plus he had had a slower start. He’d have to keep practicing if he hoped to be able to catch him.

Wenchang was in the tiger’s den so he had been on guard all along. He saw a dark figure cut out from a corner and he immediately struck. The dark figure reached behind him and drew his sabre and shouted, “Halt, who goes there?”

“Cai Wenchang.” He was within three feet of the man when his powerful fist shout out. Two smacks dead on the man’s arms, hammering heavy and true.

The man blocking the wa grunted and fell to the right, his weapon falling out before he’d had a chance to draw it.

Wenchang flew past and leapt onto the roof.

A man on the roof tiles said, “Where are you going, friend? Stay there.” Three silver spearknives shot out in a 品 formation.

“Stop him, beat him up,” said someone from below and a dark shadow appeared.

Wenchang’s eyesight was exceptional; he could see the three faint silver streaks coming at him. He guffawed and darted to the right and caught one of the silver spearknives and immediately returned the favor.

“Aiyo!” The man on the roof howled and tumbled off.

Wenchang looked down. “Friends, don’t bother seeing me off. I’ll catch you later.”

He leapt over two roof ridges and was already facing a house on the street. He disappeared into the dark shadows of the house like a cat.

********

At noon the next day, the prefectural city constables were out searching the main avenues and the outskirts of the city. They pasted eye-catching wanted posters offering a handsome reward to anyone who could provide any tips leading to the arrest of bandit Ke He who had robbed Vice Commissioner Li’s estate, as well as the men who had colluded with the bandit and sold out their master, Jade-faced Tiger Yan Ruyu, Tong Ning, and Cao Gui. Also posters looking for the other bandit, the one who had robbed Bloodsucker Feng, Cai Wenchang. The illustration accompanying the poster had a very close resemblance to Wenchang.

Authorities sent word out all over looking to arrest those audacious bandits. Chang’an was in a hubbub, thrown into a state of confusion, but though the authorities and Northwest Escort Agency were keyed up, the populace felt immense satisfaction.

Vice Commissioner Li’s whole family moved to the government office that very same day.

Not long after noon, a tall man with a ruddy complexion, wearing a fur hat and three short tufts of beard stood at the gates of Chang’an looking at the wanted posters, a large bundle on his back. He was smiling, squeezed among a group of commoners. He said loudly, “A hundred taels of silver for one man, what the hell? Who’d be willing to risk their life against a bandit who could scale walls and flit from roof to roof? Not enough.”

A middle-aged villager next to him laughed and said, “The first poster is a hundred taels, but in no more than three days it will be raised to three hundred for sure. Just wait and see if you don’t believe me, heheh! Bloodsucker Feng and Vice Commissioner Li were patronized by a notorious bandit. Heaven really does have eyes. If you ask me, this case won’t be solved.”

The man with the bundle laughed and headed back out of the crowd while saying, “Haha! I am that notorious bandit. They’d need a reward of ver a thousand taels of gold to find me.”

“If the reward were really a thousand, you’d be a goner,” another old guy cut in.

“Please!” The big man patted the bag on his back. “I have about eighteen hundred taels of gold here. With money you can make ghosts turn the millstone. Who dares nab me?” With that, he left.

The man wasn’t joking. He really did have over a hundred taels of gold in his bag. He was Cai Wenchang wearing a fake three-tufted beard. It was a simple disguise. He strolled down and alley toward the hideout of the Three Heroes of Chang’an. He wanted to dispose of the stolen gold and jewels.

He pushed open the unlocked wooden door and was shocked to see not only the Three Heroes of Chang’an inside, Odd Beggar Feng Tao and Mad Beggar Lang Xiatian were sitting there as well, waiting for him respectfully as if they were expecting him. He couldn’t help but be shocked and on guard at their sudden appearance all together.

He had taken his beard off in the alley, now looking his usual self as he stood in the doorway sizing everything up, prepared to flee if worse came to worst.

Mad Beggar chuckled. “Brother, you’re just in time. Come in, come in.”

Winged Tiger came forward and saluted affectionately and patted him on the shoulder, laughing. “Brother Cai, you’re really amazing. You not only dealt that bastard official a stunning blow, you also drove off that rotten lecher, Jade-faced Tiger and exposed his true face; he won’t be able to show his face in the martial fraternity from hereon out…”

“Eh? How did you know I was at the Li residence?” Wenchang asked, horrified.

“Heheh! That bastard official wouldn’t mention you because you truly did save his whole family…”

“Haha! Chief White Demon Ke bid farewell to us this morning. He holds you in high esteem, brother. That’s how we know. Brother, don’t be suspicious, I’ve prepared a sumptuous banquet to celebrate with you.”

Wenchang wasn’t about to get careless. He was already circulating his qi to protect himself as Winged Tiger was patting everyone on the back. He had not yet dispelled it when he dropped the cloth bundle by the door and only carried his sword wrapped in cloth and stepped into the room. “Chief Ke really went too far. I had to step in and do something… Eh! What was that noise?” He spun around suddenly.


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