Chapter 7: The Assassin
Translator: Transn Editor: Transn
Gu Shenwei knew that flag.
It was now two years ago that the entire Gu Family, which included dozens of people, had left the Central Plains and traveled through the desert to the unknown Western Region. They had hired many helpers along the way to assist them in their journey. Among these was a helper who carried the Golden Roc Flag. He was not a guide, though he did always walk in front of the procession. He was not a servant either, for he did not do any chores. He always kept his distance from his employer and made the coachmen and other servants feel uneasy.
The journey to the Western Region was dull, but Gu Shenwei remembered clearly that the family never suffered any attacks from bandits along the way. Their safe travels seemed to confirm Master Gu Lun's good judgment in navigating the Western Region. However, in truth, it had been Golden Roc Fort that had protected them.
Golden Roc Fort was once the protector of the Gu family. This fact added to Gu Shenwei's confusion as to why, two years after the family's journey, the gang had become murderous butchers. He even began to doubt whether the bandit known as Eagle had made a mistake.
The two flag-bearers stood firm as the knight in black approached alone, carried swiftly by his horse. He stopped just over 10 steps away from Long Feidu and dismounted, putting down his longbow without haste, as if he were going to greet an old friend.
"What a rare visitor to Golden Roc Fort. A swordsman from the Snowmountain!
"Hey! You even dare to fight alone. This is indeed a rare sight."
"It seems that I have no choice. But in any case, I've undergone several days of training in the art of combat.
"I'm Long Feidu from Tanduo Peak of the Great Snowmountain."
Long Feidu held the sword in both hands, the blade slanting toward the ground.
"I've heard a lot about you. But I'm a nobody in Golden Roc Fort. It's not even worth mentioning my name."
The assassin in black drew out his blade, which was starkly different from the typical scimitar used by bandits. This knife was flat and narrow, with a blade barely two feet long. It would have looked like a needle placed next to Long Feidu's long sword.
The two combatants drew closer to each other. The onlookers all held their breath, waiting to witness the result of this duel.
Gu Shenwei was anxiously hoping for swordsman's success. He had already made up his mind that no matter how Long Dufei treated the two teenagers, he would not interfere again.
The killer and the swordsman came within three steps of each other, but neither made a move. They stared at each other, nodding as if they were merely acquaintances who would pass by.
Gu Shenwei's heart was in his mouth. He had witnessed and even had participated in a few fights. Both sides would ready themselves at a distance and continually adjust their positions while they came closer. But he had never seen anything quite like what was happening between these two opponents. It was so much like a casual dance that he felt no sense of murderous feelings waiting at the other side of the fight.
The two of them were standing shoulder to shoulder with less than a step's length between them. But they still stood staring at each other. Then, the murderous feeling suddenly burst forth. The long sword and the narrow knife waved simultaneously in the blink of an eye.
Though the onlookers were prepared and did not dare to avert their eyes, they were all shocked and leaned back unconsciously, as if the weapons were aimed at their own vital parts.
The sword and the dagger swung like lightning, but did not touch each other. The assassin in black stepped backward even faster than he wielded his dagger. In the blink of an eye, he already stood five steps away, just at the edge of the long sword's attacking range.
Long Feidu withdrew his move just before the strike reached its full power.
No one seemed to win the first round. Gu Shenwei thought the swordsman had been the stronger contender, but he questioned this assessment as he recalled something that his father had once said.
Gu Lun had always spoiled his youngest son and had never pushed him too hard to practice Kung Fu. However, once when Gu Shenwei was criticizing others' martial arts, Gu Lun became unusually serious. He pointed at his own eyes and hands, and said, "Having sharp eyesight is much more difficult than having skillful hands."
Gu Shenwei had not taken his father's words seriously then, but now he believed them.
Long Feidu had killed six outlaws with just a few maneuvers. The killers from Golden Roc Fort had noiselessly slaughtered dozens of people in the Gu family. Even though the assassin in black in front of him might not have been one of those killers, his Kung Fu skills could not be underestimated. Both of them were top masters. However, at such a crucial moment, their movements were so simple and even seemed a little rough. Each move was quite similar to the servant Yang Zheng's unchanged strike of his lance.
Gu Shenwei had already learned several sets of fist and sword techniques, and could make reasonable comments on the various schools of martial arts of the Central Plains. However, he would not be able to fight against even the most ordinary bandits.
"Superficial." His father once laid this comment on him, smiling and shaking his head.
The assassin and the swordsman crossed swords once again. This time there was no cautious approach. Instead, they dashed out like forceful arrows, or leopards pouncing their prey. In the blink of an eye, their weapons clashed, emitting harsh noises.
The assassin in black stepped back first. This time he retreated further than 10 steps away. He was visibly nervous, every inch of his hair standing on end.
Long Feidu wielded his sword again and stepped forward.
Gu Shenwei felt a flicker of shock, thinking the swordsman would chase his opponent and strike a fatal blow. He was wrong. Long Feidu immediately stopped after a single step. It was a stalemate.
The two opposed each other like statues for a long time, confusing the onlookers. No one dared to applaud. If they stood for the wrong team, they would pay with their lives.
"Mercy Powder. I should have thought of it." Long Feidu suddenly knelt on one leg, the hilt gripped in his hands. It was no longer a weapon but a crutch.
Gu Shenwei had no idea what Mercy Powder was, nor did the other onlookers. However, it was clear to everyone that a scheme had been plotted against the swordsman.
"You swordsmen always say 'I should have thought', but never prepare for it. Humph." The assassin in black scorned the loser without mercy.
"Mercy Powder has no color and no smell, but it's very harmful. The victim becomes weak and feeble. 15 years ago, the Supreme King swore to destroy it and never use it again. Now it appears again. Golden Roc Fort hasn't changed at all, still as untrustworthy as ever."
"Well, as knowledgeable as you seem to be, I'm afraid you're wrong. This is not Mercy Powder, so Lord King hasn't broken his pledge, and Golden Roc Fort maintains its honor, especially in keeping the rule that we never spare any survivors. You can believe that!"
The assassin in black walked behind Long Feidu as he spoke, and put the sharp tip of his blade against the swordsman's shoulder.
"That's it?" Gu Shenwei could not believe it, for he was expecting Long Feidu to fight back. However, it was merely a teenager's wish that good people should win and fairness should defeat trickery. The swordsman "should have thought of it". Nevertheless, "should have" could never become reality.
The assassin in black slowly stabbed the body with his narrow dagger until only the hilt was left outside. Long Feidu did not resist and died in peace. Only the corpse held the sword and knelt there. Not far from him lay the six bandits who he had killed.
The assassin in black held the bloody dagger and turned back to look at those bandits.
He had killed a real swordsman. True, his methods were dirty, but he was still the winner. Everyone knew that they would be able to kill him if they all united. However, in front of a bullying dog, they were like gentle sheep, frightened and submissive, no matter how rude they used to be while stealing other people's belongings and livestock.
The assassin looked at them with scorn and wiped the blood off of his dagger with Long Feidu's body. He slid the dagger into its sheath, walked back, and mounted his horse. After a while, he said grimly, "Finish your business and leave immediately. No one may stay."
The bandits felt relieved and kept nodding their heads to show agreement.
The Snowmountain swordsman had disappointed him, but Gu Shenwei was more contemptuous of the bandits. The dawn of revenge had faded away after shining briefly.
Gu Shenwei could not figure out how to defeat his enemies, the members of Golden Roc Fort. He had originally thought that once he mastered Yin and Yang Strength by practicing the ways taught in the shortcut manual, he would be able to kill all his enemies. Now he realized that it would not be easy.
He also realized something else. His father, his two elder brothers, and Master Shifu Yang would have been able to fight back if they had not been plotted against like Long Feidu had.
The assassin in black rode his horse forward, turned eastward at the intersection and entered the territory of Golden Roc Fort. The two flag-bearers followed him closely, like two female lions following after a male lion who had just defeated an intruder. The onlookers at the west of the intersection were merely frightened wild dogs.
"Finish your business and leave immediately." Gu Shenwei immediately understood the meaning of this sentence, and discovered that he was to be treated as merchandise.
Soon after the assassins of Golden Roc Fort left, a group of traveling merchants came from the northern mountain pass in a long caravan. Some of them rode horses, and some drove carriages. They wore a variety of different clothing, a miscellany of many hundreds of people.
The merchants and the bandits formed two opposite groups with a clear boundary, but they reached a peaceful agreement on this road. Both sides were waiting for each other. The bandits took out goods and people they had robbed, behaving like new salesmen. They sold all they had to the merchants who walked by. In fact, they could not tell the names of most of their goods.
Those merchants loved this kind of business as it was cheap. If they were lucky enough, they might even get a rare treasure from those bandits who knew nothing of its true value. Most importantly, the T-junction was safe. Even the most vicious bandits had to hold back their impulses, not daring to touch one finger of the merchants who carried gold and silver.
They had already paid the protection fee to Golden Roc Fort, the largest gang of bandits in the Western Region. In return, they gained privilege, which protected them from small groups of bandits.
The trade was in full swing. Soon the bloody smell of the seven corpses washed away. When Gu Shenwei peered through the crowd to view the nearby Snowmountain swordsman, he found that the body had fallen on the ground and the long sword had disappeared. Naturally, the corpses had been robbed and nothing was left.
With so many feelings welled up, Gu Shenwei became overwhelmed. By contrast, the two teenagers in front of him did not have many thoughts at all. They had just narrowly escaped, and the assassin of Golden Roc Fort was their unexpected "savior". Now they had to save themselves.
They began to untie the rope using their teeth. The rest of the captives were stupefied for a moment before they all realized that they were now free. Their "masters", the six bandits from the Eagle Gang, were dead.
Unfortunately, "master" was not an uncommon thing at this T-junction dominated by bandits and merchants. Before the captives untied their ropes, a few merchants had already arrived. They commanded their slaves to cut off the ropes and were ready to take all of the "commodities".
Some of the captives submissively followed their new masters while others tried to explain to the merchants.
"I'm not a slave!"
Gu Shenwei cried out at the Big Beard who was coming for him. The other two teenagers also shouted in another language. No matter what languages they used, their cries were only answered with laughter.
The Big Beard put away his short dagger and grabbed one of Gu Shenwei's arms to drag him to a cart. Gu Shenwei was full of anger. Having no other outlet to vent it, he kicked the Big Beard with all his strength.
Although Gu Shenwei was young and his Kung Fu was poor, the power of the kick was not at all weak. The Big Beard cried out in pain and angrily punched Gu Shenwei in his lower abdomen.
This punch was even harder than the kick. Even though Gu Shenwei had thought of how he might defend himself, he was beaten down before he could take any action. The Big Beard hit more heavily than the manor servants of the Gu family.
The Big Beard intended to continue the beating, but a merchant snapped a few words, which probably meant that he should not beat the slave to death, as he was "purchased" goods.
The Big Beard, who had been kicked, happened to bear grudges. He deliberately knocked the teenager's head against a wooden fence when opening the cage. Gu Shenwei felt dizzy as he was thrown into the cage.
Gu Shenwei was not alone in this cage. A person, who was bumped against by him, screamed and kicked him away. Gu Shenwei rolled aside. After a long while, he regained consciousness and found that the trade caravan had started their trip to the east to follow the Golden Roc Flag.
There was more than one cage cart, all following in procession. Oxen with great horns were pulling the carts, and ferocious barbarian knights rode by their sides.
Gu Shenwei looked back inside the cage. A dozen children were huddling in the haystack and all staring at him fearfully. He had no idea who it was that his weight had been thrown upon just now.
The hope for joining the Great Snowmountain was broken, and he had no choice but to start all over again. He reached his hand to his chest for the white handkerchief in order to check whether there were any of those words that he desperately wanted to read.
But the white handkerchief was gone.
Gu Shenwei felt dizzy. He searched his whole body, but could not find it, not even a trace of it in the nearby piles of hay.