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A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
А Б В Г Д Е Ж З И Й К Л М Н О П Р С Т У Ф Х Ц Ч Ш Щ Э Ю Я


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4

The heroes ate a full meal and then returned to their rooms to rest. At six o'clock that evening, an attendant reported that the tunnel diggers were already under the Commander-in-Chief's Yamen, but that a large rock was blocking their path which they were trying to dig around. Chen and Xu assigned their forces: some were to attack from the left, some from the right, and some would be held in reserve. At about eight o'clock, the attendant returned to report that the diggers had come up against an iron plate and had decided to stop work for a while for fear of alerting those inside.

"We will wait another two hours and then make our move," Chen said.

During those two hours, the heroes could hardly control their impatience. Zhang Jin paced up and down the hall mumbling curses. Master Ma kept taking out a large gold watch and checking the time while Chen read a book.

"The time has arrived," Ma finally announced.

The heroes all charged for the door. They donned various disguises and made their way separately through the darkened streets of Hangzhou to a house just outside the Commander-in-Chief's Yamen.

'Crocodile' Jiang was waiting for them. "This area is being tightly patrolled by Manchu troops," he said. "Be as quiet as possible."

He stood at the entrance of the tunnel with his iron oar at the ready, as the heroes filed through one by one. The tunnel had been dug deep, and with Hangzhou being such a low-lying area, it was ankle-deep in water. By the time they reached the big rock, the muddy water was up to their chests, while several dozen yards further on, it rose to their heads.

Seven or eight attendants were waiting near the iron plate with torches and spades in hand.

"Start work!" Chen ordered.

With the Great Helmsman there watching them, the attendants worked like demons, and soon shifted the rock to the side of the iron plate. Another moment of furious digging and the iron plate was dislodged, and 'Leopard' Wei, his pair of hooks at the ready, went through first with the rest of the heroes behind.

The attendants held the torches high to illuminate the way as Wei ran along a corridor towards Wen's cell, but found the way blocked by a locked iron gate.

"Eighth Brother, Ninth Brother," said Xu suddenly. "Go and guard the exit to the dungeon just in case the Manchus have some secret scheme."

Yang and Wei assented and left. Several of the attendants worked to loosen the stones to the side of the gate, and then with the help of several of the heroes, lifted the gate out of position. Luo Bing ran through, and into Wen's cell only to find it empty.

After so many disappointments, Luo Bing crumpled onto the floor and began to sob. Zhou Qi wanted to comfort her, but her father held her back.

"Let her be," he said. "A cry will do her good."

"Commander Li was afraid we would come to organise a jail break and has moved Fourth Brother somewhere else," Xu said.

"But now we are in the Yamen, we will find him no matter what," Chen replied.

They went to the door of the dungeon and saw Yang fighting fiercely with a group of Manchu soldiers. Priest Wu Chen gave a shout and charged out of the dungeon and finished off two Manchu soldiers on the spot. Further on, they found Wei battling six or seven officers.

"Considering my relationship with Commander Li, I had better not reveal myself," Lu Feiqing thought. He ripped a strip off his gown and covered his face so that only the eyes were showing. Just then, the Manchu soldiers broke and retreated up to the Yamen courtyard in confusion with Wei and the others in hot pursuit.

Xu leapt up onto a nearby wall and saw soldiers standing guard throughout the whole Yamen. A drum sounded, and Xu guessed the commanders were still positioning their soldiers. Then he spotted a lonely two-storey building in the southern part of the main courtyard surrounded by several hundred troops. There was nothing special about the building except for the tight defences, and he decided that was probably where Wen was being held. He jumped down from the wall and whirled his sword around his head.

"Brothers, follow me!" he shouted, and charged towards the building.

The further they went, the more soldiers appeared. But despite their numerical superiority, the Manchu troops were unable to contain the Red Flower Society fighters, each of them a master of the martial arts. In only a short while, the heroes had fought to within a few yards of the building.

"Third Brother, let's go and have a look inside," Priest Wu Chen said to 'Buddha' Zhao.

"Right," said Zhao, and they sprang over to the doorway with two long strides. A sword sliced towards them, but with one thrust from the priest's blade, the swordsman screamed and his weapon clattered to the ground. They raced into the building with Luo Bing and the others close behind.

As the fighting continued, the heroes found the numbers of Manchu soldiers diminishing. Suddenly they heard Priest Wu Chen yell from upstairs: "Fourth Brother is here! We've got him!" The heroes shouted in joy.

Zhou Qi raced up the stairs and saw everyone gathered round an iron cage. Chen was sawing at the bars with the Frozen Emerald Sword. Zhou Qi went close and noticed that inside the iron cage was another smaller cage in which Wen sat with his legs and arms manacled like a captured wild animal. Chen sawed through two bars, and Zhang Jin used brute strength to twist them back. Luo Bing, thanks to her slim figure, managed to wriggle into the outer cage, then took the sword from Chen and began to saw away at the lock on the small cage. The heroes were all smiling jubilantly. Suddenly they heard a bugle sound, and the remaining Manchu troops retreated out about one hundred feet and formed themselves into ranks around the building.

"Master Chen!" someone shouted from amongst the Manchu ranks. "I wish to speak with Master Chen!"

Chen went to the window and spotted Commander Li outside. "I am here. What is it, Commander?"

"Come out quickly or you will all die."

"We will not come out alone, even faced with death," Chen replied. "I am sorry, but today we intend to leave with Master Wen."

"Don't be so stubborn," Li shouted. "Start the fire!"

The troops pushed out huge piles of firewood and grass and surrounded the building with them. The firewood was soaked in oil and a second after a torch was thrown into it, a fiery ring sprang up with the heroes trapped inside.

Chen could see how dangerous the situation was, but he remained calm. "Everyone together," he said quietly. "Cut through the bars as quickly as you can."

A man walked out from behind Li and pointed angrily at Chen. "Death is staring you in the face and still you don't go down on your knees and beg for mercy?" he boomed. "Do you realize what we have in that building?"

As Chen stood thinking, he heard Xu exclaim in their secret code: "Oh no, they've packed the place with gunpowder."

Chen noticed a row of wooden barrels around the room they were in. With a quick movement, he smashed one of them open and black dust flew out in all directions, the smell of saltpetre filling their noses. His heart froze. "Is the whole Red Flower Society going to be blown to pieces today?" he wondered. He turned and saw the inner cage had been opened and Luo Bing helping Wen out.

"Sister Luo Bing, Brother Zhao!" he shouted. "You two look after Fourth Brother. Everyone else follow me." He charged down the stairs. Zhang Jin bent over and heaved Wen onto his back while Luo Bing and Zhao escorted them down to the ground floor. As they reached the door, they saw swarms of arrows like locusts flying at them. Wei and the Twin Knights tried several times to break out of the building, but each time they were forced back inside.

"You are standing in a gunpowder keg and I have the fuse here," Commander Li shouted. He raised a fiery torch and waved it.

"As soon as I light the fuse, you will all be burnt to ashes. Put Wen down immediately."

Chen knew that what he said was true, but he also guessed that because of Wen's importance to the Emperor, Li would not dare to light the fuse.

"Put Fourth Brother down!" he shouted. "Let's get out of here!" He brandished his long sword and charged out with Wei and the Twin Knights at his side.

Zhang Jin, running flat out with his head down, didn't hear what Chen had said.

"Put Fourth Brother down," Zhao told him. "It's too dangerous. We've got to get out or he'll get killed."

Zhang Jin placed Wen on the ground near the door. Luo Bing hesitated, but Zhang Jin grabbed her arm and charged on after the others. Li saw in the firelight that they had abandoned Wen, and with a wave of his hand ordered the archers to stop firing to prevent him being hit by mistake.

Having made it out of the building, the heroes regrouped by the wall.

"Eighth Brother, Ninth Brother, Tenth Brother and the Twin Knights, you five lead an attack on the Manchu troops and disperse them," ordered Chen. "Brother Xu, you think of a way to cut the gunpowder fuse. The rest of you, as soon as that's done, we will go back and rescue Fourth Brother."

Commander Li was just about to order someone over to keep watch on Wen when he spotted the Twin Knights approaching. He hastily shouted to a detachment of Imperial Bodyguards who raced over to intercept the Red Flower Society fighters.

Lu Feiqing was the first to spot a way out of the dilemma. He ran like an arrow straight for Commander Li. Li's bodyguards moved to stop him, but Lu dodged to left and right and slipped past them all. In a moment, he was at Li's side. Yuanzhi, wearing boy's clothes, was standing by her father's side. Seeing this strange masked man charging forward, she cried out shrilly: "How dare you!" and thrust her sword straight at his chest. Lu ducked under the stroke, then slipped round behind Commander Li and gave him a powerful shove which sent him reeling forward. Full of fear for her father, Yuanzhi struck out again with her sword, but Lu dodged out of the way once more, picked Li up in his arms and ran inside the circle of fire. The Manchu troops shouted in alarm, but the heat from the flames was so intense that none dared to follow him.

The Red Flower Society heroes saw Lu carrying Commander Li into the danger zone, and Zhang Jin and 'Crocodile' Jiang went in after them.

"That's enough," ordered Chen. "No-one else need go in."

The Manchu troops completely ignored the Red Flower Society fighters, and stared anxiously at the men in the centre of the ring of fire. Suddenly, someone with a torch leapt over to the gunpowder fuse and lit it. Deng Tunan recognized him as Imperial Bodyguard Fan who had shamed himself in front of the Emperor the day before. He bore such a deep grudge over the incident, that he wanted only to snatch victory away from the Red Flower Society with no concern for whether Commander Li lived or died.

The thread of sparks whirled off at an incredible speed. Once it reached the circle of fire, disaster would be inevitable. The Manchu troops scattered in panic and in the midst of the confusion, a figure, his face covered with a blue silk mask, raced forward and threw himself down on to the gunpowder. His clothes burst into flames, but the fuse was stopped.

The immediate danger past, Zhang Jin and 'Crocodile' Jiang charged out through the circle of fire with Wen Tailai in their arms. The flames were now even more fierce, and all three caught fire. The Twin Knights, racing forward to meet them, shouting: "Roll! Roll!" Zhang Jin and Jiang first put Wen down and rolled him about until all the flames on him had been extinguished, then put out their own fires. Luo Bing ran up to attend to Wen.

The Twin Knights meanwhile ran over to rescue the masked man, who had collapsed on the ground. By the time the flames had been extinguished, his body was a mass of burns.

Once Wen was out of danger, Lu slung Commander Li over his shoulder, took a deep breath and leapt back out of the circle like a great bird.

"We've done it!" Chen shouted. "Retreat, retreat!"

Priest Wu Chen led the way, his sword flying, and the others followed, the Twin Knights carrying the masked man, Zhang Jin carrying Wen and Lu with Commander Li over his shoulder.

The Manchu troops chased after them, shouting and yelling, but none dared get too close. The Imperial Bodyguards, however, were frantic at the sight of Wen escaping: his loss could cost them their heads. Among them was Fan, the one who had lit the fuse. Chen handed the Frozen Emerald sword to 'Buddha' Zhao.

"Cover the others as they retreat, Third Brother," he said. "I'm going to deal with this fellow." He pulled out his 'Pearl Strings', the ropes with steel balls fastened to the ends, and with a flick of his hand, sent them flying towards Fan.

Fan tried to leap out of the way, but he was not quick enough, and the strings wrapped themselves round his legs. Chen yanked them back fiercely, and threw Fan into the heart of the roaring flames.

By this time, almost all of the heroes had escaped over the Yamen walls. Chen raised his hand and shouted to the rest: "Retreat!"

'Leopard' Wei raced over to the gunpowder fuse and relit it, and the Manchu troops cried out in fear as the remaining Red Flower Society fighters retired.

Suddenly, there was a blinding flash, and a roar as the gunpowder stacked in the building ignited. Explosion followed explosion, black smoke swirled up and bricks flew in all directions. The soldiers and guardsmen threw themselves on the ground, but despite their great distance from the building, several dozen of them had their heads smashed to pieces by stray bricks and pieces of wood. By the time the rest crawled back onto their feet, the Red Flower Society heroes were gone.

Only when they were certain they were not being chased did the heroes relax. They rode out of Hangzhou and arrived at a river with more than a dozen boats lined up along the bank. The heroes joyfully boarded the craft.

"Master Chen," Lu Feiqing whispered. "I have had connections with Commander Li in the past. Now that Brother Wen is safe, why don't we let him go?"

"Whatever you say," Chen replied, and on his orders, an attendant untied Li's bonds and released him.

"Anchors aweigh!" Chen called. "Head for Jiaxing!"

The rivers and canals of Zhejiang Province are an endless maze with countless twists and turns, and in a moment the boats had disappeared.

"We'll head west and take Fourth Brother to Heavenly Eye Mountain to convalesce," said Chen. "Let Commander Li race off to Jiaxing after us!"

The heroes all burst out laughing and the accumulated low spirits of several months were swept away.

Dawn was just breaking as Luo Bing wiped Wen's body clean. His manacles had been sawn off with the Frozen Emerald sword, and he was in a deep sleep.

"Great Helmsman," said Xu. "That masked man who saved Fourth Brother is very badly wounded. Shall we have a look at him?"

"Since he keeps his face covered, he obviously does not wish to be recognized. I don't think we should," said Lord Zhou.

Xin Yan gently applied white soya sauce to the masked man's burns, but his whole body had been blistered by the flames, and he cried out incessantly in pain. His hands were clawing about aimlessly as he screamed in pain, and suddenly ripped the mask off. The heroes all cried out in unison: "Fourteenth Brother!"

It was 'Scholar' Yu. They looked at his face, red-black and swollen with countless blisters, and were horrified. Luo Bing brought over a wet cloth and lightly wiped the dirt and gunpowder from his face then applied more white soya sauce. Whenever she thought about his disgraceful behaviour that night near Iron Gall Manor she still felt angry, but having seen what he was willing to go through to save her own husband, she knew that his infatuation was more than just lust. She looked down at him and wondered how she could ever repay him.

The boats docked and Master Ma sent someone hurrying off to find a doctor. When he came, the doctor examined Wen and said: "This gentleman's wounds are only superficial. He is strong and healthy, and with several months of recuperation there should be no problem." Pointing at Yu, he added: "This gentleman, however, has extremely serious burns. There is a danger that the fire poison will attack his heart. I will make out a prescription to counter it and have another look later." From his tone, he appeard to consider it hopeless.

The doctor went ashore. A while later, Wen opened his eyes and looked at everyone standing around him.

"What are you all doing here?" he asked wearily.

Luo Bing burst into tears. "Brother!" she cried happily. "You've come back. You've come back!"

Wen nodded slightly and closed his eyes again.

During the night battle at the Yellow River crossing, Yuanzhi had been cut off from the Red Flower Society fighters. She spotted a carriage and jumped into it, urged the mules and raced blindly away. It was only next morning when she had put a great distance between herself and the Manchu army that she stopped to rest. Opening the carriage curtain, she found 'Scholar' Yu lying inside unconscious and badly wounded. After carefully considering the situation, she climbed back onto the carriage and drove on to Wenguang town.

As the daughter of an official, she was used to doing things in an impressive manner. She chose the largest residence in the town and knocked on it's door to ask for lodgings. The residence belonged to the evil landowner, Tang, who took them in. When Tang was found murdered, Yu realized immediately that they could be implicated, and they escaped in the confusion. Yuanzhi was planning to go to Hangzhou to be with her parents and Yu, knowing that Hangzhou was also where Wen was being held, decided they may as well go together. He was still seriously wounded, and Yuanzhi looked after him carefully as they travelled.

When they reached Hangzhou, Yuanzhi told her parents that Yu had been wounded while saving her from bandits, and her father, Commander Li, allowed him to stay in the Yamen as an expression of his gratitude. A doctor was called to treat his injuries. When Li saw what a refined person Yu was, skilled in both scholarly and martial pursuits, he decided that once his wounds had healed he would invite Yu to become his son-in-law. Little did he know that Yu was also a key member of the Red Flower Society.


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