Ahn Suhyeong went faster and faster and his strokes fell harder and harder. The speed and strength he was using would result in a severe injury if any hit landed, even if it was a blunt blade.
However, Xia Lei was able to block or avoid Ahn Suhyeong in time no matter how quickly or how viciously he attacked. Ahn Suhyeong threw out attacks like a tide but Xia Lei was like the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, not letting a single drop past.
“What are you doing?” came Tang Bo-Chuan’s voice from over the receiver, “We don’t have time!”
Tang Bo-Chuan’s plan to to have him get injured and leave, and it was a very good plan, but Ahn Suhyeong was being rather violent. If Xia Lei let his guard down and allowed himself to be hit, then he would surely be severely injured. Bleeding or broken bones would definitely affect his task afterwards. It was now impossible for him to stop halfway!
What should he do?
Ahn Suhyeong grew increasingly shocked as they went on. He was Korea’s amateur fencing champion and though he paled next to professional athletes, he was still fairly formidable. However, he had already attacked over 20 times and not even touched Xia Lei’s clothing!
The guests were seeing something else. In their eyes, Xia Lei was being pushed back by Ahn Suhyeong, left and right, and would get hit to the ground by him at any moment.
Some guests begun to clap and some called out encouragement to Ahn Suhyeong.
Shentu Tian-Yin was getting anxious too and she couldn’t help calling out. “What are you doing, Lei? Fight back! Why aren’t you fighting back?”
Her voice seemed to inject Xia Lei with energy and he suddenly lunged forward, swinging his foil right at Ahn Suhyeong.
Rip! There was a sound of fabric tearing.
The seams at Xia Lei’s crotch had split.
Ahn Suhyeong blocked Xia Lei’s blow and laughed. “Are you a comedy actor, Mr Xia? Why are you performing comedy at this venue? I have to admit that this is just too funny.”
The spectating guests laughed.
There was not one trace of a smile on Shentu Tian-Yin’s face, however - just disappointment. She’d hoped to see Xia Lei take down the arrogant Ahn Suhyeong and display his greatness but he’d actually split his trousers in a place like this…
Xia Lei put the foil away. “I’ll go get changed into fresh trousers. Wait for me - I’ll defeat you.”
“Sure, I’ll wait,” said Ahn Suhyeong in disdain, “You’d better change into sturdier trousers. I won’t hold back next time.”
He was insinuating that he had been taking it easy on him.
Xia Lei didn’t mind it. He swung his arm and tossed the foil in his hand to Ahn Suhyeong, then turned and left the dining hall.
Shentu Tian-Yin watched him go with disappointment in her eyes. She had been greatly disappointed by Xia Lei’s performance but the sight of him walking off with a smear on his name made her heart ache for him. Images surfaced in her head - Xia Lei in Distinguished Gathering taking enemies on ten to one, slashing Gu Ke-Wu’s bodyguard… Xia Lei with her on the island, subduing the assassins, then laying on the gurney with her in the morgue… Xia Lei administering acupuncture treatment for her father, turning a man whom she had lost hope for into a healthy man…
‘Am I setting a bar too high him? Asking too much?’ The memories replayed in her head like a film and Shentu Tian-Yin could not help thinking these thoughts.
Ahn Suhyeong walked to Shentu Tian-Yin’s side and said with a smile, “Tian-Yin, I went easy on him because Mr Xia is your friend, but I didn’t expect that he… Ah, I don’t know any words to describe him. Maybe he is a comedy actor.”
Shentu Tian-Yin wanted to speak up for Xia Lei but the words were stuck in the throat, refusing to come out.
Meanwhile, Xia Lei had already turned up in the corridor which led to Ahn Geungan’s study. A bodyguard had been in the corridor but he was gone at this time. Qin Xiang came out from a room just as Xia Lei turned up, and Xia Lei’s left eye saw the bodyguard lying behind the door.
“What’s with your trousers?”
“You got rid of him?”
The two of them spoke at the same time about two different things.
Xia Lei smiled wryly. “Don’t talk about my trousers. Let’s begin.”
“I just gave him some tranquilizer,” said Qin Xiang.
They came to the door and Xia Lei quickly entered the passcode on the pad, then placed his right hand on the fingerprint-scanner.
The study door opened with a click.
Xia Lei reached out to push the door but he stopped his hand in midair. He’d remembered that the walls behind the shelves had surveillance cameras installed. He and Qin Xiang would be caught on camera if they went in. There was no one here, but this didn’t mean that no one was watching the camera feed.
“There’s a camera facing the door. It’s going to be troublesome,” said Xia Lei with a frown.
“Relax, Long Bing’s got it,” said Qin Xiang, “That guy called Ke Jie hacked into the Ahn security surveillance system. The feed’s on a loop. We can’t be seen at all.”
“I’m sure.” This confirmation did not come from Qin Xiang but from Long Bing, over the tiny receiver in Xia Lei’s ear.
Xia Lei did not hesitate. He reached out, pushed the door open and entered with Qin Xiang.
Xia Lei removed a button from his shirt and the receiver in his ear after entering the room.
“There’s alarms?” Qin Xiang was an expert in this field and he could guess why Xia Lei did those actions without having him explain it.
Xia Lei nodded. “Remove yours too and put it by the door. Alarms will go off if you get near the bookshelves.”
Qin Xiang did as told.
Xia Lei walked to the the bookshelf and pulled the book that Ahn Suhyeong had pulled. The bookshelf swung open, revealing a metal door.
Qin Xiang licked his lips. “German, Novoferm security door. Ahn Geungan really did splash on security. Just this door is over a million. I won’t be able to open this on my own, and just fingerprints are not enough. Can you do it, Lei?”
Xia Lei said nothing. He stood before the door and entered the passcode, scanned the fingerprints, then spun the dial and entered the dial code.
Click-click-click. The security door opened, revealing the space within.
Xia Lei strode straight to the wooden rack, not sparing a glance for the other artifacts and antiques. He picked up the sword of Attila. The sword weighed heavily in his hands and felt like 15 kilograms; this weight surprised him. Judging from the sword’s materials and measurements, it should have weighed about five kilograms but the actual weight was more than twice that!
Was it not iron?
Xia Lei was curious but he knew that this was not the time to study the sword of Attila. He turned to leave and was met with the sight of Qin Xiang rolling up an ancient painting. He had an ancient book clamped under his armpit.
Xia Lei was about to stop him, but he choked his words back. Qin Xiang had taken great risks to help him. He was a thief too and what was so wrong about wanting to make money on the side? Taking one sword was already stealing, so what’s so bad about adding a painting and book to the list?
“Uh…” Qin Xiang looked at Xia Lei with wide eyes. “Just making some money. You don’t mind, do you?”
Xia Lei laughed. “Take what you want. Why would I mind? Don’t worry, I won’t tell Long Bing and Tang Bo-Chuan. Never mind me - you’re taking a big risk here so you deserve something out of it. Take, take. Take more.”
These belonged to Ahn Geungan anyway. It would be a waste not to take them.
Qin Xiang acquired several more items in the seconds after Xia Lei spoke. A black cloth bag appeared like magic and he put those items in the bag.
They exited the study and Xia Lei handed the sword to Attila to Qin Xiang. He walked towards his room. He needed to change his trousers, then go back to the dining hall and continue that duel with Ahn Suhyeong.
Tang Bo-Chuan’s plan had been to let him get injured and leave but suspicion would fall on him if Ahn Guengan and Ahn Suhyeong discovered that things were missing. Splitting his trousers and going back to his room to change made sense, since it gave his a perfectly reasonable explanation for his absence of a few minutes. His plan was more reasonable, and bulletproof, compared to Tang Bo-Chuan’s plan.
Tang Bo-Chuan’s voice came from over the receiver as he stepped out of the corridor. “Is it done?”
“Done,” said Xia Lei.
“I’ve prepared a pair of trousers for you. Bathroom, first floor.”
A small smile appeared in the corners of Xia Lei’s mouth. “Okay, I’ll get changed immediately.”
Tang Bo-Chuan had even prepared trousers for him. This was better - he didn’t need to waste time in going back to his room to change. His plan had become even more perfect.
Xia Lei saw Tang Bo-Chuan smoking in the bathroom as soon as he entered, and a plastic bag with suit pants in it on the sink next to him. And him? He was in his briefs.
So this was what he meant by ‘prepared trousers’. Xia Lei was at a loss for words.
“Take your trousers off; I’ll wear them,” said Tang Bo-Chuan. “I’ll make a move first. You can’t leave or they’ll suspect you. You stay and observe the situation. Roll with the situation.”
Xia Lei spoke as he changed, “I’ve handed the item to Qin Xiang to take it out of here. You guys should hurry back to China. And you’ve got to get me a plan to get back to China too, just in case.”
Tang Bo-Chuan flicked away the cigarette in his hand. “Relax, I have it all prepared. I have a plan for all situations.”
Xia Lei said no more. He put on Tang Bo-Chuan’s trousers and left the bathroom. Tang Bo-Chuan was about the same size as him and the trousers were suit trousers and black too, so no one would be able to tell that they belonged to Tang Bo-Chuan.
Xia Lei walked into the dining hall and all the guests’ gazes went to him.
Some whispered to each other, in a poor effort to conceal their contempt.
“Look, that Chinese comedian is back.”
“He sure is thick-skinned. I’d definitely not come back if I were him. How shameful.”
“Do the Chinese have thick skin?”
“Of course. Why do you think they claim that the Dragon Boat Festival is theirs?”
“Haha, yeah, that’s true.”
Shentu Tian-Yin did not understand the whispers in Korean but she could see from their expressions that they were mocking Xia Lei. She’d had enough of it and she walked over to Xia Lei. “Lei, let’s leave.”
Ahn Suhyeong came over before Xia Lei could speak with two foils in his hands. “Mr Xia, you sure are brave to come back. I just had a bet with my friends on whether you would come back, and you did. That’s good too - we need a winner. Let’s begin!”
Xia Lei smiled calmly. “Yes, we need a winner.”
“You…” Shentu Tian-Yin sighed. “Don’t you understand what’s going on?”
She meant to say ‘Don’t you see that he is making fun of you?’ but she could not say something like that.
Xia Lei gave an unconcerned laugh. “Don’t worry, when have I done anything half-heartedly?”
Shentu Tian-Yin paused. She’d heard this before. She felt like the familiar old Xia Lei was back in that instant - the look in his eyes, his smile, his demeanor, all of it.
Ahn Suhyeong swung his arm and a foil flew at Xia Lei.
Xia Lei reached out and grabbed it. His wrist snapped and the foil buzzed in a swift movement to point straight at Ahn Suhyeong.
He was also holding the foil with his left hand this time.Previous Chapter Next Chapter