A Deadly Secret Chapter 1-5

Chapter 1 The Countrymen Enter the City

Tuo! Tuo Tuo Tuo! Tuo! Tuo Tuo!

Two wooden swords clashed with intense force, emitting rattling sounds. Sometimes there were intermissions between collisions, while other times the swords collided quite fiercely.

This was the village of Maxi located in the Yuanling province in Western Hunan. On the field outside a three-room cottage, a young man and woman were practicing their sword skills. In front of the cottage, an old man was sitting on a small stool, biting on a very thin tobacco pipe while weaving straw sandals with his hands. Occasionally, he would look up at the young pair fighting and give a faint smile of acknowledgement. The sunlight illuminated the pale grey smoke exhaled from his mouth. The old man had a head full of white hair; his face was quite wrinkled, but whenever he exhaled a breath of smoke, his eyes would be filled with energy. In fact, he wasn’t really that old, no more than 50 years of age.

The girl was about 17 or 18 years old. She had a round face and big black eyes. When she felt tired and sweat filled her forehead, there would be a streak of sweat streaming down on her left cheek and flowing down her neck. She would wipe off the sweat with her left sleeve. Her cheeks were red like a string of red peppers hung under the eaves of a cottage. The young man she was sparring with was about two or three years older than her; his face was long and dark, his cheekbone was high, and he had rough hands and big feet. Although he was a typical peasant in the countryside, the wooden sword in his hand was handled quite dexterously.

Suddenly, the young man slashed downwards from the left, retreated slightly, and unleashed a direct strike with his sword. The young girl avoided the attack by lowering her head, but the sword kept thrusting at her with strong and rapid momentum. The young man backed off two steps, swung the wooden sword out, and then with a loud cry, swept the sword horizontally three times. The girl had kept her opponent in check until now, but at this point she withdrew her sword and stood still, defenseless.

“I guess you’re good, okay?” she scorned. “Just kill me!”

The young man had not anticipated that she would suddenly retract her sword without defending, so his third strike nearly cut her waist. He tried to relinquish his attack at once, but the force of the strike was already emanated, and with a loud clap, the sword hit himself on the back of his left hand and he let out a slight cry of pain.

The girl applauded and laughed. “Aren’t you ashamed? If that was a real sword, do you think your hand would still be in tact?”

There were traces of redness on the man’s dark face. He replied: “I was afraid I would cut you, otherwise I would not have hurt myself. In a real fight, do you think I would really go easy on you like that? Teacher, why don’t you be the judge?” As he said his last word, he looked over to the old man.

The old man was still holding a half-finished straw sandal, but now stood up and said: “The two of you have fought well for about 50 stances or so, but the later stances were executed poorly.” From the young girl’s hand he grabbed the wooden sword, positioned himself in a fighting stance and continued, “This technique ‘Brother Weng Shouts Up’ followed by the technique ‘Dare not Cross the Horizontal’ should be executed horizontally, not straight. A’fang, in regards to your two techniques ‘The Wind Suddenly Blows’ and ‘The Mountain Escapes Like a Cloth’; the image of your sword should look like a bolt of cloth running away. A’yun’s two techniques ‘Falling Mud Welcomes Big Sister’ and ‘The Horse Blows a Little Wind’ were executed decently, but the latter technique is called ‘A Little Wind’ and you put too much strength into your strike. This swordplay has a famous name in the martial world, it is called the ‘Reclining Corpse Swordplay’. With every stance, the essence is to make your opponent recline like a dead body. Since we are only sparring in good spirit, there is no need to be so serious, but the ‘reclining corpse’ part of the name must be remembered to heart.”

“Father, our swordplay is very good, but the name of the swordplay isn’t… isn’t very good,” the young girl remarked. “Reclining Corpse Swordplay sounds scary.”

The old man replied: “You can say that it is scary, but it is also equally impressive. Before the battle even begins, your opponent is already struck with fear.” He was still holding the wooden sword, and demonstrated those six techniques to the young pair. His sword movements appeared quite heavy yet regressed lightly at the same time; it was actually very deadly and powerful. The young man and woman admitted their inferiority and applauded. The old man then gave the sword to the young girl and said, “The two of you should keep practicing these stances. A’fang, don’t always think about fooling around. If your elder martial brother did not go easy on you, do you think you would still be alive?”

The girl stuck out her tongue, and suddenly stroke out with her sword in rapid speed. The young man was caught off guard and immediately tried to defend with his own sword, but the young girl got the initiative of striking first and continued attacking in a continuous motion. The young man could find no way of counterattacking. Suddenly, the sounds of horseshoes were heard approaching from the northeast direction; a horse made its way to the cottage.

The young man turned around and said, “Who could that be?”

The girl retorted: “You lost, don’t make up excuses. What does it matter to you who is coming?” And with another three continuous strokes the girl attacked while the young man tried hard to defend.

The young man became annoyed and said: “Just take it that I’m afraid of you, okay?”

The young girl smiled. “You say you aren’t afraid, but you really are.” She executed a stance with a stroke on the left and a stroke on the right, both techniques were quite dexterous.

At that time the rider had already reined his horse and shouted: “’The Sky Flowers Fall Endlessly, The Birds Fly Everywhere!’ Excellent!”

The young girl let out an interjection of surprise and jumped backwards to face the rider. She saw that the man was about 23 or 24 years of age and dressed in elegant attire, most likely a man from a rich family from the city. She could not help but blush a bit, and spoke softly, “Father, how… how does he know?”

The old man heard the equestrian speak out the name of his daughter’s two techniques she had just executed and felt surprised as well. At this moment, the equestrian wished to consult with them, so he got off his horse and said: “If I may ask this elder, in Maxi there is a renowned swordsman by the name of ‘Iron Lock Across the River’ Qi Zhangfa, do you know where he lives?”

“I am Qi Zhangfa,” the old man replied. “The title of renowned swordsman I do not dare to receive. May I ask why you are looking for me?”

The young man kowtowed and said: “Your junior Bu Yuan greets Uncle Qi. I come on behalf of my teacher to visit you.”

“No need for such salutations,” Qi Zhangfa replied. He helped the young man up with his hands. A strong energy was felt when they made contact. Bu Yuan felt a slight numbness on half his body and his face flushed red.

“Uncle Qi must be testing junior,” Bu Yuan remarked, “our first meeting and I have already been embarrassed.”

Qi Zhangfa smiled and replied: “Your internal energy is a bit lower than that of my students. Which disciple of Brother Wan are you?”

Bu Yuan’s face flushed red again and answered: “Junior is teacher’s fifth unsuccessful student. Teacher often mentions that Uncle Qi’s internal energy is profound, how else would you be able to provoke junior so easily?”

Qi Zhangfa laughed heartily and asked: “How is Brother Wan doing? We old brothers have not seen each other in over ten years.”

“Thanks to elder’s fortune, my teacher is well. Those two martial siblings, are they elder’s disciples? Their sword techniques are profound!”

Qi Zhangfa made a hand gesture and said: “A’yun, A’fang, come see your Brother Bu. This is my disciple Di Yun, and this is my daughter Ah Fang. Oh, countrywoman, there is nothing to be shy of, we are of the same family.” Qi Fang hid behind Di Yun and gave a faint smile.

Di Yun asked: “Brother Bu, are your sword techniques from the same school as ours? Otherwise, how could you identify my martial sister’s technique with just one glance?”

Qi Zhangfa spat out some phlegm and remarked: “Your teacher and his teacher are from the same clan, of course we would be learning the same sword techniques, is there any reason to ask?”

Bu Yuan lifted the cloth next to the saddle and produced a bag. He presented it with both hands and said: “Uncle Qi, teacher said this is a small gift, please accept it.” Qi Zhangfa expressed his thanks and told his daughter to put it away.

Qi Fang brought it inside the room and opened the bag. Inside the bag was a gown made of a brocade of sheep fur, a gem wrist bracelet, a felt hat, and a black coat. Qi Fang took it out, laughed and said: “Father, you have never worn such beautiful clothing, if you wear this, how would you look like a countryman? People will think you became a rich government official.”

Qi Zhangfa gave a glance at it and could not help but chuckle. After a moment, he timidly said, “Brother Wan… this… haha… this is really…”

Di Yun went to the front of the village to fetch three catties[1] of white wine while Qi Fang went to slaughter a chicken. She placed it in the middle amongst some Chinese cabbage and other vegetables altogether in a pot. There was also another big bowl of red pepper in the fluid. The four of them were sitting together at the dining table.

Qi Zhangfa asked for the reason for the visit, and Bu Yuan replied: “Teacher said he hasn’t seen Uncle Qi in over ten years and misses him dearly. He thought of visiting Henan personally, but because teacher is busy practicing the Liancheng Swordplay every day he could not find any leisure time…”

Qi Zhangfa put the bowl of wine beside him, and suddenly spat out the mouthful of wine he just downed. “What? Your teacher is practicing the Liancheng Swordplay?” he quickly asked.

Bu Yuan’s expression was complacent. “On the fifth of the last month, teacher has already completed his training of the Liancheng Swordplay.”

Qi Zhangfa felt even colder. All of a sudden, he slammed the bowl of wine on the table. More than half the bowl of wine spilt out as a result, causing his clothes and the table to be flooded with wine. He sat motionless for a while, and then suddenly burst into laughter. He tapped his hand on Bu Yuan’s shoulder and said: “Damn that brat, your teacher has always been known to exaggerate such things. Even your grand-teacher could not complete the Liancheng Swordplay; your teacher’s lies aren’t very well-thought. Don’t deceive your uncle anymore… let us drink…” And with that he finished off the remaining half of his wine, while he grabbed a hot red pepper with his left hand and chewed on it.

Bu Yuan’s face showed no hint of laughter. Instead, he continued: “Teacher knew that Uncle Qi would not believe him. On the sixteenth of next month, it is teacher’s 50th birthday. May Uncle Qi bring his disciples with him to Jingzhou for some wine. Teacher specifically told junior to come visit to request Uncle to come at any cost. Teacher said that there are some spots in the Liancheng Swordplay that he has not yet perfected and would like to discuss with Uncle. Teacher has always said that Uncle’s sword techniques were profound. If my martial brothers and I could receive some advice from Uncle, we would definitely show significant progress.”

“Has your Second Uncle Yan Daping already been invited?” asked Qi Zhangfa.

Bu Yuan replied: “Second Uncle Yan Daping wanders around leisurely, teacher has already sent Second Brother, Third Brother, and Fourth Brother to search around Henan, Jiangnan, and Yungui, but we have not found him yet. Does Uncle Qi know the whereabouts of Second Uncle?”

Qi Zhangfa sighed and said: “Among us three martial brothers, Second Brother has the most powerful martial arts. If he practiced the Liancheng Swordplay, I may believe that he could master it. But your teacher? No way!”

With his left hand he grabbed the wine jug, filled his bowl with wine and declared loudly, “Alright! On the sixteenth of next month, we will go to Jingzhou to celebrate your teacher’s birthday, as well as see how well he has practiced his Liangcheng Swordplay.” He slammed the bowl of wine on the table again, and half the bowl of wine spilt out over the table and on his shirt.

*****

“Father, if you sold our cattle Dahuang, how can we farm next year?” asked Qi Fang.

“We will worry about next year when next year comes, why worry so much now?” replied Qi Zhangfa.

“Father, isn’t it better if we stay here? What’s the point of going to Jingzhou? Even if it’s Uncle Wan’s birthday, we shouldn’t sell off Dahuang…”

“I promised Bu Yuan that I would go, so I must not go back on my word. Besides, I can bring you and A’yun to a bigger place, so you don’t stay a rustic bumpkin your entire life.”

“What’s wrong with being a bumpkin? I don’t want to see the outside world. I have raised Dahuang since I was little. I gave him grass to eat and brought him back home. Father, can’t you see Dahuang is in tears, he doesn’t want to go.”

“Silly girl, that cow is a beast, what does it know? Let go of it.”

“I won’t let go! If you sell it to someone else, they will kill him and eat him, I can’t bear it.”

“They won’t kill him, they will only have him do farming.”

“Yesterday what did you say? You said you will definitely sell Dahuang to be killed. You lied to me. Dahuang is in tears. Dahuang, Dahuang, I won’t let you go. Brother Yun! Come quickly, father wants to sell Dahuang…”

“A’fang, your father doesn’t want to sell Dahuang either, but how can we go to Uncle Wan’s with empty hands?” reasoned Di Yun. “Besides, our clothes are dirty and ruined. We should get new clothes so people don’t think lowly of us.”

“Didn’t Uncle Wan give you a new hat?” added Qi Fang. “When you wear it, it gives off an aura of greatness.”

“Hah, the weather is so warm, how can I wear this sheep gown?” replied Qi Zhangfa. “Besides, your uncle claims to have completed the Liancheng Swordplay and I don’t believe him, I must see it for myself. Good child, please let go.”

Qi Fang said: “Dahuang, if they want to kill you, then use your force to attack them, and run back to us! Or not! They will chase after you, and then you should run as far as you can, up to the mountains…”

*****

Half a month later, Qi Zhangfa brought his disciple Di Yun and his daughter Qi Fang to Jingzhou. The three of them wore new attire. It was their first time entering a big city, so it was a bit overwhelming and caused some anxiety. They could not help but feel a bit helpless as they searched for “Five Cloud Hand” Wan Zhenshan’s whereabouts. They heard people say, “The whereabouts of Old Hero Wan’s residence, is there really a need to ask? It must be wherever the biggest house is.”

As Di Yun and Qi Fang approached the Wan Family’s residence, they saw the high walls and red-lacquered doors at the entrance. There were colourful lamps hung on the doors, showing the prestige of the family. Qi Fang held closely to her father. Qi Zhangfa was about to speak for entrance when Bu Yuan came out the front door.

Qi Zhangfa was delighted and said: “Worthy nephew, I have come!”

Bu Yuan quickly approached and said with joy, “Uncle Qi has arrived! Brother Di, Sister Qi, how have you been? Teacher was just thinking of Uncle, always saying, ‘Why hasn’t Brother Qi arrived yet?’ Let us go inside!”

As Qi Zhangfa and the other three entered through the front gate, they were greeted by the sounds of drummers playing a happy tune; the flutes played unexpectedly, giving Di Yun a shock. In the main hall, a burly old man could be seen greeting various guests.

Qi Zhangfa called out, “Brother, I have come!”

The old man turned around and looked as if he could not recognize him. The man felt a little stunned, but then a smile ran across his face. He laughed and said: “Old Third, you really have aged. I could barely recognize you!”

The two brothers were about to hold hands and reminiscent old times, when suddenly a strange aroma filled the room, followed by the sound of a smashing gong. A voice was heard: “Wan Zhenshan, ten years ago you owed me money, today will you pay up?” Qi Zhangfa turned to look at the speaker, a person was carrying a wooden bucket filled with dirty toilet water with both hands. The person splashed the bucket at Wan Zhenshan and himself. Qi Zhangfa saw that his daughter and disciple were standing on the side; he knew he could dodge the splash himself, but it would definitely land on her daughter. With some quick thinking, he came up with an idea. He grabbed his gown with both hands and unrobed. The dirty toilet water splattered all over his robe. With his precious robe ruined, he conveniently threw the gown at the assailant.

The person parried the toilet bucket to the side, causing both the robe and bucket to fall on the ground. A putrid smell filled the air. Qi Zhangfa saw that the person had a long beard and a monstrous appearance and stood with confidence. The assailant laughed and said: “Wan Zhenshan, our brothers come from thousands of lis[2] away to celebrate. Although we are missing some gifts, we instead bring you ten thousand taels of gold. Wish you all the best!”

The eight disciples of Wan Zhenshan saw that this person was here to cause trouble and even dirtied one of the lamps in the room. In a fit of rage, the eight of them ganged up on this man, about to beat him half to death, when Wan Zhenshan ordered, “Don’t move!”

The eight disciples remained still. His second disciple Zhou Qi yelled: “Bastard! Who do you think you are? Today is Old Wan’s birthday, yet you have the audacity to mess around. If I don’t teach you a lesson, you won’t realize the power of the Wan family!”

Wan Zhenshan recognized the background of the bearded man and said: “And I was wondering who it could be. It is none other than Taihang Mountain’s Leader Lu. In the past few years Leader Lu has made a great fortune; his residence is filled with thousands of taels of gold, so naturally he would carry so much around.”

When the crowd heard the name of ‘Taihang Mountain Leader Lu, many exchanged whispers. One said: “So it is Taihang Mountain’s Lu Tong. He seems to have a misunderstanding with Elder Wan.”

Lu Tong was considered the most powerful person amongst evil men in the Five Northern Provinces[3]. He was proficient with the techniques of the Six Sabre Stances and Six Fist Stances, and made a good name for himself around the Yellow River. Someone said: “People with good intentions don’t come, and people who come have bad intentions! Today, there may be some trouble.”

Lu Tong laughed and said: “Ten years ago, my brothers and I were at the Taiyuan Prefecture doing a trade, when someone secretly spread the word and ruined our sale. That’s not the bad part, what’s worse is that this caused my brother Lu Wei to get arrested and die of injustice. It wasn’t until three years ago that I found out that it was the doing of this bastard Wan Zhenshan. How do you say we settle this?”

Wan Zhenshan replied: “You are correct. It is indeed I with the surname Wan who spread the secret. For someone trying to make a living in the realm, doing an unjust trade is already unforgivable, but what’s worse is your brother Lu Wei raped innocent women, and even murdered four people. When I realized he was doing such horrible deeds, I could not let such injustice go unpunished.”

When everyone heard this, they all shouted: “Such unrighteous deeds! Have you no shame!” Another said: “You bastard, you should be arrested by the authorities.” Another added: “You rapist, how dare you cause trouble in Jiangling?”

Lu Tong turned tail and was about to leave, but shouted: “Wan Zhenshan, if you really think you are heroic, you should have come out in the open about the matter, then I would have respected you as a worthy fellow. Why be sneaky and snitch on us to the authorities? And why did you steal the six thousand taels of silver that we earned? You bastard, you are cheap and shameless! If you have the guts, come and let us have a fight to the death!”

Wan Zhenshan laughed. “Leader Lu, after having not seen you for ten years, your martial arts has increased substantially. It is unfortunate that with the likes of you, the higher your martial arts, the more people you will hurt. I am of old age now, but we will compare our skills.” And with that, he stepped out.

Suddenly, amidst a group of people emerged a young man with thick eyebrows and big eyes. With a flip of his arms, he hooked both arms of Lu Tong and shouted: “You ruined my teacher’s new clothes, you must pay for the damages!” The speaker was Qi Zhangfa’s disciple, Di Yun.

Lu Tong tried to break Di Yun’s lock, but Di Yun held him too tightly without giving him a chance to escape. If Lu Tong could use his arm strength, he could use his renowned Iron Arm technique to repel him, but his arm was locked tight and the could not exert any strength. In a fit of rage, he attacked Di Yun’s stomach with his left knee and yelled, “Let go of me!” Di Yun felt great pain and his arm lock weakened. Lu Tong followed with a stroke of “The Wind and Cloud Suddenly Rises” and broke his lock. Then he continued with a fist stroke of “The Dark Dragon Visits the Ocean”, one of the techniques in his Six Fist Stances.

Di Yun retreated a few steps. “I won’t fight with you,” he said. “My teacher’s new robe cost three taels of silver. We sold our cattle Dahuang and sewed three pieces of clothing. Today was only his first time wearing it...”

“Silly child, what nonsense do you speak of?” Lu Tong retorted.

Di Yun moved forward three steps and shouted, “Quickly pay the damages!” Since he had been raised in the countryside, he had a passion and understanding for the hard work people put into making stuff. He knew that his teacher sold his beloved cattle to purchase three new pieces of clothing; today was only his first time wearing it, yet it was already ruined by this bastard. How could he let this matter drop? He didn’t care what misunderstandings Lu Tong had with Wan Zhenshan, his teacher’s robe must be repaid.

“Nephew Di,” Wan Zhenshan called out, “I will pay for your teacher’s robe. Please step back.”

Di Yun replied, “I want him to pay right now. If he leaves and you go back on your word, who is going to pay?” As he said this he went to Lu Tong to undress his robe, but Lu Tong dodged and punched Di Yun hard on the chest.

Wan Zhenshan repeated his command in a harsher tone, “Nephew Di, step back!”

Di Yun’s eyes were red with fury and he said: “First you are unwilling to pay, and now you’re beating me up. You are very unreasonable!”

Lu Tong laughed. “So what if I hit you?”

“Then I will hit you too!”

Di Yun got in a fighting stance, he attacked with his left palm and supported with his right palm. Lu Tong unleashed the “Attacking Tiger Stance”; he attacked with his right fist while his left leg remained idle. In a brief moment the two had already exchanged over a dozen stances. Di Yun had been training under Qi Zhangfa since he was young, and often sparred with his younger martial sister Qi Fang. He practiced swords every day without rest. Even though Lu Tong was an infamous bandit who made a name for himself amongst evildoers, at this moment he could not easily beat Di Yun. Several times he tried to unleash his Iron Arm technique, only to have it dodged by Di Yun. He hit him on the shoulder twice with two fists, but Di Yun had strong muscles and bones and was not easily wounded.

They continued to battle for several stances, when Lu Tong got frustrated and suddenly changed his fist technique from “Six Fist Stances” to the “Red Sacrum Connecting Fist.” The latter was actually a part of “Six Fist Stances”, but it was a variation which had a different essence altogether. Di Yun had never seen such a fist technique, and with a fright, his left leg was hit by Lu Tong twice.

Wan Zhenshan could tell that Di Yun was losing and said, “Nephew Di back off, you can’t beat him.”

“Even if I can’t beat him we still have to fight,” Di Yun retorted. With a loud crash, his chest was hit by Lu Tong again. Qi Fang was watching from the sidelines and her face was full of worry. She could not resist anymore and said, “Martial brother, don’t fight anymore! Let Uncle Wan handle it.”

But Di Yun was relentless and continued to attack, saying, “I’m not afraid of you! I’m not afraid of you!”

Di Yun was struck again. This time his nose was hit with a fist and blood splattered everywhere. Wan Zhenshan’s eyebrows creased with worry. “Brother, your disciple won’t listen to me. Why don’t you tell him to stop?” he suggested.

Qi Zhangfa replied, “Let him taste defeat. In a moment, I will fight this bastard myself.”

Suddenly, from the front door entered an old beggar with a dirty face. He held a broken rice bowl with his left hand while he used a crutch on his right hand. “Today is elder’s birthday, please be kind enough to spare a bowl of cold rice,” he said.

Everyone present was watching the battle between Lu Tong and Di Yun, so nobody paid any attention to this old man. The old beggar cried, “Ohh! I’m going to starve! I’m going to starve!” Suddenly, his left foot accidentally slipped on the dirty toilet water on the ground. As he was about to fall over, he shouted, “Ah! I’m going to fall!” The bowl and bamboo stick he was holding in his hands both fell at the same time. Coincidentally, the broken bowl hit Lu Tong exactly on the “Zhitang Acupoint” on his back, while the bamboo stick hit Lu Tong’s “Ququan Acupoint” around the curve of his knees.

At once Lu kneeled on his left leg and felt numbness around his entire body. Di Yun took the opportunity to unleash two fists at once, and with two loud claps, sent Lu Tong’s large body flying across the hall. A splashing sound was heard as Lu Tong’s body landed right amidst the pile of shit.

The sudden change of circumstances was quite unexpected. The crowd watched as Lu Tong made his way back up in a complete mess. Everyone in the audience burst into laughter. One of them shouted, “Capture him! Don’t let this thief escape!”

“Pay the damages for my teacher’s robe!” demanded Di Yun.

He wanted to attack again, but was grabbed on the shoulder from behind and couldn’t move. He turned to look and saw that it was his teacher. Qi Zhangfa said, “You got lucky to win, why pursue?” Qi Fang took out a handkerchief and wiped the blood off Di Yun’s face.

Di Yun looked down and saw that his new clothes were now ruined by many stains of blood, and shouted, “Oh dear! My… my new clothes are also ruined.”

The old beggar was about to walk out the door, saying to himself: “Not only did I not get any food, I even lost my bowl!” Di Yun knew that his fluke victory was all thanks to the beggar’s slip, so from his bosom he produced twenty coins that his teacher gave him as expenses. Di Yun rushed out the door to hand him the money. The beggar expressed his gratitude and left.

*****

That night, Wan Zhenshan prepared a banquet and treated with great honour the many guests that were present. He was a famous person in Jingzhou and as such he received a scroll of good fortune from the prefect. The words were glossed with gold and appeared quite prestigious. Everyone was discussing the events from earlier today, speaking of how Di Yun was blessed with good fortune when the old beggar entered at an opportune moment, causing Lu Tong to lose his concentration. Everyone was impressed that Di Yun had such bravery at such a young age; exchanging several dozen stances with an evildoer was quite an accomplishment. Everyone wished the best for Wan Zhenshan’s birthday, saying that even though it was a coincidence that the old beggar entered, had Wan Zhenshan himself stepped in to battle, he would have defeated Lu Tong in a matter of a few stances. But for Wan Zhenshan to not have to step in and lower his dignity was just as well.

Di Yun received many compliments, causing the eight disciples of Wan Zhenshan to feel a bit ashamed. Lu Tong was after their teacher, yet they could do nothing to stop him. Instead, they had a petty disciple of their martial uncle to step in to fight. The eight disciples felt angry at heart but could not express their feelings.

After Wan Zhenshan gave a toast to everyone present, his first disciple Lu Kun, second disciple Zhou Qi, third disciple Wan Gui, fourth disciple Sun Jun, fifth disciple Bu Yuan, sixth disciple Wu Kan, seventh disciple Feng Tan, and eighth disciple Shen Cheng also made a toast to the people around. Among them, third disciple Wan Gui was the only son of Wan Zhenshan; he was tall with a great stature and looked like a gentleman born of a rich family, unlike first disciple Lu Kun and second disciple Zhou Qi, who had an average appearance.

After the eight of them offered a toast to the various famous scholars and clan leaders present, they offered one to their uncle Qi Zhangfa and conveniently offered one to Di Yun as well. Wan Gui said: “Today, Brother Di gave my father a lot of face. Among our eight martial brothers, we must all drink with Brother Di.”

Brother Di had never been a drinker in the past, so he said, “I won’t drink it, I won’t drink it.”

Wan Gui continued: “Today my father thrice requested for Brother Di to back off, yet Brother Di did not listen, as if my father was talking to thin air. Now we are offering you a drink and you refuse, do you mean to take the Wan family lightly?”

Di Yun was stunned by his words and uttered: “No… no I don’t.”

Qi Zhangfa could sense the negative implications of Wan Gui’s statements, and said, “Yun’er, just drink it.”

“I… I… I don’t drink,” said Di Yun.

Qi Zhangfa got frustrated and declared: “Drink it!”

Di Yun had no choice but to obey. He downed one drink to each of his uncle’s disciples, making eight drinks in total. His face flushed red and his stomach felt a bit nauseous.

That night when Di Yun went to bed, he felt nauseous and pains excruciated his chest, shoulders, and legs; the areas where Lu Tong had hit him during the fight. In the middle of the night, amidst his dreams, he suddenly heard someone yelling from out the window, “Brother Di, Di Yun, Di Yun!”

Di Yun quickly awakened and asked, “Who is it?”

The man outside replied: “It is Wan Gui, I have something to say to you, can Brother Di please step outside for a moment?”

Di Yun felt a bit dizzy, got out of bed, put on his clothes and sandals, and opened the window. All he could see was eight people lined up, each holding a long sword in hand. It was the eight disciples of Wan Zhenshan. “What did you call me for?” asked Di Yun.

Wan Gui replied: “We wish to test our sword skills with Brother Di.”

Di Yun shook his head and replied: “My teacher said that I’m not allowed to spar with Uncle Wan’s disciples.”

Wan Gui smirked: “Looks like Uncle Qi has already acknowledged our superiority.”

Di Yun angrily retorted: “What do you mean acknowledged?”

Chi! Chi! Chi! Suddenly, three sounds were heard as Wan Gui stroke Di Yun three times with his sword, the blade of the sword missing his face just barely. In shock, Di Yun moved back a few steps; he accidentally tripped his leg over a stool and fell, looking quite pathetic. Wan Zhenshan’s eight disciples laughed heavily at the scene. Di Yun became enraged and produced a long sword from underneath his pillow and jumped out the window. He saw the eight unfriendly faces of Wan Zhenshan’s disciples and wanted to attack, but remembered that his teacher told him not to get on bad terms with them, so he could only say, “What do you want from me?”

Wan Gui faked a stroke with his sword and said: “Brother Di, today you stepped out to fight out of bravery, thinking that our family in Jingzhou would have perished if not for your help, right? Do you take it that among the Wan clan, there is no one who is a match for Brother Di?”

Di Yun shook his head and said: “That person ruined my master’s clothes, so of course I have to make him pay up. What does it matter to you?”

Wan Gui replied coldly: “You made a performance in front of all these renowned guests today and gave yourself a lot of face, while us eight brothers were shamed to no end. Not even to mention roaming the realm from now on, even within Jingzhou, how can we have any sort of respectable status anymore? What you did today, don’t you think it was going a bit too far?”

Di Yun was stumped for words and said: “I… I don’t know.”

The eldest disciple, Lu Kun remarked: “Third Brother, this brat is playing us for a fool, why talk to him? Let’s fight!”

Wan Gui unleashed his long sword, aiming for Di Yun’s left shoulder. Di Yun could tell that this was a fake stroke, so he did not defend himself at all. Wan Gui withdrew his sword after realizing Di Yun outwitted him and became even angrier. “Good, so you won’t fight back?”

Di Yun replied: “Teacher said that I definitely cannot fight with uncle’s disciples.”

Suddenly, Wan Gui stroke out with his long sword and made a slash on Di Yun’s right sleeve. Di Yun loved this new garment greatly, and now that it was unreasonably ruined by Wan Gui, he could not hold back his anger anymore and shouted: “You slashed my garment, you need to pay the damages!” Wan Gui laughed coldly and made another stroke with his sword, slashing his left sleeve. Di Yun quickly unsheathed his sword to counterattack. The two began to fight, the pace growing quicker and quicker as the fight prolonged. The two were using identical sword techniques, and after a dozen or so stances, Di Yun got annoyed and started to aim for Wan Gui’s vital areas.

Zhou Qi shouted: “Hey! This brat really wants to take your life? Third Brother, no need to hold back!”

Di Yun was held aback by his words. “If by accident I really wound him, nothing good could come out of that.” Accordingly, Di Yun started to lower the intensity and fatality of his strokes. Wan Gui realized that he was not as proficient with the sword as Di Yun, nor were his strokes fatal enough. Di Yun slowly backed off, then said: “I’m not really fighting you for real, what are you doing?”

Wan Gui replied: “What am I doing? I want to stab you a few times!” And with that he attacked again with his sword vertically; Di Yun dodged to the right and saw that Wan Gui’s right shoulder exposed an opening, so with his long sword he stroke vertically at Wan Gui. But upon realizing that Wan Gui’s shoulder would most certainly suffer damages, Di Yun turned his wrist and flipped the blade of his sword so that it was flat, then tapped his shoulder a few times.

Di Yun figured now that the outcome of the battle has been decided; this should be the point where Wan Gui admits defeat and backs off, as was often the case when he sparred with Qi Fang. But much to his surprise, Wan Gui’s face flushed red with anger and actually stroke his sword vertically. Di Yun was caught off guard and was stabbed by Wan Gui on his left leg.

Lu Kun, Zhou Qi and the others applauded and said: “You little brat, fallen already? If you beg for mercy we might just let you go.”

Another said: “It turns out that Uncle Qi’s disciple from the countryside is nothing but an amateur!”

Di Yun was already enraged from being stabbed, but now upon hearing the others mock his teacher, he became even more furious. He gritted his teeth and brandished his sword with the intensity of a rainstorm. Wan Gui saw that his opponent was losing his mind and started to get nervous. Since he was little he had always been treated with utmost respect; even though his swordplay was decent, he had never fought a battle as serious as this before so he felt a bit frightened. It was evident as his sword moves began to weaken.

Bu Yuan saw that his third brother was going to lose, so he lifted a brick and threw it at Di Yun’s spine. Di Yun was completely focused on attacking Wan Gui, when suddenly he felt a great pain on his back as he was hit hard with a brick. He turned around and reprimanded: “You guys have no shame, now fighting two-on-one?”

Bu Yuan replied. “What? What did you say?”

“Even if all eight of you fight me at once, I cannot put my teacher to shame,” said Di Yun. He disregarded the sharp pain on his back and aimed his sword at Wan Gui. But by this time his sword stance was already disrupted by pain and as such he left many flaws and openings in his attack. However, he still exuded an aura of confidence and Wan Gui was hesitant to counterattack.

Bu Yuan gave a signal to his sixth brother Wu Kan and said: “Third Brother’s swordplay is proficient, this brat cannot handle him. We should step in and break them up before he suffers any real damage for fear of being scolded by Uncle Qi.”

Wu Kan nodded and said: “Good idea, we brothers should pay attention and not let Third Brother harm anyone with his sword.” The two of them positioned themselves left and right and slashed Di Yun on the back.

Di Yun’s swordplay originally was not more impressive than Wan Gui, it was only thanks to his mindless aggression and bravery was he able to take the upper hand. But now when Bu Yuan and Wu Kan went forward to attack together, it was three-against-one and Di Yun instantly faltered. With a sword stroke, his left leg was stabbed. This stab was not a light one. In fact he could no longer keep his balance and fell over. He did not let go of his sword, but he could not take the attacks of all three at once. Lu Kun groaned and with a flying kick sent Di Yun’s long sword flying out of his wrist and landing amidst the bushes. Wan Gui stroke with his long sword, aiming for Di Yun’s throat. Bu Yuan and Wu Kan both laughed heartily as they backed off.

Wan Gui, now having won the battle, laughed in great joy. “You rustic bumpkin, do you admit defeat?”

Di Yun replied: “Admit your face! The four of you ganged up on me, how do you consider yourselves honourable?”

Wan Gui made a faint stab on Di Yun’s throat and blood gushed out of his wound. “Still so stubborn? If I use just a bit my strength, I could instantly slit your throat.”

“Go ahead,” Di Yun dared him, “if you have the guts then slit my throat, if you don’t then you’re a coward!”

Wan Gui became furious, stroke with his left foot and kicked Di Yun hard in the stomach, then shouted, “Bastard, let’s see if you are still stubborn!”

This kick caused Di Yun’s internal organs to feel as if they were crushed. He screamed in pain, gritted his teeth and cursed, “You stupid bastard, you son of a bítch!” Wan Gui gave him another hard kick, this time on his face. At this point, Di Yun felt dizzy and could no longer retort. He began to feel faint.

Wan Gui sneered: “Today we will let you go, quickly complain to your teacher and martial sister, tell them that we outnumbered and bullied you! We expect you to go home crying.”

Di Yun indignantly replied, “Complain about what? A true gentleman who seeks revenge only does so himself and seeks the assistance of none other.”

Wan Gui expected him to say this, and replied: “Then let’s leave a marking on your face, so as to make your teacher speak out.” With that he gave Di Yun a hard kick on his right cheek and left eye that caused his face to swell; tears started to gush out of his eye.

Bu Yuan applauded and laughed. “Haha, the gentleman is crying! The hero turns into a fool!”

Di Yun was so angry that he felt his stomach was going to explode. He recalled how Bu Yuan went to his teacher’s cottage and was treated so graciously with wine and chicken. He was honoured with utmost respect without the least bit of mistreatment, yet at this point Bu Yuan was humiliating him.

Wan Gui said: “You can’t beat me, so why not complain to my father and have my father punish me to make yourself feel better. ‘Waaah! Uncle Wan, your eight disciples beat me up to a pulp and left me crying! Waah! Uncle Wan, won’t you correct this injustice?’”

“Only a sore loser like you would complain to the elders!” Di Yun scorned.

Wan Gui, Lu Kun, and Bu Yuan looked at each other and laughed, happy that they were able to expel their hatred. They retracted their swords back in their sheaths and said: “Brave fellow, if you have the guts then we will fight again tomorrow. We will take our leave now!” The eight of them laughed their way out.

Di Yun could only watch as the eight of them left him. In his heart he felt miserable, but even worse was that he could not understand their reasoning, thinking to himself: “I have never wronged them, and I have definitely not wronged their teacher, why did they beat me up so unexpectedly? Is it really the case that city folk are unreasonable?” With all his might he tried to summon the strength to stand up, but his head felt dizzy and he fell back down.

Suddenly, behind him a sigh was heard: “Alas, since you couldn’t beat them, you should have begged for mercy. Now you have been beaten for no good reason, isn’t that such a shame?” Di Yun turned to look at who the speaker was.

“I would rather be beaten to death than to submit to these cowards!” Di Yun retorted. He saw a man with a hunchback and worn-out sandals slowly approaching. He remembered that this was the beggar he saw from earlier today.

The old beggar said: “Alas, when a man grows old, the rheumatism on his back only gets worse. Little child, come massage my back!”

Di Yun felt angry, gave a “Hmph” and ignored him. The old beggar continued: “I have no descendants, and now that I’m old, there is no one willing to take care of me. Oh, the agony!” Holding his bamboo stick, he slowly trod his way out.

Di Yun saw that the beggar’s back quivered greatly. As he had just been beaten up badly, he felt commiserated for the beggar. He shouted: “Hey, I have a dozen or so coins, take it to buy some buns!”

The old beggar trod his way back slowly, received the coins and said: “The pain on my back is getting worse, help me knead it!”

“Alright, let me bandage the wounds on my leg first.”

“You only think of taking care of yourself and not others, how can you call yourself honourable?”

Di Yun was provoked by this statement, and said: “Fine! I will help you knead it!” He sat on the ground and started massaging his back with his palms.

After a few hits, the old beggar said: “Very good... very good, use a bit more strength!” Di Yun added a bit more strength to his hits. The beggar said: “Unfortunately it is not strong enough.” Di Yun added even more strength, and the beggar sighed: “Alas, you are indeed a useless child; after getting beaten half to death, you no longer even have the ability to give a proper massage to an old man. Why is someone like you still alive in this world?”

Di Yun angrily retorted, “If I hit any harder, I’m afraid I will break your old bones.”

The old beggar laughed: “If you were capable of breaking my back, you wouldn’t have been on the floor getting beaten up.”

Di Yun got very angry and increased his strength even more, the old beggar said: “Ah, that’s better, but it’s still too weak.”

Di Yun punched the old beggar hard with his fist, but the old beggar only laughed. “Too weak... too weak... useless.”

Di Yun said, “Old man, don’t joke around with me, I really don’t want to hurt you.”

The old beggar sneered: “Do you really think you can hurt me? Give it your best shot, hit me once and see.”

Di Yun gathered strength from his right arm, and was about to hit the beggar when the moonlight reflected the doddering physique of the old man. He became soft-hearted and said, “I won’t share such petty insight with you!” and only lightly tapped his back.

Suddenly, he felt his waist was being pushed back and repelled. In an instant, his whole body was sent flying like prancing clouds. Boom! He fell on the grass with a loud crash and felt dizzy. He took a while to recover but still felt a bit dazed when he got up. He wasn’t angry but was curious as to what happened.

“It was you... it was you who threw me?” he asked.

“Who else is here besides me?” the beggar replied.

“How did you throw me away?”

“On my bed I look at the moon, I bow my head and think of home[4].”

Di Yun became curious and asked: “That was the sword technique that my teacher taught me... how do you know it?”

“Fist techniques and swordplay are all the same. Besides, your teacher did not teach it to you correctly.”

Di Yun angrily retorted: “How did my teacher teach me wrong? How can a beggar like you even question my teacher’s abilities?”

“If your master taught you correctly, then why didn’t you win the fight earlier?”

“They were ganging on me three or four at a time, of course I couldn’t take them all,” Di Yun reasoned. “But if it was one-against-one, do you think I would lose?”

The old beggar laughed. “Haha, in battle, who says it has to be one-against-one? If you want to fight one-against-one and your opponents don’t, what can you do? Then you would have to kneel down and beg for mercy. If one person can take on a dozen people at once, then that is a true warrior.”

Di Yun thought that what the old beggar said wasn’t irrational, and replied: “But they are my uncle’s disciples, and our sword skills are comparable. How am I supposed to take on all eight of them?”

The old beggar replied: “I will teach you a few techniques which will guarantee you victory against the eight of them, do you want to learn it?”

Di Yun was overjoyed and exclaimed, “I want to learn it!” But upon further contemplation, he thought that such profound abilities may not exist in this world. Furthermore, the old beggar would most certainly not possess such abstruse martial arts, so he became hesitant. Suddenly, someone grabbed him from behind and sent his body flying into the air, this time spinning two full somersaults before falling heavily to the ground. His arm landed smack down on the floor and his joints were nearly dislocated. When he got back up, he was in so much pain he couldn’t speak, but in his heart he was extremely pleased, and said, “Old... old uncle, I want to learn from you.”

The old beggar said: “Tonight, I will teach you a few techniques. Tomorrow night, you will fight the eight of them again. Do you dare?”

Di Yun thought: “Your martial arts abilities are so high, how can I learn it in merely a day?” But when he thought about the opportunity of defeating Wan Gui, Lu Kun and the others, he could not resist and declared: “I dare! The worst that can happen is that I get beat up again, what’s the big deal?”

The old beggar extended his left hand, grabbed Di Yun by the neck and slammed it on the floor, and scolded: “Stupid brat, I’m teaching you martial arts, how can you lose to them? Do you not trust me?”

Di Yun felt pain from the fall, but he felt even more excited and quickly replied: “Right! Right! I spoke incorrectly. May elder please teach me now.”

The old beggar said: “First, execute the sword techniques that you have already learned, and as you are executing them, recite the names of the techniques!”

“Alright,” Di Yun replied. He saw that his leg was still bleeding and hastily wrapped the wound. Then he grabbed his long sword from the grass and executed the techniques that his master had taught him while reciting the names of the techniques. His pace became faster as he executed and recited the techniques quicker. He was still in the middle of executing his techniques when the old beggar suddenly laughed. Di Yun retracted his sword and asked: “Did I mess up?” The old beggar did not reply, he had his hands on his stomach and laughed heartily, Di Yun got a bit angry and said: “Even if I am not performing well, there is nothing funny about that.”

The old beggar abruptly stopped laughing and said: “Qi Zhangfa is indeed Qi Zhangfa, you are impressively vicious.” He shook his head and said: “Give me your sword.” Di Yun threw the sword over to the beggar. The beggar caught the sword and faintly recited: “The lonely bird rises from the ocean, the pond does not dare to care.” He executed his moves with the swiftness of a dancer, as if upon holding the sword he suddenly transformed into a different person. He had a calm composure and his sword moves were executed with elegance.

Di Yun observed the sword techniques, then suddenly a thought came to his mind, and he said: “Elder, today when I was fighting against Lu Tong, did you purposely throw your bowl at him to help me?”

The beggar replied with annoyance: “Do you even have to ask? ‘Six Fist Stances’ Lu Tong’s martial arts is much superior to yours, do you really think you could have beaten him?” He spoke all while still executing his sword moves. Di Yun felt strange as he noticed that the mnemonics the beggar recited were not much different from his own. It only the sounded different, yet the sword techniques were entirely different.

Suddenly, he switched his sword to his left hand and with his right hand he slapped Di Yun’s face. Di Yun was shocked and angrily said: “Why... why did you hit me?”

The old beggar laughed and replied: “I’m teaching you swordplay, and you aren’t even paying attention, of course you deserve to be hit.”

Di Yun thought that the old beggar was right, so he became calm and replied: “You’re right, my mistake. I was thinking that the sword mnemonics you recited were identical to my teacher’s, yet your execution of the moves are entirely different, how strange.”

The old beggar asked: “Do I perform it better, or does your teacher perform it better?”

Di Yun shook his head and said, “I don’t know.”

The old beggar returned Di Yun the long sword and said, “Let us spar.”

“My skill level is nowhere close to yours, I can’t spar with you,” replied Di Yun.

The old beggar laughed. “Well, looks like this silly child is not completely stupid. How about this: we will only compare techniques and not internal energy.” He held a bamboo stick on his hands as a substitute for the sword and aimed it at Di Yun. Di Yun adjusted his sword horizontally to block. He saw that the beggar did not move his stick and pressed forward to attack. But as he stroke his sword towards the beggar, the bamboo stick rose like a violent snake, and with a forward momentum he was hit on the shoulder.

Di Yun felt defeated and complimented, “Excellent! Excellent!” With his sword still horizontal he now aimed it directly at the beggar. The beggar flipped his bamboo stick and matched it next to his sword. Di Yun tried to counterattack but the beggar’s bamboo stick spun several circles on the sword and repelled any strength directed at him back to his opponent. Di Yun could not keep a firm grasp any longer and the long sword flew out of his palms. He was expressionless for a moment. After a while he said, “Elder, your swordplay is truly remarkable.”

The old beggar used his bamboo stick to pick up the long sword that fell on the floor. He picked up the sword effortlessly as if it was glued to the stick. “Your teacher has a set of good martial arts, and he only taught you this? Hmm, that is strange.” He shook his head and continued: “In regards to your clan’s ‘Tang Poem Swordplay’; every stance is a recitation of a line of a poem from the Tang Dynasty.”

Di Yun replied: “What Tang Poem Swordplay? Teacher said it is called the ‘Reclining Corpse Swordplay’[5], its essence is to force the opponent to recline like a corpse.”

The old beggar laughed. “It is ‘Tang Poem’ not ‘Reclining Corpse’!” he corrected. “Your teacher told you it was ‘Reclining Corpse?’ That is funny! The two stances ‘The Lonely Bird Rises from the Ocean, The Pond Does not Dare to Care’ talks about a lonely and isolated bird that rises from the ocean, sees a small pond on land, and doesn’t stop to rest. These two lines were written by the Tang Dynasty chancellor Zhang Jiu; he used an analogy of himself as a man of high status who does not fight for fame and glory. He turned this into a swordplay, hence a sense of pride and elegance in the technique. The ‘does not dare to care’ part means ‘does not dare to look’. Your teacher taught you ‘Brother Weng Shouts Up, Dare not Cross the Horizontal’; the former line became an outcry, the latter became overcautious. The original intent was to have nothing left of the sword. Your teacher is really remarkable. ‘Iron Lock Across the River’ teaches his disciples in such a way, impressive, impressive!” As he said this he grinned.

Di Yun was shocked by his words and sunk in deep thought. He was not very literate so he did not quite understand the meaning behind the stances. Although the old beggar may be right, Di Yun had always shown great respect towards his teacher, so he assumed that what his teacher said was flawless and never questioned him. Upon hearing the old beggar’s words, he felt a bit bitter in his heart. Then he turned around and said, “I’m going to sleep! I don’t want to learn anymore.”

The old beggar was surprised. “Why? Did I say something wrong?”

“You may very well be right, but you spoke poorly of my teacher, and as such I can no longer learn from you. My teacher is a farmer and isn’t very literate, so he would not understand what you just described.”

The old beggar laughed. “Your teacher is illiterate? Haha, that is very strange.”

“A farmer who is illiterate, what is there to laugh about?” Di Yun angrily replied.

The beggar laughed heartily, caressed him on the head and said, “Good! You are a child with a kind heart, I like you. I ask for your forgiveness, from now on I will no longer disrespect your teacher, alright?”

Di Yun was delighted and smiled. “As long as you don’t talk poorly of my teacher, I could kowtow to you.” And with that he kneeled on the floor and gave several loud kowtows. The old beggar laughed and happily accepted his kowtows. Then he decided to explain some of the sword mnemonics. What is meant by “The Wind Suddenly Blows, The Mountain Escapes Like a Cloth” is really “Facing Down Can Hear the Winds, Continuous Mountains Suppose Undulating Waves”; what is meant by “The Falling Mud Welcomes Big Sister, The Horse Blows a Little Wind” is actually “The Sunset Reflects the Banner, The Horse Cries Soughing Winds.” By Hunan dialect tones, the words “mud” and “day” were pronounced similarly. In all of the old beggar’s speech, he never mentioned anything negative about Qi Zhangfa and only intended to correct mistakes in Di Yun’s swordplay.

The old beggar said: “There are too many precarious segments to your swordplay, I cannot point them out all at once. Now I will teach you three techniques so tomorrow you will fight those eight pathetic bullies again. Remember these mnemonics carefully.”

Di Yun gave his complete attention to the beggar’s demonstrations with the bamboo stick. The beggar explained: “The first technique is the ‘Piercing Shoulder Stance’; if the enemy is stubbornly defensive and you can’t find an opening, you only need to unleash this sword phase attack, and you will immediately be able to break through his defense and pierce his shoulder. The second stance, ‘Slap-in the-face Stance’ was the one I used against you earlier; the sword switches to the left hand, and the right hand slaps the opponent right in the face. This stance is strange and unorthodox, even if your opponent knows what you are planning, if he dodges to the left then you hit to the left, if he dodges to the right then hit to the right; the more he tries to dodge the harder he gets hit. The third stance is the ‘Releasing Sword Stance’; it was the stance I executed earlier when I used my bamboo stick to knock the long sword out of your hand.”

These three stances had all been used against Di Yun during their battle. Originally, each one of them had an elegant name in the form of a line from a Tang poem, but the old beggar knew that Di Yun was quite illiterate and wouldn’t understand such complicated mnemonics. It would only make things harder to remember, so instead he changed these mnemonics to more convenient names.

Di Yun was not exceptionally clever. Although he had an ill-temper he was highly determined, and the three stances took him over two hours before he could execute them skillfully.

The old beggar laughed. “Good!” he complimented. “You have to promise me one thing: you must not speak to anyone that I taught you swordplay today, including your teacher and your martial sister, or else…”

Di Yun respected his teacher like his father and had already loved his beautiful martial sister secretly for quite some time. He had nothing to hide from his teacher, much less his martial sister, so he was at a loss for words.

The old beggar sighed and continued: “The reason herein, I cannot tell you at this point in time, but if you reveal the events of today, my life will be in jeopardy. I will most certainly to fall prey to ‘Five Cloud Hand’ Wan Zhenshan’s sword.”

Di Yun was astonished and said: “Elder, your martial arts are so powerful, how can you fear my martial uncle?”

The old beggar did not answer and slowly started to leave. Then he said, “Whether or not you have ill-intentions towards me depends on you.”

Di Yun rushed forward beside him and said: “I cannot even thank elder enough, why would I want to harm your life? Let it be known that if I break this promise, I shall be punished by heaven and earth.”

The old beggar let out a deep sigh and continued walking. Di Yun stood motionless for a bit, then remembered that he had not asked the old beggar his name, shouting: “Elder! Elder!” but he was already long gone.

*****

Early the next morning, Qi Zhangfa noticed that Di Yun’s eyes were blue and his nose was swollen. He became curious and asked, “Who did you fight with to get beat up like this?”

Di Yun did not like to tell lies and found it difficult to give an adequate reply. Qi Fang laughed. “Isn’t it the fight from yesterday when you battled with the bandit Lu Tong that caused this?” she asked.

Qi Zhangfa could not remember last night’s events too clearly, so he did not further pursue the matter. Qi Fang pulled on Di Yun’s shirt and the two of them went out from the side door until they reached the side of a well. They looked to see that there was no one else in sight before they both sat on top of the well.

Qi Fang asked, “Martial brother, who did you fight with last night?” Di Yun did not answer. Qi Fang continued: “You don’t have to hide it from me, yesterday when you fought with Lu Tong, I remember very clearly where he hit you. He definitely didn’t hit you in the eyes or nose.”

Di Yun knew that he could not hide the truth from her, and thought: “As long as I don’t tell her about the elder, it should be okay.” So he told her everything that happened last night: how the eight disciples of the Wan clan came to look for him, how they fought, and how he badly he was humiliated.

As Qi Fang heard his story, her beautiful face flushed red with anger. “They fought you eight on one, what honour do they have?” she complained.

“It wasn’t all eight of them at once, just three or four at the same time,” Di Yun corrected.

Qi Fang retorted, “Hmph, it would only take three or four of them to defeat you, the others have no need to step in. If the three or four of them couldn’t beat you, then it would have been five or six, or seven or eight at once.”

Di Yun nodded in agreement. “That is probably true.”

Qi Fang stood up. “Let’s go tell my father, and have Wan Zhenshan dictate the justice.” In a fit of rage she did not even address him as “Uncle Wan” and instead addressed him by his full name.

Di Yun declined. “No, I lost a fight. If I complain to my teacher, people will take me for a coward.”

Qi Fang felt contemptuous, but felt sympathy when she saw how badly his clothes were ripped. From her bosom she produced a sewing kit and started to mend together the holes in his clothes. As her hair rubbed against his chin he began to feel itchy; he could smell the fragrant scent of her skin and his mind began to wander. “Martial sister!” he cried.

“Water Spinach, don’t talk!” she urged. “Don’t let people mistake you for a thief.”

The people in Jiangnan were highly superstitious, believing that people who talked while having their clothes mended would be accused of stealing. “Water Spinach” was the nickname that Qi Fang gave to Di Yun, which mocked his straightforward and unsuspicious nature.

*****

At night time, Wan Zhenshan held a banquet in the dining room and invited Qi Zhangfa and his two disciples, as well as his own disciples, making 12 people in total sitting together in a round table. After three rounds of wine, Wan Zhenshan saw that Di Yun’s lips were greatly swollen and could not eat well. “Nephew Di, yesterday must have been difficult for you. Come, eat a bit more.” He grabbed a chicken with his chopsticks and placed it on Di Yun’s plate. Wan Zhenshan’s second disciple Zhou Qi snorted in contempt.

Qi Fang was already angry from the earlier events, but now she could not hold back any longer and shouted: “Uncle Wan, my martial brother’s wounds were not caused by Lu Tong, it was the doing of your eight disciples!”

Wan Zhenshan and Qi Zhangfa felt astonished at once, and asked, “What?”

Of the eight disciples of the Wan clan, eighth disciple Shen Cheng was the youngest and naturally the cheekiest. He quickly retorted: “Brother Di defeated Lu Tong and claimed that teacher did not have the guts to stir up trouble and was afraid to fight Lu Tong. He said that it was all thanks to his efforts in subduing Lu Tong that saved teacher from embarrassment. We could not take this humiliation so…”

Wan Zhenshan’s face changed colors, but then he laughed. “Yes, it was all thanks to Nephew Di that we saved face.”

Shen Cheng said: “Brother Wan said that he was offensive in his language and could not resist sparring with Brother Di. It seems like Brother Wan had the advantage.”

Di Yun angrily retorted, “You… you speak nonsense… I… when did I…” he was quite influent in speech and upon hearing Shen Cheng speak out such lies, he wanted to defend himself, but he was so angry that he could not make out his words properly.

“How did Gui’er hold the advantage?” asked Wan Zhenshan.

Shen Cheng replied: “Last night when Brother Wan sparred with Brother Di, we were not present to observe. Early in the morning Brother Wan told everyone that he used a technique… used a technique…” he turned his head towards Wan Gui and inquired: “Brother Wan, what technique did you use to defeat Brother Di?”

Wan Gui replied: “The Moon in Chang’an, The Wan Family Threshes Clothes’.” They completely omitted the fact that they had ganged up on him, as if it never happened. They did not mention how Wan Gui was provoking Di Yun. The ones who were present at the scene were all on Wan Gui’s side, so naturally nobody spoke of such matters. Furthermore, Shen Cheng was about 15 or 16 years old and had an innocent look. Nobody suspected him of speaking anything but the truth.

Wan Zhenshan nodded. “So that is what happened.”

Qi Zhangfa’s face turned bright red. He slammed the table hard and yelled: “Yun’er, I told you specifically not to get on bad terms with anyone from the Wan clan, let alone do battle!”

When Di Yun realized that even his teacher believed what Shen Cheng said, he began to shake violently in anger and defended, “Teacher, I… I did not…”

Qi Zhangfa slapped him hard across the face and scolded: “You did the wrong thing and you are still making excuses!”

Di Yun did not dare to parry his attack. Qi Zhangfa indeed gave a very hard slap; Di Yun’s face was already swollen and this made it even worse. Qi Fang quickly intercepted. “Father, you haven’t even confirmed this!” she reasoned.

Di Yun’s ill-temper suddenly got the best of him. He became furious and stood up, picked up one of the long swords situated behind him, unsheathed it, and stepped outside the room. Then he said: “Teacher, this Wan… Wan Gui said he beat me, tell him to fight me again and we’ll see.”

Qi Zhangfa grew furious and shouted: “Where are you going?” He left his seat and went out, clasping his fists together. Qi Fang tried to hold her father back, yelling: “Father! Father!”

Di Yun spoke loudly: “The eight of you should fight me again. If you have any guts then come all at once, whoever doesn’t come is a turtle bastard’s son!” Under extreme fury he could not control his tongue and uttered such foul language.

Wan Zhenshan’s eyebrows wrinkled and he said: “That being the case, why don’t you guys go and challenge your Brother Di’s swordplay?”

The eight disciples were anxiously hoping that their teacher would say this and gladly accepted. They each took their long swords and spread themselves in eight directions, with Di Yun in the middle.

Di Yun shouted contemptuously: “Yesterday night I was defeated by eight bastards ganging up on me, today we have another eight bastards…”

“Yun’er, what nonsense do you speak of?” Qi Zhangfa yelled. “If you are going to spar then spar, why talk trash?”

When Wan Zhenshan heard the word “bastard” spewed out of Di Yun’s mouth left and right, he became angry for real, since among his eight disciple was his biological son Wan Gui, hence Di Yun was indirectly insulting him. He saw his eight disciples position themselves in eight directions, planning to attack all at once. Wan Zhenshan scolded: “Your Brother Di looks down on you guys, planning to fight you guys one-against-eight, do you guys also look down on yourselves?”

The eldest disciple Lu Kun replied: “That’s right. Younger martial brothers please step back, let me first test the abilities of Brother Di.”

Fifth disciple Bu Yuan was one who was full of treachery. Last night he saw the sparring match between Di Yun and Wan Gui and realized that the former had some decent martial arts. This was a desperate situation, and his eldest martial brother may not necessarily be able to win. If Di Yun wins this first match, there will naturally be someone to defeat him, but the prestige of the Wan clan would have already been lost. Among the eight disciples, fourth disciple Sun Jun had the most formidable swordsmanship, it would be best to let him fight so there can be no excuses.

Bu Yuan said: “Eldest martial brother is the model of our clan, why should he be the one to fight? Let Fourth Brother fight instead.”

Lu Kun thought for a moment and understood Bu Yuan’s intention so he happily accepted the offer. Bu Yuan continued: “Alright, Fourth Brother, let’s see you in action.” The seven of them backed off to observe, leaving only Sun Jun and Di Yun in the middle of the circle.

Sun Jun was quite a reticent fellow and was not much of a talker. Instead, he focused his time on practicing martial arts. As a result, his swordsmanship was the best among his martial brothers. When he heard that his younger martial brother wanted him to fight, he immediately drew his long sword and curved his body slightly to a bow-shaped fighting stance. This stance was called “The Wans Admire Their Lineage, Bowing with Great Attire.” It was a sword stance of great customs. Back when Qi Zhangfa taught Di Yun swordplay, he called this stance “The Rice Dumpling Turns Foul, The Officer Bows to the Monkey” the meaning was that “I am a big bowl of rice, while you are a rotten rice dumpling, I appear to yield to you, to respect you, when I actually despise you deeply. I am an officer and you are a monkey; when I pay respect to you, it is an officer showing respect to a beast.”

When Di Yun saw that his opponent was executing this move he became even more furious. At once he drew his sword in a fighting stance and curved his body in a bow-shape, returning the same stance used against him, “The Rice Dumpling Turns Foul, The Officer Bows to the Monkey.” The two remained in a standstill, neither side showing any sign of weakness.

Di Yun attacked first and pointed his long sword dead on Sun Jun’s abdominal area. The disciples of the Wan clan were shocked. Sun Jun manoeuvred his sword to a defensive position and the two swords clashed against each other. Soon, the arms of both fighters became numb.

Lu Kun said: “Teacher, look at how ruthless this brat is, he wants to take Brother Sun’s life!”

Wan Zhenshan became a bit worried and thought: “This little bumpkin is so cynical, the battle has just begun and he’s already going for the kill?”

Ting! Ting Ting! Many rattling sounds were emitted from their swords. It was clear that both Di Yun and Sun Jun were giving it their all. After about a dozen stances, Sun Jun’s long sword slanted and revealed an opening on his lower abdomen. Di Yun shouted loudly and aimed his sword toward the opening. Sun Jun defended and managed to keep Di Yun’s sword at bay. With a loud crash from his palms, Sun Jun attacked Di Yun hard on the chest. All the Wan disciples were in shock, and one shouted: “You can’t even beat one of us, why exaggerate and try to take us all?”

Di Yun turned around, picked up his long sword, and forcefully attacked like a violent storm. Sun Jun blocked several stances and drew his long sword to counterattack, when suddenly Di Yun’s long sword started to jitter and a light stabbing sound was heard—he had already stabbed into Sun Jun’s shoulder. This was the “Piercing Shoulder Stance” that the old beggar had taught him.

The “Piercing Shoulder Stance” was indeed uncalled for and was beyond all expectations. Upon seeing that Sun Jun tremble as his shoulder bled profusely, all of the Wan disciples were taken aback. Lu Kun and Zhou Qi both drew their swords and rushed forward to attack. Di Yun slashed left and right with his long sword and two stabbing sounds were heard. Both Lu Kun and Zhou Qi’s right shoulders were pierced by his long sword, and the sword in their hands both fell to the ground.

Wan Zhenshan’s face began to sink, then he remarked, “Very good!”

Wan Gui held his long sword firmly, staring at Di Yun with great contempt. Suddenly, he shouted violently and rushed in to attack. He swiped his sword three times but Di Yun parried them all. Then he switched his sword to his left hand, and with his right hand he gave a backhand and smacked Wan Gui hard on the face. This technique was even more sudden than the last. Wan Gui was completely startled. Di Yun gave a flying kick with his left leg and kicked Wan Gui hard on the chest. Wan Gui could not endure the blow and fell on the ground. Bu Yuan quickly went to assist Wan Gui but was intercepted by Di Yun. Bu Yuan could only lift his sword up to defend. The remaining three disciples Wu Kan, Feng Tan, and Shen Cheng saw that Di Yun was very brutal. He had knocked down Wan Gui so hard that the latter could not even draw the strength to get back up. Furious, they each drew their weapons and circled around Di Yun. At this time, the maids in the Wan family heard the sound of battle from the dining room and quickly went to observe.

Qi Zhangfa stared intensely at the battle with startled eyes. He seemed hesitant and did not know what to do.

Qi Fang shouted: “Father, they are all picking on martial brother! You must save him!” At once she unsheathed her sword from her waist and rushed beside Di Yun, blocking the two sword attacks of Wu Kan and Feng Tan.
---------------------------------------------------

[1]1 catty = 500 g

[2]1 li = 500 m

[3]The Five Northern Provinces refer to Zhili, Shandong, Shanxi, Henan, and Shaanxi.

[4]This is the last two lines of a poem by Li Bai during the Tang period, which talks about reminiscing one’s hometown.

[5]In Chinese, “Reclining Corpse” is pronounced “Tangshi” which is just like “Tang Poem”.

Chapter 2 Prison

The sounds of weapons clashing were heard continuously. Ting! Ting Ting! With a series of white flashes, swords were sent flying in all directions. One sword flew right amongst the crowd of servants. The numerous maids were in shock, some fell on the seat opposite the host, while others held onto the handle against the crossbeam. In an instant, the swords of Bu Yuan, Wu Kan, Feng Tan, and Shen Cheng were all taken away by Di Yun’s “Releasing Sword Stance.”

Wan Zhenshan laughed and applauded. “Good! Good! Brother Qi, looks like you have completed the Liancheng Swordplay! Congratulations!” There was a subtle hint of bitterness in his voice.

Qi Zhangfa was stunned. “What Liancheng Swordplay?” he asked.

“If Nephew Di’s technique was not Liancheng Swordplay, then what was it? Kun’er, Qi’er, Gui’er, come back. Your Brother Di has learned Uncle Qi’s Liancheng Swordplay, how can you be any match for him?” He turned to Qi Zhangfa and sneered: “Martial brother, you’re sure good at feigning ignorance. ‘Iron Lock Across the River’ is truly remarkable.”

Di Yun had executed the “Piercing Shoulder Stance”, “Slap-in-the-face Stance”, and the “Releasing Sword Stance” in succession and managed to defeat all eight of his opponents. He was pleasantly surprised to find that he could win so easily and was actually perplexed. He looked at his teacher, martial sister, and martial uncle, unsure of what to say.

Qi Zhangfa approached Di Yun, then suddenly grabbed the long sword from his hand and pointed it at his neck. “Those sword stances… who taught it to you?” he interrogated.

Di Yun was taken aback. Usually he would not dare to hide anything from his teacher, but the old beggar stated very clearly that if Di Yun were to reveal anything about their encounter, the beggar’s life would be put in jeopardy. Furthermore, Di Yun had made an oath to not reveal anything about, so he could only say: “Tea… teacher… disciple… disciple figured it out on his own.”

Qi Zhangfa shouted: “You came up with such brilliant stances on your own? You… you dare speak such nonsense to me! If you don’t reveal the truth, I will kill you right now.” He moved his wrist forward and the blade of the sword cut Di Yun’s throat slightly.

Qi Fang rushed forward and held tightly onto her father’s arms. “Father! Martial brother was with us the whole time, how could anyone teach him martial arts? Weren’t those sword stances taught by you?”

Wan Zhenshan sneered. “Brother Qi, why do you insist on playing innocent? Your daughter has already spoken of the matter quite clearly. You need not demonstrate the acting abilities of ‘Iron Lock Across the River’ in front of your martial brother. Come now! Brother will toast you three cups of wine!” As he said that he filled up two cups of wine, downed one cup and said: “Big brother will drink first as respect! You should show me some face.”

Qi Zhangfa snorted, dropped his sword on the ground and fetched the wine cup. He downed three cups in a row and felt slightly dizzy. He was still a bit confused and remarked, “Strange! Strange!”

Wan Zhenshan said: “Brother Qi, there is something I want to discuss with you privately, please come to the study room with me.” Qi Zhangfa nodded in agreement. Wan Zhenshan put his hands on his shoulder and together they went to the study room.

Wan Zhenshan’s eight disciples looked at each other speechless, some faces turned blue while some whispered curses.

Shen Cheng said, “I’m going to the washroom! The stances that brat Di Yun pulled really scared me.”

Lu Kun’s face sunk in disgust and shouted, “Eighth Brother, have you not embarrassed yourself enough?”

Shen Cheng stuck his tongue out and left in a hurry. He went out from the dining room door and headed to the washroom but on the way he stopped by the living room to eavesdrop. He heard the sound of his teacher’s voice. “Brother Qi, for twenty years the mystery remained unsolved, but today there is finally a solution.”

He heard Qi Zhangfa reply: “Little brother does not understand what you mean by this.”

“Why do you make me say any more? Do you remember how our teacher died?”

“Teacher lost one of his martial arts manuals and could not recover it. He died under great depression. You already know this, why ask?”

“Correct. And what is the name this martial arts manual?”

“How would I know? Why ask me?”

“I heard teacher say it was called ‘Liancheng Manual.’”

“What completed or not completed?[1] I don’t understand one bit.”

“He who knows is not as he who desires, he who desires is not as what…”

“Not as he who knows not!”

“Hehe... haha, haha!”

“What is so funny?”

“You are actually well-versed in literature, yet you pretend to be ignorant. We martial brothers have been training together for over a dozen years, who doesn’t know whose background? If you don’t know the words ‘Liancheng Manual’, how could you recite the analects of Confucius or Mencius?[2]”

“You are testing me, aren’t you?”

“Hand it over!”

“Hand what over?”

“You already know, why feign ignorance?”

“I, Qi Zhangfa, have never been afraid of you.”

Shen Cheng heard his teacher and martial uncle bicker louder and louder and he became afraid. He quickly ran back into the living room, went to Lu Kun and whispered: “Elder Brother, teacher and Uncle Qi are bickering loudly, I fear a battle may ensue!”

Lu Kun stood up straight and said, “Then let’s go!” Zhou Qi, Wan Gui, Sun Jun and the others hurriedly followed.

Qi Fang pulled on Di Yun’s sleeves and said, “Let’s go too!”

Di Yun nodded and ran two steps when Qi Fang grabbed a long sword. Di Yun turned around and saw Qi Fang holding two long swords and asked, “Two swords?”

“Father did not carry a weapon!” she answered.

The eight disciples of the Wan clan had faces full of worry as they stood outside the study room. Di Yun and Qi Fang stood farther behind them. The ten of them tried to regulate their breathing while quietly eavesdropping the bickering inside the room.

“Brother Qi, our teacher’s death… it was because of you.” It was the voice of Wan Zhenshan.

“Nonsense! Complete nonsense! Brother Wan, you accuse me so clearly. Then tell me, how did I cause our teacher’s death?” Under extreme anger, Qi Zhangfa was very loud and his voice was hoarse.

“Teacher’s martial arts manual is called ‘A Deadly Secret’, were you not the one who stole it?”

“How do I know of any deadly person, or deadly ghost? Brother Wan, if you want to frame me with the surname Qi, it won’t be so easy.”

“The sword stances that your disciple executed, are they not from the Liancheng Swordplay? How could his techniques be so clever and fluent?”

“My disciple has always been intelligent, he must have come up with it himself—even I don’t know it. How could it be any Liancheng Swordplay? You told your disciple Bu Yuan to invite me over, saying that you have completed this Liancheng Swordplay, did you not? We can ask Bu Yuan to confirm this!”

Everyone outside the room looked at Bu Yuan, whose face turned deathly pale. Clearly Qi Zhangfa was speaking the truth; Di Yun and Qi Fang exchanged glances and nodded, thinking: “I heard Bu Yuan say this as well, there is no denying it.”

Wan Zhenshan laughed loudly and replied: “Of course I said this. Otherwise, how could I get you to come over? Qi Zhangfa, I ask you now: you claim you have never heard of the Liancheng Swordplay. If so, why did your expression change so drastically when Bu Yuan said I had completed this swordplay? How can you still deny it?”

“Aha! You with the surname Wan swindled me to come to Jingzhou?”

“Correct. Hand over the sword manual, then kowtow to our master’s grave to admit your misdeeds.”

“Why should I hand it over to you?”

“Hmph! I am your elder martial brother!”

The room fell quiet for a while, then Qi Zhangfa’s voice was heard: “Alright, I’ll give it to you.”

Everyone outside the room became startled when they heard these words. Di Yun and Qi Fang only wished there was a hole they could crawl into to bury their shame. Lu Kun and the other Wan disciples looked at Di Yun and Qi Fang with great resentment. Qi Fang was angry too and also felt a sense of extreme humiliation, she would have never believed that her father did such a disgraceful deed.

Suddenly, a loud and enduring scream was heard from inside the room. It was Wan Zhenshan. Wan Gui shouted, “Father!” and quickly kicked open the door and burst into the room. He saw that Wan Zhenshan lying on the floor, his chest stabbed by a very sharp and dazzling dagger, his entire body was covered in blood. The window was wide open and Qi Zhangfa was nowhere to be seen.

Wan Gui cried mournfully. “Father! Father!” He held Wan Zhenshan tightly.

Qi Fang also cried, “Father! Father!” She was trembling in fear and held Di Yun’s hand tightly.

Lu Kun shouted, “Quick, chase after the assailant!” Then with Zhou Qi, Sun Jun, and the others he quickly rushed out the window and shouted, “Capture the assailant! Capture the assailant!”

Di Yun watched as the eight disciples of the Wan clan chased after his teacher. At this moment he was truly scared out of his mind, unsure of what to do. Qi Fang shouted again, “Father!” Her body was still trembling and she could not keep her balance. Di Yun quickly held onto Qi Fang so she wouldn’t fall. He lowered his head and saw both of Wan Zhenshan’s eyes were shut tight; his expression was ferocious and disgusting and must have suffered a great amount of pain before his death.

Di Yun could look no more, and said softly: “Martial sister, shall we go?”

Qi Fang had not replied yet when a voice was heard behind them, saying: “You two are accomplices of the assailant! You cannot go!”

Di Yun and Qi Fang turned around to look and saw a long sword aimed at Qi Fang’s chest, it was Bu Yuan. Di Yun was enraged, but when he thought about it, he realized that it was his teacher who murdered his martial uncle, what more could he say? He only lowered his head and remained silent.

Bu Yuan said coldly, “The two of you return to your respective rooms, once we catch Qi Zhangfa, you will all be sent to the officials.”

“This whole ordeal was caused by me and me alone, it does not concern my martial sister. If you want to kill someone, then kill me,” said Di Yun.

Bu Yuan pushed Di Yun hard on the back and shouted, “Go! This is not the time for you to play hero.”

Di Yun could only hear the shouts of “Capture the assailant!” from outside. His mind was boggled and really did not know what to do at this point. He could only obey and head back to his room.

“Martial brother, what… what do we do?” cried Qi Fang.

Di Yun sobbed. “I… I don’t know. I will confess to the crime along with master,” he suggested.

“Father… where could he be?”

Di Yun remained in his room. It had been over four hours have passed since the murder of Wan Zhenshan, yet he was still sitting on his chair motionless over the events that had occurred. He stared blankly at the half-burnt candle on the table.

At this point the ones who chased after Qi Zhangfa returned. He heard voices outside talking. “The assailant has already left the city, we couldn’t catch him!”

“Tomorrow we will head to Hunan, no matter what we must catch him to avenge our teacher!”

“I only fear that the assailant may perish in the realmn, we may not be able to find him even if we try.”

“Hmph, even if we have to chase him to the edge of the earth and the corner of the ocean, we will still catch him and shred his corpse into ten thousand pieces!”

“Tomorrow we will spread notices across the realm to invite the righteous men in the martial world to uphold justice. Together we will kill this ignoble criminal!”

“Right! Let us first kill the daughter of the assailant and that brat with the surname Di as a sacrifice to our teacher.”

“No, let’s wait until tomorrow when the county magistrate comes to examine the corpse before we decide.”

The Wan disciples kept discussing their plans outside. Di Yun wanted to call her martial sister and escape together, but thought: “She is still a young girl, roaming in the realmn, who can take good care of her? Should I run away with her? No… no! This disaster was caused by me, if I did not try to play hero and fight with the Wan disciples, then Uncle Wan would not be suspicious of my master completing whatever Liancheng Swordplay. But my teacher is an honest person, why would he steal the sword manual? The three stances were taught to me by the old beggar, but now my teacher has already committed a crime. Even if I reveal the truth now, nobody would believe me. Even if they do believe me, what difference does it make now? I have committed a huge crime and it is all my fault. Tomorrow I must reveal the truth to everyone in defense of my teacher. But… but Uncle Qi was indeed killed by my teacher, how could this criminal record be erased? No, I can’t escape now, I will remain here and take the blame for my teacher’s actions. I will let them kill me instead!”

As he continued pondering the situation, faint footsteps were heard from the rooftop. Di Yun looked up and saw was a dark shadow heading from west to east. He jumped onto the rooftop and yelled out quietly, “Teacher!” but upon closer inspection, the shadow was tall and skinny, nothing like the build of his teacher. Following behind this shadow was yet another mysterious figure who had a blade in his hand.

He thought to himself: “Are they looking for my teacher? Maybe teacher is nearby and hasn’t gone far yet.” He was thinking when suddenly from the east a loud feminine scream was heard. Di Yun was startled. He grabbed his sword and got up. The first thought that came to his mind was: “Are they hurting my martial sister?” Following that, another yell from a girl was heard, screaming: “Help me!”

However this voice did not sound like Qi Fang’s, so he felt a bit relieved knowing that his martial sister was not in danger. He got out from the window and from inside the room he again heard a girl screaming, “Help! Help!”

He quickly rushed over to the scene. From the east side of the house saw a bright light coming out from the window. He went near the window and saw a girl tied up on a bed. Two people were molesting her face while another was about to undress her. Di Yun did not recognize who the girl was, but saw that she was very scared and was trying to struggle herself free from the bed, crying loudly for help.

Although he was in quite a predicament himself, upon seeing such injustice he could not simply walk away. At once he jumped in through the window and with his sword he aimed at the chest of the man on the left. The man on the right threw a chair at Di Yun, while the one on the left drew his blade to slash him. Di Yun saw that both men’s faces were covered by a black cloth, so all he could see were their eyes. He shouted: “You bold scoundrels! Leave your lives here!” Three stabbing sounds were heard.

The two men did not reply and instead each drew their blade. One said, “Brother Lu, pull back!”

The other said: “That Wan Zhenshan is lucky today, we will get him next time!” Both blades were held up aiming to strike Di Yun’s head. Di Yun saw the strikes approaching and quickly dodged. One of the men kicked the table up to the air, it flipped over and the candle died. Now the room was completely dark, only the sounds of breathing could be heard. The two mysterious figures jumped out through the window. Some weapon sounds were heard and several tiles were thrown. In the darkness Di Yun could not see clearly. He knew that his lightness martial arts was not proficient so he did not pursue.

“One of them had the surname Lu, likely an accomplice of Lu Tong that probably came to seek vengeance. They don’t realize that Uncle Wan is already dead,” he thought.

Suddenly, the girl on the bed shouted: “Ow! That hurts! I was stabbed in the chest by a small blade! Quickly pull it out for me.”

Di Yun was shocked. “The thief stabbed you?” he asked.

“Stabbed! Stabbed!” she cried.

“Let me light a candle so I can see clearly.”

“Come over here, quickly!”

Di Yun heard her voice was quite frantic and panicky so he walked closer and asked, “What is it?”

Suddenly, the woman opened her arms and hugged him around the waist, then shouted loudly: “Help! Help!”

Di Yun was in even more shock now: he clearly saw that she was confined by ropes, now how could she release herself? He quickly stuck out his hand and wanted to release her grip, but the woman had a very strong grip on him, and he could not instantly pull himself away from her.

Suddenly, a bright light was seen from the window. Two torches were lit and one could see the paintings inside the room. Several people spoke at once: “What’s going on? What’s going on?”

The girl shouted: “A rapist! A rapist! He wants to rob me and rape me! Help!”

Di Yun urgently shouted: “You... you... how could you do this?” He stuck his hand out to push her body away. The girl originally had hugged him hard around the waist, but now used her full force to repel him, shouting: “Don’t touch me! Don’t touch me!”

Di Yun instantly retreated, when suddenly he felt a cold sensation at the back of his neck: a long sword was already aimed at him. He wanted to explain himself, but with a flash of light from the blade he suddenly felt excruciating pain in his right palm. He screamed loudly as his own long sword fell on the ground. He looked down and was so scared at what he saw that he almost fainted: the five fingers of his right hand were cleanly sliced off, fresh blood splattered everywhere like spring water. In utter confusion he squinted and saw faintly that it was Wu Kan who held the bloody sword, standing on the side.

All he could utter was, “You!” and kicked Wu Kan hard with his right leg. Suddenly, he was hit hard on his back by a fist, causing him to stagger in great pain. Now his whole body fell on top of the girl. The girl shouted again: “Help! Rapist!”

He heard Lu Kun’s voice. “Capture him!”

Di Yun had actually never seen any other youngster not from the countryside, and only at this moment did he realize that he fell into a devious trap by a bunch of schemers. He quickly got up, turned his body over and wanted to attack Lu Kun, when suddenly he saw a pale face looking at him—it was Qi Fang.

Di Yun was speechless, and from Qi Fang’s face he could make out that she was in great sadness, disbelief, and anger. He shouted, “Martial sister!”

Suddenly, Qi Fang’s face turned bright red, she said: “Why... why did you do this?”

Di Yun felt his entire body overwhelmed with feelings of injustice. How could he explain himself now?

Qi Fang began to cry and said, “I... I should just die.” She saw that Di Yun’s right hand had all five fingers chopped off, so she felt great sympathy and pain for him. She clenched her teeth, tore off a piece of clothing from her garment and bandaged his wound. At this point her face turned snow white again. Di Yun was in so much pain that several times he almost passed out, but he forced himself to be conscious. He bit his lips so hard that they started to bleed. He could not utter a single word.

Lu Kun said: “Little martial mother, this bastard dared to show you such disrespect, let us kill him to help you relieve your anger.”

This woman was actually was one of Wan Zhenshan’s concubines. She covered her face with both hands and started crying. “He... he... he said many dubious and inappropriate things to me. He said that your teacher has passed away and told me to follow him. He said that Lady Qi’s father was the murderer, and that will implicate him in the crime as well. He... he said that he has already collected a lot of gold and jewellery and asked me to live a new life with him. He said he would take care of me for the rest of my life...”

Di Yun’s mind was overwhelmed with a million thoughts at once. “This is all lies... lies...” he mumbled.

“Go! Search that bastard’s room!” Zhou Qi exclaimed.

Everyone carried Di Yun over to his room, with Qi Fang following closely behind. Wan Gui said: “Everyone do not be so disrespectful to Brother Di, the situation has not been cleared up yet, do not falsely accuse him of injustice!”

Zhou Qi angrily replied: “What is there that still isn’t clear? This brat is a villain!”

“I think that he is not such a person.”

“Did you not hear just now? Did you not witness what just happened?”

“I think he only had a few too many cups of wine, and is under drug influence,” Wan Gui retorted.

After all these events, Qi Fang had long lost any opinion of the situation. Upon hearing that Wan Gui was helping to prove Di Yun’s innocence, she felt grateful deep inside, and lowly said to herself: “Brother Wan, my martial brother... is indeed not that kind of person.”

“Correct, I say he is only drunk, he would certainly not commit thievery,” he said.

During the conversation, the others have already carried Di Yun into his room. Shen Cheng began inspecting his room very carefully. He lowered himself and reached for a heavy bundle under the bed. The bundle rattled like gold clashing against each other. Di Yun felt a cold shiver and was confused as he saw Shen Cheng open the bundle. Inside it was packed full of gold and silver plates, flagons and wine cups. It was most certainly items from the Wan Family’s wine banquet.

Qi Fang was shocked, she put out her hands and leaned against the table to support herself.

Wan Gui said some comforting words: “Sister Qi, do not panic, we will think of a solution.”

Feng Tan removed the bedding and revealed yet another two hidden bundles. Shen Cheng and Feng Tan each opened one of the bundles: one was filled with silver ingots while the other was filled with jewellery and a bunch of gold rings. At this point, Qi Fang could no longer contain herself as she watched. Under extreme anger and depression, she felt like she wanted to kill herself. Since they were young, she and Di Yun have grown up together, and she had long treated him as her future husband. Never would she have guessed that her lover, in desperate times, would rather retreat and live in isolation with another woman. Was this wicked witch of a woman really so attractive? Or perhaps he was afraid he would be associated with her father’s crimes and decided to run off on his own?

Lu Kun shouted loudly: “Little thief, your loot is all here, what excuses do you have now? He gave Di Yun two hard slaps, one on each cheek. Di Yun had both his arms held and locked tight by Sun Jun and Wu Kan so he had no way of retaliating. Both his cheeks immediately became swollen, and Lu Kun continued to punch Di Yun hard on his chest.

Qi Fang shouted: “Don’t hit him! Don’t hit him! Let us talk things over.”

Zhou Qi said: “Kill this thief first, then we will report to the authorities!” As he said this, he hit Di Yun hard with a fist. Under great pain, Di Yun opened his mouth and spat out a mouthful of fresh blood.

Feng Tan drew his sword and said: “Let us severe his left hand and see if he ever dares to commit such misdeeds ever again!” Sun Jun acknowledged this and lifted up Di Yun’s arm; Feng Tan was about to strike when Qi Fang shouted: “Ah!” urgently.

Wan Gui said: “Everyone, listen. Out of respect for me, let’s just take him to the authorities and be done with it.” Upon seeing Feng Tan slowly withdraw his sword, two streams of tears began to flow down Qi Fang’s cheeks. She gave a glance at Wan Gui, her eyes full of gratitude.

*****

“5, 10, 15, 20...”

The guard was counting the number of strokes from the beating stick given to Di Yun hard on the back of his legs. Di Yun was held back by two guards while he was being beaten; the bamboo board was getting lower and lower as he was being hit. Compared to the inner pain he felt in his heart, the external pain from being hit was nothing—even the pain on his right palm was considerably painless.

He thought to himself: “Even Fang’mei thinks I’m a thief... even she thinks I’m a thief.”

“25... 30... 35... 40...” Now the board fell on the ground. Di Yun’s skin was bruised and cracked, fresh blood dripped on the board. Then he passed out.

When Di Yun woke up, he found himself in one of the prison rooms. He felt dizzy and exhausted still so he did not know where he was, nor did he know how much time has passed since the incident. Gradually, he felt the intense pain in his right palm where his five fingers were sliced, as well as the pain on his back, legs, and hip from the beating earlier. He wanted to turn his body over so the painless parts would be on the ground, when suddenly, he felt indescribably excruciating pain on both his shoulders, and he fainted again.

He woke up again several times. The first sound he heard was the sound of his hoarse moaning, followed by intense pain coming from all parts of his body. But why was his shoulder in so much pain, more than anything else? Why was the pain so excruciatingly unbearable? He could only feel indescribable fear. After a long time, he still did not dare to lower his head to look at himself.

He thought: “Perhaps both my shoulders were pierced by someone?” Suddenly, he heard the sound of iron chains softly clashing. As he looked down, he could see that two iron chains tied both his shoulders. Under his fright, when he looked down to see, he was so afraid that it caused his whole body to shake.

After a while, the pain on his shoulders became even worse. Then he realized that the two iron chains actually pierced through his scapula. Along with the iron chains on his hands and the ones that tied his ankles, all these chains were locked together. Piercing the scapula, as he once heard his master say, was one of the worst possible punishments given by the prefecture to only the most unrighteous and evil of men. No matter how high your martial arts are, once your scapula is pierced, you cannot even unleash a fraction of your strength. At that instant, countless number of thoughts came to Di Yun at once: “Why treat me this way? Do they really think I am a huge criminal? I am innocent, how can the magistrate not see through this?”

At the court of the magistrate, he once fully explained the entire incident, but the concubine of Wan Zhenshan, Tao Hong, insisted that he was the one who committed the misdeeds and nobody else. Furthermore, the eight disciples of Wan Zhenshan amongst others also attested to her claims. Indeed, they did see him hug Tao Hong, then they discovered the hidden loot from underneath the bed, and even more from beneath the bedding. Not even to mention the guards in the prefecture, in Jingzhou the name of the Wan family held great status and prestige, which foolish thief would have any ideas of looting them?

Di Yun remembered that the magistrate had a handsome face full of sincerity. He believed that the magistrate was only convinced by these words for the moment, and caused the suffering of an innocent man. Eventually, the case will come to a resolution. But nevertheless, the five fingers on his right hand had been chopped off completely, how could he ever wield a sword again?

He felt his heart overwhelm with anger and his stomach fill with sadness. Without regards to the pain, he stood up and declared: “I’m innocent! I’m innocent!” Suddenly, his leg became limp and he fell on the ground. He tried to get back up and stand straight, but fell over once again. He lied on the ground and continued to shout: “I’m innocent! I’m innocent!”

Suddenly a cold voice could be heard speaking: “Having your scapula pierced, your entire martial arts inert, haha… haha! The price to pay indeed wasn’t small.”

Di Yun did not care who spoke, nor did he care what that person’s intention was, he only continued to shout: “I’m innocent! I’m innocent!”

A gaoler walked by his cell and scolded: “What are you yelling for? You better shut up!”

Di Yun shouted: “I’m innocent! I’m innocent! I want to see the magistrate, he will correct this injustice.”

The gaoler shouted: “Are you going to shut up or not?”

Di Yun yelled even louder.

The gaoler laughed coldly and turned around to fetch for a wooden bucket, then he turned his head and threw the wooden bucket at Di Yun. Di Yun sensed an extreme foul smell and could not dodge, his whole body instantly became wet—it was a bucket of urine. The urine spread over his body and caused excruciating pain to his already agonizing wounds. His vision turned dark and he fainted again.

Subconsciously he had a high fever, sometimes he shouted “Teacher! Teacher!” while other times he shouted: “Martial sister! Martial sister!” Over a period of three days, the gaoler brought him coarse rice daily, but he felt quite unconscious and could not help himself to even a single bite.

On the fourth day, the fever in his body slowly began to disperse. As well, the numerous wounds in his body became numb and no longer caused as much suffering as it once did. He recalled that he was declaring his innocence, so opened his mouth widely again and shouted: “I’m innocent!” But at this time his voice was soft and incredibly weak; he barely had enough energy to utter any words.

He sat for a while and his eyes darted around the prison cell which he had previously disregarded. The prison was about a ten-foot squared stone house. The walls were made with tiles of rough and large stones and the floor was also made with large stones. In the corner was the wooden bucket from before, he could still smell the unpleasant scent emitted from it.

He turned his head, and saw that in the middle of the four corners of the room, there was a pair of very fierce eyes staring at him. He trembled as he did not expect that in the room would be another person besides himself. He saw that this man had a face full of facial hair, his hair was long and messy and hung down from his head to his neck. The man’s clothes were so ripped it was as if it belonged to a savage beast in the wilderness. The man’s hands were shackled by fetters just as he was, as well as the iron chain which also pierced through the man’s scapulas.

The first emotion that came to Di Yun was that of joy, and he gave a faint a smile, thinking: “There is actually someone in this world equally as unfortunate as myself.” But then he switched thoughts: “This man looks quite ferocious, he is most likely a cold-blooded and ruthless villain who committed arson and murder. He got what he deserved, but I’m innocent!” His thoughts were interrupted as tears began to drip from his eyes.

Throughout all the pain and suffering he received since going to prison, he had always remained strong and would not shed even a single tear. But at this point he could hold back no longer, for his tears streamed uncontrollably down his face. He decided to let it out and cried loudly.

The bearded man sneered: “Very nice performance, well done! Are you an actor?”

Di Yun ignored the man and continued to cry loudly. He heard the sound of footsteps and thought that the gaoler was carrying another bucket of urine. Even if Di Yun’s character was more stubborn, he would not want to clash with the gaoler, so he slowly retracted his tears and cried softly. The gaoler looked at him and suddenly said: “Little thief, you have a visitor.”

Di Yun felt both shocked and excited at once, he quickly said: “Who... who is it?” The gaoler did not reply and instead produced a large chain of keys from his garment and opened the entrance iron door. He heard footsteps approaching, the gaoler walked through a long corridor and another sound of a door opening was heard, followed by the sound of a door closing and the sound of the rail as the footsteps of three people were heard approaching.

Di Yun was overjoyed and stood up instantly. His legs felt numb again and he was about to fall over but he found support from the stone walls. As soon as he moved he felt immense pain from the chains piercing his scapula, but held no regard for it amidst his excitement. He shouted: “Teacher! Martial sister!” In the entire world, only his master and martial sister were close to him. Naturally, he thought the sound of the footsteps of the other two people must be his master and martial sister.

As the three figures approached, he shouted “Tea…” but could not utter the “cher” as he opened his mouth and could not swallow. Three figures entered through the door. The first was the gaoler, the second was a handsome young man dressed in a gorgeous attire—Wan Gui, and the third was Qi Fang.

Qi Fang shouted: “Martial brother! Martial brother!” She threw her hands against the iron fence of the cell.

Di Yun walked one step forward and saw that she was dressed in new attire, different from the attire they had brought from the countryside. He did not walk another step, but he saw that her eyes were red. She cried: “Martial brother, martial brother, you... you...”

Di Yun questioned: “Where is teacher? Did... did you find his honour?” Qi Fang shook her head, her tears rustled to the floor in the process. Di Yun continued: “Are... are you well? Where are you living?”

Qi Fang choked while she spoke. “I have nowhere to go. I am temporarily living in the Wan residence...”

Di Yun was alarmed. “That is a harmful place, you definitely cannot stay there! Quick... quickly move out.”

Qi Fang lowered her head and said softly: “I... I have no money. These past few days... every day at the prefecture, Wan Gui spent money... to rescue you.”

Di Yun grew even more frustrated and yelled: “I did not commit any crimes, why would I need him to spend money for me? How will we repay them in the future? Once the magistrate has fully examined the case over and realized my innocence, he will set me free.”

Qi Fang began to cry again. She said bitterly: “Why... why did you do such things? Why... why did you leave me?”

Di Yun became startled, but now he realized what was going on. At this point, his martial sister believed the words of the concubine Tao Hong. She believed that he was the one who stole the gold and jewellery. In his entire life he gave Qi Fang his utmost respect and love and would always submit to her, telling her everything that she wanted to know, discussing anything that she wanted. Little did he realize that when tragedy befell, she was no different from any other person. They all believed that he wanted to rape the girl and steal the money. They all believed that he would actually commit such atrocious acts.

At this moment, the emotional pain he felt caused over a hundred times more suffering and hurt than his physical wounds. He wanted to speak: he had a million things he wanted to explain to Qi Fang, but his throat suddenly became plugged, and he could not even utter a single word. He used all his strength and his ears flushed red, but his throat and tongue would not move and he could not emit any noise.

Qi Fang saw the terrifying expression on his face and became afraid. She turned her head and would not look at him. Di Yun used all his strength but still he could not utter a single word. When he suddenly saw that Qi Fang had turned her head not facing him, he could not help but feel great emotional suffering. He thought: “She hates me now… hates me for leaving her for another woman… hates me for stealing gold and jewellery… hates me for wanting to run off on my own upon trouble... martial sister, martial sister, if you don’t believe me, then why come and see me?” He no longer dared to look at Qi Fang, and slowly turned his body, facing the wall.

Qi Fang turned her head and said: “Martial brother, what happened in the past cannot be changed. We can only hope we can soon... soon receive notice of father’s whereabouts. Brother Wan will… will come up with a way to get you out of here...”

Di Yun thought: “I don’t need his help.” He also wanted to say: “Don’t live with him!” But the more he used his strength, the more his muscles tightened up, and he could not speak. His body stopped shaking, and the iron chains made clashing sounds.

The gaoler rushed and said: “Time’s up. This is a prison for those under death row, designed to punish the greatest of criminals. You guys aren’t supposed to be here to begin with. If the uppers find out about this, we will be in deep trouble. Miss, this man does not have any chance to get out of here, and he’s also handicapped now. You should forget about him and marry a wealthy and handsome gentleman!” As he said this he glanced over at Wan Gui, and gave a dirty snicker.

Qi Fang begged: “Sir, I have some things I wish to speak with my martial brother.” She extended her hands to the iron fence and pulled on Di Yun’s sleeves. She spoke softly: “Martial brother, don’t worry, I will most certainly beseech Brother Wan to rescue you, and then we will look for my father together.” She placed a bamboo basket inside the cell and said: “There’s some bacon, fish, and fried eggs there, as well as two taels of silver. Don’t worry martial brother, I will visit you again tomorrow...”

The gaoler became annoyed and said: “Lady, if you don’t leave now, I won’t be nice anymore!”

Wan Gui added: “Brother Di, don’t worry. Your problems are my problems. Younger brother will try his best to request the magistrate to set your punishment as low as possible.”

The gaoler continued to rush the two of them. Qi Fang could do nothing but take her leave slowly. With each step she turned her head to look back at Di Yun, but saw that his body was as still as a stone, his head still facing the stone wall opposite of her. All Di Yun saw was the various bumps on the stone wall. He really wanted to turn his head and see Qi Fang’s figure from behind, as well as shout, “Martial sister!”, but he could not speak out. Even his neck was straight and stiff. He heard the footsteps of three people walking away, the sounds slowly getting fainter. He heard the door unlock and open, followed by the sound of the door closing. Then he heard the footsteps of the gaoler returning, and thought to himself: “She said she would come and see me again tomorrow. Alas, I will have to wait a full day before I can see her again.”

He extended his hands to reach for the food left behind, when suddenly another long and hairy hand extended over and grabbed the bamboo basket—it was the ferocious criminal from earlier. Di Yun could only watch as the man started eating the bacon in the basket.

Di Yun shouted loudly: “That’s mine!” Suddenly he could speak, and thought it was very awkward. He walked forward a step to try and take the basket back, but the prisoner shoved him back with his hands and Di Yun could not keep his balance, moved back a few steps and with a loud bang, he hit his head hard on the stone wall. At that point he understood the true meaning of the phrase “Pierced scapula, useless person.”

The second day Qi Fang did not come to visit him. Nor the third day, nor the fourth day.

Day after day, Di Yun anxiously awaited and ended each day in disappointment. By the tenth day, he was nearly driven insane by frustration. He shouted and screamed, banged his head on the wall, but Qi Fang still did not come. All that came out of his howling was a bucket of urine from the gaoler and a harsh beating from the ferocious prisoner.

Half a month passed, and he finally became a bit more settled. In fact, he did not even speak anymore. One night, four gaolers suddenly entered the prison, each wielding a sabre, and brought the ferocious prisoner out.

Di Yun thought: “Are they taking him out to be executed? That would probably be a relief for him, for he no longer has to suffer in here, nor do I have to suffer his beatings any longer.”

He was in a deep sleep when suddenly he heard the sounds of iron chains scratching against the floor; the four gaolers brought the prisoner back to his cell. Di Yun glanced over at the prisoner and saw that his entire body was covered in blood, evidently given a harsh beating by the gaolers. The prisoner fell on the ground and went unconscious. Di Yun waited for the four gaolers to leave. From the moonlight shining through the prison cell, he could see the prisoner’s face, arm, and legs were all full of bloody bruises as a result of being whipped. Although Di Yun was always beaten by this man, when he saw this man’s current state he could not help but feel a bit of sympathy. He fed him some water from a bowl he had.

The prisoner slowly awoke. When he opened his eyes and saw Di Yun, he immediately lifted his iron chain and smacked Di Yun hard on the head. Di Yun had no energy, but he reacted to the situation quickly and made a clever dodge. However, he did not predict that the prisoner’s arms did not extend fully, and with a “peng” sound he changed directions and hit him hard on the waist. Di Yun could not keep his balance and fell forward to the right. Since his hands and feet were both connected to the chain that pierced his scapula, he felt agonizing pain. He was shocked and angry at the same time, and could not resist yelling: “You’re insane!”

The prisoner laughed: “Your psychological tricks will not work on me. You should have given up on any ideas a long time ago.”

Di Yun felt as if the ribs on his waist were about to crack. He was in so much pain that he could barely speak. He said: “You lunatic, you can barely protect yourself. Why would I have any ideas about deceiving you?”

The prisoner kicked forward with his left leg and hit Di Yun’s spine, then with his right leg kicked him hard several times. “I see that you are only just a young thief and have not committed too many crimes, only that you are under orders from someone else, otherwise I would kick you to death without regret.”

Di Yun grew so furious that he forgot the pain in his body, thinking that he was already unfortunate for being falsely accused for crimes he did not commit; now even worse, he was stuck in the same prison cell with an unreasonable lunatic. It was indeed bad luck upon bad luck.

On the full moon of the second month, the prisoner was once again brought out by four gaolers each wielding sabres. He was beaten once again and returned to his cell. This time, Di Yun conditioned himself and no matter how much pity and sympathy he felt for the man, he dared not approach him. But even then it did not matter, for the prisoner—before even catching his breath and recovering from his injuries—proceeded to beat him, shouting: “You scoundrel, even if you spied for another ten years, I will still not be fooled by you! People beating your ancestors, your ancestors beat your descendants! To think that you were born into this world, your ancestors must have sinned greatly.” Di Yun was tortured by the prisoner. No matter what he felt it was all Di Yun’s fault. Punching and kicking, the prisoner screamed and cursed at Di Yun for more than half a day.

From then on, every time it came near the full moon of the month, Di Yun feared for the worst, for he knew that he would soon inevitably be beaten. Indeed, on the fifteenth of every month, the prisoner was escorted out by four gaolers and tortured, only to briefly return the beating on Di Yun. Thanks to Di Yun’s youthful body and build, although he was severely beaten once a month, he did not collapse. He began to wonder: “My scapula has been pierced by the iron chain, and there is no strength in my body. Yet how come this lunatic who also has his scapula pierced, can muster up so much strength to torture me?” Sometimes Di Yun almost collected enough courage to ask him, but he would always be beaten. As a result, he no longer said a single word to him.

It went on like this for several more months. Winter passed and spring came. Having been imprisoned for over a year, Di Yun began to grow accustomed to prison life; the pain and anger in his heart and body had become numb. For trying to avoid the brawl of the prisoner, he did not dare to even look at him. As long as he did talk to him or look at him, except for the nights of the full moon, the lunatic would not beat him.

Early one morning, before Di Yun was awake, he heard the soft chirpings of swallows outside the prison, which suddenly made him recall the past when he and Qi Fang would used to watch the songbirds fly to their nest. His heart became sour and it went away along with the birds. He could only watch through the window several dozen feet high as a pair of birds flew away together. He had nothing to do day and night and always had thoughts about escaping through the balcony window, trying to figure out who lives there. However, the window was shut tightly, and on top of the window there would always be a basket of fresh flowers. At this time of the day the spring sun shone through the window and on the sill was placed a basin of jasmines.

His mind was boggled with many thoughts when suddenly he heard the lunatic let out a deep sigh. For the past year, the lunatic either gave crazy laughs or scolded people, he had never sighed before. A hint of sadness and gentleness could be heard through his sighing. Di Yun could not resist and turned his head over. All he saw was the lunatic sitting in the corner with the hint of a smile from the corner of his mouth, his eyes focused on the basin of jasmines on top of the window sill. Di Yun felt that the man was not putting forth his true emotions, and hence turned around and dared not to look back at him.

Ever since then, Di Yun would check the expression of the lunatic every day. He saw that the lunatic would always stare gently at the basin of fresh flowers on the window sill—from the jasmine flowers and roses of spring, to the lilacs and impatiens of the summer. For over half a year, the two of them did not speak more than a sum of ten words. The beatings on the days of the full moon also became periodic. Di Yun realized that as long as he did not utter a single word, the lunatic’s temper would be much less severe, and consequently the strength of his punches and kicks were less damaging. He thought: “In another few years, I probably won’t even remember how to speak anymore.”

However, the madness of the lunatic had an advantage too, for it even scared the gaoler from talking in the cell. Sometimes the lunatic would even scold the gaoler, and consequently he would not receive food for the day, so he would instead steal Di Yun’s food. Other times, neither of them would receive food, and the lunatic would stay hungry for days and not care.

One year on the fifteenth day of the eleventh month, after the lunatic was given a harsh beating as usual, he suddenly caught a fever, and in his unconsciousness uttered some nonsensical words. Di Yun could make out that he would often say these few words, either “double flower” or “wounded heart”.

Di Yun did not pay much attention at first, but come afternoon, he heard him constantly shout: “Water, water! Give me water to drink!” Di Yun could not resist and decided to pour some water from his bowl to help the prisoner. He got close to him, but he was completely alert in case the lunatic would strike with both hands. Luckily, this time he drank the water without getting angry, and promptly fell asleep.

Later that night, four gaolers suddenly appeared and beat up the lunatic again. When he returned this time, his groaning was weak and faint. One of the gaolers said sternly: “If he insists on not speaking, we will beat him up again tomorrow.” Another gaoler said: “Since he is unconscious, we should continue to put pressure on him. If he insists on not speaking then he will soon end up in hell. That can’t be good.”

Di Yun had been living with the lunatic for quite some time and had watched him endure the worst of pain and suffering. He really did not wish for him to die at the hands of the gaoler. On the seventeenth, Di Yun fed him water four or five times. In the last time, the lunatic nodded his head to express gratitude. Since entering prison, this was the first time that Di Yun saw the lunatic express any form of good feelings, and at that moment, Di Yun felt warmth in his heart filled with indescribable joy.

That day, after the second watch[3], the four gaolers came as expected and opened the cell door. Di Yun thought that if the lunatic were to be beaten again in such a short interval, he would most likely die. He gathered his courage and jumped in front of the cell door, shouting: “Don’t come in!”

A gaoler with a big build approached him and scolded, “Stupid prisoner, move out of the way!”

Di Yun could not gather any strength in his hands so instead he lowered his head and bit the gaoler hard on the middle and index finger of his right hand. Blood began gushing out of his wounds. The teeth sunk deep into the bones and the fingers nearly cracked. The gaoler was shocked beyond measure, and immediately turned around and jumped out of the cell. He slipped and dropped his sabre on the ground.

Di Yun quickly lowered himself and grabbed the sabre, screamed loudly and hacked three times. Although he did not have much energy in his hands, but with the sabre replacing the sword, the stances were still quite exquisite. A fat gaoler rushed forward with his sabre and Di Yun moved to the side. With a stance of “Mother and Brother Loses Salt, The Long Goose Salts Circular Wings” (it was actually “The Lonely Straight Smoke Desert, The Long River Sunset Falls”), the blade rotated in a circular motion and stabbed the gaoler’s leg. The gaoler was so scared that he rolled out of the way.

When the four gaolers saw that Di Yun was as wild and fierce as a tiger, they were afraid to get too close. Instead they stood outside the cell and started cursing at Di Yun’s eighteen generations of ancestors, uttering every profanity they could think of. Di Yun remained silent and stood guard in front of the cell door. Surprisingly, the four gaolers did not call for reinforcements. After a while, they realized that they could not fight their way in so they cursed and left.

In the four days following the incident, the gaolers did not bring them food or water. By the fifth day, Di Yun was so thirsty that he could not resist anymore. The lunatic’s lips were even more charred. He suddenly said: “If you pretend to kill me, that bítch will bring some water for sure.”

Di Yun did not understand what the lunatic was trying to say, but thought to himself: “I don’t care if this works or not, but I must try!” Then he shouted loudly: “If you don’t give us water now, I will hack this lunatic into pieces.” He turned the sabre and made some loud impact noises against the iron fence.

Suddenly he saw a gaoler rush through frantically and yelled: “If you even dare touch a single hair on his head, I will poke ten thousand holes on your body with my blade!” Following that, the gaoler brought some clean water and cold rice.

Di Yun and the lunatic began to eat. Di Yun asked: “He wants to torture you, but yet he is afraid that I will kill you. What kind of reasoning is that?”

The lunatic opened his eyes, lifted his bowl, smashed it hard against Di Yun’s head and said: “You think that just because you are pretending to get on my good side that I will fall into your trap?” Crack! The bowl shattered to pieces.

Di Yun’s forehead began to drip with fresh blood. He backed off and thought to himself: “This man is going crazy again!”

From then on, on the day of the full moon every month, the gaolers tortured the lunatic as usual, but upon his return, he would no longer unleash his wrath on Di Yun. The two rarely spoke words, but if Di Yun gave more than a few glances at the lunatic, he would be reprimanded with a hard fist. The only time the lunatic showed any signs of kindness or peace was when he looked at the fresh flowers placed outside the high windows of the cell.

By the spring of the fourth year, Di Yun no longer held any hopes of leaving the prison, but in his dreams he still constantly thought of his teacher and his martial sister. Although the image of his teacher gradually blurred over time, the image of his martial sister—her graceful and stalwart body, her rosy red cheeks, and her large black eyes—remained as clear as it was over three years ago.

He no longer dared to have any ideas of leaving prison to reunite with his martial sister. Every day he secretly prayed to Bodhisattva , wishing that even if his martial sister would visit him once, he would be willing to suffer the tortures of the lunatic every single day.

Qi Fang never came.

One day, someone came to visit him. This person was a handsome young man who wore elegant silk clothes. He laughed: “Brother Di, do you still remember me? I am Shen Cheng.” It had been over three years since they last saw each other. He grew a lot taller, to the point where Di Yun could barely recognize him.

Di Yun’s heart began to pound hard, as he knew there was a chance he could get some information from him about his martial sister. “Where is my martial sister?” he asked.

Shen Cheng sent a basket over the iron fence and laughed: “This is from my older sister-in-law, Brother Wan’s wife. Everyone did not forget our old companion. Today is a propitious day, and as such she asked me to deliver two full chickens, four trotters, and sixteen happy cakes for you.”

Di Yun quickly asked: “Who is Wan’s wife? What propitious day?”

Shen Cheng chuckled, his face let out a cunningly deceitful expression. “Brother Wan’s wife is exactly your martial sister, Lady Qi. Today is the propitious day of their obeisance to marriage. She told me to deliver you these cakes and meats, isn’t that quite enough friendship?”

Di Yun jumped up in a flash and clung hard onto the iron fence with both his hands. He shouted: “You... you speak nonsense! My martial sister, how... how would she marry the one with the surname Wan?”

Shen Cheng laughed. “My teacher was stabbed hard by your teacher. Fortunately, he did not die and proceeded to recover from his injuries. What happened in the past, we let bygones be bygones. Your martial sister lived in the Wan residence for the past three years, and with all the dear and sweet talk, who can say... who can say... hehe. Next year they’re guaranteed to expect a gorgeous and healthy baby.” Even though Shen Cheng aged a little, his playful and glib personality did not change one bit.

Di Yun’s ears felt a buzzing sound and he could only hear himself say: “Where is my teacher?”

He also seemed to hear Shen Cheng laugh as he said: “Who knows? He knows that he’s a wanted man, and naturally would run as far away as he can. Would he dare come back?” And seemed to hear Shen Cheng laugh and say: “Sister-in-law told you to continue to stay here in peace. Perhaps after she bears three sons and four daughters, she will come visit you.”

Di Yun suddenly roared: “You speak nonsense, nonsense! You... you... you’re full of shit!” He knocked the basket away. The cake, trotters, and warm chickens fell all over the floor.

Then he saw that in each and every happy cake marked the eight words: “Wan and Qi’s Marriage, Love for All Seasons.”

Di Yun did not want to believe Shen Cheng’s words, but now how could he not believe it? He drowsily heard Shen Cheng laugh: “Sister-in-law said that it’s unfortunate you could not attend to the wedding to drink a cup of wine...”

With both hands Di Yun clung hard against the iron fence. In an instant he extended his hands beyond the fence and held a firm grasp on Shen Cheng, strangling him. Shen Cheng was startled and wanted to escape, but Di Yun suddenly summoned such formidable strength that he was strangling him even harder. Shen Cheng’s face turned from red to purple, and with both his he tried to free himself, but he could not escape.

The gaoler quickly rushed to the scene, held Shen Cheng’s body with both arms and pulled hard. Only after he used all of his energy did he manage to save Shen Cheng’s life. Di Yun sat down on the ground without speaking or moving. The gaoler pranced in the cell and gleefully picked up the bits and pieces of cake and chicken on the ground. Di Yun stared at him but did not care.

That night on the third watch, he ripped off some pieces of his garment and made it into a rope. He tied a knot on it and using the support of the iron fence he climbed up, sticking his head in the noose. He no longer felt sad, nor did he feel hatred, for in his life there was no longer any love, and this would be the quickest and easiest way to end his misery once and for all. He let go and the noose on his neck began to feel tighter and tighter, until he could no longer breathe. After a while, he lost consciousness.

Later he regained consciousness, and felt a big hand exerting immense pressure on his chest. He saw the hands pushing up and down exerting force, and he felt some air entering through his nose. He did not know how much time passed, but eventually his eyes slowly opened. He saw in front of him a face full of facial hair; the face suddenly cracked into a smile.

Di Yun could not help but regain his anger. He thought to himself: “No matter what I do, you are always against me. Even now that I want to die, you aren’t willing to let me die in peace.” He had the intent to get up and fight with the lunatic, but he felt much too weak, and he could not exert any force.

The lunatic laughed: “You stopped breathing for over an hour. If I had not used my special martial arts technique, under heaven there is no second person who can save you.”

Di Yun shouted in a fit of rage: “Who wants to be saved? I don’t want to live.”

The lunatic was elated and said: “I do not want you to die, hence you will not die.” The lunatic laughed as he looked at Di Yun. After a while, he moved closer to him, and spoke in a low voice: “My technique comes from the Heavenly Glow Manual, have you ever heard of it?”

Di Yun replied in anger: “I only know that you are a heavenly psychopath. What heavenly glow or not heavenly glow, I have never heard of.”

Now that Di Yun thought about it, he felt it was quite strange, for this time the lunatic did not express any emotions of anger, and instead gently hummed a ditty. He extended his hands and pressured Di Yun’s chest, a push and a release—just like a bellow—and helped circulate the air to his lungs. He said in a low voice: “You are very fortunate to be alive. I have practiced the arts of the Heavenly Glow for a dozen years, and it wasn’t until two months ago did I complete it. If you had sought death two months ago, I could not have saved you.”

Di Yun began to feel depressed again as the thought of Qi Fang marrying Wan Gui entered his mind. He wished that he could have just died then and there. He gave a cold stare at the lunatic and said: “I don’t know how much I sinned in my previous life, that this life I would have to meet a psychopath like you.”

The lunatic laughed and replied: “I am very happy, venerable brother. These past three years I have mistaken your intentions. I, Ding Dian, formally apologize to you!” As he said this he knelt on the floor and gave three loud kowtows.

Di Yun sighed and said softly, “Lunatic!” and did not care for him anymore. But he slowly turned his body and thought: “He calls himself Ding Dian, perhaps his surname is Ding, with a given name Dian. I have been imprisoned with him for three years, but I don’t even know his name.” He became curious and asked: “What is your name?”

The lunatic replied: “My surname is Ding, the illiterate Ding. My name is Dian, the Dian from the three graves and five codes. My suspicions were too great. All this time I thought you had bad intentions, and for the last three years I really gave you much pain and suffering. I have wronged you in too many ways.”

Di Yun thought that what the man said was reasonable and did not have the least bit of insanity. He asked: “Are you really crazy or not?”

Ding Dian dejected and did not reply. After a moment, he gave a long sigh and said: “Whether I am crazy or not, that is hard to say for sure. I only wish for inner peace. What other people see, I hope they will not believe I am crazy to the point of unaccountability.” After a while, he gave some more comforting words: “Brother Di, your heart is filled with sufferings of injustice; I had already figured as much. If she doesn’t treat you with love or respect, why bring upon yourself so much pain to think of her? A gentleman does not suffer from the lack of a wife. In the future you will marry a woman that exceeds the greatness of your martial sister ten times over. What is there to feel bad about?”

Upon hearing these words, Di Yun wished to unleash all his sorrow and misery of the last three years like the pouring of mountain torrents and avalanches all at once. He felt his chest turn sour, and tears began to pour down his face. Later, he cried as hard as he could on Ding Dian’s arms. Ding Dian hugged him and gently caressed his long hair.

After three days, Di Yun’s emotions began to stabilize and he felt a bit vibrant. Ding Dian secretly talked and laughed with him, discussing the interesting stories of the realm to cure his boredom. But when it came time for the gaoler to deliver food, Ding Dian would shout and curse at Di Yun, his attitude no different from what it was before.

The person who once gave Di Yun endless pain and agony now suddenly became his good friend. If not for the incident of Qi Fang getting married being as unbearable as a poisonous centipede biting his heart out, what he felt right now must be heaven compared to his experiences in the past three years.

Di Yun once questioned Ding Dian, asking him why the latter used to think he harboured bad intentions, and why he suddenly revealed the truth. Ding Dian answered: “If you really harboured bad intentions, you would not hang yourself. I waited for your breathing to stop for a long while—a clear death, your body was about to become stiff—before I rescued you. Under heaven no one besides myself knows that I have completed my training in the formidable art of the Heavenly Glow. If not for this technique, there would be no other way to save you. Your suicide was real and most certainly not a plan to deceive me into trusting you.”

Di Yun asked: “You thought I was deceiving you? Why?”

Ding Dian only smiled and did not reply.

The second time Di Yun asked the same question, Ding Dian still did not answer. Di Yun no longer asked.

One night, Ding Dian whispered something to his ears: “My Heavenly Glow technique has the strongest internal energy foundation of any martial arts under heaven. Today, I will teach it to you. You must remember carefully.”

Di Yun shook his head and replied: “I won’t learn it.”

Ding Dian asked curiously: “In such circumstances, why won’t you learn it?”

Di Yun replied: “The days we spend here are not much better than death. The two of us have no chance of seeing life outside this prison. Even if my martial arts were higher it would not make a difference.”

Ding Dian laughed. “You want to escape prison? How hard is that? I will teach you the basic mnemonics, remember them carefully.”

Di Yun remained stubborn, for his suicidal tendencies had not completely vanished, so he insisted on not learning the technique. Ding Dian persuaded him with great persistence but it was in vain. He almost wished he could beat him into submission just like before.

Many days passed and the moon was full once again. Di Yun secretly felt worried for Ding Dian. Ding Dian could guess his emotions and said: “Brother Di, every month I suffer beatings from the gaolers. In the past, after my beatings, I would always unleash my anger out on you. You and I must not show any signs of friendship, or this will be bad for the both of us.”

“Why?” asked Di Yun.

Ding Dian replied: “If they suspect that we have become friends, they will torture you instead to get information out of me. If I beat you and curse at you, it will prevent you from being tortured by methods many times more cruel.”

Di Yun nodded in reply. “You are right. This information is so important, you mustn’t let me know about it for the fear that my tongue will slip and reveal it. Brother Ding, I am a rustic from the countryside, if I speak any nonsense and foil your plans, how can I ever forgive myself?”

Ding Dian replied: “You and I were imprisoned together for a long time. At first I thought you were sent by them as a spy, faking good intentions to deceive me in hopes of getting me to leak out information. And so I treated you with utmost disrespect and hatred, giving you the most painful of tortures. Now I realize that you are not a spy, but since they have imprisoned us together for the past three or four years without release, their intent is to expect you to be a spy, in hopes that you will get on my good side. If I reveal any information to you, they will torture you instead. They know that I will not speak no matter what, but against a young man like you, it will be much easier. You are a criminal under the magistrate, sent to the prefecture to be imprisoned, and naturally they could use this excuse to torture you.”

On the evening of the fifteenth, four gaolers brought Ding Dian out of his cell. Di Yun felt troubled and awaited his return. When Ding Dian returned on the fourth watch, his eyes were blue and his nose was swollen, his body covered in fresh blood as usual.

Ding Dian waited for the four gaolers to leave before speaking in a low solemn tone. “Brother Di, the events of today were terrible and most unfortunate. One of my enemies recognized me.”

“What?” asked Di Yun.

Ding Dian replied: “Every month on the fifteenth, the magistrate will issue a beating on me. But today someone came to assassinate the magistrate. When I saw that the magistrate’s life was in jeopardy, I could not help but save him. But because my body was confined by handcuffs and shackles, among the four assassins I only killed three. The fourth escaped, and that will most certainly cause trouble.”

Di Yun felt more and more strange, and asked continuously: “Why does the magistrate insist on beating you? Since the magistrate is so brutal, if someone has come to assassinate him, why would you save his life? Who was the assassin that escaped?”

Ding Dian shook his head and sighed: “I cannot tell you so many things at once, Brother Di. Your martial arts are frugal and you have no strength. In the future no matter happens, you should not offer your assistance.”

Di Yun did not reply, but thought to himself: “Does he think I with the surname Di is a coward? If you take me as a friend, under desperate circumstances, how can I not assist you?”

Thereafter, Ding Dian remained in silent contemplation. Except for the times where he would look up and stare at the flowers blooming outside the high window—where his face would show the slightest sign of a smile—all other times he would remain dull in thought.

On the late night of the nineteenth, Di Yun felt uncomfortably hot in his sleep. Suddenly, he heard two strange sounds. He opened his eyes and under the moonlight shone two stalwart men using a sharp weapon to destroy the iron fence outside the cell. Each of them wielded a sabre embraced close to his body. Di Yun was shocked, unsure of what to do, but he saw Ding Dian stood firm with a cold laugh.

The shorter man said: “The one with the surname Ding, our brothers have travelled from the edge of the sky to the corner of the ocean, searching for your whereabouts. Little did we know that you were hiding in an obscure prison in Jingzhou, like a tortoise shrinking its head into its shell. Thank heavens, we finally found you.”

The other man said: “Let’s get straight to the point. If you hand over the book, we brothers will not cause you any trouble. In fact, we will break you out of prison immediately.”

Ding Dian replied: “I do not have it. It was taken by Yan Daping 13 years ago.”

Upon hearing the three words “Yan Daping”, Di Yun’s heart spiked. He thought: “That is my second martial uncle, how is he involved in this?”

The short man shouted: “You think that just because you hid yourself in prison means you can get away from us? Go to hell!” He stroke forward with his sabre, the tip pointing at Ding Dian’s throat. Without dodging nor running, Ding Dian allowed the tip of the blade to get within a few inches of his throat, then at the last second, he ducked his body, which caused the shorter man to strike at the left side of the taller man. His elbow hit the taller man right in the stomach. The latter did not even let out a cry, and collapsed to the ground.

The short man aimed his sabre back at Ding Dian, giving two strikes in his direction. Ding Dian raised both his arms and blocked the blade with the iron chain. At the same time, his legs were moving frantically in all directions, and stepped on the body of the short man. The man spat out a huge volume of fresh blood and died immediately.

Upon seeing that Ding Dian killed both men empty-handed in a split second, Di Yun could not help but feel astonished. Even though he no longer possessed any martial arts, what he witnessed just now, he realized that even if his abilities were renewed, and with long sword in hand, he would not necessarily defeat the short man. And before the other man even joins in the fray, he would have died already. Their martial arts did not reveal any flaws in many stances, thinking that if the two men fought together, they would be quite formidable. Ding Dian also had his scapula pierced by the iron chain, yet he was still able to kill two formidable opponents in the matter of a few gestures. Di Yun admired him with utmost respect.

Ding Dian threw the two bodies out of the cell and began to sleep leaning on the wall. The iron fence had already been broken, so if the two of them wanted to escape, now would be a great opportunity. But Ding Dian did not even say a word, and Di Yun also did not think that the world outside was any better than prison life.

The next morning, the gaoler saw two dead bodies outside the cell and shrieked in shock and terror. Ding Dian stared at the opposite direction while Di Yun turned a deaf ear. The gaoler carried the corpses outside without even asking what happened the previous night.

Another two days passed, and Di Yun was awakened again by some strange noises. Feeling a bit hazy, he only saw that Ding Dian had extended both palms forward, matching them against a Taoist priest. The two stood there motionless. Di Yun had no clue that a Taoist had entered, nor did he know that the two of them were currently in an intense internal energy struggle. He once heard his teacher say that among the various forms of competing martial arts, competing internal energy is the most dangerous, for they would be exposed to any outside threat, and often the struggle would end in the life or death of one side. There was no easy way of stopping midway.

Under the starlight of the night, he saw the Taoist slowly moved forward one step, while Ding Dian slowly retreated one step backwards. After a while, the Taoist took yet another step forward, and Ding Dian moved another step backwards.

Di Yun saw that the Taoist was forcing his way through, slowly gaining the advantage. He was anxious and suddenly went towards the Taoist and slammed the latter’s head hard with his iron chains. The iron chain hit the Taoist right on the top of his head, but from somewhere the Taoist managed to unleash some strength and with brute force caused Di Yun to lose his balance and fall straight down. Di Yun banged his head hard against the wall and fell flat on his ***. He extended his hands to support himself back up, but in the darkness he accidentally hit a bowl. With a crack, the bowl was smashed and water spilt all over his hands. He took the broken bowl and threw the half bowl of water on the back of the Taoist’s head.

In truth, Ding Dian’s internal energy was much superior to that of the Taoist’s and he only wanted to test the depths of his newly mastered technique. Not knowing exactly how powerful the technique was, Ding Dian wanted to experiment with it and so he used the Taoist as his test subject. The Taoist had already begun to feel a bit weak in his veins and felt a little burned out. Now after being splashed by the half bowl of water, he was taken aback, and felt his opponent’s internal rush through his entire body. Kakakaka! Several exploding sounds were heard as his ribs, forearm, and leg bones were broken in half. He stared at Ding Dian and said: “You... you have mastered the skills of the Heavenly Glow... under heaven... under heaven... this is unmatched...” He slowly cuddled into a ball and died.

Di Yun felt his heart pounding frantically and said: “Brother Dian, your skills from the Heavenly Glow Manual is actually... is actually so powerful. Is it truly unmatched under heaven?”

Ding Dian gave a dignified expression and replied: “In a one-on-one battle, it is enough to rule the realm, but if the enemies attack all at once, it may not be enough to defeat them all. After the Taoist was crushed by my internal energy, he was still able to open his mouth and speak, which clearly shows that my martial arts have not yet reached the peak of perfection. Within three days, there will most certainly be truly formidable opponents visiting us. Brother Di, will you offer your assistance to me?”

Di Yun thrived in exhilaration. “I will do whatever big brother says, but I... I have lost my martial arts completely. Even if I still have some strength left, I am much too weak to be of any use.”

Ding Dian gave a faint smile and from the haystack picked up a blade that was left by the two assassins from the other day. “Cut off my beard and we will deceive them.”

Di Yun took the blade and cut off Ding Dian’s beard. The blade was quite sharp and even sliced a bit of skin off. Ding Dian collected the bits and pieces of his beard and held it firmly on the palms of his hands.

Di Yun laughed and said: “Won’t you miss the beard that you have so faithfully kept intact over the years?”

Ding Dian replied: “That is not the case. I want you to disguise yourself as me.”

Di Yun questioned: “Disguise as you?”

Ding Dian said: “That is correct. Within three days, our enemies will arrive. The five of them are not my match in a one-on-one battle, but if all five of them attack at once, they will prove to be quite impressive. I want them to mistake you for me, so when they focus all their energy on attacking you, I will unexpectedly ambush them.”

Di Yun whispered: “That... that... I’m afraid... is not very honourable.”

Ding Dian laughed heartily. “Honour, honour! In the realm everyone is full of trickery and deceit. Everyone will ambush and lame you in every way possible. If you treat others with honour, wouldn’t that just be seeking your own death?”

Di Yun replied: “Although this is true, but... but...”

Ding Dian said: “I ask you this: When you first entered prison, you cried loudly of injustice. I trust that you are indeed innocent, yet why have you been imprisoned here for over three years, without a way to prove your innocence?”

Di Yun said: “Mm, I have never understood the reason.”

Ding Dian laughed: “Whoever was the one who set you up, is also the one who is preventing you from leaving this place.”

Di Yun said: “That I never understood. I don’t even know Wan Zhenshan’s concubine Tao Hong, so naturally I have no misunderstandings or conflicts with her, so why did she frame me and cause me to lose everything that I had. Why did she cause me so much grief?”

Ding Dian asked: “How did they set you up? Tell me about it.”

Di Yun continued shaving Ding Dian’s beard as he told the story of how he went to Jingzhou to celebrate Wan Zhenshan’s birthday, how he defeated the unrighteous Lu Tong, how he got in a fight with the eight disciples of the Wan clan, how his teacher stabbed his martial uncle and ran away, how someone harassed Wan Zhenshan’s concubine, and how he tried to save her—he told him everything. The only part he omitted was the part where the old beggar taught him swordplay, because he swore an oath never to tell anyone about it. Besides, he did not consider this omission to affect his story at all, as it was mostly irrelevant.

From start to finish he told the entire story, and Ding Dian’s beard was just about completely shaved off. Di Yun sighed a few times and said: “Brother Ding, the pain that I have to suffer every day, what good was it for? They insisted that my teacher killed Uncle Wan, yet Uncle Wan only suffered minor injuries and did not die. They imprisoned me for so many years and should have released me by now. To say they have forgotten about me is incorrect, for did the one with the surname Shen not come to visit me?”

Ding Dian moved his head to the side, looked at Di Yun in one direction and then another, and sneered.

Di Yun was puzzled and asked: “Brother Ding, did I say something wrong?”

Ding Dian sneered: “Right… right, everything is right. What is there that isn’t right? If that wasn’t how it was, then it wouldn’t be right.”

Di Yun became curious. “What do you mean?”

Ding Dian said: “Well, think about it. There was dumb kid who brought along a beautiful girl to my house. When I saw the girl I became infatuated, but the girl treats the dumb kid quite nicely. I want to claim the girl, and as such I must get rid of the dumb kid. What can I do?”

Di Yun secretly felt a hidden meaning of mischievousness in his tone and casually asked: “What way is there?”

Ding Dian replied: “If I use poison or a sword to kill the dumb kid, I will have set myself up as a criminal, and that will only cause me trouble. Furthermore, the beautiful girl is most likely a well-spirited girl, and does not have a death wish. In fact, she may even seek to avenge the kid, wouldn’t that be a problem? If you ask me, I would send the dumb kid to the officials and have them lock him up, then the beautiful girl will follow me faithfully while hating the kid. How do we do this? First, we make it look like the kid has another love interest. Second, we make the kid appear to no longer like the beautiful girl. Third, we expose the kid doing some unrighteous deeds, and the girl will most certainly be filled with hatred.”

Di Yun’s entire body shook violently. “You... everything you said, it was all the one with the surname Wan... it was all Wan Gui’s idea?”

Ding Dian smiled. “I did not see it with my own eyes, so how would I know? Your martial sister is quite pretty, is she not?”

Di Yun’s mind was at a loss, and he only nodded his head.

Ding Dian continued: “Ah, for the sake of getting on the lady’s good side, I naturally have to look busy, spending lots of silver to send to the prefecture, in hopes of coming up with a plan to set the kid free. The best case would be to have the lady come along with me to send the silver, so the lady can see everything for herself, she will naturally feel grateful. The silver sent to the official, the magistrate, and the prefect was not put to waste.”

Di Yun said: “Since he sent so much silver, wouldn’t it have some effect?”

Ding Dian said: “Naturally. Money talks, how can it not have an effect?”

Di Yun said: “Then why... why did they imprison me all this time and not release me?”

Ding Dian laughed. “What crime did you commit? The crimes they framed you for were only attempted rape and thievery. It wasn’t even arson or murder, so how severe can the crime be? They did not have to pierce your scapula, nor did they have to sentence you to life in prison. This was in fact the true intent behind sending so much silver. Excellent, this plan is flawless. Now the lady will live in my household, and even though the lady still thinks much of the dumb kid, can she really wait year after year and never get married?”

Di Yun lifted the sabre, and with a loud bang he smashed it on the floor. “Brother Ding, so the real reason they never set me free was because of Wan Gui’s silver.”

Ding Dian did not reply and looked up in deep thought. Suddenly, he creased his eyebrows and said: “There’s something wrong. This plan has a serious flaw in it, this is definitely wrong.”

Di Yun replied in anger: “What is wrong? My martial sister did end up marrying him, and if not for you, I would have committed suicide already. Is this not following the course of his plans?”

Ding Dian walked around the cell, constantly shaking his head, and said: “However there is still one glaring flaw. They were so careful in their planning, how could they not see this?”

Di Yun replied: “What is the flaw?”

Ding Dian replied: “Your teacher. After your teacher wounded your martial uncle, he fled. The name of ‘Five Cloud Hand’ Wan Zhenshan is known throughout Jingzhou, so the news should have spread in a matter of days that he did not die and was only wounded. Even if your teacher no longer has any face to see his martial brother, would he not send someone to escort your martial sister back home? Once your martial sister returns home wouldn’t that foil the careful and meticulous plans of Wan Gui?”

Di Yun clapped his hands hard on his legs and said: “Right! Right!” His hands were still in shackles, when he clapped his leg, the sounds of the iron chains vibrated in the air. He saw that Ding Dian’s expression was rough, seemingly lost in his own thoughts, and then let out an expression of admiration.

Ding Dian turned his head and said softly: “Why did your teacher not retrieve his own daughter? There must be a very good reason for it. Wan Gui and the others should have already expected this, else they would not execute this plan. I have yet to figure out the trick behind this.”

It was not until today that Di Yun finally realized the truth of his imprisonment over the years. He repeatedly slapped himself on the head, cursing himself for being so foolish. It only took Ding Dian a few moments to figure it out, yet over three years he did not even have the slightest clue.

After scolding himself for a while longer, he saw that Ding Dian was still in deep thought. “Brother Ding, you don’t have to think about it so much. My teacher is an honest man from the countryside. Most likely he was afraid after wounding Uncle Wan, so he ran off in a very far and desolate place, hence he did not receive any messages from the realm. That must be it.”

Ding Dian opened his eyes widely, stared at Di Yun, his face full of curiosity, then asked: “What? Your... your teacher is an honest man from the countryside... if he killed someone would he be so afraid that he would run away?”

Di Yun replied: “Correct, but my master’s virtue and honesty was in vain, for Uncle Wan falsely accused him of stealing some sword manual from my grand-teacher. In a fit of rage, he could not resist attacking him, but really he is a good man.”

Ding Dian laughed coldly and sat at the corner of the cell, humming a small tune. Di Yun asked: “Why are you laughing?”

Ding Dian replied: “Nothing.”

Di Yun said: “There must be a reason. Brother Ding, please tell me.”

Ding Dian said: “Very well! What is your teacher’s nickname?”

Di Yun replied: “He is called ‘Iron Lock Across the River.’”

Ding Dian asked: “And what is the meaning of it?”

Di Yun hesitated for a moment before replying. “I do not know the meaning behind this title. I assume that it refers to his profound martial arts and strong defense; the meaning is that his opponents cannot easily get through his defense.”

Ding Dian laughed heartily. “Little brother, you are virtuous and honest, but ‘Iron Lock Across the River’ actually means that if one wants to go up one cannot go up, and if one wants to go down one cannot go down. Who among the older generation of pugilists would not know the meaning of his nickname? Your teacher is smart and variable, impressive to the max. Whoever makes him angry, he will think of nothing but revenge. His opponents are akin to a ship entangled in the heart of a river, splashing around in all directions, unable to move up or down. If you don’t believe me, when you leave this prison in the future, you can research this yourself.”

Di Yun naturally did not believe him. He said: “When my teacher taught me swordplay, he was mistaken in his explanations. What ‘The Lonely Bird Rises from the Ocean, the Pond Does not Dare to Care’ he explained as ‘Brother Weng Shouts Up, Dare not Cross the Horizontal; what ‘The Sunset Reflects the Banner, The Horse Cries Soughing Winds’ he explained as ‘The Falling Mud Welcomes Big Sister, The Horse Blows a Little Wind.’ He is not even literate, how could he make such intelligent changes?”

Ding Dian sighed a few times and said: “Your teacher is quite knowledgeable, how would he explain the mnemonics incorrectly? He is marked by profound shrewdness, so there must be a reason behind the explanations. Why would he lie to his very own disciple? Outsiders will not know. Hehe, if not for your profound virtue and honesty, he may not have taken you in as his disciple. Let us talk about this no further. Come, let me stick this beard onto you.”

He lifted his blade and chopped off one of the arms of the dead Taoist. The Taoist had not been dead for long, so the cut caused blood to gush out everywhere. Ding Dian smudged the beard with blood and stuck it on to Di Yun’s cheeks and jaw.

Di Yun could smell the sanguinary aroma of blood and a cold shiver went down his spine. But upon thinking of Wan Gui’s evil plans, his teacher’s nickname, and many other things that he did not understand, he realized that the safest place in the entire world was in fact this very prison.

The following afternoon, 17 inmates entered the prison all at once. They were all tall, thin and not very old. Each one of them seemed to be a figure from the realm and the prison became fully packed. Di Yun saw more and more people arrive and became very cautious, for he knew that these people were here for Ding Dian. Ding Dian had originally said that five of his rivals would show up, but now 17 had shown up.

Ding Dian stared at the walls of the cell the entire time, not paying the slightest attention to what was going on around him.

The prisoners were quite noisy and shouted a lot, laughed loudly, and sometimes cursed at each other. Di Yun ducked his head and tried to listen to what they were saying. It turns out that these 17 people were from three different clans, talking about some valuable treasures. Di Yun gave a sideways glance to one of them, only to have them return expressions of contempt, so he became scared and quickly turned his head back. He thought: “I am disguised as Brother Ding, but I have lost my martial arts completely, if I engage battle, what should I do? No matter how strong Brother Ding is, he won’t manage to kill all of these people.”

Upon seeing that the sky was getting dark, one burly prisoner spoke loudly: “Let’s make it clear first, the ones in charge here will be the ones from the Dongting Sect. If anyone is not willing to submit, you should look at the insignia, and not waste any time causing trouble.”

There were a grand total of nine people from the Dongting Sect, hence they were the overwhelming majority. One grey-haired middle-aged man spoke in a cynical voice: “To see the insignia under your hands is fine, but since all of us our here, why not take this fight outside until we come to an understanding?”

The man replied: “We will fight in the courtyard then, do you think I’m afraid?” He extended his hands, grabbed onto the iron fence and pushed to the left. The iron fence was instantly bent out of shape. Following that, he pushed on the right with his other hand, causing that fence to twist as well. His arm strength was astonishing.

The man was about to escape through the opening of the two bent fences he just made, when suddenly in front of him he saw a dazzling figure blocking the gap—it was Ding Dian. He did not speak and grabbed the man by the chest. The man was taller than Ding Dian by half a head, but upon being grabbed, he instantly became weak and could not dodge. Ding Dian threw his enormous body out the iron fence of the cell and dragged him to the courtyard. The man huddled on the ground and no longer made a move. He was dead.

The other people in the prison saw the odd shape of the man and became really afraid. Ding Dian casually grabbed another person and threw him out of the fence. He followed through and grabbed yet another and threw him out the fence. He did this continuously for a grand total of seven people; whoever was grabbed by him was killed instantly without so much as making a sound.

The ten remaining in the cell were scared shitless. Among them, three were so afraid that they hid themselves in the corner of the cell. The remaining seven decided to team up on Ding Dian at once, throwing many punches and kicks to his direction. Ding Dian did not fight back nor did he dodge. All he did was extend his hands to grab—he would always be successful in grabbing someone—and whoever he grabbed would be killed instantly. Whether or not they felt pain before death, Di Yun did not know. In an instant, all seven of them were dead.

The remaining three men still hiding in the corner were so afraid that they thought were going to get a heart attack. All at once, they dropped on their knees and begged for mercy. Ding Dian did not even look at their plea and simply threw each one of them out, one at a time, and they all died. Di Yun was left speechless and his eyes glared in extreme shock. He thought he was flurried in a dream.

Ding Dian slapped his hands together and sneered: “These people who don’t even qualify dared to attempt to steal ‘A Deadly Secret’!”

Di Yun did not know what he was talking about. “Brother Ding, what ‘A Deadly Secret’?”

Ding Dian seemed to feel as if he had regretted what he just said, but he did not want to make up lies to deceive him. He only laughed coldly several times but did not answer.

Di Yun saw that just a moment ago those 17 men were as alive as any man could be, and now it was but a few moments later, and they were all dead corpses scattered all over the floor. In his whole life he had never seen so many dead people grouped together at once. He let out a deep sigh. “Brother Ding, did all these people here deserve to die?”

Ding Dian replied: “To say they all deserved to die may be an overstatement, but they all harboured evil intentions. Had I not completed the elite skills of the Heavenly Glow and if they all attacked me at once, that could have caused a whole lot of trouble.”

Di Yun knew that what Ding Dian spoke was the truth. “You only casually grabbed each one of them and that was already enough to kill. Such magnitude of power I have never heard of. If I told my martial sister about it, she wouldn’t believe it…” As soon as he said this, he stopped talking and wanted to take back his words. He felt his heart turn sour, as if his chest was hit hard by a fist.

Ding Dian did not laugh at him, but only sighed several times, and spoke randomly to himself. “Actually, although I have completed such exceptional martial arts, not everything always goes according to plan…”

Di Yun suddenly heard a sound and he pointed his fingers at one of the dead corpses in the hall.

Ding Dian asked: “What?”

Di Yun replied: “That person is not dead yet, I saw his legs move.”

Ding Dian was taken aback by his words, and only said, “For real?” As he said these two words, his voice began to tremble.

Di Yun said: “Just now I saw him move several times.” Then he thought to himself: “Although that person is not dead yet, he suffered major injuries, what’s the big deal? He can’t fight anymore anyway.”

Ding Dian creased his eyebrows, as if he was just faced with a very difficult problem. He walked out through the gap in the iron fence and observed outside. Chi! Chi! Two very miniscule hidden projectiles were rapidly fired, aiming for his eyes. It was fired by the man who was still alive. Ding Dian quickly moved backwards. The two sleeve arrows nearly skimmed his face; his nose could smell an unusual aroma, it was most likely the case that the arrows were poisonous. After firing the sleeve arrows, the person stood up and escaped to the roof of the building.

Ding Dian saw that the man’s lightness techniques were formidable. Since he was confined by iron chains, he was not mobile enough to chase after him. Afraid that the man would get away, he quickly grabbed one of the corpses on the ground, pointed it in an upwards direction, and threw it in rapid haste. With a loud bang, the head of the corpse smashed hard onto the waist of the escapee. The man’s left leg had just landed on the roof of the building, but upon being hit by the corpse, he lost his balance and fell over. Ding Dian rushed forward several steps and grabbed the man by the neck and brought him back to the prison. He extended his hands to check for any breathing through his nose and realized that this time the man had really died.

Ding Dian sat on the ground with both hands supporting each other and began to ponder. “How come I did not manage to kill that man earlier? What is the flaw in my martial arts? Perhaps I have not fully mastered the techniques of the Heavenly Glow?” For over half a day he pondered the reason behind his failure. Under frustration, he reached his hands out for the wound in the chest of the man he just killed. Suddenly, he withdrew his finger in a tenacious and soft manner. Ding Dian felt surprised and remarked: “Yes! Yes!” He tore apart the man’s clothes and exposed that the man was wearing a shiny black protective vest. Ding Dian exclaimed: “Yes, so that’s the reason. That nearly scared me to death.”

Di Yun asked for clarification. Ding Dian sliced up the man’s clothing and peeled off the black protective vest, then dragged the corpse out of the prison. He laughed and replied: “Brother Di, put this vest on you.”

Di Yun realized that the black vest was most likely something valuable, so he said: “This is older brother’s valuable, younger brother will not be greedy for it.”

Ding Dian replied: “If it is yours, will you not crave it?”

Di Yun could sense some severity in his tone and was afraid that he would be mad if he refused. “If big brother insists, then I will wear it.”

Ding Dian spoke with a straight face. “I ask you, if it is not yours, do you want it?”

Di Yun said: “Only if the owner insists on giving it to me, otherwise I will not take it, else… else… if it doesn’t belong to me, naturally I won’t take it. If I crave so much other people’s belongings, will that not make me a thief or robber?” Di Yun said this with a proud expression, and continued: “Brother Ding, you must understand, I was framed by others, hence I was held captive in here. My whole life I am free of guilt, I have never done anything unjust.”

Ding Dian nodded his head in agreement. “Very good! Very good! My friendship with you was not made in vain. Now put this vest on you.”

Di Yun could not express any more negativism, so he took off his upper garment and wore the black vest over his body. On top of that he continued to wear the putrid outer garment that he had not washed in over three years. Both his hands were shackled by iron chains and locks, so changing clothes proved to be quite difficult. It was only with the help of Ding Dian tearing apart the sleeves of his old clothes did he manage to wear the vest. Now the black vest actually had two parts, front and back, and it had room for arms and buttons, so it was not hard to wear at all.

Ding Dian waited for him to finish putting it on before speaking. “This valuable garment is impenetrable by blades or spears; it was embroidered from dark silkworms on Snowy Mountain. Look, there are two sections to this vest; a blade could not slice this apart. The front section is buckled up together with the back section. This man was an important figure in the Snowy Mountain Sect, else he would not have a ‘dark silkworm vest.’ He came with the intention of stealing our treasures; little did he realize he would be giving up his own treasure!”

Upon hearing that the black vest was indeed so precious, Di Yun quickly replied: “Big Brother, you have so many enemies, you should really be the one to wear this instead. Besides, every month on the fifteenth…”

Ding Dian shook his head in disagreement and replied: “I have the protection of the Heavenly Glow, I do not need the dark silkworm vest. The torture I suffer every month on the fifteenth is what I willingly concede to. If I wear this precious vest it will go against my intentions. It is only a bit of external pain and will not affect me internally, why make a big deal of it?”

Di Yun felt exceedingly perplexed and continued to question. Ding Dian said: “I told you to attach the beard to pretend to be me and I will protect you from the side. I was only afraid of any accidents, but now that you have the vest I am assured. Now I will recite to you the internal mnemonics of the Heavenly Glow, listen carefully.”

Previously, when Ding Dian wanted to teach Di Yun martial arts, the latter insisted on not learning it. But upon understanding the true reason for being framed into captivity, he had a heart that longed for revenge that he could not contain. He only wished he could get out of prison instantly to settle the score with Wan Gui. He saw with his own eyes how easily Ding Dian defeated many impressive martial artists in the martial world with nothing but his bare hands, and thought that if he could even learn two or three tenths of his skills, then escaping prison for revenge would not be an impossibility. All of a sudden he became terribly upset, his blood started to rush and heat up and his face was flushed red.

Ding Dian knew that Di Yun was stubborn and would not learn his internal arts. He was just about to persuade him to when suddenly Di Yun dropped down on both knees and began to cry loudly on the ground. “Brother Ding, please teach me! I must get revenge! I must get revenge!”

Ding Dian gave a long burst of laughter, the echoes vibrating the walls and roof of the building. “You want revenge, how easy is that?”

After Di Yun’s anger passed, Ding Dian immediately began to transfer him the entry mnemonics and methods for practicing the techniques.

Upon learning these things, Di Yun wasted no time and constantly practiced it. Ding Dian saw that he was practicing really hard and laughed. “Upon completing the Heavenly Glow, you will be unmatched under heaven. Do you really think it is so easy to complete? I had a variety of coincidences, my internal energy foundation was high, and yet it still took me 12 years to complete. Brother Di, it is good to practice hard, but it is more important that you do not overwork yourself and produce counterintuitive results. You must have a sense of calmness, without feelings of distractions. Remember my words clearly.”

Although Di Yun still referred to Ding Dian as “Big Brother”, in his heart he had already treated him as his master, so no matter what he says he would obey. But in his heart were raging emotions of hate surging like waves, how could he find any inner peace?”

For several days the gaoler made a big fuss about nothing, shouting loudly. The guards, constables, and forensics were bothered for half a day, and not until late in the evening did they manage to carry out all 17 corpses out of the prison. Ding Dian and Di Yun only said that those people died from battling against each other, so they did not pursue further.

During the day, Di Yun followed the instructions of Ding Dian and executed the mnemonics of the technique. The Heavenly Glow entry mnemonics were not of great difficulty, but to find calmness and without the slightest bit of delusion was the hard part. Amidst his anger, Di Yun thought of his martial sister, Wan Gui, and his teacher. He practiced until nighttime before his heart felt a little convergence, when all of a sudden, both his front and back were attacked at the same time.

The two attacks were as powerful as two hammers hitting both sides at once. Di Yun drew blank and almost fainted until the pain became slightly numb. He cleared his eyes opened, and saw that in front of him a monk stood on each side. He turned his head and saw behind him another three monks, making five monks in total, encircling him in the middle.

Di Yun thought: “The five enemies Ding Dian spoke of have arrived. I must remain strong and not show any signs of falter.” Then he laughed heartily and said: “Five honourable elders, what do you seek the one called Ding for?”

The monk on the left-hand side replied: “Quickly deliver ‘A Deadly Secret’ over! Huh, you… you… you are…” Suddenly, a loud bang was heard from behind as the monk was hit strongly by a fist. He began shaking violently and almost fell over. Following that, two more monks were also each hit by a fist and each let out a crying sound and spat out a mouthful of fresh blood.

Di Yun felt very strange and could not resist looking at Ding Dian’s direction. He only saw that he attacked with a fist that was soundless and looked invisible. The attack was initiated with superb speed and attacked the chest of the third monk. The third monk let out a loud “ah”, moved back a few steps, and hit himself hard against the wall.

The other two monks looked at Di Yun following his sight, went to the huddle of the dark corner of the cell looking at Ding Dian, both shouted in astonishment. “Heavenly Glow, Invisible Divine Fists!” The two monks including the wounded monk had already escaped through the fence over the wall. The other monk carried the other monk on the waist who spat out blood, his hand returning to strike a palm on Ding Dian. Ding Dian countered with a fist of his own. The monk caught his fist and was forced to retreat a step. He caught another fist and retreated yet another step. By the third fist, he was already outside the iron fence.

The monk huffed and choked and ran a few steps and was forced to retreat another step. His entire body was shaking as if he was drunk. He had no choice but to let go of the monk who spat blood on the ground, then ran for his life. But every step he crossed, his legs felt like it was dragging a piece of thousand catty enormous rock. Each of his steps were heavy; by the time he walked six or seven steps, he was so short of breath that his legs were gradually bending and he fell on the floor, no longer able to get up. The two monks on the floor tried to struggle a few times, but could not move.

Ding Dian said: “What a pity, what a pity! Brother Di, if you had not been looking at me, then the monk would not have escaped.”

Di Yun saw that the two monks died a painful death, and deep in his heart he felt sympathetic, he secretly said: “Letting the three monks escape is not bad, Brother Ding has killed way too many people.”

Ding Dian said: “You think that I am much too ruthless, am I right?”

Di Yun replied: “I… I…” His throat felt plugged and inverted, he could not speak out.

Ding Dian quickly helped him push the blood and massaged for quite some time before the bottleneck in his chest began to relieve itself.

Ding Dian said: “You resent me for being cruel, yet the two vicious monks each hit you with a fist. Had you not been wearing the dark silkworm vest, you would not have survived. Look, this accident was the result of big brother’s carelessness; I did not think that they would attack right away. I thought that they would first interrogate you. Ah, yes, they are extremely careful with me. They want to wound me first before interrogating me.”

He wiped off the attached beard on Di Yun’s cheek and laughed: “Those bald thieves were so scared their hearts almost beat out of their chest. They will not dare to come back again.” He continued with a straight face: “Brother Di, the tall monk who got away, his name is Bao Xiang, the fat one’s name is Shan Yong. My first strike hit the one who was the strongest, his name is Sheng Di. The five of those monks are from Dark Qinghai Cult’s Blood Sabre Clan and are quite formidable opponents. Had I not ambushed them in the dark, one-against-five, I am afraid I may not have been able to take them all at once. Shan Yong and Sheng Di have been hit by my divine fists, even if they don’t die, they will not live for more than a few days. The remaining Bao Xiang is vicious and cruel in nature, if you ever encounter him in the realm, you must exercise extreme caution.” After thinking a long while, he continued: “The master of the five monks I just mentioned is still alive and his martial arts are extremely impressive. In the future we will have to face him.”

Even though Di Yun had worn the protective vest, he was hit on both front and back simultaneously, so the damages were not minor. Only with the help of Ding Dian transferring him energy every day for over a dozen days did he manage to recover.

*****

The next two years passed by quite peacefully. Once in a while one or two foes from the realm would come do battle, but Ding Dian disposed of them easily with either a fist or grab and they would die instantly.

In the past few months Di Yun had continued to vigorously practice the Heavenly Glow, but his progress came to an imminent halt. No matter how hard he practiced, it seemed that he did not make any further progress. Fortunately, even though his shrewdness was not high, he had high determination and realized that such profound internal martial arts could not be learned so easily. With the help of Ding Dian coaching him from the side for many days, he eventually overcame his difficulties.

One afternoon he woke up and continued to practice as he usually would, when suddenly he heard a “huh” sound coming from Ding Dian. There was a hint of anxiety in his voice. After half a day, he heard him utter words to himself: “Today it will not wilt. Changing it tomorrow will not be too late.” Di Yun was surprised and turned his body around and saw that Ding Dian lifted his head, staring at the basin of flowers outside the window at the top of the cell.

Since practicing the Heavenly Glow, Di Yun’s auditory system became a lot more proficient than what it was before. With one look, he could see three yellow roses in the basket, one of which was lacking a petal. He would often see Ding Dian staring at the basket of flowers and be completely mesmerized during the day; such has been the case for the last few years. He thought that since in prison there was not much activity, the sight of flowers by the window would serve as entertainment for Ding Dian, so he did not think it was very strange. But he saw that the fresh flowers in the basin had not bloomed yet and did not look remarkable. The flowers will bloom in time, but it inevitably had some residue and should be cared for. From the jasmines in the spring wind to the begonias in the autumn moon, day and night, there would always be a basket of flowers placed near the window sill. Di Yun recalled that this specific basket of yellow roses had been placed there for about six or seven days. It was usually the case that it would have been changed, but this time, it remained unchanged.

For the entire day and night, Ding Dian had an irritable and restless state of mind. The following morning, the basket of yellow roses still remained unchanged and at least five or six petals had already been blown away by the wind. Di Yun could sense a bad omen deep within his heart, and saw that Ding Dian’s expressions were very negative. He said: “That person forgot to change the flowers this time. Come afternoon, that person will remember for sure.”

Ding Dian shouted loudly: “How would such a thing be forgotten? Impossible! Could it be… could it be that this person contrived a sickness? Even if it is indeed sickness, someone should still have been ordered to change the flowers!” He kept walking around the cell and his emotions could not stop surging.

Di Yun did not dare to further pursue the matter. Instead, he sat down cross-legged and continued to practice in peace.

By nightfall, the clouds were ubiquitous and dark, a sign that it was inevitably going to rain soon. After a while, a cold breeze blew through, and the three yellow roses lost a bunch of petals again. In the past several hours, Ding Dian had not kept his eyes off the basket of flowers. With every petal that was blown away, his expression changed for the worst. He felt bitter and miserable, the pain even worse than having the flesh ripped right off his bones.

Di Yun could no longer resist questioning him. “Brother Ding, why are you so restless?”

Ding Dian turned his head over, his face full of anger, and yelled: “Why does it concern you? Why talk so much?” Ever since he taught Di Yun his martial arts, he had never treated him so rudely. Di Yun felt somewhat apologetic, and wanted to say a few words of resolution, but upon seeing that his expression was full of desolate intent and that of a person who suffered some sort of mournful grief, he did not say a word.

That night Ding Dian still did not sit down to rest. Di Yun only watched as he travelled back and forth around the cell. As the shackles around his legs inevitably caused a lot of rattling noises, Di Yun could find no way to sleep peacefully.

The next morning, there was some restless inclined drizzle. In the twilight of dawn he could see the basket of flowers. He saw that the petals of the three yellow roses had all wilted—all that was left in the basket was the stems of the flowers that stood motionless against the wind and rain.

Ding Dian shouted: “Dead? Dead? Are you really dead?” With both hands he grasped hard onto the iron fence, shaking it violently.

Di Yun said: “Big Brother, if you long to see this person so much, why don’t we go take a look?”

Ding Dian roared: “Look? Can I look? If I could, I would have gone a long time ago. Do I still have to remain stuck in this stupid cell?” Di Yun did not really understand, his eyes were wide open and he did not make a noise. In the middle of the day, Ding Dian held his head with both hands and sat down without making a noise or move. He did not eat or drink.

His ears heard the sounds of gongs signaling the first watch of the night. In the peace of quiet, time passed quickly. Soon, more gong sounds were heard; it was the second watch.

Ding Dian slowly got up and said: “Brother, we will have a look.” He said this in a peaceful tone. Di Yun replied in concurrence. Ding Dian extended both his hands to grab onto the iron fence and lightly moved them in opposite directions. The resulting force caused two rods of the iron fence to bend out of shape immediately. Ding Dian said: “Keep your iron chains in check and don’t let it emit any noise.” Di Yun complied and grabbed on to his iron chains.

Ding Dian walked near the edge of the wall and began to climb. He whispered: “Jump up!” Di Yun followed and began to scuttle his way up the wall, but in his haste he forgot that his scapula was still pierced by the iron chains, and his entire body was incapable of producing any strength. With one jump, he could not manage to reach a height of more than a meter. Ding Dian extended his hands to grab onto Di Yun and threw him on top of the wall. The two leaped downwards simultaneously.

After passing the wall, there was another extremely high wall in the way. While Ding Dian could probably get over it, Di Yun had no way of exceeding it. Ding Dian groaned, then leaned his back against the wall. He heard some rustling sounds as some silt fell over, and the bricks too fell in small fragments. Di Yun’s vision felt obscured, and then he could only see that on the wall there appeared a huge hole and Ding Dian was nowhere to be seen. It turns out that Ding Dian used the remarkable internal energy techniques of the Heavenly Glow to crack through the wall. Di Yun felt both astonished and pleased, as he hurriedly rushed through the hole in the wall.

There was an alley outside. Ding Dian gave a hand gesture, and from the alley they walked to end. Exiting the alley they arrived at the streets. It seemed that Ding Dian knew the streets and alleys quite familiarly. After walking past a street and two alleys, they arrived at the entrance of a family’s iron shop.

Ding Dian raised his hands and pushed. With a loud bang, the front gate of the store collapsed instantly. The blacksmith in the store became frightened with shock. He jumped up and yelled: “There is a thief!”

Ding Dian grabbed the blacksmith by the throat and whispered: “Light the candle!”

The blacksmith did not dare to disobey, and so he illuminated a lamp. He saw in front of him two men with long hair drooping down to their shoulders, their faces full of facial hair. They had the appearance of vicious men, how could he dare to move? Ding Dian declared: “Unbound us from our iron chains and shackle!”

The blacksmith figured that the two men were most likely criminals that escaped from prison. He thought that if he were to free them from their confinements, and if the government officials pursue the matter, he would most certainly be punished, so he could not help but hesitate. Ding Dian extended his hand and grabbed onto a thick strip of iron, returned, and hacked on it a few times. With a loud bang, it split into two pieces. He said: “Tell me, is your neck as hard as this?”

The blacksmith felt as if he had just seen the devil. If he wanted to break the iron strip, he should have used a chisel sledgehammer, then he would only have to stir a little while. But upon seeing that this man was strong enough to simply raise his hands and casually break the iron strips, he was certain that the man could easily snap his neck in half, so it was no longer appropriate for him to stay stubborn. He repeatedly said “Yes! Yes!” and produced a steel chisel and iron hammer and helped unbound Ding Dian and Di Yun from their shackles.

The first thing Ding Dian did was remove the iron chain which pierced his scapula. Upon pulling out the iron chain out from Di Yun’s scapula, the latter was in so much pain that he nearly fainted. Finally, Di Yun held in both hands a bloody iron chain and stood in front of the anvil. He thought of the restrictions of the iron chain that he now held in his hands: he was stuck in a dark world without justice for a hardship of over five years. Until today, the iron chain had confined his body. He could not help but feel emotions of delight and sadness at once, and in a daze, tears soon dripped from his eyes.
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[1]The word “completed” is pronounced Liancheng, the same as the Liancheng Manual. It is also called “A Deadly Secret” (the title of the novel).

[2]Confucius and Mencius are two of the most renowned Chinese philosophers in history.

[3]A watch is one of the twelve two-hour periods in a day. The first watch starts from 9 P.M. to 11 P.M. The second watch is from 11 P.M. to 1 A.M.

Chapter 3 Pale as Chrysanthemum

Di Yun followed Ding Dian out of the shop. Once Di Yun’s shackles were removed, his entire body felt much lighter and walking became a breeze; he was not used to this. Several times, his head felt heavy and his legs felt light, and he nearly toppled over. But he saw that Ding Dian’s movements were unflustered. In fact, he was even walking faster and faster, so he could not help but rush himself to keep up, in fear that they may be separated in darkness.

In a short period of time, the two of them arrived at the location where the basket of flowers was placed near the window sill. Ding Dian lifted his head up and hesitated for a long while. It seemed that he wanted to enter, yet he was unwilling. Di Yun saw that the window was shut tightly, and in the building there was no noise, he suggested: “I will go in first, alright?” Ding Dian nodded his head in agreement.

Di Yun reached the front entrance of the small building and extended his hands to push open the door, then realized that the interior of the door was bolted shut. Thankfully, the enclosure was somewhat low, so with a willow tree branch he brought it through the wall, and with a small leap, he grabbed onto the branch, and turned over his body and entered the enclosure. Inside, there was a small door that was actually unlatched. Di Yun pushed open the door and proceeded to the second floor. In the darkness he could hear nothing but the creaking sounds emitted from his flight up the stairs. His feet felt as if they were floating, giving him an eerie feeling of discomfort. In the past five years, he was used to walking only around his prison cell.

Soon, Di Yun reached the top of the stairs. He remained silent and listened carefully, but there were no sounds to be heard. In dim lightning, he saw a door on the left, so he decided to check it out. Inside the room, it was so quiet he could not even hear any breathing sounds. He faintly saw a candle standing on the table. He extended his hands to the table and could feel a knife and flint, so he ignited a fire and illuminated the candle. Under the bright light, he suddenly an indescribable sense of loneliness and misery.

The room was completely empty. With the exception of a table, a chair, and a bed, there was nothing else. On the bed hung a grass-green white curtain, a thin quilt, and a cloth pillow. Below the bed was a green pair of female shoes. There was only one pair of shoes, so whoever lived here was likely a female.

He felt expressionless for a moment, then he headed to the second room. This one did not even have a table or chair. It was just like the other room, either the furniture was recently moved, or throughout all these years it had remained empty the whole time. He went downstairs and searched each and every room in the house, but not a single person was to be found.

He felt something was wrong, and reported his findings to Ding Dian. The latter said: “You found nothing?” Di Yun nodded his head. It seemed that Ding Dian had already anticipated this ahead of time, so he did not feel the least bit surprised. Instead, he suggested that they search someplace else.

That someplace else was actually a mansion. The door was lacquered vermillion, and on top of the door hung two big lanterns pinned by a large copper nail. On one was inscribed the words “Jingzhou Prefectural Hall”, and on the other, the words “Ling Mansion.” Di Yun was taken aback. “This is the prefectural hall of Jingzhou’s magistrate. Brother Ding, what did you come here for? Do you wish to kill him?”

Ding Dian grasped him by the hand, and without saying a word, he jumped over the wall. He was somewhat familiar with the surroundings of the prefecture, he passed through the porch and over a building directly, as if he was walking around his own residence. After passing through two corridors, he arrived outside the door of the reception room. Brightness from inside the room penetrated the paper of the window. Ding Dian suddenly trembled violently and said: “Brother Di, go have a look inside.”

Di Yun pushed open the reception door and was welcomed by a dazzling candle light. On the table, two white candles were illuminated. It was actually a funeral hall. All this time he was worried that he would see a funeral hall, coffin, or dead body, and now it was right in front of him. He had already anticipated this, but still he could not resist trembling. When he focused his attention on the soul board, he saw that it was inscribed the eight words “resting place of beloved daughter Ling Shuanghua”. Suddenly, he felt a huge gust of wind blowing from behind as Ding Dian rushed in.

Ding Dian stood expressionless for a moment, then he threw himself on the table and let out a loud cry of grief. “Shuanghua, you really did go before me.”

In a split second, many thoughts erupted in Di Yun’s mind. As Ding Dian cried on the table, it served to explain all of his bizarre actions in the prison cell; Di Yun now understood the situation completely. But upon further contemplation, there were still many things that were difficult to explain.

Ding Dian disregarded the fact that he was a serious felon who broke out of prison; he did not care that he was currently at the residence of the magistrate, he only cried his heart out in sadness. Di Yun knew that there was nothing he could do to better the situation, so he only let things take its course.

After crying for a while, Ding Dian slowly stood up straight and extended his hands to uncover the curtains. Behind the curtains was actually a coffin. With both hands he hugged the coffin tightly, his face fit snugly on the lid. He sobbed and sniffled: “Shuanghua, Shuanghua, why do you have to be so cruel? Before you went, why didn’t you tell me to see you one last time?”

Suddenly, Di Yun heard the sounds of light approaching footsteps. He could sense that people were approaching rapidly from outside, and quickly said: “Big Brother, someone is coming.”

Ding Dian kissed the coffin passionately and paid no attention.

Soon, they were interrupted by a bright fire; two men entered the room holding a lit torch. One said: “Who is making such a ruckus?” The two were middle-aged men about 45 or 46, dressed in luxurious clothes, and with an essence of valiance on their faces. He gave a glance at Ding Dian and asked: “Who are you? What are you doing here?”

Di Yun’s heart became filled with rage, and he countered: “And who are you? What are you doing here?”

The man holding the torch reprimanded: “Little thief, this man is the magistrate of Jingzhou. You have some nerve to come here in the middle of the night, are you trying to start a rebellion? Kneel before him!” Di Yun laughed grimly and did not make a move.

Ding Dian wiped his tears and asked: “When did Shuanghua pass away? What disease did she contract?” His voice was completely at peace.

Magistrate Ling glanced at the speaker and replied: “Oh, I know who it is, it is Hero Ding. My daughter has unfortunately passed away. Thank you for your condolences and expressions of sympathy. My daughter has already passed away for five days; the physicians could not identify the cause of death and could only say it was an accumulation of sadness and difficulties.”

“So now your desires have been fulfilled,” remarked Ding Dian angrily.

Magistrate Ling sighed. “Hero Ding, you are indeed very stubborn. If you had spoken out much earlier, my daughter would not have died. In fact, you would be my son-in-law, wouldn’t that be great?”

Ding Dian said loudly, “You claim that I caused Shuanghua’s death? You’re telling me it wasn’t you who caused her death?” As he said this, he moved forward one step towards the magistrate, his eyes full of cruel and vicious intent.

Magistrate Ling remained unflustered and shook his head in discord. “It has already happened, why speak of it further? Shuanghua, Shuanghua, under the nine springs[1], you probably fault your father for not forgiving you.” He slowly approached the soul board. He leaned against the table with his left hand and wiped his tears with his right.

Ding Dian replied densely, “Suppose that I kill you today, then in heaven, Shuanghua will most certainly not forgive me. Ling Tuisi, out of respect for your daughter, the torture you gave me for the past seven years, today, I will write it off with one stroke. Henceforth, if you harass me any further, don’t fault the one with the surname Ding for being heartless. Brother Di, let’s go.”

Magistrate Ling sighed: “Hero Ding, today we have come to such a conclusion. Tell me, what good does it bring?”

Ding Dian replied: “In the clearness of the night, console your heart and ask yourself if you feel a little ashamed. You long for nothing but ‘A Deadly Secret’, and you are even willing to sacrifice your beloved daughter.

Magistrate Ling said: “Hero Ding, don’t be in a hurry to leave. You are better off reciting the secrets of the sword manual, and I will grant you the antidote, else you may perish.”

Ding Dian was shocked. “What antidote?” At this time, he suddenly felt that his cheeks, lips, and palms became numb, and at the same time, he could smell a dull fragrance of flowers. Such fragrance of flowers, such fragrance of flowers… he felt alarmed and furious, his body began to shake violently.

Magistrate Ling said: “I was afraid there would be an unworthy fellow that would disturb my daughter, so…”

Ding Dian came to a realization and shouted in anger, “You smeared poison on the coffin? Ling Tuisi, you are very malicious!” He got up and tried to attack with a fist, but he did not expect that the poison was indeed so powerful, that at that moment his entire body felt weak and his bones felt crushed, he could not unleash the power of the Heavenly Glow.

Magistrate Ling Tuisi dodged the attack, his movements somewhat nimble. From this time, four men entered wielding swords and sabres, all aiming for Ding Dian at once. Ding Dian raised his left leg and kicked the wrist of the man on the left. Usually this kick would be extremely remarkable, and the sabre on the person’s hand should be kicked out, but during the kick, he felt that his entire body was weak and could not release any strength, he suddenly became stagnant. It turns out that the toxicity had reached his legs. The man turned over the back of his sabre and with a bang hit Ding Dian hard on his upper leg. Ding Dian’s bone felt shattered as he fell on the ground.

Di Yun was alarmed. He was frightened and did not have any time for contemplation. He decided to jump at Ling Tuisi, thinking that he could possibly hold him as a hostage in order to save Ding Dian. But he did not expect that Ling Tuisi unleashed an attack with his left palm, and with a loud cry hit him hard on the chest. The technique and strength of this palm was quite impressive. Di Yun had long pushed aside any considerations for the value of his own life, and without hesitation he continued his assault. It was quite obvious that the palm of Ling Tuisi had directly stroke Di Yun in the chest, yet the latter disregarded it. Ling Tuisi did not realize that his opponent actually wore a valuable dark silkworm vest underneath that protected his body. Even though Ling Tuisi’s martial arts were formidable, he became flustered. With his left hand, Di Yun stroke the “Shanzhong Acupoint” on his opponent’s chest.

Following this stroke of success, Di Yun approached Ding Dian immediately and carried the latter on his back, while with his left hand he continued to hold Ling Tuisi by his acupoint. The four armed men were in a scruple, uttered profanities, but did not dare to act rashly. Ding Dian demanded: “Throw the torch away and blow out the candle.” The man holding the torch did not dare to object, and in an instant the funeral hall turned pitch black.

With his left hand, Di Yun grabbed Ling Tuisi by the chest, and with his right hand he helped support Ding Dian, and they quickly backed away. Ding Dian gave directions, and not before long they arrived beside the door of the garden. Di Yun kicked open the door, and emanated a forceful punch on Ling Tuisi’s “Shanzhong Acupoint”, then he grabbed Ding Dian and ran away. In the darkness they urgently rushed out of the scene.

Di Yun had already studied the Heavenly Glow Sutra for two years. Even though it may not be said that he had any significant accomplishment, his internal energy was not superficial. When he punched Ling Tuisi in such anger and haste, he actually released quite a lot of force. It happened to hit his opponent exactly on a crucial acupoint on his chest. After Ling Tuisi was hit, he uttered a melancholic groan and fainted. His bodyguards were startled and could only think about rescuing their master, and abandoned the thought of chasing the two assailants.

Ding Dian felt his arms and legs become more and more numb, yet he was still fully conscious. He was quite familiar with the surroundings of Jiangliang county in Jingzhou, so he gave directions to Di Yun, turning left and turning right. Not before long they distanced themselves from the noisiness of the city, and soon arrived at an abandoned garden. Ding Dian said: “The Ling Prefecture will most certainly give an order to block the city gate so as to increase vigilance and interrogation. My poison has become quite cumbersome so I can’t leave the city. This abandoned garden has often been said to contain ghosts, so no one will dare to come. We will take refuge here first and discuss later.”

Di Yun helped escort him under a plum tree and said: “Brother Ding, what poison have you contracted? Is it curable?”

Ding Dian sighed a few times and laughed bitterly. “It’s no good. I contracted the acute poison of the ‘Golden Ripple Flower’, and under heaven there is no antidote that can cure me. However long I can endure, I will endure.”

Di Yun was taken aback, his entire body degenerated into a cold system. He trembled: “What? Are... are you joking?” Deep in his heart he knew that Ding Dian was not joking.

Ding Dian said: “The toxicity of the ‘Golden Ripple Flower’ of Ling Tuisi is extremely lethal. Hehe, in the past I only sniffed it a few times, and I passed out instantly. This time it has entered my flesh, how do I have any chance?”

Di Yun replied: “Brother Ding, don’t... don’t be sad. Stay strong... alas... when it comes to relationships, I... I am the same, there is no method to that... you should think of a way to cure your poison first... I will fetch some water for you to cleanse.” In his heart he spoke in haste, so what he regurgitated was rather nonsensical.

Ding Dian shook his head. “It’s no use. Should the poison of the ‘Golden Ripple Flower’ be washed, my flesh will instantly swell and necrose, I will die an even more painful death. Brother Di, I have many things I want to say to you, don’t be rushed and muddled. If you become disorderly, I may leave out by mistake any important things I need to say. There’s not much time left, I must speak, allow me to sit here in peace, and don’t interrupt my speech.”

Di Yun could only sit by his side, but in his heart how could he find any peace or quiet?

Ding Dian spoke smoothly, as if he was speaking as a third person, a person who was completely irrelevant to him.

“I am a citizen of Jingmen. I come from a family of martial artists. My father could be considered a reputable fellow in Lianghu[2]. My potential for martial arts was also decent. Besides learning from family traditions, I also had two teachers. Afterwards, my parents passed away, and I was left with a decent fortune. I did not want to speak of marriage and only focused on my martial arts, and made some friends in the realm.

“That was 15 years ago. I traveled by ship to Sichuan province, passed the three gorges[3] of Yangtze, and the ship anchored at the town of San Dou Ping. That night, I heard fighting sounds on the ship. My whole life I was a martial arts fanatic, so naturally I was curious. I observed the battle through a window. That night the moonlight was bright, and I could see very clearly three people besieging an elder. The three men were considered well-known figures in the martial arts world of Lianghu, so I could recognize them. One was ‘Five Cloud Hand’ Wan Zhenshan. (Di Yun interrupted: “Ah, that is my martial uncle!”) The other was ‘Divine Land Dragon’ Yan Daping. (Di Yun said: “Yes, this is my second martial uncle, although I have never seen him before.”) The third one wielded a long sword, his skills were vigorous and nimble, it was ‘Iron Lock Across the River’ Qi Zhangfa. (Di Yun was startled and called out: “It’s my teacher!”)

“Wan Zhenshan and I once had the fate of several encounters, so I knew that his martial arts were not to be taken lightly. I was vastly inferior to him at the time. I saw the three of them martial brothers join forces to attack the enemy, it may be assumed that they certainly had good odds of success. The elder had already sustained an injury on his back, and was shedding blood repeatedly. Furthermore, he was unarmed and only fought against the three of them with his bare hands, but his martial arts were much superior to Wan Zhenshan and the others, so the three of them did not dare to draw near. The more I observed the more indignant I felt. I saw that every move unleashed by Wan Zhenshan and the others were filled with murderous intent, it was evident that they wanted to kill the elder. I did not dare to speak out, fearing that they would notice me, then disaster would impede upon me. In the realm, when animosity and murder were seen by onlookers, it was often the case that they too would be killed.

“After fighting for half a day, the back of the elder shed more and more blood, he actually could not continue battle any further, and suddenly declared: ‘Very well, I will hand it over to you!’ He extended his hands to fish out an object from his bosom. Wan Zhenshan and the others all rushed forward at once, seemingly afraid that any other person would vie for the object first. All of a sudden, the elder pushed both palms forward. The three martial brothers were extorted by the elder’s palm energy, and they all retreated at once. The elder turned around and rushed, and with a splash he jumped into the lake. The three men shouted in alarm and hurried to the river bank.

“The Yangtze River pours down from the three gorges, how rapid is the current of the river in San Dou Ping? In merely a flash, the elder was nowhere to be seen. But your teacher refused to reconcile. He jumped on my boat, seized the bamboo paddle, and in a burst scattered around the river. The three men caused the death of the elder, they should have been delighted, but all three of them appeared dreadful. I did not dare to look too much, and covered my head in the quilt. I could hear the faint sounds of their bickering; they seemed to be blaming each other.

“I listened as they walked very far away before I dared come out of hiding, when suddenly above the trees a loud cracking sound was heard. The helmsman yelled: ‘Ah! There are water ghosts!’ I turned my head to look, and all I could see was a person drenched in water lying on the floor of the plank, it was in fact the elder. It turns out that after he jumped into the river, he swam beneath the ship, then he used a strong eagle claw attack to hook onto the bottom of the ship, focused on his breathing, and waited until his enemies left before he resurfaced. I quickly helped him inside the ship. I saw that his breathing was faint and he could not speak.

“I thought that if Wan Zhenshan and the others did not drop the matter, they would most certainly go underwater to look for the corpse of the elder. But I had a sense of justice and wanted to save his life, so I ordered the boatman to steer upstream against the three gorges. Naturally, the boatman was unwilling, and in the middle of the night another labourer was nowhere to be seen, else how hard could it be to travel up the three gorges? But nevertheless, money will make the devil turn millstones.

“I happened to carry some pain relief medicine, so I helped the elder treat his injury. But the wound on his back was caused by a very deep stab of the sword, it even pierced his lungs, hence the injury could not be recovered. I could only try my best and did not ask him anything. I saw with my very own eyes how he leaped into the river and dove beneath the ship. Such courage and martial arts was worthy of me risking my life for him.

“After three days of treatment, the elder asked for my surname, gave a bitter laugh and said: ‘Very good, very good!’ and from his bosom produced a paper bag and handed it to me. I said: ‘Where are the relatives of elder? I will certainly bring you to them without neglect.’ he elder replied: ‘Do you know who I am?’ I replied: ‘I don’t know.’ He said: ‘I am Mei Niansheng.’

“Naturally, my state of shock was no small matter, why? Don’t you feel odd? Do you know who Mei Niansheng is? He is ‘Iron Bone Ink Calyx’ Mei Niansheng. Do you really not know? (Di Yun shook his head and said: ‘I have never heard of this name.’) Hehe, right, naturally your teacher would not speak of such matters with you. ‘Iron Bone Ink Calyx’ Mei Niansheng was a renowned pugilist in the martial arts world of Hunan. He had three disciples: the eldest disciple was named Wan Zhenshan, the second was named Yan Daping, the third was named... (Di Yun interrupted in shock: “Ding... Brother Ding... what... what did you say?”) The third disciple was named Qi Zhangfa. When I heard him declare that he was Mei Niansheng, that amount of shock, was no less than how shocked you are at this instant. With my very own eyes I saw the intense battle during the night of the bright moon, I saw the vicious antics of Wan Zhenshan and his martial brothers, I felt even more horrified than you.

“Elder Mei gave a bitter laugh, shook his head and said: ‘My three disciples are most vicious, they stabbed me while I was caught off guard, your elder I had no choice but to jump into the river to flee.’ (Di Yun trembled: “What? Did my teacher really strike first?”) I didn’t know what to say to comfort him. In my mind I thought that there must be a very strong reason why the four of them became enemies. But I am an outsider; even though I was curious, it was not my place to ask. Elder Mei continued: ‘My only relatives in this world are my three disciples. They wanted to take one of my swordplay manuals, but they do not have the mnemonics to go with it, what good is it then? Even though Liancheng Swordplay is miraculous, how can it compare to the Heavenly Glow? This Heavenly Glow Sutra, I will give it to you, may you practice it well. If this sutra were to be mastered, the power is unthinkable. Do not pass it to any evildoer.’ And that is how I got my Heavenly Glow Sutra.

“After Elder Mei spoke these words, he passed away no longer than four hours later. Amidst the three gorges I buried his body in the river. At that time I did not realize that ‘A Deadly Secret’ was of such great significance. I only knew that it was a greatly sought for sword manual in his clan, hence I did not consider to keep anything hidden. In front of Elder Mei’s tomb I established a stone tablet and marked the words ‘The tomb of the Hero of Lianghu, Elder Mei.’ Who would have thought that that stone tablet would cause me so much trouble in the future. Someone had tracked down through the clues of the stone tablet the whereabouts of the stone craftsman and the boatman. Eventually, they figured that since I was the one who established the tablet and buried Elder Mei, I was the most likely person to have all of Elder Mei’s valuables that he carried.

“After no more than three months, a grand visitor from the realm arrived at my residence. That person had considerable manners, but he mumbled and was not to the point. Eventually, he revealed his true intentions; he said that there was a large map of a treasure deposit that Elder Mei kept with him, and declared that I was the one who took it. He asked me to take it out so we could both analyze it in detail. If we successfully find the treasures, I would get seven-tenths of it, while he would get three-tenths.

“Elder Mei only gave me a precious internal energy sutra. He also recited several sword mnemonics, he called it something like ‘A Deadly Secret’, but it was only several numbers with no other meaning, from where could there be a treasure map? I told him everything truthfully, but the man refused to believe me, and insisted that I hand over the martial arts manual. Elder Mei warned me repeatedly not to transfer it to any evildoers, so naturally I did not tell him anything. The man left in haste. Three days later, he ventured into my residence in the middle of the night and fought with me. I wounded him in the shoulder and he retreated in defeat.

“Soon the word spread, and more and more people came to me. I could not handle so many of them. Eventually, even Wan Zhenshan came. I remained at my home in Jingmen and did not dare to go out. Eventually, I had no choice but to conceal my identity and ran as far away as I could. I reached a ranch outside the pass and began working a business trading beasts. And with that five or six years passed, I could no longer hear any news. In my heart I deeply wished to return to my family, so I changed my attire and returned to my home in Jingmen. Who would have guessed that the house had long been burned to the earth, luckily I did not have any close relatives, so this actually turned out to be a complete stop.”

Di Yun’s mind was perplexed, he wanted to not believe it, but Brother Ding had never told a lie to him before. Furthermore, he was as close friends with him as blood brothers, what need is there to fabricate a lie to deceive himself? Was it possible that the honest and sincere teacher that he respected so greatly, was in fact a sinister and malicious fellow?

He saw Ding Dian’s face began to tremble violently, it seemed that the toxicity was spreading. Di Yun said: “Brother Ding, my relationship with my teacher and grand-teacher, there is no hurry to investigate. You... should think carefully, what can liberate you from your poison?”

Ding Dian shook his head and replied: “I told you not to interrupt, now listen closely.

“Those events took place over nine years ago. On the first third of the ninth month, I reached Hankou and sold an old ginseng that I had brought from outside the pass to the drug store. The owner of the drug store was an elegant man, after we completed our business, he invited me to observe the famous Chrysanthemum Association in Hankou. This Chrysanthemum Association had an impressive breed of flowers indeed. The yellow chrysanthemums included golden Chinese peonies, yellow crane plums, yellow imperial gowns, golden peacocks, golden lamps, and yellow warbler feathers. The white chrysanthemums included jade peonies, jade carvings, jade fine jewelleries, snow regiments, Diao Chan’s respects to the moon, and liquid lotuses. The purple chrysanthemums included double flying swallows, red silks, purple jade lotuses, amethyst cups, and cornelian plates. The red chrysanthemums included red beauties, red oceans, drunk consorts, rouge fragrances, lychee brocades, red apex cranes, diluted red Buddhist humbles, red powder regiments, peach blossom chrysanthemums, Xi Shi powders, beautiful red peaches, jade springs...”

Ding Dian casually cited every type of chrysanthemum variety with ease. It seemed that he understood flowers even more profoundly than he did martial arts. Di Yun felt surprised and strange, but then he recalled that Ding Dian was a flower lover, thus the fresh flowers of Lady Mei outside the window sill of the prison never stopped changing. So knowing such a huge variety of chrysanthemum flowers was not anything out of the ordinary.

As Ding Dian talked about the names of flowers, from the corner of his mouth, one could make out faint smiles. His expression was gentle, and he spoke softly: “On one side I observed, on the other side I praised, and recited the various names of the chrysanthemums present. After I thoroughly observed all the flowers and left the garden, I said: ‘This chrysanthemum association is truly remarkable, unfortunately there are no green chrysanthemums.’

“Suddenly from behind me I heard the voice of a young girl. ‘My Lady, this man too realizes the existence of green chrysanthemums. The ‘Spring Water Jade Ripples’ and ‘Jasper Wishes’, how could normal people have access to these prestigious flowers?’

“I turned my head and saw a young girl of otherworldly delicacy. She wore a tender yellow garment; it was truly a case of being as pale as chrysanthemum. In my whole life, I have never seen such an elegant and exquisite lady. Following her was a servant girl around 14 or 15 years old. When the lady saw me stare at her with such attraction, her face instantly blushed red, and spoke in a low voice: “Sorry Mister, please don’t fault us, my servant girl only spoke out casually.’ At that moment I was too mesmerized to muster up any reply.

“I watched as she slowly left the garden, but I could not bring myself to speak up. The owner of the drug store said: 'That is the lady of the Ling academics from Wuchang[4], she is indeed a famous beauty of Wuhan. The flowers and plants in her residence are truly remarkable.’

“After I left the garden and departed with the owner of the drug store, I returned to the inn. Besides being clouded by thoughts of Lady Ling, nothing else could enter my mind at that moment. By afternoon, I crossed the river to Wuchang, asked for directions, and made my way to the Ling Prefecture. But supposing that I simply go in to pay a visit, that would seem much too brash. I began to stroll back and forth outside the front door. My mind was a complete mess. I felt happy yet nervous, and I began to scold myself. At that time I was not considered a young man, yet I was no different than a little child falling in love for the first time, I turned into a clueless housefly.”

As he said this, his face turned to a light complexion, his eyes turned bright and he seemed to be excited.

Di Yun felt afraid, he was worried that Ding Dian would not be able to endure, and said: “Brother Ding, you should have a good rest for now. I will seek a physician to diagnose you, it may not be certain that this poison is incurable.” As he said this he stood up.

Ding Dian grabbed him by the sleeve and said: “If we go out searching for a physician looking like this, isn’t that just seeking our own death?” He paused for a moment and continued to speak. “Brother Di, that day when you heard that your martial sister was getting married, you were so sad that you decided to hang yourself. Your martial sister shows no love or respect for you, it is not worth dying for her.”

Di Yun nodded. “You are right. Over the years, I have come to realize this.”

Ding Dian said: “Suppose that your martial sister loves you deeply, and ended up dying for you, then, you too should die for her.”

Di Yun suddenly came to a realization and asked: “Did Lady Ling die for you?”

Ding Dian replied: “Correct, she died for me, and at this moment I wish to die for her. I... I feel happy inside. She loves me tenderly, I... I also treated her well. Brother Di, not to mention the fact that my poison is incurable, even if it was curable, I do not wish to be treated.”

All of a sudden, Di Yun felt a feeling of bitter sadness that was hard to describe. At that point he felt pain knowing that his companion would soon pass away, but deep in his heart he actually admired his happiness, because somewhere in this world once existed a woman who loved him sincerely and was willing to die for him, and he was willing to reciprocate this action. But what about himself? What about himself?

Ding Dian once again immersed himself in his memories and continued: “The front door of the Ling Prefecture was coloured vermilion, and in front stood two majestic stone lions. I am a man from the realm, how could I just venture inside? I stood guard outside for over six hours until nightfall. I didn’t even know what I was hoping for.

“The sky was getting dark, yet I did not think about leaving. All of a sudden, from the small side door out came a young lady. She slowly approached me and spoke softly: ‘Fool, you are still here? My Lady requests that you leave.’ I looked closely and recalled that this was the servant girl of Lady Ling. My heart was bouncing all over my chest, and stammered a reply: ‘What... what did you say?’

“She laughed and replied: ‘My Lady and I made a bet on when you would leave. I already won two silver rings, won’t you leave?’ I was startled and delighted and replied: ‘Your Lady already knew that I was here?’ The servant girl laughed again, ‘I have already come out several times, but you never saw me once. Your soul wasn’t even in your body, am I right?’ She laughed again, turned around and began to walk away. I quickly said: ‘Sister!’ She said: ‘What? What do you want?’ I replied: ‘From what I heard, inside the prefecture there are several basins of rare green chrysanthemum. I want to take a look, would that be alright?’ She nodded her head, and pointed her finger at a red building near the garden behind the prefecture, and said: ‘I will ask my Lady, if she agrees, then she will place the green chrysanthemums on top of the window sill of the red building.’

“That night, I sat on the slate outside Ling Prefecture. On the morning of the second day, Brother Di, I was blessed with good fortune, for two basins of pale green chrysanthemums really did appear on top of the window sill. I knew that one pot was called ‘Spring Water Jade Ripple’, while the other was called ‘Jasper Wishes’, but the only thing on my mind at the time was the person who put the flowers there. At that moment, I could see the most beautiful face stealthily half-exposed behind the curtains. She gave me a glance, then all of a sudden her face flushed red and she hid herself behind the curtains and did not reappear.

“Brother Di, your brother I am grotesque in appearance. I am neither rich nor noble. I am nothing more than an uncultivated man from the realm, how could I dare to hope for any beautiful woman to appreciate me?From that day onward, every morning I would go to the garden of the Ling Prefecture and stare at the Lady’s window for half a day. Lady Ling seemed to remember me, because every day she would change a new basin of flowers and put it on the window sill.

“That was how six months passed. Regardless of wind or rain, frost or snow, I would go every morning to admire the flowers. Lady Ling reciprocated and changed the flowers regardless of the weather. Every day she would only give me only one glance and never a second. And every time she looked at me, her face would blush bright red. As long as I could see her fluid glance and her rosy red cheeks, I was perfectly satisfied. She never spoke to me, nor did I dare to speak out. The truth was with my martial arts abilities I could have easily leaped to the window and approached her directly, but I did not once dare to have any irreverent ideas. Even more, I did not dare to write a letter to her to express my sincerity.

“On the night of the fifth of the third month of that year, two monks visited my residence and suddenly attacked me. They received relevant information and wanted to steal the Heavenly Glow and sword manual. They were two of five monks from the ‘Blood Sabre Sect’, one of which I took care of in prison, which you saw with your very own eyes. However, at that point in time I had not mastered the Heavenly Glow, hence my martial arts were not comparable to theirs. As a result I was wounded greatly by the two fearsome monks and nearly lost my life. I hid in a barn fodder and managed to get away.

“That wound was indeed not minor, for it took me a full three months to even generate enough strength to get up. I got out of bed with the support of crutches, and made my way to the garden of the Ling Prefecture, but I all the scenery was gone. I inquired and found out that the Lings had moved three months ago. To where they settled, I did not know.

“Brother Ding, think about it: my disappointment back then was much greater than the injuries I sustained right now. I felt something strange, for I knew that Magistrate Ling was a renowned figure in Wuchang—if he really moved, there was no way that nobody would know where. I inquired and investigated thoroughly from the east to the west, spent a lot of money and energy, yet I still did not have the slightest clue. There was definitely something fishy about it. Clearly, Magistrate Ling was hiding from his enemies, perhaps there was a special reason that they would so suddenly migrate without a trace. The coincidence was that they moved at the same time as I sustained injuries.

“From that point onward no matter what I did I could not set my mind on it, and I wandered around the depths of the realm. Thankfully, I was blessed with good fortune, for one day in a teahouse at Changsha, I overheard a discussion between two clan members. They were talking about heading over to Jingzhou to seek Wan Zhenshan to ask him to hand over the ‘Liancheng Swordplay.’ I thought that on that day, Wan Zhenshan and his martial brothers murdered their teacher for this very sword manual. In regards to what the manual looked like, there was no harm in looking, hence I followed the two men to Jiangling[5]. Those two clan members really overestimated their capabilities; they headed to the Wan residence and were all captured and sent to the government office in Jingzhou. I decided to follow the crowd. I saw in front of the office was taped a big notice, it was truly a joy from heaven. It turns out that the magistrate was not a stranger, but in fact Lady Ling’s father, Ling Tuisi.

“That night, I secretly held on my hands a basin of roses. I placed it on the window sill of Lady Ling’s residence and waited patiently below. The following morning, the lady opened her window and saw the basin of flowers. She cried out in alarm. Then she saw me standing outside. We hadn’t seen each other in well over a year, and thought that we would not be fortunate enough to see each other ever again. To meet again after such a long period of separation, the joy I felt was truly indescribable. She looked towards my direction for a moment and her face blushed red, then she swiftly shut the window. On the third day, she finally spoke out and asked: ‘Have you fallen ill? You grew a lot thinner.’

“From that point onward, I no longer felt human, I felt like a celestial being from heaven. In fact, even a celestial being would surely not be as happy as I. Every day in the middle of the night, I would head upstairs and invite Lady Ling outside, and together we travelled around the landmarks of Jiangling. Never once did we do anything inappropriate, but there was nothing that we did not talk about. We were closer than the most intimate of friends under heaven.

“One night, Lady Ling revealed a great secret to me. Even though her father was a successful candidate in the imperial civil service examination and was a magistrate, he was actually the leader of the Raspy Dragon Sect in Lianghu. Not only was he outstanding in literature, he was also an impressive martial artist. I respected Lady Ling like a deity, so naturally I also respected her father, hence I did not think much of it.

“On another night, Lady Ling told me that there was an intricate reason why her father did not remain as an imperial secretary, and rather spent many thousands of taels of silver to request to be a prefectural magistrate in Jingzhou. It turns out that from the history books he figured out that in the grounds of Jingzhou was buried an immense treasure.

“Lady Ling said that during the time of the Six Dynasties, Emperor Wu of Liang died in a rebellion. Emperor Jiangwen of Liang took the throne but too fell in the hands of the rebel Hou Jing[6]. His successor, King Xiaoyi of Xiangdong, relocated to Jiangling and became Emperor Yuan of Liang. Emperor Yuan was weak and incompetent, and took a liking in gathering precious valuables. In the three years that he was emperor in Jiangling, the treasures he extorted were countless. On the third year of the Chensheng era[7], Wei soldiers broke through Jiangling and killed Emperor Yuan, but no one knew the location of the treasures he extorted over the years. The Wei marshal Yu Jin flogged and murdered thousands of people trying to find the whereabouts of the treasure, but it was all in vain. He was afraid that the ones who knew the whereabouts of the treasure would excavate it in the future, so he murdered several tens of thousands of citizens from Jiangling all the way to Chang’an. Most were murdered or victimized, and there were practically no survivors. Over the course of several hundred years, the secret was never discovered. As time passed, there was even less of a chance that anyone would know.

“Lady Ling said that her father spent many years and investigated the government in Jingzhou as well as many different kinds of ancient books and records. He confirmed that Emperor Yuan’s treasures were buried on the ground outside the city of Jiangling. Emperor Yuan was violent and ruthless, presumably after burying the treasures, he killed anyone who knew of the secret, hence the Wei marshal could not figure out its location no matter how many innocent citizens he tortured or interrogated.”

Di Yun heard up to this point, and he began to put the pieces of the puzzle together. He said: “Brother Ding, you know the secret of the treasure deposit, am I right? So many people came to prison to seek you, presumably they must have come for the treasure deposit.”

Ding Dian gave a bitter smile and continued to speak:

“Upon hearing Lady Ling speak these words to me, I could not help but feel that her father had a heart full of greed—he was already all-rounded in literature and martial arts, and he was rich and noble. Why still seek the treasure deposit? Later I discussed with her the various peculiarities of the realm. I did not conceal from her the incident by the river where Wan Zhenshan and his martial brothers were trying to kill their teacher. I also told her about the Heavenly Glow and A Deadly Secret and so forth.

“We experienced over half a year of happy days. One day, on the fourteenth of the seventh month, Lady Ling said: ‘Ding’ge, I have told father about our relationship. We will let him decide, then we won’t have to be sneaky like this anymore...’ Before she could finish her sentence, she leaned her head against my chest. I replied: ‘You are a precious lady from a great family, I’m afraid that your father will look down on me.’ She replied: ‘My ancestors were also people from the martial world, only that my father opted to become an official, and I don’t know the slightest bit of martial arts. My father loves me more than anything. Ever since my mother passed away, no matter what I ask for, he will always permit it.’

“Once I heard her say this, I was naturally overjoyed. The next day, I was so ecstatic I could not sleep. I waited until midnight to visit Lady Ling in her residence. Her face blushed red and she said to me: ‘Father said, he will leave the decision all up to me.’ I was so happy I felt like a big silly melon, the two of us looked at each other and could only laugh heartily.

“We held hands and went downstairs, when suddenly under the moonlight, one could see in the garden several basins of particularly lovely and colourful flowers. The petals of these flowers were as yellow as gold and shone brightly. The flower looked like a lotus, but it was not as big as a lotus. The two of us both shared a great passion for flowers, so immediately we went to admire them. Lady Ling felt strange, for she had never seen this type of yellow flower before. We both got closer to smell the flowers, we wanted to know the fragrance of the flowers...”

Di Yun heard Ding Dian recount his past events. Under the moonlight, holding hands and admiring beautiful flowers with the one you love, such an ordeal must have been far greater than even the most pleasant of experiences endured by celestial beings from heaven. However from his intonation, one could sense a gloomy and terrifying side to it. Di Yun listened so attentively that he could not breathe easily, as if there were really evil spirits who wanted to possess your body in the abandoned garden. All of a sudden he thought of a name, and declared: “Golden Ripple Flower!”

Ding Dian uttered a faint and bitter smile from the corner of his mouth. After a while, he said: “Brother, your intelligence is not low. In the future when you wander around the realm by yourself, you should not be at a disadvantage, then I will be at ease.”

Upon hearing these words full of concern and friendship, Di Yun’s eyes could not help but brim with tears of excitement. He said angrily: “That dog official from Ling Prefecture, he... he... if he doesn’t want to betroth his daughter to you, then so be it. Why set up such a vicious ruse to harm you?”

Ding Dian said: “At that time how would I have guessed? Even more, how would I know that the beautiful yellow flower was in fact the fully toxic ‘Golden Ripple Flower?’ The two words ‘Full Ripple’ are Sanskrit for ‘demon’. The toxic flower originated from Tianzhu; the citizens of Tianzhu call this flower the ‘Demon Flower.’ As soon as I sniffed the fragrance of the flower, I felt dizzy. I only saw Lady Ling dazzle and faint. I tried to extend my hands to assist her, but I could barely keep my own balance. Immediately, I began to channel my internal energy to harmonize my body to resist against the poison, when all of a sudden from the shadows appeared several men wielding bladed weapons. I fought several stances with them before my vision turned pitch black. After that I don’t know what happened.

“When I woke up, my hands and feet were shackled and my scapula was pierced. Magistrate Ling wore informal clothing and initiated a court trial in the flower hall. Accompanying him were not feudal tenants of the prefecture but were members from his clan. I was obstinate and yelled and screamed. Magistrate Ling ordered men to give me a fierce beating. He wanted to force me to hand over the Heavenly Glow and sword manual.

“What happened after that, you already know. On the fifteenth of every month, Magistrate Ling will order his men to give me a vicious beating, to coerce me to hand over the martial arts and sword manual, but I never once conceded. He was indeed a very patient man.”

Di Yun asked: “What about Lady Ling? Why didn’t she devise a plan to save you? And after you completed the martial arts of the Heavenly Glow, you could have left prison at any time. Why didn’t you go and have a look? Why did you remain in prison until she died?”

Ding Dian’s mind suddenly suffered a burst of violent giddiness, his entire body felt like it was floating in the air, dancing in the breeze. He extended his hands and began to scratch frantically for support. Di Yun extended his hands to help him. Ding Dian became startled and repelled him, and said: “My hands are poisonous, don’t touch it.” Di Yun could only feel sorry inside.

Ding Dian fainted for a while, then gradually regained consciousness. He asked: “What did you say earlier?”

Di Yun suddenly remembered what he wanted to say. “Brother Ding, have you ever considered, that Lady Ling was subjected to her father’s injunction, and deceived you deliberately, she wanted to...”

Ding Dian interrupted him with a loud shout. “Bullshit!” With a fist he wanted to hit Di Yun. Di Yun knew that he spoke without discretion and did not defend himself; he was willing to take the hit.

But he did not expect Ding Dian to stop his fist in midair. Ding Dian stared at Di Yun for a short moment then retracted his fists and said: “Brother, only because you suffered misfortune from women do you think that all women in the world are untrustworthy, I will not blame you. If Shuanghua really was under her father’s command, and devised a sexual entrapment to try and take my Heavenly Glow and A Deadly Secret, then that would be really easy. Why would she lie to me? She only has to say: ‘Give me the Heavenly Glow and A Deadly Secret!’ Even if she only so much as implied, so much as hinted that she wanted these things, I would have given it to her right away. She could give it to her father, or give it to a beggar on the streets, she could even destroy it or burn it, I would not crease my eyebrows for even a moment. Brother Di, even though these are remarkable treasures in the martial arts world, compared to Shuanghua, in my heart, the Heavenly Glow and A Deadly Secret are nothing more than trash. Ling Tuisi claims to excel in literature and martial arts in vain, he is actually an idiot. If he told her daughter to ask for the treasures, how could I refuse?”

Di Yun said: “Maybe he once told Lady Ling about this, but Lady Ling would not agree.”

Ding Dian shook his head. “If something like that really happened, Shuanghua would never hide it from me.” He sighed a few times and continued: “A person like Ling Tuisi takes position and wealth, gold and valuables very seriously. He uses himself as a measure for others. He thinks that the rest of the world too thinks so highly of wealth and riches. He thought that if her daughter were to ask me, I would certainly refuse, but it was quite the contrary, for it actually increased my vigilance. There’s also another reason: He is an imperial secretary and a magistrate, yet her daughter in secret developed a close relationship with an uncultivated man like me. He must hate me for disgracing his family, and wants to kill me at any cost.

“After he captured me, he immediately began a search on my body, but he did not find anything. He also thoroughly searched my residence but still he could not find anything. Every month on the fifteenth, he would remind me that I would be beaten, he said every possible persuasive word he could think of, he even tried to threaten and intimidate me, but I still did not concede. He could not from my mouth extract even half a word of truth. On the contrary, I actually gained some valuable information from his interrogations. It turns out that ‘A Deadly Secret’ that Elder Mei Niansheng spoke of, is precisely used to seek out the secrets of Emperor Liang’s treasure deposits. Ling Tuisi even tried to send spies into prison and confine them with me in hopes of finding information through tactful indirect questioning. This person pretended to suffer great injustice and would consistently curse Ling Tuisi as a bad person. But right away I could already tell that that person was a fake. Unfortunately at that time I did not yet complete the Heavenly Glow, and I did not have much strength in my body, so I was not as tough as him.”

After speaking up to this point, Ding Dian let out a faint smile from the corner of his mouth and said: “You were definitely unlucky to be unjustly beaten by me in vain. If you had not attempted suicide, by now you probably would have been beaten to death.”

Di Yun said: “I was framed by others, if not for big brother...”

Ding Dian waved his left hand back and forth, he did not want Di Yun to continue. He said: “It is all chance of fate, in this world everything leads to the word ‘fate’.”

Ding Dian fixed his eyes on a certain object. Under the moonlight, amidst the debris in the corner of the abandoned garden grew a small purple flower swaying in the wind. It gave off a sense of loneliness and mournfulness. He said: “Help me pluck the flower.” Di Yun did as told and handed him the flower.

Ding Dian held on to the small purple flower and said slowly, “With my scapula pierced and my body in prison, I figured everything out. Ling Tuisi most definitely wanted to kill me. The sooner I hand over the sutra and manual, the sooner he would kill me. But if I don’t speak, he will actually not kill me, for there is always a chance that I will concede. All he can do is torture me and beat me. He wants me to suffer the depths of external pain, but he would not actually hit me in my vital areas.”

Di Yun said: “Correct. That day when I pretended to want to kill you, the gaoler actually became alarmed and did not dare to be too vicious.”

Ding Dian held on to the small flower and slowly swayed his fingers. The purple flower too began to sway in the wind. He continued:

“I was confined in prison for well over a month. I became so frustrated and anxious, I nearly went insane. One night a small servant girl approached me. It was actually the close servant girl and chrysanthemum friend of Lady Ling I had encountered from the chrysanthemum meet. She was the reason I met Shuanghua back at Wuchang. I wasn’t sure how much money Shuanghua spent to persuade the gaolers to let the servant girl see me. However, my chrysanthemum friend did not once speak to me, nor did she hand anything to me. She merely stared at me, expressionless. In the gaoler’s hands was a sharp sabre pointed it at her back. I realized that the gaoler was indeed very afraid of Magistrate Ling, so he could only let the girl see me, but would not let her speak.

“My chrysanthemum friend stared at me for a few moments, then slowly, tears began to drip from her eyes. The gaoler gave continuous hand gestures and signalled for her to leave. My chrysanthemum friend saw that in the courtyard outside the prison grew a small chrysanthemum flower. She fetched it for me and handed it to me through the iron fence. She then pointed at the window sill of the distant building outside the prison. A fresh basin of flowers was placed on top of the window sill. My heart became filled with delight, for I knew that the flowers were placed by Shuanghua as a means to keep me company.

“My chrysanthemum friend could not stay any longer and turned her back to leave. She slowly approached the exit, when suddenly from up high, an arrow was shot and pierced right through her heart. She died instantly. It turns out that Ling Tuisi was afraid that my friend would break me out of prison, so he had men prepare an ambush from the roof. A second arrow soon followed, and the gaoler too lost his life. At that time I was scared out of my wits, I was afraid that Ling Tuisi may be so harsh and unreasonable that he may even kill his own daughter. I did not dare to provoke him any further. Every time he came to interrogate me, I pretended to be deaf and mute.

“My chrysanthemum friend died for me. If not for her, how would I have survived these last few years? How would I know that the flowers on the window sill were placed by Shuanghua? However, Shuanghua never once appeared in front of me, she never once peaked from her window to give me a glance. I did not understand why. Sometimes, I even faulted her—how could she be so cruel?

“As a result, I decided to focus my attention on my training. I practiced the Heavenly Glow relentlessly, for I knew that once I complete my training, I would no longer be constrained by these iron chains. I could only hope to escape and take Shuanghua with me to a faraway place. However, the Heavenly Glow was a skill that required exquisite attention, it was not a martial arts that could merely be completed through rigorous training. Furthermore, my scapula was pierced, and my leg muscles were weak, so naturally it was several times harder for me to complete my training than anyone else. It was not until several months ago when you attempted suicide did I finally complete my training fully. I only made it through these desperate times thanks to the consolation of the basin of fresh flowers.

“Ling Tuisi tried so many tactics and techniques to try and sheath my secret. He imprisoned you together with me, it must have been part of his plan. He knows that if he sends a fake person to deceive me, it would never work, so he actually sent a truly innocent young man together with me. As time passes, I would be able to distinguish between true and false. And once I become good friends with you, I would reveal all my secrets to you. Even if he cannot find any information through interrogating me, he could more or less make you his target instead. You are young and ignorant, honest and sincere, if someone pretends to be a good person, you will easily be deceived. However all along I did not trust you, I myself was held captive, my chrysanthemum friend died unjustly, I can trust no one.

“After many years, Ling Tuisi’s position as the magistrate of Jingzhou had been fulfilled; either he would be transferred or promoted to a higher rank. After much consideration, he used money to deny his own promotion and transfer, he did not want a higher rank. All he wanted was the treasure deposit.

“You thought I never went out of prison before? As soon as I completed the Heavenly Glow, that was the first thing I did. However, before I left I sealed your lethargic acupoint, so naturally you did not know.

“I thought that as soon as I jumped over the prison wall, an intense battle was inevitable. However, after so many years, Ling Tuisi no longer maintained such strict defences, the guards outside had dispersed a long time ago. He never would have guessed that Heavenly Glow was indeed so miraculous, even after having my scapula pierced and my leg tendons cracked, I could still complete such a remarkable martial art.

“After I arrived at the window of the high building, my heart began to beat intensely. It seemed that I could remember the feelings I had during the very first time I met her in the same scenario. At last, I gathered up enough courage and knocked on the window three times, yelling ‘Shuanghua!’

“From her dreams she suddenly woke up. In a blur she shouted: ‘Dian’ge! Is it really you? Am I dreaming?’ After so many painstaking days, at last I could finally hear her voice once again. My heart was filled with so much joy I nearly exploded. I trembled in my speech: ‘Shuang’mei, it’s me! I escaped!’ I waited for her to open the window. In the past every time we met I would wait until she opened the window and waved at me before I went in, I never directly ventured into her room before.

“However I did not expect that she would not open the window, she put her face next to the window paper and spoke softly: ‘Thank the heavens and earth, Ding’ge, you are alive and well. My father did not deceive me.’ My voice became bitter and I replied: ‘Yeah, your father did not deceive you. I am still alive. Please open the window, I want to see you.’ She hurriedly said: ‘No, no! I can’t!’ My heart sank instantly, I asked: ‘Why can’t you?’ She said: ‘I promised my father, as long as he doesn’t kill you, I can never see you again. He made me swear it, if I ever see you again, my mother will be bullied by evil spirits in the other world.’ She began to choke with sobs. The year she turned 13 she lost her mother, she treated her mother with utmost respect.

“I really hated Ling Tuisi and his ruthless and cruel nature. The only reason he did not kill me was so he could get my sutra and sword manual, Shuanghua did not even have to swear such a vicious oath. He decided not to kill me, yet he still forced his daughter to pledge never to see me again. This oath turned any of my hopes into mere soap bubbles. But I refused to give up. I said: ‘Shuanghua, leave with me. You can cover your eyes with a cloth, then you never have to see me again.’ She cried and replied: ‘That doesn’t work either. I don’t want you to see me again.’

The pain and sorrow in my heart I gathered through all these years suddenly exploded all at once, I yelled: ‘Why? I must see you!’ She heard the sadness in my voice and replied gently: ‘Dian’ge, after I found out that you were captured by my father, I begged him relentlessly to set you free. However he decided to engage me to another person so as to fully end our relationship. No matter how I pleaded he would not hear of it. He forced me into submission, thereupon… thereupon… I used a knife and mutilated my own face.’”

When he heard this, Di Yun could not help but let out an “ah” in reply.

Ding Dian said: “I was grateful yet felt pitiful at the same time. With a hard palm I smashed the window with a resounding blow. She was taken aback and closed her eyes. She covered her face with her hands, but I had already seen it all. The most beautiful face under heaven had been disfigured by over a dozen vicious slashes of the knife. Her flesh could be seen, many streaks of fresh red strokes. Her beautiful eyes, her beautiful nose, and her beautiful mouth, all were crooked and mutilated; her appearance was as horrifying as a demon. I extended my hands and hugged her tightly on my chest. She was one who cared greatly for her own image, if not for an inauspicious man like myself, how would she let her face suffer even the slightest bit of damage? I said: ‘Shuang’mei, how can beauty compare to love? Your face was mutilated because of me, in my heart, you are ten times—no, one hundred times—more beautiful than you were before.’ She cried: ‘We have already gotten to this point, how can we still stay together? I promised my father that I would never see you again. Ding’ge… please… please leave!’ I knew that at this point nothing could change what had already happened, I said: ‘Shuang’mei, if I return to prison, all I can see every day are the beautiful basins of flowers you place on the window sill.’ She cried and threw herself to me and declared: ‘Don’t… don’t leave!’

“We cuddled and leaned on each other intimately, we did not speak a single word. She did not dare to look at me, nor did I dare to look at her. Of course, I did not resent her ugliness, but… but… her face was indeed damaged beyond belief. After a very long while, she distanced herself and wept. ‘Ding’ge, I cannot harm my deceased mother. You… you should never see me again.’ I asked: ‘The two of us can never see each other again?’ She cried: ‘We will never meet again! I can only hope that the two of us will be buried together after death. If there is such a kind fellow who can grant me this wish, in the netherworld I will pray to Buddha and bless that person every day.’

“I said: ‘I’ve got it. I know ‘A Deadly Secret’ is precisely the secret of the treasure deposit of Emperor Liang of the Yuan dynasty. I will tell it to you, listen closely.’ She said: ‘I don’t want to remember, why would I want to know it? My father is so obsessed with this treasure that he harmed you greatly. Ding’ge, I don’t want to hear it.’ I said: ‘You have to find an honest and reliable person. If he agrees to fulfill our wish of being buried together, then you can reveal to him the sword mnemonics.’

“She said: ‘For the rest of my life I do not want to leave this building. With such a horrifying appearance, how can I dare to see anyone?’ But after further contemplation, she replied: ‘Fine, tell it to me. Ding’ge, I want to be buried with you at any cost, even if I have to beg someone with this ugly appearance, then so be it.’ Thereupon I told her the sword mnemonics in its entirety. She listened very attentively.

“Dawn was fast approaching. We said our farewells and departed and I returned to prison. From that point on I could enter or leave the prison at will. But every day I longed to see the flowers she placed on the window, so I never wanted to leave… someone wanted to assassinate Ling Tuisi, and I actually saved him, because… because if Ling Tuisi really died, then Shuanghua would be all alone with nobody left to take care of her…”

As he said this, his voice began to reduce to nothingness.

Di Yun said: “Don’t worry big brother, if you really don’t recover from this poison, I will bury you together with Lady Ling. However I do not wish to hear these rare sword mnemonics. If you speak then I don’t want to listen.”

Ding Dian laughed and said: “You are truly a good brother, our friendship was not in vain. Since you promise to bury us together, I can die in peace. I am very happy…” The more he spoke the softer his voice became. He continued: “If you do find the treasure deposit, you do not have to hog all the riches to yourself. Instead, you can use it to assist the many miserable people in this world, people like me or you, under heaven there are plenty. But if you do not listen to ‘A Deadly Secret’ then upon my death it will disappear forever, isn’t that a shame?” Di Yun nodded in approval.

Ding Dian took a very deep breath and said: “Listen closely, I am going to tell you a few numbers, you mustn’t get it wrong.” Di Yun gave his undivided attention. Ding Dian said: “The first number is ‘4’, the second number is ‘41’, the third number is ‘33’, the fourth number is ‘53’…”

Di Yun had only begun to immerse himself when suddenly, outside the abandoned garden, approaching footsteps could be heard. Someone said: “Search inside the garden!”

Ding Dian’s face changed colors and he suddenly jumped up. Di Yun jumped up as well. From the back door of the abandoned garden approached three vicious men.
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[1]Chinese mythology; analogous to hell.

[2]Literally translates to “Two Lakes”, which refers to both Hubei and Hunan.

[3]The three gorges on the Yangtze refer to the Qutang Gorge, Wuxia Gorge, and Xiling Gorge.

[4]Wuchang is a district of Wuhan, and Wuhan is the capital of Hubei.

[5]A county in Jingzhou.

[6]Hou Jing was a general of the Liang Dynasty. He controlled the Liang imperial regime for several years and usurped the Liang throne, establishing a state of Han. He was defeated by Xiaoyi. He is one of the most reviled figures in Chinese history, known for his exceeding cruelty to enemies and civilians.

[7]The era of Emperor Yuan’s reign, 552-554 A.D.

Chapter 4 Water Spinach

Ding Dian gave a sideways glance at the three men across from him and asked: “Brother Di, do you remember the four numbers I just recited?”

Di Yun observed as their three enemies surrounded him in a circle. One of them wielded a sabre and the other wielded a sword. The third was empty-handed, but his face was filled with hatred and aggression. Di Yun looked back and forth and did not answer Ding Dian’s question.

Ding Dian reiterated his question again in a louder tone: “Brother Di, do you remember it?”

Di Yun shivered and replied: “The first number is…” He wanted to say “4”, but then he thought: “If I say it out loud, won’t our enemies hear it?” So instead he raised his left hand and held up four fingers.

Ding Dian acknowledged: “Very good!”

The sabre-wielding man sneered: “The one with the surname Ding, you can be considered an honorable man. Now that we have made it this far, why must you insist on blabbering endlessly like an old effeminate? Quickly follow me and my brothers home so we don’t have to resort to violence.”

The sword-wielding man added: “Brother Di, we haven’t seen each other for many years. How have you been? How is the comfort of prison life?”

Di Yun was shocked, as the sound of this man’s voice was awfully familiar. He stared at the man and it came back to him instantly—it was the second disciple of Wan Zhenshan, Zhou Qi. He had not seen him for many years. Di Yun could not recognize him easily, as he now grew a small beard on his upper lip and wore decorous attire. The grief and indignation he suffered for so many years suddenly rushed to his thoughts and his face flushed red. “I know who you are. You are Zhou… Zhou… Second Brother Zhou!” He wanted to utter Zhou Qi’s name directly, but instead added the respectful title of “Second Brother” to his surname “Zhou”.

Ding Dian could emphasize with how Di Yun felt and shouted: “Good!” They were about to engage in a battle to the death, yet Di Yun was still able to withhold his anger and call him “Second Brother Zhou”, hence he thought the latter could not be a violent or disrespectful man.” Immediately he continued: “This respectful Second Senior Zhou must be a high ranking disciple under Elder Wan. Very good… very good. When did you become a guard under Magistrate Ling? Brother Di, allow me to introduce: this is ‘Ten Thousand Victory Sabre’ clan’s Ma Daming, Elder Ma. This man over here is from the ‘Taixing Clan in Shanxi, his name is ‘Twin Sabre’ Geng Tianba. It is said that his iron palms are as sharp as a sabre, hence his nickname of ‘Twin Sabre’. But the truth is that he actually never wields a weapon.”

Di Yun asked: “How are the martial arts of these two?”

Ding Dian replied: “They are third class pugilists. They wish to climb to second class. However, it is a hopeless endeavour.”

Di Yun asked: “And why is that?”

Ding Dian answered: “They are only a block of material. Their martial arts aptitude is low and they do not have a renowned martial artist to teach them.”

Di Yun continued to ask questions while Ding Dian replied, paying no attention to the people around them. Geng Tianba became impatient and yelled: “You straight mother-thief! You are near the verge of death yet you gossip unnecessarily. Taste my sabre!” When he said “sabre” he really meant his palm. Before he even finished talking his right palm was already unleashed.

Ding Dian’s poison had interrupted his flow for a while and prevented him from being able to exert his full strength, so he did not dare to attack head on and tried to dodge instead. Geng Tianba’s right palm came to nothing, so he took another shot with his left palm. Ding Dian recognized that this technique was the “Changed Momentum Palm”, and hastily turned his hands over to resolve it. But the palm was already unleashed, and the force and momentum was to be reckoned with. With a loud bang, his under arm was hit by Geng Tianba’s right palm. Ding Dian’s body swayed and he spat out a mouthful of fresh blood. Geng Tianba laughed: “What’s the matter? If I am third class, what class are you?”

Ding Dian took a deep breath, then suddenly his internal began to unclog. It turns out that the poison of the “Golden Ripple Flower” had entered his bloodstream and his blood gradually began to coagulate. It flowed slower and slower. Although he had just spat out a mouthful of blood and his internal injuries were not weak, nonetheless the poison in his body came to a temporary halt. He felt pleased and immediately went forward to extend his palm to repel Geng Tianba. Geng Tianba raised his arm and blocked horizontally. Ding Dian made a circular motion with his left hand, and with a loud bang, he slapped Geng Tianba hard on the face. His right hand then followed in a circular motion and hit the top of his opponent’s head with a hard backhand. Geng Tianba yelled out “Aiya!” and rapidly moved backwards. Ding Dian continued to attack as he swiftly extended his right hand and hit Geng Tianba hard on the chest. Geng Tianba yelled out another “Aiya!” and moved back two steps.

Ding Dian’s three palms were filled with the energies of the Heavenly Glow and any single palm could have been enough to instantly kill any first class fighter. However, it was only because Geng Tianba’s external arts were formidable—his internal energy was not impressive—that he was actually able to withstand three palms without collapsing. Ding Dian knew that his death was imminent. Even though he was a man of dignity, and he was already determined to die in the name of love, at this moment he felt like he had no other alternative. He felt like a hero reaching a dead end and he could not help but feel depressed and dejected.

Geng Tianba had been hit by three palm strikes and as such he was startled and began to lose colour. He could feel immense pain on his face, chest, and top of his head. He thought that those three areas were all vital parts of the body. As he did not know how much damage he suffered, he could not help but worry.

Ma Daming gave a glance at Zhou Qi and said: “Brother Zhou, we will fight alongside each other!”

Zhou Qi replied: “Right!” He knew that he was no match for Di Yun, but he had a sword in hand while his opponent was empty-handed. Furthermore, his opponent had lost all the fingers in his right hand and his scapula was broken by iron chains. Even if his martial arts were more profound, he should not be able to unleash it. So he confidently aimed his sword and attacked Di Yun.

Ding Dian knew that Di Yun had not yet completed his training of Heavenly Glow, and at this moment his martial arts was still distant from what he was before he entered prison. To fight bare-handed against Zhou Qi would be losing his life in vain. Immediately, Ding Dian swayed his body and with his left hand he snatched Zhou Qi’s sword. This stance was executed with remarkable speed and was clearly outstanding, as Zhou Qi did not even notice as Ding Dian tapped the pulse on his right arm with the three fingers on his left hand. Zhou Qi became alarmed, as he knew that he had no choice but to let go of the weapon for the fear of losing his life. However, he did not know that the acupoint on his pulse unexpectedly went out of control. At once he swung his long sword backwards and aimed at Ding Dian’s chest. Ding Dian swayed his body and dodged and let out a deep sigh.

Ma Daming saw the battle engaged between Ding Dian, Geng Tianba and Zhou Qi. He saw that his comrades had twice gained the upper hand but did not manage to convert it to victory, and his mind began to ponder the reasoning. “Magistrate Ling said that Ding Dian was poisoned; it must be that the poison caused his strength to decrease substantially.” Geng Tianba saw that Ding Dian’s attempt at snatching the sword fell within the sight of success and he knew that his internal energy was insufficient at this moment. He thought: “The one with the surname Ding has such impressive stances, it is truly a case of the tiger falling in Pingyang[1] … no! His mother! The tiger that falls in Pingyang suffers against the dog: if I compare this prisoner to a tiger, wouldn’t that mean that I’m comparing myself to a dog?” The two of them shared the same thoughts and together they attacked Ding Dian.

Di Yun offered his assistance to Ding Dian, but the latter pushed his shoulder back gently and said: “Brother Di, please step back.” He stretched forward his left hand and grabbed Ma Daming by the neck. However, this grab only had an average amount of internal energy supporting it, so he squeezed his fingers tightly around his opponent’s vulnerable areas, hoping to take his life at any cost. Ma Daming was so scared he felt as if his soul left his body; he scurried off right away.

Ding Dian let out an obscure sigh, for he knew that his own internal energy was getting weaker and weaker. However, as his abilities were still far above that of his opponents, he could continue to hold them off for a short while. If he does not tell “A Deadly Secret” to Di Yun soon, then this secret will soon vanish from the face of the earth forever, and that would be such a pity. He said: “Brother Di, listen to me. Hide behind me and do not care about our enemies, only focus on remembering my mnemonics. This matter is extremely important and we must succeed at any cost. This is precisely the reason how your Brother Ding got to where he is today.

Di Yun complied and moved behind Ding Dian.

Ding Dian continued: “The fifth number is ‘18’…”

Ma Daming knew that Magistrate Ling issued an order for a search and arrest of Ding Dian. The reason for that was to uncover a martial arts secret that he knew, and so Zhou Qi became a guard under Ling Tuisi both for fame and fortune. He was under orders from his teacher to secretly investigate on “A Deadly Secret”. At this moment, when the two of them heard that Ding Dian said the fifth number was “18”, they became greatly intrigued and remembered it. They listened as Ding Dian continued to speak: “The sixth number is ‘7.’” Ma Daming, Zhou Qi, and Di Yun all listened well and remembered these numbers.

Geng Tianba was only under orders to apprehend Ding Dian and was unaware of anything else. He saw Zhou Qi and Ma Daming both paid close attention as they listened to the numbers “17” and “18”. He thought that Ding Dian was just mindlessly mumbling some sort of incantation. He shouted aloud: “Hey, don’t fall for his tricks!” and extended his hands to attack Ding Dian, but he was cautious as he knew that his opponent was formidable, so after one strike he backed off and did not dare to continue.

Ding Dian lost his stability and stroke forward with his legs. Ma Daming aimed his blade at Ding Dian’s shoulders. Ding Dian could only see darkness in front of him and did not know how to evade. Di Yun felt nervous as he watched. In such a desperate situation he did not know how to save Ding Dian, so he rammed his head towards Ma Daming’s chest.

Ding Dian felt faint for a moment. When he opened his eyes again he saw Di Yun and Ma Daming struggling with each other, while Zhou Qi released his sword intending to attack Di Yun from behind. Ding Dian quickly extended his left hand and two fingers and aimed at Zhou Qi’s eyes. Because he knew he was weak, he had to attack a soft spot in order to injure his adversary. Zhou Qi did not have the time to attack, and evaded to the left. Conveniently, Ma Daming attacked Di Yun’s head with his blade at the same time, and knocked him unconscious on the ground. Ding Dian shouted: “Brother Di, the seventh number is…” Before he could say anything, he had to catch his breath as Geng Tianba came at him with another palm. Ding Dian shook his head as he could see a white flash in front. Ma Daming and Zhou Qi were charging at him at the same time. Ding Dian’s body shook violently and he gasped in pain as he was stabbed by their sword and blade at once.

Di Yun screamed violently and rushed in to reinforce. As Ding Dian was gushing out blood, the poison in his system weakened briefly and he took advantage of this: with one palm he smashed Ma Daming’s left cheek, then followed through and his hand over to smash Zhou Qi with his palm. Originally, this palm was certainly going to hit Zhou Qi, but unexpectedly, Geng Tianba threw himself in front and yelled, he blocked Ding Dian’s palm with his chest. The force of this palm was enough to break all his ribs at once and he fell unconscious.

With the remainder of his strength, Ding Dian released another two palm strikes at Ma Daming, and the latter died instantly. Geng Tianba’s breathing slowly fainted. The only one who did not sustain any injuries was Zhou Qi. He grabbed his sword with his left hand and faked it at Ding Dian’s direction, then followed by aiming at Di Yun. Ding Dian pushed himself forward and hugged Zhou Qi tightly with both his arms and shouted: “Brother Di, leave quickly!” Zhou Qi stabbed into Ding Dian’s flesh several inches.

However, Di Yun was not inclined to leave alone. He threw himself at Zhou Qi’s back and choked him and said: “Let go of Brother Ding!” However, he did not realize that it was Ding Dian who got a hold of his opponent, and thought that it was Zhou Qi who did not want to release Brother Ding.

Ding Dian was slowly running out of breathe and he could not keep hold of his enemy much longer. Should he let his opponent draw his long sword and break out of his grip, Di Yun would most certainly die. He shouted: “Brother Di, do not worry about me, I won’t make it!”

Di Yun replied: “If you die, we will die together!” As he said that, he exerted all his strength to choke Zhou Qi. However, because his shoulders were previously pierced by the scapula, his muscles sustained severe damage. No matter how hard he tried, he could not make his opponent suffocate.

Ding Dian said: “My good brother, you are very honorable… I do not regret making friends with you. In regards to the sword manual… it is unfortunate I could not reiterate it fully. I am very happy… ‘Spring Water Jade Ripple’ … that basket of green chrysanthemums… ah! She placed it by the window… look at how beautiful it is… that chrysanthemum…” His voice slowly dissipated, the color of his face gradually faded, and he let go of his hold on Zhou Qi. Zhou Qi used his strength and pulled the long sword out of Ding Dian’s flesh. The edge of the blade was full of fresh blood and he quickly turned around. He was within a foot of Di Yun; he laughed maliciously and, holding his sword in his hand, aimed to stab at Di Yun’s chest.

Di Yun shouted loudly: “Brother Ding! Brother Ding!” Suddenly, his chest felt a sharp pain. He looked down and saw Zhou Qi’s long sword pointing at his chest. He heard the complacent laugh of his opponent: “Haha! Haha!”

At this moment, his mind reflected on the numerous events of his life. He remembered practicing under his master’s tutelage, he remembered his good relationship with his martial sister Qi, and how that was closely followed by the injustice he received at Wan Zhenshan’s residence and the miserable five years he spent in prison. All these various incidents came to his mind at once. Full of grief and indignation, he uttered: “I… I will take you down with me!” and extended his arms to grab Zhou Qi’s garment. Although he had not completed his training of the Heavenly Glow, he did have two years of foundation. At this moment he knew that he would soon perish, and gathered all the energy in his body to his arm, and strangled his opponent with all his might, like a pair of iron chains. Zhou Qi felt his breathing become urgent and tried to pull away, but to no avail.

Di Yun felt his increasing pain in his chest but he did not care. He used his full strength and squeezed on Zhou Qi. Whether or not he wanted to strangle his opponent to death at this moment, he did not even know, but he would definitely not release his grip on Zhou Qi. Although the long sword did not stab him further, it apparently met something that it could not pierce, and the blade actually gradually began to arch, bending slowly. Zhou Qi became worried and felt strange, he was exerting all his strength on his right arm to pull out his sword. He had intended to stab Di Yun with his long sword, but he still had another half an inch to go but the sword would not budge.

Di Yun’s eyes were filled with rage as he gazed at Zhou Qi, whose face was filled with cruelty and complacence. But it slowly became an expression of astound and fright, then gradually, it became an expression of fear and worry, before degenerating into an expression of indescribable horror.

Zhou Qi had already pierced through Di Yun, but it only pierced his flesh several inches and did not manage to cause any critical damage. He tried three times to use the inner strength in his right arm to attack Di Yun, but he still could not pierce his blade any further. Under great fright, he no longer cared about killing his opponent, he only wanted to escape. However, Di Yun’s grip on him was too strong and he could not get away.

Zhou Qi felt his right arm begin to bend, his sword hilt pressed against his own chest. The blade became increasingly curved and formed a half-circle. Suddenly, with a loud clap, the sword broke in half. Zhou Qi shouted, moved a few steps backwards and fell over himself. The two pieces of the broken sword stabbed into his stomach.

Zhou Qi fell down, causing Di Yun to fall down on top of him, while still maintaining his grip on his body with both arms. Di Yun could smell the strong scent of blood. He looked and saw tears flowing from Zhou Qi’s eyes, followed by fresh blood flowing out from his mouth, his head facing the side. Zhou Qi was completely motionless.

Di Yun was shocked; he was worried that his opponent was feigning death, so he did not dare to release his grip. However, as he felt that the pain in his chest had stopped and saw that blood was continuously flowing from Zhou Qi’s mouth, he reluctantly released his arms and stood up. He saw that two parts of the broken sword were stabbed into Zhou Qi’s stomach, only the sword hilt and edge of the sword was visible. He looked lower at his own chest and saw his outer garment was pierced and revealed the layer of black colored undergarment.

He looked at the sword wounds of Zhou Qi a few times, and looked at the wounds on his chest, and suddenly came to a conclusion: it turns out that it was the dark silkworm vest that saved his life, and consequently helped him kill his enemy. Di Yun panicked and instantly turned around and ran towards the side of Ding Dian. “Brother Ding… Brother Ding… how do you feel?” Ding Dian slowly opened his eyes, but there was no vigor or spirit in his expression. It was as if he did not even see him, or did not remember who he was. Di Yun continued: “Brother Ding… I said I will save you no matter the cost.”

Ding Dian replied softly: “Unfortunately… unfortunately the sword manual… from this point on… it will vanish… join me with… Shuanghua…”

Di Yun exclaimed: “Don’t worry! I remember… I will definitely bury you and Shuanghua together, in order to fulfill your wish.”

Ding Dian slowly closed his shut, his breathing became faint, but his lips were still moving as if he had something more to say. Di Yun put his ears by Ding Dian’s lips and vaguely heard him whisper, “The eleventh number…” but at that point there was no longer any noise; Di Yun could no longer feel Ding Dian’s breath by his ears. He extended his hand to feel Ding Dian’s chest, but there was no more heartbeat.

Di Yun already knew that Ding Dian was unlikely to survive, but it had to happen for him to truly understand that the friend he had for so many years had finally passed away. He knelt beside Ding Dian’s body and breathed constantly into his mouth. In his mind he continuously prayed: “Heaven, Heaven, if you let Brother Ding come back to life, I am willing to return to prison and never come out again. I am willing to forget about revenge… I am willing to be forever humiliated by the Wan clan’s students. Heaven… please… please let Brother Ding come back to life…” He felt with his hands that Ding Dian’s hands became stiffer as his internal temperature decreased, and realized that all of his wishes were fruitless.

At this moment, he felt inexpressible loneliness: he felt that the carefree and leisurely nature of the outside world was many times more dreadful than the prison cell, that the coming days would only be more and more difficult. He wished that he and Ding Dian could return to their prison cells and never step foot outside again. He hugged Ding Dian’s corpse and stood up, the thoughts of vast and limitless suffering and sorrow came surging to his head. He let out a very loud cry, a cry that he could no longer hold back, a cry that he no longer wished to hold back. He did not consider the possibility that such a loud cry would lure soldiers to him, nor did he consider that he could ever cry so pitifully. He only knew that he could no longer suppress the sorrow in his heart, that he could no longer suppress his cry.

When his tears dried up and his loud cries of sorrow became soft and quiet sobs, his mind became clearer, and he began to ponder: “What should I do with Brother Ding’s body? How will I bury him together with Lady Ling’s coffin?” At this point in time, there was nothing more important to him than fulfilling his promise to Ding Dian.

All of a sudden, the neighing sounds of horses were heard from the distance; about a dozen horses altogether. He heard someone remark: “Elder Ma, Elder Geng, Second Elder Zhou, have you found the escapists yet?” There were a dozen or so horses parked outside the abandoned garden.

One of the riders said: “Come have a look!”

Another said: “They won’t hide in a place like this.”

The first person replied: “How would you know?” This person dismounted his horse, his boots gnashing against the ground.

Di Yun did not want to think further. He carried Ding Dian’s body and exited through the abandoned garden’s side door. He was about to come across another door when he heard the exclamations and shouts of the riders who discovered the bodies of Ma Daming, Geng Tianba, and Zhou Qi.

Di Yun was moving around violently in Jiangling. He knew that he could not get very far while carrying Ding Dian’s body, and he knew that someone could find him at any time. But he would rather be captured, rather be tortured cruelly—he would rather be executed instantly—than abandon Brother Ding.

He ran for several hundred feet and saw on his left hand side a ramp that led to a small door; he kicked the door open and went in. What he saw inside was an enormous vegetable garden, filled with carrots, eggplants, and many other vegetables. He had been close to agriculture since childhood, but he had been separated from these fruits and vegetables for five years. Upon seeing these again, he could not help but feel a warm and intimate feeling in his heart.

He looked around all four directions, and saw on the northeast corner was a building used for firewood. Through the window he could see the pinewoods and straws that filled the room. He bent over and picked up a few carrots, then carried Ding Dian’s body into the room. He listened closely and could hear no noise around him, so he pushed the firewood aside and placed the corpse down carefully, discreetly covering it with straws. In his mind, he was still hoping: “Who can say for sure? Maybe Brother Ding will suddenly wake up.”

He peeled the skin off the carrot and took a big bite. The taste of raw carrots were sweet and spicy, the juice flowing down his throat. For five years he had not eaten a carrot. He reminisced the days of Hunan in the countryside. He could not even count how many times he and his martial sister Qi would pull out carrots in the open fields and eat them together.

He took another bite of the carrot, eating one after another. His eyes began to feel a bit moist. Suddenly, from the distance he could hear a voice. His whole body began to tremble, the remaining half of the carrot he was holding in his hand dropped to the ground. The whiteness of the carrot became contaminated with the straw fragments and dirt of the ground.

He could hear a melodious and fragile noise, calling out, “Water Spinach, Water Spinach, where are you?”

At that point he wanted to exclaim, “I’m here!” But he only uttered the word “I” halfway before he choked and swallowed it down his throat. He covered his mouth with his hands and his body trembled slightly.

This is because “Water Spinach” is his nickname. In this world, only he and his martial sister Qi knew of it—even their teacher did not know. Qi Fang told him that he was slow; honest but lacked creativity. Apart from training in martial arts, he did not know or care about anything else. She said that his heart was as hollow as a water spinach.

Di Yun chuckled slightly; he adored the “Water Spinach” nickname given to him. Every time he heard the name “Water Spinach”, his heart would fill with intense warmth and sweetness. This is because when a third person was at the scene, his martial sister would never call him by such a name. If she was calling him “Water Spinach”, that means the two of them are alone together.

When they are together, regardless of whether she was happy or sad, Di Yun felt a kind of happiness that he could not express in words. Indeed, he was a slow person who wasn’t good with words. Sometimes his expressions of slowness would cause Qi Fang to be mad, but when she called him “Water Spinach”, the two of them could not help but burst into laughter.

He remembered the time when Bu Yuan was at their teacher’s residence to deliver a message, his martial sister cooked to serve the guests. Among the foods there were chicken and fish, carrots and tofu, and a big bowl of water spinach. That night, when Bu Yuan and his teacher were drinking and discussing the recent events of the martial world, in a daze he incidentally saw Qi Fang. He saw her hold a water spinach with her chopsticks and placed it near her mouth, yet not eating it. She used her soft red lips to gently make contact with the water spinach; her eyes filled with delight. She was not intending to eat the water spinach, but rather kissing the several strips of spinach. At that time Di Yun thought: “Martial sister is happy that I am Water Spinach.”

Now in the firewood room, in his mind suddenly came a flashbulb moment; he realized the intent of her kissing the water spinach. The voice calling for “Water Spinach” sounded very much like the voice of his martial sister Qi, this much he knew. He was certain that it was not his own hallucination that caused his misjudgment.

“Water Spinach, Water Spinach, where are you?” The sound of this voice embodied a great amount of tenderness and exorbitant love. No, not only that; when martial sister Qi used to call him by this name, her voice was not only filled with friendship, intimacy, and relations, it also contained traces of willfulness, annoyance, and condemnation. Yet today’s voice of “Water Spinach” was completely filled with a deep sense of love. “She must know that I have suffered an unspeakable amount of misery and suffering throughout these years, that’s why she’s treating me nicer. That must be it.”

However, he did not dare to trust what he heard: “I am dreaming, why would martial sister be here? She has already married Wan Gui, why would she be looking for me?”

However, the voice called out again and again, each time getting louder as it approached closer: “Water Spinach, where are you hiding? You think I can’t catch you?” The voice was still filled with love and tenderness.

Di Yun began to feel all the veins in his body pop up; he began to feel short on breathe and he could not hold it anymore, his palms were filled with sweat. He got up, hid behind the straws, and peaked through the window to look outside. He saw a girl with her back turned against him, trying to look for someone. Without a doubt—with her slim shoulders and tender waists, her slightly tall but thin stature—it was definitely his martial sister.

He heard her say, “Water Spinach, why don’t you come out?” Suddenly, she turned around.

Di Yun could not believe what he was seeing. He felt a little faint. The woman in front of him was indeed Qi Fang. The jet-black yet shiny pupils, the slightly elevated nose… her face was whiter than before—unlike the rosy-color she had back at Hunan in the countryside—but this was indeed his martial sister. It was certainly his martial sister, the one he longed for in prison for so many years, the one he loved from an unreachable distance, the one he was angry at.

Her face still contained laughter as she said: “Water Spinach, will you come out now?”

When he heard this welcoming and adoring voice calling for him, he was exulted beyond control. He wanted to answer to this call, he wanted to once again see the martial sister he was thinking and longing of all this time, but when he took the first step, he remembered: “Brother Ding always told me that my honesty and honour made it too easy for me to fall into other people’s traps. Martial sister has already married the son of the Wan family, and today Zhou Qi died by my hands, how do I know she is not trying to lure me out of hiding?” As he pondered further, he did not take another step.

But he heard Qi Fang shout again: “Water Spinach, Water Spinach!” Di Yun was in a state of confusion, he thought: “The way she utters these words is filled with deep love and admiration, it is definitely not fake. Furthermore, even if she wants to take my life, I am willing to die by her hands. He decided to abandon his earlier thoughts and took a second step forward, when suddenly he heard the crisp voice of a little girl who said: “Mama, mama, I am over here!”

Di Yun was shocked; he peeked through the window sill. He saw a girl dressed in bright red approaching from the east. She was young, so her steps were careless and her movements were unstable. He heard the gentle voice of Qi Fang said: “Water Spinach, where are you hiding? Mama can’t find you.”

The little girl replied: “Water Spinach is at the garden, Water Spinach is looking at ants!”

Di Yun’s ears felt as if he heard a really sharp noise, his heart felt as if it was hit by a fist with all its might. “Is it really true that martial sister gave birth to a daughter? And she called her daughter ‘Water Spinach’? When she called for ‘Water Spinach’ she was really calling for her daughter, and not me?” Was it really the case that I stepped into the Wan residence by sheer coincidence?”

In all these years, deep in his heart he always had a wish. He hoped that one day he would discover that his martial sister did not actually marry Wan Gui, that Shen Cheng was lying to him the whole time. He never dared to tell this wish to Ding Dian, and only buried it deep inside his heart. Sometimes he would dream of this in the middle of the night, only to wake up with his heart pounding at an alarming rate. But at this point, he finally saw it with his own eyes and ears, this little girl calling her “mama”.

His vision became blurred by the tears in his eyes and he could barely make out what was happening through the window. He saw Qi Fang crouched on the ground with her arms open wide. The girl laughed as she was being embraced. Qi Fang kissed the little girl on the cheek, smiled and softly said: “Water Spinach will play by herself now, such a good girl!”

Di Yun could only see the side of Qi Fang’s face. He could see her thin and lengthy eyebrows and the curvature of her lips. Her cheeks were fuller and whiter than it was several years ago. Di Yun felt a sense of bitterness inside his heart and thought: “These last few years she has become the woman of the Wan family, naturally she no longer needs to farm by the countryside, no longer needs to be scorched and drenched by the sun and rain, of course she would be healthier and well.”

He heard Qi Fang say: “Water Spinach, don’t play anymore. Follow mama to your room.”

The little girl replied: “It’s fun here, Water Spinach wants to watch the ants.”

Qi Fang said: “No, today there are bad people outside, looking to kidnap children. Water Spinach is better off returning to her room.”

The little girl asked: “What bad people? Why would they kidnap little children?”

Qi Fang got up and grabbed the little girl by her hand and said: “Two escaped convicts escaped from prison and they are very, very bad people. Your papa went to catch these bad people. If these bad people come in, they will kidnap Water Spinach. Water Spinach, please listen to mama and go play in your room. Mama will make a doll for you, okay?”

But the little girl was hesitant, and said: “Don’t want a doll, Water Spinach wants to help papa catch bad people.”

When Di Yun heard Qi Fang call himself a “bad person”, his heart sank even deeper. At this precise moment, there were sounds of several horses approaching. Qi Fang pulled out her long sword from the sheath on her waist and went to the door of the backyard. Di Yun remained by the window and did not dare to move, for he was afraid to make noise and shock Qi Fang. No matter what he should not see his martial sister again, his heart was filled with grief and indignation that was hard for him to suppress. He had never done anything wrong, yet for no reason he received some of the greatness suffering in this world. She even declared him a “bad person”.

Di Yun saw the little girl approach the front door of the firewood room. He hoped that she would not enter the room, but the little girl for some reason unexpectedly stepped foot into the room. Di Yun hid his face amongst the straws at the back, and said to himself: “Get out! Get out!”

Suddenly, the little girl saw him. She sneaked a brief glance at his face: the facial hair that covered his face made for a frightening appearance. She was so startled she had a blank expression and her eyes were fully wide open. She wanted to cry out but did not dare to.

Di Yun knew he was in trouble, for if the little girl were to cry, he would definitely be discovered by Qi Fang. In an instant he reached forward and grabbed the little girl with his left hand, and with his right hand he covered her mouth. However, he was too slow, as the girl managed the utter an “Ah” and let out a cry. But her cry was cut half way by Di Yun when he grabbed her.

Although Qi Fang kept her attention at the outskirts of the garden, she heard the sound of the little girl’s cry and immediately turned around, but the girl was nowhere to be seen. Then as she heard the slight rustling sound of straws in the firewood room, she immediately made two big strides forward into the firewood room and saw that a man covered with fluffy facial hair and blood stains had captured her daughter, covering her mouth with one hand.

Qi Fang was so shocked that for a second she felt as if she lost her soul. Immediately, she released her long sword, aimed it at Di Yun and scolded: “Release the girl at once!”

Di Yun felt more bitterness in his heart, as if he had abandoned himself in despair. He thought: “If you want to kill me, then go ahead!” He saw her long sword approaching him but did not dodge.

Qi Fang was stunned and was afraid that she would hurt her own daughter, so she retracted her long sword. Then she repeated: “Let go of my daughter!”

Di Yun listened as she kept on demanding him to release her daughter, without any regards to their past relationship. In a fit of rage, he refused to let go of the girl, and conveniently picked up a long wooden stick amongst the wooden branches. He used it to hit the long sword of Qi Fang, then backed away one step.

As Qi Fang saw that the violent man would not release her daughter, she became more and more frightened and anxious; both her knees started to feel limp and weak. She took a deep breath and attacked Di Yun, aiming to pierce his right shoulder. Di Yun dodged the attack by moving his body, and with his right hand he wielded the wooden stick as his sword. He aimed downwards from his right shoulder and stabbed backwards.

Qi Fang was perplexed, for she felt this stance was awfully familiar. It was indeed her father’s stance of “Brother Weng Shouts Up”. However, at that moment she did not think too much of it. She lowered her head to dodge, and with her long sword executed the two stances “The Tiger’s Rapid Kick Alarms the Wind”, and “The Mountain Escapes Like a Cloth”.

The firewood room was actually very narrow and small; it was further piled up by stacks of firewood and straws. The remaining space was barely enough room for two people to cycle around, so when these stances were executed, it felt a bit unnatural and hindered.

Since they were young, Di Yun and Qi Fang had been practicing swords under the same teacher. There was not a single day where they wouldn’t be practicing swords; so naturally, these stances were executed thoroughly and without error. Upon seeing these two stances, Di Yun naturally followed through with what their teacher had taught them. He executed the stances “Falling Mud Welcomes Big Sister” and “The Horse Blows a Little Wind”. The wooden stick spread widely around the room as performed these stances.

Back in the days when these two martial siblings were practicing swords, this would be the point where Qi Fang could no longer endure. But this time when Di Yun scraped the wooden stick around the third time, his wrist felt an immense pain, and with a loud clap, the wooden stick fell on the floor. He was shocked, but then he immediately realized: “The fingers on my right hand have been sliced clean; I should never be able to wield a sword again, how can I forget?”

When he lifted his head up, he saw Qi Fang’s long sword was aimed directly within an inch of his chest. The blade of the sword did not tremble in the least, her expression shocked and dumbfounded, it was truly hard to describe. The two stared at each other intently for a very long time and neither uttered a single word. Finally, Qi Fang broke the silence and said: “Is… is it you?” Her voice sounded hoarse and astringent.

Di Yun nodded in reply, and handed over the little girl that he was holding with his left arm. Qi Fang dropped her long sword and rushed to hug the little girl, she did not know what to say. The little girl was so scared that she could not even cry. She buried her face in her mother’s embrace and no longer dared to look at Di Yun. Qi Fang said: “I… I didn’t know it was you. All these years…”

Suddenly, from outside came the loud voice of a man who shouted: “Fang’mei, Fang’mei! Where are you?” It was Wan Gui, the sound of his shouts getting more intense as he approached the direction of the vegetable garden. Qi Fang’s face instantly changed color, then she told her daughter, “Water Spinach, this uncle is not a bad person. Don’t tell your papa, okay?”

The little girl lifted her head and gave a sideways glance at Di Yun. She saw his frightening appearance and expression, and suddenly uttered a “wah” and began to cry. The man outside heard the sound of the girl’s cry, and said: “Water Spinach, don’t cry. Papa is here!”

Qi Fang gave Di Yun a look then turned around and began to walk away. She carried her daughter in her arms and pushed open the front door. Di Yun was stunned and stood there motionless. It felt as if there was a noise inside his head constantly telling him, “I might as well die, I might as well die!”

He heard the sound of the man outside, who asked: “Why is Water Spinach crying?” Di Yun wanted to move over to the window to take a look; he wanted to know what Wan Gui looks like now, but he felt as if his legs were nailed to the floor and he could not make another step.

He heard Qi Fang’s cheerful voice as she said: “I was playing with Water Spinach at the back when two horses passed through. The men on horseback wielded sharp weapons and looked extremely vicious. Water Spinach said they were bad people that wanted to kidnap her. She was so afraid she started to cry.”

Wan Gui laughed: “Those were the escaped convicts from the prefecture. Come, papa will hug Water Spinach. Papa has killed the bad people. Water Spinach does not need to be afraid. Papa has killed each and every bad person.”

Di Yun was startled. He thought: “A woman’s ability to tell lies is impressive. With the way she said it, even if the little girl claims she saw a bad person, her husband would not be suspicious. Hmph, why do I need you to lie for me? Go ahead and come get me, kill me if you want.”

He took two steps and looked out the window. He saw Wan Gui dressed in gorgeous attire, carrying the little girl and walking away. Qi Fang too leaned on his shoulders, the appearance of an affectionate family.

His martial sister has already married Wan Gui. In the past, Di Yun had considered this possibility many thousand times, but had always hoped that it wasn’t true. But at this moment, he saw this intimate family all with his very own eyes. He opened his mouth to utter “I…”, then he bent over to pick up the long sword that Qi Fang had left behind. He wanted to rush outside and engage in a duel to the death with Wan Gui. The time he spent in prison—the time he spent suffering endless injustices and miseries—was all because of this wicked man who framed him. Furthermore, the one he loved more than his own life had now become the wife of this man. At this point he no longer had any desires. Either he would go ahead and kill this man, or he would die by his blade.

But when he turned his body and bent over, he saw amidst the firewood and straws laid Ding Dian’s body. He saw Ding Dian’s eyes closed shut; the expression on his face appeared serene. He suddenly remembered: “Before he died, Brother Ding repeatedly told me to bury him together with Lady Ling. Even if I were to perish in a battle against Wan Gui, my life is not worth mentioning, but Brother Ding’s final wish would not be fulfilled.” And then he thought further: “I could beg martial sister to complete this task for me, she may be able to do it… bah! Di Yun, you insolent fool, the task you refuse to undertake on your own, you would rather let someone else do it for you? If you die now, how can you have any face to see your Brother Ding? Even if martial sister had a guilty conscience, she would still fulfill this task for you.” He thought more about it, and eventually was able to slowly suppress his desire for revenge.

However, the word “I” he uttered earlier had already caught the attention of Wan Gui, who remarked: “It sounds like there may be someone in that room.”

Qi Fang replied: “Is that so? Just a moment ago I saw Old Wang go in to move the firewood. Gui’ge, I stewed some bird’s nest soup for you, why don’t you go and eat it? Besides, Water Spinach is still crying endlessly, we should let her get some good rest.”

Wan Gui groaned and said: “The one in the room is really the chef Old Wang?” He continued to walk down the path with his daughter and wife.

Di Yun’s mind was dazed and empty, he did not know what to think. After a very long time, he scratched his head and thought: “I cannot hide in this room for very long. If the chef by the name of Old Wang really does come, then what will I do? I should secretly hide Brother Ding and then sneak out myself. When night falls, I will come back to retrieve Brother Ding’s body. Yes, that’s what I’ll do.”

However, he only took one step when his thoughts in his mind stopped him further. “Martial sister will certainly come back for me, if I leave now, I may never see her again.” “What good is it if I see her again? She has a husband and a daughter, they are one happy family. Why would she care about a heartless criminal like myself? If I see her again, wouldn’t I simply be inviting a rebuff?” “Hah, for so many years in prison, day and night I have been longing to see her just once, so how can I forfeit this opportunity today? Do I have any other wishes? Maybe I can ask her how our teacher is doing? I want to ask her, how can she like the new and hate the old, after I suffered repeated tragedies, how can she no longer care for me?” “What’s the point of me asking anyway? She won’t tell any lies, and only speak the truth. But even if she does lie, what does it matter? If she speaks the truth, I will only be hurt even more.”

His thoughts went back and forth consistently for some time. At once he wanted to leave, but he could not fully make up his mind. He was usually a straightforward person and definitely not the type who could not settle with a decision. Yet today he when he was faced with the greatest decision in his life, he did not know what to decide. He knew the risks of staying, but also knew that he would regret leaving.

As he continued to contemplate in his mind, he suddenly heard faint footsteps in the garden. This person seemed to be tiptoeing quietly. Every few steps that were taken, this person would stop before moving another few steps. This person’s movements were obvious extremely cautious as if afraid to be discovered.

As this person approached closer and closer, Di Yun’s heart beat faster and faster. He thought: “Martial sister has finally come back for me. But what does she want to say to me? Does she want to beg for my forgiveness? Perhaps she still cherishes our past relationship?” Then he thought further, “What do I have to say to her? Sigh, forget it. Forget it. She has a good husband, a good daughter, she is living a very happy life. I never want to see her again.”

All of a sudden, his heart was filled with desires of revenge. He felt ice-cold. “Originally I was just some poor folk in the countryside, supposing if I did not receive any injustice, martial sister and I would become husband and wife. Although I would be very happy, martial sister would spend the rest of her life working and exhausted, what good is that for her? If I want revenge, do I have to kill Wan Gui? Martial sister would become a widow, how can she marry me? How can she marry the one who killed her husband? For a long time she has already forgotten about me. In the past I could not compare to Wan Gui. Today, the difference is that of heaven and earth. I should forget about revenge and forget everything that’s happened. I should let their family of husband and wife and daughter live happily ever after.”

After he thought up to this point, he decided that he no longer wished to speak with Qi Fang. He turned around and reached for Ding Dian’s body when suddenly, with a ferocious roar and a loud bang, the door was kicked open. Di Yun was completely taken aback. He turned around and saw the reflection of a long sword wielded by a tall but thin man standing by the door—it was none other than Wan Gui. Di Yun took a deep breathe, then he leaned over to grab the long sword that Qi Fang had left behind.

Wan Gui appeared to be very furious. He had already known about Di Yun escaping from prison and had been feeling ill-at-ease for the whole day; now when he saw that the sword Di Yun was holding belonged to Qi Fang, he felt jealous and angry at the same time. He spoke coldly: “Hah! Meeting up in the firewood room, she even gave you her weapon. Planning to kill her own husband? I’m afraid it won’t be so easy!”

Di Yun’s thoughts were all over the place, and for a moment he did not understand what Wan Gui was saying. He thought: “Why did he come? How did he know that I’m here? Naturally, it must have been Qi Fang who told him this, telling her husband to arrest me in order to claim the rewards. How can she be so cold and heartless?”

Wan Gui saw that Di Yun did not respond, and knew that he was scared, and aimed at his chest with his long sword. Di Yun blocked with his sword, and naturally executed the stance that the old beggar taught him many years ago, “Stabbing Throat Stance”.In an instant the long sword was pointing at Wan Gui’s throat. This technique was extremely strange. In the past, Wan Gui was unable to counter this stance; now after five years, even though his martial arts has seen significant improvement, he was still unable to counter this stance.

Wan Gui was so stunned that he did not know what to do with the long sword in his hand. He would not have enough time to counter, and if he made the slightest move his opponent would have seized him at once. At this point, his life was at mercy of his opponent. He was extremely furious at this outcome and did not dare to make the slightest move. As he looked at Di Yun’s face full of dirt and facial hair, his expression of hate gradually became fear.

Di Yun was hesitant to strike him with his sword, thinking to himself: “Should I kill him or not?”

Wan Gui saw the hesitation and perplexity in Di Yun’s face. In a moment of desperation, the sword on his wrist began to tremble slightly. Suddenly, he came up with an idea and shouted: “Qi Fang, you have come!”

Di Yun heard him yell out Qi Fang loudly, and his heart was startled. He turned his head slightly to look at the side. He did not realize that he had fallen into Wan Gui’s trap. As soon as Di Yun turned his head, Wan Gui immediately lifted up his long sword and countered. Because the fingers on Di Yun’s right hand had been sliced clean, he could not maintain a good grip of his sword. As such, his sword fell out of his hands. Wan Gui was excited at this turn of events and immediately stroke forward with his sword. Di Yun dodged a few blows, and retreated to the pile of wood. He picked up one of the pieces of hard firewood in the pile and used it as a weapon and began to attack. Wan Gui too attacked, and the two weapons clashed, causing a piece of the wooden stick to be hacked off. Di Yun threw the remaining half of his stick at Wan Gui with enough force, so his opponent had to dodge it. Then he conveniently picked up another stick from the pile and attacked again.

Wan Gui saw that since Di Yun lost his sword, as long as he remained cautious he should win. Even if Di Yun uses a wooden stick as a sword and managed to hit him a few times, it would be no big deal. He remained focused and stayed sharp, then began to execute his sword stances to attack. After several stances, Di Yun let out a sharp cry as his right wrist was struck by a sword. Immediately, blood began gushing out of the wound. He no longer had any strength in his right hand, and the wooden stick fell out of his hands. Wan Gui followed through by stabbing his leg, then lifted his left foot and kicked him hard. Di Yun struggled and tried to climb back up, but Wan Gui kicked him again, this time on his cheekbone. Di Yun immediately fainted.

Wan Gui scolded, “Playing dead?” and followed through by stabbing Di Yun on his right shoulder. However, he saw that his opponent did not budge at all, and realized that he had really passed out. He thought to himself: “Magistrate Ling is offering five thousand taels of silver as a reward. If I am to capture these two prisoners, it is better off if I leave them alive. Besides, once I take them back to the prefecture, they would be extremely lucky should they be kept alive. Why should I be the one to kill them?” He gave a sideways glance and saw that the pile of straws exposed a leg. He was both startled and excited at the same time, shouting: “There’s someone in there!” He did not realize that Ding Dian was already dead, and in his excitement stabbed hard at the leg of the corpse.

Even though Di Yun was knocked out, there was a voice in his head that repeatedly shouted: “I can’t die! I can’t die! I promised Brother Ding that I would bury his body together with Lady Ling!” This thought was so intense that it caused him to quickly recover consciousness. He was bewildered and thought: “Several years ago, one night, he knocked me out cold before and my head suffered damages from his kicks.” As he slowly opened his eyes, he saw Wan Gui was about to stab at Ding Dian’s body. At this point he was not fully conscious, and did not process his thoughts clearly. But as soon as he saw Wan Gui pull Ding Dian’s corpse out of the pile of straws, he shouted: “Brother Ding!” All of a sudden, his entire body was filled with energy, and he immediately threw himself at Wan Gui’s back, with his right arm choking at his throat.

Wan Gui did not see this coming. He wanted to stab backwards with his sword, but there was no way for his wrist to curve at such an angle. He slashed with his sword but only managed to slash the pile of wood in front of him, and the lock that Di Yun had on his throat was getting tighter and tighter. When Di Yun saw that his nemesis was attacking Ding Dian’s body, he became extremely furious. This person had not only caused him a lot of injustice, but also took Qi Fang away from him. Not even mentioning that part of revenge, he was now disrespecting Ding Dian, a matter that definitely could not be put to rest.

At this point, he had no other wishes, he only wanted to strangle his opponent to death. However, he noticed that after a while, he was gradually losing energy trying to hold down Wan Gui. This was due to the fact that Di Yun had suffered numerous injuries and his wounds were bleeding. Furthermore, the strength of his wrist was being reduced significantly. He said to himself: “I only have to hold him a bit longer, then I will be able to kill him.” Soon, he felt as if he was seeing stars in his eyes; he began to feel very dizzy and faint, and eventually he lost consciousness. Although he passed out, the arm that was holding down Wan Gui did not retract. Wan Gui found it so difficult to breathe, that at the time Di Yun passed out, he too lost consciousness at the same time.

They both lied on the ground, facing each other, unconscious. It looked as if both of them were dead. However, their hearts were still beating and there was breathe coming out from their mouths and noses.

It is truly unpredictable what fate has to offer. Should Di Yun be the one to wake up first, he would immediately pick up the long sword and kill Wan Gui with one slash. However, if Wan Gui should be the one to wake up first, he would no longer have the intent of capturing Di Yun alive for the reward, as it would be too risky. He too, would end Di Yun’s life with one slash to the neck.

Anything can happen in this world. It is not necessarily the case that good fortune will come to good people, nor is it the case that bad fortune will befall on bad people. Likewise, bad people may not necessarily have good fortune, and good people may not necessarily have bad fortune. In the end, everyone has to die, but the ones who die later may not necessarily be blessed with good fortune.

But from the perspective of the people alive, from the perspective of Qi Fang and her daughter, the outcome of this battle would be extremely significant. If at this point Qi Fang were to choose, if she had to pick just one person to wake up first, who would she pick?

The two people in the firewood room remained still and unconscious; footsteps could be heard slowly approaching the room. Di Yun’s ears could hear the faint sounds of water dripping, drops of ice cold water falling on his face. He began to feel pain, followed by a feeling of intense cold, but he did not have any strength left in his body. Soon, he fell unconscious.

*****

As soon as Di Yun regained consciousness, he channelled strength on his right arm and immediately said, “I will strangle you! I will strangle you!” but he was not holding onto anything. He felt his body shook as if he was moving. He opened his eyes and saw complete darkness. He felt drops of water falling on his face, hands, and body. It turns out that it was raining.

His body was still in motion, his chest felt congested and he wanted to throw up. Suddenly, there was a boat that rowed beside him. There was a sail on the boat, so he knew for sure that it had to be a boat. He felt extremely strange: why would there be a boat beside him?

He wanted to stand up and take a good look at his surroundings, but his whole body felt weak and he was unable to move a muscle. He was lying down, facing upwards looking at the sky. He saw from the corner of his eye that there were black clouds adrift; he was no longer in the firewood room. All of a sudden, a thought came to his mind: “Where is Brother Ding?” As soon as he thought of Ding Dian, his body regained a bit of energy. His hands pushed against the ground as he got up. It turns out he was on a small boat. The small boat was at the river bank slowly floating to the heart of the river. It was night time and the sky was covered in darkness. He gave a glance at the left and right sides of the boat, but his view was pitch-black, he could not see anything at all. He felt a sense of urgency and shouted: “Brother! Brother Ding!” He knew that Ding Dian was already dead, but he could not afford to lose his body. All of a sudden, his left leg kicked on something soft. He lowered his head to take a look, and became excited. “Brother Ding, there you are!” He opened wide both arms and hugged him. Ding Dian’s body was at the side of the ship, right on the side of his leg.

Di Yun felt so weak that he could barely breathe; he did not even have enough energy to think clearly. He felt his throat was very dry, so he opened his mouth wide and let the raindrops drip to his tongue. He felt very dizzy and half asleep. With both arms he hugged Ding Dian’s body and lied there until day. The rain poured throughout the night.

The brightness of morning daylight shone on his body, and he suddenly noticed that on his thigh was wrapped around by a long cloth strip. As he became more conscious, he realized this cloth strip was used to bandage his wounds. He then noticed that his arms and shoulders were also bandaged by cloths, and he could smell the faint scent of medicine under the bandages. Last night’s rainfall caused his bandages to become moist, but he was no longer bleeding from his wounds.

“Who was the one who bandaged me? Had I not been bandaged, even if no one went after me, I would have certainly died of excessive blood loss.” In that moment he felt a burst of loneliness and suffering that he could not describe. “In this world, who still cares for me and is willing to help me? Brother Ding is already dead, who else would want me alive in this world? Who would trouble themselves to help bandage me?”

He looked closely and saw that the bandages in his body were not applied neatly, it seemed as if the person who bandaged him was in a great rush. However, the bandages were not made of rough material, it was in fact made of high-grade satin cloth. On the side of the ribbons appeared an exquisite decorative border, and on the other side appeared a torn cloth, it was ripped from someone’s garment. It appeared to belong to a female.

Could it be his martial sister? His heart began to pound quickly, causing the injuries on his chest to warm up a little. From the corner of his mouth appeared an experience of coldness and self-mockery. He said: “She told her husband to come and kill me, why would she tend to my injuries? If it was not her that disclosed that I was hiding in the firewood room, how would Wan Gui know where to find me?”

However, he was currently on a small boat floating along the current. He had no idea how far away he was from Jiangling now. In any case, at the moment he was not in any danger and would not be harmed by the men from Ling Prefecture.

“Who was the one that bandaged my wounds? Who put me on the boat? This person even brought Brother Ding with me?” He no longer cared for his own well-being, but for this person to bring Ding Dian’s body together with him, he could not help but feel a sense of deep gratitude in his heart. He began to ponder deeply about the identity of this person, but he ended up having a headache, he no longer had any clue what was happening.

He tried his hardest to recall last night’s events. He remembered Wan Gui attacking Ding Dian’s body, and then he lunged himself at Wan Gui trying to strangle him with his arms. But he could not remember anything after that. The events afterwards felt like complete emptiness in his mind. He turned his head to the side and his forehead bumped into a very hard item. It was a bundle wrapped in light cloth. He became excited, as he felt that inside the bundle he could possibly find some clues. He struggled as he unwrapped the bundle with both hands. What he saw inside was five or six silver coins, and four pieces of woman’s jewellery consisting of a pearl flower, a gold bracelet, a gold necklace, and a precious gem ring. Besides that, there was a gold lock slice that children would often wear around their neck; the gold chain in the lock was hastily pulled off by someone. The part where the chain broke off hooked on the fragment of a small piece of cloth. Evidently, it was pulled from a little child’s neck and ripped off, as if this person’s possessions were robbed by a thief. On the gold lock slice engraved the four words “Virtuous Appearance, Double Luxuriance”. Di Yun was not very well educated. Even though he could read those four characters, he could not understand the meaning behind them. He thought: “Could it be the name of the child? Her daughter’s name is not ‘Virtuous Appearance’, nor is it ‘Double Luxuriance’. It is ‘Water Spinach’!”

He fiddled around with these five pieces of jewellery, and ended up being even more confused now than he was before he opened the bundle. He thought: “These coins and jewelleries were naturally given to me by the one who saved me, so that when I arrive at shore, I will have enough money to buy food. However, who was the one who gave it to me? These jewelleries do not belong to my martial sister, I have never seen her wear it before.”

In the vast ocean of water was that small boat drifting slowly ashore. In the days on the boat, Di Yun constantly pondered: “Who was the one who tended my wounds? Who was the one who gave me these silver coins and jewelleries?”
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[1]Chinese idiom; literal translation “The tiger falls in Pingyang.” It means that the man who loses position and influence may be subjected to much indignity.

Chapter 5 Mouse Soup

The topography of Jiangling was that of flatness; the Yangtze River was meandering and circuitous between Hunan and Hubei. With the expansive flow of water in the east, the small boat slowly flowed along the current toward its destination. Di Yun gazed at the horizon of both coasts and saw that he was slowly passing through small towns and villages. There were boats and sails passing by him in opposite directions. When people on the other boats saw his bloody and dirty face, they felt both curious and astounded.

By the time it was close to nightfall, Di Yun had regained some of his strength. At the same time, his stomach was growling of hunger. He got up and picked up one of the paddles on the boat and slowly steered his boat towards the northern shore, intending to buy some food at a local restaurant. To his surprise, the area was quite desolate and there was no one to be found. The boat followed the stream and made a turn. He saw that under some willow trees were three fisherman boats. There was smoke coming out from these boats. As he paddled his small boat towards these three fisher boats, he could hear the squeaking sounds of pans frying fishes, the fragrant smell rushing toward his direction.

He rowed his boat forward and approached the old fisherman. “Old fisherman, would you be kind enough to sell me a fish to eat?”

The fisherman saw that Di Yun’s appearance was frightening and gory and became afraid. Originally, the fisherman was not willing to sell his fish, but he also did not dare to deny this request, and replied: “Yes! Yes!” He fetched a mackerel that he had just fried and put it on a bowl, then delivered it over to Di Yun’s boat.

Di Yun said: “If you have a bowl of white rice, I would also like to buy it.”

The fisherman replied: “Of course!” and brought a large pot of brown rice. The rice was mixed with a large portion of a potato and some sorghum.

Di Yun ate the rice heartily and consumed the entire bowl. As he was about to open his mouth to request for more, he heard the sound of a hoarse voice coming from the shore, shouting: “Fisherman! If you have large fish then bring some over!” Di Yun turned his head to look at the speaker. He saw a very tall and skinny monk; his two eyes were large and shined brightly. Di Yun instantly became startled, as he recognized that this was one of the five monks who fought with Ding Dian back in prison many nights ago. After some thought, Di Yun recalled that Ding Dian said this person’s name was Bao Xiang. That night, Ding Dian managed to kill two of the monks while critically wounding two others, and the last who escaped was Bao Xiang.

Di Yun did not dare to give this man another glance. Ding Dian told him that the martial arts of this man was very high, and further told him that should he ever encounter this man, he should exercise extreme caution. If Bao Xiang should see Ding Dian’s corpse, then he would be in deep trouble. With both hands he continued to eat heartily at his rice. Although he was not one to be afraid of death, he could not prevent his heart from pounding fast and his arms trembling. He thought: “Don’t tremble! Don’t tremble! I can’t expose my identity!” But the more he wanted to remain calm, the harder it was to restrain himself.

He heard the fisherman reply: “I have sold all the fish I caught today, there is no more fish.”

Bao Xiang angrily said: “Who said there is no fish? I am starving! Hurry and give me some fish! Even if there are no large fishes, the small ones will do.”

The fisherman replied: “There is really no more fish! You have silver, if I had fish to sell why would I not sell it?” As he said this, he flipped over the basket of fish and exposed its empty contents, the bottom of the basket facing the sky.

Bao Xiang was extremely hungry. When he saw that beside Di Yun was a large fish that was only half-eaten, he shouted: “You, over there! Do you have any fish?”

Di Yun was startled as he heard this man was speaking to him. He was afraid that if he replied he would be recognized, so he did not say a word. Instead, he lifted his paddle and pushed hard on the tree roots on the shore. The small boat began to flow down the stream.

Bao Xiang was furious. “You bastard! I asked you if you have any fish, and you run away?”

When Di Yun heard his angry tone, he became even more scared. He began to row even faster, his boat approaching the heart of the river. Bao Xiang picked up a piece of rock from the shore and threw it at Di Yun. Di Yun saw the rock approaching him and bent over. The strong and swift noise of the wind made the rock fly over his head, and fell into the river, causing splashes of water to fly up the air.

Bao Xiang saw that when this man dodged the rock his movements were quite agile, definitely a person with some martial arts background. He became even more suspicious and said: “Damn it! You better row back now, or else I will take your life!”

Di Yun ignored his warning and continued to paddle his boat. Bao Xiang picked up a rock with his right hand and threw it, then followed by picking up another rock with his left hand and threw that too. Di Yun’s hands were paddling the boat, but his attention was completely concentrated on the path of the rocks. He managed to dodge the first rock; the second rock approached at a low altitude at the same level as the hull of the ship and at once hit the ship at its bottom. It was only a few inches apart, all he could see was a dark object flying past him at rapid speed, the wind it emitted scraped his nose and caused pain on his cheek. As soon as he got back up, the third rock approached him, and with a loud clap, it hit the bow of the boat. Immediately, a piece of wood fell off the boat.

Bao Xiang watched as Di Yun dodged all his rocks with agility while the small boat was following the current, drifting further and further away. Immediately, he picked up two more chunks of rock and threw it at the boat. Had he aimed for the boat to begin with, such a small boat would most certainly sink immediately. But at this point the distance was much too great, although the two rocks hit the boat in succession, by the time it made contact most of the power was already lost, hence it only managed to shatter a small fragment of the boat and its railing.

Bao Xiang realized that he could no longer prevent this man from escaping, so he cursed and threw a fit of rage. From afar he could see the wind of the river carrying the boat, causing Di Yun’s hair and facial hair to flutter in the wind. Suddenly he recalled: “This person looks like the prisoner that I once saw. Ding Dian escaped from the prison in Jingzhou prefecture, this news was already abuzz for a while in the realm. It is likely that from this man, I could find clues to the whereabouts of Ding Dian.” As he thought up to this point, he had voracious desire to follow. In a fit of rage he yelled: “Fisherman! Fisherman! Quickly row me over to catch that man.”

However, when the fisherman of the three boats under the willow tree saw him assailing the other man with rocks in such a vicious manner, he had long untied the mooring rope and left with his boat following the current.

Bao Xiang shouted repeatedly in an attempt to call the fisherman back to pick him up. However, with such vicious voice and mannerism, who would come back for him? In a fit of rage, he picked up several chunks of rock and threw it at one of the fisherman. One of the rocks hit the fisherman square on the head. The fisherman’s brains splattered instantly and he fell into the river. The rest of the fishermen were scared out of their wits and began paddling away as fast as they could.

Bao Xiang followed the shore and started sprinting in great haste. He was going at a faster pace than Di Yun’s boat. Bao Xiang continued chasing at the north bank of the Yangtze River while Di Yun continued paddling his boat towards the south bank. Although Bao Xiang managed to overtake him, the distance between him and the small boat was steadily increasing. Di Yun thought: “If he manages to find a boat by the shore and starts paddling towards me, there is no way I can escape his wrath.” In a moment of desperation, he hoped: “Brother Ding, Brother Ding, if you are still here in spirit, please let it be that this evil monk cannot find a boat.”

There were many boats in the Yangtze River travelling in both directions, but fortunately within several kilometers there were no boats heading towards the north bank. With all the strength in his body, Di Yun finally managed to row his boat to the south bank. Even though the surface of the river in this section was not wide, the trees served as good cover, and there was no hope for Bao Xiang to catch him now. Thereupon he decided to carry the bundle around his bosom, and carried Ding Dian’s body with his arms, intending to travel on foot. Suddenly, he remembered something. He turned around and kicked the boat towards the heart of the river. The intention was that if Bao Xiang was to see the ship, he would think that Di Yun was still in it and make chase.

He continuously ran towards the southern direction, not knowing where he was going. He only wanted to be as far away from the riverside as possible. After running for several kilometers, he could not help but utter a breath of stress. However, he saw a vast expanse of whiteness the color of water. The river was in front of him. It turns out that at this point, the path of the Yangtze River changes to the southern direction.

He quickly turned around and saw on his right hand side was a small abandoned temple. Immediately, he carried Ding Dian towards the direction of the temple. By the time he reached the entrance, he felt his knees were so numb that he could no longer move. He fell on the ground. He was already weakened before from sustaining numerous injuries, and now he even had to paddle a long distance to reach shore, he truly had no more energy left in his body. He tried to get up twice but to no avail. He could only lie down on the ground and breathe slowly. He saw that the sky was slowly getting dark and felt a bit comforted. He thought: “I only have to wait until night time, then Bao Xiang won’t be able to find us.” Although Ding Dian was already dead, in his heart, he still treated him as his dearest friend.

He lied down outside the abandoned temple for about an hour before he managed to recover enough strength to lift himself up. He carried Ding Dian’s body and walked into the temple. What he saw was a temple with a petty local deity who appeared short and trifling, its appearance somewhat comical. Di Yun was injured to the point that upon seeing this image of a deity, he revered happily and respectfully kneeled before it, giving the statue several kowtows to make himself feel better. He sat in front of the statue and blankly looked at Ding Dian. The sky was getting darker and he gradually felt more safe and secure. He lied down beside Ding Dian’s body, just like what he used to do for the past several years back in their prison cell.

Before the middle of the night, it suddenly started to rain. The sound of rain and drips of water could be heard. Sometimes the rain was pouring while other times it felt gentle. Di Yun began to feel very cold, so he wanted to huddle together beside Ding Dian, when all of a sudden, he made contact with Ding Dian’s cold and lifeless skin. Then he remembered that Brother Ding was already dead, and would never have the chance to speak with him again. As he had this thought, he felt misery in his heart and tears began to drip from his eyes.

Suddenly, amidst the sound of the rain, the sound of footsteps could be heard travelling towards the direction of the temple. This person was trampling over mud but was approaching at a rapid rate. Di Yun became startled as he heard the sound of this man approaching closer and closer. He quickly concealed Ding Dian’s body under the altar, while he hid himself behind the statue.

As the sound of footsteps got closer, Di Yun’s heart was beating faster. Suddenly he heard the sound of the temple door being kicked open, followed by someone cursing: “Your mother! Who knows where this old thief went, and now it is raining, causing your father to be wet all over.”

The sound of the voice was like Bao Xiang. It was already inappropriate for a monk to curse “your mother” but he furthered called himself “your father” which was even more preposterous. Although Di Yun did not know much about the outside world, throughout the several years in prison he had heard many stories from Ding Dian’s adventures in the realm. He was no longer the clueless bumpkin he was back in the countryside. He thought: “Although this Bao Xiang is dressed like a monk, he eats meat and kills people without hesitation. He is most likely an extremely violent culprit in disguise.”

He continued to listen as Bao Xiang uttered more and more phrases of profanity, cursing and prancing around for a while. After some time, he sat in front of the altar. Then rustling sounds were heard. Di Yun could make out the monk was undressing all of his wet clothes and hanging it to dry in the corner. The man leaned beside the altar and began to fall asleep. Soon after, the sound of snoring could be heard as the man ventured into a deep sleep.

Di Yun wondered: “This vicious monk undressed all his clothing completely, and now he’s sleeping in front of the deity like this, has he not sinned?” He thought: “I could take this opportunity to throw a large rock to kill him, lest I be in trouble the next day.” However, he was not the type of person who could casually kill, and he also knew that the martial arts of Bao Xiang exceeded himself ten times over. Should he fail to kill him in one hit and give him the opportunity to fight back, he was sure to be doomed.

At this point he thought that he should escape through the rear doors since Bao Xiang would likely not notice. However, Ding Dian’s corpse was hidden under the altar; should he try to take the body with him, he would definitely be discovered. He heard the continuous dripping of rainfall falling on the temple, and came up with a plan: should the rain stop tomorrow, then Bao Xiang would leave. However, the sound of rain he heard was not one that would easily stop. Should the rain not stop tomorrow, and should Bao Xiang not leave, he would likely begin to search around, then he is certainly going to find Ding Dian’s body. Since this is the case, he could do nothing but pray for good fortune. “Hopefully the rain will stop when the sky turns bright. Since the monk wants to chase after me, he’s likely to leave the temple.”

Suddenly, he thought of something else: “When he came in, he yelled that he did not know where the ‘old thief’ went. I am not that old, why would he call me an ‘old thief’? Could it be the case that he is actually looking for an elder?” He thought more about it, then came to a realization. “Ah, of course. My hair is long and my facial hair covers my face, I have not shaven it for several years. Of course people are likely to mistake me for an old man. He called me an ‘old thief’… hmm… he called me an ‘old thief!’” As he thought up to this point, he touched the messy facial hair on his cheeks.

Suddenly he heard a bang, as Bao Xiang turned his body over. Amidst his dreams he accidentally kicked under the altar, exactly the location where Ding Dian was hidden. He felt that the circumstances have changed, and immediately woke up in fear that someone was ambushing him under the altar. In the darkness he could not tell how many people were ambushing him. He picked up his blade and slashed around five or six times in all directions so that his enemies dared not get too close. He yelled: “Who is it? Your mother! Thief bastard!” He cursed several times but did not get any response. He held his breath and listened closely, but no sounds could be heard.

In the darkness, Bao Xiang slashed in all directions another 15 or 16 times. It was the stance of ‘The Eight Directions of Night Battle’. He kicked with his leg and with a loud “peng” the altar fell over. He slashed away with his blade and with a faint crack, the sound of bones being shattered could be heard. He had slashed into Ding Dian’s body.

Di Yun heard everything very clearly, Bao Xiang indeed slashed Ding Dian. Although Ding Dian was already dead and cannot feel the pain, in Di Yun’s heart, he still treated him as his closest friend and brother, so this slash was as painful as if he was the one being slashed. He immediately wanted to rush out to fight a battle to the death with the culprit, but in the five years in prison, he had slowly evolved from the hot-headed and crass personality of his youth. He was now a youth who would think things through before he acted. He thought: “If I rush out now to fight him, I will only die and nothing good will come out of that. If I cannot fulfill Brother Ding’s wish of being buried together with Lady Ling, how can I ever seek his forgiveness?”

Bao Xiang hacked again at Ding Dian’s corpse and there was no more noise after that. In the darkness, he was hardly aware of his surroundings. The match that he brought with him had long been moistened by the heavy rain, so there was no way for him to light up a fire. He slowly retreated and backed up a few steps, his back against the wall, for the fear that he may be ambushed from behind, and then paid close attention for any noise.

At this point a wall stood in the way of these two people, and besides the sound of the drizzle, nothing else could be heard.

Di Yun knew that if he so much as breathed too heavily, he would lose his life immediately. He had to micromanage his breathing, taking slow breaths in and out. In his mind he thought: “After another two hours or so, the sun will rise. When the monk sees Ding Dian’s body, I will be in serious trouble. What can I do?”

He was not an intelligent person to begin with, and now for him to come up with a plan to protect Ding Dian’s body from Bao Xiang proved to be an obstacle too great to be overcome. He thought long and hard, but he did not have the slightest idea of a plan. As he felt rushed, he repented and redressed at his own errors and said: “Di Yun… oh Di Yun, you idiot. Of course you can’t come up with a plan. If Brother Ding was still alive, he would surely know what to do.” Under much stress, he began pulling at his hair, and using a bit of strength, six or seven strands fell off.

All of a sudden, he had an idea in his mind. “The vicious monk calls me an ‘old thief’. He saw that I had a face full of facial hair so he thought I was an old person. If I shave off my facial hair completely, then he may not be able to recognize me. The only problem is that there is no razor nearby, how am I supposed to shave? Hmph, I’m not even afraid of death, would I be afraid of a little pain? I’ll just use my hands to pull it off, that’s what I’ll do.”

As he thought up to this point, he began to pull at his facial hair, and it started falling off slowly. But he was afraid that he may make noise and thought: “Even if the vicious monk will not recognize me, at most he will not kill me. But what will stop him from harming Brother Ding? Meh, one step at a time. For now I will keep myself alive, then I can get near the vicious monk, and find a way to kill him when he least expects it.”

After he pulled out about half of his hair, he had another thought: “Even if I do not have any facial hair, I still have a head full of long hair which may give away my identity. The vicious monk came chasing me from the Yangtze River, so naturally he would recognize my long hair quite clearly.” As he said this, he decided to go all the way, and picked on two strands of hair with one of his hands and pulled.

Although it did not hurt much to pull out his facial hair, to pull out his long hair cleanly definitely required a high tolerance of pain. As he continued to pull, he thought: “Pulling my hair out is no big deal. For Brother Ding, even if I had to cut my own hand off, I would not so much as crease my eyebrows.” He thought more: “This is such a stupid idea. I bet Ding Dian’s spirit is laughing at me right now. But… but… he cannot come back to tell me of a better plan.”

He heard the sound of Bao Xiang falling asleep again. But as he was afraid that the vicious monk would hear the sound of his breathing, he pulled out a bunch of hair and walked forward one step extremely slowly. It took him almost an hour to retreat all the way back to the well. And after some more time, he slowly made his way to the rear exit of the temple, with the rain dripping on his face, he began to breathe more easily.

As he was now outside the temple, he was no longer afraid of being discovered by Bao Xiang, so naturally it was much easier for him to pull out his hair. Eventually, he managed to pull out all his facial hair and the hair on his head completely. The excruciating pain he felt on his head and chin was unbearable, something he had never experienced before. But upon thinking of how he lost his fingers to his enemy, and how his scapula was pierced, what does it really matter? Full of desires for revenge, he no longer cared about pain. He buried all his hair under the mud for fear that Bao Xiang would get suspicious. He felt his own scalp and chin, not only was he no longer an “old thief”, he was now a “bald thief”. Under grief and indignation, he could not help but laugh, and thought: “I must be a mess, my scalp and chin most likely red and bleeding, so I should wash it out for fear of revealing any marks.” As he said this he lifted his head up to let the rain drip on his face.

He thought again: “Although I do not have any marks on my face, the vicious monk may still recognize my clothes and that would be troublesome. But there is no clothes for me to change into. I will just copy the vicious monk and remove all my clothes, how about that?” As he said this he removed all of his outer layers. He kept the silkworm vest on him and it became his undergarment. But as he had no pants to wear, he tore off a portion of his coat and wrapped it around his waist. But he was also afraid that Bao Xiang would recognize the silkworm vest, so he rolled around the mud to cover his entire body.

At this point, even if Ding Dian were to come back to life, he would not be able to recognize him right away. Di Yun proceeded towards under a large tree, and with his fingers dug a hole to hide his bundle of clothes. He thought: “If by chance I manage to escape the wrath of the evil monk, and further ensure that Brother Ding rests in peace, I will certainly return the favour of the one who helped me bandage my wounds and gave me silver and jewelleries. Who is this person?”

The sky was slowly getting bright as morning approached. Di Yun secretly went south, then westward for about a li. At the end of his travel the sky was already fully bright. He saw that the rain had yet to cease and presumed that Bao Xiang would not leave the temple. He tried to look for a weapon, but where can he find one amidst the wilderness? He only had a sharp stone slab hidden around his waist area, thinking that should he be able to slash this on the monk’s vital areas it would be enough to take his life. The best case scenario would be that the evil monk has already left the temple, which would be a blessing.

When he looked at his own reflection in the water, he saw a very strange look and could not help but chuckle a bit. But at the same time, he felt a small hint of sadness. In his heart he still longed for Ding Dian. He could not find a suitable weapon so he decided to head east to the temple. He thought: “I could pretend to be a lunatic; a rascal from the local area.” As he got closer to the temple, he released his larynx and sang loudly a folk song:

“To the sister in the mountain, listen to me sing,
If you marry, do not marry a rich man,
Rich people have a bad conscience!
Marry me, the bald and dysenteric A’San!”

Back in his hometown in Hunan, he used to sing this song by the lakeside and farming area. From the creek to the mountain, with Qi Fang he did not know how many thousands of these songs they sang together. By the social customs of Hunan countryside, these folk songs were often seasonal and improvised, singing whatever fits the moment; it often rhymed and was superficial. These songs were not a big difference from regular day-to-day dialect. As he sang this song, he could not help but feel sour in his heart. Since he was separated with Qi Fang, it had been five years since he last uttered a folk song. At this moment the situation at hand was extremely awkward, for he was singing not for his beautiful martial sister, but a stark naked and vicious monk.

As he further approached the temple, he adjusted his larynx to a more feminine voice and sang again:

“The bald and dysenteric A’San has fragrance,
You wish to marry me, lovable and pretty as a flower?
Would I covet your baldness and lack of need for a comb?
Would I covet…”

The next line of “would I covet” was not fully sang when Bao Xiang suddenly rushed out from the local temple. He wrapped his upper garment around his waist area and headed outside to see who it was. He only saw Di Yun bald and singing folk songs without a care, and thought that he was actually a bald and dysenteric man. The lyrics to his song was full of self-mockery, so Bao Xiang could not help but laugh and said: “Hey, bald man, come over here!”

Di Yun continued to sing:

“What does the elder monk request me for?
Do you wish for gold and silver?
The bald and dysenteric A’San is lucky,
The elder monk must treat me to a roast pig.”

He sang all the while heading towards Bao Xiang’s direction, although he was exerting himself to produce a calm and composed look, his heart was actually beating at an alarming rate and his face changed colors. Bao Xiang noticed this and commented: “Bald and dysenteric A’San, if you can find something for me to eat, I will reward you greatly. Are there any fat pigs?”

Di Yun shook his head and sang:

“In the mountain range of the wild there are no pigs…”

Bao Xiang scolded: “Speak properly, do not sing anymore.”

Di Yun thrust his lips and tried to produce a vigorous accent and said: “The bald and dysenteric A’San is used to singing folk songs, in regular speech he is not as fluent. Elder monk, a half a kilometer away lies the Buba Village, and after that the Buba Shop. Within five kilometres there is no sight of anyone. Not even to mention eating a pig, even eating some white rice and plain vegetables could be difficult. If you travel westward for 15 li there is a large town. You can eat chicken and fish and drink wine, whatever you want to eat you can find, why don’t you go there?” He knew that he did not have the power to kill Bao Xiang to get revenge for him slashing at Ding Dian’s body, but he hoped that the monk would listen to his nonsense and head westward so he has time to take away Ding Dian’s body. However, the heavy rain did not cease and dripped heavily on both of them.

Bao Xiang said: “You will find me something to eat. It is best if you can find meat and wine. If not, then you can slaughter a chicken or a duck and that will work too.”

Di Yun could only think about Ding Dian, so he reluctantly agreed. He went inside the temple and saw that Ding Dian’s body had been pulled out from beneath the altar and his clothes were ripped apart. His body was obviously searched thoroughly by Bao Xiang. Di Yun was full of hatred inside and could not hold it anymore, he said: “There… there is a dead person inside… did… did you kill him?”

His face changed color and Bao Xiang thought that he was afraid of the dead body and laughed maliciously. “I did not kill him. Come and take a look, do you recognize him?”

Di Yun was taken aback and felt his own guilty conscience. If it was the case that the monk has already seen through his disguise, he would not be able to protect Ding Dian and would have no choice but to run away. He came to a decision and said: “This person looks very strange, he is not from the local area.”

Bao Xiang laughed: “Of course he is not from your village.” Then he continued in a much more serious tone: “Go find me something to eat! If you don’t listen to me, are you not afraid my holy self will not take your pathetic life?”

Di Yun saw that Ding Dian’s body was not in trouble for the moment so he felt relaxed, so he replied, “Yes!” and turned away to leave. He thought: “All I have to do is hide from him for half a day. Eventually he will starve and have no choice but to look for food himself. It is unlikely that he will take Brother Ding along with him, as he has already searched his body thoroughly and could not find anything, he should naturally have given up.”

But before he even walked two steps, Bao Xiang yelled: “Stop! Where are you going?”

Di Yun replied: “I am going to find you something to eat.”

Bao Xiang said: “Very good! How long will it take you?”

Di Yun replied: “It will only take a moment.”

Bao Xiang said: “Then go!”

Di Yun turned his head to take another look at Ding Dian before leaving. Suddenly, he felt a gust of wind approaching from behind, and with two claps, both cheeks were slapped. Fortunately, Bao Xiang thought that he was a countryman who did not know any martial arts, so there was not much force in these strikes. It was further fortunate that Bao Xiang’s movements were surprisingly fast and hit him right away, for as Di Yun was not so bright: if he felt that he was being attacked from behind, his natural instinct would be to dodge and that would give away the fact that he knew martial arts.

Di Yun was startled and said: “You… you…” He thought: “He must have seen through my disguise. I have no choice but to give it all I’ve got.”

But he heard Bao Xiang say: “How much money do you have on you? Take it all out for me to see!”

Di Yun replied: “I… I…”

Bao Xiang scolded: “Your entire body is empty! You are a poor man; with your pathetic look, how are you supposed to get me anything to eat? Hmph, you claim to want to get me food, but is it not just a ploy to escape?”

When Di Yun heard his reply, he felt comfort. He thought: “So he only exposed the fact that I was lying about getting him food. That is not a big deal.”

Bao Xiang continued: “Your bald head said that within ten li there is not a person in sight, so how can you get me food and come back in just a moment? Aren’t you clearly deceiving me? Hmph, you better speak the truth, what do you want?”

Di Yun stammered a reply. “I… I was afraid of elder monk and wanted to go home.”

Bao Xiang laughed heartily and pounded his chest full of long dark hair. He said: “What are you afraid of? Afraid that I’ll eat you?” As soon as he said the word “eat”, his stomach growled and he felt even more hunger. He had already searched the temple thoroughly and knew there was no food around. The few words he said earlier: “What are you afraid of? Afraid that I’ll eat you?” came back to him, and his eyes filled with violence and stared intensely at Di Yun.

Di Yun felt all the hairs in his body straighten as he saw the look of the monk; he had already guessed the monk’s intentions. Indeed, the monk was thinking: “The meat of a person does not taste bad at all, and a person’s heart and liver tastes even better. In front of me is a person not much different from a pig, perhaps I could eat him alive?”

Di Yun felt consistent bitterness in his heart. “If he kills me it is no big deal. But from the evil monk’s expression, he must want to cook me alive and that would be much too violent. I will fight to the very end.” However, as soon as he fights back he would certainly be killed. And after he dies he would still be eaten, so is there really a difference? Di Yun saw as Bao Xiang’s eyes were fierce and laughed maliciously as he slowly approached.

Di Yun could only watch as Bao Xiang moved forward. With every step his expression became more sinister and frightening. Di Yun backed away a few steps. Bao Xiang laughed: “You skinny man, you probably don’t taste very good. That dead body has a much fuller build than you. Unfortunately, there is toxic in a corpse, so I cannot eat him. Oh well, even though I can’t eat a fat pig, the skinny pig will have to do.” He extended his arms to grab Di Yun by the shoulder.

Di Yun used his strength to struggle, but how could he? The anxiety and dreadfulness he felt in his heart was indescribable. After so many years of torture and pain, he had already forgotten his fear of death. But the thought of being eaten alive by this evil monk sent shivers down his spine.

Bao Xiang saw that Di Yun had no way to escape and thought that maybe he should tell him to boil the water first before killing him. Unfortunately, a person would not willingly kill himself and boil himself into a big bowl of red meat and hand himself over. He said: “There are two ways I could kill you and eat you. The first way is to cut off the flesh in your legs, then cut and slash all over your body so you will suffer immense pain. The second way is to kill you with a simple slash and cook you into a stew. Which method do you prefer?”

Di Yun bit his teeth and replied: “You… you want to kill me… you… you evil monk…” He wanted to curse at him, but was afraid that should he anger the monk that he would be tortured even more. Just as he was about to utter out his curse words, he swallowed it back in.

Bao Xiang laughed: “Correct, it is good that you know this. The more you listen to me, the easier you will die. The more you refuse, the more pain you will suffer. Hmph, bald and dysenteric A’San, I order you to find a cauldron in the kitchen and fill it with hot water.”

Di Yun knew that it was used to cook himself, but he could not help but ask: “Why?”

Bao Xiang laughed: “You don’t need to ask, just go!”

Di Yun said: “To boil water it is best to do it in the kitchen, if I take out the cauldron it is not as convenient.”

Bao Xiang replied: “The kitchen is full of dust and spider webs, if my holiness goes in there I will definitely sneeze. If I don’t keep a close eye on you, you will find an opportunity to escape.”

Di Yun insisted: “Then I will not run away.”

Bao Xiang scolded: “You will do whatever I tell you to. Do you dare to disobey me?” As he said this he released his fist and punched Di Yun hard on the left cheek, then followed with a hard kick.

Di Yun fell on the floor, then suddenly he thought: “He is telling me to boil water, this is an opportunity. I just have to wait until the water boils, then I will splash the entire cauldron over his body. He is naked, would he not be burnt to death at once?” He kept this idea in his heart and did not feel any fear. He went into the kitchen and fetched a worn-out cauldron. He saw that the upper part of the cauldron was damaged and could only hold about half of its capacity, this half may not necessarily be enough to burn down the monk. But he thought even if it wasn’t good enough to kill him completely, to burn him half to death and leave him suffering is not a bad idea either.

He took the iron cauldron to the well in front of the temple and wiped away the leaves and rain water before filling the cauldron completely.

Bao Xiang complimented: “Very good! Very good! Bald and dysenteric A’San, I am really unwilling to part with you. You are very efficient in your work, you could help me make a good stew!”

Di Yun forced a bitter smile and replied: “Thank you for elder monk’s compliments.” Then he picked up seven or eight bricks and placed it beneath the cauldron. In this broken temple there were many broken legs of chairs and tables, Di Yun was anxious in engaging a fight to the death against Bao Xiang, so he rapidly collected the materials and placed it under the cauldron. However, to find a kindler was not an easy task. Di Yun opened up his hands and gave out an expression of having no alternative.

Bao Xiang asked: “What’s wrong? You don’t have a kindler? I remember there’s one on his body.” He pointed to Ding Dian’s corpse. Di Yun had already seen Ding Dian’s legs being cut up by Bao Xiang and it was a complete mess, he could already feel the grief rush out from his heart. When he stared back at the ferocious look of Bao Xiang, he only wished he could throw himself at him and bite him.

Bao Xiang resembled a cat that caught a mouse: he wanted to toy with the mouse before eating it, so he did not take notice to Di Yun’s anger and frustration. He sneered: “If you can find it then it is for the better. If you cannot make a fire, this monk is fine eating raw meat.”

Di Yun searched Ding Dian’s body and suddenly in his coat pocket he felt two pieces of hard material. One was a flint and the other was a fire knife. He thought: “When the two of us were back in prison, Brother Ding did not carry these two things with him, so where did he get it from?” He turned over the fire knife and saw a brand name on it that said “Jingzhou Old Quan’s Iron Shop” In the past, Di Yun had been to an iron shop with Ding Dian to remove the iron chains from their body; it was precisely the name of this shop. Di Yun held tightly to the knife and flint and thought: “Brother Ding has planned thoroughly. He took this knife and flint from the iron shop as a mean to assist me in my adventures in the realm. Alas, it had not even been used once and he has already passed away.” As he held on to the knife and flint, he could not help but become teary.

Bao Xiang thought that Di Yun was grieving because he knew that he would be dead not long after he built a fire. He laughed: “This monk’s body is worth a thousand pounds of gold; you must have done good deeds in your previous life, for this life you can use my intestines as your coffin, and my belly as your tomb, you are truly most fortunate! Now quickly light the fire!”

Di Yun did not reply and found an extremely old piece of yellow fortune paper and placed it beside the knife and flint. As he started the fire it slowly began to burn the yellow paper, and the text that was originally covered by dust could now be seen. It was a negative phrase which said: “Beg for status and you shall not receive”, “Your love life will be disastrous”, “Your journeys will be detrimental”, and “Your sicknesses will not be cured” and many other phrases. In a short time, the flame burnt away a good half of the paper. Di Yun thought: “My entire life is full of misfortune; I do not need a fortune paper to tell me this.”

The water inside the cauldron slowly began to boil. Di Yun knew that the water would fully boil within the time it took to burn one incense stick[1]. He felt increasingly nervous as he stared at the pot of water then at Bao Xiang’s stomach. He knew that the difference between life and death would be determined in the next few moments, and involuntarily his hands began to tremble. Finally, the water in the cauldron began to boil as it began to bubble and steam was rising out of the pot. Di Yun stood up straight, picked up the iron cauldron with both hands, and walked forward to splash the pot of boiled water at Bao Xiang.

However when Di Yun stood up, Bao Xiang already took notice, and with ten fingers extending outwards he grabbed Di Yun by the wrist and shouted: “What are you doing?” Di Yun did not want to make an excuse, and he used his strength to try and splash the water at Bao Xiang’s direction. However, his wrist was holding the iron hoop on the cauldron and was grabbed by Bao Xiang, it would not budge any further.

If Bao Xiang wanted to splash the water at Di Yun’s direction, all he needed to was simply use his arm strength and it would be done. However, if he were to waste half the bucket of water to burn this bald and dysenteric A’San to death, he would have to boil the water again himself and that would be too much of a hassle. He used strength in both his arms and forced downwards, placing the iron cauldron in its original spot, and yelled: “Let go!”

Di Yun could do nothing but drop the cauldron with both hands. Immediately, Bao Xiang kicked forward and with a loud “peng” kicked Di Yun straight away. He slammed head first into the altar. Bao Xiang thought: “This bald man’s arm strength is not bad, I should be more careful.” Then he said: “Your daddy I wants to kill you, you should be good and remove all your clothes so that your daddy does not have to put any effort.”

Di Yun reached for the sharp stone slab that he hid around his waist intending to rush out and fight to the death against the monk, when suddenly beside one of the legs of the altar he saw two mice with their stomachs facing the sky, their bodies unable to move, half dead. Then all of a sudden across the darkness of his thoughts came a flash of white light, and he said: “I will catch a few mice for you to eat first, is that okay? The taste of mice is more fresh and pleasant than that of dog meat.”

Bao Xiang replied: “What? Mice? Is it dead or alive?”

Di Yun was afraid that the monk would not eat a dead mouse, so he quickly replied: “Of course it is alive, it is still moving, only that I strangled it half to death.” Then he reached and grabbed the two mice beneath the altar and showed it to him.

Bao Xiang has eaten mice in the past and knew that its meat tasted not much different from that of thin pork. In front of him he saw two mice that were not big, but in this broken temple there was nothing else to eat, he muttered to himself and could not come to a decision.

Di Yun suggested: “Elder monk, I will skin the mouse for you and prepare a big bowl of soup, I promise it will taste good and be ready in no time.”

Bao Xiang was a very lazy person by nature. For him to kill and wash and cut up the food, just the thought was enough to make him agitated. When he heard that Di Yun would voluntarily prepare mouse soup for him, it was in line with his original intentions, so he replied: “Two mice will not be enough for me to eat, you must go and catch some more.”

Di Yun thought: “My martial arts abilities have been lost and my limbs cannot move readily, how can I catch a mouse?” But it was fortunate for him to find a way out of being eaten, so he could not let go of this opportunity, and immediately replied: “Elder monk, I will first prepare these two mice for you as an appetizer, then I will catch some more!”

Bao Xiang nodded his head: “This is not a bad idea. If I can eat until I’m full, I will spare your life, how about that?”

Di Yun crawled out from beneath the altar and said: “I need to borrow your knife for a moment, so I can cut off this mouse’s head.”

Bao Xiang did not take this bald man from the countryside seriously at all, so he pointed at his blade and said: “Go ahead!” Then he added: “If you have the guts, try and cut off your daddy’s head!”

Di Yun originally had the intention of taking the blade then turning over to cut his head off, but his plan was already exposed, so he could not make any reckless moves. With two slashes he cut off the mouse’s head and opened its belly, putting the intestines and other organs of the mouse to be washed by the rain water. Then he put it inside the cauldron.

Bao Xiang nodded his head several times. “Good, very good. You can actually make some decent mouse soup. Now go and catch me some more.”

Di Yun replied, “Of course, I will go right now” and turned his body to walk towards the exit.

Bao Xiang said: “If you think about escaping, I will rip the flesh off your body piece by piece and eat you alive!”

Di Yun replied: “If I cannot catch a mouse then I will catch a frog. In the river there are plenty of fish and shrimp to eat. I will serve elder monk until he is completely full. If elder monk is so satisfied, why is there any need to eat me? The bald and dysenteric A’San has skin ulcers and scabies all over, if you eat me you will be sick for sure.”

Bao Xiang said: “Hmph, do not let me wait until I become impatient. Hey, you cannot leave this temple, do you understand?”

Di Yun agreed at once and crawled around the floor, imitating the movements of trying to catch mice. Slowly he crawled his way out the back door until he could stand up straight. He looked in the east and westward direction in hopes of finding a place to hide. He looked outside the back door and saw on the left hand side there was a small pond. At once he ran to the pond as fast as he could, recklessly relying on a hopelessly optimistic forecast. He slowly sank into the pond and only his nose and mouth was above water so he could breathe. He further grabbed a pile of grass and stuck it in his nose.

Since he grew up by the riverside, naturally he was good at swimming. Unfortunately, he was much too far from the river, otherwise he could fall into the Yangtze River and follow the current, and Bao Xiang would have no way of catching him.

After a while, he heard Bao Xiang compliment: “Good soup! Mouse soup is indeed not bad. Too bad there are too few mice. Hey A’San, have you caught any mice yet?” He called out several times then followed by cursing several profanities. Di Yun’s right ear was above the water so he could listen to Bao Xiang. All he heard was a mouthful of profanities and extremely vulgar expressions, he trampled on the floor and kicked the mud as he rushed outside.

He took a few strides before he reached the tip of the pond. Di Yun did not dare to reveal any part of himself; his entire body submerged under water. Fortunately, this pond was filled with green duckweed and various aquatic grasses, whoever was above water could not see him at all.

However, he could not breathe underwater. He held his breath until he could no longer hold it, then he had no choice but to slowly lift his head above the surface and take a breath. He only managed to take half a breath before he was caught by a large hand pulling him from behind. Bao Xiang scolded: “If I do not cut your bald head into seventeen or eighteen pieces, your daddy I will not be considered a person! How dare you try and escape!”

Di Yun flipped his hand to grab Bao Xiang’s arm and tried to drag him down to the pond. Bao Xiang did not expect that Di Yun would dare to counterattack, so he slipped on the mud beside the pond and with a “plop” he fell into the pond.

Di Yun was excited at the turn of events, and exerted all his strength to push Bao Xiang underwater. However, the pond was too shallow and Bao Xiang was too tall and built, the water did not even go over his head. Once Bao Xiang’s feet hit the bottom of the pond, he countered by turning his hand over and grabbed Di Yun’s wrists, then with his left hand he put his head underwater. Di Yun had already put his life aside; even though he was underwater, he maintained his grip on Bao Xiang and would not let go at any cost. At that moment Bao Xiang could not immediately struggle himself free and cursed loudly. He was careless and accidentally swallowed a few mouthfuls of dirty water which fed his anger even further. He raised his fist and hit Di Yun hard on the back.

Di Yun felt the force of Bao Xiang’s strike landing on his back. However, as his body was underwater, the power of this attack was greatly reduced and was less painful. However if he were to take another few of punches, he would definitely pass out. He had no way of retaliating, the only thing he could do was ram his head into Bao Xiang’s chest.

They continued to struggle with each other when all of a sudden Bao Xiang screamed, “Aiyo!” and let go of his hold on Di Yun. The fist he raised remained in midair, not attacking its target and slowly drifted downwards. Then followed that his entire body became stiff and he fell underwater.

Di Yun felt exceedingly strange at the turn of events and struggled to pull himself back to surface. He only saw that Bao Xiang did not move at all, as if he was dead. As he was still in a panicked state, he did not dare to make contact with his body and only stood at the side of the pond and observed. He only saw Bao Xiang continue to sink until his entire body was at the bottom of the pond and did not move at all. After a while, it appeared that the monk was really dead. Di Yun was still not confident so he threw a few pieces of rock at his body. When he saw that the body did not move at all, he realized that he was not faking his death.

Di Yun made his way back to the surface and could not figure out how the evil monk died all of a sudden for no apparent reason. In his mind he had a glimmer of hope: “Is it possible that my abilities in the Heavenly Glow possess such formidable strength that even I don’t know about it? When I rammed my head hard against his chest, was that enough to take his life?” He tried to channel his energy but only felt the “Jushao Yangdan channel reached the “Five Li” acupoint on his thigh. No matter what it could not work, he also tried “Shoushao Yang Sanjiao” meridian and channelled it to the “Qing Leng Yuan” acupoint but it also clogged up. In fact, he felt even worse than when he first left prison; it must be because in the last several days he could not maintain focus and had to put aside his training. Evidently, to complete the training of the Heavenly Glow, he still has a very long distance to cover.”

He stood quietly at the side of the pond and stared blankly. He could not believe the events that had just occurred. But he saw the raindrops gradually fall into the pond causing ripples, with Bao Xiang’s body at the bottom of the pond with no signs of life.

He was dumbstruck for a while before he returned to the temple. He saw that the fire of the iron cauldron was already extinguished, on the side of the cauldron were two dead mice with their stomachs facing the ceiling, its ears and foot showing brief signs of movement. Di Yun thought: “So it turns out that Bao Xiang also caught two mice but did not have the fortune to experience it, and was consequently killed by me.” He saw inside the cauldron there was still some residue of mouse soup; it must have been left behind by Bao Xiang. Di Yun was very hungry too, so he lifted the iron cauldron and opened his mouth to drink the remaining of the mouse soup. All of a sudden, there was a very strong scent of strange fragrance.

He felt a bit stunned and supported the cauldron with both hands and withdrew it from his mouth. He pondered: “What is this pleasant smell? I have smelled this before, but cannot make out what it is.” He smelled the strange fragrance in the mouse soup again and immediately came to a conclusion. He exclaimed, “Good fortune!” and with both hands he threw the iron cauldron inside the well. As he turned around to look at Ding Dian’s body, he could hardly contain his tears. “Brother Ding, even after your death, you have saved your brother once again.”

During this matter of life and death, in a flash he finally realized the true cause of Bao Xiang’s demise.

The poison that Ding Dian contracted was that of the “Golden Ripple Flower”, and consequently his entire body was toxic. Bao Xiang used his blade to slash Ding Dian’s corpse and this same blade was used to kill the mice. The poison was smeared on the mice, hence when Bao Xiang drank the mouse soup he also contracted this poison. During their struggle in the pond, Bao Xiang suddenly died of toxicity. The two mice in front of him right now also died as a result of drinking the poisonous mouse soup in the cauldron.

Di Yun thought: “If not for the essence of the Golden Ripple Flower containing such a strange and fragrant smell, and if I could not come to this realization quickly enough, I too would have drunk this poisonous soup.” He also thought: “The first time I smelled the scent of the Golden Ripple Flower was back at Lady Ling’s funeral hall, when Magistrate Ling smeared this poison on his daughter’s coffin. Brother Ding has smelled and contracted this poison once in the past, how did he not realize this the second time? It must be that upon seeing Lady Ling’s coffin, Brother Ding’s mind was in a state of turmoil and he could not think at all.”

In the past, Di Yun was completely disheartened and had given up on everything in life; he no longer wanted to live. But at this moment, he survived by the skin of his teeth, and he could not help but feel that it was indeed a fortunate occurrence. The sky was full of layer upon layers of dark clouds and pouring with rain, yet in his heart he felt a sense of radiance. He felt that at the very least he saved his own life, which could be considered an experience of boundless joy.

He took a moment to regain his composure, then carefully placed Ding Dian’s body upright in the corner of the room. Then he went to fetch Bao Xiang’s body from beneath the pond. He dug a hole in the ground and buried the body. When he returned to the temple, he saw Bao Xiang’s garments were placed on the altar, and on top of that was a tarpaulin packet which contained about a dozen taels of silver.

His curiosity got the best of him and he opened the packet. Inside was another layer of oil paper. He unwrapped the oil paper and saw that a small yellow paper book was wrapped inside. The text written on the seal was curved and meandering, these characters did not look like actual characters, nor did they look like drawings. He could not make out what they were.

He turned the book over and opened it. On the first page was a drawing of a really thin and naked man with one finger pointing at the sky and another finger pointing on the ground. The appearance of this man was sly and awkward. On the side, text shaped like tadpoles were written in red and green. Di Yun looked at the drawing of the man and saw that he had a profound sight and a hooked nose, his forehead slightly curved. The appearance was somewhat odd and did not look like a figure from the mainland. In addition to this strangeness, there seemed to be some sort of attraction embedded in the drawing, as if one could not help but be swayed to look at it.

He turned to the second page. There was another drawing of a naked man just like before, but in a different position; his left foot was standing firm while his right foot was extended forward. The two hands were placed behind his back, his left hand touching his right ear while his right hand touched his left ear.

He continued turning the pages in this book. In each page was a drawing of the same naked man, his disposition becoming more and more bewildering. The position changes were limitless; sometimes his hands would push against the ground, while other times it would leap in midair. Even more, sometimes his entire body would be upside-down, with the top of his head on the ground, the lower half of his body gave birth to six imaginary limbs. In the latter half of the book, the man wielded a curved sabre.

He returned to the first page and paid close attention to the expression on the man’s face. He saw that his tongue was faintly extended from the left corner of his mouth. At the same time, his right eye was opened wide while his left eye was closed; an extremely odd appearance. Di Yun became curious and tried to follow the expression of this man; also extending the tip of his tongue, his right eye was opened while his left eye was closed. As soon as he did this expression, he felt his face became very relaxed and comforting. He continued to look at the drawings, he could faintly see that in the man’s body there were several strips of extremely mild grey threads drawn by various meridians in his body. Di Yun thought: “Of course. The reason that the man in this drawing did not wear any clothes was to express the meridians in his body.”

During the time when Ding Dian taught him the Heavenly Glow in prison, he had once explained in rigorous detail the various directions a person’s meridians can take. In order to learn the most profound internal energy techniques, this was the underlying concept. He already memorized this thoroughly, but at this moment when he looked at the drawing of the pathways of the meridians, he could not help but begin to channel his internal energy in accordance to the directions of the drawing.

He thought: “The direction that this meridian takes is exactly opposite from what Brother Ding taught me. I’m afraid this is incorrect.” But he thought further, “I will try it anyway, what harm will it do me?” and at once he channelled his energy along the paths of the drawing. In a short moment, his entire body felt a sensation of relaxation and briskness that he could not describe.

When he practiced the Heavenly Glow, he had to concentrate his energy completely; it would move upwards only one inch or two inches at a time and was very challenging. Yet when he channelled his energy according to the drawing, in an instant his energy was flowing like the current of a river, he did not even need to exert the slightest bit of strength and his interior flowed naturally. He felt both startled and pleased: “How does my interior have such meridian pathways? Could it be that even Brother Ding doesn’t know about it?” Then he thought: “This manual belonged to the evil monk, and the text and drawings written on it are extremely nefarious and strange, it is unlikely to be orthodox. I would be best not training with it anymore.”

However, once his interior channels were in motion, he did not want to abruptly stop practicing. He thought: “Very well, I will only practice this once. Next time I will not practice it.” Slowly he began to feel carefree and relaxed, the blood in his body felt warmer. After another while, he felt light as a feather, as if he just finished a full meal with alcohol. He could not help but start dancing around and then he began to utter faint humming sounds. His mind drew a blank and he fell unconscious. After that he did not know what happened.

After a long while, he finally regained consciousness. He slowly opened his eyes and the brightness of the sky made him slightly uncomfortable. It turns out that the rain had already stopped and the sun was shining at the direction of the temple. He jumped up at once and felt invigorated, as if his entire body was full of energy. He thought: “Is it possible that the techniques in this manual have some sort of benefit? No! No! I should just follow the methods that Brother Ding taught me. This manual is unorthodox; should I continue training with it, the effects may be irreversible.” He grabbed the manual with the intent of ripping it apart, but thought about it some more and felt it was mysterious and was unwilling to part with it.

He tidied up his garments but saw they were already ragged and it was difficult to cover his body. He saw that Bao Xiang’s monk garment and pants were still hung on top of the altar, so he decided to wear those instead. But as he put on this evil monk’s attire, he felt uncomfortable; he could barely move around in it. Furthermore, the trousers had 17 or 18 holes in it, he could not even hide his buttocks from plain view. He took the manual along with the dozen or so silver taels inside the packet, then he went to the tree where he hid the various jewelleries and silver and dug those out of the mud. He carried Ding Dian’s body with him and left the temple.

After travelling for a kilometer or so, he saw a farmer approaching his direction. When the farmer saw that he was carrying a dead body with him, he immediately became startled and slipped on the mud. His entire body was covered with mud as he got up; he could barely maintain his balance as he struggled to run away.

Di Yun knew that if he were to continue travelling in this direction, he may cause many unnecessary incidents. But at this moment in time he could not come up with a good plan. Fortunately, this region was somewhat desolate and it would be unlikely for him to encounter anyone along the way. He continued to carry Ding Dian and thought: “Brother Ding, I cannot bear to part with you, I cannot part with you.”

Then he heard the voice of seven or eight farmers singing folk songs as they carried a shovel on their back. Di Yun sprinted quickly and hid amidst the tall grass fields, waiting for the farmers to pass. He thought: “If I do not burn Ding Dian’s body, I will never be able to fulfill his wish of being buried together with Lady Ling.” He arrived at a trough in the mountain area and fetched for some dried sticks and firewood. He clenched his teeth and set a fire ablaze and burnt the sticks around Ding Dian’s body.

As the tongue of the flame engulfed Ding Dian’s hair and clothing, Di Yun felt as if the flame was burning his own skin and flesh. He threw himself on the ground and bit on the grass, his tears dripping into the grass and earth.

He carefully picked up Ding Dian’s ashes and solemnly wrapped it around oil paper, then added another layer of tarpaulin. This oil paper and tarpaulin was exactly what Bao Xiang used to wrap the yellow manual. After he had carefully wrapped the paper around the ashes, he placed it by his waist, then scooped out a bit with his hands, causing the remaining ashes to fall in the pit. Then he covered up the ashes with mud and paid his respects.

He got back up and felt wondered what he should do next. The only close person he had left in this world was his teacher, so he suddenly thought: “I will return to Yuanling to find my teacher.” teacher had wounded Wan Zhenshan and escaped, it was unlikely that he would return to his residence in Yuanling. It is likely that he created a new identity for himself and lived in a remote area. But besides returning to Yuanling to take a look, Di Yun could not think of anywhere else he wanted to go.

At once he followed the path down until he arrived at a village. He asked a local and it turns out that the name of this place was called Tashi Dock, a place in Jianli county in Hubei. This place could be considered to be within the territories of Hunan. The river banks were desolate. Di Yun made his way to Tashi Dock and took out some silver to buy food to eat.

When he left the restaurant, he heard some loud rackets in the distance. There were many people gathered and much hubbub. Then he heard loud shouts and clashes as if there was a battle going on. Di Yun became curious and went to see what was causing all the excitement. He saw in the middle of the crowd of people there were seven or eight built men attacking an elderly man all at once. This old man wore green clothes and a cap while the built men were barefooted and wore short sleeves. On the side was a small basket of fish. They were obviously fish merchants.

Di Yun thought that it was just ordinary street fighting that wasn’t worth spectating, so he was about to leave when suddenly the elderly man unleashed a flying kick that sent one of the built men flying, turning a few somersaults before landing on the basket of fish. It turns out that this old man knew some martial arts.

He became curious and wanted to figure out the reason behind this fight. He saw that the elderly man was single-handedly battling the majority, and at once he knocked out another three fish merchants. There were also a few fish merchants among the audience, but at this time none of them dared to step forward to do battle. All of a suddenly a fish merchant yelled out: “The boss is here! The boss is here!” Di Yun turned and saw from the riverside approached two fish merchants in rapid speed. A third fish merchant followed close behind. Di Yun observed their movements and saw that their steps were calm and steady and he could tell at once that they knew martial arts.

The three of them approached the scene. The one in front was a man around 40 years of age with a candle-like complexion. He gave a glance at the fish merchant on the floor and asked: “Who are you? Whose axe are you carrying to dare to pick fights with people from Taishi Dock?” He asked these questions directed to the old man, but he did not even look in his direction.

The old man replied: “I only want to buy fish with money, how am I picking on anyone?”

The fish boss asked the fish merchant on the side: “Why did you start fighting?”

The fish merchant said: “This elderly man wants to buy our pair of gold carps. I told him that gold carps are difficult to find and it is used for boss to brew medicine. This elder insisted on buying the carp at any cost and we would not allow it, so he resorted to stealing.”

The fish boss turned around and gave a few looks to size up the elder. “Your friend has been hit by the Blue Sand Palm?”

As soon as the old man heard this, he changed expression. “I do not know what of Red Sand Palm or Blue Sand Palm. The master of my family only wants to eat carp and drink wine and ordered me to buy carp for him. In this world there is no fish that is not for sale, what kind of logic are they using to not sell the carp to me?”

The fish boss sneered: “Is there any reason to lie in front of your face? May I ask what your honourable name is? If you are a good person, not only are we willing to spare these two gold carps, but I will personally give you the ‘Jade Flesh Pill’ that will cure the injuries of the Blue Sand Palm.

The expression on the old man’s face filled with more uncertainty and hesitation. After a while he said: “What is your honourable name? How do you know about the Blue Sand Palm and how is there a Jade Flesh Pill? Could it be…?”

The boss replied: “You are correct. I am the son of the master of the Blue Sand Palm, so I definitely have a close relationship with it.”

The old man did not reply, then he turned and grabbed the fish basket. His actions were extremely fast and nimble. The boss sneered, “It won’t be that easy!” and with a loud “pang”, he attacked the man from behind with his palm. The old man returned a palm strike, and, borrowing the momentum and force of his opponent’s palm, he was sent flying several dozen feet away while grabbing hold onto the fish basket. Then he ran away in quick haste. The fish boss did not expect the old man to have such skills. He saw that he would not be able to catch up so he pulled up his sleeve and revealed a hidden weapon and shot it at the old man’s back.

When the old man got hold of the fish he focused all of his efforts on running away and did not expect that there would be a hidden projectile coming his way. The weapon that was unleashed was an earthenware dart made of steel. He used much force in his throw and sent the dart flying away. Di Yun saw that the old man was unaware of the incoming projectile, so he decided to lend a hand by throwing a fish basket to deflect the path of the dart.

As Di Yun had lost all his martial arts, he did not have formidable arm strength. However, he was standing in a good position. He heard the sound of the steel dart pierce into the fish basket, then the fish basket flew forward several meters before falling on the ground.

The old man turned around when he heard sounds coming from behind. All he saw was the fish merchant pointing at Di Yun and scolding: “You bald thief! Which temple produces such untamed monks? How dare you interfere with members of the Iron Net Sect of Yangtze?”

Di Yun stared blankly at the man and thought: “Why is he scolding me as a bald thief?” He saw that the man was impetus and had much influence and also said something about “Yangtze Iron Net Sect”. He remembered that Brother Ding often told him that there were many clans and sects in the realm that should be avoided so as to stay away from trouble. He did not want to cause trouble for himself for no reason, so he apologized: “It is little brother’s fault. Little brother asks for elder brother’s forgiveness.”

The fish boss shouted: “Who do you think you are to refer to me as a brother?” He pointed in the left and right direction and instructed one of the fish merchants: “Capture these two for me!”

All of a sudden, the sound of jingling bells could be heard approaching. Two horses came from the riverside west heading eastward. The old man was delighted and said: “My master is here, you can speak with him yourself.”

The fish boss became nervous and asked: “Is it the ‘Twin Knights of Bell Sword’?” Immediately after, he continued: “So what if it is the Twin Knights of Bell Sword? It is not in their right to show off their abilities in around the Yangtze.”

Before he even finished speaking, the two horses arrived at the scene. Di Yun felt brightness in his eyes and saw that there were two horses, one yellow and one white. Both were full of spirit with a remarkable saddle. On top of the yellow horse sat a young man aged around 25 or 26 who was tall and skinny and wore a yellow garment. Sitting on the white horse was a young girl around 20 wearing a white garment; a red silk flower hanged on her left shoulder. Her complexion white and delicate and she gave off an appearance of beauty and intelligence. Both of them carried a long sword around their waist and held onto a horse whip. The two horses were shaped like regular horses, but the impressive part was that the yellow horse was completely yellow and the white horse was completely white without a single trace of mixed fur.

A golden luan[2] bell was attached on the neck of the yellow horse while a silver luan bell was attached to the white horse; jingling sounds would be emitted as soon as the horse moved its head even slightly, the sounds were especially crisp and clear. It could be said that the horses and its masters were a perfect match. In Di Yun’s entire life he had never seen such an impressive display of beauty and elegance. He could not help but think to himself: “So beautiful!”

The young man looked at the direction of the old man and asked: “Shui Fu, have you found the carp? Where is it?”

The old man replied: “Young Master Wang, I have indeed found the gold carp, but… they refuse to sell it to me and even resorted to violence.”

The young man saw the dart that was stuck to the fish basket on the side and said: “Hmph, who uses such a vicious weapon?” He extended his whip and fetched the blue silk cloth attached to the tail of the steel dart. He said to the girl: “Sheng’mei, look at this. This is a ‘Scorpion Tail Dart’ from a bark cloth tree!”

The young girl asked: “Who was the one who used this dart?” Her voice was clear and bright.

The fish boss let out a cold laugh, his right hand holding on tightly to the blade around his waist area. “In the last few years, the Twin Knights of Bell Sword have made a name for themselves, do not think that the Iron Net Sect of Yangtze does not know this. However, if you intend to bully us to submission, I’m afraid it won’t be so easy.” The way he spoke gave out a hint of weakness covered by strength. It was clear that he was unwilling to come into conflict with them.

The young girl replied: “This type of scorpion tail dart is capable of eroding ones heart and decaying ones bones, it is much too violent. My father had said that nobody is allowed to use this, have you not heard? Fortunately, you did not use it to attack others and only practiced with a fish basket, but it is still unacceptable.”

Shui Fu said: “My Lady, that is not what happened. This person attacked me with the dart. It is thanks to this young monk who blocked the path of the dart with the fish basket, otherwise I would have lost my life.” As he spoke, he pointed at Di Yun.

Di Yun was bewildered. “One calls me a monk, the other calls me a bald thief. When did I become a monk?”

The young girl looked at Di Yun and nodded and gave a faint smile of acknowledgement. When Di Yun saw her smile, it looked as pretty as a blooming flower and was truly touching. He could not help but feel shy as his face flushed red.

When the young man heard Shui Fu’s words, he immediately became angry and strict. He looked at the fish boss and asked: “Is this true?” Without even waiting for an answer, he twirled his horse whip and sent the dart flying at an intense speed. The sound of wind could be heard, and with a loud clap, it was pinned to a willow tree more than a hundred feet away. His arm strength was astonishing.

The fish boss remained resolute. “Are you trying to show off?”

The young man shouted: “I am trying to show off!” He lifted his horse whip and aimed it at his opponent’s head. The fish boss unleashed his blade to counter. However, he did not expect that the whip would suddenly slant downwards and roll on the ground, its movements fluctuating irregularly and aimed to attack the lower half of his body. The fish boss tried to evade the whip, but the whip twirled upwards and wrapped itself around his right leg. The young man gently pushed his foot downward on the horse’s stomach and at once the yellow horse rushed forward. The fish boss’s technique in the lower half of his body was actually not that bad; even though the whip was coiled around his leg, the young man may not necessarily be able to pull him down. However, the young man strategized by first causing him to leap in midair so that he would lose his balance, then followed by whipping his leg. When the yellow horse rushed forward, the force was that of a thousand catties. Even if the fish boss’s strength was greater, he would not be able to handle it. The yellow horse pulled his body upward and he was suspended in midair. The rest of the fish merchants all gasped and shouted; seven or eight of them rushed in as reinforcement.

The yellow horse went forward several dozen feet, turning the horse whip into the shape of a bowstring, then the young man, borrowing the momentum, slung the whip with his arm and hit the fish boss, sending him soaring into the distance. The fish boss had good martial arts but in midair he could not unleash any of it, and could not help but fall towards the river. Everyone on shore was startled and gasped at once. With a loud plop, the fish boss splashed into the water and disappeared into the river.

The young girl applauded and chuckled, then she unleashed her horsewhip amidst the crowd of fish merchants and began whipping left and right. The fish merchants scattered away in every direction. The fish basket was also knocked down, causing live fish and shrimp to run about.

As the fish boss grew up near the river, he was very good at swimming so he made his way to the opposite shore. He had already swum several hundred feet and began to curse profusely, but did not dare to go back for another fight.

Shui Fu picked up the basket containing the gold carp and opened it. “Young Master, look at those red lips and gold scales, and it is very fat!”

The young man replied: “Return to the inn quickly and give it to Old Master Hua so he can use it as a cure.”

Shui Fu replied: “Yes,” then walked toward Di Yun and bowed. “I thank this little monk for saving my life. May I ask for little monk’s Buddhist name?”

Di Yun heard this old man call him a little monk many times, causing him to get goosebumps. He did not know how to answer immediately.

The young man said: “Go quickly. This task cannot be delayed.”

Shui Fu replied: “Yes.” He did not wait for Di Yun’s reply and left.

Di Yun saw that these two young people were both righteous and elegant with impressive martial arts. He felt a sense of envy and admiration. He had the intent of forming a friendship with them but they did not dismount from their horses. He wanted to ask for their names but did not want to be embarrassed.

As he hesitated to ask, the young man fetched out a gold ingot from his bosom and said: “Little monk, thank you for saving the life of our old servant. This gold ingot will be for little monk’s incense oil expenses.” He gently threw the ingot toward Di Yun.

Di Yun caught it with his left hand, then threw it back at the young man and said: “That is not necessary. I would like to ask for your honourable names.”

The young man saw the way Di Yun caught the gold ingot and concluded that he knew martial arts. He did not wait for the ingot to fly toward him before twirling and wrapping it around his horse whip. “Since little monk is a man from the martial world, he has most probably heard of the Twin Knights of Bell Sword.”

Di Yun saw the way the young man brandished the ingot with his horse whip causing it to dance around frivolously. “Just now I heard the fish merchants call you two the Twin Knights of Bell Sword, but I do not know your honourable surname.”

The young man became angry and displeased. He thought: “If you know that we are the Twin Knights of Bell Sword, how can you not know my name?” He groaned but did not reply.

Suddenly, a wind from the river blew over Di Yun and revealed a corner of his monk garment.”

The young girl was startled. “He… he is a blood sabre monk… from… from the Dark Qinghai Cult.”

The young man’s expression was filled with hatred. “That’s right. Hmph, get lost!”

Di Yun was startled. “I… I…” He took a step forward and asked the girl: “Lady, what are you talking about?”

The young girl’s face was filled with hate and fright and said: “You… you… don’t get near me. Go away!”

Di Yun was at a loss and asked: “What are you talking about?” He walked forward another step.

The young girl grabbed her horse whip and slashed it in midair. Di Yun did not expect that the girl would attack; he turned his head to dodge, but he did not react fast enough. The whip slashed him right across the face, from the upper left of his forehead to the bridge of his nose, then to the right side of his temple.

Di Yun was angry. “Why… why are you hitting me?” He saw the girl attack again and he tried to grab the whip from her, but he did not expect her whip techniques to change. When he tried to grab the whip with his right hand he was already slashed in the forehead. Then he felt a great pain from his back, he was kicked by the young man from behind. Di Yun could not keep his balance and fell over. The young man pressed forward with his horse and ran him over. Di Yun rolled outward and in a daze he could only hear the tinkling sound of silver bells as the white horse kicked him in the chest. He could not understand what was happening, but he knew that if the horse kicked him in a crucial spot he would lose his life immediately. He curled up his body and heard a crack. His vision was filled with dancing stars and then he passed out.

*****

He slowly regained his consciousness. He did not know how much time had passed. In a daze he tried to pick himself up, but there was an extreme pain on his left waist and he nearly fainted again. Then he spat out a mouthful of fresh blood. He turned his head around and saw that his right leg was covered in blood and bent sideways. He was startled and wondered: “What happened to my leg?” After a while, he understood. “The young lady’s horse trampled over my leg and broke it.”

He felt completely exhausted and the pain in his leg and back was unbearable. In that moment he again had the intention of giving himself up in despair. “I no longer want to live. I will just lie here and wait for my death.” He did not groan and only wished for a quick death. However, even dying was not easy. After lying down for a while he realized it wasn’t going to happen and thought: “Why can’t I die? Why can’t I die?”

After a very long time, he thought: “I have no animosity toward them nor have I wronged them in any way. We were just having a conversation, why did they treat me like this?” He pondered deeply but did not have a clue. He thought aloud: “I am so stupid, if Brother Ding came back to life, even if he could not help me, he could at least provide a reasonable explanation to this incident.”

As he thought about Ding Dian, he remembered: “I promised Brother Ding that I would bury him together with Lady Ling. This wish has not been fulfilled yet, I cannot die.” He felt his waist with his hands and realized that the package containing Ding Dian’s ashes did not break apart and breathed a sigh of relief. He tried to get up again and felt a sensation surging up his throat, it was blood. He knew that the more blood he spat out the weaker he would become, so he channelled his energy and suppressed his blood pressure. But he felt a weird sensation in his mouth and he spat another mouthful of fresh blood on the ground.

The most painful part of his body was his broken leg, it felt as if several hundred knives stabbed constantly at his leg. Eventually, he crawled his way to the shade of a willow tree and thought: “I cannot die. I have to stay alive at any cost. And to stay alive I have to eat food.” He saw on the ground the fish and shrimp that fell off the basket earlier. They had died a long time ago. He picked up a few shrimps and stuffed it in his mouth. “I will first fix my broken leg, then I will figure out a way to get out of here.”

He looked in all four directions and saw various items left behind by the fish merchants scattered about. He crawled forward and grabbed a small paddle and a fish net. He slowly ripped apart the fish net and put it around his leg. Then he put the paddle against his leg for support and tied it all together with a rope.

He rested for a while. Every time he wanted to get back up the pain would knock him out. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply and waited to recover his energy before getting up again. He thought: “It will take at least two months for my leg to fully recover. Where can I find a good place to rest?” In a flash he saw on a row of boats by the river bank and thought: “I will rest on the boats, then I don’t have to move.” He was afraid that the vicious fish merchants would return, so with all his strength he crawled his way to the boats without rest. He untied the ship’s hawser, picked up a paddle and began rowing toward the river.

He looked down and saw that a corner of his monk gown was flipped over, exposing a red and bloody short blade embroidered by red thread. On the tip of the blade, the red thread gave the illusion of three spots of what appeared to be blood dripping down. The shape of the blade looked lively and frightening. Then he came to a realization: “Oh, yes. This gown belongs to the evil monk Bao Xiang. Those two must have thought I was also from the same clan.” He extended his hand and felt his own bald head.

He then realized why the old man constantly called him a “little monk” and why the Iron Net Sect of Yangtze called him a “little bald thief”. He had long dressed himself up as a monk and he did not even realize it. “The corner of my gown was flipped over. The lady must have mistaken me as a blood sabre monk from the Dark Qinghai Cult. This bloody sabre of mine is frightening; the monks from this sect must commit unimaginable misdeeds. I already know this much, using Bao Xiang as an example.”

His leg was broken for no good reason. At first, he was extremely angry and wanted to figure out the reason behind this incident. But now, he removed his animosity against the Twin Knights of Bell Sword and furthermore felt that the two knights were heroic for trying to eliminate evildoers. However, the two of them were profound in martial arts and each had a strong moral character. Even if this misunderstanding was resolved, he did not feel worthy of making friends with them.

After the boat was slowly paddled about a dozen li, he saw a small town on shore. He gazed from far away and saw that there were many people in town. “I should not wear this gown any longer as it can cause me a lot of trouble, I should change into new clothes as soon as possible.” As soon as the boat made its way to shore, he took the paddle and used it as support. He walked slowly and struggled his way limping on land. The people in the town gave him strange looks when they saw this young monk crippled and face covered in blood. This feeling of suspect and coldness did not bother him in the least bit, as he had suffered much worse throughout the years.

He slowly made his way down the street. He saw an old clothing store and went in to buy a long dark gown and a new set of clothing. He had to change into his new clothes so he undressed and covered himself in the long dark gown while he changed. Then he bought a felt hat to cover his bald head. Afterwards, he went to buy food at a local restaurant to replenish his energy. He waited sitting on the table and nearly fainted of exhaustion, then he spat out another two mouthfuls of fresh blood.

The server brought him a plate of tofu with fish and a plate of meat mixed with black bean sauce. Di Yun became more alert as he smelt the scent of rice and fish. He picked up his chopsticks and ate two mouthfuls of rice, then a piece of meat. As he was chewing, he heard the sound of jingling bells coming from the west, a wave of luan bells approaching.

He did not fully swallow the piece of meat as he thought: “The Twin Knights of Bell Sword are coming again. Should I go out and clear up our misunderstanding? They trampled my leg with their horse but I am actually innocent. If I do not explain myself, they will think I’m guilty.”

However, in the past few years he had already suffered endless counts of misfortunes and was already getting used to it, so he thought: “I have already suffered so many injustices in my life. What does it matter if I suffer again?” The sound of bells was approaching closer and closer. Di Yun turned around facing the wall and did not dare to make contact with them.

At that moment, someone tapped him on the shoulder and laughed: “Little monk, you have done good deeds. Our master wishes to drink with you.”

Di Yun was startled. He turned around saw four officers; two were holding iron chains and the other two were holding blades. All four of them looked extremely cautious. Di Yun let out an interjection of surprise. He stood up and grabbed the plate of meat on the table and threw it at one of the officers. Then he used his elbows and flipped the table over, causing the tofu, white rice, and soup to splash in the direction of the second officer. He thought: “The officers from the Jingzhou Prefecture have come after me. If I end up in the hands of Ling Tuisi, how can I keep myself alive?”

Two of the officers were burnt by the splash of food and soup and moved back quickly. Di Yun took the opportunity to run away. But he only made one step before he fell on the floor. In his haste to escape, he forgot that his left leg was broken. The third officer lifted his sabre and was about to slash him. Although Di Yun lost his martial arts, he was still more than capable of overcoming one officer. He grabbed the officer by the wrist and took hold of the blade.

The four officers saw that he was now wielding a weapon and shouted loudly: “This perverted monk resists arrest!” Another said: “The evil blood sabre monks have committed another crime!” Another said: “The perverted monk who killed the lady of the official is here!” As they shouted, many citizens of the small town gathered at once and saw Di Yun covered with scars and bruises all over his face. They did not dare to get too close.

Di Yun heard the yells of the four men and thought: “Could it be that these people aren’t from Jingzhou Prefecture?” Then he shouted loudly in defense: “What are you talking about? Who is the perverted monk?”

The sound of bells fast approached; a yellow horse and a white horse made its way to the scene. The Twin Knights of Bell Sword rode their high horses in arrogance and had seen the entire incident. The two stared blankly at Di Yun for a moment and thought that he looked familiar. Then at once they recognized that he was the evil blood sabre monk. They thought that he was wearing a disguise in order to conceal his features.

An officer said: “Hey, big monk, if you wish to be romantic and lascivious that is fine, but why do you have to kill the lady afterwards? A good man will stand up to the consequences of his actions. Come with me to the county prefecture and we will fight in court.”

Another officer said: “You bought yourself a new disguise but we saw through it. There is no way you will escape today, just give up peacefully.”

Di Yun scolded: “You people speak nonsense and declare an innocent man guilty!”

An officer replied: “There is no unjust treatment here. Three nights ago you snuck into the Li residence and murdered two ladies of the family in cold blood. I saw this very clearly. The features of your eyes, eyebrows, nose, and mouth match exactly. That person was definitely you.”

The Twin Knights of Bell Sword reined their horses and watched from the side. “Biaoge[3], this monk’s martial arts is not impressive. If we did not consider the fact that he saved Shui Fu’s life, we would have killed him already. It turns out that… that he is such an evil person.”

The young man replied: “I also think this is strange. It is said that this evil monk has done many indescribably evil deeds on both sides of the Yangtze in the last few days, taking the lives of dozens. The officials could do nothing to stop him. However, the heroes of Lianghu need not be startled or afraid. Judging by the little monk’s martial arts, his martial brother or teacher could not be that impressive either.”

“It could be the case that one of them has profound martial arts, else why would the heroes of Lianghu request my father for assistance? And why would they further ask for the help of Uncle Lu, Uncle Hua, and Uncle Liu?”

“Hmph, the heroes of Lianghu must have lost their minds. Is there anyone under heaven who would require the combined forces of the four heroes known as ‘Luohua Liushui’[5] in order to be subdued?”

“Hehe, to ask for the combined forces of the Twin Knights of Bell Sword sounds more appropriate.”

“Biaomei[6], go on ahead and wait for me. I will take care of this bald thief by myself.”

“I will watch from inside.”

“No, do not stay inside. In the future, when the people of the martial world bring up this incident, they will say that I Wang Xiaofeng fought alone and killed the evil monk and implicate the heroine Shui Sheng also. You know how much nonsense people talk in the realm.”

“Right, you have thought this through. I am not as careful as you.”
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[1] About 5 minutes

[2]A luan is a mythical bird related to the phoenix.

[3]An older male cousin from the female line.

[4]Referring to Hubei and Hunan.

[5]“落花流水” (Luohua Liushui) is a group of four martial artists in the realm. There is no good way to translate this phrase so I have left it as is.

[6]Younger female cousin from the female line.

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