Heart Crushing Palm, part 2

  “Where’s the Chief Master? We’d better report this to him fast,” a man’s urgent voice floated in from the outside. “The demon is so vicious, what…what can we do?” another voice asked timidly. 

   “I am over here! What’s going on?” Lin Zhennan shouted loudly towards them, who, in turn, rushed over. It was an escort, followed by three henchmen. 

   “Chief Master, not a single escort we sent out made it back,” the leading escort said. 

Lin Zhennan had expected news of someone’s death when he heard the commotion. But he had sent out a total of twenty-three escorts and henchmen to gather information last night; how could all of them have been wiped out? 

   “Well, are you sure they’re dead?” he asked hurriedly. “Maybe they’re still investigating and just haven’t gotten back in time.” 

    The escort shook his head. “We have already found seventeen bodies….” 

   “Seventeen bodies?” Lin Zhennan and Lin Pingzhi cried out in unison.

“Why…Why…Why?” Lin Zhennan muttered in front of seventeen  escort's bodies
“Why…Why…Why?” Lin Zhennan muttered in front of seventeen  escort's bodies

Fear written all over his face, the escort confirmed with a nod. “Yes, seventeen bodies. Among them were Escorts Fu, Qian, and Wu. All of the bodies are in the Front Hall at this very moment.”

Without saying another word, Lin Zhennan hurried to the Front Hall. All the tables and chairs in the hall had been moved against the walls, and seventeen bodies lay on the floor in no particular order. Although Lin Zhennan was not a novice in handling difficult situations, when he took in the horrible scene in front of him, his hands could not help trembling and his knees almost gave out.

   “Why…Why…Why?” he muttered, his voice so dry that the others could barely hear him. 

   “Alas, Escort Gao was an honest and diligent man; who’d expect that the demon would not spare him, either.” Voices came from outside the Front Hall, and seconds later, five neighbors walked into the front hall, carrying a door plank. A dead body lay on top of it.

   “When I opened my door this morning, I saw him lying dead in the middle of the street,” one of the neighbors explained. “I recognized him as Escort Gao from your Escort House. I figured he probably had some kind of plague, so I asked a couple of neighbors to help me carry him back to your Escort House.”

   “Many thanks! Many thanks!” Lin Zhennan cupped his hands and bowed. Turning toward a henchman standing by the side, he instructed, “Give three taels of silver to each of these wonderful neighbors. You can go to the bookkeeper to get the money.”

Frightened by all the dead bodies in the hall, the neighbors thanked Lin Zhennan and hurried away, and before long, the bodies of four more escorts were sent back. Lin Zhennan counted the bodies which totaled twenty-two in all. Escort Chu’s was the only one not among them, but it might not be long before his body was found somewhere. 

Lin Zhennan walked back to the East Hall. Pouring a cup of hot tea for himself, he tried to calm down, but that didn’t help. Still feeling completely dumbfounded, he walked out the gate and looked around. The stumps of the two broken flagpoles had been taken away, but he found himself even more disturbed. The foes had killed over twenty people in the Escort House, but had never actually shown themselves; they never formally announced their intentions, nor did they reveal their true identities. He turned around and glared at the big sign bearing the golden words “Fortune Prestige Escort House,” thinking, “The Fortune Prestige Escort House has been renowned for decades. Will it come to ruin in my hands?” Then he heard the sound of hoof beats approaching from the street. A horse slowly trotted toward the Escort House, and a man lay slumped back on the saddle. Lin Zhennan walked to the horse, and he wasn’t surprised to see that it was Escort Chu. The enemy must have killed him and just left the body on the horse. The horse remembered the way home and came back, all by itself.  (To be continued)

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