Chapter 75: Entertaining an Eminent Man
The main doors were shut tight, but there was an odd sound like an owl hooting. Everyone was shocked.
The doors were kicked open violently and an “eight trigram” Daoist robed man appeared. It was Seven Spells White Crane Hermit, showing up uninvited.
“Amitabha! This poor cleric is just in time for the meeting.” Seven Spells laughed, his frame blocking the doorway, a hearty, affable look on his face.
Wenchang’s face clouded. He said to Winged Tiger, “What’s this? Did you entice this sorcerer here to deal with me?”
“Brother, don’t misunderstand. There’s no relations between us and White Crane Hermit.” Winged Tiger was quick with an explanation as he glared daggers into Seven Spells, though his eyes also contained a trace of fear.
Seven Spells got a good look at Wenchang’s face and his own face darkened as well. “Eh! It’s you. You’re one of Black Succubus Gu Zhen’s men. Didn’t I killed you with a flick of my sleeve? You must be Cai Wenchang. No wonder Wudang got away with the Autumn Mountain Mist painting at Huayin. That’s for sure. Buddy, be a good boy and tell me where Black Succubus is and this poor cleric just might go easy on you.” He closed in, step by step.
Winged Tiger whipped his sword out and said in a low snarl, “Second Brother, take Brother Cai and get out of here.”
Mad Beggar laughed wildly and leveled his staff. “Alright! Today we shall entertain a famous, eminent man.” His staff swung like a tempest.
Seven Spells laughed and whisked his left sleeve while countering with his right palm and the staff was split into three pieces.
“Ah…” Mad Beggar yelled and blood sprayed from his mouth and he staggered back and sat down heavily. He was unable to take even one blow.
Wenchang cried out and drew his sword. “Clear out, gentlemen, I’ve got this.”
“You? Hmph! I’ll get rid of you first, then we’ll see.” Seven Spells flicked his left sleeve and shot his right hand out, grabbing for Wenchang’s face with “Gold Panther Bares Its Claws”.
Wenchang knew Seven Spells’ skill so he didn’t meet him head on, instead dodging out of the way, scurrying to the left and whipping his sword around as he shouted coldly. He crouched and spun around and struck backhanded with “Lie Prone and Chase the Wind”, attacking Seven Spell’s shin. He reacted fast, fast as anything.
At the same moment, Traceless Snowwalker shot three darts from his sleeve while Nighthawk retreated to the room in back. Odd Beggar seized the moment and grabbed Mad Beggar and fled for his life.
Seven Spells laughed maniacally and blew to the right, not only evading Wenchang’s attack and the three darts, but also stealing closer to Winged Tiger from the side. Seven Spells boomed, “You’re done for, junior!” His big left sleeve flicked across.
Winged Tiger had no time to react. He howled and thrust his sword out with all his might in a last-ditch effort.
The big sleeve wrapped around the sword and Seven Spell’s right hand fanned out, about to strike Winged Tiger on the crown of his head. If he grabbed him Tiger’s skull would be crushed for sure.
Wenchang arrived, sword bolting out and grazing Seven Spell’s right shoulder. At the same time he leaned over and whipped his right leg out, kicking Seven Spells in the side. He thundered, “Die, sorcerer!”
If Seven Spells crushed Winged Tiger’s skull he would be eat Wenchang’s sword and kick in the process. How could he not know that Wenchang was attacking from behind? He had his empyreal wind qi shielding him so he could take a sword and a kick, but his reputation among the jianghu would be finished. Wouldn’t it be a disgrace to let someone strike him? He hmphed and turned his right hand over and reached for the sword coming at him behind his shoulder.
He grabbed it, his fingers like hooks, his hand like a pair of iron tongs clamping onto the tip of Wenchang’s sword. “Let go!” Seven Spells’ wrist shook and he sunk down to intercept the kick. But he never thought that as he blocked the sword that Wenchang could retract his kick quick as lightning midway through and switch to his left, his foot slamming into the small of Seven Spells’ back, violent and true.
Winged Tiger took the opportunity to drop his sword and used his Gold Carp Slips Under the Waves technique to slip thirty feet away to the doorway of the inner hall.
At the same time, Wenchang cried out and fell backward ten feet, dropping his sword. His foot felt like he’d kicked a plate of steel, the vibrations jolting through his foot to his belly. The sole of his foot felt like it was about to split open. He had been flung back ten feet involuntarily; if he had not cultivated his ultimate breathing technique then his leg would have been crippled.
Seven Spells swayed slightly. Wenchang’s foot had unleashed a mountain of force, and even with his empyreal wind qi shield he still felt ripples of energy which set his heart to palpitating and enraged him. “Little bastard, you deserve a thousand deaths.”
In his rage, he dropped the two swords he’d grabbed and pounced like a crazed tiger, using “Ferocious Tiger Attacks the Sheep” quick as lightning.
Wenchang was not yet steady on his feet, his qi and blood churning. It would be difficult to escape such a frenzied attack, but he was quick-witted under pressure. He perked up his spirits and intentionally laughed maniacally and flung a throwing knife.
Seven Spells stopped short, still thinking Wenchang was trying to lure him into a trap. His empyreal wind qi had not wounded Wenchang and a pale silver arc of light was coming at him. He’d have to deal with the throwing knife first. He slowed his foot and slanted his palm to slash at the silver arc of light, which shattered to powder.
Wenchang could only put weight on the one foot. He pressed down with all his might and launched himself toward the main doors, trying to get to the street so he could flee. He heard a voice behind him, “Heehee! This really is a den of crouching tigers and hidden dragons! Marvelous!”
Wenchang rejoiced at the crisp, clear, familiar sound. He was saved. He darted to the left at once and saw a flash of white out of the corner of his eye.
Seven Spells was there and then two explosions and a strong burst of wind shot out in all directions. The doors shook and collapsed. Seven Spells had exchanged two blows with the white figure and they were soon a blur as they blended together, fighting head on.
Seven Spells cried out in surprise and stepped back three paces, his trigram gown flapping, and the whistling bursts of air in the room dissipated.
The white figure went outside laughing with a tinkling voice like a silver bell, followed by a sweet voice, “Hey! My darling priest, those palm strikes were almost the death of me. You used your full strength, do you really want to kill me?”
It was Outcast Androgyne, white gown fluttering, an arctic fox-fur outer robe, long jet-black hair drawn up at the ends and fastened with a precious green jade hairband, a sword hanging at the waist, looking like a smart, dashing young itinerant scholar. Rosy lips and white teeth and radiant with smiles.
Wenchang was relieved, waiting for the right time to give that evil sorcerer three of his silver-plumed darts. But he heard Outcast Androgyne tell him using his secret communication skill, “Quick! You mustn’t delay, that sorcerer is formidable. Go!”
Seven Spells’ tiger eyes were raging. “You sexless hermaphrodite, you have the guts to interfere in my business. You really overestimate yourself. You must be tired of liv…”
“Hee hee! Yes, this gentleman is tired of living. Don’t you worry about it you dishevelled old priest.”1 Outcast Androgyne fingered his precious sword.
Seven Spells also made to draw his sword. He said coldly, “You and I have always minded our own business, but today you’re looking to make a fool of yourself. It’s not too cramped in the hall, let’s settle things here.”
“Why not? This gentleman would like to get a whiff of your knockout gas and see if your will-o’-the-wisp poison really deserves its reputation.” Androgyne strolled into the hall ceremonially and glanced at Wenchang, signalling as he secret-whispered, “Get out of Chang’an fast, you’re in dire straits here. There are too many people after you. Hurry and lie low for a while. Get out of here!”
Wenchang had to leave. He slipped out of the main doors and plucked up his bag of gold.
Seven Spells surged forward, raging, “Leave the painting and pearls, or else…”
Outcast Androgyne drew his sword and laughed. “Keep dreaming, old dishevelled priest.” He swung his sword.
Seven Spells howled and quickly whipped his sword out and brandished it wildly, the air buzzing and whirring. Three clangs of crossing swords to make your stomach drop as they fought it out.
Wenchang had slipped through the doors. He heard Androgyne laugh and Seven Spells’ deafening howl, contrasting in distinctive dissonance. Androgyne’s graceful deportment when fighting filled him with admiration.
He couldn’t leave Chang’an. He didn’t care about the danger. Before he left Miss Shi’s bedchamber he made up his mind that no matter the difficulty, he must secretly escort the Shi family safely back to Chengdu in Sichuan. He was an unyielding person and knew how to repay gratitude and as well as animosity. Of course he didn’t expect anything in return when he did someone a favor, but he couldn’t forget when he received someone else’s kindness. In this chilly spring air he could not imagine how the Shi family would be able to trek thousands of miles over ancient gallery roads and how important it was for them to be escorted there back to Sichuan.
He knew when they planned to set out on their journey, and he knew the road between Chang’an and Hanzhong prefecture was not dangerous, so there was no need to set out right away. There was still time to meet up in Hanzhong; he could stay several more days in Chang’an.
Once again he had received Outcast Androgyne’s aid. He was deeply grateful, but he didn’t want to get close to Androgyne. He knew knew if he did he would fall into a sea of lust and would not be able to get out. Hungering for food and sex was human nature; the allure of sex was the hardest to resist, assuming he was a normal hot-blooded person. Those short three days together still had him rattled. He knew full well it was an unpardonable mistake, but he still thought of those days with nostalgia and he couldn’t get it out of his mind. Outcast Androgyne’s free notions of love seemed so normal, unrestrained by Confucian ethics or morality, and it had had an influence on him. He didn’t really care much about romance, but he could not completely cast off worldly notions either, and so he often felt confused and at a loss.
He no longer trusted the Three Heroes of Chang’an. He didn’t know how Seven Spells just happened to show up there in the afternoon; was there something going on between he and the Three Heroes? In this state of utter bewilderment, it was best not to go to them. He could take care of these hundred taels of gold himself; he didn’t need the Three Heroes to do it for him.
He put on a disguise and transformed into a young master of Chang’an. First of all, he bought a dilapidated mansion in the southeastern outskirts of the city and hired eight servants, all from the slums of the southern suburbs. They would do as soon as they were cleaned up a bit. Then, he bought an excellent steed and a light carriage. One could do anything as long as he had money. In a single day he had everything in order.
It was warm and sunny these days, rare good weather at the outset of spring. True spring was on its way. This great weather would last probably seven or eight days. Once the warm front moved through the cold would return.
Over three short days he used the eight hired servants and descended into the seedy underbelly of the slums, spent a lot of money, and made them fast friends. All news throughout Chang’an was at the tips of his fingers.
His mansion sat to the northeast of Benediction Temple, near the vicinity of the old imperial academy. To the north one could see the high city walls. The gate tower over the southern gates in the northwest corner was grand and majestic. Looking to the southwest was the Small Wild Goose Pagoda of Benediction Temple. To the southeast was the Temple of Compassion, the Great Wild Goose Pagoda rising above it in the distance.
His mansion contained five wings with courtyards on either side, pavilions and gardens in front and back. The workers finished up night renovations in three days, fixing it up and whitewashing it so that it looked good as new. A board hung high over the circular gates at the front garden with “Literary Park” inscribed in big red lacquer characters.2
He was now Master Wen, coming and going in and out of the city with his sleek horse and soft furs. His retinue was also extravagantly decked out, and they too rode horses, regularly appearing three or five head at a time at various locations.
He didn’t wear a disguise, just changed his attire: black fox cap and jacket and a soft black fox-fur outer gown and deerskin boots with embroidered piping. In his hand hung a famous kind of horse whip, purchased from Yang Family Furs in Taiping Ward. From his outward appearance, his fair face and red lips, his slanting eyebrows going back to the temple, and his big, black, starry eyes, he looked quite distinguished, exuding a modicum of bookishness.
He had two regular servants he always brought with him, each about sixteen or seventeen, decked out in lambskin and black fur hats. They were plenty handsome themselves. One carried visiting cards behind his saddle while the other carried a large leather case. The three of them rode in and out of the markets. No one had any idea the debonair young master was actually the notorious bandit from the wanted posters, Cai Wenchang. The people of Chang’an figured the bandit must have high-tailed it out of there after the robberies. He was probably a thousand miles away already. Cai Wenchang would never stay behind in Chang’an!